You might think that I'd have less to say about Bird than the others, since she only became my kitty when my wife and I decided to take her with us when we moved to Maine in the spring of 2OO1, when she was already an adult who had given birth to one litter of kittens, but I have known her since she was a kitten herself.
My partner and I owned an ambulance company at the time, and we were leasing a building in Edcouch, Texas, with crew quarters in one part of the building and our offices in the other. There was a vacant house on one side of our station, and our landlord had an apartment above the garage of our building.
One day in January of 199O, I was outside the office when I heard kittens meowing. As a reference point, Cutie and Lydia were perhaps a month old at that time, but they were in my house in Elsa, Texas, a few miles away.
Investigating, I found that a stray cat had given birth to a litter of kittens in the porch of the vacant house. Although small, like her daughter, Bird's mom wouldn't let me near them, a stance that she held for the rest of her life, which, unfortunately, wasn't long.
I closed the door of the porch, to keep out the wind and roving dogs, which were common in Edcouch, and set up a board so that their mother would be able to come and go through a broken window. Later, I brought out a pile of hospital sheets and made a bed of them in the opposite corner of the porch, with mom spitting and growling at me the whole time.
Despite her demonstrative lack of gratitude, I noted with, with some satisfaction, that she had moved her kittens over to the sheets by the following morning. She didn't trust me but she knew a good deal when she saw one.
I recognized the mom as one of several feral cats who'd come around whenever anyone was barbecuing outside the station, but never, ever, near enough to make contact. I had made friends, of sorts, with a couple of them, but Edcouch, in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, was not a very safe place for a stray cat. Dogs would come by often, on the hunt for cats or whatever else might be unfortunate enough to get within striking distance. Kids would go about the neighborhood, with dogs and BB guns, hunting cats, and were not in the least ashamed of it, or concerned that anyone might care.
I couldn't take them all in, but I began bringing food for the mother cat every morning, and later left some there, with instructions to my medics to feed the cat if I wasn't around to do so.
There were five kittens. Two of them, including Bird, were gray and white; two others were colored similarly to Baby Girl and, later, Obadiah; while the fifth was a nearly solid gray.
After a time, the kittens grew old enough to walk around; and one day, their mother carried them, one by one, through the window, bringing them outdoors, it seemed, so that they could learn to eat real food.
I brought them some canned food and left it on a plate on the ground, since mom wouldn't let me get near any of her kittens. She did let them eat, though, and they did.
It started to get dark and the kittens were still outside. I didn't know what the mom's plans were, since she had gone off somewhere, and I wasn't sure if she had intended to return, so I opened the door to the porch, which I had previously closed, propping it so that the opening was just large enough, I thought, for a kitten to get through, but not wide enough for a dog.
The kittens went back into the porch, cuddling in their sheets, which I changed periodically, and by the next morning, I could see that mom was back.
Over the next few weeks, one of the kittens began to show an interest in me, walking closer and closer to me. If mom was around, she'd get between us and ask me, not too politely, to leave her kittens alone.
Then one day, one of my medics called me at home to tell me that the dogs had gotten to the kittens, and he thought they had killed the mom. I rushed down there, and found that three of the kittens were dead, and the mom was missing. The two who were still alive were unharmed, and they included Bird, although I hadn't named her yet, and the one that had made friendly overtures toward me.
I secured the porch again, leaving the broken window as it was so that the mom could get back in if it turned out that she had survived. She didn't and, although I thought I saw here a few times, she never came close enough for me to be sure that it was her.
I fed my outside kitties regularly, and changed their bedding periodically. Slowly, Bird's sister came closer and closer to me, until finally she would jump up in my lap if I were sitting in a chair outdoors. Bird wasn't so trusting, but eventually she'd come up to me as well.
At first, she'd jump up in my lap but, although her sister would let me pet her and hold her in my arms, Bird would sit stiffly on my leg, striking out at me with her claws out if I were so bold as to touch her.
At one point, I noticed that both Bird and her sister had some bald patches in their fur, and had seen other of the stray cats in the neighborhood with the same thing, even more pronounced. I talked to my veterinarian about it, and he suggested that it was probably ringworm.
One morning, Bird's sister was found dead in the street, apparently struck by a car - or maybe even an ambulance - in front of our station.
I began spending a lot of time at the station, even stopping by on weekends, or when I was off, to make sure that my outside kitty was okay, and had something to eat. To their credit, our whole crew were very good about watching out for her, as well. Even when I was out of state for weeks on end, they did their part, probably thinking it was crazy, but they came through for me, and for her.
One day, I was sitting outside the station, talking to our landlord, while Bird, although she hadn't yet been given that name, sat on my leg. Our landlord had placed hummingbird feeders, on pulleys, in a large tree outside the station, and he was showing me the birds that he had attracted, which included six varieties of hummingbird.
Bird didn't seem to be paying any attention at all, which wasn't surprising, since the birds were very high up in the tree, so high that I could barely see them, let alone tell one variety of bird from another.
In time, I went back into the station, and our landlord to his apartment, leaving Bird outside. Then, about a half hour later, I went outdoors to see the cat batting something around on the driveway.
It was a hummingbird. She had gone up and got herself one. She also got a name, although I never did tell our landlord the story behind it.
Later, I'd watch her in the trees, and a more agile cat you'd never dream of. I've seen her walk out to the end of a branch, bending it down, so that she could cross from one tree to another. Being such a tiny kitty, she could get away with it.
Bird became more attached to me as time went on. While I couldn't let her inside the station, knowing what that might lead to, she'd often sit outside the station in whatever window was adajacent to where I was inside, so that she could see me.
If I went out with the ambulance, she'd be waiting to greet me when I returned. My medics would tell me that she'd greet every ambulance that came in, walking away disappointed whenever she found that it wasn't me.
If didn't see her when I arrived at the station, I could whistle and she'd come bounding through a vacant lot, her head visible as she lept through the long grass and weeds.
Even before she became an indoor kitty, she began collecting toys. I watched her play for hours with a small beachball that she had come up with somewhere. It looked to be a very large toy for such a small cat, but she'd strike it until it rolled, then jump over the top of it, and hit it back and forth.
When she was done, I watched her do the most interesting thing. She pushed and pushed at that ball, until she had wedged it between the floor and the ground beneath the vacant house, apparently so that no one would be able to take it from her, but so solidly that there was no way that she'd be able to get it back out herself.
I hadn't considered that an outdoor cat would be particularly interested in cat toys, but I began bringing her some. She absolutely loved them, and she put her toys away when she was done, carrying them back into the porch and storing them all in the same place.
When she was a couple of years old, she came up pregnant, giving birth to four kittens in the same porch that had been her home. By then, I had fixed the porch up quite comfortably for her, and seeing as this was in a part of the country where it rarely got cold and almost never reached freezing temperatures, she didn't have it too badly. It was also secure from dogs.
She raised her kittens there, and brought them to me. When they were old enough, three of them were adopted our medics, and given good homes. The fourth stayed with her well into adulthood, and was adopted by another of our medics, who lived on a farm, on the day that my wife and I decided to take Bird with us to Maine.
Before that though, a house came up for rent adjacent to the vacant house, and I rented it, moving from Elsa to Edcouch. It didn't take Bird very long to notice that, and she began hanging around outside my house as well.
At around that time, the owner of the vacant house began fixing it up, booting Bird out of the only home she had ever known, so I built a shed in my backyard for the sole purpose of giving her a safe place, with multiple entrances just large enough for a cat, and platforms where she could sit up high, safely out of reach of anything that might follow her in there.
I loved it, but she didn't. In fact, I never saw her go in there voluntarily, and it eventually became a home for a couple of very ugly possums.
Learning that Bird had moved into the open garage beneath our landlord's apartment rather than trusting my skills at building a cathouse, I decided to make her more comfortable in the garage, but found that my medics had already built her a place up high enough to protect her from dogs, and equipped it with sheets and blankets.
We fed her, and her grown son, who was tame and still with her, but she also hunted, and didn't waste much. She also had a habit of going through the trash cans outside the station, making a mess of things every night, so I'd pick up after her each morning, not wanting anyone on our staff to become angry with her.
I once saw her pick up an old pork chop, full of ants, shake the ants off of it, and eat it. She wasn't about to depend on handouts and, I am sure, considered anything she could find in the trash as being well earned.
By then, I had married, and my wife had moved, with me, into the house that I had rented near the station. We had invited Bird into the house several times but, while she'd come to the door, she wouldn't enter. Then one unusually cold, rainy night, she came to our front door, yelled for me and, when I opened the door, she came in, the first time she had ever been in a house.
The other cats, then Baby Girl, Cutie, and Lydia, greeted her with hisses and growls, and Bird wanted to go back out. Rather than letting her go right away, I brought her up on the couch with me and she settled in. Now, eight years later, Cutie still greets her with hisses and growls, but the others have pretty much accepted her, although I can't say that any of them have embraced her, but neither has she them.
She didn't become a house kitty right away, though. After a couple of hours in the house, she had to move her bowels. When I saw her getting in position to do this on the carpet, I said, "No, don't!" ... perhaps more loudly than I should have, because it scared her. I picked her up, carried her over to the litter box, and she immediately knew what it was there for, and never looked back. For an adult, outside cat, she was the easiest can to housebreak that I've ever had.
When the rain stopped, she wanted to go back outside, and didn't make a habit of wanting to come into the house, and would do so only when the weather was bad, and usually only long enough to wait out the storm.
Later, we moved to a smaller house on the other side of the road. My landlord, the one that we were renting the house from, wanted it back for his daughter, so we didn't have a choice, but I worried about Bird crossing the road, which had a fair amount of traffic, being the only highway between La Villa, Edcouch, and Elsa.
Concerned that she'd be killed trying to visit me there, I tried not to let her know where I was moving to. The new house was right across the road, but tucked behind another house, so I thought maybe she wouldn't see me there.
That didn't work, as she was there, I think, the day that we moved in, but she was very careful about crossing the road, looking both ways several times before racing across.
The new house had an enclosed porch, and that was less threatening to her than a closed house, apparently, as she pretty much moved into the porch. Later, we put a cat door in the door leading from the porch to the house, so that she could come and go as she pleased when I was home, as I still didn't want my other cats going outside unsupervised.
Cutie would wait outside the cat door so that she could swat at Bird as soon as she put her head in the door, and did everything possible to let her know that she wasn't welcome there, but Bird persisted, and eventually insisted that she had as much of a right there as anyone else.
She was still mostly an outdoor cat, and I was still trying to think of her as a stray, not wanting to admit that I now had four cats, and I still believe that it's usually best for someone to have no more than two cats at a time.
Our last winter was colder and wetter than other winters had been, for the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, so that might have had much to do with Bird spending more and more of her time in the house, or at least the porch. Still, she spent much of her time around the ambulance station, or in the garage, where her son remained.
My wife never wanted to live in Texas so, for that, and some other reasons, I decided to retire from the field of emergency medical services, and move to Maine.
I bought a dozen huge bags of cat food, and made arrangments for my partner to make sure that the cats were fed, and taken care of, but I didn't feel good about it, the life expectancy for an outdoor cat in Edcouch being probably not much more than a couple of years.
Our last day in Texas, my wife and I decided that we wanted to take Bird with us. I didn't want to leave her son alone, but since Lydia was the only cat we had that had been spayed at that point, I didn't want to introduce a male to the family. Fortunately, one of my medics asked if she could take Little Guy, as he was named, to her farm, where he would continue to be an outside cat, but one with a large barn and a couple of other cats for company. That sounded like a good deal all the way around.
We didn't know that she was pregnant until sometime after we got to Maine. I guess I can't really fault her for that, having watched her ferociously fight off the males over the years, and for an outdoor cat to have only two litters of kittens in ten years time indicates that she was doing something right. Baby Girl was only allowed supervised ventures outdoors, or so I thought, yet she had populated half the Rio Grande Valley with kittens. One of her kittens, from a couple of litters before Cutie and Lydia, lived nearby, in fact, and had been seen hanging out with Bird quite a lot, so it's entirely possible that Baby Girl's son was the father of Obadiah, which might explain both her size and coloring, as she is much larger than her mom and looks more like Baby Girl.
Bird gave birth to four beautiful kittens. Once they were weaned, we gave three of them away easily, leaving us with Obadiah as a part of our family. One of the kittens that we gave away, Esther, later turned up on our doorstep, and we learned that the family we had given her to had moved away.
We had six cats for awhile, then Esther disappeared. Oddly enough, my wife was getting her hair done when her hairdresser mentioned having taken in a beautiful little cat who had broken her hip somehow. She described Esther, although she lived several blocks on the other end of the same street that we lived on. As it turned out, she had even taken her to the same veterinarian that we used. It was Esther, and she had found a new home.
Bird was a terrific mom, as you'll be able to see in her photo album. She taught Obadiah to climb trees, and to use my potting soil as a litter box. She tried to teach her to hunt, but I don't think that took. One day while I was in the back yard, she brought Obie a bird that she had killed, dropped it in front of her daughter, and Obadiah acted like she had seen a ghost; she was clearly horrified.
I don't know how it ever came to be that she and her daughter hate one another so much as adults, but they do. Cutie postures all the time, but most of the real fights we have are between Bird and Obadiah. While we had hoped that Obie would give Bird at least one ally in a household of cats who looked upon her as an outside, her daughter would routinely jump into the fray, against her mother.
It's been suggested that Bird intentionally distanced herself from her kittens once they were old enough to care for themselves, as an instinct she picked up as a feral cat, but I don't think that's true. I've watched Bird try to clean her grown daughter, or to cuddle with her, only to be rejected over and over, until she no longer tries.
Baby Girl was often kind to Bird, but she didn't go overboard to make her feel welcome. Lydia mostly acts as if Bird isn't even there, while Cutie still treats her like an intruder.
Bird doesn't help matters any. She often instigates things with Cutie. Knowing that Cutie hates it when any other cat comes up by me while she's there, Bird has often come up on my lap while Cutie was sleeping alongside me on the couch; then, if Cutie doesn't wake up, Bird will reach over and poke her, waking her up.
Even after nearly a decade of being an indoor kitty, Bird still hasn't quite mastered the skill of keeping her claws in while she's playing, or fighting with another cat. The other cats can fight seemingly ferociously, yet without doing any harm to one another, but Bird draws blood. Even when she's playing with me, there is often a point where it's no longer a game in Bird's mind, but a fight for her life, and I've come away from it with blood running down my arms.
She's gotten much better in recent years, but playing with her still too often results in a shredding of my hands and arms. If I'm paying close attention, I can see the point in which it happens on her face, and it's as if feline PTSD is kicking in, as may well be the case.
For those of you who are familiar with reactive attachment disorder in children, I truly believe that Bird suffers an equivalent feline disorder. For one thing, it makes sense, as her mother was unable to keep her safe, and was either killed or otherwise abandoned her to the dogs, and at a time when she was yet a small kitten.
She absolutely loves and, at the same time, hates to be held, purring and crying at the same time, then hissing and threatening my life unless I let her down. She no longer tries to carry out these threats, but she still threatens.
She likes to be close, but not cuddle; to sit on my leg but not to be held. She often starts fights, and then makes a big show of being a victim.
For years, she would overeat, then throw everything up on the floor.
She hoard things, even things that aren't hers. Every Christmas, I buy a toy for each of the cats, wrap them up, and place them under the tree, to be opened on Christmas Eve. Within days, she will have collected every one of them, storing them in a pile somewhere in the house. As she did when she was a stray, she puts her toys away when she's done with them, and pretty much anything that catches her eye might become a toy.
Our nephew lived with us for a few years, and I became convinced that he was stealing my pens off of my desk, as I'd buy new pens, yet everytime I reached for one, I wouldn't be able to find a single pen on my desk. Then I watched Bird jump up on my desk, pick up a pen in her mouth, and jump down with it.
She is not ungrateful for everything that we have done for her, though. For years, she would leave gifts for us outside the door to our bedroom. Once we moved to Millinocket, I installed a cat door in an upstairs window, where there was a wooden fire escape leading to the ground, so the cats were able to go in and out as they pleased.
We'd find some pretty cool things outside our door, including a crumpled cigarette package that she must have gotten from someone else's yard, since neither of us smoked, leaves, branches, stones, and an assortment of dead animals and reptiles.
She also bring us things while we're awake, yelling loudly to announce that she's brought us something, then dropping it on the floor and prancing away, making it clear that she hadn't brought it in for herself. These gifts were even more interesting, including an unharmed blue jay, several moles, a frog, a snake, and even a live bat, as well as pretty much any inanimate object that she could fit in her mouth, even some that I wouldn't think she'd be able to carry, such as an old glass coke bottle and a railroad spike, which I'm sure she picked up along the railroad track that ran behind our house.
When she brought us the full-grown blue jay, first I heard a blue jay screeching, then I saw Bird dash past the window and up the fire escape with something large in her mouth, as a blue jay, probably its mate, was diving at her head. I ran upstairs in time to find the blue jay standing, unhurt, in the middle of the water dish. Bird had already lost interest. I picked the bird up with a towel, carried it outside, and it flew away.
She still provides for us, bringing me a soggy piece of wood only a couple of days ago; and a baby snapping turtle not long before that.
Mercifully, I think it's been awhile since she'd killed anything, and even before that, she had quit eating the things that she killed. She caught a mouse in our house in Millinocket last winter, being very careful so as not to harm it, as if she were carrying a kitten.
In fact, she'd gotten pretty picky about what she eats. She likes sardines, but no more often than once every couple of months. She has refused to eat cheap cat food once we let her know that there was premium cat food available. She begs for table scraps but won't usually eat them if I give them to her.
She still likes to be able to go outdoors, but doesn't really spend much time there anymore, preferring the comforts of home. Like Lydia, she will sometimes refuse to come in when I call her at night, but if I close the door she practically begs to be let in. While she likes to have the option of going outside, she is afraid of not being able to get back in.
She seems to find comfort in the phrase, "house kitty."