JDN: This one’s for you. ♥
The third week of my internship was spent with cats. A bit different than my time with lions in Africa, but it’s interesting how similar the various feline groups are in mannerisms, as I’ve seen both domestic cats and lions have many of the same behaviors, just at very different scales and impacts. The cat and dog areas of the sanctuary are the largest in terms of total number of animals in these areas, and interns are typically assigned to one area for their week, so we just see a limited amount, but it’s still a great experience. I was fortunate in that I was able to spend in two cat areas, with a few hours in a third one, as well. Having been a cat owner, and being around cats my whole life, this area was familar in many ways, but there were still things to learn when it comes to caring for this many of them in one place. It’s a bit of an overwhelming prospect, really, but they manage the best they can, and for the vast majority of these animals, they have a better life at the sanctuary than from where they came.
For the first two days of the week I was in the headquarters building for cats, and it wound up being a fast favorite. Nearly all of the cats in this building have various behavior and medical needs, and either live on their own if they prefer a single cat environment, or in pairs if they like a little bit of company. They have private indoor rooms, as well as their own dedicated patio, cutely called a “catio”, which is fully enclosed to keep them safe. Think of a screened-in porch, just with stronger material, as cats and screens do not mix well. Our mornings began like all mornings around the sanctuary, which meant feeding all the cats, including their morning medications, and then cleaning each room and catio. Some of the cats love their room cleaning visitors, whether it be their familiar caregivers and staff, or new people, like interns and volunteers, and others would just as soon not have any visitors. For the friendly cat rooms, I’d give them love and attention during the process, and for the shy ones, I was quiet and slower in my movements so as to not scare them. It’s all about reading each one, with the caregivers’ guidance when needed, and adjusting accordingly. It’s not all that different than people, really. We are all unique, and have different personalities, interests, and moods. Each cat had a short profile write-up outside their rooms, as well as a more detailed whiteboard inside their room with instructions for caregivers and volunteers, which was super helpful. The staff at headquaters were just fantastic, and I really enjoyed it there.
Every single animal has a story, and while I’m certainly not going to attempt to highlight them all, I can share a few highlights from my time at Cat Headquarters before sharing a bit about the other cat areas that I visited. First up is Toulouse, a young orange male tabby, who was a fairly new arrival. He prefers to be a single cat, and craves attention, yet is still figuring out how much he enjoys before he’s done with it, so he can be quick to switch from affection to independence. Toulouse is a shoulder jumper, so if you’re not paying attention to where he is in the room, you may just find him jumping on you to get to his desired high perch. He loves to chase toys and play, and is a real cutie. On the first day of cleaning his room, I found two piles of vomit, both undigested food, which told me that he either has a food sensitivity, acid reflux, or is a gorger. In alerting the cat caregivers to my findings, and discussing the likely cause and some options, I suggested a food puzzle option to slow him down to test the likely culprit of being a gorger. When I checked his room and catio the next morning, he had finished all his kibble in the slow feeder and there were no signs of regurgitation, so I was pleased with this small win.
Next up is Ooms, who is across the hall from Talouse, and she’s just a super sweet female tabby with beautiful light green eyes. She has neurological damage to her pelvic nerves, which means she needs help with urine elimination once or twice a day, but is otherwise a healthy and happy girl. She likes to go on walks, seeking a few favorite spots along the way, and this is good to help her condition. Ooms is one of those animals that perhaps doesn’t photograph nearly as pretty as she is in person, as she has a sweet disposition and affection toward people, despite her past tail pull injury, that really is a spirit well beyond what the lens can often capture. I just adored her.
Ah, Sonya. This pure white kitty is a spit-fire, and I sort of loved that about her. She has some pretty chronic allegies to just about everything, and is on a special diet, but that doesn’t stop her from ruling the roost, so to speak. This cat lets you know what she wants and what she doesn’t, and at the top of her list is time outside. The girl just can’t get enough. Harness walks are a favorite, which were a process to get her introduced to, rejecting the notion until she decided that she wanted to go do what she saw other cats doing, so now she pretty much demands to go. And she may be the only cat at the sanctuary with a particular love for rides in the golf cart. I know, right? The animal areas the sanctuary make use of these carts to get around to the various areas that are nearby, versus driving cars all the time. So to see a cart with a couple of cat caregivers Driving Miss Sonya… well, it just doesn’t get any more perfect to describe her: She’s her own personality, for sure.
Mister Leopold, I presume? This light gray tabby with the striking blue eyes is another assertive cat that has no problem telling you all about it. He had a leg injury that required surgery last year, then was on a plan to try to get the weight off of him that he gained during the recovery, but he was looking pretty good by the time I met him, much thinner than he shows on the news article about his surgery and recovery, so his care plan has worked well. He, like Sonya, likes to get outside, but the coming back… not so much. He saw me one day outside with Ooms, spotting us from his catio, and I could hear him meowing from quite a ways away — he is part Siamese, afterall, and they can really howl when they want to. So I took him out and I’ll be damned if he didn’t go over to the same spot to see what was so great about Ooms’ shady spot under a tall tree. In trying to get some photos of him, the moment I’d kneel down, he come toward me, so I figured that I was going to use that when it was time to lure him back inside. This worked well, and I was able to get him nearly to the door, then had to pick him up and take him inside and down the hall. He was fine until he figured out what was going on, and that we were headed back to his room, and he wasn’t done being out yet, so he started to protest. A little caregiver persuasion worked like a charm.
And this leads me to the one that really spoke to my heart, Lux. Lux is a bit infamous from his appearance in an episode of My Cat From Hell, as well as news stories from a past household calling 911 out of fear of the cat. I was given a little bit of background on him, but not too much, which helped me ensure that I struck a balance between awareness without baggage. I purposely have not read any information online or viewed the various videos on this cat, as I really didn’t want to have any interactions with him where I came in with preconceived notions or fear — animals can pick up on this — and so the two of us being clean slates to one another was perfect. Had I not known anything about his background, I would have never guessed this cat to have past aggression issues. From the moment I saw him, I felt this cat in my heart, even before learning anything about him. He just has that energy of being a sweet soul under layers of misunderstandings and lack of validation for his needs, which he’s thankfully getting at the sanctuary, and it’s made all the difference. He’s in a staff only room, and the caregivers decided to allow me to enter, confident that it would be totally fine, and it was. The protective leg gators that I had to wear on my lower legs wound up being just another thing that he would rub against while getting pets and attention. Lux gives plenty of signs for what he wants and the way that he likes to interact, and his caregivers are very tuned into that. He is a boy that does very well with routine and predictability. I won’t soon forget this beautiful boy, and I will be rooting for his continued improvement and care for a long time to come. Some animals come into your heart instantly and deeply. And he’s one of them.
There were so many others worth mentioning, but then my two days were over and it was time to move to another area of cats for the rest of the week, a building named Colonel’s after a former cat that had a particular taste for chickens, where I met dozens of more cats and helped support the caregiver team there, which was great. This area was group housing, where the cats live in large colonies, most of them ameniable to that, but some that would likely prefer a bit more solo attention. The building I was in had four large rooms with even larger catios, with intricate rafters where the cats would hide out or get a birds eye view of the action below, and two slightly smaller rooms, but also pretty good sized. Each room had a color scheme, which was entertaining for the volunteers that would come visit, whether on a tour, or to help out in that area. I cleaned each of the four big rooms during my three days in this building, and also a room in an adjacent building. It was fun to meet all the various cats, learn a bit about some of their stories, and be a part of their care. As with Headquarters, while I adored them all, there were a few standouts for me, so following are some highlights.
First up is the very handsome Wade. When I saw him my heart skipped a beat and I almost gasped. My best friend had a black cat when we were growing up, and Wade instantly reminded me of Bugsy, as well as the other black cats to follow in her life. He is super sweet, very even-keeled, gets along with other cats, and has a great energy about him. Some of the more needy cats in his colony get jealous when other cats get attention, and Wade takes it all in stride. He is not a fan of being in a cat carrier for very long, which seems to be his one issue, but otherwise he was perfect in my eyes. When he lounges on his side, he looks like a gorgeous black panther, just one that you can love on. If I could teleport him to my black cat loving friend, I’d do it. I just felt that she’d instantly love him as I did. More.
Miss Alana is a lovely little black cat with a spot of white on her chest, and she’s just something else. She is often near the door of her cat colony room, talking about how she wants to go on a stroller ride, as this girl simply lives for them. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. When you put her in a covered stroller and take her on the cat walking trails (yes, they really have these at the sanctuary), she rubs against the inside of the thing and purrs like crazy. There are several cats that I met that do this and from what I can figure, they enjoy the adventure in the safety of their little cat-mobile, being able to get some fresh air beyond their shared catios, and have some time where it’s just about them. For some of the cats that go on stroller rides, they may have mobility issues that make walks challenging, but for ones that walk just fine, they just seem to enjoy it. And that’s Miss Alana — a little princess that is looking for all the loves.
Meeting little Koda and Vern reminded me of Toulouse, mostly Koda, as he has a similar personality in that he desperately wants attention and affection, but is quick to bat at you when he’s done, which varies in length of time and circumstances. His trigger seems to be competition and proximity to other cats, which in a cat colony is sort of built into the deal. So a couple of times I would let him come up onto a shoulder, and then move into the center of the catio so there were no other cats to compete with for attention. I’d do a little short slow dance with him, while he hugged and nuzzled, but not for too long, as he was still figuring out his limits and self-control. Vern was another orange and white tabby, also very affectionate and playful, and a bit more controlled in his switch to aggression, but not by much. This is fairly typical in cats that are trying to communicate that they need more independent attention, so that’s where some additional one-on-one time with staff and volunteers can really help them.
And finally, the lovely Siren. This girl is so cute that she’s been on the cover of Best Friends magazine, of which she’s quite proud. And her whiskers… they deserve special mention because they are a mile long, which is particularly cute on her small frame. She has some digestive issues and needs some special care because of that, but that doesn’t stop her from being a little princess and enjoying life. She likes short walks outside, and is a particular fan of chewing on grass.
Next up: Week Four in Dogs!