Lilac and Lime

Contrasts in colour, contrasts in life – Mary Bruce

Debarking up the wrong tree

For years I’ve been hard put to decide whether I’m more of a cat or dog person. In the end I’ve decided that I don’t need to make a choice. If forced to make a decision, Kimberley is a cat person. We have both been owned by cats, manipulated by them and trained by them. In the case of Tug, Kimberley moaned, resisted, grumbled, and did what Tug required anyway. He was known to the neighbourhood dogs as ‘Sir’ for good reason.

Following in the footsteps of such a strong-minded free-thinker was never going to be easy and in Kirby we couldn’t have asked for a greater contrast. Both were ginger males (neutered – I’m divorced, remember). That is the full sum of their similarities. Where Tug was the feline puppet master, Kirby isn’t convinced that he is a cat. Where Tug would have surveyed and instructed dogs, Kirby joins in their revelries. Tug was a Friskies man ; Kirby is a diehard Whiskas fan. Tug liked meat-flavoured cat food ; Kirby likes meat, and poultry, and fish. Tug would eat any respectable leftovers ; Kirby views them with undying suspicion and rarely eats any.

It’s been a joy to watch Kirby developing. He was two years old when he came to live with us. The SPCA had been told his previous owner handed him in because he was scared of dogs. Whatever the real problem may have been, he is as scared of dogs as I am – somewhere near not at all. But he had not a flea’s worth of an idea of what cats do or how they think. Either he was separated from his mother at birth or she just abdicated her responsibilities. Despite the long line of cats in my history, I’ve never before felt obliged to teach one to be a cat.

He still stands on his head to clean under his arms and tummy and lays his limbs out in such complex manoeuvres that it’s a wonder we haven’t had to take him to the vet to be unknotted. The thought of bringing the appendage to his face to be cleaned doesn’t occur to him and he takes his head to whichever body part is facing ablution.

Kimberley had been devastated by Tug’s premature death and we tried to incorporate his memory into everyday life. It became a bit of a family joke that he had left post-its for Kirby explaining what would be required of him.

Anyway at some stage, whether he read the relevant post-it or not, it was borne on Kirby that birds and cats should not mix. They should not even share the same gardens. His lips started twitching when he watched them and I was afraid that I’d have to discourage him from catching birds as I’d had to do with other cats in the past. Then a little birdie showed me the true state of affairs ; actually it was a whole flock of them.

The cat started practising how to stalk. At first he didn’t realise he wasn’t supposed to be visible so he’d duck his head down and march along, bottom high in the air, to the bemusement of the assorted birdlife. After a while he became a bit more refined and would hide behind grass stalks before progressing to small bushes. This was complicated by his dislike of walking on grass, so he two-stepped between the blades as he progressed.

Rather than flying away, the birds actually started flying in to watch the matinees. I’m seriously considering the need for a supplement to Roberts’ bird books ; there was more bird laughter heard in our garden than has ever been recorded in one location. I’ve never had to deter him because it’s a bit like a rhino stalking a butterfly. When it’s not his own lack of instinct working against his endeavours, circumstances contrive to mess the plot. A few days ago he had a dove in his sights and was happily stalking it in the driveway near the gates. He had got within about a metre and a half and I was wondering if at last the time for intervention had come when Storm, our self-donated Jack Russel who actually belongs to the neighbour, heard someone in the road. This he always takes as a personal affront and took off like a missile. Both the cat and bird screamed as they scattered and Storm still has no idea what he did to jeopardise the friendship.

Not so long ago, Kirby was spotted leering up on one of numerous hadedahs to frequent our garden. I’m not sure if it’s the hoarse one that sounds like an old-fashioned pull-rope lawnmower being started, but the poor thing had a mangled left foot and could only hobble. As Kirby got closer it turned around and surveyed him with an unamused eyeball. By this time he was only a metre away and had realised that it was bigger close up than expected. On this occasion the laughter was all human as he tried to chum up to it and explain that he was just in the neighbourhood before rather uncomfortably moving away to look at the adjacent hedge as if that had been his objective all along.

In some ways, his stalking methods remind me of Wallace, a half-Siamese character of note. Wally is deserving of numerous blog posts all to himself but one incident is very relevant to this post. The difference is that Wally was only a few months old and busy developing his feline skills as fast as he could. Early one morning something in the front garden attracted my attention and it took a while to work out what he was doing. Once again the subject was a hadedah but Wally had already passed the Need for Invisibility lesson and resolved this problem by approaching it backwards, looking over his should to keep on course. Nothing looks down its nose like a disbelieving hadedah. The fact that it could have turned him into a sosatie with one flick of its beak didn’t deter him at all.

One area in which we have taken a clear hand is teaching Kirby to climb trees. Doesn’t matter what the neighbours thought because we don’t live there anymore. Until we took this decision his theory was that he should run like the wind straight at the tree and something would happen at Ground Zero to convert his progress by 90 degrees. Surprisingly, these attempts haven’t left him looking like something between a Boxer and a Shar Pei. We would hold him up against a Fiddlewood tree, parallel to the trunk about a metre from the ground, slowly loosening our grip and hoping he would discover a use for his claws other than sharpening the stump we kept for his entertainment on the verandah. This had no affect at all so after our move we started the next seimester using an Erythrina tree. The method was modified by placing him at head height in a fork in the branches and stepping back. He had to go up or down and either would be significant progress. This seriously affronted him but he had little choice. Then, about a month ago, we were sitting outside one evening enjoying the cool part of the day when he suddenly got the wind in his fur and took off across the garden and up the tree all by himself. His devoted companion, the Jack Russel, took off after him in order not to miss any action and was rewarded for his efforts a short while later by being used as a landing mat when the cat rather inelegantly descended. It matters not, he climbed a tree by himself.

One of his funniest quirks is his distrust of mattresses. He has accepted the benign nature of mine and occasionally entrusts his wellbeing to it. Kimberley’s bed too. But he hates the spare bed and walks on it as if it’s going to swallow him. He will perform all types of manoeuvres to stay on the narrow headboard rather than shortcut across the bedcover.

He is one of the most affectionate animals I’ve known and it will be rather sad if he does ever become The Compleat Catt.

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