travelog 29

BooBoo Kitty in Redwood City

Her name is "Beast". But everybody calls her also "BooBoo Kitty", "Peaches" or "Miss Priss". She's a pure bred Persian cat with a smashed-in face - some think she's wonderfully pretty and cute others think she's ugly. "Yoda" keeps her company. He's a small black tom-cat with huge ears and he belongs definitely to the wild sort of cat. And in the bedroom lives lonesome and alone "Thor", a huge tom-cat with feline AIDS, who would love to be around people.

Last year we agreed to house-sit three cats for some friends of ours who had to go to Germany to make friends with their new Unimog. Since San Fransisco is one of our favorite cities in the US we were really looking forward to it. To park PocoLoco in the driveway and to settle down for two month. Museums, libraries, cinemas, theaters, shopping, and good restaurants, everything around the corner. In the middle of the Silicon Valley it's easy to find real mozzarella, quark (something like curd cheese), French cheese, exotic fruits, crusty bread, Greek olive oil, Spanish chorizo, Swiss chocolate, and Italian salametti. (Don't, however, ask how much they cost).

We have so much fun with our hosts they can barely manage to leave on their trip. Judy and I have a good time in the different shopping centers, delicatessen, and then we create fantastic dishes in the kitchen. Bob and Martin spend their days in Bobs office where Martin has to prove himself once again as a computer expert. In the meantime the three cats get used to our presence while we learn how to take care of them properly, that is to say how to spoil them. After our hosts leave finally for Germany the cats are suffering from their first shock. Our voices sound different, we resist their yearning looks, and we don't give a bite away of our temptingly smelling people food. As well we're not ready to hand feed the Persian cat at every opportunity. Big changes for all the occupants of the house!

First of all we have to get used to our new bedroom and our miaowing fellow occupant. Thor prefers to sleep at the foot of the bed and he tries practically every night to sneak onto one of our pillows. As soon as we leave clothes on the bed or on a chair and let our attention wander for a moment, he's there lying on it, taking posession of it. Cat hair is everywhere. His litter box is in the bathroom and after he uses it he jumps around the room spreading the sand all over the place. If we do not pay attention to him for a too long time he sits in front of the door and cries like little baby. Now it's time to go and play with him in his prison: throwing balls, teasing with a stick and feathers, entertaining with shoe strings, combing his fur, or simply stroking him. He loves to sit with us in front of the TV where he frightens away the other cats who are scared stiff of him. The sad part about the whole story is that he could bite the other cats and then he could infect them with his virus. So he has to live in the bedroom instead of being put to sleep.

Beast is a shy type of cat. With her we have to wait until she needs her share of kindness and affection. Every night she waits for us to take the comb and the handkerchief out of the drawer. Then she wants to be combed thoroughly and we also have to clean her eyes. As a reward for her patience she gets some treats in the form of little hearts. Of course hand fed! After a dental operation she's missing one tooth. So she holds her head to one side, opens the mouth, and waits until you let fall the delicacy which she swallows without any chewing. She spends the days eating, sleeping, eating, sleeping, roaming around, eating, and sleeping. Either she suns her belly in the grass in front of the house or on the big wooden deck over the water. Now and then she chases a fly but because of the arthritis like a dull phlegmatic person.

Yoda is something else. He's constantly on the move, observes, disappears for hours, reappears shortly at his food bowl just to go underground without any trace again. He takes his well deserved nap at midday and at night he's always the last one to come in, actually, he needs a special invitation most of the time. One (this actually means a "she" since he seems to have had bad experiences with men) opens the door and lures him in in the highest possible frequencies with "yammi yammi yammi, Yoda, yammi, yammi, yammiiiiiiiiiii". That is cat-speak for "we have something delicious for you to eat". Most of the times this procedure helps and the little black devil shoots into the house. When Martin had to do all that for some days on his own, Yoda did not show up and the next morning he found him pitifully miaowing in front of the door. We're very happy that he survived the night together with the racoons - so is he and after two outdoor overnight stays we don't have to work as hard now to get him to come in.

The days go by just like this and after a short while we know exactly that we don't want to have three cats at a time! On the other hand we are getting very used to their company and they are growing very fond of us. With each cat we discover peculiarities, each one has different needs, and each one needs its share of kindness and affection.

Thor attracts attention to himself because of his howling and crying. We play with him every night before we go to bed. One night he hid behind the door and waited for his moment. When Martin opened the door carefully he escaped quickly and shot into the garage. Luckily Yoda is still outside and all doors are closed. But Beast must be somewhere in the house. It was impossible to lure Thor from under the car or scare him out, nothing helped. Suddenly he was through the door in one bound and ran away into the living room. Quick, after him! Martin shouted at him which only made the cat to take refuge between the chairs. In the meantime I found Beast in the kitchen. She looked a picture of misery in panic fear of the predator in the living room. She snuggled close up to me and hugged me with her front paws. She never before loved me that much! Finally Martin managed to pull out Thor from under the table and transported him back into the bedroom. It was priceless since the interim head of the household had no time to cover himself for the chase.

Yoda needs a lot of time to come and actually ask for his share of kindness and affection. First he dares to come near me, or better, he lets me approach him. By now I can pet him in his different sleeping places, and then he jumps onto my lap and does not want to leave anymore. Later he follows me in the garden and waits and miaows until I sit down somewhere and he jumps onto my lap. At night he honours us with his presence in front of the TV where he soon can't decide if he likes it better with aunt Julia or with uncle Martin. When he's really relaxed his to fangs hang out of his mouth like Dracula teeth. As soon as we pet him he likes it so much that his spittle drips out of his mouth. He personally does not like this and that's why he rubs his slobber first into the fresh t-shirt and then onto the new jeans. It doesn't make it any better that he has very, very bad breath... Another Yoda speciality are the little piles which we find sometimes in the morning. After I find whole contents of a cat food can under the table and I can even distinguish all the pink pieces, I decide to put him on a dry food diet. Nevertheless we sometimes have a pleasant surprise because he loves to lick his fur and then he distributes the hairballs throughout the house. The best present we find in the garage: Yoda had made himself comfortable on the black and shiny roof of the Lexus where he felt the urgent need to throw up!

Beast has a mind of her own and we're not sure how clever she really is. At any rate she moves like a princess and that's exactly how she lays her piles in the garden. She wants to be hand fed for the first thing in the morning. Then she looks around on the terrace. Over and over she waits near the food bowls for somebody to put little bits of food into her mouth. Her favorite thing is lying on her back and getting her belly rubbed. This is the best in front of the TV and then she can't stop purring. Sometimes we hear a miserable miaowing and we start worrying because it sounds like she is really in trouble. Then we find her sitting in front of her bowl, waiting for somebody to hand feed her. Or she tries then to convince you to rub her belly. She really is a loner and can't stand any other cat around her. If she didn't enjoy having her belly rubbed and combed so much, she would be a hermit.

After 2 1/2 months of feeding cats, giving kindness and attention, cleaning throw ups, and the constant feeling of being on a sand beach in the bathroom because of Thors litter box, we're more than ready for our own narrow four walls and we can't wait to start out on new and unknown adventures! The return of the real heads of the house hold is again a shocking experience for the three cats. First of all there is a strange man with a deep voice who can't be trusted an inch. Then there are suddenly two women in the house. One of them (the one who just returned from Germany) tries very hard to hug her cats which mean more to her than anything. Beast is hiding under the wooden deck and acts aloof whenever somebody wants to hold her. Yoda can vaguely remember his mistress. He's just a little bit confused and does not yet know onto which legs he wants to snuggle. Thor does not care at all, the main thing is that somebody cares about him!

At our departure we also say goodbye to our favourite pets. Yoda only accepts my presence. Thor is happy about any loving, and Beast snuggles up to me for a last time and hugs me with her front paws. They can really grow very fond of you, those labour intensive cats, and if we were not be traveling around we would probably have some too. The big question is: Will they recognize us when we come back in a year?

August/September 2000

Julia Etter & Martin Kristen