My landlady kept telling me I should get a new cat. She loved my old cat, and she’s really an animal person herself.
It is very true that having an animal in a place changes the place. When Ellie died, I felt very alone in my Johannesburg apartment in a way that I didn’t when she was there with me. At first it felt horrible and empty. Then, as time goes on, that hole in your heart fills in.
She really was a sweet girl, but she hated other cats because she was afraid. That had always been the way with her; when the place I adopted her from made me get another cat to go with her I wasn’t entirely sure that was the right thing. I still think it wasn’t, but it did bring wonderful Tiger into my life. He was a wonderful cat too.
What I liked about both those cats is that they were formerly feral so were loyal in their own way. Tiger was very skittish; even the last time I saw him he ran away because it had been a few months since he’d seen me. That was quite sad for me; I used to spend hours with that cat.
But Ellie was a different breed. From the first 24 hours I got her when she literally bit right through my hand, up to when she would sleep next to me as I sat by the window doing my MBA work on my laptop, she was a tortie and so she was loyal. And I was her human.
I didn’t want to get a new cat while living alone. It’s not fair to the animal to be left alone for so long. Dogs would go crazy and tear things up. Cats are sad in their own way, and anyone who says they are aloof has never actually taken the time to pay attention. Or is perhaps a mean person, disdained by cats.
Anyway one of the advantages of living with someone is that unless both of you travel, pets again become a possibility. In our complex in Somerset West we are allowed one small dog or cat, so on one Saturday, March 16 to be exact, I drove to Animal Welfare to pick out a new companion.
It was almost a different situation; when I got there I said I wanted to adopt. Fine. So they led me to a room full of kittens. One or two of them looked incredibly cute, but the thing with kittens is that they are much more adoptable than cats, and you don’t get to know their personalities. I once or twice had really dumb cats adopted as kittens and I’m sorry to say but I’m a bit of a snob. Idiocy in animals bugs me. A little bit of silly or dumb can be cute but there’s a limit.
So I said no, I wanted a cat and the lady said oh no no, we can’t possibly let you in there, the cats all have the sniffles. The sniffles is a highly contagious cat disease you see. After I looked very disappointed and upon clarification that we had no existing cats, I was allowed in.
I wish I’d taken a photo of the cattery. Better than the outdoor but so many cats! And how to pick one??
I said going in that the one kind of cat I didn’t want was a ginger. I mostly find those annoyingly affectionate, and boring. Maybe I never give them a chance, I don’t know. But I like torties and tigers and calicoes. The occasional single-colour cat is ok too, like my beautiful Hector now living with Beck in Massachusetts. I really did love Hector for his intelligence and how vocal he was; he was all the time speaking to you. Funny little grunts and hunting/chasing noises and yowls.
So one of the first cats I saw when I came in was this white cat with orange spots. Not your normal ginger, but darker, almost auburn. He came right over to us and the lady said “Oh, hello Optimus.” Having just watched all of the Transformers movies a few months ago I quite liked that. But I wanted to see all of the cats. I think that I was looking for another Tiger, a shy and beautiful tiger cat. Of course, I was open to what I found.
But having been from one end to the other, I did not find a beautiful tiger cat. And right as I was thinking ‘what about that white and orange one,’ I bent down to say hello to a cat and I felt someone batting my hair. I looked up and it was Optimus! So I said that was it, he was the one.
Shame though, it is hard to go to those places because there was another cat who tried so hard to choose me. A little grey with white belly, a tiny one still, very much a kitten, and with very bad sniffles. She caught my eye and also came over and was crying at me when I chose Optimus. I had a good 24 hours of FOMO, and I’m sure I’ll always think of her. I hope she ended up in a good home. And then there was the poor cat whose tail had been amputated by humans putting chemicals on it. He would have been a wonderful choice too; when cats like that learn they can trust they are the best creatures in the world.
But I could choose only one, and when the lady said this was one of the favourites of the lady who ran the cattery, I knew I’d made the right choice. She looked somewhere between disappointed and happy; it must be so hard to run a cattery. She said he had a great personality and was very smart. Perfect.
When he was brought into the shelter, they thought he might not make it or might lose a limb; he’d been impaled on a fence somehow and the woman who rescued him had patched him up herself and not brought him in for two days. Apparently he was the sweetest creature and just let himself be shaved and treated; almost like he knew the humans were trying to help.
R520 later I had my little cat! Full name from the shelter: Optimus Prime.
He cried all the way home and only shut up when I stuck my fingers in the cage, which was only possible when stationary.
We had to keep him inside for the first 10 days or so, in case he showed signs of the sniffles because we didn’t want him to infect the other neighbourhood cats, Jewels and Twinkles. We’d watch those 2 going at it on the lawn and tree outside, and talked about how Optimus would soon join them.
When I was a kid we adopted a cat and my brother named her: Optima Felis. We called her Opti for short and used to joke that she was the worst cat ever. She was pretty mean to the other cats.
Anyway Optimus is Optimus. When he first got home he slowly explored one room after another, and proved himself to be quite the affectionate little animal. The first night he slept on the bed.
The next day I went out somewhere and he hid behind the couch! Weirdo. For at least the first week he would get freaked out whenever I left, and if we came home and I went to the bathroom he would stand outside the door and scream. A bit of separation anxiety I guess, but he seems mostly over that now and doesn’t bat a pretty eyelash when I travel. He does like to chow my fingers though. Only mine. Guess they are somehow tasty to that little boy.
He really is a lovely creature; now he runs and plays outside and Twinkles is his best friend. Which is kind of sad since Twinkles and Jewels used to be best friends but Jewels decided to be aggressive towards Optimus so she’s a bit on the outside now.
He loves having his belly scratched and snuggling up next to us as we work or sleep. He also loves his wet food, and hates the feather toy since I was playing with him with it and the kettlebell was in the middle of the floor and he bonked his head on it. So now he associates the feather toy with pain; and his little eyes close in anticipation of pain if the thing comes out! Funny how you can create a Pavlovian reaction with only one bad experience!
Having an animal around does change a place. You can now sense a presence when there is no other human around.
Turns out he’s also quite a vocal creature, which I love. He just makes the weirdest grunts and noises! And he’s affectionate without being overwhelmingly so. Just the perfect personality on this cat!
I had this feeling right before I left to go pick a cat of ‘I’m not sure I want to do this.’ I knew my life would change, with the addition of a new presence for the next 10+ years. I’m so glad Optimus entered our life! It just brings a smile to my face to see that beautiful animal and he is so happy. To bring that kind of happiness to any animal is a wonderful thing; and every day I look at this happy cat and I’m glad.