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Sunday, May 31, 2009

TARBABY & THE CATS



TarBaby was given to me by his mother when he was two weeks old. She had taken up here in an ice storm when we had two inches of ice on the ground for two weeks. Evidently a feral cat lost in the world of ice where guiding scents are sealed under it. She was a mottled calico that some call tortoise shell. I think of it as calico that's been through a blender. She was afraid and cried under the house. I took food to her and water, because all the water was frozen. She continued to stay and I continued to feed her. It was a month before she let me touch her.

TarBaby and the other two kittens opened their eyes the day their mother ran under a car entrusting them to me. I put the babies in a paper bag and went to the vet for examination and some counsel on how to care for them. I bought some formula for kittens and was instructed on what to do. DeBord told me they wouldn't live. I knew they would, but thought I'd keep it to myself. Didn't have any proof. Just knew it. I knew they needed mother love as much as they needed food. I turned on mother love and they just had their thirteenth birthday last mother's day. I don't remember their birthday by the date it was that year, only that it was mother's day.

TarBaby is the gelding male. I don't know if there could be a better pet than a neutered Tom. The other two are girls. Caterpillar and Tapo. I knew them when they were like one soul with three bodies. Caterpillar was the nurturer. She is good example of a Maine Coon, not genetically, but she's full Maine Coon in the body. She was the one that kept the other two clean as the mother would. In fact, Caterpillar got to where she liked it so much she made herself a bit woozy for awhile from eating so much of it. And she'd lick the other two until it hurt. I wondered if I'd got the Marquis de Sade reborn as a cat.

They started growing up and individuating along the way, hissing when one came too close or looked a certain way, 'Don't you look at me like that. I know what you're thinking!' The dominance competitions came along about the time they would be the equivalent of teenager. Fighting, positioning. I can beat you up, so you better not look at me. It was a year or two of the occasional scuffle when especially TarBaby and Tapo, also black, rolled around on the floor looking like an erratic bowling ball with a life of its own rolling around sounding like a catfight.

TarBaby and Caterpillar turned out to be about a draw in the fighting contests. But Caterpillar had what I think of as more automatic behavior than TarBaby and Tapo. When TarBaby and Tapo fought, it was understood it was play and they're not looking to hurt each other. They also have a different definition for hurt than you and I do. Ten claws in our backs and needle teeth biting, we think it hurts. That's just play for a cat. When they get down to hurting each other, they know how to make it really hurt.

TarBaby and Tapo tended to go into a fight a little bit at a time and seldom get as far as all out. Caterpillar started at all out. When Caterpillar pounced on one of them, it was on and it was all out. Caterpillar has thicker hide, about like a groundhog's, and TarBaby and Tapo have pink skin under the hair. Her hair is densely matted so their claws don't penetrate so deep into her hide. Their hair is so short her claws can have full effect. When Caterpillar started fighting, the other two were all out engaged in trying to get away from her. All the time they fight her, they're twisting and squirming, giving it everything they've got trying to get loose from her and fight at the same time.

TarBaby can handle his own with Caterpillar, but it's a serious effort because Caterpillar is heavy, fast and goes into another zone when she's fighting, such that she isn't consciously aware of what she's doing, fighting on intuition all the way, a pure martial artist. TarBaby is her match, but she's got that crazy edge he doesn't like to provoke. When he gets into it with Tapo, the leastun, they just roll around on the floor a bit and howl like Jackie Chan and Jet Li in a Hong Kong kung fu thriller. But if you pass Caterpillar and you touch her, or move just a little too fast, next thing you're doing is trying with everything you've got to get out from under this crazy cat that has completely gone off the deep end and is all out working you over like egg beaters.

So Caterpillar rules. In their advanced years TarBaby is the more athletic of them. He's trim and can still jump like a squirrel. He's been able to kick Caterpillar butt for several years now, but still doesn't mess with her. It's just too much of a workout, because Caterpillar doesn't quit. She has the meanest look too when they stare each other down. She'll stare TarBaby or Tapo straight in the eye like a bull looking at a dog saying through the eyes, I'm gonna make hamburger out of your ass. She rules with her eyes now. When Caterpillar says, 'Don't you look at me,' she means it.

TarBaby is the adventurer. He explores. He will run up a tree and walk around in its upper branches just to look around from up there and see what it's like. Once I saw him jump from one tree to another. He walked out as far on the limb as would bear his weight and jumped 5 to 8 feet and landed on the branch of the next tree like landing on a tightrope. I've seen squirrels do that, but they have 4 hands to grab the branch with. TarBaby's feet can't grasp. He's a four-legged tightrope walker up there. I think he was a monkey in his last lifetime.

TarBaby likes to walk with me like a dog. All the time the cats were young the dog Aster lived here. She was never a playmate, but she was their friend and taught them to stay out of the road when they were first walking. She was able to teach them much their mother couldn't teach them.

To TarBaby, Aster and I were the big ones. Caterpillar, Tapo and TarBaby were the little ones. He wanted to be one of the big ones from the time he could first walk. Aster died around 6 years ago and TarBaby has been a big one ever since. He took Aster's role as the protector. He can't keep dogs away, but he sure can keep cats away, and snakes and mice and all the other varmints that go with living in the country. TarBaby and I have a close telepathic understanding. We're the big ones. We keep the territory safe for the girls.

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