A Nice, Nice Kitty

photo of a black cat looking out a window

Mimi at the Window

“Here,” she said, “she’s in here with the kittens.” My neighbor handed me a medium-sized box with the flaps closed.

I gingerly took the box, supporting the bottom, thinking of the little black cat and her kittens inside and afraid that if I jostled the box the wrong way she’d step on a newborn kitten. This was Sunday; the kittens had been born on Thursday.

Carefully carrying the box upstairs, I could feel little movements inside, whispers of paws on cardboard, but no cat noises.

Her name was then Maia, and we never did get along well. She lived across the street but I was constantly finding her in my garden and backyard, so full of life and little critters. She never came to me when I called her or acted in any way friendly. Later, when I caught her hunting and waved my arms and said, “Go!”, she cringed and disappeared under the squashes along the fence and was gone.

She was Lucy’s mom, though, the 15-month-old kitten I lost to FIP. I’ll tell the story of Lucy some time as I study and write about FIP, but I was bereft after losing such a young kitten, and to that disease in particular.

The day after I lost Lucy, I saw Maia in my garden but felt a sudden rush of fondness—Lucy had resembled her mom in so many ways I couldn’t tell her to leave.

It was one of those wonderful hot July mornings I’ve always loved in my garden, moist with dew made into diamonds by the sun just coming over the trees. Maia was expecting again and near due, her tiny body distorted by the kittens she carried. I watched her from the basement, waddling awkwardly across the brick patio outside the basement door to the little water bowl I always kept outside for Cookie and Namir. She had a little drink, a little face wash, then walked down one of the brick paths to observe wildlife.

photo of garden with black cat

Garden With Maia

And I knew, as I stood in the spot where Lucy had spent so much time, that I needed to take Maia and her babies into my household. I quickly debated the pros and cons. I knew it was right to get Maia off the street and get her spayed, and raise and find homes for her kittens, in the meantime learning more about the FIP Lucy had died from. I had no idea where Lucy had encountered the FIP and I understood how it spread, but really didn’t understand how contagious it was. Maia and her kittens could be carrying it, but then the remaining cats in my household had already been exposed. Still, getting Maia and her kittens out of the population of other cats could only help stop spreading it if they were carriers.

But the real reason was to heal my own heart. I had lost my four oldest cats in one year and tried not to adopt any kitten in the years they were growing older. Lucy and her siblings had come along in the middle of those losses, and while I found homes for the others, Lucy stayed on and I didn’t try to hard to find a home for her. Once I lost Stanley and grieved his passing, I turned all my love into raising Lucy, then 9 months. At one year I had her spayed, and immediately afterward she showed symptoms, then was diagnosed with, FIP. I lost her three months later.

Worst of all, I had begun to look at my other cats, all in their teens, as walking time bombs for hurting me with their illness and passing. I’d use the analogy of getting right back on the horse after you’ve fallen, and fill my house with new life lest I begin to fear and avoid my cats. I checked with my veterinarian to discuss the risks and see what she thought, and to my surprise, she hesitated, then agreed. Perhaps she understood my emotional predicament.

And heal my heart they did. I knew I’d love the kittens, but didn’t realize how wonderful little Maia was.

I had the room all ready and set the box on the table next to the cage where they’d live. Still no noise, no scuffling. I knew momcats could be fierce, though, and she could be ready to launch as I opened the box. I slowly pulled the flaps apart and looked inside from an angle…

I saw one round green eye glowing in the darkness. Round is good, round is curious, and round is encouraging. I opened the flaps a little more, and Maia poked her head up like a periscope and surveyed the room, then relaxed. Oh, I could imagine her thinking, I finally made it into the house. Our former relationship forgotten, she looked up at me as if to say, can you help me unpack these kittens? I felt such a strong sense of Lucy in the room I turned around to look at her; of course she was not walking into the room, but of course she was there.

photo of black cat nursing kittens

Maia With Her Babies

This was Sunday, and they had been born on Thursday so they had barely any features to distinguish them. She laid down and nursed them once we got them in the cage and we proceeded to get to know each other.

I renamed her Mimi for the lead female in the opera La Boheme, the embroiderer Mimi living the Bohemian life in Paris in the late nineteenth century. All the kittens began with names from the opera as well.

photo of black cat on drawing table

Mimi (formerly Maia) on Drawing Table, with Lucy's Rainbows (more on that another time)

Mimi was only a few years old and is very tiny, yet she had had several litters of kittens. I think she sensed this was her last and that I would share the nurturing because she spent quality time with them, but she was really tired of kittens, and physically tired as well. She began migrating downstairs to my office, sleeping by the door and even curling up on my desk, fitting quietly in with the other cats as if she’d always been there and falling into our routine.

And so she continued, always settling on my desk; in the time I have written this she has walked in front of me four times. I added a shelf over the phone and adding machine on one side so she could keep watch on the neighborhood as I worked, and that is where she sits, looking out into the night. I write all the time about her kittens, the Fantastic Four, Mimi’s Children, but she doesn’t get the notice she deserves.

Even though she’d always been an outdoor cat, she had no interest in going out. Once she looked intently out as I came in, so I held the door open and she looked more intently, then looked up at me, Why are you holding the door open? Aren’t you coming in?

But even though she hangs near me, she is a little distant. Sometimes when I reach to pet her because she’s walking right in front of me, she draws back and gives me a horrified look, Who the hell are you, and why are you trying to touch me? She can modify her shape so that my hand glides just one-quarter inch above her fur, then she moves away gracefully.

But not always. Tonight as I was sorting end-of-year stuff in my office, she was all over me, mewing in her squeaky little mew, rubbing her little face all over my hands and my legs, trotting after me and purring so nicely and looking at me with her round eyes, then walking on the two piles I was sorting, biting the edges of the papers I was holding. She thanks me for saving her all the time in her quiet little ways and her sudden bursts of enthusiastic affection and I’d have to be a fool not to recognize it.

I had had a home for her that didn’t work out, and I’m glad. I think she and I will be friends for a very long time. Every home needs a sweet little black cat.

Mimi has had quite a bit to say since I’ve been blogging:

May 11, 2010: Mimi Introduces Giuseppe, Mr. Sunshine, Jelly Bean and Mewsette

May 9, 2010: Mimi’s 2006 Children: Lucy, Charlotte, Angus and Donal

May 9, 2010: Mimi, on “Mother’s Day”
February 23, 2010: Mimi says, “Trust me, it’s better being spayed.”
October 16, 2009 Help to Avoid Feline Breast Cancer by Spaying Early