Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Tara Grace: My Furry Family, Part Two
Tara Grace is my virtuous kitty. Both because of her personality and her coloring, it's much harder to photograph her and these pictures don't do her justice. My friend Nate Tyson took the picture above and I really love it. I think it captures her sweetness... and her eyes aren't glowing like they are in most of my photos. The thing I admire most about Tara is that despite a very hard start in life, she has never lost her gentle sweetness.
The same "E" who brought Angel into my world, also introduced Tara Grace to Angel and me. Tara Grace - who loves to eat - still weighs in at only 5 pounds. "E" and another friend cared for her outside for a while. She was initially very skittish of people. They got an igloo and set it up and "E" took her food every day and told her to have faith, that she would have a home soon. It seems that Tara, who I think is VERY smart, listened. At Thanksgiving about a month after I moved into my apartment in Callicoon, the weather got bitterly cold, even for upstate New York. Temperatures went well below zero and it seemed clear that Tara Grace (who was named Isis at the time - totally wrong for her) would not survive those kinds of temperatures, even with her igloo. "E" brought her inside and with the landlady's permission set her up on the stairway between her upstairs apartment and my first floor place. I had agreed to adopt her but since she had lived outside for so long, it seemed prudent to take her to the vet and make sure she had no contagious diseases before putting her in proximity to Angel. Angel, of course, had other ideas. She would escape up the stairs every time "E" came into my place and lavish poor bewildered Tara with enthusiastic affection. At that point, it seemed pointless to wait, so I left my door open and let Tara find her way in. She spent some time under the bed trying to escape Angel's enthusiasm, but slowly she explored and settled in.
She was the sweetest and saddest little kitty. It was clear that besides malnourishment, she had been abused in other ways. She was profoundly shy of touch, though you could see that she palpably, achingly longed for it. She didn't seem to really know how to play either. It became clear to me that although she could see, she couldn't see very well - another side-effect of being half starved for much of her early life. When she did get to a vet, they said they couldn't really guess her age. Her teeth were very bad, her growth too stunted.... Vets have tended to put her age at about 8. I think she's much younger. I think she's probably 5 now, a little older than Angel.
I thought and think that Tara is very smart. That's probably how her frail little being survived out on the tough, cold streets and woods of Callicoon. "E" and my other friend had named her Isis but I didn't think that really fit. She didn't seem like an Isis, though she does have something of the Egyptian cat statuette that I associate with Nefertitti about her. I briefly tried Kwan Yin, but that was all wrong too. Anyway, when I came up with Tara Grace, she took to it instantly, kind of like, "well, finally, somebody's calling me by my real name." It was really clear that she knew that was her name - and she responded to it. But I digress. Tara's idea of play - I think that's what it was - was to bat at my cane if I moved it. She would sit and stare at it. I would move it and she would reach out and bat at it. Very odd. String toys got no reaction. She had some other odd thing - a coat hanger maybe... I forget now, that she "played" with. Very odd. Very sad. Balls thrown got no reaction. If she came across one, she would push it around a bit, but she didn't seek out play very much. She was like a little gray shadow.
I have to admit that in the beginning, it made me kind of sad to have Tara around. I felt like she was never going to really trust me. I'm glad to say that I was wrong. She's never going to be a lap cat, but slowly, slowly, she has found ways to receive touch. Tara apparently owns me at night. She sleeps on me... mostly right on my shoulder up next to my head and Angel - who has possession in the day time, had better not try to take that spot. It was when we got to our little house that Tara really began to blossom. The second she got here she seemed to know that this was truly "home" and safe.
Then last spring one of those bad things happened that brings with it lots of good. As I was getting ready for bed, I found Tara Grace, semi-conscious, lying in the litter box, barely breathing. She had always had chronic sneezing and congestion and I thought that was because of her rough life on the streets. It was, indirectly. It turns out that her teeth had gotten so bad that she had a profound systemic infection. This was a turning point in a lot of ways. Tara had been getting more comfortable with touch, but it was still mostly sort of push-pull. She'd approach me at my desk, I'd reach out, and she'd run away. Now, as she lay close to death, I spent almost the whole night lying next to her on the bed with my hands on her tiny, frail little body, giving her reiki and talking to her. At first she was anxious about my touch, but over the course of seven or eight hours, she realized that it was not lethal and that it was making her feel better.
Several visits to the vet, a dental surgery and a small fortune I didn't have later, Tara Grace is a new cat. I feel guilty that I didn't realize how sick she was all along. But the surgery has given her a new lease on life. She is much friskier. All the human contact seems to have helped her relax a bit more about touch too. Interesting story that says a lot about Tara and what I most admire about her. After her first crisis, the vet agreed to come to the house to take some blood since it was simpler than having Dan come get her and bring her back.... or so we thought. As I told you. Tara weighs 5 skinny little pounds. She is TINY. You would think getting blood from her would be a piece of cake for two six foot men and a large short woman. Three against one, Tara wrapped in a towel to help restrain her. Not such a piece of cake. She would have none of it. What was even more amazing to me about her brave and determined resistance was that it was non violent. She didn't try to claw anyone or hiss. She just squirmed and struggled and refused to let us hold her still long enough to get one small vial of blood. That's my Tara. Stubborn but gentle.
When I got my new windows, I knew it would make Angel happy, but since Tara doesn't see so well, I wasn't sure how she'd react. As you can see from the pictures, she loves the windows at least as much as Angel and I do. She loves to sit up there and watch the world inside and outside the house. That makes me happy too. And now that she is feeling better, Tara is more active across the board. She doesn't play all the time, but when she does, it's a joy to watch. Where Angel plays like a line backer tackling the ball, Tara dances with it in little delicate leaps and jumps. She really is a kitty ballerina. I've tried to catch it in a photo but no luck yet. I love it when Tara plays, though. It's proof that anything is possible and that even the darkest life can be turned around.
What else do I want to say about sweet Tara Grace? She is complex. She looks and moves like a dancer, delicate and genteel. Her voice, however, could sink a ship. She talks like a gangster. And she talks a lot. Tara Grace has strong opinions. I sometimes think she is channeling my mother. She's very critical. Partly, I suppose, because bed time is when she allows herself the most physical intimacy, she is highly disapproving of how late I usually stay up. On nights when I'm particularly foolish, Tara begins her muttering rounds (she really does mutter too). She circles the house grumbling, jumps up on my desk, stomps on the key board, circles again, all the time grumbling away. She's very funny. Dinner time is Tara's other crusading time. She will usually come out from the bedroom about an hour beforehand and start making the rounds or just sit on my desk and stare at me, maybe making a trek or two across the keyboard to make sure I'm paying attention. The joy she brings me is different than the joy I get from Angel. Tara's love has been more hard won, but she has graced me with her trust and her head-butting affection. I've been slowly working on getting her comfortable with being touched all over her body and she is making great progress.
Some of her new tricks. She has added jumping on my back to part of her room circling. Since clipping her nails is probably never going to be something that happens while she's conscious, this is not always enjoyable. She also has a new wake-up technique to replace poking me in the head. She dances on my back. She's so light weight that it's not painful, just very funny and hard to sleep through.
There's probably so much more that I could say about sweet Tara Grace. I feel honored by her love. She doesn't make me sad any more. She makes me happy.