Bruce's Cat Stories

The Cheetah Brothers

Stability couldn't last. A stray cat decided to have kittens in our garage, so of course we caught the kittens (tried to catch mama, too, to get her fixed), took them to the vet, and introduced them to people. They became Rumpus and Joule (as in a unit of energy), and have become wonderful adolescent cats. We have tried very hard to find them good homes, but without success.

Rumpus is an energetic kitten, who both plays and loves with intensity. When he wants some loving, he'll head butt and purr his head off. When he wants to play, he'll climb the walls, chase his stuffed mouse, or jump on his brother. Rumpus also likes to play with Pippin, and Pippin seems to be putting up with it pretty well.

Joule also has a lot of energy, but is generally toned down a bit from his brother. Joule loves to lay down near or next to you, and will happily let you pet him for more extended periods of time until either something way too interesting is happening elsewhere or his brother jumps on him (or you). Watching the two of them wrestle is tremendously fun. When they really get going, they snort at each other. Their also perfectly willing wrestle one another on your lap, next to you on the bed, or between your legs as you sleep. I've gotten somewhat used to it, so I think I sleep through most of their bouts now.

The Tail-less Wonder

Of course, we couldn't actually have fewer than 10 cats for long, and soon after Squash died, a strange yellow cat with no tail showed up at our house. After 4 months of feeding him and trying to get him to trust people, Jill managed to catch Bunny, as he was aptly named, and get him to the vets. After trying--not real hard--to find a home for him, Bunny became a fixture downstairs. Our current house has three floors, and the dogs stay on the first floor. Since most of the cats are afraid of the dogs--except for Tom--it made integrating Bunny with the rest of the cats much easier (basically, they didn't have to). Tom and Bunny get along reasonably well by ignoring one another, and the rest of the cats, at the time, didn't come downstairs.

Bunny has since become a very sweet cat, although his manners could use improving. If you stop petting him, he will sometimes chase after you and chew on your ankles. He loves to be picked up and held, though, and will gladly sit in your arms and purr until your arms are ready to fall off. Bunny also loves the wood stove, and will sit just inches away from it. When you light the stove in the morning, Bunny comes over and rubs all over you, encouraging you to make more fire.

Like the rest of the cats we've had who spent considerable time outside Bunny lets us know when his food dish is empty. Unfortunately, unlike the others he does try to get outside. It may be because he probably never knew a winter outside. We're tempted to let him get out when there are a few inches of snow on the ground. We figure he'll be back inside next to the wood stove pretty quick.

Uncle Squash

Squash passed away due to cancer in the winter of 2003-04. His last days were spent downstairs near the wood stove, since he decided the warmth of that room was worth putting up with the dogs. Squash was "Uncle Squash" to all of the cats, particularly Tom's offspring: Bez, Medium, and Small. We know they miss him.

Squash was the only cat who regularly played fetch with us. He liked to use the rings off of milk cartons (the ones that actually stay in a circle). If you threw it, he would chase the ring, find it (and he was exceptional at finding it in tough places), and then he would flick it himself. This was one of the most fantastic things we've ever seen a cat do. He would put his paw down on the edge of the near side of the ring so that one claw hooked over it. This would raise the far edge of the ring, which he would pick up in his mouth. Then he would stretch the ring between his claw and his mouth and let it go like a rubber band. The ring, of course, would then go shooting off in some direction and Squash would chase it and catch it again. After 2-3 flicks, he would bring the ring back to you to throw it again. We actually have some video of this, so we're not making it up. He was a wonderful, and amazing cat.

The Not so Wild Rumpus

It's been a while since I wrote a cat story (about 7 years, in fact), so I figure it's time to bring it up to date. We moved again, and brought Tom, the father of the wild rumpus, with us back to Swarthmore, PA in 1998, bringing the total cat count to 10.

Tom is a wonderful cat, and will happily hold conversations with you. It's not too hard to figure out what he is saying, either. He makes sure we know when their food is low. He never was as wild as his offspring and is very much a lap cat, especially if you are sitting in our papasan chair next to the wood stove. Strangely enough, Tom gets along with all the other cats, as well as our two dogs, Pepper and Laddie. He made the transition to house cat very quickly, and doesn't even bother trying to get out any more. Like Squash, he decided that inside was much better than outside.

So Tom's offspring who are still living with us--Bez, Medium, and Small--all took different paths in life. Bez is a beautiful smoke cat who loves to get his tummy rubbed. He's got his dad's voice, but is also very skittish. When rubbing Bez's tummy, it is important to remove your hand from his area when loud noises are imminent. He really appreciates it when I lay down with a good book for the evening and will happily get his tummy rubbed for hours.

Medium took four years to get over her fear of people and let one of us rub her back. Up until then she go all of her loving and attention from Squash, with some help from Kermit and Johnny. Once she found out about back and tummy rubs, though, she very quickly decided that it was not only ok to get her back and tummy rubbed, but in fact a right that she jealously guards. She became one of the most demanding cats in the house in seeking attention, but only on her ground and at her time. Recently (at age seven), she has made the transition to being an almost lap cat; she will lay down next to you on the couch and let you pet her for a long time. Her fur is incredibly thick and soft, so it is a joy to oblige her.

Small, after seven years of being fed and looked after by people, still will not willingly let us touch her. Like Medium, she gets all of her attention and loving from the other cats, and Squash was always ready to oblige her. She is a terror on houseplants, particularly small cacti, and rolls of bathroom tissue or paper towels. We can't leave either out where she will find them or they'll be shredded into bits. We generally catch her and brush out the dead hair a few times a year. She also gets caught once a year to go to the vets. Funny thing is that, at the vets, she doesn't want to leave your lap once she's on it. Unfortunately for us all, Squash passed away in 2003 when Small was six. Kermit and Johnny have not really taken up Squash's role as attention provider for the younger cats, so Small has been much more interested in us lately. We're thinking it's time to lock her in my bedroom for a few months, without other cats, to see if she'll come around and accept attention from people. Medium changed her life at four, so we think there's hope. Small did actually end up being a pound or two smaller than Medium, so the names were appropriate after all.

Introducing the Wild Rumpus

Last summer (1997) Tom and Mama cat (residents of our barn) got together and made some kittens. Jill, being a conscientious cat owner, decided to catch the kittens and find them homes. The first two kittens were fairly easy to catch: a little wet cat food, a cage nearby, and fast hands. One of these, now going by the name of "Punkin", is now living with Connie Noem and has been, and continues to be royally spoiled. She has now become a beautiful (and spoiled) cat. The other, "Bezaleal" (an old Maxwell family name) now graces our house with his presence and has become a real people cat.

The other three weren't so easy.

Fortunately, we had put a "portable" chicken coop into the barn and it had a door on it. So, Jill put the wet food in the chicken coop (not currently being used by chickens) and waited. Before too long, mama cat and the three remaining kittens were in the chicken coop eating the food. When Jill started edging the door shut, mama cat figured out something was up and took off. The kittens remained.

Having now caught them in the (rather large) chicken coop, however, Jill now had to climb into the chicken coop on hands and knees with three scared kittens with very sharp claws and teeth and scoop them up into a cat carrier. I was not there to witness this event, but I did see the scratches afterwards. I can only imaging the mayhem.

Of course, once caught, all of the kittens were placed in one of the bedrooms in our house for "socialization". Bezaleal had not yet been allowed to meet the rest of our cats, so he, too, was placed in the room with the three wilder ones.

Now, giving you a bit of history, we did not know exactly how many kittens there were for quite a while after they were born. You see, three of them were small, short-haired, and black (Bez and Punkin were fuzzy). We would see one or two of them at a time, but couldn't differentiate them at a distance. So when Jill finally saw all three of the non-fuzzy ones at once, she dubbed them Small, Medium, and Large. (Large has now become "Pepper", and is living with Cassidy McCright and is friends with a border collie named Dylan.)

So, now Bez, Small, Medium, and Large were all in the same room together with some cat toys and a couple of carboard boxes. Jill and I took turns sleeping in that room, trying to socialize the kittens a bit. Of course, they wouldn't come too near you while you were awake, although they would come out a bit to play with the feather-wand.

The rules changed at night.

Nighttime is the domain of the wild rumpus. Your toes became the enemy, your bladder became a trampoline, and if you twitched your finger, it was toast. Hair could also be attacked at the slightest provocation. In addition, the two cardboard boxes would get overturned (open side against the floor) and they would engage in tank wars. There would be a kitten (or two) in each box, and the boxes would begin moving across the floor, running into things and one another; and every once in a while a little black paw would come flicking out, waving at the air in terrible defiance.

Needless to say, we started spending more time in there during the day, and less at night. But we could still hear the wild rumpus; and every morning, we would walk into the room and there would be piles of black hair on everything. The only things you could see, though, were four little black kittens sleeping peacfully deep in the corner underneath a foldout cot.

Small, Medium, and Bezaleal (aka "Bez") are now part of our family (bringing the current count to 9). Small, of course, turned out to be slightly larger than Medium, but both are smaller than Pippin. Bez turned into a beautiful black/smoke cat about the same size as Kermit (taking the hair into account). They all have an excess of personality.

Part II of the "Wild Rumpus" coming soon...

Johnny's Revenge

Pippin gets in a pissy moods every now and then, usually after Jill or I have been hassling him. He knows he can't really get back at us, so he tries to take out his frustrations on the other cats. Each of the other cats has a different way of dealing with a pissy Pippin. Kermit just tries to run away (not a successful strategy), Tigger hisses and sometimes pops him one, Squirt wrestles him to the ground, and Squash tries to ignore him (14 pounds v. 7) but is not always successful. Johnny, however, is the only truly Pippin-proof cat in the house.

First of all, Johnny, like Squash, is twice Pippin's size. Unlike the rest of the cats, Johnny is willing to use all 14 pounds to beat up Pippin. This is Johnny's first line of defense. When Johnny gets tired of dealing with pissy Pippin, he simply walks away.

Pippin, however, does not quit so easily. He's usually even more pissy after Johnny has finished pummeling him. In a vain attempt to try to get even, Pippin will run after Johnny and try to bite his leg or butt from behind. This is where Johnny's second defense kicks in: his hair. Since Johnny is a big fuzzball of gray and white hair, Pippin chomps down on Johnny and comes away with a mouth full of fuzz. Of course, Johnny doesn't even notice. Pippin, however, spends the next several minutes looking extremely silly trying to get the hair out of his mouth.

At this point, Pippin usually gives up and takes a nap in a sunbeam.

The Jaguar

Well, we recently moved yet again (hopefully the last time for quite a while). With moving, comes lots of opportunity for the cats to explore new places. In particular, with so much furniture stacked in odd places and next to other tall pieces of furniture the cats have easy access to lots of high spots.

Basically, what this does is allow the cats to get back to their roots. Squirt, the wonderklutz, has decided that she is a jaguar.

We have a tall (7') bookshelf that is a 2x4 frame with adjustable shelves . The top of the book shelf is a 2x4 railing (of course, the 2" part is the horizontal surface). Previously, the shelves have all been full of plants and inaccessible to cats. In the new house, however, Squirt can make it from the window ledge to the top shelf, which is about 3' below the top railing. As Squirt believes she is a jaguar, she has taken to clambering from the top shelf onto the railing, walking around the railing a few times, and eventually falling asleep on it(or pretending to). She seems quite happy.

Cats are happy when you let them have their delusions.

Being a good cat owner, I moved the plants sufficiently so she had enough room to jump down (which for Squirt means I cleared out half the shelf).

Oh well, as long as she's happy.

Moving

We and our cats recently moved to Grand Forks from Pittsburgh, with a little detour along the way because we couldn't move into our house right away. The moving experience I believe can be summed up in one sentence.

Cats don't like to travel.

For the week our stuff was in storage, we stayed at my father-in-law's house. The cats weren't big on that either. They refused to be their normal independent, confident, little selves, and they looked at us often, seeming to ask where THEIR stuff was.

Cats like to have their stuff.

Anyway, when we finally got into our house and unloaded our (their) stuff from the truck, the cats almost instantly got better. They walked around the house, sniffing the furniture and boxes, and returned to their normal cocky, relaxed, confident, independent little selves. The same cats who, just a few hours before were terrified and hiding in corners, now lounged around the house like they owned it (which, of course, they do). Tigger epitomized the change in attitude by laying down in the middle of the floor declaring to the world that this was HER place, and HER stuff, and nobody better mess with it. Of course, if you ask about the previous week she just looks at you and smiles.

The New One

Pippin, named after the halfling in Lord of the Rings, is the newest addition to our home. He is a lanky little bundle of nonstop energy whose favorite games are Face Leech and Bite Your Butt. Face Leech involves running up to a sleeping cat, standing on top of their head and biting their face, ears, and neck. Why the big cats put up with it we don't know, but they patiently peel him off. Bite Your Butt involves chasing after a big cat and jumping on their backs (similar to a Lion taking down a Wildabeast). I think the big cats enjoy this a bit more, as they're usually in a more active frame of mind.

Pippin also enjoys playing with people and will gleefully attack your socks, your hands, and even your face if you get it too close. Of course, he also gets in loving moods, walks up your chest and head-butts your face, all the while purring loudly. It's behavior like that the makes him an extremely endearing little punk. Look for many Pippin stories on this page in the future, as I get the feeling he'll generate quite a few.

The Wise One

Zinta, the one who knows all, passed away in October, 1996 at the age of ten. The heart murmur she'd had since she was a kitten finally caught up with her. She was able to enjoy the last month of her life, however, and was acting like a kitten again without a care in the world. She always was a little nuts, and as a kitten she loved to jump and run just for the heck of it. I recall one time I was leaning against a wall with my hand at about shoulder level tapping my fingers. Little did I realize that Zinta was standing on the ground below me watching my hand. I found out when she jumped up (about 5') and took a playful bat at my fingers.

Zinta also loved it when I would sit on the couch and read. If she was feeling hyper, or in need of attention, she would sit between my feet on the floor and watch my eyes scanning across the book. Eventually, she would rev up, leap over the book and put a playful paw up to my eyes. After that, she would usually settle down into her standard petting position in the crook of my left arm (always, the left arm) and get her tummy scritched.

She only played throw (the cat equivalent of fetch) once as a kitten. I had crumpled up a piece of paper and thrown it across the room. She went chasing after it and brought it back. We played for about 20 minutes before she decided she had other, more important things to do. I guess that decision was permanent.

More recently, in our household she was known as the cat you could rev up. When she was feeling hyper, she would bounce around the house in a sideways run with her back hunched up. If you picked her up, rubbed her back quickly in both directions for 30 seconds or so, and then sent her on her way with the command "kill," she would bop whoever or whatever was in her path. Heaven help the cat that got in her way.

Zinta was a wonderful cat and we miss her stubborn attitude and constantly running purr.

The Mouse

For about 6 months, our cats have been convinced there is a mouse that lives beneath the kitchen floor. Squirt (the black and white wonder klutz), will sit for hours watching the hole in the floor next to the hot water pipe. We don't mind this behavior, as it keeps her out of trouble. She gives you a really nasty look, though, if you ask her whether the mouse has shown up yet. A few months ago, we decided she was right, as a few mouse droppings showed up under the sink.

Finally, the mouse was stupid enough to come into the open when Kermit, the ferocious orange fuzzball was in the room. Kermit has medium length orange hair, and is normally the most adorable, cute, wimpy, and anti-ferocious creature you've ever met. When Jill went to check out what the noise was, she found Kermit, every hair on his body sticking straight out, with his paw on the mouse's tail as it cowered between a cabinet and the wall. Kermit was somewhat confused because he knew if he let go the mouse would get away, but he didn't have a good enough grip to bring it out. Jill interceded, but failed to catch the mouse before it slipped behind the catboxes and headed for its safety hole. Apparently, Squirt got herself wedged between the catboxes and the wall before realizing the mouse had gotten away. We haven't seen much sign of the mouse since, so perhaps it learned its lesson about coming too close to the ferocious Kermit.

The Bird in the Window

Kermit loves to watch the birds. We, being excellent cat owners, have set up a very nice spot for them to watch the nine bird feeders we have in the back yard. We placed two chairs underneath the window, and then put a box across them covered with a blanket so that Squirt and Tigger (our height challenged kitties) can see out easily. We can't easily get into the stove or refridgerator because of this setup, but the cats are comfortable. This winter we've regularly had 30-40 birds visiting at any given time.

Kermit's favorite birds are the mourning doves and pigeons (he also likes the blue-jays that come close to the window for peanuts). This morning Kermit almost had his dreams come true. He was hunched down at the window-sill watching a dozen pigeons when something spooked them. Normally this just results in a sound like thunder and the pigeons scattering away from the house. Today, however, one of the pigeons flew straight at the window and ran into the screen. Kermit, expecting the pigeon to fly through the window, leapt up to about the height of my head and his front paws clapped together, right where the pigeon would have flown. Not catching anything and being highly off-balance when he landed, Kermit pulled over the box and blanket. Of course, he immediately jumped up onto the window-sill to figure out what happened. By this time, the pigeon--which appeared to be quite all right--had flown away. I put back the box and blanket, put on a scarf and gloves, and put out more bird seed. The things we do for our cats...

A Very Wet Cat

Yet another story about Squirt, our silly black and white cat. To really understand this story, I'll first explain that our apartment has two doors, a back door, and a front door. Our front door opens onto a hallway, at the end of which is a door to the outside. The story begins with my wife Jill bringing in groceries from the car and, as far as we can figure, not quite shutting the inner door. This is normally not a problem as, if the cats manage to pry the door open, they get stuck in the hallway, get bored, and scratch and meow until we let them back in.

One this particular day, however, a plumber was working on the upstairs apartment. When Jill had finished bringing in the groceries, she didn't notice that Squirt was still in the hallway. We guess that Squirt then managed to con the plumber into letting her outside (she is a very cute cat, after all). Unfortunately for her, the weather conditions happened to be freezing rain and sleet, with about 1/2-inch of ice on the ground already. About a half-hour later, Jill looked outside the back-door (which Squirt has scooted out before) and saw this little black and white cat running frantically back and forth in front of the door meowing pitfully (which in her case is not very loud and very pitiful). Every hair on Squirt's body was sticking straight out and she looked (and I'm sure felt) quite miserable. Of course Jill let her in a dried her off, but we were laughing for quite a while. Squirt has not seriously tried to get outside since. Don't worry, it'll wear off soon enough.

The Wall

Squirt, our black and white klutz, was being a little mexican jumping bean and running around the house at full speed. She raced down the hallway, across the living room, into the bathroom and leapt full force for the window (about 4 feet up). She made it about 3 feet. After going face-first into the wall, she fell to the ground and promptly turned around and raced back to the other end of the house. Once there, she acted like she meant to do that and began licking her paws.

Johnny's Seat

Johnny, a grey and white fuzzball, likes to lay down on his (yes, his) bean bag chair. One day, when I had the audacity to be laying on his bean bag chair reading, Johnny came up behind me, put his paw on my shoulder, and meowed pitifully (as Johnny usually does). I got off the bean bag chair, and Johnny proceed to turn around a couple of times and lay down where I had been. He then looked at me as if to say, "ok, now you can pet me in recompense for taking my chair." Of course, I did.

Friction

Our Pittsburgh apartment has linoleum floors in the kitchen and bathroom, something new to our younger cats when we moved there. In the beginning they weren't used to the lack of traction (Squirt still isn't). I happened to be doing the dishes in the kitchen one day and Kermit was wandering around the kitchen, inspecting his world. Unfortunately, he wasn't expecting me to accidentally drop a bowl. The noise sent him scurrying for the living room. Not being used to the linoleum floors, though, it took him a bit longer than he expected and reminded me of a locomotive trying to start on greased tracks. Fortunately, both the bowl and Kermit are doing fine.