THE CATS IN THE COACH

and other critters

copyright 1995 by Judy Harris

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We called him Digit because he had thumbs - extra toes which formed thumb-like appendages on his front paws. I always wanted a polydactyl cat and when he stretched out his paw through the bars of the ASPCA cage and tapped my boyfriend, Arthur, on the arm, none of the competing cats up for adoption had a chance.

He was sweet and affectionate from the minute we brought him home from the ASPCA. That first night, he slept on my head, stretched out on the pillow above me, which was a shock and delight to me. My previous cat, Kudah, a Maine Coon whom I had loved and adored for 18 years, had been standoffish to the point that if she were lying on the bed, and I sat on it, however gingerly, she would immediately stalk off. So a cat that would not only share the bed but also cuddle up and sleep with me was a dream come true.

There's a theory that cats who are touched and handled when they're very young will be more people-oriented and enjoy being petted and fondled all their life. Dijie was 6, according to the ASPCA, by the time we got him, so there's no way to verify his previous experience, but the longer I know him, the more I am convinced he either was taken away from his original cat mom too young or else she died when he was very little, and he had to be hand fed, and all this early touching he associates with pleasurable things, and so he seeks it out. Arthur says he's my fantasy cat, because he wants to be hugged and caressed as much as I want to hug and fondle him.

I had Kudah since she was 6 weeks old. I talked to her constantly and she had a big vocabulary. The longer I had her, the more "conversations" we'd have - she speaking in meows and "chuffs" of affection and pleasure. So, as magical as Dijie is, I still regret he has no vocabulary. He knows his name and that's pretty much it as far as his verbal skills, and also it took him 3 years of sleeping on my head (and chewing on my hair in the middle of the night if he got hungry or wanted his ears rubbed) before he realized he could get more pleasure by getting off the pillow and positioning himself along side me, my hand in his arm pit, his tush in my arm pit, my arm along the length of his gut, my elbow between his spread back legs. When I hug him like this, it always reminds me of a puppeteer putting on a sock puppet.

One of Dijie's favorite games is "mousie". I may be one of the only people in the world to call dangling a hunk of ribbon, shoelace or similar dangle in front of a cat "mousie", but that's what we call it in our house. Dijie is the world's best mousie player. It's the thumbs. Once he grasps any dangle between his two front paws, they lock into place and nothing can dislodge them. You can never get a mousie away from Dijie unless he wants you to (or he loses interest), which makes mousie one of the really dull games of all time if you're not a cat. Mousie has these tremendous lulls during which the dangle lies taut in Dijie's paws, and then he relents and I jerk it away and, delighted, he lays on his back, open mouthed with excitement, and grabs it again.

I know he's in the mood for mousie when he becomes a "wildie". Anyone who has ever had cats will recognize this behavior - the eyes wide, the ears back, the mouth hanging open - sudden racing around, leaping and pouncing. The amazing thing is that, at 11 years old, Dijie still has frequent wildie bouts, during which his dignity completely disappears and, as he caroms off the furniture, he sometimes loses his balance and goes ass over tin cups onto the floor.

After we had Dijie almost a year, I found Busby. Dijie is mostly white with grey patches, interestingly marked on his face. Buzz is a brown tabby with an asymmetric white patch on his nose and the biggest ocelot eyes you ever saw on a domestic cat. He was a thin guy when I found him; the vet estimated he was under a year. I felt so sorry for him that I shoveled food into him, and was completely shocked when 2 months later he had ballooned into a huge 20-pound guy. He's been on diet dry food ever since, but he has steadily gained and is now a whopping 25 pounds. I take complete blame for this, but since he has neither the inclination nor the comfort level to exercise, I don't see him ever getting significantly slimmer, and I have to confess I love to kiss his big fat gut. I start in his right armpit and try to cover his entire gut, which is so large, it takes 55 kissies!

I doubt there has ever been as lethargic a cat as Busby. He lies down to eat; he drapes himself stretched out full length over the water dish to drink. Or he fishes the crunchies out of his bowl with one paw - pulling them toward him - too lazy to move an inch or so closer to the bowl. Even when we play mousie, the most he will move is to roll on his back, but usually I have to accommodate him by dragging (as opposed to dangling) the mousie over his back, which is one of his tickle spots, in order to get him to nip at it. Unlike Dijie, Buzz prefers to grab the mousie with his mouth.

I don't remember Kudah ever playing mousie, although she must have when she was young. Kudah was quite an intelligent and creative girl and one game she invented was Red Light Green Light. I live in what is known as a "railroad" apartment, meaning all the rooms are in a row, like the cars of a train. The farthest rooms at each end are the kitchen and the bathroom. I would be in the kitchen, doing the dishes or some other domestic chore, and Kudah would be in the bathroom. While my back was turned, she would creep up on me, and if I happened to turn around and caught her moving, I would jump up in the air, and she would go back and start over. No one believes me that she did this, but it's true.

Even odder is she had a little fantasy game she played by herself when no one was home. At the time, she had a toy which I called "the pink ted" (ted meaning toy, which was a babytalk word I used). This was a knitted pink bootie which was stuffed with some soft material. I would put the pink ted on the side of the bath tub and when I left the apartment, Kudah would move it. She never touched it when anyone was looking and if she was around when you picked it up from wherever she dropped it, she would always pretend it had nothing to do with her.

Once or twice, when my boyfriend or I were napping and Kudah had forgotten we were in the apartment with her, she moved the pink ted and this is how we discovered she made a very odd caterwauling noise when she moved it. It was really a goosepimply noise and completely unlike any other meow she ever made. Once we turned on the tape recorder and ostentatiously left the apartment to do the laundry, and were lucky enough to capture the "pink ted noise" on tape.

Back to Dijie - another thing his thumbs come in handy for are grabbing Buzz around the neck to hold him down so Dijie can thoroughly clean him. Most of the time, this is exactly what Buzz wants because Buzz's erogenous zone is his ears, and having Dijie clean them puts Buzz into such ecstasy, he just lies quietly on his side, purring, and kneading Dijie in the gut (which Dijie seems to enjoy quite a bit). However, sooner or later, one or the other of them gets tired of this, and then paws are raised and it usually ends in a wrestling match with Dijie leaping agilely away. (Buzz doesn't do anything agilely). Occasionally, they both just conk out after this mutual love making and wind up sleeping in each other's arms, which is very sweet. Oddly, this love making often occurs like clockwork at 11 pm or thereabouts.

Once I noticed how big Buzzie had gotten, I toyed with renaming him "Hugene" (because he's so huge). Like Dijie he has almost no vocabulary and, unlike Dijie, he never pays much attention when you call his name (but just shake those crunchies and watch his eyes light up!). However, my boyfriend and I have settled on nicknaming him "Big". He is sweet natured and while he doesn't seek out our physical affection with Dijie's single minded regularity, when he does want to be hugged, it is such a pleasure to encircle his spongy girth and just sink into his fur. He has a way of just collapsing on his side, with a smile on his face, while you hug him and rub his ears, that is very adorable. Despite the fact Dijie and Buzz have different types of fur, they both are extremely soft in their own way, with Dijie somewhat silkier and Buzzie spongier.

The first Spring I had Dijie I took him to the park in a carrying case. He was only 12 pounds or so, but it was still a dead weight at the end of my arm. Soon, I improvised an easier way (for me) by attaching his carrying case to a shopping cart, but being claustrophobic myself, I never liked to see him jammed into the carrying case (although he never seemed to mind). When the opportunity arose to acquire a used baby carriage, I leapt at it.

I got a friend to sew Velcro on some very tough netting which is sold commercially to keep children from sticking their heads through railings, and I would put Dijie into the coach and Velcro the netting over the coach frame so he wouldn't leap out into traffic when I took him to Central Park which is only a 5-minute walk away.

Once we get to the park, I let him out of the coach immediately and he spends his usual 2-hours in the park roaming around on just lying on the rocks or grass enjoying the great outdoors. Another thing I've read about cats is their original mom has to teach them what prey is and how to kill it. In line with my theory that Dijie was taken away from his mom too early, he has absolutely no idea what prey is.

For a long time when I took him to the park, he paid no attention to the squirrels and minimal attention to the birds, but he was (and is) completely fascinated by traffic. Traffic along Central Park West whizzes by constantly and is quite noisy; there are police cars and ambulances blaring their sirens; the buses have quite loud air brakes, and some trucks that use the wide 4-lane street which cuts through the park don't hesitate to use their ear-splitting air horns, and Dijie loves all this racket. (He's the only cat I've ever known who isn't afraid of the vacuum either!).

Once, some park employees came barreling up on riding mowers to where we were sitting in the park; making considerable racket. It's one thing to be interested in traffic which is, after all, dozens of yards in the distance, but I expected him to be intimidated by these riding mowers. Instead, he ran up to them, and I had to scoop him up for fear he would be run over.

Once someone had his parrot in the park. Its wings were clipped so it couldn't fly away. Leaving Dijie a couple dozen yards away where I could keep my eye on him, I went over to take a look at this handsome bird and speak to its owner. Well, pretty soon Dijie came ambling over. I expected him to slow down or hang back hesitantly, but he marched right up to the parrot. Before I could stop him, he had come directly up to the bird, who had opened its beak as wide as possible. At this point, I had hesitated too long, and figured if I moved now, I would precipitate the parrot biting him by startling one or the other of them. Dijie stuck his nose directly between this bird's jaws, and I thought to myself, "here's where he loses an eye or, at least, is permanently scarred" but instead, after an inquisitive sniff, Dijie just pulled back his head and the parrot closed its beak and that was that.

Dijie has always been very people-oriented and does not hesitate to go up to strangers in the park. On one of our early outings, he approached a friendly person who was cooking chicken on a gas grill, and she offered some to him. Chicken is is favorite food, so you can be sure he accepted this with alacrity! This has set a dangerous precedent and now, years later, he still approaches strangers in the park demanding chicken.

After Dijie met Buzz, Buzz was able to teach him a thing or two Dijie's original mom had never gotten around to. Alerted by the sound of Dijie kicking sand in his litter box, Buzz likes to hide behind the door of the bedroom closet and, as Dijie exits the bathroom, fresh from relieving himself, Buzz tries to bite Dijie in the tush. After this happened a couple of times, Dijie took to exiting from the litter like a bat out of hell, and often a wrestling match between my two boys would result. (This is pretty much the only exercise Buzzie gets!)

Buzz also meows in a rather demanding tone when exiting the litter, as if to prompt me to clean up after him immediately, and after a few weeks of this, Dijie took to announcing his litter use as well.

In order to keep Dijie amused in the park, I would toss bread to the birds, often attracting a fairly large flock of pigeons, plus the usual sparrows, grackles, jays and whatnot.

Passersby would stop to watch "the cat among the pigeons", smiles on their faces in anticipation of seeing Dijie bide his time and then make a mad dash to grab one of the pigeons. Minutes would go by, and their smiles would fade, and eventually they'd walk off muttering, because Dijie never did make his move. He was content just to watch the pigeons and, until Buzz taught him what prey is, he never made a move for them. Once Buzz came on the scene, Dijie did make a couple of half hearted runs at the pigeons, but they are tough inner city birds who fly a few feet away when they are pursued and literally can't be frightened off, so the absence of any satisfying display of fear on their part frustrated Dijie and he quickly lost interest in chasing them.

Once Buzz joined the family, I took him to the park as well, but Buzz was not a happy camper. This surprised me because I had found Buzz outside and I figured he might miss his freedom but, for all his huge size and the way he likes to bully Dijie and bite him in the tush, Buzz turned out to be quite timid. So, while Dijie roams the park at will, Buzz huddles inside the coach and refuses to exit. Luckily this particular coach disassembles, so I can take the coach part off the wheel part and lay it on the ground. Buzzie feels a bit happier close to the ground and, as he enjoys chomping on grass, he will make occasionally forays outside of the coach to nibble on the grass before hopping back in.

Because Busby doesn't particularly enjoy his outings in the park, I don't often make him go - perhaps twice a year, just to get a taste of fresh air. On one of these infrequent trips, we were approached by two women, one of whom was pushing a Lhasa Apsa in a stroller! I expect you're thinking, who am I to point the finger of eccentricity when I take my cats to the park in a coach, but dogs traditionally walk on leashes and cats do not, and this was not an elderly dog, but a healthy puppy who was being coddled like this.

At any rate, one of these women was a stringer for CATS magazine and wanted to know if I was interested in having my pride and joy photographed for a story about urban cats. You can imagine my response. It took a whole year before they actually contacted me for this article. When the photographer arrived, I told him he would have no trouble getting shots of Busby in the coach (which is what the magazine required) but he would have a good deal of trouble getting shots of Dijie in the coach because once we got to the park, Dijie was used to jaunting around. And, in fact, this is what occurred.

Busby stayed in the coach, nose twitching, posing like a professional, and Dijie did not cooperate at all. Finally, I suggested to the photographer that we position Dijie on top of the hood of the coach, and this is what he had to settle for. Even then, the photographer wanted shots with skyscrapers in the background (to prove this was New York) and so he positioned the coach between himself and the street and wanted the cats to look at him. Well, of course, Dijie was far more interested in the traffic than in the photographer who, after all, was standing still and doing nothing. My boyfriend and I stood behind the photographer and jumped up and down, shouted and made funny noises in an effort to get Dijie to look toward the camera, which he occasionally did, but I can tell you after an hour or so of this, I was whacked.

You can see the results for yourself if you can track down the November 1994 issue of CATS magazine!

Another life lesson Dijie learned was dogs. Not knowing what happened in his life during his first 6 years, I can only speculate he never saw dogs or else he was raised with friendly dogs, because initially he had no fear of dogs in the park and would actually walk up to dogs, or at least stand still as they raced toward him. Two of these dogs are Russian Wolf Hounds, handsome borzois who look like miniature ponies (and so I nicknamed them "the Ponies") named Nicki and Alex. The Ponies had never seen a cat before and they adored Dijie. Unfortunately, the form of their attention included drooling on and licking Dijie, which he didn't appreciate, so eventually he tried to avoid them. He also had an unfortunate encounter with Knuckles, an adorable English bulldog puppy, who was teething at the time, and since then he tends to jump back in the coach if he sees a dog approaching.

For many years I had a sofa bed in the living room of my apartment. As a treat for the cats, I would open it every weekend. There's not enough room in my apartment to put any of those wonderful pieces of cat furniture which contain perches and hidey-holes and are covered by carpeting. So instead Dijie and Buzz (and Kudah before them) used my sofa bed as a kind of Disneyland for Cats every weekend. Not only could they hide under it and sit on the mattress part, but also Kudah and Dijie would get inside it (Buzz is too portly to squeeze in) and each of them enjoyed perching on the back of the sofa, which I would prop up with cushions to make a kind of platform or shelf a couple of feet above the mattress part; a perfectly padded jungle gym for pussies. I felt really guilty when I finally got rid of that sofa bed!

My cats have always been allowed on the furniture, encouraged even. There is one upholstered comfy chair in my living room for which there is a three-way tug of war between Dijie, Buzz and Arthur, my boyfriend. The coffee table has always been a preferred posing ground. We drape an old Indian spread over ours and it makes a wonderful den for the cats to hide in. They enjoy hiding in the closet as well as in the cabinet under the TV and, of course, under the bed.

We always provided each cat with his or her own bed but Dijie disdains his. However, Buzz spends a good deal of time in his, often on his back, his chin exposed, his front paws curled like a kitten and his back legs sticking up into the air like a trussed turkey. Luckily, he enjoys quite a bit having his gut kissed because it is hard to resist the temptation when you see it so blatantly displayed like this.

Both Dijie and Buzz like to perch right at the edge of furniture. Buzzie lets his paws just hang down, and Dijie either crosses his long front legs, which gives him a sort of debonair Noel Coward look, or else he stretches his front legs straight out, which makes him look like he's attempting an imitation of Superman in flight. Dijie is also the only cat I've ever seen who likes to sleep with his head straight down, often supported by his own cupped paws.

In addition to these soft cat beds, I also put down cardboard boxes (or the lids of large cartons) for the cats to sit in. I fill them with shredded tissue paper which I buy at card shops (and which are normally used to stuff gift bags). It amuses me to see the boys sit on these "nests" like little hens. During his "youth" Buzzie was fond of biting holes in the sides of these boxes and tossing them over his head, but this seems to have been a passing phase, and he hasn't done it for at least a year now.

Kudah used to enjoy unrolling the toilet paper in the bathroom and then shredding the pile she had made on the floor. I was happy for her to enjoy herself this way (she didn't really do it very often) and could not understand the products I would see in catalogs to prevent cats from getting their paws on toilet paper rolls.

After being left alone in the apartment all day, while I was at work, when I came home in the evening, Kudah used to greet me at the door. She would then march directly to the bath tub and jump in, and I was expected to comb her on her back, neck and chest until she jumped out of the tub. When Arthur arrived, the same thing would happen, and we would call this "the hoorays" because she always seemed so happy to see him and eager to get him to comb her in the tub. We also had to comb her in the tub the first thing in the morning after we got out of bed. I'm not sure exactly how this all got started, but it was a tradition which has not been passed on to Dijie and Buzz.

Not that they don't have their odd little behavior, especially as far as food is concerned . Dijie has suffered from severe constipation problems as long as I've had him, I'm sorry to say, and so he is not allowed to have any dry food. Further, he has to have Metamucil mixed into his canned food. At the vet's suggestion, we warm up his food in the microwave to help mix it better and disguise the taste of the medicine. After a while, Dijie developed the habit of completely disappearing the minute he heard the beep which indicated the food was ready in the microwave. He's like a magician; one minute he's there; the next minute he's invisible; in the split second I take my eyes off him to turn my head to the microwave to remove his bowl, he's just gone - poof!

This happens even on those rare occasions when the contents of the microwave are not for him. The poor guy is disappearing unnecessarily even when we make popcorn because, like Pavlov's dogs, he associates the microwave beep with people sticking dishes under his nose.

Buzz, as I've mentioned, is very lethargic and doesn't actually go to the food; he expects to be waited on. But, he has to be in a certain position, not obvious to Arthur or me, before he will consent to eat. This results in the following eccentric behavior: He will meow for food - I then put a bowl of crunchies under his nose. He will get up and walk into another room, and meow again. (If I ignore him, these meows become increasingly plaintive and demanding; with his large Keane eyes, he can really look pathetic). So I have to fetch the bowl and bring it to him again. Even though it's the exact same food in the exact same bowl, he will not eat it in certain locations, which change all the time. It's a great puzzlement.

Cats are very tactile - they like touching certain surfaces. Some years ago I injured my wrists with a repetitive stress type condition - basically tendinitis - and had to wear wrist supports for a while. These supports were made out of a very stiff, coarse material on one side, and Velcro on the other. These turned out to be Dijie's favorite toy, and he often wrestles with them on the floor, or just dances on them, delighted at their texture. Likewise, he enjoys putting his feet inside my shoes or just sitting on shoes. He will usually sit on anything I'm reading, as well. Both Dijie and Buzz enjoy lying on plastic bags and both enjoy the game of mousie when it involves dragging the string under a plastic bag, which allows them the joy of pouncing on the bag, feeling that texture and grabbing the "invisible" mousie through the bag. In addition, Buzz likes to knead cardboard, which is quite a noisy hobby.

Any box brought into the apartment is thoroughly investigated. Buzz once bit through a box of dog biscuits I keep on hand to feed the neighborhood dogs. He's also gotten his head trapped inside a tissue box and once inside an empty box of dog biscuits.

Kudah used to enjoy sitting inside large paper bags and both Dijie and Buzz enjoy stomping on paper bags and making as much noise as possible. Kudah also always sat on the laundry when I returned with it from the basement laundry room; the hotter it was from the dryer, the better she seemed to like it. She also liked to hide under the bed covers. I would worry about her smothering under there, but she never seemed to have any problems breathing. One day when I was home painting my apartment, she was under the covers at the foot of the bed, where the covers are tucked under, for possibly as long as 6 hours. I kept checking on her to make sure she was breathing; she did not appreciate having her privacy intruded upon.

In the Winter, when it's too cold to take the boys to the park, Dijie still insists on little "adventures." In addition (and because of) my rather cramped apartment, I also rent a storage room in the basement, and Dijie often accompanies me on trips to this storage room. He walks onto the elevator as if it is the most natural thing in the world, and when we get to the basement, he goes directly to the outer door of the storage area. Once in the store room, I don't get much accomplished because I have to rub his ears and chin or else play mousie with him for at least 15-20 minutes. To this end, I keep one of his "spiky brushes" in the storage room - a pet brush with stiff metallic-looking bristles which he absolutely adores having pushed vigorously against his cheeks, ears and especially his chin. Somehow he is able to elongate his face when he's getting "chins" with the spiky brush and the look on his face and the loudness of his purrs is just pure pleasure.

Once he tires of this, however, he would be content to stay curled up on the upholstered rocking chair in the storage room indefinitely. Certainly after about a half hour, I'm bored and ready to go, and he has to be pried or enticed away. He doesn't even object to being left alone in the storage room; it's like having a "pad" of his own, and he would be content to spend much longer there than I allow.

He also enjoys walking up and down the staircases between floors and checking out the floor mats in front of apartments on other floors - apparently these have interesting smells because he never tires of visiting them. Two of the rotating doormen at the building are cat lovers, and so sometimes we just go to the lobby and hang out. Dijie is particularly fond of the Oriental carpet there and is content just to stretch out on it and peer out the glass walls at passersby, especially if these are pigeons. At Christmas time, he gravitated to the lobby tree in the manner of an old time magazine illustration. The lobby is another place where he is happy to stay long after I have become bored and want to leave.

I used to put birdseed out in feeders on my air conditioners for the neighborhood birds. I attracted sparrows, doves and finches, but the neighbors complained because of the potential for attracting pigeons, and so I bowed to public opinion and stopped putting out the seed. But I miss seeing these birds and watching the boys get excited when they hear the flutter of wings and the gentle peeps and coos of their feathered visitors.

Although I'm denied the pleasure of feeding birds from my own apartment and simultaneously amusing my cats, I do go to Central Park every weekend on my own to feed the birds and squirrels. I order 75 pounds of peanuts every two months or so, to give you an idea of how many critters I feed. And this is in a very small area of approximately 5- blocks within Central Park; just by accident I happen to live close by the portion of the park that has a pretty heavy population of birds, squirrels, plus the occasional wild rabbit and, during the winter, red-tailed hawks.

The kind of squirrels who live in the park are called grey, although their markings can vary widely and, in fact, a small number of them are actually black. These black squirrels are my favorites. Most squirrels look like clones of each other so unless an individual has some scar or injury (which, sadly, many of them have), it's hard to tell one from another, so I look forward to seeing the black squirrels because, being so few in number, they just happen to be more distinctive and so easier to recognize individuals.

My favorite squirrel of all time was Blackie One Eye. He actually had two eyes but one was opaqued over with a cataract and he was blind in that eye. Possibly for this reason, he always seemed to list to one side when he ran. Blackie was very friendly and, unlike the other recognizable squirrels who seemed to stay within a relatively small piece of turf, I would see Blackie over a fairly wide-ranging set of park territory (he also ventured out of the park, burying his nuts along Central Park West, which few other squirrels seem to do).

He was fairly tame and while he often had to be coaxed, he usually would come right up to me and take a nut from my hand. I derived enormous pleasure and satisfaction from this. I like to save the extra large peanuts for the tame squirrels, what I call the "triple knucs" because there are 3 peanuts in each shell and so it has 3 "joints" or "knuckles." I realize I was actually doing myself a disservice to feed these triple knucs to my favorites because it would take them longer to eat than smaller peanuts, so I am depriving myself of their quick return for the next nut, but I continue to do this.

I love to see the squirrels in the fall, when the leaves have fallen off the trees, and the branches are bare. They get their winter coat, which is grey (normally their fur is brown) and thicker than the rest of the year, and some of them look as if they're wearing furry pajamas. Sometimes when they're perched at the top of these bare branches, they remind me of living pussy willows - so soft and cute.

I love to watch them use their human-looking paws with their delicate, slender fingers, and I'm full of admiration for the way they can support their own body weight just on their sharp back claws, as they hang upside down from a tree, their bodies swaying in the breeze, their hands free to hold their food. I also enjoy watching them pack down the dirt on top of nuts they've just buried; their firm little tushes high in the air as they concentrate on purposefully pounding the ground in a businesslike manner and then casually toss a few leaves on top to hide the signs of the ground having been disturbed. And, of course, I take great delight in their tails, especially when they undulate behind them like some wonderful plume, as they race nimbly along the ground. If the word romp did not exist, it would have to be coined to characterize their joyful behavior.

When I first started feeing the squirrels, I was blessed with visitations from a flock of extremely friendly titmice. These are tiny blue-grey birds with beady black eyes who have a scolding tone that reminds me of the parakeets I had as a child. They have an odd roller-coaster type flight pattern, and they also are capable of sweet trills. I was fortunate during my early days in Central Park of coming into contact with an extremely tame flock of titmice who would all but land on me. I could toss a peanut into the air, and these tiny birds, who were barely bigger than the nut, would catch it in mid-air and fly off with it. I would also bring birdseed in Tupperware and leave the container on the ground, and they'd land on it and help themselves. I was completely charmed.

But titmice live only about 18 months and this flock I had my first contact with didn't seem to have passed on their tameness to their descendants. I still feed titmice from time to time, but they are harder to entice and don't follow me around the park like their ancestors did.

I don't know exactly why I get so much satisfaction out of feeding the squirrels and birds (and animals in general) but I do. Even better than just feeding them, of course, is getting them to take the food directly from my hand. It's an exercise in frustration, however, because tame squirrels are few and far between and just when I think I've established rapport with an individual, along comes someone walking his dog off the leash (against the law in New York, but there's apparently no one around to enforce this) and off go the squirrels helter skelter. They are so attuned to the sound of dog tags jingling nearby that the sound of people walking by jingling their keys will often scare them away.

In the fall and winter, red tailed hawks, migrating from colder climates, often stay in the park the whole season, because the pickings of squirrels, pigeons and other small game is so abundant. These hawks are very handsome, but my appreciation of their beauty is totally offset by the decimation they cause among my squirrel friends. Yet I have to admit it is quite striking to see something so primitive and predatory in such close conjunction to civilization. I have photos of them perching in trees right along Central Park West juxtaposed in ironic contrast with the skyscrapers in the background.

If case you have never seen or visited Central Park, perhaps I should describe it a bit. I've read it's the same size as Monaco. It runs from the equivalent of 8th Avenue (called Central Park West) to Fifth Avenue and from the equivalent of 60th Street (called Central Park South) to 110th Street. Parts of it are indeed "manicured" with all the neatness the word "park" paints in one's mind. But quite a bit of it is hilly and heavily wooded with no grass to speak of - rocks, shrubs and nut and fruit trees of all description. Lots of thorny bushes and weeds. The park encompasses an actual castle (Belvedere Castle which is used as a weather station), a pond, a reservoir, a carousel, a zoo, and a lake, among other amenities. It is crisscrossed by streets through which New York traffic is allowed at certain intervals and is overrun with in-line skaters, joggers, bicyclists and regularly scheduled races of various types. The area where I feed the birds and squirrels includes a bridle path much used by riders from a nearby stable and one of the main skating, jogging and biking paths.

So, it is not at all the ideal place to "get away from it all", but it has the advantage of being so close to where I live that I, along with many other New Yorkers, consider it our "backyard". When I have Dijie in the park in the summer, we often see birthday parties in the park. At first I thought how wonderful the parents were to drag all this food and decoration to the park but eventually it dawned on me these families lived in tiny apartments the same as I did, with no room to entertain a passel of kids, and the park was really the only place they could have a party of any size, if they didn't want to have to have the expense of treating guests to a restaurant.

In addition to the hawk, in the Winter the when it snows, I have other worries about the squirrels. No one shovels or plows the park, so the snow tends to hang around a lot longer than the rest of Manhattan. Even if it snows only a few inches, this is still enough to prevent the squirrels from digging up any nuts they've buried. They don't hibernate in the winter, as some people may think, and if they don't eat every couple of days, then they'll die.

So, whenever it snows, I hike over to the park and try to scrape away the snow at the base of as many trees as I have the patience for. This is not as easy as it sounds because there are thorn thickets at the base of some of the trees, which are quite painful when they come in contact with your skin. Also, there are roots and rocks near the base of some trees, so there is not necessarily a nice flat surface to deal with. And sometimes I'm so focused on looking down to see how good a job I'm doing baring the dirt beneath the snow, I don't notice there's a low branch dead ahead and I walk right into it.

I always think of all the housebound little children in nearby streets and how much energy they have to expend. If only their parents could take them to the park for an hour and get them to scrape away the snow at the base of a few trees, how helpful this would be to the squirrels, who would then be able to at least get to some portion of the ground to dig for nuts.

I always leave a supply of nuts at the base of each tree after I've cleared away some of the snow, but the birds usually carry these away before the squirrels can get to them. If any squirrels show up while I'm working away at this labor, the scraped away area is the best place to toss nuts to them because otherwise the nuts will just fall through the snow where neither bird nor squirrel seems able to find them until the snow melts, which could be weeks away.

Animals have always been an important part of my life. I had a series of parakeets when I was growing up, a Boston terrier when I was 10, a guinea pig name Fezziwig in my first apartment, all before I met Kudah and realized how perfect cats were. Cats give me what I cannot get from people - affection without criticism, companionship without unsolicited advice, acceptance, cuddling and warmth all rolled up into one beautiful, soft package.

Dijie in superman position Dijie on a beach chair
Busby on the coffee table Buzzie asleep
Kudah CATS MAGAZINE pix
Dijie and Buzz in coach Arthur and Duff
Duff poking a grate Duff sleeping sitting up
Duff in Central Park with his legs splayed out behind him
in front of the carpentry workshop with the beloved rat wall
Bunji in cat bed Bunji the flirt
Bunji and Duff playing hide and seek
Duff and Lu Lu & Lamp

March 30, 2000 P.S. I now have Duff, affectionately known as Evil Duff since he is so bad tempered and willful,  compared to the saintly Dijie and Busby. He is a real juvenile delinquent and someday I will write about his ongoing adventures.

October 11, 2000 P.S.  Duff and I were spotted in Central Park on Sunday by a lady who wants to do an article for TIME OUT magazine about people who walk their cats.  This lady, Lisa Davis, communicated via e-mail, and I thought I might as well update this webpage with a little bit of the info I supplied her about Duff.

As soon as I got Duff in October 1997 when he was 5 months old, I put a collar and leash on him and he took to it right away.  I had a broken ankle at the time, so we didn't do too much walking, but as soon as I got the cast off, we went right to the park.  He was very wild initially and liked to be on the move, but over the years, he has settled down.

He used to be so cute when he was tiny, chasing butterflies and buggies; he would chase squirrels and birds (but only the bite-size ones, not the pigeons), but only in a playful way.  Once he discovered rats, it became serious and he stalks them in earnest.  He has never caught a rat, but he's caught ten mice, five on 85th Street, four in the park and one in the basement of my apartment building.  He is a good hunter.

There is a rat-infested wall by the side of Pinetum Playground in Central Park and no matter where I take Duff in the park, he finds his way back there.  He likes to sit on the wall itself or sit on a rock facing the wall so he has a panoramic view of all the rat holes.  When he thinks he hears or sees a rat, he goes running after it.  Than God, he has never caught one!

He doesn't eat mice; he just tortures them and plays with them after they're dead.  He is disappointed they die so quickly.  It is hard for me to watch because I'm so tender hearted about all animals, and I have been able to get the larger mice away from him a couple of times, but if the mice are babies, they are goners almost immediately.

This wall is in front of a carpentry workshop inside Central Park.  Josephine is a black cat who lives inside this workshop, patrolling for rats from inside.  Twice now, Duff has been contentedly sitting on the outside windowsill of this workshop and Josephine has come along inside and pounded the screen, startling Duff so badly, he has shot off as if he had been propelled from a cannon.  He now hates Josephine for embarrassing him like this, and has tried to attack her a couple of times.  If you go up to him when he's on the rat wall and say "Josephine the pussycat", he will growl.

In May 2000 I got a 7 month old kitten, Bunji, and I was confident I could get him used to the leash, but it was no go.  He is a "normal" pussycat, and hates anything around his neck and is terrified by the noises outside.  I had him in the park a couple of times, and as long as there is something to hunt, he enjoys that, but as soon as he chases all the critters away (he just barges right in, he is not crafty and cunning like the Duff), then he becomes aware he is outside where he doesn't want to be, and he cries and pants and goes up to strangers and asks to be taken home, so I have given up on taking him out because I can't bear to see him so unhappy.

When Duff was a baby, he was very cocky and liked to beat up dogs.  He would lure them toward him with a subservient attitude and when they came to within about three feet, he would leap straight up into the air, and this would frighten the dogs so much, they would go shrieking off.  But he's wised up since then, and now when he sees a dog, he jumps on top of the coach, so he can be higher than the dog and feel superior.  He will still smack dogs in the head if they get too close.  Dog owners are the problem; they invariably say to me:  "Don't worry, my dog loves cats" and they don't listen to me when I say, "Back off, my cat hates dogs."  Frequently owners believe the laws don't apply to them, and they let their dogs off the leash, which is against the law, and there is generally no one around to enforce the law.  But Duff is very good now and will generally only smack them with his evil claws in self defense.

When we go to the park, he rides to and from in a Silver Cross coach (a British pram like the one Eileen Atkins had in THE AVENGERS).  He prefers to ride on the hood so he has a 360 degree uninterrupted view of things, but once we are in the park, he jumps down and goes where he wants.  When he is ready for his nap, he will go inside the coach, unless it is very hot, in which case he stretches out on a rock or on the hood of the coach.

Central Park is very hilly; and often the coach is "parked" on a slope.  I am sometimes forgetful about putting on the coach's break, especially if I suspect we will not be in an area for a long time.  One time the coach was by the side of the bridle path on a slope.  Duff was patrolling the area when he took it into his head to leap onto the hood.  The force of his weight landing on the hood set the coach rolling in the direction of the bridle path, but with a big tree in its path.  A lady was jogging down the bridle path and saw the coach starting to roll.  She later told me she thought to herself:  "Oh no, a baby carriage heading for a tree!"  Then she thought, "Oh no, I must be going insane, I think I see a cat on top of the coach!".  The coach did run into the tree, but it was such a short distance away that no momentum was built up and it was not much of a crash; the coach and Duff were uninjured (but the lady jogger was agoggle).

I also walk Duff on my street or nearby streets every night (weather permitting) after work for an hour or two.  This is not for him to relieve himself but for him to hunt.  He is hot to trot as soon as I get home from work and often he just pushes out into the hall as I open the door; he doesn't want food, he wants OUT.  It is especially slow going on trash day because he has to inspect all the bags of garbage to see if there are any rodents.  He also smells the tires and undersides of cars.  Walking is a slow, laborious creep along the edge of the sidewalks and not the brisk pace of walking a dog.

Duff also enjoys visiting his cat friends.  He is obsessed with another male down the street named Charcoal.  Charcoal is a "cat about town" and has free access to the street from his first floor window.  Duff often sits on a fence under this window, like Romeo pining for Juliet, and sometimes Charcoal deigns to appear in the window.  If Charcoal is so foolish as to venture out, Duff immediately tries to wrestle him to the ground and bite his neck.  Once he pushed Charcoal backwards off a wall, and Charcoal fell about 8 feet into a briar patch, but seemed none the worse for the ordeal.  However, subsequent to that, Charcoal is less than pleased to see Duff and usually runs the other way.  Other cats Duff visits are Teddy (who we see behind a grill in the breezeway of his apartment), and Hailey (a gorgeous Maine Coon who we visit in her apartment for playdates which are somewhat noisy with yowling).  Whenever Duff sees Hailey's mom, Carolyn, he tries to force her to let him into her apartment building.  He is a very pushy, aggressive guy.  Let's face it; he's a bully.  We also used to visit three Oriental shorthairs (Bandit, Wombat and Blanche) in their breezeway, but they moved a couple of years ago.  And sometimes a neighbor, Lidie, lets us into her back yard.  Lidie has a big Siamese cat named Doodles who likes Duff, although Duff doe snot reciprocate.  Altogether, Duff has a more active social life than I do!

All the adventures haven't been good.  Duff was once chased 55 feet up a tree in Central Park by a pitbull (the owner had the dog off the leash and just laughed).  People tried to console me that Duff would eventually come down but it was a straight up and down ginkgo tree with branches really far apart, and I felt that he would not instinctively know he had to come down backwards (cat claws don't work coming down head first, the way squirrels do).  This occurred in October 1998 when there happened to be a wedding reception of perhaps 50 or 60 people right under Duff's tree.  They were making a lot of noise, celebrating, and I knew the racket would keep Duff up the tree, even if he had been inclined to try to come down.  He was so high, and the foliage of the tree was so dense, I couldn't even see him.  No one would help.  The fire department isn't allowed to come into Central Park and, in any case, has no ladders.  It was the weekend, and the ASPCA doesn't rescue animals on weekends!  The park employees wouldn't help; the cops weren't interested.  If you lived in a small town, people would bend over backwards to help, but in a big impersonal city, no one cares.

My boyfriend, Arthur, called around to various rock climbing places and found a guy at Harmony Atrium who was willing to climb the tree, but we had to wait until he got off work.  Duff had been chased up the tree at 8 am, and this guy worked until 5 pm.  It was a long horrible day.  The wedding guests were being entertained by people in RUGRATS heads for the children, karaoke sing alongs, contests, etc.  At 5:30 the rock climber showed up and I was so disappointed.  I'd never seen anyone climb vertical walls before so I was expecting him to have pointy shoes and other sharp climbing implements and all he had was a backpack.  However, in that backpack he had ropes and he would toss these around the trunk of the tree, climb up a few feet, toss the rope again, go up a few more feet, etc.  When he got to Duff, he stuffed Duff into his backpack and lowered it to the ground with one of his ropes.  All the wedding guests cheered and applauded, as if it were the last entertainment of the day.  Duff slept really well that night.

Duff is the most photographed cat in Central Park.  Tourists are always taking his picture.  Lots of people stop when they see him perched alluringly on his rat-watching rock and ask his age, his sex, his name.  They are amazed at how calm he is and how he ignores the squirrels and birds (who are equally at ease with him).  They admire him because he is so big and good looking and nonchalant about being in the park.  So obviously enjoying himself.  He is not interested in them, however.  He is like a celebrity besieged by autograph hunters sometimes; he just wants to be left alone, admired from afar, and not be petted and picked up or fussed over when he is "on the job" rat hunting.

 I picked Bunji's name out of the air, but it has turned out to be prophetic.  He is a leaping fool.  He seems to have no common sense and will just jump anywhere.  He has pulled down heavy shelves and broken a lot of knickknacks.  I'm surprised he hasn't concussed himself.  Unfortunately, outside my apartment he is timid, so he doesn't enjoy the range of adventures and social life of the Duff.  But he is a sweet affectionate babydoll and much better tempered than Evil Duff, so called because of his crotchety behavior.  He adores Duff who deigns to play with him occasionally, but mostly just smacks him around and takes out his temper on this little innocent.

Bunji may well turn out to be my most intelligent cat.  He is the only one who has learned how to open the front door from the inside.  The door opens inward and is very heavy.  Somehow Bunji was able to figure out how to open it by jumping up on the kitchen counter, grabbing hold of the knob and pulling it toward him.  Then he jumps out before it closes again.  I found this out though a farce-like series of events.  I took Duff out for a walk one night, leaving Bunji in the apartment.  While I was out with Duff, I ran into my next door neighbor who told me Bunji was in the hall.  I didn't believe her, but I ran home, leaving my neighbor to mind Duff, and sure enough, Bunji was in the apartment.  So I ran back out, told my neighbor she was seeing things, and resumed my walk with Duff.  The next day my neighbor told me that when she went back upstairs, Bunji was in the hall again.  A day or so later I was in the hall with Duff who had sneaked out while I was heading toward the trash room with the newspapers.  I heard my door open and all of a sudden Bunji was in the hall as well.  That's when I knew that my neighbor hadn't been hallucinating but that Bunji was going in and out into the hall whenever he liked.

All my cats have been gargantuans, Kudah, Dijie, Busby and Duff but Bunji is tiny, small boned, fine featured.  He is a year now, so I guess he is fully grown, and he's only 8 pounds.  He is interested in everything and follows me around, watches me take a bath; sits on me when I use the toilet.  I am always happy to see him and Duff wrestling together because I know they both enjoy it so much.  Bunji makes me laugh and I love the way he cuddles in the middle of the night.  I really miss sleeping with the angelic Dijie in my arms, and I am hoping that eventually Bunji will do this as well.


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