Friday, February 16, 2007

Oscar, the Cat Abassador

I was not a cat person before Oscar. I had never owned one, spent much time with cats, or even liked kitten calendars. Then I had a client with a ranch, and ranch cats, including a white Manx cat named "Mrs. B," who had recently had kittens. When I went to visit, a tiny black kitten of six weeks, with a naturally bobbed tail only two or three vertebrae long, kept throwing himself at my leg and trying to stick. He also threw himself against walls and anything else he could, trying to stick, and always falling backwards, all four limbs fully extended like the suction-cup Garfield in the back of cars which was so popular in the 1980's. It was hard not to be charmed by the little black ball, try as I might.

He eventually climbed me and took a nap under my chin. I was talked into adopting him, because his "cat people" owners told me he had a ton of personality and he was going to be a lot of fun and very low-maintenance. They were actually right about this. Compared to dogs, a cat was pure simplicity. Having no idea how to raise one, however, he was basically treated like a dog. He came to work with me. He rode everywhere in the car. He learned to come, sit, fetch, and walk on a leash. He went camping with us, and liked to curl up inside the foot of the sleeping bag. He loved to hunt field mice, birds and bugs. It wasn't long before he outgrew the leash because I couldn't stand it when he took off up a tree and ended up getting brought down when he hit the leash's end abruptly. He didn't need a leash or harness because he always comes when called, no matter what.

He is allowed outside during the day, and we have three acres that he patrols and treats as his personal hunting grounds. I was surprised to see him riding my quarter horse, Buster, on more than one occasion, as he doesn't like to get his feet wet. He sits on the horse's rump where it's warm, lies there for a nap, and even rolls on his back - I keep trying to get a picture of this and never have a camera out at the right moment.

I was also surprised to learn that all delivery people, including Fed Ex, UPS, U.S. Mail, know him by name, as do the neighbors. Apparently he loves to climb in delivery trucks and get a ride around the block from time to time. He also likes to sit on the roof of the carport and jump down and surprise certain visitors who are not expecting it. He goes visiting and is friendly enough to show his name tag to everyone he gets close to.

Oscar is completely self-assured. Once we had five strange dogs in the house and he sat in a circle with them on the floor, aiming for his share of treats. He goes right up to strangers to check them out, never one to hide, even from the vacuum. We often raise foster kittens, and Oscar teaches them how to stalk and hunt. I have noticed that when playing with a flicker toy, I flick it three times and Oscar lets the kitten play with it, then he takes three turns for himself. Why three, I don't know, but he can clearly count to three.

I could not ask for a cat with a better nature or personality. Neat, independent, affectionate, smart, and a great hunter, he is a wonderful ambassador to the species. He was so convincing that three other cats eventually came to live with us permanently as well, and for the last three years, we take between 12 and 50 foster kittens each season and raise them until they get adopted. If I had started with some of the other cats I've come to know, I would have stopped at one, but Oscar was such a joy, he made it hard to imagine having a cat as anything but pleasant. When possible, I save the birds and mice he catches. When not possible, I am glad that he doesn't seem to ever eat them, he leaves them looking peaceful, but lifeless, on the back step. I have to accept that owning carnivores means they will sometimes hunt. (When hunting is slow, he leaves a play mouse on the doorsill, clearly an offering).

Oscar will be four years old in a few months, and weighs 13 pounds. He is the King of Cats at our house, and has a very happy life. Hopefully we will have many more years together. Today, a Friday cat blog day, marks his first appearance on the blog - so consider yourself formally introduced. He will probably be back.

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