Friday 26 September 2008: Profiles On Our Resident Free-Range Cats



Shirley was the first cat to become friendly with us when we moved in.  She never seemed afraid of us, but came boldly within petting range from the very beginning.  She is a cat of unusual markings.  The top of her face is solid black from the nose up, and the lower half is white, so that she appears to be wearing a Zorro mask.  She is a calico, black, white, and orange.  Her orange sections are tabby-striped.


We all consider Shirley to be the local matriarch, the mother of Sandy, Kit, and Inkling, though of course we have no way of verifying this assumption.  Somehow she just seems matriarchal.  She has a cynical, world-weary look on her face, as if nothing will surprise her anymore.  If you could see her you would agree.


Shirley is of a friendly disposition and good-naturedly helps care for her assumed grandkittens.  She has practically adopted Tiger and Blackie, the offspring of Kit, a careless and irresponsible mother.  Greg believes that Shirley was pregnant when we arrived and that her kittens, which we never saw, did not survive.


One day Greg observed Shirley closely following in the footsteps of Sandy, matching step for step, the way a person will do for a joke.  Sandy, sensing that something was amiss, suddenly stopped in her tracks, and Shirley instantly stopped too.  Sandy then kept walking, and Shirley resumed tailing her.  This time Sandy not only stopped but turned around and saw Shirley, whereupon Shirley flopped onto her back and playfully waved her paws in the air, as if to say, “Aw, c’mon, I’m just messing with you.”


Yesterday, Shirley killed and ate an entire young rabbit.  Nothing was left when she was done.  When we feed the cats in the morning, Shirley will let a kitten take her meat away, but she growled at anyone who approached her kill.  Blackie did manage to get a patch of fur, which he ate.


Anna, who gave Shirley her name, says, “She looks like a Shirley.”




After Shirley, Sandy was the next cat to get acquainted with us.  Of all the adult cats, she most enjoys being petted.  When we drive up and park the car, she will stroll out to meet us and welcome us home.  Once, when the car was being loaded and its door was left open, Sandy hopped inside and looked around, as if to say, “I always wondered what the inside of this car was like.”


Sandy is the mother of Lady Jane Grey and Tabitha Two-Face, the eldest of the current generation of kittens.  These were the kittens that lived for a while in the barbecue grill and later in the bed of the truck.


Sandy is a dark tortoiseshell, black and orange and cream.  Her coat looks like what you’d get if you overlaid an orange tabby with splotches of black.  Her face has something of a black dividing line down the middle, and her chin is half black and half cream.  Emilie named her Sandy because of her sandy spots.


Sandy is the most sociable of the cats.  She enjoys being petted and will come up to people and rub them.  She once tried to rub up against Ready and make friends with him, but he was not agreeable.




Like Sandy, Kit is a dark tortoiseshell, but her facial markings give her face a completely different character.  She has pale vertical lines on her forehead, something like tabby markings.  Daniel named her Kit because her large ears and small pointed face gave her the appearance of a young fox.  She was a little shyer than Shirley and Sandy but soon came to trust us.  Small and thin, she has a peculiar stiff-legged gait.


Kit was little more than half-grown when we got here but already pregnant.  Her kittens, Tiger and Blackie, were born about two weeks after Sandy’s.  She is not the most conscientious mother in the world, and once her kittens were a couple of weeks old, she pretty much abandoned their care to Shirley and Sandy.  She has not been seen to nurse any kitten for several weeks now; in fact, she herself is often seen nursing from Shirley, sometimes side by side with her own kittens.  Greg does not approve of this and makes her stop when he sees her doing it.


In keeping with her arrested development, Kit is the most playful of the adult cats and often frisks, pounces, and tussles with her children and nieces and nephew.




I named Inkling myself.  The word derives from Old English and is defined as a slight suggestion or indication; hint; intimation; a vague idea or notion; slight understanding.  The literary group which included such distinguished members as J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and Charles Williams was called The Inklings.


Shy and furtive, wary of people, Inkling was at first a slight suggestion or intimation of a cat, a dark shape in the distance, little more than a blur in the tall grass.  Days would pass with no sign of her whatsoever; then she would put in a brief appearance.


Inkling is now a regular around here, showing up morning and evening to be fed, but she has never really gotten friendly with us.  When she gets her meat, she runs off to eat it in solitude, though she doesn’t run so far as she used to.


We think Inkling and Kit are littermates, as they are about the same size and are sometimes seen fondly rubbing heads.  Inkling is solid black and somewhat longhaired.  Her face has a lean, haunted look.


Of Inkling’s litter of three kittens, only one, Flameface, now remains.  The others, a dark gray tabby named Earl Grey and a solid black named Casino, have vanished, and their fate remains a mystery.


Lady Jane Grey


Named by me after the ill-fated English monarch who reigned a mere eight days before being executed under orders of Mary I, Lady Jane is a pretty gray tabby with a serious little face.  She is the most aggressive of the kittens, quick to get her portion of meat in the morning scramble.  She once fell off the roof of the carport and got the wind knocked out of her, but after resting for a few minutes, she got up and walked away, no worse for wear.


In spite of her aggressive personality, Jane is sweet and affectionate.  Her meow is a sort of chirp.


Tabitha Two-Face


Daniel thought that Two-Face would be a good name for Sandy, who has a straight line down the middle of her face, with one side darker and the other lighter, but Emilie had already named her.  So when one of Sandy’s kittens turned out to be a dark tortoiseshell like herself, with an even more pronounced light-and-dark effect to her face, he quickly claimed naming rights.  Two-Face also has one dark and one light front paw, and one light and one dark back paw.


We thought at first that Two-Face was a boy.  When it was discovered that she was female, I suggested that we add the Tabitha to feminize her name.  Informally, she is still called Two-Face most of the time.  Greg, for mysterious reasons of his own, calls her Possum.


Like her mother, Two-Face is sweet-natured and affectionate.  She meows little.


Shere Khan, also known as Tiger


Actually, I wanted to call him Opie, as in Opie Taylor, but that name will have to wait for a future orange cat.  Anna named him Shere Khan, but he is usually called Tiger.  His top half is orange tabby, and his belly, lower legs, and jaw are white.  His face and limbs are long, slim, and elegant.  He loves above all else to play in a pile of dry oak leaves.  He is of a mild and inoffensive nature, his only aggressive behavior being his tendency to run into the kitchen when Emilie opens the door to feed the outdoor cats, and take Navo’s meat right out from under her nose.  He protests vigorously when Shirley washes him, and his meow is a kind of squeal.


Azrael, or Blackie


Noticeably smaller than his brother at birth, this solid black kitten had an oddly shortened face and a slightly cross-eyed expression that gave him a perpetually addled appearance.  Slow on the uptake, he used to look around as if the world and everything in it just blew his mind.  His coat was perpetually mussed and always seemed to have debris stuck in it.


From this unpromising beginning he has grown into a handsome long-haired kitten with a thick reddish-black mane around his neck and shoulders and a frosting of silver along his back and tail.  He makes a squeaking or beeping sort of meow.


Daniel named him Azrael after an evil cat in a book, but he is familiarly known as Blackie.


Emilie took charge of Blackie early in his infancy, cuddling him constantly and making sure he got enough to eat.  His mother, as previously stated, was not very attentive, and I guess Blackie sort of imprinted on Emilie.  When she calls him, he comes running.  I have never before seen a cat run when called except when a can of tuna was involved.




Greg does not like the name Flameface.  He says it sounds like a second-rate superhero.  He calls the cat in question Sparky.  I like the name Flameface, Emilie’s invention; it’s perfectly descriptive of the striking angular orange markings on the cat’s dark face.  Another good name for him might have been Pentecost, as the center of his forehead has a prominent orange marking like a tongue of fire.  All the little sharp markings give his face an endearingly worried expression.  Like Blackie, he is long-haired.


Flameface is apparently an only kitten now, his siblings having vanished.  He is younger than Blackie and Tiger by a couple of weeks.  His mother, the shy Inkling, until recently kept him and his siblings hidden, so that we caught only occasional glimpses of them.


Some weeks back, Flameface ventured out of one of his mother’s hidey-holes and tentatively tried to join the other cats.  No doubt he had observed his cousins frisking companionably in the openness of the dirt yard and wanted to join in.  He was soundly rebuffed with hisses and paw-swats.  He did not run off, but turned away, and slowly and casually moseyed back the way he’d come, looking so much like a rejected new kid that my heart was wrung.


But that was long ago, and the other cats have long since accepted Flameface into their midst.  He has a long, drawn-out meow.

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