Fantastic Felines ► Throwback Thursday

Marley hangs out behind my computer chair

Yesterday’s successful adoption of Marley has me reminiscing about all the fantastic felines I’ve shared my life with.

Over the years I’ve had cats named Bleeko and Echo, Bert Parks, Miss Silver, Smith and Wesson, and Castor. Here are some stories:

Bleeko & Echo

Bleeko & Echo were brother and sister, beautiful little calico kittens when I adopted them. I thought about naming them both Bleeko, but decided the second one would be an Echo of the first. These were my first cats ever, as I had dogs growing up. My wife had had cats all her life, so we adopted these two scamps.

This was also my first place ever, having been married only a few months. It was a small apartment above a store at 2125 Dufferin Street in Toronto. When J went into the hospital to give birth to my eldest son, one of my sisters came to help me prepare for the new baby’s arrival. We never knew whether it was Bleeko or Echo, but one of them took great exception to this female interloper who came in and took over. They took a piss in her open suitcase.

That’s when I learned cats will always make their feelings known.

Bert Parks

Me’n’Bert: Well traveled diptych & photo by Stephen Feldman, Toronto, May 25, 1976

I have adored every one of my cats, but if I had to pick a fave, it would be Bert Parks, who I also had the longest.

With his black and white markings, Bert resembled a Holstein cow. He moved in with me way back in my Oakville days, where I moved to go to college after Dufferin. Bert joined me at the beginning of my bachelorhood and moved with me to my first solo apartment in Toronto [pictured above]. It was a basement unit on Bedford Road, directly underneath the Canadian head office of Island Records. Bert stayed with me for well more than a decade through a series of apartments, right into my 2nd marriage, when L and I settled on Dundas Street West at Pacific Avenue. It was another apartment above a storefront.

Bert and I were a bonded pair, but he adopted my wife without reservation.

Bert loved to take walks with me around the neighbourhood. No leash. He just followed me when I went out. Despite that intrepid spirit, he was deathly afraid of plastic bags. All you had to do is pull one out and he’s go running and hiding. The more noise you made with it the faster he’d run and the longer he’d hide.

Bert Park’s final indignity came after a long and happy life. L and I came home late one cold winter’s afternoon to find Bert stiff as a board on his side next to the radiator in the bedroom. He hadn’t been sick and didn’t seem to have suffered.

I called the Humane Society to find out what I should do with his remains and they told me to put him in a plastic bag and put him out with the garbage. I called the city and got the same answer. Sadly, there was no alternative where we lived. A plastic bag was Bert’s ultimate fate. Maybe he always knew.

Smith and Wesson, and [later] Castor

One of Marley’s first pics in her new home, still in her carrier

Soon after Bert died I was in the local laundromat when a teenage girl came in with a box of calico kittens up for adoption. I took 2 of them home and tried to convince L they followed me home. We named them Smith and Wesson. They were great pals. One day we had a big wind storm while they were outside. Smith came home. Wesson never did. We assumed he blew away to Oz. [Aunty Em!!! Aunty Em!!!]

Smith was inconsolable and wandered around the apartment crying and looking for her sister. It was heartbreaking. So we got ourselves another kitten to keep Smith company and named him Castor, another kind of oil.

Castor was another cat that liked to take walks throughout the whole neighbourhood. We often had to chase him back home to so he wouldn’t follow us from Sunnyside all the way to Roncesvalles, which was a really busy road with streetcars.

In the end, it turned out that my younger son was allergic to cats and that ended that. However, a neighbour adopted Castor, the only one who remained by then.

Miss Silver

Miss Silver — a long-haired grey — was the last cat I had before Marley. I had her for a very short time and I have always felt bad at how that ended 11 years ago.

Miss Silver and I were just getting to know one another, but we had already gotten into the comfortable stage. She was one of the most affectionate cats I’ve ever had. She could not get enough loving and slept between my legs.

Then Pops asked me to move in with him and I coudn’t take Miss Silver with me. Aside from the fact that importing a cat from Canada to the States is not like moving across town, but Pops hated cats. When we were growing up he always told us that if we ever brought at cat home, he’d drown it. I don’t know if he really would have, but none of us ever tested that theory.

Before I moved back to ‘Merka Miss Silver was adopted by a dear friend, who I knew would take good care of her. Not that long after Miss Silver developed a liver condition and eventually died of it. However, my friend gave her quality care to the very end.

Marley & Me

The inevitable Prisma glamour shot

I almost didn’t get Marley, who was named Gumdrop when I first met her.

This was my 4th visit to the Broward Humane Society to find a cat to adopt. I had yet to find a love connection. You know it when it happens.

The last 3 times there had been a very pretty grey cat named Marley. I was allowed to hang out with him each time, but he wouldn’t come anywhere near me and would recoil if I reached out to pet him.

Between visits I’d wonder about him, thinking his name was a sign of synchronicity.

So on my next visit I’d try him again, spending up to a half hour each time in his room. He was totally standoffish. Not in the way cats can sometimes be aloof, but in a way that convinced me he just didn’t like people all that much and me in particular.

Yesterday, after my third visit with Marley, I gave up on him. That’s why I met and inquired about 7 other cats. Most were calico, which I think are gorgeous animals. Three of them had tasted the outdoors. I would need to keep any cat I adopted inside [condo rules] and don’t believe in keeping an outdoor cat locked up. I’ve read many opinions about this, but am convinced they’ve had too much freedom to ever be fully happy inside. [YMMV]

I also rejected a cat that had been declawed, which I don’t believe in either. There were 2 others that were part of separate bonded pairs, but I can only handle one cat.

I was ready to give up when a volunteer broke a rule. She was in one of those little rooms that are supposed to resemble a real room to fool cats into thinking they’re actually in a real room, if cats think real rooms are 4 x 4, with two small pieces of furniture, 3 cats, and a glass wall putting them on display. This volunteer moved from room to room to spend a bit of time with each cat.

Anyway, the volunteer stuck her head out and said, “Wanna meet a sweet cat?” Then she invited me into the room. That’s the rule she broke. Properly a person at the front desk is supposed to give me access.

Marley is already suitable for framing

Gumdrop was all over me immediately, just sucking up all the love I could give her. I spent about 20 minutes with her and she remained in contact with a part of my body the entire time.

I hadn’t come in for a black cat, not that I’m racist, or anything. I just had my heart set on a calico or a tabby as a 2nd choice. I left Gumdrop and walked around for a while trying to make a decision.

I almost didn’t take Gumdrop home because, to be fair, she was the default cat. I didn’t drive 15 miles to settle for the default cat.

However, the Humane Society also told me that it’s true that black cats are the hardest to adopt. I went back to Gumdrop’s room and spent another 20 minutes with her. She was so sweet and starved for affection. I finally told them to wrap her up because I was taking her home.

[BTW: I just want to plug the idea of adopting a cat from the Humane Society. The $30 fee covered all her shots, a bag of kibble, having her spayed, getting her chipped, and $250 within 10 days at a local VCA. It’s a very good deal.]

When we got home, she stayed in her carrying case for about 45 minutes, even though the door was left open. When I next looked, she was gone. I eventually found her hiding behind the toilet. She felt safe there. When I petted her, she’d lean right into it, which made me feel good about her. I just left her there and visited very 20 minutes, or so, petting her each time.

Asking her to pose, Marley uses me as a pillow instead

After a couple of hours I tried a new tactic. First I stood a few feet from her and coaxed her out by patting my leg. Once she started weaving herself around my ankles I’d take another step out of the bathroom. She would head butt my ankles and I’d move a foot farther. She’d move with me and rub against my ankles again, and then rub the walls to place her scent. I kept moving a foot at a time.

When we got out of the hallway, where the room opened up, she became more apprehensive. It was so big compared to her 4×4 room! Danger could come from anywhere! First she crouched in a fight-or-flight stance, just in case there were monsters, yannow? Then she’d go back a few feet, return to rub against my ankles, as I continued to draw her farther out with each step.

Suddenly she rushed ahead into my bedroom and hid under the bed. She stayed there for a while, but kept venturing farther and farther out with each exploration. By the time I went to bed last night, she had been renamed Marley and explored most of the condo. She was starting to feel comfortable. I went to bed alone, but she was in bed with me when I woke up in the morning.

Marley is an absolute sweetheart and I am so glad I brought her home. I think we’re already a bonded pair.


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Headly Westerfield
Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.