Tuesday, 8 February 2011

In place of a rabbit . . .

Clown, Magic and Angus
Clown and Magic were chocolate and Angus was lilac
Many years ago, when all my children were still living at home and my parents were alive and living near enough to be visited every day, I started to breed Burmese cats. It was a somewhat foolish venture – I had more than enough to occupy my days as I was also teaching full-time and Barry was frequently abroad on business – but it was fun.

It all started because Susannah, then my youngest child, said she would like a rabbit. We had dogs, of course, but a rabbit has such soft fur and feels so warm. We had had rabbits before, when Susannah was quite tiny, and they had all come to a premature end for one reason or another. Barry had reached the conclusion that rabbits were really too big to be penned, even in the palatial dwellings he constructed for them, with attached runs so that they could hop around outside when the fancy took them. We had tried house-training them – I knew it could be done as my mother had kept a house rabbit when she was a child – but we were singularly unsuccessful and couldn’t keep pace with the chewed wires which effectively severed us from the outside world.

Barry didn’t want to disappoint Susannah and so suggested that we get a cat. My sister and brother-in-law had owned a very beautiful brown Burmese cat and had given my parents a feisty little ex-breeding tortie queen. I had been very impressed by these striking cats and their strong personalities and so we began our search. We were fortunate in finding breeders not far from us who had a female a few months old. Knowing that we would not be able to resist her, nonetheless we went to see her and of course, brought her home with us. She gloried in the registered name of ‘Illuskass Coriander Autumn Lady’. (Illuskass was the breeders’ prefix and was Greek for ‘beautiful cat’.) We tried several names for her but never reached a definite decision and she eventually became known as Alicat, which sounds like Alley Cat but isn’t.

At that time we had three Jack Russell terriers, a breed known for their propensity to chase fur but when we carefully introduced the diminutive cat they behaved with great decorum. Daisy was so intent on ‘being good’ that she jumped up on my lap. We were persuaded by the breeders that it would be good to breed from Alicat and we were excited by the prospect of having home-grown kittens. How little we knew!

Alicat duly presented us with five delightful kittens. They were beautiful and we managed to avoid keeping all of them by selling three. A year or so later Ali had a second litter and then her daughter Sweet Pea gave birth to five and we kept a further two. Sweet Pea’s brother, Herbert, was terrified of kittens and stayed well clear of them.
Kittens in a cat carrier
From the top, brown, lilac, blue, brown
By now another human baby had joined the clan and was often to be seen sleeping with one or two kittens or cats in her cot, her bare feet luxuriating in the silky warmth of real fur. All those old wives’ tales of cats suffocating babies were disproved.

They were delightful cats, very affectionate and faithful and lively. Curtains were hung purely for their amusement, they thought, and the warm-to-the-touch wallpaper provided wonderful scratching surfaces. They jumped and climbed and clambered to the highest points in the room, settling on cupboard tops, easily capable of leaping eight feet, even while carrying a kitten. If a human were around, shoulders were the preferred perching post and assuming that position often involved climbing up the human. This could be painful, especially if said human were clad in thin clothes, like pyjamas, for example.
The first time I saw Ali carrying a kitten I was quite worried. The little creature was limp and seemed unconscious, not rallying for some while after being deposited in a new location. As each succeeding kitten behaved similarly I realised this reaction was entirely normal and part of Mother Nature’s scheme to protect little beings.

I made a point of telling potential purchasers of our kittens all the features of the Burmese breed that might put them off. They are very vocal cats, with loud voices, demanding a lot of attention, but enjoying conversation with their owners, frequently in the still of the night. They are elegantly clumsy and will knock over ornaments or vases and fall out of first floor windows. They are very intelligent and soon work out how to open doors. In cahoots with dogs they will frequently raid the fridge and the food cupboards. They are destructive and do not understand that curtains should not be reduced to scrambling nets nor wallpaper to paper fountains. They are not cats that take kindly to being left to their own devices, needing company and stimulation.

Our kittens always went to their new homes between twelve and sixteen weeks old when they were at their most beguiling. In each new litter there were individuals that demanded to be kept – at least that’s what the children felt. Finally, we decided that we should spay our two queens and enjoy the nine cats we had. With hindsight we should have resisted encouragement to breed from Ali but we never regretted it.  It was hard work and gave us all great pleasure although we would never encourage others to undertake it without serious thought.
When the cats squabbled they would take refuge on Cariadd who was always rather worried about the invasion but never protested. She is hosting six cats here, one brown, one blue, three chocolate and one lilac
We have never been tempted – well, perhaps just fleetingly – to breed from our Dalmatians!! 

6 comments:

  1. You certainly have had many happy days with your many animals. I didn't realize Burmese cats are so vocal! They certainly are nice looking felines!

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  2. Burmese are wonderful cats and yours are gorgeous ... the last picture with your lovely Cariadd is just a delight, they certainly do love their dog!

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  3. Breeding animals is a lot of work, but oh so fun! My mum has had Burmese cats - they are just gorgeous!

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  4. They are/were beautiful cats. I love that last photo. Reminds me of our home :-) I prefer cats to rabbits. Partly because of the cage issue.

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  5. What a wonderful post and I adored the photo of them all sharing Cariadd's bed. :-)

    When our cats were kittens they used to pile in our old dogs bed with him. He always had a look of stoic resolve on his face.

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  6. Great post. It is wonderful how you love your animals. The cats are lovely and the dalmation looks so patient sitting there!

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