CAT QUEST: The Jabba and Lestat show

(it’s a very quiet show)

No, it’s not a surreal jest – I am going to make a rare cat post. It will be rare, because I do have less to say about the cats than I do about the dogs. I don’t get cats.

I’m not saying I don’t love my cats – I absolutely do! – but I don’t get them in the same way that I get dogs. I grew up with dogs. I understand (for the most part) their body language, a few of their basic drives, and some of their behaviour, at least as much as a person can who grew up with dogs but never studied canine behaviour in a formal capacity. Dogs more or less make sense to me.

Cats puzzle me. I have an anecdote that may illustrate this reasonably well.

One day, back when we lived in a flat in North Melbourne with two cats and no dogs at all (gasp), I was sitting in the bedroom reading when I heard a very loud and insistent MEOWW. I was reasonably used to cat conversation by that point, so I ignored it until it came again. And again.

I looked up from my book to see my fluffy grey cat, Jabba, jump up onto the bed, make his loud demanding MEEOWW again, and deposit in front of me a small object which, on closer inspection, appeared to be a toy mouse.

Alright. We hadn’t had Jabba for very long at this point, and Lestat had never brought me a toy, so I was a little confused. I thought, “Well, maybe he wants me to throw it for him.” So I picked up the toy mouse, dangled it in front of his face and gave it a little toss so that it landed by the door.

He just gave me an insulted look.

I explained the incident to Husband, who said, “Aww, he killed it for you!”

Oh. It was a present. That would never have occurred to me.

(side note: in my defense, I have known cats that fetch – my housemate had a kitten that for some reason delighted in chasing and retrieving wine corks. It had become a challenge to try and place them in more and more tricky locations and watch him clamber across curtains and up onto the mantle piece to reach them)

So, without further ado, I present: my cats.

LESTAT: The grumpy old man cat

Lestat is a black-coated British short-hair. It’s really hard to get a good photo of him, because he sucks all light into himself, becoming, as Husband likes to say, “not a cat, but perhaps the space where a cat was meant to be.” Lestat is the black hole of cats.

Lestat is also about seventeen years old, arthritic, and sounds a bit like what you might expect Tom Waits to sound like, if Tom Waits were to mysteriously take on feline form. He is genuinely muscular (less so these days) and also overweight (that would be Lestat, not Tom Waits, and Lestat the cat, not Lestat the Anne Rice vampire).

(side note and disclaimer: We did not name Lestat. He was named by Husband’s sister, who, to be fair, was fourteen at the time and had just seen Interview with the Vampire. Still, it’s not a bad name for a black cat)

Lestat was originally my mother-in-law’s cat. Due to a strange convergence of family events where one cat-heavy household merged with another cat-heavy household, my mother-in-law went from being caretaker of “possibly a suspect number of cats” to “wow, that’s too many cats to deal with”, and frankly, Lestat agreed. He was the oldest and most beloved of the cats, and he was not used to having to share quite so much of his favourite person’s time and affection. Lestat is also boss cat.

He decided to make this point violently, and after sending another cat to the vet for a feline hip replacement operation, it was sadly decided that he could not stay with my mother-in-law and the other too-many-cats as he would proceed to beat the ever-living feline shit out of them.

He was flown to Melbourne, where Husband (then more appropriately described as “Boyfriend”) eagerly fetched him from the airport and proceeded to set him up in his tiny inner-city bachelor flat with cat-loving glee.

Lestat didn’t settle in so well at first. No doubt being in a cargo hold and then turning up in a strange place was freaking him out, so he managed somehow managed to disappear in a one bedroom apartment. A whole group of friends were scouring the place, looking in cupboards, pulling things out of cupboards, and eventually one double-jointed friend found a hole under the water heater in the bathroom, just barely big enough for an overweight British short-hair to slither into, and tried to slip her arm into it.

No cats were located. Despondent, friends left by eleven p.m., and Husband sat staring forlornly at the hole in the bathroom floor (the flat was on the second floor, incidentally), saying miserably, “I’ve lost my mum’s favourite cat!”

We left a desk lamp above the hole in case Lestat had gotten lost, and an open tin of cat food to lure him back, and then we went to bed.

At about one in the morning I woke up and found a pair of wide golden eyes staring into mine. There was purring. Loud purring. I nudged Husband. “Psst.”

Cat was scooped up into loving arms and vigorously hugged while I went and covered up the hole in the bathroom.

This was not the last time Lestat went for an adventure. I’ve since realised that I should have included in my marriage vows, “I will always find your cat,” as locating Lestat when he disappears (usually somewhere inside the house, but occasionally outdoors) appears to be a special gift of mine.

Apart from the arthritis, Lestat is in excellent health for a kitty of his advancing years. He’s just started a course of injections for the arthritis At the moment he can’t jump up onto the bed by himself, which means that we are often woken at multiple times during the night by him demanding to be lifted up onto the mattress.

We live to serve.

JABBA: Ditzy needy cat

By contrast to Lestat, Jabba is exceptionally photogenic (see below). He is a pretty, fluffy, preening sort of cat. When I want to spend quality time with the dogs, I take them for walks, or I hang out in the lounge room with them, or go outside. When I want to spend quality time with Jabba, I curl up in bed or work in my study.

I don’t usually have long to wait, before, with a quiet “Mrrp!” I acquire a feline parasite (otherwise known as “LimpetCat” or “BarnacleCat”). While Lestat likes being picked up and hugged, but does not like being on laps (instead preferring to just be nearby), Jabba is all about the laps. Or the stomachs. Or ribcages. Or butts. He is the neediest cat in all the land.

Before we got Jabba, I generally bought into the fallacy that cats weren’t particularly affectionate and were only nice to you when they wanted food. It was clear that Lestat quite adored Husband (he likes to lick Husband on the head, and eat his hair, and will generally go out of his way to be in the same room as Husband if no dogs are present), and was okay with me, but I thought that was as far as it went.

Enter Jabba. Headbutts. Purring. Jabba, in fact, is a very anxious cat, and for well over a year after we first got him he would not eat unless one of us was in the room with him, and even then he required petting and stroking before he would calm down enough to do it. I told a friend of mine about it, and said it was really sweet. She replied, “No, that’s not sweet. That’s an eating disorder.” Hrm. Good point.

He’s settled down enough now to eat on his own, but he is still demanding in his affections.

A colleague once said that cats only sit on your lap because they are attracted to your body heat, but I’ve had Jabba glue himself to my stomach on 42C days, purring happily, because as sweet as he is I suspect he is not the sharpest knife in the box.

Jabba has had a few adventures that we can confidently link to his lack of forethought, including (but not limited to):

  1. jumping into a vat of kerosene (before we got him)
  2. getting stuck on the outside ledge of a third storey window (I nearly lost ten years off my life, and learned the lesson that cats are like the octopus and can squeeze through very small gaps in a window opening)
  3. repeatedly getting turfed off the bed for batting me in the face, and then jumping back up and doing the same thing again at least five times (although that one is less about forethought and more about learning)

Jabba also came to us via my lovely mother-in-law. Since he is a very needy cat, he managed to get himself into a state of advanced stress when the household situation changed and responded to this stress by spraying everywhere. This is a particularly distressing thing that male cats do, apparently, even if they are desexed, and given that male cat wee smells like death, we ended up taking him.

We figured that Lestat would not be happy about our acquisition of a second cat, but that Jabba would be much happier with only one other cat than six, so it should all even out in the wash.

We were actually quite lucky; Lestat apparently remembered that Jabba had grown up with him, and although he was exceedingly pissed off, he didn’t seem to feel more than the occasional need to put Jabba in his place. As time went by, this only happened when Jabba started it. A needy cat is a jealous cat, meaning that Jabba would become defensive of various laps and positions on the bed, and swipe at Lestat if he came too close.

Sometimes you could almost read the expression on Lestat’s face. “Really? You’re really poking the bear now? Fine, let’s get it over with,” and a few minutes later the corridor would be covered with tufts of grey Jabba-fur, and the lesson would be learned (at least for the time being).

Counter to that, Jabba also seemed to adore Lestat, and would frequently try to groom him (heavy emphasis on the head and the ears). He would then tip his head in front of Lestat’s, clearly signalling, “Okay! Now you groom me!”

At which point Lestat would turn his head away, clearly signalling, “Not on your goddamn life.”

They mostly get along these days.

Jabba is about twelve, and is also in good health for his age, although he’s lost a little of his fur from his ears, and elsewhere due to the sudden appearance of an allergy to flea prevention medication. He has FLUTD (Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disorder), which at least might explain the spraying problem he had back at my mother-in-law’s place.

Like Lestat, he also wakes us up in the night. In Jabba’s case, particularly when it’s cold, it’s to demand to be let under the bed covers. We used to reject his advances, figuring we couldn’t build a habit, but in the end it turned out to be less effort to simply acquiesce, go to sleep, and wake up when he got too warm and escaped.

Neither of our cats are conducive to a full night’s sleep.

This is Jabba, squinting in the sunlight through the window back in our North Melbourne Flat. HE KNOWS HE'S BEAUTIFUL.

This is Jabba, squinting in the sunlight through the window back in our North Melbourne Flat. HE KNOWS HE’S BEAUTIFUL.

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