The Quest for Harmony| Kai Update

As you know from my last post, I’ve been having issues with peeing in the house and fighting. The primary culprit is Kai, who came to me as a feral and is still very fearful. He likes to pick on Lulu, as the meekest in the household, and also does a lot of territorial peeing. Of course the other kitties then follow suit and the house smells like a toilet.

We’ve been using vinegar as a cleaning agent for a long time, and bleach has been abolished (the ammonia smell can attract cats to pee on the area). But the house was still smelly. We did have some improvement whereby the kitties stopped peeing on soft surfaces and only peed on floors and bench tops. That was a minor improvement.

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Kai and I have 1:1 time when he goes to his room

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The Taming of Kai | Behaviour Issues

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If you are new to my blog, there are a couple of relevant things you should know before we get to Kai’s behaviour modification program. Firstly, I live in the Philippines where it’s common to have domestic staff and drivers. It’s not exploitation, which I also address here in my article on Linked In; it provides fulfilling employment to locals who would otherwise not be able to support themselves or their families. My helper Lyn is an absolute wonder, and intrinsic to my household. She has a good job with me, is well paid and loves her work.

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Kai is sleek and shiny

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Out with the Old, In with the New

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Fostering Tully and Shay was quite different than my other experience with bottle babies; a bit like how parenting a second child is easier than the first. The biggest difference was of course that I had four kittens with my first foster litter, which was stressful and time consuming to manage alone. Two were easier, plus – maybe because they had spent an additional two weeks with their mama – they were spotless! None of the perpetual grubbiness of my first litter, Shay was always sparkling white and they both smelled like the sweet little fluffy darlings that they were. I can’t recall now, but I don’t think they were ever bathed as babies – they just took care of themselves perfectly.

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Shay was an independent, spirited little kitten from the time I collected her aged 3 weeks. She complained all the time -wow, wow, wow, WOW, wow. Non stop complaining when she was out of the nest, and very 2014-12-22_1419241962determined to do everything on her terms, not mine. Tully, on the other hand, was sweet and placid – possibly the easiest and relaxed little baby kitten I’ve ever seen. He never cried, he drank all his formula, obliged with a little burp when he was finished, then lay on his back to be de-pooped and de-peed and promptly fell asleep. Feeding Shay was much more difficult. Firstly, she would almost purse her little lips and refuse the bottle; she’d move her head to avoid insertion. If I switched to a syringe it was no better. She was so defiant! Eventually I learned that she had a process and I just needed to follow it for a smooth feeding session. When she knew there was a bottle nearby, she needed about ten minutes to suckle and knead her blanky before she would accept the bottle. So I settled into a routine of letting Shay smell the formula, putting her on my lap with her blanky while I fed Tully, then by the time he was finished, she was ready to go. Whew!
2014-12-22_1419241641Also with my first bottle litter, there wasn’t enough time between feeds to do anything but rest, but with only two, and my houseguest Trisha who was keen to participate in the feeding (but not the de-pooping), I was actually able to have a life outside of the feeding schedule. Handy, given it was Christmas! We managed to arrange the feeding schedule so that there was enough time to go out for Christmas lunch, unhurried, and be home in plenty of time for the next feed.

The little sweethearts started to explore their surroundings more as they grew, with Tully curious and quiet, and Shay nipping at the heels of the big cats, biting Tully on the bum, and generally being a little Madam.

 

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Trisha left on New Years Eve, and we turned in early at Kitty Central, with all the cats bunking in my bedroom for the night because of the raucous fireworks going off outside. Back home, there are organised fireworks on the harbour each year – 9pm for the kids, midnight for the grownups, and most functions gather in view of the display. In Manila, there are no restrictions on fireworks or firecrackers, so  the bang-bang-bang’s start in the morning, continue all day, then once darkness descends, fireworks are hurled off balconies and set off in streets and parks. The kitties were very brave, watching the bright lights from the windows and not at all frightened by the noises.

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2015-01-06_1420535415On the fifth of January the movers came and packed up the apartment for our relocation to Cebu. I was keeping some cat toys and scratchers, the window hammocks, one third of their cat condo plus litter trays and bowls and just a bed and a table and chair for me. Basically the bare minimum we could survive on for the short time until our house in Cebu was setup, then I could take most of the remainder with me in big suitcases, and the large items would follow later.

And then we waited. And waited. Our shipment was delayed in Manila port, partly due to congestion that been ongoing for some time due to a “customs department re-2015-01-07_1420595617organisation”, and partly because the Pope was visiting Manila. The Philippines is the third most Catholic country in the world (by population) since Catholicism was introduced during the era of Spanish colonisation, so the Pope’s visit was a big deal. As he also decided to visit the typhoon ravaged city of Tacloban on the island of Leyte, the port decided to close completely for security reasons. So our brief interlude in a bare apartment stretched on and on and on. Eventually the shipment departed Manila and we were just waiting on a time frame for delivery. I originally planned to set the whole house up in Cebu before travelling with the cats but I was tetchy and they could sense it so were behaving 2015-01-07_1420593160differently. I could tell Pip was stressed without his wheel and there was some hissing and fighting going on, and it was about this time that Maxi started to be very reluctant to go in the cats’ room at night, so she was allowed to roam free.

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2015-01-20_1421788949I couldn’t stand it any longer so decided to relocate the cats to the new house, where they could get used to their new environment and recover from the journey before our stuff arrived. I experimented with some natural calming medications for the cats to relieve the stress of the journey. I didn’t want them knocked out as I had had a bad experience with that years before, but I did want them to chill a little. I chose this one for it’s not-so-subtle effect on Kai especially! The flight was only 90 minutes, but airport regulations for travelling with pets are strict. I had to present all their vaccination papers to the Bureau of Quarantine to get authorisation for them to travel. They had to travel in IATA approved crates with access to provide them with food and water – I bought these ones from Amazon.
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On moving day, we packed up everything, I gave the kitties some medication and got them in their cages – seven cages for eight cats as Tully and Shay were sharing. Two vans arrived to take the seven cages, fourteen pieces of luggage plus myself, my wonderful helper Lyn, and my friend Alex to the airport. At the airport, eleven porters came to assist us. The cats were terrified of the noise, the sights (I forgot to provide a cover for the cages), and the porters and spectators meowing at us as we passed. I snapped at the porters to stop scaring them, but the onlookers were still fascinated. After check-in, the cats were taken to a separate area and the three of us waited to board. We had to be at the airport more than three hours prior to departure, and the flight was delayed so the cats had been in their cages for more almost five hours before we even took off.

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I was worried about them during the flight, knowing how frightened they must be, feeling every bump and startled by every noise. Fortunately Cebu Pacific serves alcohol (unlike Philippine Airlines domestic – why is that?) so Alex plied me with several drinks. We had been advised that the cats would come out at the same area as our luggage (which is also what happens in Australia) but on arrival into Cebu, we were told we had to pick them up from the cargo area. After collecting our bags we travelled the ten minute journey to cargo, only to be told the cargo was more than an hour away from arriving. This was the last straw for me – we had left home at 11am and it was now almost 7pm and no sign of the cats. I exploded in a stereo-typical expat torrent of tears and frustration, much to the bewilderment of the staff. It’s just cargo, right? Oh pets. Well, just cats, right? Finally the cargo arrived, in the dark, all kitties present and accounted for but very very frightened and stressed.

Alex, Lyn, the luggage, Maxi, Pip and the babies travelled in one van to the house, while Kai, Lulu, Chico 2015-01-07_1420619025and Asha travelled with me. The van didn’t have foldable seats, so the cages were propped on the seats, and I took Asha out of her cage and cuddled her all the way home, sobbing pathetically into her white fur, glad I was alone in the van. The final horror of this journey still haunts me. As we travelled home – it took more than an hour – poor Lulu’s cage kept falling off the seat, and I couldn’t get myself in a position to secure it. I can’t imagine how terrified she must have been – her ordeal was ongoing.

At last we arrived home – first priority was to get all the cages into the cats room, which was already prepared for them. Lyn was in charge of getting food and water, I sat in the room with them, while Alex took charge of getting the luggage unloaded and paying the drivers.

It was over. Needless to say, I will be spending the rest of my cats’ lives in Cebu, because I will never go through that again.

December 2014

 

January 2015

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Kitty Central on Vacation

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A few weeks after three of the four fosters left, we had to pack up and relocate to my friend Alex’s place about2014-09-04_1409793457 ten minutes away from home. My air conditioning system was being upgraded – six large units were being replaced, and it would take “five working days plus a few days for repairs and painting“. Alex was overseas for two weeks so I had plenty of time.

My apartment was in Salcedo Village, one of the inner “suburbs” of Makati, which is the central business district of Manila. It was an older, ungated community undergoing a revamp with lots of new condos and retail outlets opening. Today it is quite a foodie hub. There were a few embassies around, so it was safe and accessible and the place where many expats chose to live, however when the new area of Rockwell was built, many expats decamped to that location.

Getting into the Rockwell area required travelling along a major congested highway or through the red light district, neither of which I enjoyed so despite it’s close proximity to my apartment, I didn’t visit often. Once arriving in Rockwell, it reminded me of Singapore – pristine wide roads, lush greenery, and towering condominiums. My friend’s apartment was on the 35th floor and was twice the size of mine – a massive four bedroom place which like mine, had floor to ceiling windows but with a different view. The kitties had been allocated a bedroom for overnight which was twice the size of their room at home, so before they arrived I set everything up for them to make it as familiar as possible, and removed all the objects that non-cat owners have lying around that looked perilous to either the cats or the object itself.

Watching Mum Pack for Rockwell
Why is mum packing OUR stuff?

I did two car trips before I loaded all five kitties into the car. Food, toys, their tunnels, blankets, bowls, the chair from their room – everything I could fit to make the relocation less stressful for them. We were moving to Rockwell!

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The decor at Rockwell was much better suited to Maxi’s pretty colouring

 

Moving to Rockwell

Moving to Rockwell

Four kitties travelled in their cages in the car for the journey, smuggled down through the basement of my condo, where I was allowed just one pet. I don’t like cats roaming free in vehicles, I worry they will distract the driver and if the car comes to a sudden halt, they can become lethal projectiles, harming others as well as themselves. But I only had four cages as I had donated a couple with the departure of the fosters. Rather than squishing kitties together when they were already stressed, I carried Chico (formerly Kabo) on my lap. Pip and Kai tend to travel in stony, shocked silence, Maxi and Asha bleat repeatedly. All are more comfortable with a cover over the cage so they can’t see anything. But Chico! He was so excited by this new experience! Once clear of the basement and the condominium security guards, he squirmed out of my arms to look out the window. People! Cars! So much happening! His big eyes were wide with delight!

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When we arrived at Rockwell, Kai wailed his misery at the change. Most cats don’t like change but Kai gets upset even if he is served his food in a different location. The other kitties scampered around, sniffing unfamiliar objects and patting their things from home. They met Perlita, my friend’s helper who was a cat lover herself and who loved to dangle their toys in front of them to see how high they could jump. Lyn remained at my condo dealing with the mess, but visited the kitties each morning.

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Chico was adjusting perfectly well to life without his siblings, but me? Not so much. I had been following their new Instagram account and their new mum (let’s call her Ray) had told me that she had decided to keep the three kittens herself. Munro, Leyte and Lulu (now Oreo, Velvet and Lulu) would live with her and her boyfriend and their other two cats. I was a bit concerned about this. The Instagram photos I saw showed that they lived a modest life in a very small apartment, and raising five cats is not an inexpensive exercise. When the fosters were handed over, they were still too young for vaccination and spay/neuter so there were expenses coming up. And I had already had some feedback from Ray about how they ate a lot of food. As well as living as indoor cats in a very small home, both Ray and her boyfriend were out at work all day for extended hours, leaving all five kitties unattended. Not that this is a problem – many cats (including my own back in Sydney) live like this, but I was struggling with the thought of my poor little babies wondering what happened to them that their lives had suddenly changed so drastically.  “When can we go back home?” I was sure that there was plenty of love in their new home, but I worried about the expenses and also what would happen when five darling little kittens grew into five big cats.

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One day I had a text from Ray. Oreo was sick and needed antibiotics, and she had to take time off work to get him to the vet. Could I help with expenses? Of course I could, but it confirmed all my greatest fears about these little babies’ future lives. Over the next few weeks, a couple of times I “accidentally” bought the wrong food, or too much food, so sent supplies up to their new home to help out. My driver did the delivery but it was always arranged at a shopping mall, so we never actually knew where the kitties were. I knew I had to let go, so I stopped following the kitties new instagram account and focussed on my own five, and our new life on vacation.

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One of the kitties favourite games developed at this time, and it’s still a regular hoot now. Each morning after breakfast, I would drag their tunnels out of their bedroom, up the hallway, around the corner, up the entrance hallway and into the lounge area. All five kitties chased the tunnel, taking it in turns to run in for a “ride”. Sometimes one would pop out of the hole at the top, making way for another to jump in for the journey, and sometimes one would run alongside smacking any little heads that popped out of the hole. It was hilarious! We had four tunnels so I would drag one at a time, with all five charging back to the bedroom ahead of me to take up position inside the next choo-choo-tunnel in the queue.  Sometimes I’d also drag a blanket off the bed and along the same route, and all five kitties would jump on the blanket for a free ride. In the evening at bedtime, we played the same game in reverse.

On a recent trip from Cebu to Manila, I visited Rockwell for dinner with Alex, and it was a lovely memory, that time we spent living there, the week that turned into two weeks, before we got the call about Lulu….

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The Fosters Grow Up

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After our scare with Asha, all the kitties got extra hugs and extra treats, and the fosters got to move into the lounge room where the big kitties hung out. The introduction was slow – I had learned a lot from my experiences with the four original cats. At first they were in a playpen, which was a bit pointless because Lulu was so little she could squeeze through the bars, and Kabo – wailing the whole time – figured out how to climb up to the top and plop! drop onto the floor on the other side.

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Pip was an absolute darling – he was a doting big brother, and Lulu especially adored him, following him around, sitting close to him, with Pip chasing her around too. Maybe it’s a colour thing, because little Kabo idolised Kai, the two black cats together. Kai was a bit disturbed by the attention of this little squawking kitten. Maxi didn’t like any of them, and Asha just wanted to make sure no-one took any attention from her.

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The fosters were developing their own personalities. Munro was adventurous and independent. He occasionally stopped to have a snuggle near me, but he liked to sleep in the condo baskets or near the girls. Lulu and Leyte were almost inseparable. They snuggled together often and played together, gently. They were both quiet, placid little girls – playful when they were playful, but quiet and sweet. Leyte had developed the most amazing coat – like all the kitties, it was fine and short-haired, but it felt like silk, the softest fur I have ever felt before or since. Lulu’s weight was still worrying, she was thin and struggled to gain weight, but as she was otherwise healthy, the vet said there wasn’t too much to worry about.

Kabo was still a vocal kitten – he chatted all the time, something I enjoy in a cat, and he was also a bit of lunatic. He frequently photobombed other cats, ran around crazily and explored like a great adventurer. But one of my favourite things about Kabo was that he liked a cuddle. With eight cats, not one of them was a lap-cat. Pip, Maxi and Kai never ever had a cuddle, though Kai would sometimes snuggle next to my feet, and Maxi occasionally would sit by my hip. Asha liked to climb onto my left shoulder still, sticking her nose into my left ear and purring, and rubbing her face into my hair. None of the fosters liked a cuddle – except Kabo. He would run around the house playing, and then run to me and have a quick cuddle on my chest, purring and chatting, before hurrying on his little way again. He would do this often – it was adorable! He also had a fascinating growth phase where he turned half-grey. My instagram friend @cutecurlycat coined the term “rocking the Clooney look” which is exactly how he looked. Then, it just grew out and was black again!Xtag Kcs Fosters 1402650489

The time was coming when I would need to say goodbye to the fosters. I knew it would be difficult, but I was looking forward to spending time with the originals again. They were much loved of course, but my time had been considerably diluted with the arrival of the fosters.

The lady who was going to take all four fosters was originally going to take them to her parents property where they would become outdoor cats, with a lot of other outdoor cats. The vet and I shared a concern about their health in that environment, so I spoke to her about finding other options where they could be raised safely as indoor cats. She was able to find friends who could take them, as she already had two kittens of her own, about 5 months older than the fosters.

We were given a reprieve from the original departure date when Munro, Kabo, Lulu and Leyte were 12 weeks old as their new mum was travelling. So at about 13 weeks, we prepared for the handover. I thought about keeping some, but which? The girls were sweet, but I had never had female cats before Maxi and Asha and there was tension between them, so I was reluctant to add more females into the mix. I was completely besotted by Munro, his independent personality, his little face and his funny little tail, but I sensed there might be trouble between he and the big boys, Pip and Kai, when they got older; they were alike in personality. And I also knew that the new mum was similarly enthralled by Munro. Kabo of course was adorable – I loved his chattiness and his cuddliness, and I’ve always loved black kitties. I checked in with the new mum and asked if I could keep Kabo and she agreed.

 

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There was a looming deadline for us as well – since moving into my apartment in January, my electricity bills (always expensive in Manila) were astronomical, largely because of an ancient, inefficient air conditioning system. The landlord had agreed to upgrade the entire system, but it would be a huge mess with six tradespeople coming and going for ten days, so we needed to move out. Fortunately a good friend was travelling overseas for two weeks, and she invited me to move in to her apartment. What a friend! Allowing me to housesit with five cats! But I definitely couldn’t move there with eight cats, so the fosters had to move to their new home.

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So on a Monday night late in July, we had a farewell party for the fosters, bittersweet. And the next day I packed a bag for each of them with their favourite food, favourite toys, a blanket and treats to remind them of home and help them settle more easily, and we delivered three of the four little sweethearts into the care of their new mother, who would care for them briefly before handing them over to her friends. Munro would become Oreo, Leyte would become Velvet (for her beautiful coat), Lulu kept her name, and my crazy, silly, handsome little Kabo stayed with me as Chico.

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In Between Days

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We had a few months of stability after Kai joined us and before the next batch of fur-faces arrived. The apartment was filled with happy galloping and playing and the kitties fell into two pairs – Pip and Maxi, Asha and Kai. They were thriving and getting along well and I made a happy discovery. After years of being a non-photographer (I didn’t even take my camera on vacation) I found that with a favourite subject, I loved snapping pics! My photo’s weren’t great, I used my iPad for all of them, so I jazzed them up a bit with filters and frames and other tools to disguise the out-of-focus shots, the poor lighting etc., but it was a thoroughly pleasant hobby to fill my days. I took so many photos and wanted to share my wonderful kitties, I was pleased that I had discovered Instagram so that I had a place to keep all these memories for posterity.

During this time I also left the kitties alone for the first time, while I travelled to Bali for a week to celebrate a “significant” birthday, leaving the kitties in the capable and loving care of my helper, Lyn.

Lyn is the secret to my sanity with the kitties. I am fortunate to live in a country where I can provide image employment to domestic staff. It’s not exploitation – as a Westerner, it is expected that I will employ staff to provide a living for locals. I have a helper and a driver and they are fantastic companions to me as well as getting stuff done that foreigners in this country can find unfathomable. Lyn was originally hired to clean my home (including litter boxes) and care for the kitties while I travelled, but she quickly fell in love with them and often feeds them too. When I moved to Cebu, she moved with me at her own suggestion as a live-in, and I have subsequently relocated her family her to join her. Since working for me, Lyn has rescued and cared for about 8 kitties of her own!

After returning from travel, my container finally arrived from India with all my much-missed belongings, so there was excitement amongst the crew as they got to sniff all the new stuff, discover new places to sleep and for Asha to discover the hole underneath the sofa…..  At first I thought there were rats in my sofa! It had been in storage in India for 6 months after all, but that naughty monkey Asha was running around in there and then invited all her buddies in. When I eventually had someone over to repair the hole, we found SD cards, iPad cables, an earring, toys, a scarf of mine and various other things that I had lost – all which Asha considered her personal treasures.

Below are some pics and vids from these early years of the four big kitties, before “The Fosters” arrived.
 
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My one and only feral experience.

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imageAfter a few sad attempts by Asha to join in the fun when Pip and Maxi were playing, it became clear she was going to be a mummy’s girl, lonely for feline fun. Pip had so much energy he was just a bit too rough, and Maxi couldn’t bear to be near Asha. This would never do! I started considering companionship for her, because really, once you’ve made the leap to three cats, what difference is one more? But if I got another, it would have to be a black kitten because I love little black kittens to bits.

I contacted CARA and as luck would have it, the President of the group had picked up a black street kitty just the day before. He had been wormed and de-flead but not much else; they were loosely calling him Blackie but he hadn’t been there long enough for that to even stick.

When I arrived to visit the shelter, I could hear the wailing before I even went through the gates. It was not only loud, it was a imagemulti-tonal bellow that sounded like a teenage boy with a breaking voice. He stopped as soon as I got him out of the cage and started up again when I put him back much to the disappointment of the cats in neighboring cages – they were all looking a bit stressed! He was very skinny and his coat was coarse, at 4 months he was much bigger than baby Asha (now about 2 months) but still small for his age – on par with Pip when I brought him home. The big difference between Pip and Kai however, was that Pip had spent 3 months at the shelter so was accustomed to people. Kai was not.

Into the carrier he went and GOOD GRIEF he wailed all the way home. I had never heard anything like it. I couldn’t wait to get him into the guest bathroom at home where he would be quarantined for 2 weeks. Don’t believe how bad it could be? Click on this audio file!

I left him alone to adjust for a few hours with dry food and water and when I visited him with fresh food, he was gone! I was on imagethe 30th floor and the window didn’t open. Not in the bath, not in the basin, not in the cat bed or the basket. I was frantic! How had he escaped? The door was still closed. Eventually I found him. Under the vanity, behind the pipes was a small hole and he had wedged himself in there. I tried to coax him out but he was terrified. I stayed in the room for a while but I knew that was causing him more anxiety so I left, with the food just under where he was. I checked in on him every hour for a few hours before coming to the conclusion that he was stuck.

Trying to extract him from the hole was awful for both of us. He was so, so frightened, and I had to really work hard to get him out without hurting him. Once out, he dashed behind the basket, giving me time to stuff the hole with newspaper. Over the next few days he kept getting into that hole and I kept extracting him and stuffing it with more and more items that he kept removing. Paper, clothing, cushions went in that hole until I managed to stuff it full and then barricade the whole area under the vanity. Poor little frightened boy. I named him Kai, which is a popular name in many languages, meaning food, water, bridge, but my favourite meaning is strength. I named Kai in the hope he would overcome his fear and be happy in my home.

I don’t have a lot of pics of Kai when he was little. Black cats are hard to capture, they tend to just become black blobs. It took imageme a long time and a new camera before I started to get decent pics of him.

When Kai came out of quarantine, we had another few mishaps which were unsettling for him. My floors were marble, which caused great hilarity as the cats went slipping and sliding on the floor. But Kai’s first experience terrified him – he couldn’t run away fast enough and just kept skidding around. He was also very rough with Asha – mummy’s baby girl – and he was on the receiving end of the water spray a few times, which really wasn’t the right thing to do to a little frightened feral. If only I knew then what I know now.

His coat was so coarse it felt like it was deeply ingrained with dirt. I didn’t really like touching Kai much in those early weeks, his fur felt so unpleasant, which was just fine with him because he was terrified of me. Over time, he became more accustomed and enjoyed being stroked, purring super loudly, but if I picked him up (to this day), he meows his complaints even though he doesn’t struggle. After a month or two of good quality food, I noticed that Kai had developed a beautiful sleek and shiny coat – he had blossomed into a stunning young house panther without me noticing!

Asha and Kai became fast friends even though she (and all future kitties) simply adore his super long tail with the trademark right angle kink at the end. The two grew up like siblings, sleeping together, playing together and making wonderful yin-yang, ebony & ivory photo opportunities for me.

This video shows Asha dancing around, with a great appearance from Kai – slippin’ and a-slidin’ on the marble floors with his fantastic tail!

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