Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Grasshopper Āzī

by Zinta Aistars
(Copyright 2013)

A tiny and skinny, very hungry, little cat appears in the night

Watching the sky for oncoming rain, I went out for my daily chore of blackberry picking. Up to several quarts a day, so I see serious jam-making sessions ahead. Guinnez, as usual, was close on my heels. As I headed out back, however, I thought I heard a noise ... there, coming from the hillside to the side of my farmhouse, where the woods begin.

I looked over at the hillside steps and saw a little black bundle huddled on the stairs. A cat? Here in the middle of nowhere? I hurried to put Guinnez back into the house so that I could take a closer look without scaring the little creature away, but as soon as I had put the old chow pup inside and returned for a closer look, the shadow of a cat had vanished.

On to blackberries. I picked and I ate. So luscious, so juicy! I've been tossing the berries into my yogurt, my morning oatmeal, or simply snacking on them when I relax in the evenings. I had several more quarts here, and it was growing dark fast, so I headed back to the house.

There it was again. A cat. Because it was definitely a cat. I heard it meowing as it retreated quickly up the steps as soon as I appeared. Crying even as it rushed back into hiding.

I put the berries inside in the kitchen and came back, holding an open can of cat food I'd borrowed from matriarch Jiggy. Jiggy is my tortoiseshell cat, soon entering her 19th year, and my old chow pup Guinnez is well into his 13th year. Both deserved their peace and quiet in their senior years. I wasn't planning on bringing in any more furry family members until they had enjoyed the full span of their lives here.

But I also wasn't about to leave an animal in distress. It was dark already, and a bat whisked overhead as I climbed the stairs to the drive where I had seen the little cat run off. I had heard packs of coyotes howling at the moon just the previous night; a small cat would be a quick and easy snack for them. Hawks circled overhead every day. And there was more wildlife in those woods than one could count.

And there was rain coming.

I spoke softly to the invisible kitten, holding out the open can to waft its enticing smells. Silence. I sat on the top step. I kept talking to the cat, wherever it might be. I even meowed, trying for its own language. That did the trick.

"Meow ... "
Crying out for help

I heard the tentative answer. A tiny voice, sad and afraid but surely hungry.

I mewed back. The cat echoed me, and we did this for several minutes. Finally, I saw the little animal emerge from the shadows, and its voice got louder as the smell of food surely enticed. Oh my, how thin ... was it a feral cat? Or simply lost or abandoned?

Little by little, the cat neared, crouching, until the can I held out was in reach. The cat's head disappeared into the can, and it ate with great hunger. If I made a move for it, however, it retreated quickly, only to return again, driven by its hunger.

When the can had been licked clean, and licked again, the little cat looked up at me. And then it made its move. I held out my fingers for it to sniff, and the cat did so, then started rubbing against me in gratitude. So, not feral. But the cat had obviously been on her own for some time, as even under the black, velvety fur, ribs protruded. I was impressed that the cat had managed to survive this long out in the country. There were a thousand upon thousand threats to such a tiny animal hiding in the night, ready to pounce.

"You're a little girl, aren't you?" I spoke to her softly, as she allowed me to pet her, even climbed into my lap, purring loudly.

Rain. Drops were coming down, it was fully dark now, and another bat whisked over our heads. I wasn't about to bring her inside to toss at my two animals, but the screened-in patio would do for a safe place out of the rain and away from other creatures of the night.

I picked her up to carry her down the stairs to the farmhouse, and at first she allowed it, but then, as we neared the house, she panicked and started to wiggle. I held her firmly, and she was unhappy, suddenly afraid again. She scratched and sank her sharp little teeth into my hand. I held firm, but blood poured from my hand, and I knew cat bites could be dangerous. I let her go.

She zipped off instantly, off into the night, mewing as she ran. I went inside to wash my hand. The bite was stinging, but I was still concerned about the little cat, so back outside I went. And there she was. Coming around the other side of the house with loud apologies about what she'd done.

"Don't worry about it," I said, "I understand. You're afraid. I can only imagine what you've been through ... but you're safe here."

I held out another open can of cat food and retreated into the screened-in patio as the little cat followed me in, still hungry. I left the patio door open for her, something she checked to be sure I had done, but by now, after more quick bites of food, she had lost interest in leaving.

I went inside, feeling good about making sure the little cat was safe for the night. Rain was pouring down by now, and I was glad she would be safe and dry for tonight, and in the morning ... I would figure out what to do about her.

In the morning, the little cat was dancing in my kitchen window. The moment she detected movement inside, she was up in the window crying to be let in. No, no wild cat this one, but a pet who had surely once known a home and for some reason had lost it. As so often happens in the country, people also tend to drop unwanted pets off in the middle of nowhere, a practice I find abominable. I am sure most pets do not survive.

Time to try some introductions. I let my old chow pup, Guinnez, circle around the back of the house and come up to the outside of the screen patio door. The little cat immediately went running to the door in cat curiosity. Did it kill the cat?

Guinnez was curious, too. I gradually opened the door. What happened next caught me by surprise ... pleasant surprise. The little cat was fearless. Indeed, she was hungry for affection, and not just from a human. It was love at first sight by cat.

Guinnez, however, was a tad more reluctant, but it was hard for my old chow pup to resist such blatant affection. The little cat followed his every step, even walked beneath his furry belly, twined her tail around him, and rubbed up against his muzzle.

Guinnez gave in. He allowed it. He even nuzzled the cat back a couple times.

Tommy the Tomcat
Wow, okay, that went well. But what about the matriarch? Jiggy had blossomed into her own after my previous cat Tommy had died at age 13. Tommy, in fact, was an almost identical cat to this one, a tuxedo cat, and he could be a bit of a bully to Jiggy, box her around, steal her food, chase her and provoke her. She became a nervous cat who hid from everyone. Only after he was gone did she come out of her shell and show a wonderful, affectionate personality. I didn't want to lose that.

Hoping for the best, I opened the kitchen door and let the little cat in. The moment she saw Jiggy, she went for that same friendly approach that had won over the dog. Only it didn't work with the cat. Jiggy hissed and snarled.

Oh, this would be a process.

Credit where credit is due: I've never seen anyone try harder. The little cat tried and tried to ingratiate herself with the two resident furry ones. Again and again, she tried to make friends. Little by little, she gained tolerance.

Three days later, the three furry ones share a sofa. Matriarch Jiggy has allowed the little interloper to sleep within a few inches from her ... and the inches are gradually shrinking. Old chow pup Guinnez has almost become oblivious to the little cat weaving between his four paws, sometimes hiding right under his belly.

The little one is learning. In fact, that is how she got her name: Grasshopper, as suggested by a friend who dubbed her that after seeing a series of my photos of the persistent feline learning the ways of the Z Acres household and how to successfully make herself a part of it. It fit. To make it a bit less cumbersome to call her home from the woods, I thought about the Latvian word for grasshopper or cricket: sienāzis.

Perfect. I clipped it to Āzī  and we had our name. And so the Z Acres family has increased by one. Adventures surely to come ...

The elders discuss how to deal with Grasshopper
Grasshopper Azi anxiously awaits the decision of the elders: can she stay?
All three relax into a fine evening at home
Grasshopper finds a warm place for a cat nap
Belly rub
Ah, acceptance and a new home! Life is good. 

Oh, and that cat bite of initiation? Harmless. I coated the wound in Z Acres honey and wrapped it in plantain leaves I picked in the yard. Two days later, healed.


  1. I love this story. I am so happy that "Grasshopper Azi" has found such a warm and loving home! She is one fortunate little kitty! Makes me miss my little kitty who came out of the woods to stay...she was partially that she was the only one of a litter of five feral kittens who actually overcame her fear and jumped in my lap and let me love her. But then she disappeared again just when I was getting used to having her around...and that was that. Someday I hope to have a kitty again... Thank you for sharing Azi with us.

  2. Thank you, Pamela. Do look to your local animal shelter for a new pet. There are so, so many facing death in these horrible places. Save a life. And experience the blessing of a grateful pet. :-)