The Story of Nicole the Cat

by Brewster on May 7, 2014

What follows is a letter I wrote to friends two years ago to tell them the story of Nicole (now affectionately called Nicolina), who “found” us in February 2012.

Dear Friends,

We ceased sending Christmas/holiday cards some years ago for reasons now lost in the dark caves of my memory.  We continue to enjoy receiving such, however, and learning about our friends’ experiences during the year gone by.  This year, in lieu of a card with enclosed annual summary of events, we send you herewith the history of the cat Nicole since she chose our house as her new home last January.

It all began when one tropical winter morning shortly after the new year began as I went into the kitchen to organize our morning supply of meds and vitamins and prepare Lynn-Marie’s breakfast to be taken to the hotel where she works.  Though my eyesight at 5:45 in the morning is not at its optimum ability, there was no way I could miss the small feline face at the glass in the French doors leading to the back porch.  I mumbled something resembling the phrase “Beat it, kid, we’ve got no time or room for stray cats.”  Something like that. And went on about my quotidian chores.

The following morning the collarless, but healthy looking Maine Coon cat was back staring through the window with what seemed to be a pleading look on her face. Instead of an immediate response “skedaddle” I thought it might be thirsty after wandering around all night. Why I thought this at the time remains a mystery, though it must have seemed reasonable to me then. So I put some water in a bowl and set it outside on the porch and went about my quotidian chores.

The third morning threatened to repeat the previous two, but this time our friend, Di, who was staying with us for a while came into the kitchen and, seeing the small pleading face in the glass, thought the cat might be hungry.  You can imagine the next steps in the history; or perhaps not. Di walked to the corner store (called Charlie’s Grocery but operated by an Indian or Pakistani family, very high-priced as such neighborhood stores are these days) and bought a bag of dry cat food that she placed in a bowl and set it next to the replenished water bowl on the porch.  The cat waited a bit, then began eating. We kept the back porch door closed because of both the wintry temperatures of 69-70 degrees Fahrenheit and to keep the cat outside.

Eventually, of course, we forgot and left the door ajar and the cat eased through the opening and explored the house from its floor-level point of view. And it soon became inevitable that we had to call this energetic ball of long fur something, so we decided Nicole would be appropriate, though this soon became Nicolina and occasionally Nicky. We did not find out until later that it had received a series of different monikers in her previous lives.

Di, LM and Nicole in the early days.

We did however insist that she remain outside and kept her bowls on the porch near the door. This prohibition did not last long and soon enough she prowled around the house, in and out as she saw fit.  What to do?

After several days Lynn-Marie and Di began to think we should post some notices that the cat was here, should an owner be concerned, but they (esp. LM) were reluctant to do this because we were becoming increasingly attached to the lively creature. So without much enthusiasm LM and Di made up a poster with a picture of the cat and planned to post it around the neighborhood. Before this happened, however, Di found a different poster on a telephone pole near the house she had moved into in Bahama Village announcing a lost cat with a photograph of what clearly was Nicole, who we now considered to be our cat. Again, what to do?

 Keep the cat?  If we go away for a few days that wouldn’t be a problem because we could leave sufficient food and water. But what happens when we are away for a month? As long as our friend Di is in Key West she would look in every couple of days or better yet every day maybe more than once. Or Janice, who has five or six cats of her own, might do the same.  What would be best for the cat? 

 After a day or so of procrastination, LM called the number on the poster and arranged to have the couple come by and see the cat. While to say we quivered with anxiety would be a gross exaggeration, we did suffer some anxious moments: What if they wanted the cat returned?  They arrived one evening, and essentially interviewed us to see if we were fit to take over possession of the kitty. (They even brought a cat-carrying bag with them just in case.)  We passed the audition. Some days later the very original owner sent us all the cat’s medical papers and history. Then she sent several photographs of Nicole (not called by this name in that house where she was known as Mia, or Maya, or Buddy – I‘ve never been sure of which – perhaps all of them sequentially, but definitely not Mister Earl) including one taken when she was a small kitten, terminally cute between two couch cushions. We had feared she would want to come to visit the cat, and we were not sure this would be a good thing. What if she expresses a desire to have the cat returned?! After a year there has been no such visit, for which we, and no doubt Nicole as well, are grateful.

From these sources we learned that Susanne (Owner no. 1) had Nicole (as she will henceforth be known formally) as a kitten and for a year or two, after which Susanne gave birth to a child and the cat ran off to neighbors because she refused to share the attentions of the house with an infant about whom everyone cooed and ooed, and could not put up with the chaos and racket the new addition to the household quite naturally caused.  The neighbors, Owners no. 2, had the cat for approximately another two years; then they acquired two infant kittens, an act that Nicole refused to accept and made her opinion quite clear, resulting in the necessity to find another home for the now four year old feline.  They took her to a fellow who said he would like a cat, but when they attempted to place her in the fellow’s arms she leapt into the air, made a three-point perfect landing on the sidewalk and disappeared into the crepuscular twilight.  They did not see her again until they came to our house probably three weeks later.  How the neutered with up to date shots Nicole found us from a point on the island several blocks away shall always remain a mystery, but find us she did.

After the couple left, I made a thick omelet and we ate on the porch with Yellowtail rosé and a baguette at 9:15 that evening.  So, after 32 years of saying never will we have a cat, we have one. One thought we had: We will have to train Nicole not to jump up on the kitchen counters or the table.  This, as it turned out, was a phenomenon generally referred to as wishful thinking; as was the notion to keep her food and water bowl out on the porch.  But what about certain digestive biological necessities?  She is an indoor-outdoor cat so we had no worries about these, but what about during the night when we closed the porch door?  Our friend Royce Husted to the rescue: he installed a kitty port in place of a glass pane. It required a bit of training to teach her to use this portal, but she is now a confirmed manipulator of the apparatus and moves in and out as she wishes.

Nicolina guarding her realm.

At night she roams around our bed finding a spot on one of our pillows and plops down for a rest. Or lies next to LM and purrs loudly enough to awaken a solid sleeper. Sometimes she rubs her head against my nose, and I wake up to pet her until she decides she’d rather nuzzle LM’s nose or lie at the foot of the bed crouched for an attack on one toe or another.  I think we have convinced her, this is not proper behavior for a sophisticated kitty, even one now five years old.

 Being of long hair and an indoor/outdoor kitty, she naturally collects clumps of stuff in her hair which must be removed by cutting the clump out. She does not care for this required procedure so we’ve only been able to remove a couple of those; they don’t seem to bother her. As with most cats, I suppose, not ever having the joys of owning one previously (and I wonder who owns whom), she spends a good part of the day cleansing herself. Theoretically this should lead to the presence of hairballs which she would cough up around the house and porch and who knows where else, but this has not been the case, at least as far as we can tell. A cat-possessing friend recommended a brand of dry stuff that one mixes into her food to prevent such things, but we’ve not tried this yet, but will when she makes signs one of the uncomfortable things is stuck in her throat. On second thought, why not be preventative and give her the stuff now? Will be done. We have given her a monthly dose of a liquid rubbed on her neck to prevent fleas from attaching themselves to her body. So far this works.

 Sometimes she jumps up on my desk and sits there looking out the window. This is fine, but she increasingly sits on the paper I am writing on or the keyboard of this laptop making work a bit longer than anticipated. And that long bushy tail swings back and forth occasionally shifting items around on the desk top.  What she sees outside the window on the lane remains a mystery, at least to me.

A favorite relaxing spot on the author’s desk.

At other times she races through the house as if full of catnip chasing a mouse without the presence of such a mouse. What this means is not clear to us; it is probably a form of play. We simply accept her behavior as part of cat life.

 So, after 32 years of saying “no animals” we now share the house with Nicole. Fortunately she is an outdoor/indoor cat so we have no litter box to worry about.
She prowls the immediate neighborhood, sits on the roofs of motor vehicles and on the roof of our house (how she gets up and down to and from there is a lesson in courage, balance and energy), and lolls about on the top of the fence that encloses our bit of property on to which she leaps with great energy from a window sill.  A fine climber, Nicole. We’ve been as yet unable to convince her not to prowl around our kitchen counters and dining table.  But we are patient. We are told she is a beautiful example of her breed, a notion we accept but have no way of proving since we know nothing about cats, but we are learning.

 We took her to the vet to have a chip installed and have her general health reviewed. All seemed in order except a case of gingivitis that the vet said could be taken care of in November when she is due for her annual shots. When she arrived in January we noticed she has a black spot under the pupil of her right eye. The vet said if it didn’t spread we should not worry about it for the moment. I thought I detected such a spreading so we made an appointment with the cat eye specialist who gave us the bad news: the eye was infected with melanoma that could spread to her other eye or her brain. The eye doctor said the choice is losing the eye or the cat. Not surprisingly this news devastated us. We put drops in her eye to curtail the spread, a process she fiercely resisted. 

 We left for a month in Europe in mid-September and put off the surgery until we returned to care for her. Our friend Di took care for her during our absence. And she seemed fine in mid-October except the dark spot had spread even further around her pupil.  She did not know what would happen to her, but we did and it filled us with anxiety and dread. How would our little loved one, and by now there was no doubt about the fact that we had come to love her as one of the family, how would she hold up under the knife, how would she get along with only one eye?  Despite assurances from friends that cats, like humans presumably, can and do accustom themselves to living with one eye, we remained, no not tortured, not tormented, but profoundly uneasy.  We’d never been through anything like this!

 The day arrived and with much trepidation and wrenching of the hearts we took her to the vet’s clinic where the eye specialist removed her eye and sewed up the wound.  In ten days we were to return her to evaluate the results and remove the stitches; the pathology analysis to determine if the margins were clear would be in then. In the meantime, the poor thing had to wear a plastic cone to prevent her from tearing out the stitches. Obviously she had some difficulty in eating and drinking and we helped her as much as we could. She learned without our help to use the litter box because we could not allow her outside with that obnoxious cone attached to her head. We also learned what “pill pockets” are: small bits of flexible food with a gap in the middle into which one shoves a medication against infection and mixes in with her regular dry food (no wet chemical junk for our kitty).  Fortunately circumstances did not force us to administer medications through a needle and syringe.

 La pauvre chat. I don’t know who suffered more intensely: she or we. On the seventh day I could stand it no longer and took off the cone. The vet said that would be fine but replace it at night.  Fat chance.In the end, which means after the ten days, we returned to the vet and the surgeon who removed the stitches and told us the pathology showed all the deadly cells had been removed. She was, almost, as good as new. 

In fact, she indeed is: she leaps great bounds, barrels with incredible speed around the house, keeps us company during part of the night (we don’t ask where she spends the rest of the night, esp. after she brought home a couple of “presents”, which she thankfully has not done in a couple of months), sits on window sills and the fence, wanders the immediate neighborhood, jumps up on my desk to lie on my papers or on the window sill, eats and drinks well, and generally behaves as if she possesses two eyes.

After the surgery Nicolina is as lovely as ever.

 We are happy this is so, but sometimes when I look at her face a lump appears in my throat and I have to repress tears.  Just an old softy, I guess.

 With every good wish,

 Brewster & Lynn-Marie

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