"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Celebrating Aengus

I have told you guys about Zombie, and he probably should have his own Facebook page so his fans can officially follow him. ;)

But today I want to talk to you about Aengus, Zombie's older "brother" (not related by blood). Zombie is adorable but I tend to be limited on how much I can publicly love on him in the house because of Aengus.

You see, I'm Aengus's person. Which I find endlessly funny because, of the three cats, he was the one that was supposed to be Charles's...the two cats that are supposed to be mine love him best, and the one that is supposed to be his loves me most. But that's cats for you.

We adopted Aengus our first December in Maryland, only 2 months after moving to the area, from Karina, the same foster mom who raised Zombie.

Charles wanted a kitten because my cats and his roommates' cats before me were all adults already when he met them. He'd never interacted at length with a kitten and wanted to know what it was like. I had been wanting a second cat anyway and while I do prefer to adopt adults (they don't have as much of a chance at adoption at shelters as kittens do), Karina had several kittens at the time and when it got around at work that I was looking for a kitten, I was told by a coworker to talk to her. 

Karina was more than happy to bring a couple of her fosters to work for me to look at. 

She brought two. The first was a 6 month old boy kitty named Phoenix. Short-haired with ear tufts like a lynx's, he had white legs and a white underbelly and the top of his body was the color of an Abyssinian. Very unusual color and even more unusual to see it combined with white. He was very, very sweet and purred when I touched him. He was shy, but I REALLY liked him.

Abyssinian cat. They have a pretty unique color.
The other kitty, also a boy, was 4 months old and a gray classic tabby. His name at the time was Mai-Tai.

Mai-Tai was AT the cage door when I went to open it and greeted me with the exuberance of a long-lost friend. His purr reverberated off of the cage walls, it was so loud, as he tried to fit ALL of his body under my hands at once. He was so happily excited that every hair on his tail stood on end. He nipped lightly at my hands in his excitement, which kittens will do, but I was pleased to see that he had learned bite inhibition: it is important to raise orphan cats with other cats so they can learn what types of behavior are okay and which ones are too harsh. No creature will teach a kitten bite inhibition (where they learn to not bite hard in play) better than another older cat!

It was really hard to not instantly adore him. I liked Phoenix's looks because he was unusual, I liked the fact that he was a little older and calmer...but while looking at Phoenix again, Mai-Tai started sticking his paws out through the cage bars at me, insisting that I go back to him.

I firmly believe in being chosen by our pets, especially when it comes to cats, because you can't really convince a cat to do something it doesn't want to do, so if you're looking for a cat and a specific cats wants to be with you, by all means take that one, even if it isn't what you had in mind! They choose you for a reason. 

So it was Mai-Tai that came home with me.

He had a story. There was a new volunteer at the shelter that wanted to work with bottle baby kittens. She had found a litter of seven orphan babies that was just a few days old. Karina, who has been doing this type of work for over a decade, was giving her advice. The new volunteer soon realized that she was in way over head when it came to taking care of tiny newborn kittens that need to be fed every couple of hours all day and night, and so Karina opened her front door one morning to find the seven kittens in a box at her doorstep with a note. Yup, just like the stuff you see in movies.

The kittens weren't doing well. Within a few days two of them died. Mai Tai also became lethargic and lost interest in eating. His mucus membranes were pale and Karina struggled to keep him warm. She thought he would be the third to die. Karina fought for him and one day he just did a complete turnaround and got better. He survived.

And so he ended up with us.

Ever since my family started owning cats, we have had a name theme: gods and goddesses. To quote Mark Twain, "Thousands of years ago, cats were worshipped as gods. Cats have never forgotten this."

There are lots of awesome goddess names, but very few cool god names. With Dio, our old Manx mix, I had the hardest time finding a name that suited him, especially because I had this feeling that his name needed to start with a "D" (don't ask me why; I just did), because most god names are hideous. So I did some research and came across Dionysius, the Greek god of food and wine. Dio as a shorter nickname. He responded to it from day 1. 

Little did we know that he would end up being one of the most food-motivated cats we have ever known! Which is why it is important to know the meaning of a name, IMO: the animal (or person!) usually does end up living up to their name! 

So with Mai-Tai I got this idea into my head that I wanted a Celtic or Norse god name. Again, don't ask me why. Especially since I had already looked them all up years and years ago for Dio and they were all either run-of-the-mill like Thor or Apollo, or they were downright ugly like Bormanicus or Kuanikio. (I mean, I wouldn't name an animal "Bormanicus"...the nicknames would have to be "Borma", "Manny" or..."Icus"..."Icky"? Blegh)

I pulled up the list of names online, ready to spend days, if not weeks, looking for a name for the kitten...and my eyes immediately fell upon the name Aengus at the top of the list. 

Aengus. I looked at Mai-Tai as I said it out loud and it suited him SO well. So I went looking for more information on the god, just to make sure he wasn't some sort of god of war and destruction. 

So Aengus it was.

He was a striped ball of energy with a tail that was as long as his body. I thought of a lemur watching him dart around the house. We introduced him slowly to Astarte, who was initially offended by his presence, but I think we were all equally impressed (including Astarte) when Aengus immediately respected her wishes of not being bothered when she just wanted to curl up and sleep.

Baby Aengus entertaining himself on the clean laundry while Astarte sleeps behind him.
We bought a bunch of toys and I brought out all of Astarte's and Shakti's old toys. Shakti had been my first kitty and the one who lost her battle with cancer just a month before we moved north. She used to love toy mice but only the kind with the real fur, and while packing for the move I had discovered I still had half a pack of these mice left over. I had cried and cried and cried; I'd forgotten I had them. I had put them away with her #1 favorite toy, a giant rat also made with real fur that had been about the size of a small ferret.

I brought these out for Aengus. He LOVED that toy rat. LOVED. IT.

Aengus and his rat. They were almost the same color.
Scurrying around the house, carrying the rat in his mouth. My favorite was when he'd pick it up by the tail and drag it around like it was his prized kill.
Toy rat love

Astarte napping while Aengus bites and kicks at his rat. The fuzzy purple and green blob on the floor was another Shakti toy he inherited. It had a bell attached.
He had energy to burn though, of course, being a young cat. I had a fishing rod toy that he destroyed one day, so then we took to throwing the rat for him.

The fishing rod toy. It was a green ball with a feather tail. He managed to remove the ball + tail from the string and eventually chewed the tail off. We still have the ball. When it had a tail he liked to play with it in the bathtub or dunk it in his water bowl.  After he amputated the tail, he decided he preferred to play with it in the kitchen. I'll still periodically find that green ball in the kitchen to this day. Don't ask me why; cats are just funny creatures.
It only took two throws of the rat for him to figure out that if he retrieved the rat and brought it back to us, we'd throw it quicker for him. Charles was thrilled: he had a Beagle growing up that he had spent hours trying to train to fetch and he had never succeeded...and now we had a cat that would play! I had heard of cats that fetch before and some breeds, like Siamese, are more prone to this type of game, but I had never met a cat that would actually do it before.

So we played fetch with him daily to reinforce the behavior. And also because it was his favorite game. He loved this game so much that he would actually bring the rat to you and drop it at your feet or on the couch next to you when he wanted you to start the game.

Eventually he skinned the original toy rat and all that remained was its fur. He would continue bringing us the strips of fur for us to throw for him but it didn't go very far because it was so light. My mom had sent that rat as a Christmas gift for Shakti a long, long time ago. I told my mom about its untimely demise...and she sent this neon green one last Christmas, also with the real fur, that Aengus HIGHLY approved of. Here he is retrieving it from the bathroom and bringing it to me for me to toss.

About two weeks ago, Charles and I ordered takeout sushi. Aengus saw the chopsticks and was FASCINATED. I let him have them and he ran off with one in his mouth...and later came back for the other one.

I think he was a dog in his past life.

I found both chopsticks under the bath mat this week. Gee, I wonder how they got under there?

He had a very quirky personality from the beginning. During his first two weeks at home, we alternated keeping him in the bedroom + bathroom and the living room + kitchen  (we were still living in the temporary Alexandria, VA apartment at the time; I loved the floorplan of that apartment: it was literally split in half in this manner) with Astarte in the opposite living space from where he was, when we weren't home, and allowing them to be together when we were around to supervise. It was one of the smoothest cat introductions I had worked with in a long time. The funny thing is that Aengus was kind of a scaredy cat: unusual noises sent him running. The first time I brought him into the bedroom at night, he freaked out about the sound of the air filter and refused to come out from underneath one of the cabinets. (We keep an air filter on in the bedroom because of Charles's general allergies.) It took a couple of weeks for him to get used to the sound. We ended up exposing him to the sound through the closed bathroom door. And this is how he came to fall in love with the bathroom: it was his quiet space at night, the space where he would get fed, and it was the space in which he would first see us again in the morning. It also didn't hurt that it was a HUGE bathroom: 1/4 of the size of the apartment.

In the mornings when I walked into the bathroom, I'd be greeted by a stripey kitten standing on his hind legs to lean against the door frame, reaching up for me with his front paws, purring loudly at me. I'd pick him up and he'd close his eyes and knead happily against my arm.

This is something that he still does two years later.

Case in point. Note the paw kneading on my arm.
Another funny thing about him was that he used to hate being kissed. From the beginning he was a SUPER lovable cat that adored being petted, held and loved on.

"Am I not so cute?"
"C'mon! You know you want to rub this spotted belly!"

But the smooch of a kiss on his head would startle him and he'd try to leap out of your arms. So I started giving him very quiet kisses on his head while holding him and petting him in the mornings, which were his favorite things. And soon he stopped minding the sound entirely. In fact, he came to love kisses so much that if he now hears me kissing any other living being in the house, he comes running so he can get in on the action too.

He is ridiculous and I love this photo. I've posted it on the blog before.

I never had to actually teach him what the word "No" meant. Despite his young age and energy, he was incredibly sensitive to tone of voice. My mom used to say I have a "thunder voice" back in PR because I was the only one who could get the dogs to stop dead in their tracks when I used that particular tone of voice. All I had to do was say their names in that tone of voice. This is the tone of voice that I use for "No" when reprimanding the cats. Aengus picked up on it from day 1. Not only that, he also picked up on "Mira!" "Mira" literally means "Look!" but when addressing animals (and little kids...) it can also mean "HEY!" as a way to get their attention. When he was doing something that I knew was going to escalate into trouble, like batting around at the TV cables, I'd say, "MIRA!" He'd stop and look up at me. I'd tell him verbally to cut it out and sometimes he would move on to play with something else all on his own. Sometimes I'd have to toss a toy to distract him into a different activity. But "Mira" did always get his attention from the beginning.

And then people say you can't train cats. ;)

The biggest challenge with him was the Christmas tree. OMG the Christmas tree! We knew it would be trouble because bristly branches! shiny balls! bright lights! sparkles! FELINE SENSORY OVERLOAD! This is what most cats, especially young cats, will do when first introduced to a Christmas tree. I kid you not. Astarte did something similar during her first Christmas with our family, when she still wasn't even a year old:

I knew in advance that no amount of "NO!" would keep him from attacking the Christmas tree. Our usual Christmas tree is a small 4' fake tree that has been with us since my first Christmas with Charles, when I bought it on sale at Walgreens. Every once in a while we'll buy a real tree because I love the smell and Christmas isn't quite the same when the house doesn't have that wonderful pine smell.  This particular Christmas was right after moving North from FL, half of our stuff was still in storage, and we were both working weird schedules at our jobs. So fake tree it was, which would make things easier also when it came to training a certain boy kitten.

So before putting up the tree, I bought a bottle of Sunbeam cat repellant:

I think I picked it up at Petsmart or Target; we had both right across the street from the apartment. 
Aengus's reaction to the tree once it was up was on par with a raver's reaction to their first party:

What we see...
What a raver cat sees.
I gave him the benefit of the doubt, but of course he immediately went for those lights. So he got his list of commands, "MIRA!" as a warning, and then "NO!" when he didn't stop, followed immediately by spritzing one branch of the tree with the spray.

He was horrified by the spray: the "chiff" sound of the sprayer itself and the smell. Actually, I was kind of horrified too. It had this awful musty smell to it that both Aengus and Astarte found extremely offensive. Aengus didn't approach the tree again for 2 days, when I had to re-spritz the area around it. It worked. On Christmas Eve I took this photo:

4-month old kitten sleeping peacefuly next to the lighted Christmas tree? Success!
2 years later, I still have the original bottle of cat repellant; it didn't get used again until Zombie showed an inclination for chewing on electric cables. It worked perfectly. Like with the tree, all it took was spraying the area I wanted him to stay away from a couple of times, and the inclination was stopped in its tracks.

Astarte: "What are you doing in there?"
Astarte's lightbulb moment....look at her face!
In the beginning, he was a very quiet kitten. He was very generous with his loud, rumbling purr that you could hear from across a room, but I couldn't get a "meow" out of him. I talked and talked and talked to him, both verbally and chirping at him...until one day he started chirping back. He started chirping hellos at me and in response to me asking him questions. "Que tu haces, Gatito?" ("What are you doing, Kitten?") was the one he got asked the most, which was especially entertaining when he would chirp back a response...and even more so when he started meowing a response.

It's still the question I use to start conversations with him. Usually his response will be along the lines of, "I want you to play in the bathroom with me!" How do I know? He'll meow and chirp, then turn away from me and stop, looking back at me over his shoulder expectantly. If I move to follow him, he chirps happily and takes off at a trot towards the bathroom, where he'll jump into the tub so I can play hide-and-seek with the shower curtain with him, or he'll just flop belly-up on the bathroom rug for tummy rubs.

Being cute on the bathroom rug back when he was a kitten
He soon became one of the most talkative cats I have ever owned, with an enormous range of meows, chirps and trills with which he will talk to you and respond to you. One of his nicknames is Sir-Chirps-A-Lot.

You can hear him "talking" to the stink bug in this video.
I had not shared this one on the blog yet because I hate hearing myself on video and I couldn't stop laughing at him. Most cats presented with a bug will immediately go into "hunter mode" but you can see that Astarte doesn't do this (we always said that if she was out in the wild she'd have to be a vegetarian; she is the worst hunter. Lizards, bugs: she'd catch them and play oh so gently with them, and they'd eventually escape) and neither does Aengus. He's all "Ewwwww! It has legs! Ewwwww!" If you turn the volume up you can hear him both chirping and meowing at the bug. He's taught Zombie to chirp too.

We normally lock the cats out of the bedroom because we have weird schedules and the cats will invariably decide that they want to be fed at 6:00 am and bounce on our heads until we I wake up and give them breakfast. (Because Charles would sleep through a nuclear bomb explosion.) So kitties sleep outside of the bedroom. Except for when Liz comes to visit. Astarte and Aengus are both afraid of dogs, so they get to stay in the bedroom and sleep with us so Liz can bring Kenai.

Aengus thinks it's some sort of pajama party. The most recent time that Liz came to visit, he was all over my head when I lay down to sleep. Purring and chirping and rubbing against my hair. I took this sequence of photos that I keep in my phone because I find them simply hilarious:

Circling around the pillow
He started grooming both himself and my hair!
Kneading against the pillow. He was purring up a storm!
Closeup of his grabby little paw kneading
Rubbing his head against mine
He slept behind my head, on the pillow, all night. He did not budge from that spot.

He's really funny with his paws: he's always using them as part of his expressions and I've honestly wondered if he's picked that up from watching Charles and I talk. You can see what I mean in that last photo above. It's a really common gesture of his. I've never seen a cat use his paws in this manner.

Shortly after I wrote on the blog that I had chosen Zombie because he had rubbed his face against mine, Aengus all of a sudden started doing it of his own accord. The first time, he jumped up onto my desk while I was at the computer and literally put his front paws on my shoulder and started vigorously rubbing his face against mine. He took me completely by surprise! "Oh, so I have to complain about you not doing this so you'll start doing it?" I teased him. "Chirrrrrp!" was his response. He has continued doing this occasionally. Every morning he jumps up on the bathroom sink so he can rub against my chest while I brush my teeth. When I'm in a hurry he just curls up on top of my makeup box and supervises.

Lately he has been doing this:

Which I find absolutely adorable.

He's great at travelling in the car, which comes with the territory of having been a bottle baby foster: he was taken everywhere in his carrier so he could be fed every 2 hours. He's come with us the last two times we've stayed at Kathy's farm sitting. He tends to be a little overwhelmed with all of the space: he'll run around and play, but then retires to the guest bedroom to curl up on the bed or hide underneath it. The first time I brought him with me, he hid under the bed when Zoe wanted to meet him (she also has 3 cats.) Charles couldn't get him to come out, but I walked into the bedroom, peeked under the bed to see where he was at, called him once, and out he came a-chirping. The last time we stayed, over Thanksgiving, Charles couldn't find him in the house after he'd started a fire in the fireplace (a first for all three of the cats, but Aengus was the only one intimidated by it.) I sat down on the couch in front of the fireplace and called him. Aengus came running out of the bedroom and leaped onto the couch, scrambling up onto the headrest and coming to a stop behind me, purring and chirping up a storm. It wasn't long before he was lying on the couch next to me, fire be damned.

I gave Charles a smug look: at least one of the three adores me. Charles laughed. "Whatever," he said. He pretends to be annoyed that he doesn't get all three cats to himself.

Don't get me wrong. He loves Charles too.

And he's been the BEST big brother to Zombie. He's made training kitten #2 a million times easier. Not like it was that hard to train Aengus himself, but we've barely had to worry about Zombie thanks to Aengus watching out for him and teaching him all the ropes the right way.

One of my favorite photos of the two of them together.
I don't think I've ever been loved by an animal quite the way Aengus loves me. I'm so happy he chose me that day Karina brought him into work, and that I listened. He is just the BEST cat, and if ever an animal has lived up to his name, it's him.

 Happy Gotcha Day Aengus!


  1. Awww happy gotcha day Aengus!!! I loved reading his story. Thanks for sharing it. :D Is his name pronounced like Angus or does the e make it sound different?

    1. It's pronounced exactly like Angus. :D

  2. What a great post. I love Aengus. Tabbys are the sweetest cats. Glad he is yours and he and Zombie remind me of Preacher and Taz. Some cats are just lovers.

    1. Yes, I thought about the similarities when you were telling me about Preacher and Taz the other night.

      We officially have, at the moment, a cat of every color I've ever wanted: I originally wanted a classic tabby, then I wanted a calico, and then I wanted a black cat for the longest time...we have all of them! :D

  3. Awww, I loved reading about Aengus! Love 'dem sweet kittehs!

  4. Astarte is the most beautiful. And Zombie is certainly the most unique and ridiculous. But I think I like Aengus most. For everything you wrote above. <3

    And I certainly hope Atticus grows into his name; that's always been my hope! Atticus Finch was such a noble and caring character - I always thought those characteristics would be well displayed in a cat.

    1. I think Atticus is definitely growing into his name! :)

      Wait until you hear Astarte's full story. You're going to have a hard time deciding which one you like best! She is quieter now in her old age but she has always been the COOLEST cat ever...Aengus is a lot like she used to be when she was younger.