Katniss and Toffee’s Christmas Presents

Toffee opens her Xmas present

Toffee opens her Xmas present

Toffee is our last inside cat. We brought her from Egypt in 2004 with her two companions. They both died this year. At first she struggled to adapt but now she enjoys having all the attention she missed out on, as she was always the baby cat. Her fur was always coarse but we have added a probiotic to her food and it is glossy and thick. She has a desert coat with an undercoat and hobbit feet for hot sand.

This is a video of her opening her Christmas present yesterday with silly Mummy talking in the background. She is surprisingly vocal in her thanks! Here is the YouTube link –
Chatty Toffee opening her present

Katniss is our outside cat – as feral as a raccoon and born in the wild. After our second cat died she turned up looking for food although I have seen her for about 3 years. She knew my broken heart would let her in. Recently I gave her a catnip toy and she played forever. So yesterday she got a catnip toy dog inside tissue paper and this is the YouTube link to it –

Katniss with her first Xmas present

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Mrs. Stripe and the Pharmacy

stripe pharmacy

Mrs. Stripe, the oldest of our three Egyptian feral cats, has had a painful week. She is about 15 years old and has considerable muscle deterioration in her back legs from early acrobatics across the rooftops of Cairo. She is on Gabapentin but this week I noticed that she was struggling to sit down on her back legs. Given her age and feral nature, I was convinced that we were taking her to be euthanized but once again she was saved for a little while longer with an opiate injection, some NSAIDs and an increased dose of Gabapentin.

She was hilarious when she came home – feeling no pain, eyes completely black and looking for trouble! She also had the munchies and we had to keep feeding the beast. The other two cats, quite wisely, kept out of her way. At one point we found the rug my grandmother made at the other side of the living room. I guess she had used it in an Arabian Nights scenario?

I asked if we could take the prescription to our local pharmacy as they now do pet medications (the ones that are the same as human drugs). The cost dropped from about $50 to $8 a bottle, so it was a considerable saving. When I went to pick it up today, I wondered (again) why we decided to call her Mrs. Stripe instead of just Tiger or some such. “What is the patient’s name?” Giggles from me, followed by “Mrs. Stripe”, to which I got a raised eyebrow. Then I had to fill in a digital form which queried – SELF or AGENT. Now I was really laughing, “I guess I am Mrs. Stripe’s agent, then.” I have no idea why the pharmacy technician didn’t think it was funny too. I was going to say that Mrs. Stripe would have come herself but God had forgotten to give her opposable thumbs.

In a unusual moment of good sense I thought that my comment might offend someone from the evangelical south. Just as well God didn’t (give her thumbs) because she would be doing do-nuts in the Challenger, stealing credit cards from my purse and other dastardly deeds.

Toffee – our baby cat

Toffee on the mantel

Aaawww – that cute little face. She doesn’t look like she has the capacity to reduce you to a whimpering wreck, does she? Not a day goes by when she doesn’t whine, beg, look at you as though you torture her and then cuddle me obsessively. It must be my fault but I don’t know how it happened.

Toffee, aka Toffee Tiddles or Baby girl, is our baby. She is going to be 13 this spring but is still our baby and behaves like it. We were introduced to Toffee when she was about 6 weeks old, so she has known us forever. At some point, before she was a year old, something traumatic happened to her. We have no idea what it was but it changed her personality. She was injured but was too upset for us to take her to the vet in Egypt. Our gardener found her and kept her in his room. We would like to think that she fell off the balcony but we think that a human did something bad to her, perhaps unintentionally. Most Egyptians love cats so it is hard to imagine that anyone deliberately did anything bad but they may have shooed her into the path of a car, perhaps.

I watched her mother, Mrs. Stripe, play with Toffee and her sibling Treacle (coal black), for hours in the garden. The play was really a lesson in how to hunt and it was usually mom’s tail. As they grew older, the siblings would play fight with each other but as feral kittens didn’t utter a sound. It was the weirdest experience to watch them hurt each other and squeak silently! Toffee was the dominant kitten and came into the house soonest. She loved to chase balls around the house and kick-started by putting her back legs up the wall. Those little paw marks on white-washed walls were so difficult to remove. Although her mum was not a hunter, more a scavenger, Toffee has a natural hunting ability and is literally addicted to lizards. They have some LSD type substance on their skin. Over the years I have rescued hundreds of lizards including a big black one that bit me!!

Her first proper toy was a handmade tartan teddy knitted by an American expat. It was a few inches long and she carried it everywhere. It was hard to get either toys or cat food in Egypt but we managed with ping-pong balls. Her absolute favorite was a toy that I bought for myself. This was another hand-knitted doll who was a genial witch, dressed in a purple outfit and a knitted broomstick. It was Halloween and I was just so delighted to find something so cute. Toffee took one look at it and ran off with Nanny Ogg in her mouth – it was as big as she was!

When we finally managed to get her to the vet for vaccinations and neutering, she was the worst patient ever – even worse than Zhenny… Our veterinarian had an assistant that looked like an Egyptian Lurch. His size and temperament calmed/scared most animals but not Toffee. She totally trashed Dr. Farouk’s office – she escaped from Lurch/Mohammed’s grasp, ran around like a mini tornado, breaking everything as she went. We finally found her inside one of his desk drawers. It was the only time I saw Dr. Farouk close to losing his cool. He wanted to know why we were looking after a wild animal but by that time, she was injured and we had no choice. She has rarely visited any vet in her 12⅔rd years and we hope she just drops dead someday. Apart from us adoring our little baby, she is has been a fabulous intermediary between Zhenny and Mrs. Stripe who both consider themselves alpha females. Toffee will play with them both, particularly Zhenny who she treats as a sibling.

She didn’t find her voice for years but now has a really loud, annoying squeak. I will put up with it for ages and then speak to her in Arabic. She puts her tail between her legs and then runs under the bed. Sigh. Then I have to go persuade her than Mummy is not an ogre (she should have met her Grandma) and please come out for some organic chicken. By now you should realize who the problem is…

Toffee with Mummy in Egypt

Toffee with Mummy in Egypt

Zhenny – the crazy cat

ZnK_Sept1

I had such a sad day yesterday. Our beautiful Zhenny’s heart stopped during a routine dental procedure and she is now buried in the garden with Mrs. Stripe who died earlier in the year. She was geriatric and had some cognitive difficulties but it was an unexpected death.  Teddy and I are distraught despite knowing that she didn’t have much longer. She was so funny, loving and crazy, RIP our special girl. This is my original post about her.

I know – she is utterly beautiful. Her eyes are exquisite and she looks like a cat on a pyramid. That’s the problem… I first encountered her at the cat shelter where my husband and I volunteered in Cairo, Egypt. Her owner was moving from an American military base in Cairo to another in Korea and couldn’t take her fur baby. I can only imagine how her owner felt but Zhenny was distraught. She wouldn’t eat anything, despite our endless treats and pleading. The veterinarian put an IV drip in but she thought she was being tortured. We already had Mrs. Stripe and her daughter, Toffee, our garden cats, so we certainly didn’t want another one. We thought that Stripe would attack her anyway as she is so territorial. Then one day it was obvious that Zhenny was dying and I just put her in a crate, took her home so that she could die somewhere nice.

She was so skinny that we bought her a little cat nest with a hood so that she could feel safe and comfortable in her final days. To my surprise, when I introduced Stripe and Toffee to her, I could see them saying, ‘Poor little soul’ and thus she was accepted. The fight for her life went on for about a week with me forcing baby food into her mouth. In desperation I bought some minced beef and cooked it for her. For the first time, she seemed to have an appetite and started eating properly. By that time we were all bonded or used to each other’s scents and it was too late… That was 12 years ago and she was 18 months old. She is still alive but I have saved her life on another occasion when the veterinarian hospital could not look after her. We believe she may have sent someone to ER…

Stripe and Toffee are likely half Mau but completely feral. Zhenny looks like a tabby oriental but may as well be from Planet Zed. Even the vet said that she is just loco. I have looked after many cats but this one is an enigma. Only I can lift her, and only in special circumstances. Her Dad may only kiss her but not stroke her. He is also the only one who is allowed to play with her in a precise OCD way. Mum is just for cuddles and care-giving. The other two cats were utterly silent for years, as feral cats can be, but Zhenny is astonishingly vocal. I will be on the phone with my aunt in Ireland, Zhenny will be three rooms away and she can hear her screaming. After all these years we can tell the difference between her distress and laughter. The vet suggested that we give her Xanax – I looked at him and said, “How precisely should I do that, with a blow-dart, perhaps?”

She can be hysterically funny or drive us to tears. If she is upset she creeps along the floor, sobbing. Have you ever heard a cat sob? All treats have to be thrown like live prey and yet she is not a hunter. We discovered much later that she had kittens before we took her in but still hadn’t been neutered. Shortly after I saved her life in Cairo, she went into heat. Our villa was three houses from the baker’s shop at the end of the street and I could hear her howling inside our house. No wonder our neighbors had some issues with us… One time she was halfway up the stairs, with her head peeping through the balustrade and started ‘in heat howling’. Even she looked astonished at the guttural sound that came out of her mouth and we burst out laughing.

She should not have lived this long but Mummy is just so good at saving her life. Sigh. Our vet looks at me in horror when I say very firmly DO NOT RESUSCITATE! She is so difficult to handle that we know that she would not be able to cope with a chronic illness or disability so it would be a kindness. She has the early stages of kidney dysfunction but I suspect she has at least another year in her. Oh we will miss these beautiful green blue eyes and her funny vocalizations.

Zhenny at 2 years old in Cairo

Zhenny at 2 years old in Cairo

Read more about her in Letters from Cairo by Kerry Duncan

The Baladi Dogs in the Jeep

Poochy and Puppy
Well, I slept well last night and am almost back to my usual self. Above are our beloved Baladi dogs, Poochy and Puppy, that we looked after in Egypt. The word Baladi means local in Arabic and usually it is used to refer to the ubiquitous yet delicious flat breads sold on every corner. The expats, most of whom had never come across feral street dogs, referred to them as Baladi dogs. They all look much the same – skinny, sandy, short coated dogs about the size of a labrador. Normally, they are naturally cautious of humans and behave like a coyote would, especially when it comes to howling at night. Poochy, the mother dog, had been looked after by a Western expat from puppyhood until he left, so she didn’t know whether to behave like a pet or a coyote. She used to run to me for cuddles and I remember she put her paws on the shoulders of my clean white dress which was then covered in camel poop and goodness knows what else. “Poochy!!!”, I yelled, to no avail…

Just before a trip back to the UK we decided to take them to a Westernized animal boarding kennel where Poochy could recover from being neutered and they would be safe together for a couple of weeks. As soon as she was neutered by Dr. Farouk and safe to move we took her and the puppy across the Nile to the pyramid side of Cairo where the boarding kennel was. There was a new bridge but we got hopelessly lost so I made my husband stop the Jeep at a snack shack just before the flyover and ask for directions. Despite the impression you may get in my book, most Egyptians, especially Bedouins, are incredibly hospitable and the owner insisted that his son go in the car with us, onto the bridge and then he would get out (on an interstate) and walk back. Nothing we could do could persuade him otherwise.

The son jumped in the front with my husband and then glanced back to the back where Poochy and Puppy were whining inconsolably, throwing up and generally smelling awful. He looked at us in horror and incredulity – who would have Baladi dogs in their car? After he got out (and was paid handsomely) we knew that he would have ran back to his Dad and said, “They have Baladi dogs in the Jeep!” We just knew that his Dad would have said, “Don’t be ridiculous – they must have been Pharaoh Hounds! Rich people like that don’t keep street dogs”. It was a terrible journey but we all survived it and yet again had something to laugh about in Cairo.

Just another teaser to tempt you to buy the book – flagrant advertising!
This is the link to the book on Amazon US – http://www.amazon.com/Letters-Cairo-This-memoir-travelogue-ebook/dp/B015JFY1F0
If you read it (some may be able to borrow it) please give me a review.