“Tortitude” – The Unique Personality of Tortoiseshell Cats

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Tortoiseshell cats are named for their distinctive coloring – a combination of patches of black, brown, amber, red, cinnamon and chocolate.  The size of the patches varies from a fine speckled pattern to large areas of color.  The term “tortoiseshell” is used for cats with brindled coats that have few or no white markings.  Cats of this coloring with larger areas of white fur are called calicos. Sometimes, these colors present in lighter versions such as lilac or cream.  Torties with this lighter coloring are called dilute torties.  Occasionally, the typical tortoiseshell colors are also seen in a tabby (striped) pattern, and these cats are sometimes referred to as “torbies.”

Tortoiseshell cats are almost exclusively female.  Tortoiseshell and calico coats are the result of the interaction between genetic and developmental factors.  The occasional and very rare male tortoiseshell cat is the result of a genetic mutation.

In addition to their distinctive coloring, torties also have a reputation for unique personalities, sometimes referred to as “tortitude.”  They tend to be strong-willed, a bit hot-tempered, and they can be very possessive of their human.  Other words used to describe torties are fiercely independent, feisty and unpredictable.  They’re usually very talkative and make their presence and needs known with anything from a hiss to a meow to a strong purr.  These traits are stronger in tortoiseshell cats than in calicos – it seems as though these traits are somewhat diluted with the addition of more white to the color scheme.

As of the writing of this post, I share my life with Amber*, and those of you who’ve followed this blog for a while have gotten to know her in her Amber’s Mewsings posts.  You will soon be able to read all about Buckley in Buckley’s Story – Lessons from a Feline Master TeacherThe photo above shows Buckley in the front, Amber behind her.

Prior to Amber and Buckley, there was another tortie in my life.  Virginia was the first office cat at the animal hospital I managed.  She was my introduction to torties, and my love affair with this particular type of cat began with her.  She, too, had the “tortitude” I so love about these particular cats.

Do you have a tortie or calico in your life?  Does she have “tortitude?”

*Sadly, Amber passed away on May 13, 2010, after a sudden, brief illness.  I now share my life with Allegra and Ruby, two tortoiseshell cats who have their own columns here on The Conscious Cat, titled Allegra’s World and Ruby’s Reflections.

Photo ©Ingrid King, all rights reserved

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Amber’s Mewsings: Mom Went Away for the Weekend

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Mom isn’t much of a traveler.  I think it’s because she really likes to stay home with me and misses me too much when she goes away – which I can totally understand, of course, since being with me is just the best.  She used to go away a couple of times a year, but all that changed last April, when my sister Buckley got sick.  Mom was really upset about it.  Buckley had to take a lot of medications, and the vet said that her heart was bad.  Buckley was a bit of a pistol when it came to taking pills, and I think Mom was worried that our cat sitter wouldn’t be able to give Buckley her pills.  I also think she didn’t want to leave Buckley, not knowing how much time the three of us would have left together.  We were such a team, it was hard to imagine we wouldn’t always be a threesome.  You’ll soon be able to read more about all of that in Buckley’s Story.  Anyway, after Buckley died, Mom was sad for a long time.  I did my best to comfort her, and I know she didn’t feel like being away from me.

But last weekend, she went away, just for the weekend.  My cat sitter came twice a day to take care of me.  She’s one of my favorite people.  She doesn’t just come to feed me (which is the most important part of her visit, don’t get me wrong!) and clean out my litter box (also very important, I’m a very clean cat).  She brushes me, and plays with me, and we watch tv together.    She’s really sweet, and I love her.  In between her visits, I mostly sleep.  I miss Mom while she’s gone, but I guess I understand that she needs to get away from everything every once in a while (well, not really, but I love her and if it’s what she wants to do, I’m okay with it).  She doesn’t do it much, so it’s fine.

It did make me think about how many cats are left alone when their moms and dads have to travel, especially over the summer, when humans do something they call going on vacation.   I don’t understand why you’d need a vacation when every day is just so wonderful that it makes no sense to me that you would want to get away from everything, but then, humans are hard to understand sometimes.   For cats, every day is a vacation day.  We get to sleep in, we have a servant at our beck and call all day long, our meals are served to us, we get to play when we feel like it.  Makes you wonder who the smart ones really are, doesn’t it?

I hope all the cats and their humans are having a great summer!

A Change of Pace, a Shift in Energy

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No matter how much you love your life, your environment, and your routine (and I do), sometimes, it’s good to have a  change of pace and a change of scenery.  Following the same routine day after day can lead to stale energy, and a quick and easy way to shake things up a bit is to get out of your normal environment.  So last weekend I went to visit a friend in New York City – my favorite city in the whole world.  What’s not to love?  In addition to being able to walk everywhere you want to go, there are so many great restaurants on every block, there’s Central Park, and there’s the incredible energy of a city of millions of people.  And I hadn’t seen my friend in two years, so it was long past time for a visit.

I had a fabulous weekend, and the trip reminded me how important a change of pace and scenery and an opportunity to get out of one’s normal routine can be.  Instead of my usual routine I spent the weekend walking around the city with my friend.  We caught up on each others’ lives, ate at wonderful restaurants, went to a comedy club (celebrity sighting:  Judah Friedlander from 30 Rock!), and hung out with my friend’s cats.  I came home feeling relaxed and recharged.

Even if you can’t get away for a weekend, there are simple ways to incorporate a change of pace into your day.  You’ll be surprised how even small changes can shift your energy, and as a result, free up creativity, open your mind to new and different possibilities, and make you feel great.

Some suggestions for a simple change of pace:

  • Take a different route to work.  Instead of going the quickest way, go the scenic route one day.  If you work from home, find a different place in the house to work from.
  • Make small changes in your daily routine.  Do you always follow the same sequence when you first get up in the morning?  Shake things up a bit.
  • Try a new food you’ve never had before.  Is there an ethnic cuisine you’ve  never head but always wanted to try? 
  • Rent a movie that’s different from your usual fare.  Do you usually watch dramas?  Try a comedy. 

You’ll be surprised how these seemingly small changes of pace can shift your energy.

Amber’s Mewsings: Birthday Girl

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Today is my birthday, so I told  Mom I wanted to write something on here.  So far, my birthday has been pretty great.  I got my favorite breakfast (salmon and turkey, in case you’re wondering), and I got this really fun toy (you can see me with it in the photo).  I humored Mom by playing with it when she gave it to me, but most likely, it will be used as a pillow to rest my head on while I nap.  I don’t want to over-exert myself, it’s just not ladylike.

Actually, technically today is not my birthday, it’s the anniversary of the day Mom brought me home.  She doesn’t know my real birthday, and I don’t really remember.  I know some of you would love to hear my story, so I thought today would be a good day to share it.  I’m not sure how I feel about the fact that my sister Buckley gets a whole book to share her story and I get a single blog post, but it’s only part of my story, so I guess that’s okay.

Me and my five kittens were brought to the animal hospital where Mom worked in the spring of 2000 by a client who had found the little family in her barn.  I was hungry, skinny, and scrawny-looking, but my eventual beauty was evident to everyone even then.  My kittens found new homes in fairly rapid succession.  One of my daughters, a beautiful Calico, went to live with Cindy Ingram, the founder of Casey’s House.  Cindy rescued my sister Buckley five years later.

It didn’t seem like anyone was interested in me.  I spent my days in the big adoption cage in the hospital’s waiting area.  People would come and ooh and aah over how beautiful I was, but with the constant inflow of homeless kittens that is typical for spring and summer, nobody wanted to adopt an adult cat, no matter how gorgeous I was.  Mom had recently lost her almost sixteen-year-old soul mate cat Feebee, and the grief over his loss was still very fresh for her – I knew she was still hurting, and she didn’t think she was ready for another cat yet.  But I also knew that it was getting harder and harder for her to go back to an empty house every evening, and more importantly, I knew we were meant to be together.  I tried my best to get her attention, and she’d pet me occasionally, but she just wasn’t getting it.

Finally, on July 29, a Saturday, she took me home.  She said it was “just for the weekend.”  I knew better, but I wasn’t about to share that with her – she needed to figure that out for herself.  Mom said she wanted to give me a break from the abandoned feral kitten they had put in the cage with me after my own kittens had all found homes.  The kitten was a rambunctious six-week old grey tabby, and I was getting really tired of his constant need for attention.  I had done my mommy duty, and I was so over the whole thing.

After living in a cage for all these months, it was a little overwhelming to have an entire house available to explore.  I wasn’t sure what to do, it felt kind of scary to me, even though Mom did her best to make it okay for me.  I spent most of that first weekend near or under Mom’s bed.  I was so stressed I didn’t even eat for a day or two – and if you know anything about me, you know that food is very important to me!  But by Sunday evening, I felt braver and started exploring.

Of course, all weekend long, I’d been working my magic on Mom.  I really didn’t want to go back to the animal hospital.  Thank goodness, Mom started to get it.  She liked having my gentle and peaceful energy around the house, and she decided that I could stay a little longer.  Big sigh of relief on my part when Mom left for work at the animal hospital that Monday morning without taking me back there!  Mom still wasn’t quite ready to acknowledge that I was home to stay.  Instead, she told everyone that she was “just fostering me.”  Yeah, right.

Somehow, the flyers Mom had made up advertising that I was available for adoption never got distributed, and the rest is history.

Amber’s Mewsings: On Purring

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It’s been a while since Mom has let me write something on here, so I thought it was time that I shared my thoughts on life and other things again, in case you’re getting bored with Mom’s writing.

So there’s this woman in England who actually did a study on cats’ purrs.  The conclusion of the study was that cats learn to vocalize a particular sound to train their humans.  They needed to do a study for this?  Puleeze!  Cats all over the world are laughing.  For those of you who really need to see the details of the study to grasp this universal feline truth, here’s the link.

One very interesting aspect of the study was that what the researchers called “solicitation purring” got better results than a loud meow, for example to make the human get up in the morning to feed the cat.  I have to respectfully disagree with this finding.  I sit by my mom’s head and gently purr in the morning to make her get up and feed me.  I’m so thoughtful and patient, and it still takes her forever to actually get up.  My sister Buckley, on the other hand, used to meow at the top of her lungs and walk all over Mom in the mornings, and boy, did that work – there was no more sleeping once Buckley got to work.  I miss my sister (and not just because breakfast came earlier when she was still with us).

I hope everyone is having a good summer.  I love summer – the sunny spots stick around longer and are more frequent in my house.  I’m an air-conditioned kitty and I like it that way.  I spent the first two years of my life outside, and I can’t say I miss the hot and humid summer days and trying to find a cool place to hang out in during the day, not to mention always having to worry about finding enough to eat.  Mom may be a bit slow on the uptake when it comes to feeding me breakfast on time, but I always know that eventually, it’s going to end up in my dish.  For those of you who do go outside in the summer, Mom posted a great article about hot weather tips for pets a little while back.

And speaking of my life – I have a birthday coming up!  Well, it’s not really my birthday, but July 29 is the day Mom brought me home, so we celebrate that as my birthday.  Mom always buys me a cool present.  So to help her out, I’ve marked some items in our Conscious Cat Store for my Wish List.  If you’re a kitty with fabulous taste, make sure you check out the store – you’ll really help your human with gift shopping if you drop little hints about what you want every once in a while.  And remember to use that “solicitation purring!”

Father’s Day Reflections

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Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there! 

My dad passed away five years ago.  While our relationship was complicated at times, I always knew that he loved me, and I have lots of wonderful memories of him.  His life was shaped to a great extent by his experiences during World War II in Germany, and as a result of experiencing so much loss at such a young age, he held those he loved close to him – at times, too close for a daughter who wanted to spread her wings and fly from the nest!   

He instilled in me my love of nature – some of my earliest and fondest memories are of long walks in the woods and parks near our home.  He taught me the names of all the flowers, trees, butterflies and animals we’d encounter on those walks.  He loved the Alps – his happiest times were spent hiking those beautiful mountains.  The photo above is of a town in Austria where we spent many childhood vacations. 

He worked hard at a job he didn’t enjoy all that much to provide for my mother and me.  We were by no means rich, but he always made me feel like we were.  He loved to travel, and after taking early retirement, for the next nine years, he and my mother traveled extensively.  He especially enjoyed his travels in the Western part of the United States – every Western movie he’d ever seen came to life for him there.  He would talk about those trips for years to come. 

He had a difficult time dealing with my mother’s death, and his life contracted again.  He didn’t enjoy traveling by himself, and other than his annual visit to the United States, he stayed close to home.  When he became ill with prostate cancer, I wasn’t sure he would want to fight – but he surprised me.  He wanted to live, and he survived.  Then he decided that it was time to make a lifelong dream come true.  He sold his home of forty years almost overnight, and bought a condo in the Black Forest, where he spent the last two years of his life in an environment that he loved.   Having been a life-long worrier, he learned to live in the moment and “appreciate each flower and each butterfly,” as he once told me.  He passed away after a short illness, and knowing how happy he was the last two years of his life was a great comfort to me.

If you still have your father, tell him that you love him today.  My dad had a long, sometimes difficult, but ultimately good life, and I miss his physical presence in my life.  His spirit is never far from me.

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Amber’s Mewsings: On Thunderstorms

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I love being an indoor cat.  I spent the first year or two of my life outside, and that was plenty for me, thank you very much. I prefer the pleasures of indoor living.   I’m particularly glad that I didn’t have to be outside in all this rain this week.  Enough, I say!  I want my sunny spots back!  Mom took this photo of me the night we had a really bad storm move through.  I hate thunderstorms, the noise scares me and I can feel the vibration of the thunder all through my body, and I don’t like it one bit.  I go to my safe place in the shower in the downstairs bathroom and wait until the storm passes.  Mom gives me Rescue Remedy when she knows storms are coming, and I love her for it because it helps calm me down a little, but I still hate storms.

Aside from the weather, though, this has been a really great week for us.  Mom got exciting news about her book on Monday.  She got something called “Editor’s Choice” for it.  She was so happy she couldn’t stop crying.  I was happy because she was happy.  I think it means that the book is really good.  It’s about my sister Buckley, but I’m in it, too.   This morning, Mom sent the manuscript off to the copy editor.  I don’t really know what that means, but it made Mom happy, so it must be a good thing.  And this afternoon, we got the photos the photographer took of Mom and me a couple of weeks ago.  I look really good in them, and so does Mom.  She says one of them will be used in the book.

I like it when my Mom is so happy.

A First Peek at “Buckley’s Story – Lessons from a Feline Master Teacher”

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Today is a difficult day for me – it’s the six month anniversary of Buckley’s passing.  It’s hard to believe that six months have gone by already.  I still miss her each and every day. 

“Buckley’s Story – Lessons from a Feline Master Teacher” tells the story of how one small cat changed my life in ways I  never could have imagined.  It’s the story of Buckley, a joyful, enthusiastic and affectionate tortoiseshell cat I met while managing a veterinary hospital.   Buckley challenged me to overcome long-held emotional patterns and taught me and everyone who came into contact with her universal lessons about opening the heart, following intuition, and living a life filled with joy.

In her memory, and to celebrate her life rather than mourn her passing today, I would like to share a small excerpt from the book with you.  This is the description of our first meeting:

“I went to see Buckley for the first time. And I fell in love. Hard. And fast.

   She was a small cat, and she immediately came to the front of the cage and rubbed up against the bars. When I unlatched the door to her cage to pet her, she practically threw herself at me – something I came to call “full body love” as I got to know her better and realized that this was one of the many ways she would demonstrate her affection. This little cat loved with her entire being. It took several minutes of talking to her and petting her before I even noticed her deformed left hind leg. It bent upwards at the knee at a ninety degree angle. Our veterinarians were unable to determine whether this was a congenital birth defect, or whether it was an old injury that had never healed right. It certainly did not seem to bother her, nor did it slow her down. She barely had a limp, and she used the knee of the bent leg to push off when she ran and jumped. Her “disability” definitely was a non-issue for her – she didn’t know the meaning of the word. After a while, I didn’t notice it anymore, either. It was just part of who she was, and I was always surprised when people asked about it.”

“Buckley’s Story – Lessons from a Feline Master Teacher” will be published later this year.

Amber’s Mewsings: First Post

Mom said I could ocassionally write something on this blog – after all, I’m the wise one who inspired the creation of it.

So this afternoon, Mom made me pose for pictures for a professional photographer.   It wasn’t the most fun I ever had, but there were treats involved, so I was being a good sport about it.  I mean, come on – the photographer’s assistant was holding these squeaky dog toys over the photographer’s head to get me to look at the camera!  For God’s sake, I’m a cat!  I look when I feel like it, not when you try to get me to look.  Anyway – I knew how much this meant to Mom.  She wants a really good photo of the two of us as the author photo for her upcoming book “Buckley’s Story – Lessons from a Feline Master Teacher” , so I played along.  The book is the story of my “sister” Buckley, who left us in November.    She was pretty smart and between her and me, we taught Mom a lot of stuff that she shares in the book.  And even though the book is about Buckley, I’m in it, too.  The three of us had (and still have) a very special connection.

Mom says that’s enough, I can’t say more about the book right now, but she says that soon, there’ll be more information about it.   I have to go take a nap now anyway – posing for photos is pretty tiring.

Here’s a picture of me with Buckley (she’s on the left).

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A Visit to a Very Special Cat Sanctuary

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In loving memory of Buckley

Yesterday was an emotional day for me.   I went to the open house for Casey’s House, a private rescue group in Bluemont, VA.  Cindy Ingram, the founder of Casey’s House, rescued my precious little Buckley from a farm in southwestern Virginia, where she and about twenty other cats were kept in marginal living conditions.  Buckley passed away last Thanksgiving weekend.   While I had been supporting Casey’s House for many years, I had never actually seen the facility.  When I met Buckley, she was already living at the animal hospital I managed at the time.  (You will get to know Buckley and her story in my upcoming book “Buckley’s Story – Lessons from a Feline Master Teacher”).

Casey’s House is named after Cindy’s beloved tabby cat, who came to live with her when she was fifteen years old.  At first Cindy refused her entrance to her house, as she already had two cats and two dogs at the time. Casey, however, was not a cat to take no for an answer. Casey’s “home” at the time was a colony of some fifty cats, and she was probably getting tired of either not getting to her food on time, or eating off of filthy dishes.  Every evening, Casey would be waiting on Cindy’s  porch, obviously hungry, so Cindy would feed her. Slowly, but surely, Casey became a part of Cindy’s family.  Eventually, four of her feline colony friends came to join Casey.  Says Cindy:  “Casey taught me to reach beyond my self-imposed limits, and her house is the dream that now has become a reality”.

In addition to providing a safe haven for older cats, Casey’s House also promotes Trap-Neuter-Return.  Through this program, feral cats are humanely trapped, brought to a veterinarian to be evaluated, spayed or neutered, vaccinated and ear-tipped.  Cats that are friendly to humans and kittens are adopted into loving homes.  Healthy feral cats are returned to their outdoor homes.  Casey’s House spayed and neutered more than 200 cats in 2008, making a significant contribution to controlling the overpopulation problem.

I was impressed with the wonderful environment Cindy created for the cats.  There are very few cages, most of the cats live in a large open room, filled with carpeted ramps, cat climbing towers, and lots of soft pillows and blankets for them to sleep on.  New rescues and those with potential health conditions are kept in separate areas until they’ve been checked out by a veterinarian.    What was really amazing to me was how peaceful the energy in that large room felt.  All the cats seemed to get along, there was no hissing, posturing, or fighting.  Cindy said in all the years she’s done this work, she’s only had one incident with two cats fighting.  Casey’s House truly is a safe haven for cats in need.

I left missing Buckley even more than I usually do.  The visit definitely brought on a renewed wave of grief for me.  But I also left feeling good about living in a world where there are people like Cindy, who care so much and do so much for cats in need. 

Like all non-profit organizations, especially those helping animals, Casey’s House is struggling in these tough economic times.   If you have a favorite shelter or rescue group that you support, please consider making a donation to them – they need your help now more than ever.  And if you don’t already support a shelter, perhaps you’ll consider making a donation to Casey’s House in Buckley’s memory.  Cindy and the cats at Casey’s House will thank you.

Happy Mother’s Day 2009

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Happy Mother’s Day from the Conscious Cat!

If you’re fortunate enough to still have your mom in your life, be sure to tell her that you love her today, and every day.  My mother passed away 15 years ago, and I still miss her.  Even after all these years, I still feel a pang when I see Mother’s Day cards appear in stores.

But I also celebrate Mother’s Day as Amber’s Mom.  Amber was a mommy herself when I first met her, so I thought I’d share her story here with you today.

In the spring of 2000, Amber and her five kittens were brought to the animal hospital I managed by a client who had found the little family in her barn.  Despite being emaciated and scrawny-looking, Amber’s eventual beauty was evident even then.  Her kittens found new homes in fairly rapid succession.

However, nobody was interested in the beautiful mommy cat.  She spent her days in the big adoption cage in the hospital’s waiting area, but with the constant inflow of homeless kittens that is typical for spring and summer, nobody wanted to adopt an adult cat.  I had recently lost my almost sixteen-year-old soul mate cat Feebee, and the grief over his loss was still very fresh.  I did not think I was ready for another cat, but coming home to an empty house was becoming increasingly difficult.

One weekend in July, I decided to take Amber home, “just for the weekend”.  I wanted to give her a break from the abandoned feral kitten we had placed with her after her own kittens had all found homes.  The kitten was a rambunctious six-week old grey tabby, and Amber was becoming increasingly exasperated with his constant need for attention.  As far as she was concerned, she had done her mommy duty with her own kittens.

After living in a cage for all these months, Amber was initially a little overwhelmed by having access to an entire house, and she spent most of that first weekend near or under my bed.  By Sunday evening, she began to  relax a little and started exploring her new environment.  I liked having her gentle and peaceful energy around the house, and I decided that she could stay a little longer.  Not quite ready to acknowledge that she was home with me to stay, I told everyone that I was “just fostering her”. Somehow, the flyers advertising that she was available for adoption never got distributed, and she only returned to the animal hospital for regular check ups.

Amber is a gentle, loving cat with a wise old soul.  For the past nine years, her peaceful and solid presence, not to mention her almost constant purr, have been bringing love and affection into my life every day.  She enjoys sleeping in our sunny living room, curling up with me when I sit down to read or to watch television, and watching the birds at the feeder on our deck.

She is a teacher to the core of her being, and she is my writing muse.  There are days when I sit down in front of the computer and stare at the blank screen with no idea of what I’m going to be writing about, but as soon as she comes into the room and curls up on the window perch next to my desk for a long nap, I feel inspired, and the words start flowing.

Animals come into our lives for many reasons.  Some very special animals touch our souls and change us forever.  Amber is one of these special animals.

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