No, that’s not a typo. Ludwig and Natasha were cats who had only one tail between them. Ludwig had the tail. he was a Russian Blue mix. He had the double-layered grey fur of a Russian Blue, but he had yellow eyes, and a white patch on his chest. Also, we called him Wiggy. Natasha, you can call her Nat, was a tortoiseshell Manx. Thus she had no tail.
This is a story of personalities and places that have not been together for lo on twenty-five years now. It all started in a small apartment in the Canadian city of Guelph…
LET’S GET A CAT
My partner in that era was an undergrad. I, a recent grad, was working two jobs to keep a roof over our heads. We decided that we needed a cat to make us a whole family. So we adopted Wiggy, who promptly took a hate to me and caused many fights between my partner and I.
Wiggy was smart and tactical. He’d sneak into the bathroom while I was showering. How exactly he got in there, repeatedly, is an open point of contention. He would position himself on the toilet and wait patiently. Then, when I opened the shower curtain, he’d take a swipe at my male parts and run off. My partner thought this was hilarious.
Wiggy was, fortunately, declawed when we got him.
I think I know why.
My partner was a musician. We had a piano in the living room and she had her own flute. Wiggy had opinions about music. If you tried to play the piano, he’d jump up on the keys. He’d even push them individually to see what sound they made. He liked the piano.
Wiggy didn’t tolerate flute-playing. He’d attack the flute whenever my partner played it. He seemed to know that she was causing the sounds and would stare at her as he batted at the flute, eventually gripping it and forcefully pulling down on it.
Wiggy was nocturnal when we got him, and wanted us to join him in that lifestyle. Each night he’d wake us up howling, then give us the most satisfied look when we confronted him. One night, and only one, we forgot to put the piano keyguard down. Wiggy played us a song until we chased him away.
It took three consecutive days of us hunting him down (he was very creative at hiding) and forcing him to wake up and walk around, before we broke him of this nightly lifestyle. You could actually see him surrender to our actions on the third day.
Wiggy was a jumper. He loved to sleep on the closet shelf (6 feet up). He had to reach it in one vertical jump, and couldn’t use the sweaters as grips or they’d have fallen with him attached.
One night, lying in bed, my partner asked, and I quote, “Where’s the cat?” Not his name, just ‘the cat.’ Wiggy meowed loudly from the living room, barrelled down the hallway and launched himself from the doorway at our bed. He landed between us, looking quite proud.
A few months later, and it’s Christmas. My partner is going to visit her mom out west in Regina and I’m staying with my parents near Guelph, in Hamilton. The plan is that I’ll pop in and feed Wiggy, clean his box, etc.
Driving late on Christmas day to go feed him I saw the saddest tableau. An elderly woman was standing at the side of the road, crying over her dead cat. I mean bawling. Wailing. My God, what a horrible Christmas she was having. Losing a pet is hard, but at Christmas? And she was alone.
I arrived at our apartment shaken and almost in tears. Wiggy greeted me with relief that someone was there to feed him. I got the most friendly cuddles I’d ever gotten from him. I decided to stay with him that night and for the next few nights. He slept on the bed with me (he had never done that).
We became best friends. From that point on, in the mornings, Wiggy would decide which of us he wanted to feed him. If it was me, he’d sit on my chest, purring and grooming my beard until I got up. If it was my partner, he’d jump up onto her dresser and pushing things off it until he got to something too fragile or too important that she’d have to get out of bed to stop him.
LET’S GET ANOTHER CAT
We decided that Wiggy needed more companionship than we could give him. A farm near our place wanted someone to adopt one of their cats, the one that the others all picked on.
And that was how we got Natasha. Nat was the sweetest, most affectionate lap cat I’ve ever known.
We didn’t know exactly how to introduce her to Wiggy. We didn’t get a lot of warning that she was coming. So they met just inside the front door. They both sat there, quite close to each other, neither growling or hissing.
Wiggy seemed calm.
We thought this was a good sign. Actually, it just meant that Wiggy didn’t think she was real. Slowly, Wiggy moved around her. He made a very dramatic act of putting his nose on her back, starting at her ears and tracing down to her tail-less rump. Then he walked back to his starting point and sat in front of her again. He slowly raised a paw and put it on the side of her face. Then he gave a great shove that almost knocked her over. And so the great cat fight of 1992 came to pass.
It was long and bitter. We’d just about think things had calmed down, when it would flair up again.
Our apartment, the two bedrooms aside, was a an open space, divided by a wall. on one side of the wall was the kitchen. On the other was the living room. At one end was the front door, which led into either room. At the other end was the dining room, which also gave access to either room. For us, it was a handy way to move around the apartment.
For the cats, it was a racing oval.
One time, when the great cat war was flairing up again, my partner and I were sitting in the living room (the couch was along the outside wall). The cats started running laps in front of us. This was fine, a little amusing but nothing more.
Then the pace picked up. This time when they came around, Wiggy chasing Nat, Nat went high, and they both ran across us – cat feet (and claws) thumping across our chests. Whether it was her plan or not, that got the humans involved, and the cats were separated until they calmed down.
Our apartment was on the third floor and there were trees quite close to the balcony. So it wasn’t unusual to get birds on the balcony. When that happened, the cats would try to stalk the birds. But the door was always closed. Nat would make this strange noise that we’d come to learn meant she was frustrated by not being able to pounce.
Only Wiggy was stupid enough to try to lunge through the glass. But even he eventually learned not to do that. Then he started making those frustrated noises too.
One time, we were drying bedsheets on the balcony, and my partner had accidentally left the glass door open. A bird landed on the balcony. Wiggy and Nat got down into their stalking poses. I was behind the cats and didn’t know how to chase the bird away without trigger the cats’ pounce (We were three storeys up. I didn’t want one of them to jump the rail).
Wiggy immediately starts making his frustrated noise. The bird, alerted, flies away. Nat gets up, walks over and just thumps Wiggy on the head harder than he hit her that first day.
Then came moving day.
My partner was moving 3,500 kilometres west for her Masters. My career was keeping me locally for the time being (or permanently, as it turned out). We drove – two people, two cats, and a hibiscus tree – for four days to the Calgary apartment that would be their home for the next few years.
The cats settled nicely into the car. That was unexpected good luck.
Wiggy, as was his way, would either want to sit on the driver’s lap and watch the world, or would try to sleep under the brake petal. Obviously we didn’t allow that – don’t worry. We walled off the driver’s floorboards to keep him out.
Nat just slept most of the time, either on the passenger’s lap or on the back seat.
Eventually, we hit the prairies. I’ve got to admit, it was my first time really getting a sense for the expansive emptiness that makes up Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and half of Alberta. It’s flat. It’s never-ending. It’s impressive. Or, if you’re Wiggy, it’s terrifying. He howled, whined, and generally just freaked out over how empty it was.He’d look out the window, then sink down so only his ears, which were going flat, were visible, and he’d let out a piercing howl.
Eventually we got him to settle down under one of the seats and from then on, he never tried to look out the window.
In Regina, we stayed with my partner’s mom and her two cats, whose names I’ve forgotten. The four cats, in size from largest to smallest, were mom’s Big Cat, Nat, Wiggy, and mom’s Small Cat.
The Big Cat took to picking on Nat. Wiggy came to Nat’s defence. He jumped right in. Then we had cats running every which way.
In the morning, I woke up to the most horrible cat wailing right outside my bedroom door. Fearing it was the Big Cat beating on Nat, I rushed out to see…
Wiggy had the Small Cat pinned by the neck at the top of the stairs (so, right outside my door). Before I could even react, it all happened. The Big Cat came charging up the stairs full speed. As he breached the top step, Wiggy launched himself full force into this cat, sending both of them tumbling down the stairs.
At the bottom, Wiggy ended up sitting on his haunches like a champ, ready to continue the brawl. The Big Cat ran.
We decided it was best to move up our departure time, before one furball killed another.
Sitting at early breakfast, with the car packed except for the cats, we’re saying our goodbyes when my partner tells us to look outside. Small Cat is looking in through the sliding door, watching us. When she realizes that we see her, she hangs her head and slinks away, tail between her legs. We could almost hear the, “Well, it was good while it lasted.” We hurriedly put our cats in the car while mom rescued her little darling.
I’m sure Wiggy and Nat had many more adventures, but I wasn’t a part of those.
I had a short reunion with the cats a few years later. Wiggy remembered me immediately and hopped up on my lap, front paws on my chest, his purrs rumbling my ribcage. He groomed my beard like so many mornings before.
Nat wasn’t sure who I was. She was pacing around, making these questioning meows. Then I called her by her second name, one that only I ever used with her. She gave out an “it’s really you!” meow and jumped up beside me, full on purring.
That day was a nice coda on my tail of Wiggy and Nat.