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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Helen Bianchin: Cats and dogs in the life of an author ...


July 2011 - USA

My widowed grandmother owned a fox terrier of indeterminate age who crossed the Rainbow bridge in my 7th year. Replaced, after the requisite grieving period by a young very active and excitable fox terrier pup called Buster who on introduction promptly bit my left eyebrow - blood was shed, cries of pain, and Buster's brother was deemed as not the wisest choice of pet to add to our family. A kitten, on the other hand, would be perfect. I'll never forget the day he arrived. So tiny, his fur so soft and black, he curled into my lap, purred ... and it was mutual love at first sight. Well, second sight, given we'd viewed each other cautiously for all of ten seconds before he decided I passed inspection. We became inseparable. He slept at the foot of my bed, snuggled up whenever I was sick, and waited at the gate for me to return home from school.

And so began my love affair with cats. I'm pleased to say Billy survived three moves and lived to a ripe old age. Memories come to mind of him curled into a fork of an apple tree in our yard as I sat in an opposite fork reading a book. The way he looked at the suitcase on the spare bed in my room as I packed to embark on a working holiday in Australia. The day I left he sat in the doorway and I swear he knew it was a last goodbye.

Fast forward a few years to marriage, life on a tobacco farm, the loss of our first child ... and the gift of a kitten, who grew into a beautiful cat acquiring numerous skills, such as herding chickens, alerting the presence of an occasional snake, and ruler of the roost - literally.

Munchkin - overseeing the writing process

My parents' ill health meant a return to New Zealand for several years, and of course, a cat. With three children there had to be a cat. Plural. Although we did begin with one. Yet another black cat, Sootsie's only failing was a tendency to wander, he adored exploring, showing no concern whatsoever at jumping a neighbour's fence, and another - although he always returned to be fed, checked the house, the yard, and slept on one of the children's beds overnight, only to disappear on another exploring venture the next morning. Then one afternoon he didn't return home, nor did he reappear the next morning. There was a very sad tale involving a car, and given the copious tears of heartbroken children I promised we would adopt another kitten. Except there were no kittens to be had anywhere. Believe I tried. In desperation I pleaded with the RSPCA, citing heartbroken children, tears - the whole bit. A kind lady on the other end of the phone took my number in the unlikelihood an abandoned cat was brought into the shelter. Anxiously we waited for the phone call - which eventually came. A mother cat with a newborn litter had arrived at the shelter and were facing euthanasia. I begged for one of the kittens to rear by hand. Please. With a warning re chance of survival, I brought the tiny newborn home. Our daughter named her Pebbles. Hourly feeds with animal formula administered by eye-dropper, then a doll's bottle - and Pebbles survived. With no memory of her feline mother, I became her maternal substitute. She'd curl up at my feet or sit on my desk, uncaring of the incessant clack of the manual typewriter. A wonderful paperweight, she would mind the increasing stack of paper comprising each manuscript. I often wondered if my editor discovered a stray black hair among the pages ...


Misty, the choc-point Birman as a kitten

Over the years there have been a few more felines who've come into our lives. And two dogs. A Sydney silky named Benji, whom we brought over from New Zealand when we once again crossed the Tasman sea to Australia. Then there was Baci, a Maltese terrier puppy who bonded with the resident cat, Miscka - they played together, tumbled and chased each other, and even slept together. Miscka knew he was a cat. Baci only thought he was a cat.


Currently two beautiful Birmans allow us to share the house. Munchkin (he really should have a stellar name to match his pedigree) is a seal point. Misty, a few years younger acquired from the same breeder, is a choc point. They each have distinctive personalities. They have their own beds, but they prefer ours. Their dining times are strictly adhered to - or if I'm at the computer attempting to finish writing a scene, they will not wait. Munchkin, the elder by 3 years, merely sits beside my desk and complains. Misty, on the other hand, jumps onto my desk and sits with his back to the monitor as he eyes me over the keyboard. It's time. Food time. He dismisses promises of soon. Ignores my suggestion I'll write much more quickly if I can see the screen. And so we play the game where I lift him off the desk - whereupon he jumps straight back again and assumes his position between monitor and keyboard. I ignore him, and receive a firm head-butt in silent remonstrance. He extends a paw and scatters my flash-drives. Munchkin yawns from the floor and gives a meow - whether in encouragement or warning, who knows? Five minutes - ten. Who'll give in first? Definitely not Misty. Even a firm remonstrance to the effect my writing pays for their food has no effect whatsoever. Fifteen minutes, max, it's game over. The cats have won.


Munchkin, the seal-point Birman on top of the bookcase after leaping from the printer

I'd love to hear stories from cat and dog lovers, how they've affected and shared your lives ...

Helen


13 comments:

parv said...

Yay, I get to be first past the post. Furs past the post? Gorgeous pet tales, Helen. I mainly have rent-a-pets whom I gladly catsit, dogsit and spoil rotten, although I also had a Misty, a grey tabby who got credit in my books as the office manager. For 16 years, he'd sit on the room divider like Snoopy's vulture, making sure I didn't slacken off unless to feed him. No wonder your books are so warm and emotional. Cats know a good thing when they see it.

Kandy Shepherd said...

Helen, I type this with a cat on my lap (so uncomfortable for me, but I can't bear to disturb her!)

I loved your post about the cats, and then the dogs, in your life. What is it about romance writers and our cats? The long, otherwise solitary, hours we spend writing with an available lap must be part of it!

Like you I enjoyed the special love and companionship of cats from an early age. When I was younger, people told me my cats were child substitutes but I loved them just as much after I had my adored daughter. It's a different kind of love...

Your cats look sooo beautiful!

Jim & Evelyn said...

We currently keep house for three dogs and three cats and the, more than occasional, grand-dog. All are rescues and have a special place in our hearts, beds, laundry baskets, couch, RV...

I have had so many pets over the years, I could fill a book with the stories. Maybe someday I will, even tho I'm not a writer.

ev said...

Oh crap wrong email

marybelle said...

They run my life practically. What I love more than anything is the welcome home. That's worth everything.

marypres@gmail.com

Nas Dean said...

Oh I love my ginger cats. This week I posted pics of them on my FB..
www.facebook.com/NasDean

Totebag Guest said...

My apologies for the delay in posting. Once again Google refused to play with me. Thanks, Lee, for your help.

Totebag Guest said...

Thanks for your kind words, parv. I had the pleasure of "meeting" your Misty several years ago. Truly your guardian angel.

Totebag Guest said...

Kandy, I love your books, and I can easily picture you writing with a cat on your lap. And yes, the love for a pet is different to the love of one's child/children.

Totebag Guest said...

Evelyn, I admire you for giving loving homes to rescue cats and dogs.
They're very special, and so grateful for the loving care they receive.

Totebag Guest said...

Ah, Marybelle, that welcome home is really something. My cats seem to hear my car before it turns into the street, for they're at the door to greet me each time I arrive home.

Totebag Guest said...

Nas Dean, I'm about to log on to Facebook and "visit" your ginger cats.

Totebag Guest said...

Lee, thanks for the invite to blog. It's been fun to share and touch base with fellow pet lovers.

Helen