Bitsy

BITSY


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Just look at that face! Does this not look like the face of an alien kitty? Bitsy has such breadth between the eyes and such a triangular head, I just can't deny his otherworldly appearance. And there is nothing in his behavior to contradict my suspicion.

We first met Bitsy when we were left temporarily homeless after knocking down our old house. It would be a couple months before the new home would be ready for occupancy, and our family felines, canines, and humans needed a place to stay. A friend had recently lost both her elderly parents who happened to live on a farm just a couple miles down the road. The elderly couple had left a houseful of six cats and two aged poodles in their passing, and our friend already had a houseful of animals of her own. She took the old dogs and asked if we'd move into her folks' house temporarily to take care of the cats until she could decide what to do with them. It worked out beautifully for us. We needed a place to stay, and her folks' farm was a handy proximity to our own during the new construction.

We had never met any of the resident cats before moving into the house, and they were certainly not accustomed to strangers. Having all been raised on this very quiet farm by these very quiet folks, the felines were not inclined to welcome us into their home. We didn't dare let any of them outside for the first week for fear they'd never allow themselves to be coaxed back inside. In fact, one of the six cats had escaped outside before our arrival at the farm, and we only caught fleeting glimpses of her during our two-month stay. Unfortunately, she never was captured, and her fate is unknown.

We eventually came to be tolerated by the five cats forced to accept our presence in their living environment, and within a week they were comfortable enough with us that I started letting them go outside at will ... all but Bitsy, that is. Our friend had warned us we would most likely never see Bitsy. He was a closet kitty. That's where he chose to spend 99% of his time - cowering in a back corner of a deep closet in an upstairs bedroom. And that's exactly where he did stay for the first couple weeks of our residence at the farm. Eventually, though, Bitsy couldn't stand being left out of the daily canned-food meal all the other cats enjoyed. He would slink into the kitchen to make a bid for a bite or two of the tasty treat, and I would try to see to it he received his fair share. Then he would retreat to the lonely sanctuary of his closet once again.

After several more weeks, Bitsy began staging longer forays around the house, lingering under the dining room table, watching us watch tv in the evenings. He even nervously tolerated brief pettings from me before scooting off. At one point, I decided to try to engage him in play. Big mistake!   Every attempt I made terrified him. He was scared of a piece of twine dragged across the floor or small twine ball rolled in his general direction. Good grief, he was scared if I even looked at him too long! But as long as I did absolutely nothing to make him think I was even aware of his presence in the room, we were fine. As low cat in the household hierarchy, Bitsy would remain visible only until one of the other cats chased him back into his upstairs hideaway.

In all fairness, Bitsy made huge strides in his socialization and self-confidence while we were at that farm. Perhaps his most monumental leap was the day he ventured outside. Our friend told us Bitsy had been terrified to go outside since an episode three years earlier when he apparently went out and got lost for a week before finding his way back home. He was so traumatized by the event, he had refused to leave the house since that time. Toward the end of our two-month stay in the house, however, Bitsy gained enough courage to start looking out the storm door at the happenings of the outer world. Then it happened. One day, as I opened the door for the other cats to go out, Bitsy joined them. I was very nervous about his reaction to being outside, knowing his past history, but my concerns fortunately proved unfounded. Bitsy remained outside far longer than I anticipated, but returned before dusk, looking none the worse for his explorations. Though he was clearly not traumatized by this little adventure, it was the only one he chose to make for the duration of our stay at that farm.

Then came time for us to pack up and move into our new home at our own farm. By this time, we had become quite attached to the resident cats, especially Bitsy who had come so far in his relationship with us. We hated the idea of imposing even more feline intruders on the already besieged life of the Queen of the Domain, but we hated even more the idea of forcing Bitsy into the home of our friend who had made her dislike of the cat undeniably clear. And because Bitsy was still lacking emotional security, we decided to adopt at least one of his half-siblings for moral support in the new surroundings as well. In fact, we offered to adopt a total of three of the five resident cats, but our friend wanted the beautiful long-haired tuxedo, Felix, for her own. She also added the two remaining felines to her family. And so, when we moved into our new house, Pea came first (to allow her a day to orient to the new home and reestablish her territory on her own farm), followed the next day by the Babies, Bitsy, and his half-brother, Billy.

Home at last, Bitsy and Billy spent the first couple of weeks hiding behind boxes in the basement before making their ways into an upstairs closet (yes, the closet again). Before too terribly long, Billy decided closet living was not for him and left his brother for more interesting environs around the house. Bitsy remained primarily closet bound for a couple more weeks before reaching the same conclusion and entering the household at large.

Surprisingly, Bitsy adjusted to life in a houseful of unfamiliar felines amazingly well. He never attempted to exert dominance over any of the other cats, with the notable exception of Pea. For some reason, Pea and Bitsy experienced an instant, ongoing, and pure hatred of one another. Although The Ancient One was four times Bitsy's age and only half his weight, their early encounters inevitably resulted in gobs of white hair strewn about the floor. Their physical catfrontations continued throughout the remainder of Pea's days, though at increasingly infrequent intervals.

Fortunately, the same has not held true for Bitsy's relationships with the rest of the family felines. He has, once again, assumed the role of low cat. As long as he stays in his proper position and runs the appropriate distance from those who would pursue him, all is well. Only very occasionally will he take a playfully aggressive role with his brother, and it is a role I love to see. Play was obviously an alien concept to this alien kitty until he joined our family. I have spent long hours and sacrificed a moderate volume of my own personal blood teaching Bitsy to play. What was at first interpreted as a terrifying attack, then as an aggressive assault, was eventually accepted and thoroughly enjoyed as play. In fact, Bitsy has evolved into the most playful of all the cats by far. He's actually quite manic about it ... and quite destructive. If his play needs aren't immediately addressed, he won't hesitate to shred a bit of door jamb or wall board to draw my attention. He has single handedly managed to give our new home an undeniably lived in look. I'm convinced he's making up for his play-deprived kittenhood and all those lonely, closet dwelling years.

Not only has Bitsy now permanently abandoned the closet, he has rediscovered his interest in the great world outdoors. He goes out with the other cats every morning, though his explorations are usually fairly brief. He's still a homebody at heart, and he's never been so at home as he is with us. This little alien's "phone home" is definitely a local call. :-)


Obituary
Bitsy was gently released from this life on February 2, 2007 after a brave battle with chronic renal failure. His legacy is one of homecoming and finding one's true family, whoever they may be. We miss you, Bitsy Boy, and we always will.


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