It’s been an extremely long time since I wrote about the cats, so let me bring you up to date.
We arrived in Abruzzo from the UK in October 2007 with our two Birmans, Little Plum and Aurora; and Edwin, our Siamese.
Sad to tell you we no longer have Little Plum. She died two years ago at the age of 17 – an especially poignant loss as she was the very last in a long line of Birmans we’d bred dating back to the late 80s.
But Rori and Eddie are still very much with us and will both have their 11th birthdays within a few days of each other at the beginning of August.
As befits a Siamese, Eddie is secure in the knowledge that the world revolves around him and that our role in the greater scheme of things is to cater for his every whim. Quickly.
Aurora discovered quite early in life that being naughty can be offset by looking cute. Still works after all these years.
Both of them rather like Italy. It’s warm; the cat food’s palatable; they have a big, safe garden to wander round; and whenever they go to the vet they have an unspeakable fuss made of them, as they’re the only pedigree cats round here – and the first that Roberta and Luca have seen since leaving vet school. (And I think they rather like boasting about this to the other local vets).
And along the way, we also seem to have acquired five more cats. I’ve already blogged about how Shadow joined us in June 2011. Scarcely a year old, painfully small and thin and in poor condition, she appeared in the garden with a litter of three tiny kittens which all too-quickly succumbed to either illness or predation.
But Shadow survived, got better and in April 2012, produced another litter of three kittens, who spent the first six months of their lives in a drainpipe underneath our house.
Unlike the first litter, we were able to provide a little bit more practical help in the way of regular feeding for this litter and Tippy, Tufty and Tigger all survived and prospered.
Not the most imaginative names for kittens you’ll ever come across, but when you need to identify them quickly – and when you’re never too sure whether they’ll still be around tomorrow – names are a practicality rather than an exercise in creativity. So the jet black boy with a tiny white tip to his tail became Tippy; his shaggy-coated brother was Tufty; and their black-and-tan long-haired sister could only be Tigger.
Bearing in mind that the kittens – like Shadow – were completely feral, we rather took it for granted that once they’d been weaned, at some stage they’d gradually drift off and establish their own territories.
Before this happened though, we’d decided that our only intervention – because we couldn’t go on seeing the local kitten population increasing every year – should be to have all four of them neutered, luring them into the house with a trail of minced meat before mildly doping them to cope with the stress of being handled and going in a car; deftly popping them into a box; and whisking them off to the vet.
Who of course thought we were certifiable wanting to have four feral cats neutered – but that’s the English for you – before giving us a big discount on what it all cost.
Shadow and her kittens – and although they’ll be two this year, it’s hard to think of them as anything but kittens – now all live on our verandah. All are sleek and contented. And rather big.
Tippy would like nothing more than to be promoted to the status of house cat. He’s the friendliest, most pickable-uppable; most human-oriented. Tigger’s not far behind and likes having her tummy scratched. Tufty’s approachable when he feels like being approachable and though Shadow will never lose that wariness that helped her survive on her own, she trusts us enough now to allow a worming tablet to be regularly popped down her throat. But she’ll melt away when anyone else is around.
And unlike any other litter I’ve ever come across, they’re inseparable. See one – and the other three won’t be too far away. They eat together; troop off into the olive groves together to play and climb trees; and most nights, they’ll wedge themselves into a single catbed. Whoever finds themselves at the bottom of the clump, even being squashed by about 12 kilos of other cats on top, still seems to quite like it.
Which brings us to Sweetie.
After Shadow arrived in the middle of 2011. Sweetie showed up just before Christmas.
Shadow was on her own then and – as now – always fed outside. Sweetie was hungry, but Shadow was disinclined to share with any other cat and we weren’t that keen about encouraging yet another feral stray to adopt us.
So we shooed her away. And did the same the next day. And the day after that. On the fourth day, slightly grubby and with a bite mark on her nose, she gazed up at me with a look that would have melted stone. So I gave her something to eat and she’s been here ever since.
She’s a calico cat – black, orange and white – and probably born around March 2011. Unlike Shadow, she wasn’t malnourished or in a poor condition when she showed up and, as quickly became apparent, decidedly unferal and used to people – which made us wonder whether she perhaps might have been an unwanted pet dumped in the countryside – which happens – or had simply wandered off and got lost.
And as she seemed a bit of a sweetie, Sweetie was who she became.
Never has a cat been more inappropriately named.
Shadow – predictably – objected violently to an interloper on her patch and the two of them began to have pitched battles outside, with Sweetie soon deciding that attack was the best form of defence and trying to chase Shadow away.
Then the three new kittens arrived, which turned Shadow into a raging protective dervish – and once they were old enough, all four of them ganged-up on Sweetie, who in turn seemed rather keen on coming inside to escape to escape the maelstrom.
First though, she too had to be neutered and wormed before taking her place in refined feline society.
Our apprehension about what Eddie and Rori would make of this was largely unfounded. For a couple of days, they were goggled-eyed by the arrival of a newcomer who – shock horror – was eating their food, but otherwise, the integration was (and still is) surprisingly trouble-free.
For her part, Sweetie took all of a single night to get the hang of the litter-tray – which reinforced our belief that she might’ve been a pet at some point. And while she initially continued to spend most of her time outside and only very occasionally came inside at night, it’s now reached the stage where she comes in every night when it gets dark and goes out again each morning, popping in and out as the mood takes her during the day.
I’ve never come across a cat who loves being a cat as much as Sweetie. She has two speed settings: Stopped – and Full Tilt, charging at top speed across the garden before hurling herself up a tree. (Or interrupting a TV shoot here by twice nearly falling into the pool and then messily catching and eating a lizard). Her maximum energy and enthusiasm is focussed into every moment.
Ever since officially becoming a house cat, Sweetie’s relationship with the four outdoor cats has thankfully mellowed a little. They’ll still hiss and yowl at each other, but actual fisticuffs are quite rare now.
The last serious fracas was last summer when Tippy – strictly in self-defence, it has to be said – slashed off a slice of Sweetie’s left ear.
Which necessitated a swift trip to the vet to have the wound tidied-up.
“I’ll have to cut it off,” said Luca, gesturing at the strip of ear hanging down Sweetie’s face.”I can’t really stitch it back on.”
“Mmm…well…OK,” I said. “Shall I hold her while you give her an anaesthetic ?”
Reaching for the surgical scissors, he shook his head. “No. It’s very quick. She won’t feel it.”
He was kind-of right. Sweetie didn’t feel a thing. But it made me wince.
Thanks to Italy’s strange economy, a tin of tuna is half the price of a tin of catfood. So Sweetie could be suitably rewarded for being brave.
And of course Tippy then had to have tuna too just to reassure him this all wasn’t really all his fault; and as it wouldn’t have been fair to leave the others out, more tins got opened to enable the largesse to be distributed equally.
Where our cats are concerned, just mark me down as a soft touch.
By David Brenner