Something Smells Dead

There’s been a new addition to our family – a four-legged addition. Anyone who knows me might conclude that it’s a dog, but they’d be wrong. It’s a creature that purrs and meows, sometimes at the same time.

That’s right, a cat, or, to be precise, a kitten. And yes, she’s absolutely adorable.

After the rat problem we had been wondering if we could entice a stray cat to adopt us. Adopting a kitten wasn’t part of the plan, for two reasons. One, we didn’t know where to get one; and two, kittens are too small to attack rats. They do grow up, of course, as has been pointed out by various people, but it takes time. So we discussed and debated, but the sleek black cat that we sometimes saw in our back yard didn’t seem very interested in adopting us, so it was all for nought.

Then one evening, while I was immersed in my laptop sitting in the car parked outside the tennis court waiting for the kids to get done with their tennis class, Tara came running up to me. “There are kittens there,” she said with much excitement.

Sure enough, the tennis coach had taken the bunch of kids over to inspect a cardboard carton that was populated by two kittens and a cat.

I’d have thought the cat might be all protective and fierce about her kittens. After all, this was the same creature that I’d seen running at full speed across the ground, chasing a full-grown mongrel street dog – a sight that had made my eyes pop and my jaw drop at the time. Of course that made perfect sense now. It was just surprising that the same cat was so zen about a bunch of kids and a couple of adults hanging around talking to her kittens. I tickled her under the ear and she purred happily, while her babies hung back and eyed me suspiciously.

Well, I didn’t waste any time. I told the tennis coach that I wanted them kittens, both of them. Trouble was, I couldn’t take them home right away. For one thing, I hadn’t thought this through and I hadn’t even discussed it with my better half in the recent past. For another, even if he agreed, as I was sure he would (especially after he took one look at them, they were so damn cute) I still had to figure out where we were going to keep them, and how, and what we were going to feed them, and where they were going to pee and poop and all that stuff. Besides, even I took them anyway, how was I going to get them home? I blithely proposed that Mrini and Tara could hold one each on their laps for the drive, but, much to my surprise, they were horrified at the suggestion.

So I told coach I’d be back in the morning to take the babies home.

That evening, as we discussed it, I had a few misgivings. Was I doing the right thing, tearing the babies away from their mother? Were they too young? Maybe they needed their mother for a while longer yet.

But fate took the matter out of our hands. The next morning, when I went to the tennis court, I saw some movement near the kittens’ home and thought nothing of it. Coach assured me the kittens were there, though whether one, two, or three he wasn’t sure. I played. Then I finished and waited. Taking our kittens home was to be a family affair. Amit was to come by bus, bringing the kids in tow, and we would all drive back home together in my car, Amit driving, me holding the kittens. I’d thought about it a bit and decided to wear a thick pair of track pants (instead of the lovely, light, Nike shorts I usually wear), in case the kittens wanted to scratch me to bits. I expected placid and terrified kittens, but you never know. I had also brought along a large, thick rag – in case they wanted to puke.

While waiting for Amit and the kids to arrive, I went to check out the situation. The box was there, where it had been just 12 hours ago. One kitten was there, crouched right at the back, eyeing me warily, baring his tiny fangs and snarling rather piteously. Of the other kitten (or kittens) and the mother there was no sign.

Amit and the kids came and we waited and looked around and asked around, but nobody was telling us anything useful. In fact, nobody could know except for the caretaker, because when I went home the evening before, he was the only person left there. And of course, he was now conveniently not to be seen. Somebody said that the other kitten had been given to the meat stall nearby, whether as pet or forager or fuel I don’t know and would rather not speculate. But where was the cat? It’s not easy to give away an adult street cat, however amenable she might be to having her ears tickled.

Well, there was no choice now. If the cat and other kitten had gone, we had to take this one little fellow home. Otherwise, in no time, she would die of starvation or thirst (or illness or loneliness), if she didn’t get eaten by a street dog, first.

So we got into the car with Sandy on my lap and drove home. She was very quiet during the entire drive, hardly using her fangs or claws at all. She was shivering a lot, from fear I suppose.

And the rest, as they say, is history.
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Now, three weeks on, if she deigns to sit in our laps at all, she purrs loudly and bites and scratches our hands mercilessly. The rest of the time, she expects us to play with her nonstop – running, jumping, skipping, hopping games. If we go inside and leave her alone in the large balcony that is currently her entire kingdom, she eyes us accusingly. And when we go out to meet her later, she comes running towards us, happy as a puppy, bleating like a lamb. Where, I ask you, is that famous feline independence and arrogance?

At least she’s a quick learner. She doesn’t appear to have grown significantly bigger in three weeks, but she has learnt to jump – both up and down. At first, she was tentative about jumping off our laps. Now? She jumps up onto the parapet – not directly, I think, but probably by hopping up on top of the living room skylights, first. She walks along the narrow edge of the planters’ pots, which have no plants, only rainwater. She leans over the edge to peer through the leaves of the mango tree into the garden below, while we watch with heart-in-mouth. She hops off nonchalantly, on to the sloping glass skylight, and then slides down it with elan.

The steps that lead from the balcony to the ground floor are a tight spiral of thin metal slats. She doesn’t like them one bit. I want to encourage her to expand her territory, so I’ve been training her to negotiate the steps. Yesterday, I carried her to the bottom of the steps (while she protested lustily), then deposited her on the third step from the ground. After considering the matter gravely, she figured out how to get down. I made her practice it several times, increasing the height to five steps. She performed admirably. Today, I changed things around a little. I perched her one step up from the balcony. Oh, boy, she hated that. She knows, I think, that she’s a long, long way from the ground and falling down is not something she wants to do. She can’t slip through the metal slats, but she doesn’t trust them one bit. And rightly so. There is a vertical gap between the steps that she can easily slip through. Well, she managed to get down one step without slipping through, and then she gingerly managed the slatted walkway (less than 2 ft long) to get onto terra firma as it were, but she didn’t like it at all.
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(That ladder you see there in the picture is gone now. So the steps are the only way up and down – until she figures out an innovative solution of her own.)

A few days after Sandy came home, while I was sitting in the dining room, I heard loud meowing. Sandy’s meowing is thin and feeble to say the least – not usually audible in the dining room. I went to see and guess what? Not one, not two, but three whole cats were prowling around the boundary wall of our back yard. One was the jet black cat, the other two were grey. I thought the grey ones looked somewhat younger. They got into a fenced off area and seemed hesitant about their ability to get out of it – though the black cat leapt out as fluently as if she did this sort of thing every day, which she probably did, for all I know. I don’t, obviously, know much about the social lives of cats, but since I’d just read up a whole lot about the social lives of primates thanks to my archaeology course, I quickly arrived at the conclusion that these three cats must be related females, probably a mom with two daughters. Not that the two grey cats looked anything like the black, but never mind that.

We were both a little worried about whether these cats might attack Sandy. I thought not – they might scrap over food, but surely they wouldn’t be interested in killing her. She was no threat to them. All the same, I googled it, and was relieved to find that several websites said cats would most likely just stay out of each other’s way, if they could. The one case where tom cats might kill off infants so they could mate with the females didn’t apply, so we should be ok.

That night, I was sitting in the balcony playing with Sandy when I suddenly realized there was a grey cat sitting on the steps eyeing us silently. I got quite a shock. How long had the creature been sitting there? I watched it for a few minutes to see what it wanted to do, and only gradually did I realize that it wasn’t alone – there was its possible sibling, sitting one step lower, staring at us equally silently.

Well, if they’d wanted to fight with our kitten, they’d have done so by now. I pointed them out to Sandy, but she either didn’t see them, or didn’t care.

Oh, I know – maybe they’re male cats and are waiting for Sandy to grow up. We’d better have her fixed soon, before we get more cats than we’d bargained for.

Time flies when you’re having fun, right? Well, it’s been flying all right. I put some food out for Sandy three or four times a day, sometimes she gobbles it up, sometimes she ignores it. But any time of day or night, she’s ready to play. We brought her into the house one night, because it was pouring cats and dogs outside, and she proceeded to jump all over us and scratch our legs and chew our hair for 90 minutes non-stop before I gave up and put her out again. If she gave me a baleful or accusatory look that time, I have to say I didn’t notice it.

As far as toilet training goes, it’s been unbelievably easy. We bought a plastic tub and put some coco peat in it, and she’s been using it happily ever since. She doesn’t seem to mind that the cocopeat is fairly wet, having got a solid drenching in the rain over the past couple of weeks. I do change it every other day or so, but even the fresh cocopeat is wet – we keep the sack outdoors and the entire thing got soaked.

Of course, even with the high entertainment value, I haven’t forgotten the reason we got a cat in the first place. She’s supposed to catch those rats, remember? I’ve had various discussions in which skepticism has been expressed about whether this particular cat is ever going to be able to kill a rat. First, she hasn’t had the appropriate training from her mother. All she’s got is me, and I’m no good at killing rats. Second, she’s got much too comfortable a life right now. Food four times a day. A nice cozy box with a blanket to curl up in (alright, it’s actually a discarded curtain, but so what?). Four crazy humans to play with. Who needs to go after rats, right?

I’m a bit skeptical myself. On the one hand, an animal has instincts, right? If its instincts say, go kill rats, that’s your job in the world, then it should jolly well go kill rats, right? As a child, I had three dogs as siblings (well, I had a sister, too, but she didn’t kill any rats). Two of the dogs were pretty good at killing rats. (The third was pedigreed, so she was pretty much a write-off, but she made up for it by being sweet.) So this cat should have rat-killing instincts, right?

On the other hand, though, she’s female. Boys will go kill rats just to have fun, but girls are too sweet for that. If she’s fed and entertained and pampered, I’m not sure she has sufficient motivation to even venture downstairs to rat territory. Why wouldn’t she just curl up, lick her chops, purr, and go to sleep? I’m sure that’s what I would do in her place. Ok, fine, that’s not sweet, that’s just disgustingly lazy, but so what? Nature is like that right? – don’t go spend a lot of energy doing patently risky (and yucky) stuff unless you really have to. Right?

kitty

Right.

Maybe it’s different for cats, though. I don’t know. What I do know is that, early this morning, as I sat playing with kitty and she sat purring contentedly while she scratched my hands to bits, I smelt something dead.

At first I thought – oh, that’s the famous stink of cat pee that the websites warn you about. But a casual glance in the direction of her litter box made me think twice. Actually, I must confess, I don’t know what cat poop looks like. You can’t see it when it’s smothered in cocopeat. I have a notion that it should be pellets, like goat dung. What I saw in her litter box was like a squishy lump of something, about the size of a small frog. That couldn’t possibly have come out of the cat! It was covered in cocopeat, but I fancied it had the shape of a small frog. I don’t know how a small frog could possibly have got onto our balcony, but I didn’t want to think about that. Whatever it was, it was smelling very dead. I wrinkled up my nose, scooped it up with a garden spade, and tossed it on to the compost heap that is slowly growing into a mountain in the back yard.

So, the kitten can kill! I can’t think of any other way something dead wound up in her litter box. Why she chose to put it there, I don’t really know, but clearly at least the girl has some instincts left. Hah! Those rats had better watch out now.

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