Thursday, November 3, 2016

City Kitty

The summer had been hot and wet and by the beginning of July 2011, the scrawny tortoise shell cat had a huge bulge in her middle and she was hungry, oh so hungry.  She made her rounds in Kaisertown, the old first German then Polish neighborhood on the East Side of Buffalo with its neat little two story post-war houses on the deep narrow lots.  The verge is lined with old traditional trees – mostly maples, a few black walnuts, an occasional crab apple -- their gnarled roots cracking sidewalks and invading sewer lines. Postage stamp lawns in the front and the lush gardens in the back of most of the houses provided good hunting grounds for rodents, reptiles, and bugs.  She had also made opportunistic but wary friendships with some of the human residents in her territory.  Lucy, the old Polish lady with thinning orange hair fed her canned food and water in antique cut crystal and flowered china bowls on her high back porch.  The cat loved to stretch out in the cool and shade of this concrete bastion, surrounded as it was by delicate wrought iron fencing and huge pots of greenery.

The nice younger woman, Mary, a few houses down also put food out for her and several other neighborhood kitties, including her tuxedo friend Oreo who had the tip missing on one of his ears, and that self-possessed glossy black tomcat she had encountered for the first time several months before.   He was being fed by the gay couple across the street. Mary called her Peanut because she was so “such a little thing”.  She was confident that Peanut was pregnant and always made sure there was extra food for her, especially as her time drew near.  It was Mary who noted that Peanut was huge on July first, disappeared altogether on July second and skinny when she saw her again on July third.

There was another man, my old friend Donnie, who used to sit and smoke or have a beer on his porch in the middle of the night, and the tortie decided he was an okay person to hang out with.  He told me about her the first time he saw her.  I asked what color she was.  He said he had never seen a cat like her – she looked like a “crazy quilt.”

When the urge to nest came upon her, it was his house she chose, or rather – underneath his house.  She searched and searched and finally found a bent corrugated metal panel on the exterior of the crawl space and squeezed inside.  The soft dirt floor may have served to dampen the incessant roar of the interstate which bordered one edge of the old neighborhood, no more than a hundred feet away on the other side of a low and ineffective concrete sound barrier fringed with a scraggly row of scrub trees and bushes.  Perhaps the sounds of the human’s casual movements over her head gave her a measure of comfort.
The Fourth of July, Independence Day, was officially celebrated on Monday the fourth, but in neighborhoods all over Buffalo people began shooting off fireworks on the first.  It was no different in Kaisertown.  It is always a horrid din, scaring house cats and pet dogs for miles around -- and no doubt even more frightening for Peanut as a soundscape to accompany Mother Nature’s timeless call – to the birthing of her kittens in the dusty blackness on the earthen floor of the crawlspace.

Mary and Lucy knew the now-thin Peanut must be nursing her kittens somewhere in a hidden location and they stepped up their feeding schedules.  They never guessed she was eating for so many.

It was about a month before the kittens escaped the nest, and Donnie spotted several of them frolicking on the grass late one night.  He told his landlord, Gary, who said he “knew a guy” who would “take care of the problem”.  Donnie phoned me and I told him I knew rescue folk who would lend me traps and we would take care of this situation ourselves. Gary, who lived upstairs, was happy to go along with our plans. Two traps were delivered and he and Donnie carefully set them up in the back yard five weeks after the kittens had been born.

Donnie checked the traps during the evening and overnight and one trap sprang shut on the first kitten in the wee hours of the night.  Was this kitten the bravest, the dumbest, or the hungriest?* By the time I arrived to fetch him he was a tiny fierce orange bundle of regret.  I brought this little guy to my shop, set him up in a comfy kennel cage with plenty of food, and we waited to trap the remaining kittens.

The traps were reset but as it turns out, Peanut had moved all of the rest of her brood and no others were tempted by the gushy food, no matter how enticing it may have smelled.  Donnie kept putting out fresh food but there were no takers after that first night.

On the third day I went back to try to figure out what to do next.  The neighborhood was alerted to the goings on, and I finally located Peanut sprawled on Lucy’s back porch.  Mary came over and we discussed how to capture this wild feral cat.  To my amazement Mary simply reached down, scooped her up and placed her into my carrier.
There were no signs of the kittens, so I loaded the carrier into my car to bring Peanut to the shop.  As she sang the song of her people, I reassured her that from now on her life would be different. When I placed her into the kennel, the orange kitten was overjoyed to see her and headed straight for mama’s milkbar.  Peanut looked up at me with huge eyes and said, “But you said my life was going to be different!”

"You said my life was going to be different!"
On the fourth day I returned to Kaisertown and the neighbors and I went to work to locate the elusive kittens.  By this time, with their mama gone, they had emerged from their hiding places.  They were hungry!  We had amassed quite a crew, including several guys out walking with their very well behaved dogs.  Two more orange kittens were easy to capture amongst the greenery in someone’s back yard.  A brown and black tiger was scooped up next.  Someone had spotted two black kittens and so we were off to get them.  The temperature was in the mid-eighties and every single piece of property was ringed with high fences so tracking these elusive mini-panthers was a real trial.  I had to knock on doors, introduce myself, explain the rescue project and seek permission to enter private properties.  The little black devils kept slipping under fences into the next yard and eluding our best efforts.

I was behind a garage, moving pieces of lumber and PVC pipe to block under-fence exits.  I grabbed one black kitten and handed it over the stockade fence to Mary.  Then I found the last black kitten crouched at the end of a log.  He was trying very hard to be that log, but I finally got him.   He scratched the heck out of Mary’s arm before she wrestled him into the carrier.  We hoped that we had found all of the kittens.  The neighborhood was put on alert to call if any more were spotted.**

I transported these five kittens back to the shop where there was a happy reunion of mama Peanut and her babies.  Peanut immediately went to work trying to bathe all of them at once and of course they all latched on to her for a nice meal.
Such a good mama!
It was then that I decided that Peanut needed a better name.  Since her “Gotcha Day” would have been Lucille Ball’s 100th birthday, and orange-haired Lucy had been feeding her, and Lucy was a character in the Peanuts’ comic strip – I decided to rename her Lucy, which eventually became Mama Lucy.  I also call her MamaLu, Lucy Goosey, Goose Girl, Missy Mama Lucy Goosey, or Miss Tortitude (which she possesses – in abundance!).

Some perks of her new name:  I can walk in and say, “Lucy, I’m home!”  If she ever breaks anything (which she has yet to do), I can say, “Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splaining to do!”  Every day I can tell her, “I love Lucy!” And when she does something silly I can call her a crazy red head.

Lucy and her six kittens saw the vet the next day.  Lucy received a rabies shot and all were treated for fleas, ear mites and worms.  I had determined that all six babies were boys but the vet said that would have been “highly unusual” and she pronounced one of the black kittens to be a girl.  Rather prophetically, I decided upon the name Lola.  I had already chosen the name Leto for the first orange kitten with the spice-blue eyes.  These were the two I planned to adopt for myself.

One week later when the kittens were at the pet store vet clinic to get their first shots and combo tests, this vet looked at Lola and said, “Whoa – this one is not a girl – he’s a boy!”   After much pondering, I decided to name him Mica, which morphed into Prince Mica because he is such a regal little house panther.

My rescue folks, Chris and Alphonse, showed cats and kittens on weekends at area pet stores.  For the next few Saturdays I hauled the remaining kittens off to various locations and they put on a show of being completely adorable.

On our second outing one of the orange kittens and the second black one found a new mommy.  She worked at the pet store but it was another week before they could go home with her, so after three weeks of living at the shop and at eight weeks of age, they went home with her.  She named them Caleb and Shelby.
The dark tiger and the last orange kitten went off for showing one week later and a young man came in and fell in completely love with the orange boy.  He took lots of photos of him and sent them to his wife.  The elderly kitty who had been with him since he was a young child had just passed on and they needed a companion for their younger cat.  We tried to convince him to adopt both kittens but he was adamant – he only wanted one.  He told us he would name him Stanley.  He came into the shop the following week to pick up the little guy and I discovered the correct name was Stan Lee.

Even though I had planned all along to keep only two of the kittens and find homes for all of the rest, including Lucy, after Caleb, Shelby, and Stan Lee left for their new homes, I realized I was in love with Lucy and her little dark tiger boy.  I named him Fletcher (now Mister Fletcher) and decided Lucy would remain as my shop cat and her three sons would come home with me.

Thanks to Maddie’s Fund, the low cost spay/neuter clinic was very busy that year and Lucy did not have her spay operation until the middle of October.  She had come into heat twice during this time and yet she still continued to allow Leto, Mica, and Fletcher to nurse.  She was such a good mama!  It was another month before I could get the boys into the clinic for their neuters and then I brought them home.

Lucy had quickly settled in to the routine of being a frame shop cat.  She did not seem to miss her boys at all, and she appreciated attention from my customers.  The shop is located on a busy city street in North Buffalo, and there are four businesses downstairs and two apartments upstairs.  Fire trucks, police cars, sirens, squealing brakes, rowdy bar patrons, barking dogs, shouting children – none of these seem to bother my little city kitty shop cat.  She jumps up on my work bench to greet customers, conversing with them in her distinct brassy “Mrrraah!”  I have never heard any other cat with a meow like hers.  Cat people think it’s really cool and non-cat people ask, “What’s wrong with her?”

Lucy weighed 5.25 pounds at her first vet visit in 2011.  No longer the scrawny feral with the dull coat, she has blossomed into magnificent orange, black, and cream “crazy quilt” tortitude. She has, ahem, more than doubled her weight since her early days and she is glossy and plush and happy.  She has one special mailman who brings her treats.  Some days more people come in to see her than to be customers.  They bring her toys, treats and catnip.  She adores catnip.

Only once have I brought her to my tranquil little house in the Canadian woods.  She sat in the window all weekend, gazing out in complete dismay at the silent trees, with an expression that seemed to ask, “Are you serious?  How can you live in this place?  It’s too darned quiet!”

As we crossed the border back to the USA, the incredulous customs officer asked me, “You bring your cat to work?”  Once back inside the shop I swear she had to spend almost two hours inspecting every square inch of her Queendom before she fell into a deep and most relieved slumber.

Mama Lucy has a little bed in the front window where she can spy on her neighborhood and no one even knows she is watching.  She has hidey-holes all over the place, under work benches and behind the loveseat.  Some days I barely see her; some days she won’t leave me alone.  She also has a perch on the back door where she can watch birds and squirrels.
The tortie temptress has recently attracted a gentleman caller, a handsome gray tuxedo from the house behind the shop who comes to visit.  I call him her swain.  He sits and stares up at her with total adoration while she growls and snarls and huffs and snorts with her tail as huge as a bottle brush trying her best to rip the door down and get to him and (presumably) give him what for.  She has completely shredded three carpeted perches in these attempts – he has totally destroyed the screen climbing up merely to gaze upon his beloved.  One afternoon when this battle was going full throttle I heard another noise – there was a peeved squirrel up in a tree swearing at both of them.  Now that’s my kind of entertainment!

The handsome swain
Some day in the future when I retire, Mama Lucy will come home with me to her new forever home in the quiet woodlands.  She will be reacquainted with her boys (which ought to be interesting, to say the least!) and I hope their antics will make up for the missing city noise.  I am sure we will enjoy the catio where she can observe the local wildlife – deer, wild turkeys, and of course, squirrels.
For the present Mama Lucy is the reigning Queen of the Frame Shop, and as I post photos and videos of her on my Facebook shop page, my little (OK – maybe not so little anymore!) city kitty is entertaining her numerous followers from all over the world. ***

Will Mama Lucy be able to make a successful transition from city kitty to country kitty?  Only time will tell.

Mama Lucy, Frame Shop Cat

* Leto the Sweeto is the biggest scaredy cat, he is quite clever (he has taught me how to play fetch with him!), and he is always hungry.
** No additional kittens were ever seen in the neighborhood so I am confident we found all of Mama Lucy’s last litter.