I think it was in the bitingly cold winter of 2002 that my mother,
Dottie, who had hitherto resisted with every fiber of her being
(because like me, she really was NOT that woman), finally surrendered to the office of Crazy Cat Lady. The neighborhood's colony of feral cats had been growing for years and had now expanded into her yard. They were hungry, sickly, needy, and being a sucker for a cat, she had no choice but to feed them. At that time the core members
of the troupe were: Karen the alpha female, Karen's sisters Aunt Rose and Jet, Karen's daughter & son from a previous litter, Ginny & Rodney,
and her singleton kitten, Poor Lionel.
We knew Mom had capitulated when the temperature hit 0º, and, seeing the icicles on the cats' whiskers, she began leaving the enclosed porch window open for them to come in and warm up. At any time during that winter, you could see the ferals curled up in the stacking chairs, two or three cats per chair, or sipping from the bowl of hot water Mom put out to warm their bones. They would stay all night every night, and the adults would leave in the morning before 9AM. Dottie said they were going to work. All except Poor Lionel and his nanny, Aunt Rose who would babysit until the family got back from work at about 5PM and then she would go on her break. (Seriously - they would leave before 9 and get back by 5, and Aunt Rose was the au pair!)
If anyone came through the porch, which you had to do to get in or out of the house, the whole bunch would bolt out the window in a riot of fur and falling chairs and not return until the coast was clear.
Except Lionel. He was the first and only
one of the ferals to have no fear of us. "Why is everyone running?" he
said. "People are nice! They bring us food!" This was perfectly plain
to him, even as child.
Lionel was tiny, and frail, and tabby, with a sweet face and trusting soul that was unprecedented in his family. My mother had just lost Scout, who looked a lot like this little imp at his age, so she had an instant soft spot for him. When the temperature went subzero, and Lionel became ill with an upper respiratory infection, Dottie took him inside.
So Lionel became an indoor cat. His family continued to be feral, but because he was their kin, when he recovered from his URI, Lionel would go out to visit them when he liked. Even though she was very ill tempered, I sometimes saw gratitude in Karen's eyes to see Lionel going home to a warm house.
The following spring, Dottie pulled her shopping cart in to find four squealing kittens behind the bookcase. What a shock. And Jet was the mother. This was not good, because Jet had been ill too. But with something clearly more serious than a cold. However, she was not a cat you could put in a carrier and take to a vet. She was a truly wild, untouchable animal.
As sick as she was, Jet did her best to be a mother. Until she couldn't. When the kittens were approximately 3 weeks old, she collapsed. Only then were we able to get her in a carrier and to a vet. Her blood tests revealed FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus - feline AIDS). She passed away in the hospital. All four kittens, by some fluke, were healthy.
Wiley and Comet got adopted to two different homes. Patty and Sandra were adopted together, but were back the same night with a report of "fleas" and a demand that they be deloused before coming back. We were happy to cover the de-lousing, but felt if you can't handle a flea, you probably can't handle a kitten, and canceled that adoption. The next strike was the young bride with her mother-in-law who rolled their eyes at each other when we asked if she planned to spay. NEXT! In the end, no comers were good enough for this special pair of girls, and they stayed with Dottie.
Patty and Sandra are two peas in a pod, but couldn't be more different. Patty, who Aunt Betty stubbornly calls Jackie because she "looks like Jackie Onasis" (I don't see it), is outgoing, personable, and loves to kiss on the lips (though her tuna breath is asphyxiating). Sandra is antisocial, neurotic, and frequently loses her hair from nerves. We often find her staring into the void, her glassy eyes following some invisible thing that no one else sees. We think she sees dead people.
Both have made the dining room table their base of operations, and will tolerate no object being placed upon it. At the dinner hour, they commence their famous Supper Dance, which is a perfectly synchronized do si do, skip to m'lou, pirouette, and dolphin dive on endless loop round the table until you feed them. Then the food is gone so fast you'd swear a school of piranha swept through. Ergo the moniker, "Piranha Sisters." -JD