Wednesday, July 30, 2014

House of Cats - Part Four, "Pick Two"

Well, it was fun while it lasted but, if you recall, my parents weren't all that excited about getting ONE cat, much less 17 or so. The day finally came where they said, "That's it - you can pick two cats. No more." It felt like Sophie's Choice, Cat Edition. Anya was my cat - I had to keep him. And Chelsea was mom to so many of the kittens, and she was a total sweetheart. And Dickens was so cuddly, as was Tiffany, and Sammy had always been a favorite of mine.

All-in-all, it seemed like a much better idea to place the cats we couldn't keep in loving homes rather than to take them to a shelter. So my brothers and sisters and I had a crash course in sales and marketing. Did you live in Elk Grove Village in the late 1960s? Did you get a cat during that time? If so, odds are your cat was related to ours.

We made posters, we spread the word to our friends and their families, to every family I babysat for, to everyone we went to school with. There were five of us Villars kids, and we swept through town with our cats like a furry tornado. The white cats were gorgeous so they were our first line of attack. We found homes for most of them. I'm not sure how many cats we found homes for altogether, but in the end we still had to take some to the shelter. (I can't remember for sure, but I really, really hope it was a no-kill shelter.) We kept Anya and Sammy and if I'd had a place of my own, I would have kept Chelsea, Tiffany and Dickens, too. Our only consolation was that Chelsea was so sweet and pretty, and Tiffany and Dickens were so cute and cuddly, we hoped people visiting the shelter wouldn't be able to resist them.

Odessa, from the first litter, went back to Mrs. Petersen, whose Siamese cat was Anya's mother. As I recall, Odessa lived a long life. I'd love to hear from any Elk Grove people who adopted our kittens. I hope they all had good homes and brought happiness to their owners, like Anya and Sammy brought to us.

Since then, I've had two kids, one granddaughter, one dog, two gerbils, one hamster, two rabbits, and many cats: Pudgie, Benjie, Tiffany Annie aka Baby LoLo, Tiger, Stephanie, Casper and Charlie. My brothers and sisters have had many cats and dogs, too. But none of us have ever topped the number of cats we had in 1968 to 1970. We've also provided shelter for a couple of possums and several generations of raccoons, as well as a number of deer. There have been snakes and moles, too, but not by choice.

Speaking for my brothers and sisters as well as for myself, I'm confident that dogs and cats will always be a part of our lives. The more, the merrier!

House of Cats - Part Three, Tiffany and More

So, if you're keeping count, the House of Cats isn't too crazy at this point. We had Anya, the father, Chelsea, the mama, and the four kittens from the first litter, which included Dickens and Sammy. Six cats - no biggie, right?

We had no freaking clue. We didn't rush to get Anya fixed because we didn't think Chelsea could get pregnant again so quickly. Guess what? She could. And this time she got REALLY big - so big, she had to walk downstairs sideways, taking one step at a time. She had seven kittens this time around. We made a bed for Chelsea and her kittens in an old Samsonite suitcase and kept it at the foot of my bed.

A few days later, some jerk tossed a kitten from his car as he drove past an elementary school - the same elementary school my younger brother and sisters attended, as it happens. My sisters smuggled it home and begged me to hide it. "Just put it in with the other kittens," they said. "Mom and Dad will never notice."

Well, um, it's just possible a kitten that's about 7 weeks old might stand out from day old kittens, especially since the New Kid was a tiger cat and the new batch were a mix of white, gray, and dusty gray-and-white cats with vaguely Siamese markings. But, what the heck? Who was going to notice one more kitten? So we kept her. We named the new kitten Tiffany. Because she wasn't quite weaned, Tiffany loved to snuggle up and massage us with her paws while she "nursed" our shirts - she liked the guys' sweaty t-shirts the best! Because she was so cuddly, Tiffany quickly became a favorite.

Tiffany and me and my 18th birthday cake

Tiffany complaining to me about my picture-taking

Dickens trying to open the screen door

Dickens, still trying to open the screen door, and Tiffany

The cat count, as you may have noticed, has gone up significantly. Anya and Chelsea and the original four kittens make six, plus the seven kittens from the second litter, plus Tiffany equals fourteen. But it doesn't end here...because we still hadn't gotten Anya neutered at this point. And, who knew? Kittens can get pregnant as young as six months.

Yep, shortly after Chelsea gave birth to her second litter, the females from her first litter (which turned out to be three of the four) started giving birth to their own kittens. Because they were so young, presumably, none had more than one kitten, and none of their kittens survived for more than a few days. But for those few days, our house was pure cat CHAOS. Chelsea would take her kittens and hide them in the cabinet where we kept bread. Her mama-kittens would steal her kittens, hide them somewhere else, and then put their kittens in with the bread. 

Three things happened around this time. We had Anya fixed, finally. And my brother Thom used some creative carpentry to build a multi-story cat house in our two-car garage. The third thing? I started dating Marty Davis, a dog-owner who had no experience with cats and wasn't all that thrilled by the idea of cats. I'll never forget the first time he came over. First of all, there were my sisters, perfectly comfortable running around the house in bikinis while my youngest brother, Russ, nearly died of embarrassment when Marty saw him in his Jockeys and a Batman cape, running around and singing the Batman theme song at the top of his lungs. Marty had a brother the same age as Russ so he wasn't too surprised by the whole Batman thing. But he turned beet red when my giggling sisters ran past him.

And then someone opened the door from the garage into the house...

As Marty describes it, at that point a wall of cats poured through the door, taking off in every direction. I wish we had a movie camera back then - I would have loved to capture that on film!

House of Cats - Part Two, Chelsea and Sammy

Nowadays, when we get a cat we get him or her neutered. Back when I was in high school, neutering was expensive so Anya retained all his parts.

We lived in Elk Grove Village, Illinois when Anya became part of the family, and it was the winter of his second year when my sisters, Connie and Laura, brought home a raggedy white cat they'd found in the snow. My parents did NOT want any more cats, but this poor thing was pitiful - her fur was falling out in chunks, leaving her scrawny body unprotected from the cold. My parents were outnumbered five to two, so we took her in. We named her Chelsea (or rather I named her - I always had a thing for names and I was oldest, so I claimed the right to name her). We took her to our vet, Dr. Kelly, who determined she had food allergies rather than some horrible form of mange. He prescribed Science Diet and, voila, within a very short time we had a gorgeous pure white cat with a coat like silk. Sadly, I haven't been able to find a single picture of Chelsea. Film and developing were expensive back then, so I didn't take a lot of pictures. I'll keep checking. She was a real beauty.

Presumably Anya liked his new companion, because we very quickly noticed Chelsea's belly growing...and growing...and growing. We were staying at my grandparents' house in Evanston when the kittens were born. My grandmother - NOT a cat person - was convinced Anya would eat the newborns. I spent the night in my uncle's basement bedroom, and Chelsea's four kittens were born in bed with me, without incident. Two were white - Columbine and Odessa, one was a mottled gray (Dickens) and one was ginger (Sammy). The white kittens were albino and, as is apparently common with albino cats, they were deaf. Dickens was the sweetest little thing and Sammy won my heart by climbing my jean clad legs with his teensy claws.

I claimed Sammy, who lived 22 years. When my daughter took in two kittens a few years ago, she named the ginger one Sammy in honor of the Sammy she'd met as a toddler.

A quick note: these events happened about 40 years ago, and I'm not sure my memory is reliable about some things. For example, was Odessa white or orange-striped? Was Dickens in the first litter or the second? What were the names of all the white cats? Maybe my brothers and sisters can fill in these details - they're all younger than I am, after all!

My daughter Jessica with Aunt Connie and Sammy

Jessica's Sammy

Sammy at around 20 years old

House of Cats - Part One, Anya

Over the years, I've had a lot of cats. Right now I have two - Casper, age 17, and Charlie, age 4. When I was growing up, I always wanted a cat but my mom wasn't crazy about the idea. Finally, when I was about 16, I got my chance. My mom's best friend, Isabell Petersen, had a Siamese cat. A black-and-white tom who lived on the street behind us got involved and suddenly Isabell had a very pregnant cat. My mom said - hurray! - I could have one of the kittens. I bought a red plastic food dish and with sparkly nail polish, I wrote the name of my kitten-to-be: Anastasia Shana Elisabeth. I loved that name!

Before long, the kittens were born. I chose a black-and-white one (who proved our guess as to the father). When I took her to the vet, though, I discovered I'd made a mistake - my kitten was a boy! I shortened Anastasia to Anya and decided that name would work for a male cat.

Right from the start, Anya was unique. He had a funny cry - part bark, part Siamese yowl - and he was very sociable. I regularly babysat for neighbors who acted in Masque and Staff, a local theater group. When Anya was a few months old, they started casting a play called "Everybody Loves Opal." It featured a cat - Mr. Tanner - and Anya won the part.

Anya posed for an 8x10 glossy photograph that was displayed along with all the other cast members photos. (I still have that photo and once I remember where I put it, I'll share it here.) Anya even had a write-up in the program:

Anya lived for more than 20 years, staying with my parents when I got married and moved to England. But Anya's story doesn't end here, not by any means. Check back for Part 2 of the House of Cats!