Altogether Ooki

The youngest members of our herd are the fabulous, fearless, and flamboyant Ooki Brothers. Yuki and Watanuki came to us courtesy of the Martinez Animal Shelter – though they were actually resident at the extension site in the Walnut Creek Pet Food Express.

We went out just before Christmas 2010 hoping to come home with one cat – we figured that four was about the maximum carrying capacity of the habitat (i.e. our house). It turned out the one we had been planning to interview for the position had already accepted another offer. We were looking for a black or mostly black cat (black and black-and-white cats are least likely to be adopted) and there they were. They were both such charming fellows that we just couldn’t choose between the two of them and on Christmas Eve, they both came home with us. Unlike Kaja and Rhubarb, the Ookis are not biologically related, but they had been in adjoining cages at the shelter and shared playtimes, so they were very comfortable with each other.

Nuki1Watanuki, the dapper gentleman in the tuxedo, was about six months old. He has always been a bit tightly wound, with a tendency to suddenly lash out at anyone he thinks might be a threat. Of all of our herd, he’s the one most likely to take a nip at a finger if startled. His tastes in play emphasize hunting and chasing, and his bedtime habit of pouncing on anything moving under the covers has earned him the nickname “Toe Ninja”. (His actual name, usually abbreviated to “‘Nuki”, is in honor of the character Kimihiro Watanuki of the manga and anime “xxxHolic”, who has a very similar personality.)

Yuki2Yuki – we couldn’t resist the notion of a pure black cat named “snow” – was about four months old. Although it’s somewhat difficult to see it in these pictures, he’s a long-haired fellow, and is thus often referred to as “Floof-cat” or “Mr. Floof”. He’s much more easygoing than ‘Nuki, but doesn’t hesitate to assert himself, usually to the detriment of big brother Rhubarb. It’s quite common to find that Yuki has Rhubarb cornered in his ultimate defensive location: the counter in the master bathroom. Yuki prefers to observe whatever is going on from a slight distance, and can often be found hanging out on the stairs where he can monitor almost the entire house. When he wants cuddles, though, he wants them immediately and he’s capable of using devastating cuteness to get them. He’s the house champion in drooling-when-happy, leading to his other nickname (Maggie calls it his nom de salive) “Slobber Goblin”.

Nuki2All of our cats are indoor-only, but ‘Nuki escaped through a partly-open window in mid-March. He remained on the loose for about three weeks before we (well, Maggie) recaptured him. I’ll be writing more about his escapade in the future, but for now I’ll just note that he seems to have avoided injury during his adventure; the only lingering results seem to be great interest in the window he used to make his escape and a hint of suspicion about other felines.

Yuki1Oddly enough, despite his newfound interest in the window, ‘Nuki doesn’t show a lot of interest in doors. Little brother Yuki is obsessed with doors. He’s not particularly interested in going through them; he seems to be interested in a career as a draft-stopper, and can often be found sprawled full-length across the width of a door, preventing any airflow – and preventing us from opening it, which can be somewhat awkward when we get home.

We’ll never know how things would have turned out if the black-and-white cat we were originally intending to meet had been available, but we’ve never regretted choosing the Ookis and intend to continue championing black cats.

Kaja and Rhubarb

Kaja and Rhubarb (collectively known as “The Flying Monkeys” for their early approach to getting around the house) came to us from the Pinole Animal Shelter as three-month-olds in July of 2009. They’re litter mates, and are a fascinating study in just how little influence genetics may have on personality.

Kaja2Kaja is an adventure girl, poking her nose into everything, going everywhere, and doing her best to give us heart attacks by taking the stairs on the outside of the bannister or trying to walk up their underside. She’s often called “Ms Ottergirl” because she’s always going and doing things she hadn’t otter be. David Weber fans will recognize the derivation of her name, and there’s never been any question about its suitability: Great Kaja is indeed a mighty huntress and inspiring leader.

Rhubarb2Rhubarb, on the other hand is a classic omega kitty. He’ll follow Kaja anywhere, but wouldn’t consider taking the lead. He was more active as a kitten, naturally, but today if left to his own devices, he’d prefer to sprawl in a quiet spot and snooze in between polite requests for cuddles. Despite being the largest and probably strongest cat in our herd, he almost never stands up to any attempts to bully him. He’s named partly for the yellow cat in H. Allen Smith’s novel “Rhubarb”, partly for Rube Goldberg, and mostly for the kitten on the label of Trader Joe’s “Turkey & Giblets Dinner” cat food. Rube Goldberg? In his younger days, following Kaja everywhere resulted in a lot of chaos and confusion. Even now that he’s more sedentary, Rhubarb manages to wind up at the center of every whirlwind, despite the fact that he’s never the instigator. Either way, he’s earned the nickname “Rube Goldkatt, Chaos Engineer”.

Unfortunately, Kaja began focusing her hunting on Yuki, the youngest of our feline co-residents. After she did damage to his flank and tail, we had to separate them, and Kaja now resides in semi-isolation.

Reintroducing Kaja to the herd has been a slow process. She continues to try to swat Yuki through the fence that separates them; Yuki, for his part, seems to take great delight in settling down just out of paw’s reach and elaborately ignoring her. As I write this, in fact, they’re conducting a stare-down through the fence.

Rhubarb hasn’t taken separation from his sister well, and frequently jumps over the fence to spend time with her. The semi-isolation and consequent lack of exercise hasn’t done well for them, and they’ve both put on weight (Rhubarb less so, since he does spend much of his time with the other cats – often being chased around the house by the younger ones.) Kaja is now on a diet and slowly dropping the ounces.

Kaja is not only getting less food, but she has to go to some effort to get it. She’s the not-so-happy owner of a “work for your food feeder“. The feeder has definitely helped, and we recommend it highly for cats who need a little additional exercise. Note, however, that Kaja quickly figured out a design weakness. We had to screw the feeder to a large chunk of plywood to prevent her from knocking it over and getting all the food at once. Clearly QA skills run in this family.

Both are enthusiastic cuddle recipients. Kaja loves a good tummy rub, while Rhubarb is a chin-skritch enthusiast.KajaRhubarb1

Kokoro’s Story

Yes, it’s a cat post. I’ll do my best to keep them to less than one a week.

Kokoro under the coversKokoro (“heart” in Japanese) is a rescue kitty, like all of our cats. We met her at the Martinez Animal Shelter in 2007. We knew she was going to be a bit of a project: the lack of a picture on her listing on the shelter’s website was a hint that she might be shy. As we found out later, her original human turned her over to the shelter because she was moving and thought “Shiloh” was too shy to adjust. We believe that every home with cats requires a Siamese, and we didn’t have one, so we decided to go meet her anyway.

We arrived at the shelter and went looking for her. No sign. We found a different Siamese, but didn’t feel any real connection to her. The people at the desk assured us that “Shiloh” was in the visiting rooms, so we kept looking. We finally found her, curled into a little ball in the most isolated, darkest corner of the room, under a cot. No way was she going to come out and meet us, and the best that the shelter staff could do was to chase her from one hiding place to another. Even without actually greeting her, though, we felt a certain resonance. It was also clear that she was not happy at the shelter, so we agreed to bring her home and give her a chance in a much less crowded, much quieter environment. That led to a scene straight out of a silent comedy as the staff member on “chip duty” chased her around the visiting room. It took about 15 minutes, but he finally grabbed her, gave her a microchip, and stuffed her, fighting all the way, into a carrier. Needless to say, she complained all the way home.

Once home, we released her into the bathroom, one of the few rooms that can be secured against intrusion by other felines. She promptly vanished into the cat condo under the sink and wasn’t seen for weeks. I exaggerate only slightly. We – especially Maggie (my wife, who will no doubt be more formally introduced here eventually) – spent hours sitting quietly in the bathroom to allow her to become accustomed to us. She would sometimes stretch her head out to grab a treat, but mostly stayed hidden away. Maggie declared victory when Kokoro didn’t wait for Maggie to set a treat down, but took it directly from her hand.

At that point, we decided to give her more territory and opened the bathroom door, giving her access to the bedroom and closet. Kokoro immediately found several dens in the closet. Again, weeks went by without more than a fleeting glimpse of her. She would allow us to reach into her hiding places and pat her, but stayed hidden, sneaking out of the closet to eat and use the litter box only in the middle of the night when we were asleep. Finally though, she began to creep out while we were awake; she would settle just outside the closet, watching us as we read in bed, and disappear back to safety every time we moved. And then one evening, months after we brought her home, she apparently made up her mind: she jumped up on the foot of the bed, walked up the entire length of my body, settled down on my chest, started to chew on my beard, and began to purr.

Kokoro on Dad's lapHer confidence has grown since then. She’s still shy about strangers, but it takes less and less time for her to accept new people. And once she accepts someone, she shows no hesitation about walking over to them, standing on her hind legs, and batting at them to get their attention and demand to be patted.

She is clearly the alpha of our herd, and anyone who steps out of line will get his ears slapped or flanks nipped. On the flip side, I believe her to be the most intelligent cat I’ve ever met. She listens when we speak and obeys instructions (“Don’t jump up there”, “Stop teasing your brothers”, “Take care of the house while we’re out”) so readily that I’m halfway convinced she understands English. I would only be mildly surprised if she started setting the alarm for us when we leave her in charge.

Today, Kokoro is my “Fuzzy Princess”, and I’m very glad we gave that shy little ghost all the time she needed to settle into our laps and hearts.