Twenty-one years ago this month, a feisty little tortoiseshell came to
join my household. She'd been a feral cat in the apartments where I
lived, one who'd lurk in the hedges and swipe a spotted paw out at you
when you passed. I'd see her following along behind the maintenance
men, playing with whatever tool belt or electrical cord was dangling
behind them. On sunny afternoons, people doing laundry would have to
step over her as she sprawled right across the middle of the laundry
room floor in the afternoon sun streaming through the westward window.
She had big-time attitude.
My other cat had noticed her, too.
That was mainly because she'd climb the tree right outside our living
room windows and flirt with him. He was a very clingy cat who suffered
terrible separation anxiety when I left him to go to work, or anywhere
else, for that matter. He was mesmerized by this wild little thing who
seemed to take pleasure in taunting him. I toyed with the idea of
taking in the odd-looking little cat, who reminded me of an owl with her
prominent lynx tips and vivid yellow stripe down the nose. Wily and
cantankerous, her personality was most fox-like, thus earning her the
name given to female foxes. She seemed to know her name and respond to
it from the very beginning. As near as I could figure, she seemed to be
about a year old.
Just as tigers have striped skin, Vixen also
has sections of black and pink skin; two pink toes with all the rest
black, for example. There are even black spots on the inside of her
mouth. Her ears look like someone flicked orange paint off a paintbrush
onto them, both inside and out. She could be easily spotted from a
great distance by that yellow chest, which glowed like a beacon when I
spied her sitting in a drainage pipe beside the duck pond one afternoon.
I stepped outside and called to her; she gave a little cry and came
running straight over to me, circled around and came up beside me, where
she let me pick her up and carry her inside. And that was that.
the time came to move into another apartment, I took both cats to the
vet for baths and de-fleaing (this was in the days before the
back-of-the-neck treatments we have today), then over to the new place.
Vixen was still pretty feisty and didn't like to be touched or picked
up. But she was smart as a whip! The cats loved going out onto our
3rd-floor balcony, but were showing a troubling tendency to stand with
their front feet on the outside of the lower rail, peering over onto the
balcony below. With a fear that they'd jump down there, I kept a close
eye on them and stopped them, admonishing, "No back feet on the
railing!" Vixen took this to heart. A few months later, I was standing
on my balcony talking to a friend, who casually propped her foot on the
railing. Vixen pranced over to her and started swatting my friend's
foot, claws sheathed, as a reminder of "No back feet on the railing!"
loved being out on the balcony and would often chew off the tips of my
aloe plant. Loved it, that is, until the weather turned hot and humid.
As soon as that hot air would hit her in the face when the door slid
open, she'd pull back, turn around, and head back into the air
conditioning. Smart girl. She loved playing with tennis balls, which
she'd grab with her claws and sort of throw for herself. My other cat
was another story; she hated him. When he'd stand at the door and yowl
to go outside, she'd get an annoyed look on her face. After a few
minutes, when she'd had enough, she'd go over and swat him in the face a
few times, then sprint across the room. He was always too shocked to
chase her. Many was the time I'd find a chunk of his fur on the floor
where she'd gotten him good with her claws.
When we moved to
Atlanta in the mid-90s, we had a southwesterly facing sunroom. She'd
spend every afternoon there, basking in the warmth of the sun. I swear,
it made the orange spots in her coat more vivid. Little by little, she
got more comfortable sleeping on the bed with me, although it was
always at the foot and not near my other cat on the opposite pillow.
She also became more accustomed to being held and petted, and even came
to enjoy a good brushing...but not for long. When she'd had enough,
she'd walk away, and woe be unto the one who tried to stop her. Out
would come claws and teeth, and that old feral personality would emerge
After my other cat died, I worried that she was growing
bored alone all day while I was at work, so I took to leaving the TV on
for her...on Animal Planet, of course! She paid attention to it, too,
because she changed the way she bit after watching shows on there.
Before, she'd grab your hand with her claws and pull it toward her, then
sink her teeth into it so she had you trapped. But after watching a
fair number of snake shows on TV, she began striking and pulling back,
just like a snake would do. It was fascinating...albeit no less
These days, she's become a grand old lady. Her hips
give her a little trouble, and sometimes she loses her balance when she
first stands up. The brilliant colors in her coat have become slightly
duller, more faded with age. She no longer jumps up on any furniture,
including the bed. There's no more batting of tennis balls or clawing
the sofa. She still enjoys combing her face on the little arched brush I
gave her one Christmas; I think it's her favorite gift she's ever
received. She loves her canned food meals, and has become accustomed to
getting them at least three times a day. But she also still loves her
"crunchies", which she swallows whole since her teeth aren't what they
used to be. She stands in her litter box and whizzes over the side, a
behavior I've addressed before in this blog. For the most part, she's
healthy as can be and can often be found curled up and sleeping in her
bed underneath my desk. That's where she is now, in fact.
raise a glass with me to toast 21 years together with my best girl ever,
my little Vixen! May she go on for many more years to come.