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Ashes: A queen in waiting

The plaintiff, Ashes (Photo: john zipperer)

An American vice president whose name I forget once defined his job as consisting of little more than checking on the president’s health each day. Still alive? OK, I’ll call back tomorrow.

Such is the life of Ashes, a cute tuxedo cat who bides her time while her nemesis, an old Maine Coone cat named Charlie, rules the roost.

Ashes came into our house quite by accident. We were asked by our friends at Give Me Shelter (www.givemesheltersf.org) to foster her for a few months. Ashes was going crazy being confined in a small space, and she needed more room to calm down until a good home could be found for her.

JUST PASSING THROUGH

We already had Charlie, a wonderful but jealous cat who refuses to give an inch for any other cat in his home. We had adopted him from the SF SPCA several years earlier. He was luxuriating in all the attention and living space he had in our home. But we knew Ashes would only be with us a few months, so we separated them by keeping her shut in the large bedroom, where she had plenty of space, big windows and a tall cat tree to lord it over the passing cars on the street below.

As expected, she quickly calmed down. She’s an affectionate and playful cat whose lick of white fur comes up from her chest to cover her lower jaw, giving her a permanent look of surprise. Unlike Charlie, or He Who Must Not Be Tamed, Ashes loves being picked up and carried around and she likes curling up on a lap for a good sleep.

We figured no one would be able to pass her up, and we were already preparing to miss her when the first potential adopter came to meet her. But we quickly found out why she hadn’t been adopted at the rescue offices: She “shows badly,” as they say. This normally happy, affectionate and playful cat hid behind furniture and refused to come out to meet her possible new family. When we picked her up and brought her over to meet the people, she was totally uninterested in them, displayed none of her many endearing traits, and acted eager to get away. As a result, the visitors lost interest in her just as quickly.

We assured all of the visitors that she really was a sweet and personable cat, but because they saw none of that, we came off sounding like used car salesmen telling a buyer that the thudding they hear under the hood is really a sign of a high-performance engine.

She repeated the same performance with several different adopter-wannabes, and eventually appointments with new adopters dried up. After many months, Give Me Shelter asked us if we just wanted to adopt her ourselves, which we gladly did. Frankly, we had long before that point begun to think of her as part of the household.

BATTLE LINES ARE DRAWN

Thus did Ashes graduate from being a temporary boarder to a permanent resident with all of the rights and privileges that connotes. One problem: Charlie still hated the sight of her, despite her persistent attempts to make friends with the little monster.

A saving grace here is that Ashes is not cowed by Charlie. They have had a few tussles, but she has given at least as good as she gets, despite being a much smaller cat than her nemesis. So at least we don’t have to worry that she is living in constant fear. Instead, the cost to her is really that she can’t have free run of the house, and that Charlie watches her like a hawk whenever they’re in the same room together (always with our parental supervision, of course), and given a chance, he’ll pounce.

Owners of multiple cats will often tell us how they let their cats battle it out to determine who’s top cat; after that, peace reigns. If Charlie were a normal cat, we’d do it, as much as we hate to see the conflict. But Charlie is not a normal cat; he was a category 4 cat at the SPCA, and his reactions escalate during conflict. He doesn’t back down, and we quickly learned how to get him to calm down when he got riled up – which, luckly, is rare. But when your two cats are rolling around on the floor with teeth gnashing and fully weaponized claws out, Charlie isn’t going to calm down; he won’t give up.

That’s not Charlie’s fault; that’s his makeup and we know how to deal with him. But if he did hurt Ashes, that would be our fault. We’ve got the bigger brains and we’re the ones who brought them together under one roof. So we keep the peace in the house and see to it that both of them are happy and healthy.

THE POD DOG

In fact, Ashes is so open to being friends with visitors that we could never figure out what signs the adopters were giving off that made her so cool to them.

But what she didn’t have was an animal ally in the house, and she wanted one badly.

When we babysat for a friend’s dog, Simon, we introduced Simon to each cat to make sure there would be no problem. Luckily, Charlie ignored Simon, and Simon ignored Charlie. No problem there. Simon, in fact, didn’t care at all about other animals; he was a canine equivalent of a metrosexual, totally involved in himself or any human who could entertain him. When we introduced Simon to Ashes, her joy was immediate. A friend! She ran toward him and started rubbing her cheeks against him, but Simon acted as if she wasn’t there, didn’t so much as sniff her, and soon walked away.

Poor Ashes looked crushed. She had come to terms with Charlie disliking her, but now this dog, her one hope of a four-legged ally in her house, reacted to her with all of the interest and affection of a pod person in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

STILL ALIVE?

When Simon left our house, Ashes barely noticed. She was back to her old routine, one she keeps to today. We’re now in a new, much bigger home that has lots more room to separate Charlie and Ashes, who bides her time, checking Charlie’s health every day.

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