My Fact Checker

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Time to Cat Blog!

I've intended to write about one of my best friends for quite awhile, but have mentioned him only a couple of times so far and only in passing at that. We have been close collaborators for over a decade. He has stuck with me through thick and thin. I am, of course, talking about my cat, Jerome.

Jerome is, of course, his nom de plume, and I just learned of it today. He is a cat of many eccentricities and surprises, not the least of which is his pen name. In fact, almost everything about this fine beast is eccentric in some way, and his uniqueness will pervade my whole account. He is at once the most unusual and, by far, the best pet I've ever had.

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A Strange, but Friendly Critter

Back in my days in the Navy, I was stationed in Norfolk. Being an officer of a fast-attack submarine, I was frequently and unpredictably deployed. My first wife and I had no kids, so she acquired a cat to keep her company while I was away. Now I am definitely a cat person, and have always been. It is very unusual for me to not form some kind of bond with a cat in my home. In fact, it has happened only once: with that cat! That particular cat was always her pet, and hers alone. In fact, I'm pretty sure that one hated me! But that's a story for another day, perhaps.

Fortunately for me, my ex was working weekends at an apartment complex, where she kept encountering a young, skinny, and very friendly cat that would approach her and follow her as she made her rounds on the apartment property. After a few weekends of this, she figured out who his owners were and asked after him. She'd decided that her cat (the one who hated me) could use some company and that this one could use a better home. It turned out that a couple in the complex owned Jerome, but that the husband did not like cats. He insisted that Jerome be kept outside, where older cats were beating him up and eating his food. The owner liked my ex and gave her the cat.

So it was that one day after I'd gotten home from a short underway, I was greeted by the strangest-looking cat I'd ever seen. He had a very long, mostly white body. His fur was long, but lacked the undercoat that Persian cats have. He had an orange-striped tail and orange markings on and near each ear. There were a few other small orange marks on the body. He had almond-shaped eyes and a funny wedge-shaped face. He had tufts of white fur between his toes and protruding from his ears. Yes. He was funny looking, but he was also very friendly. I was tired upon getting home and wanted nothing more than to take a short nap. So I lay down on the bed. Jerome jumped up and lay on my chest. He let out a sigh and laid his head flat down on my shoulder. After experiencing the enmity of the other cat, I didn't care what this one looked like. I was thrilled to have a pet again for the first time since I left home for college. And I did, of course, get used to his appearance.

A Turkish Van

According to the ex, the family had been given the cat by a male relative with a rather shady background who claimed he was worth about $400.00. There were no papers, but he was supposed to have been some kind of Turkish breed. So we checked out a few books on cat breeds and determined that he is probably at least part Turkish Van. Because he has been such a great pet and is getting on in years, my wife and I are talking to breeders to get a better idea of whether he really is a Turkish Van. Especially after seeing an entire row of Turkish Vans at a cat show awhile back and recently describing him to a professional breeder, I am fairly sure that he is a Turkish Van. We certainly don't expect another one to have the same personality, but the next cat my wife and I get will be a Turkish Van. Jerome's temperament was probably shaped by his being rescued, but he also seems typical of his breed. According to The Complete Cat Book by Paddy Cutts:
Turkish Vans are very friendly, sociable and intelligent, and they like company. They have soft voices and are happy to live quietly in your home, as long as they are given attention and the odd game to play. They like to be offered the opportunity to swim and so, if you do not have a pool, let the cat take some exercise in the bath.
Except for that bit about swimming, this describes Jerome minus his many eccentricities. For a long time, Jerome's indifference to swimming made me doubt he was necessarily a Turkish Van, or "swimming cat" as the breed is commonly known. However, I've recently learned that the oft-remarked "propensity" of these cats to swim is in fact merely an oft-repeated myth (e.g., the link to Turkish Vans above). All cats can swim, which explains the pictures you will sometimes see of Turkish Vans swimming, but this breed enjoys it no more than any other.

Very Eccentric

So Jerome is a member of a rare and unusual breed of cats. But he's also a fascinating individual. Shortly after I first acquired Jerome back in Norfolk, he got out of the apartment after just a couple of days. I spent hours trying to find him and was about to give up when I was heading for the stairs. A couple of orange dots in the bushes turned out to be his eyes. I coaxed him out of the bushes and carried him back upstairs, slung over my shoulders. He likes to be carried around like that to this day.

Back in my Navy days, I often snacked on olives. He started showing up as soon as he heard me open the jar, so I let him try some. For years, we were both snacking on olives, but he usually just sniffs around them when I offer them now. I have to hide photographs from him. Many cats find the gel coating on some prints very sweet and Jerome behaves like a junky around such prints. Normally, he has excellent control of his claws, but I have to pick him up by the scruff of the neck to pry him away from a photograph without getting hurt! Years ago, I trained him respond to the word "photograph" delivered in a stage whisper by letting him lick one for a few seconds. (He'll follow you around after getting his fix if you're carrying the photo or anything that looks like it might be one!) In any case, I always assumed that the word had to be stage-whispered.

I was wrong. One day, I had guests over and casually used the word "photograph" in a conversation. Guess who shows up? That's right! Jerome the dope fiend in search of a fix! (How many cats have you ever heard of that can recognize a three-syllable word?) Cat nip is for the birds, but Scotch tape is the bomb! That's something else I have to keep out of sight! Packing tape is even better. If a package arrives in the mail, I have to get rid of the box quickly or somebody will be licking the tape from here to kingdom come. Or trying to dine on it outright.

Licking. That reminds me. You think your cat likes to lick? When Jerome is done cleaning himself, the world is next. He used to hold down the ex's cat and lick him. He licks us. Sometimes shoes. Like many other cats, he cleans out the bathtub, too.

A Trusted Advisor

When I'm at the house, Jerome is almost invariably near by. He sleeps at my side or nearby on my wife's dresser at night. If I watch a soccer match, he's on the couch with me. He's laying here against the back of my laptop as type this, in fact. Back in grad school, when I had to read at night until the wee hours, he'd sleep on top of my rolltop desk (whose wood his fur matches perfectly). One of my more amusing grad school memories came from this habit and the fact that, for a cat, he's a little clumsy! I once glanced up from the book I was studying just in time to see Jerome, asleep, roll off the back of my desk. (There was some frantic clawing on the way down.)

Jerome was my studying partner in grad school and doubles as my research assistant now, when I'm working at home, and as my fact checker when I'm blogging. I could probably just as easily call him my wardrobe assistant. Every morning, when I leave the shower to get dressed for work, Jerome rushes up to the top of my wife's dresser and waits for me to open the blinds and pet him. Back in my Navy days, I'd let him sit on the table as I ate breakfast, but I had to put a stop to that because I realized that that wasn't terribly sanitary. I still have to keep a close eye on him at meal times.

The Family "Dog"

My wife and I are a "mixed" couple -- she's more of a dog person, but Jerome is taking care of that for me. She has become quite interested in Turkish Vans after getting to know and love this great cat. In fact, we once had a couple and their small child over from out of town. Normally, babies take center stage. Jerome upstaged the baby at times. This couple liked dogs, but had to give them up when their child was born. They were asking us lots of questions about Turkish Vans by the end of that visit! He is so friendly, that my wife jokingly calls him the family dog. And I, having the sense of humor of a full-grown man, which is to say, the sense of humor of an adolescent boy, have gone so far as to blame Jerome for .... Oh, never mind! He may be a flatulent animal, but he takes his scoldings very well.

A Very Good Friend

Mere pictures can't do this cat justice. We've been great friends for years. I was glad to have him around back in the worst days of my divorce and am happy to see how well he and my wife get along. He showers her with affection to a similar degree as me, to the point that she sometimes jokingly calls him "OB" for "overwhelming beast!" Jerome is the kind of pet you are lucky to get once in a lifetime. My mother summed it up best once when visiting my wife and me. She saw the cat perched on some shelves and looking at me. She said, "That cat loves you!"

I am happy to know (See PS, note (2).) that indoor cats of this breed live into their early twenties, and so he should be around to "overwhelm" us with affection for a few more years. I'll miss him when he goes, and I'll be glad I wrote this.

-- CAV

PS: 1. I forgot to describe one of the best things about Jerome: His purring! He purrs loudly and purrs often! He does so to such a degree that visitors have often remarked on it.

2. On longevity in Turkish Vans: A commenter caused me to remember that this is on the strength of what one breeder told me. I have to admit that I do not otherwise recall Turkish Vans being touted for their longevity.


4-11-05: (1) Reworded one sentence. (2) Fixed some typos, courtesy of reader Adrian Hester. (3) Added a PS.


Anonymous said...

Early twenties? Wow, that would be a long lived cat. I have had about six indoor cats in my life and none of them have lived past 17, with the average about 13-14. I wish you better luck than me.

Gus Van Horn said...

Two cats of my acquaintance have lived to be 20 and 22 years old, so the figure is believable, although I was quite surprised to hear the breeder tell me this.

I'd also have to add, now that I think of it, that I've not otherwise heard of this breed being touted for its longevity. Whether or not she was speaking more generally and I misunderstood her, I hope she's right!

Jerome is active seems to be in pretty good shape, and he's about 16 already!

-- Gus