If you don't like cats, stop reading. This entry is not for you. I'm a passionate feline fancier. Ever since I can remember, there has been a cat — or cats — in my life. As a child I preferred playing with my cat to dolls. Now there are three cats in our household: Buddy, an 8-year-old male, black with a white spot on his chest; Obama and Simba, 8-month old sisters, multicolored with longish hair and big, fluffy tails. The "girls" were adopted from a shelter shortly after Obama's sensational victory, hence the name. And, yes you can name females "Obama." Think Michelle, Sasha and Malia.
Obama and Simba replace Molly, a feisty black cat who sadly had to be put to sleep at the age of 17 1/2. First I got Obama, but I kept thinking about her sister back at the shelter. I served Bicycle Bob (a self-confessed dog person) a potent Mai Tai. We need to rescue Obama's sister, I pleaded. He was in a jovial mood and agreed, although reluctantly. He denied it the next day. By then it was too late. Simba soon joined us.
The "girls" look like twins and are hard to tell apart. It's been fun having two kittens. They play together, sleep curled up together, wash one another, and tussle with each other. Buddy miraculously has accepted them. He even gets in on play time, stealing their favorite mouse.
Buddy has his own story — another miracle. I wrote the following years ago after his disappearance. We still lived in Germany then.
My heart sank to my shoes. I was panic-stricken. Buddy, my precious baby, a 2-year-old black cat, leapt out of his carrier and vanished, a black streak disappearing down the street. I had taken him to board at Sigrid Ruckaberle's Katzen Pension, or cat pension, some 60 miles from our home near Stuttgart. Before we got into her house, he bolted. The door to the carrier must not have been properly locked.
Buddy, who was born in the wild, had been trapped and rescued when he was 3 months old, but by then he was already vicious and petrified of humans. Thanks to the tireless efforts of his savior, a veterinary assistant, he was tamed, but remained timid and fearful of strangers. Not the kind of cat who would come if called or seek human company. We had pampered him and kept him indoors.
And now he was out in the cruel world to fend for himself. How could I find him? Would he try to make his way home? That seemed an impossibility with many major highways to cross en route. He would surely be hit by a car.
Sigrid, known as the "cat lady" because of her involvement with abandoned cats in the Stuttgart American military community, was also upset. However, she assured me that Buddy would probably not wander far off and that she could trap him. Other cat experts were less optimistic. They said my chances of ever seeing him again were "next to nil."
I couldn't just give up. We canceled our vacation. For each of 10 days I faithfully drove back to the escape site and combed the area, calling him. I knew he would never come to me, but I thought he might at least meow and I could find him. I asked residents if they had seen him. The answer was always "Nein." I finally gave up, but remained plagued with anguish as I thought of my poor Buddy suffering. I'd stare at his photo and wonder if he was still alive.
Perhaps because of his troubled background and our painstaking efforts to calm his fears when he first came to us, Buddy was special. Even Bicycle Bob, who had never been fond of cats, grew attached to Buddy who has an engaging habit of rolling over on his back whenever we come home, waiting for his belly to be petted. Then he purrs, so loud Bob nicknamed him "Evinrude."
Back in her neighborhood, Sigrid put up signs, established feeding stations, and regularly set traps at night. Her traps look like a long pet carrier, with an open door on one end and food at the other end. When the animal enters to get the food, it steps on a lever that closes the door, trapping the animal inside without harming it. The food would disappear, even though no animal was captured.
I called Sigrid every day. One day after he had been gone about a month, she said a man at the end of the street had seen Buddy. She set a trap in his yard. I wasn't convinced it was Buddy as there are millions of black cats in this world. And, if he had been near the trap, why hadn't he been caught? I continued to worry — that Buddy would never be adopted by anyone since he would be petrified of people, that he would move on and eventually be hit by a car. Friends told me not to worry. Since Buddy was born in the wild, he was no doubt happy being a free spirit again, they said.
That kind of talk especially upsets Sigrid. "Homeless cats are subject to hunger, thirst, pain and sickness. They lead a very dangerous life. It's not wonderful for them. It's hell," she says.
This is why she did not give up on Buddy. After seven weeks and a captured hedgehog, which she promptly released, she got him. He came home bony, exhausted, thirsty and frightened. For the first few days, he mainly slept, ate very little, but drank lots of water. He obviously had not been having a terrific time as a wild cat.
"All it takes is patience," Sigrid says. "I never gave up."
We're grateful she did not give up on Buddy who moved with us to Provence almost five years ago. He's a changed cat — now very sociable — even with his new "sisters." And, I think Bicycle Bob is becoming a cat convert. Sometimes I even catch him talking baby talk to the "girls."
If you'd like to read more about cats, check out this bolg: http://blog.seattlepi.com/catlady It's written by my friend Robin Jacobson, the "cat lady" of Karpathos, Greece, who has some 26 cats that she has rescued.