June 25, 1999 (Ira Pilgrim)

A Tail of Two Kitties

I am the Cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me.

Rudyard Kipling

I think that cats are as fascinating as people and maybe more so. With the possible exception of the lion, that lives in groups, cats are solitary and most are fairly similar in their behavior. That is as it should be because they are anatomically similar and they are all carnivores. Yet, that similarity is superficial and there is probably almost as great a variety in the personalities of cats as there is in people.

Over the years, I have had a number of cats; or should I say that a number of cats have had me.

My first memorable cat was a Siamese. I named her Yum-yum after the heroine of Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado. The children immediately changed it to Yayum, which she remained. She was very Siamesey and ruled the children with an iron hand. She was also a fine mouser.

We had planned to breed her so that we could all enjoy the phenomenon of having and raising kittens. The great advantage of having a "pure-bred" animal is that you have no difficulty getting rid of the kittens. If no one wants to buy them, there are always people who will be glad to take them for free. I once had the experience of taking kittens to the pound and I never want that experience ever again.

The process of breeding her was an enlightening experience for me, and I learned more about courtship from watching that performance, than I ever did from reading sex manuals.

I was told that you must always bring the female to the male. Being a skeptic, I brought the male to our house and closeted them both in the basement. She treed him in the rafters and that was the end of that. For the next attempt we did it according to the book. The male was experienced and Yayum was a virgin in heat. Her first reaction was to hiss and claw at him. She sat in the middle of the basement floor and wouldn't let him near her. He was unflappable. He sat down at a distance. Every so often, he would get up and walk around her and sit down, each time getting a little closer, but not close enough to alarm his bride. After a long time, he was within a yard of her. She was getting used to him. She turned away for an instant and he was on top of her. After the mating, she wouldn't leave him alone. She wanted more, and he was glad to oblige. Eventually, we took her home because listening to a Siamese cat in heat can get on the nerves. Nothing sounds like it. It is the sound that you would expect from a contralto opera singer who was being tortured while singing in her lower register.

When the time came for her to deliver, I made up a nice padded box for her in a closet, where she would have all of the privacy she needed. Privacy, hell! She wanted company, and specifically she wanted my company. So I sat by her while she had her kittens. If I got up to get something, she would follow me, meowing, until I returned; kittens be damned. I'm not complaining; I loved the experience. I did it for my children and I had most of the fun. The kids were pretty blase about this miracle of life. I was not; to me it was the most wonderful thing in the world.

I thought that it was unusual for a cat to want company while delivering, but a cat expert told me that a cat's favorite place for kittening was the bed of a favored child.

We gave away all of the kittens but one. He was a male, who I named Nanki Poo to match Yum Yum. Naturally, the kids changed it to "Nincompoop," and eventually "Ninky." We should have named him Oedipus. However the name "Nincompoop" suited him: he ate, slept and chased females.

We decided that we didn't want her to have any more kittens. One reason was that having a Siamese cat in heat was a nuisance. A man told me that he kept his bitch from going into heat by giving her male hormone. I thought that it was a good idea, so I put a pellet of testosterone under Yayum's skin (sort of like Norplant birth control). She went into heat and stayed in continuous heat for months. I had her ovaries removed and she stayed in heat after that, until the pellet was completely absorbed. I mentioned what had happened to a cat expert and he laughed, and informed me that no matter what hormone you give to a female cat, it will put her in heat. So much for my career as a cat endocrinologist. You couldn't call it cruelty to animals because our cat enjoyed every minute of it. The kids found it amusing too, but had no idea why she was behaving so strangely. But I knew; it was nymphocatomania.

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