Wednesday, February 12, 2014

My Cat Jalina

Notes for a Novel?

          I’ve lived with many cats over the years, and they all touched me, some in deep ways. But our dogs were always our first and best domestic friends.
            Now, sadly, we don’t have a dog, and, with that dominant presence gone, Jalina comes close to me again, reminding me that she is still my cat and I am still her person.
            Her story, with its mysterious coincidences and unexpected turn-abouts, could be a Dickensian novel. But she may be the only one who could write it.
            She was born on May 1, 2003, in the sand of the crawl space under our beach cottage in Norfolk, VA. Her mother was Moondust, named for the spray of white mist across the breast of her short, black coat. She lived next door until the house caught fire and her people had to move out. They left her and five other cats behind—two males and three females. Moondust and two of the other females were pregnant.
            One of Moondust’s suitors was Fluffy, a modest, sweet-tempered tramp who I tucked in with blankets on cold nights on our porch and untangled the mats in his long, once-elegant black hair. Fluffy disappeared before Moondust’s kittens were born. We don’t know what happened to him.
            Moondust had a litter of four, and from the start she had trouble protecting them. She  moved them two or three times before bringing them back under the cottage. When she finally brought them out, ready to be weaned, there were only two. Later, I found one of the dead bodies, apparently killed by a predator. We’d seen foxes running through the dunes at night sometimes. Or it could have been raccoons, possums, or even rats.
            But Jalina and a brother survived, and I saw by her silky black hair that she was Fluffy’s daughter. And what a spitfire she was! She would not be caught, hissing and spitting whenever I came near her, her penetrating, owl-like eyes meeting mine with fiery defiance. It was only by sheer luck I was able to trap her in the carrier to go for her shots and spaying and to the foster home that had been assigned to her.
            At the foster home, once we’d gotten her and her brother settled in a spacious cage, the foster mom, ignoring my warnings, reached in to pick Jalina up, and the little vixen lashed out, drawing blood. I feared Cat Rescue, the agency guiding us through this process, would declare her unadoptable and ask me to take her back.
            But months went by and no call ever came, so no news seemed good news to me. I often thought of her. I hoped she’d been adopted, but I was also worried she might have come to a bad end. Who would want to take on such a hostile kitten? Of all the nine we got started in life that summer, she was the only one who scorned the Gerber’s chicken dinner on my finger when I tried to lure her to me. She was a standout rogue, hands down.
            Eight months later, when I no longer expected it, the call from Cat Rescue finally came. Jalina had been swept up in a raid on a cattery and was being held, with 95 other confiscated cats, in the Virginia Beach animal shelter. Would I be willing to adopt her out of that shelter?
            It was disappointing news. If Jalina had ended up in a cattery, she must never have been adopted. Poor little thing! It was, after all, as I’d feared. She was unadoptable. I felt I had no choice but to bail her out of the shelter and bring her home. I figured she’d be feral, living outside while we fed and otherwise looked after her.
            With that expectation, we set off to pick her up. It was Sunday, March 28, 2004.
            Though she was full-grown now, I recognized her at once when the shelter attendant carried her out. There was no mistaking her piercing, luminous eyes. And her black hair had grown out just like her dad’s, an elaborate coat with fancy pants and a lavish mane circling her neck.
            “She is so sweet,” the attendant said, depositing her in our carrier. “She’s the nicest one of them all.”
            That confused me a bit, but I decided the woman must be joking as I signed the release forms where I agreed to take care of Jalina for the rest of her life.
            I put Jalina in a two-tiered, kennel-sized cat cage I’d borrowed from Cat Rescue and set up in my tiny office at home. It left me just about enough space to turn around in the over-crowded room. I was careful to keep my hands away from my wild beast when I reached in the cage to scoop the litter or refresh her food and water. My plan was to keep her there for a few days until she got used to her surroundings, then move the cage to the front porch and let her go.
            For her part, she seemed quite docile. She never hissed or spit or tried to attack me or to escape from the cage, as I expected. After a couple of days of sharing close quarters, I began to think she wanted me to pet her. I put two fingers through the cage, and she rubbed her cheek against them. Cautiously, I put my whole hand in, and, skipping like a lamb, she arched her back up to be petted. Clearly this cat was no longer dangerous.
            So we let her out to join the household above her birth place beneath the floor. And, aside from kennel jitters—sudden movements or loud noises startled her—she took to domesticity as if she’d never known anything else. We may have been surprised she’d come home, but she wasn’t. She knew where she belonged. It was the rest of us who’d been too stupid to see.
            For our part, we were amazed, even astonished. The little scamp had come home with manners. Someone in her travels had taken time to work with her. Only Jalina knows who.
            From the first she attached herself to me. It wasn’t just because she identified her welfare with me. It was on another level of interaction, where there is recognition and reciprocation. And simplicity. Though our personalities occasionally clash, the relationship is unquestioned because I like to pet her the way she likes to be petted. That’s basic, and when you have it with a cat you have a special connection, a life-long love.
            It touches and amuses me that the promise I made to take care of Jalina for the rest of her life seems to be mutual.


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