It took more than four decades of desperate wanting, and now I finally have cats in the house! Let me tell you a little story about how that came to be before I dive into what I have learned about myself and cats in the short time we’ve had them.
I was seven years old when I found out that I was horribly allergic to cats. My family was travelling and visiting friends on dad’s long service leave trip. One family we visited had some kind of fluffy cats that I immediately fell in love with, and equally rapidly started having severe asthma attacks, hives, and eyes that itched and blew up to the size of golf balls. Since then, I have learned to stay away from them, but also to take antihistamines any time I entered a house that had cats living there even if I didn’t touch them. All the while being very annoyed that fate had dealt me this hand. I loved cats! The soft fur, the warmth, the purring… ahhhh.
From time to time, I investigated desensitisation treatments and so-called hypo-allergenic cats with no success. I have made do with dogs, guinea pigs, rabbits, mice, fish and lizards in the meantime. But it was not the same. I loved my other pets, but always came back to wanting a cat.
A few months ago, Mr Collier sent me a link for a newish (to Australia) breed of cats called Siberian Forest Cats that were being spruiked as the ultimate hypo-allergenic cat, so we started to do some research. Forums and videos held testimonies of many people with severe allergies tolerating this breed, and I started to get my hopes up ever so slightly. Ok… a lot, I got my hopes up a lot. So very tentatively I reached out to a local breeder to see if I could get some brushed out fur sent to me, and she suggested a visit where I could play with both kittens and adult cats to see what happened. Yes please! A risk in this pandemic, but we have not had any cases here for many months, so I was happy to take this calculated risk.
I could barely contain myself as the day arrived and I waited for the visit time to roll around. I arrived way too early and ended up driving around the suburb to pass some time. Sigh. Then the time came. I prepared myself for disappointment and filled my pockets with asthma inhaler, eye drops and antihistamines, and counselled myself not to get carried away with cuteness overload and be tempted to ignore what my body told me, as I walked through the door.
I spent an hour playing with seven-week-old kittens, a couple of adult females and most importantly an enormous intact male (they have the most prospect of causing an allergic reaction). I allowed the kitties to scratch and made sure I snuggled my face close to them all. NO REACTION!!! No welts, no hives, no asthma, no swollen eyes. I was so excited!!!
Lucky for us the litter that I had been playing with had a couple of kittens that still needed homes, and even more so for me, I had been chosen by a little grey ball of fluff that would become our little Kiska seven weeks later. I visited her most weekends to get to know her and let her get to know me, and in the meantime Mr Collier fell in love with the breed too and decided that we should have one each and that he would love a ginger one. I enquired about putting our names down on the waiting list for when a suitable kitten became available. As it happened the breeder had a 16-month-old ginger and white boy arrive that week that needed to be rehomed and asked if we would like to meet him. Of course!! The moment we saw his soft face and gentle nature, we fell in love with this very large (and still growing) cat. Within a few days Krasnyy came home as my starter cat while we waited for Kiska to be old enough to bring home. Suddenly I was a cat owner! Well… perhaps it is more accurate to say that I was suddenly cohabiting with a cat…I have come to understand they don’t take kindly to be owned. (Mr Collier has had several cats over the years)
We wanted to give them Russian names to reflect their heritage. Krasnyy means red and Kiska means puss in Russian. Though as with any cat they get called all manner of other names and variations of their names!
The weeks have passed quickly in a whirlwind of adjusting to each other and me learning very quickly under the expert guidance of dear husband. I thought I’d share some of the things I have learned as a first-time cat guardian in the first seven weeks and of course share more photos of our very cute cats, because hey…this is my blog after all, and I can spam cat photos all I want!
Instant contentment and the peace of a purring cat
I didn’t realise that simply being in the presence of a sleeping purry cat was enough to make me feel similarly relaxed and content. Even when not on my lap, chest or touching in any way, a content cat nearby has the magic ability to transmit that contentment to me, and it is a wonderful discovery. I find my breathing slows down automatically in the evenings when the lights are low and the cats are settled nearby while I wind down after work.
Siberians are great therapy cats and guard cats
I had the misfortune of being very unwell with bronchitis shortly after Krasnyy came home, and whilst he is very much a cuddle monster, he stayed closer and checked that I was breathing ok regularly during the night by sticking his face in mine … the tickly whiskers tended to wake me up, but it was very sweet of him to check. Similarly, when I am especially stressed, he sleeps pressed up against me and purrs like a tractor until I too settle.
On the rare occasion that I have had visitors in the house, Krasnyy has very casually positioned himself between me and the visitors. It makes me laugh, but he takes his role very seriously. I doubt he would attack anyone; he is the most mellow marshmallow in the world, but he is big enough that I suppose he feels imposing and threatening, and he must look after his human.
Cats automatically look after young ones
When Kiska first came home it did not take long at all for Krasnyy to accept the interloper and to start behaving like a big brother (genetically speaking he is her uncle), even though he had not been around other cats since he went to his first home at 14 weeks old. We didn’t push them to be together, rather we let them coexist and set their own pace, and within a day they were playing together.
When playing on the stairs with a wand toy – one of his favourite games – he started to hang back and watch after a couple of his own runs up and down. It seemed that he was aware that she was smaller and more fragile and didn’t want to bowl her over with his rambunctious games, and speedier response to the moving feathers. He made sure she had a go too. As she grows, he is joining in more.
At one point he was sitting on my desk on top of the same wand toy. Kiska was too small to get up where he was, so he batted the feather teaser down so that they were hanging, but because he was sitting on the wand it was like he was holding it for her. He batted it a couple of times to draw her in and then sat and watched as she went nuts with it. He was purring like he was a proud uncle watching his protegee play.
And more than once he has alerted me when I have accidentally locked her in the laundry, garage or one of the boys’ rooms. Oops!
They get me out of my head
I am an over-thinker of the highest order. Having sentient beings to take care of that are completely reliant on me for their food and care helps me shift my focus and helps me move on with my day when I don’t really feel like it.
Also, my moods and general demeanour rub off. If I am needy and neurotic, then they tend to the same behaviour, so if I want a peaceful home, I need to ensure I don’t swing too far over to that side of the pendulum too often.
Much like having kids, training them to be good house mates means that I must be very conscious of my own habits so that I am not unwittingly teaching them bad ones. It is so easy to treat them like a child and give in to tantrums and spoil them, but they are animals and behave as such and so must be trained in a way that matches their instincts and needs.
They soften even the hardest heart
For so many young men, cats are seen as the feminine pet option. “No real man likes cats; they are for girls.” I have known some “men” that actively harm them for no other reason than they are cats. Ugh.
These two furballs have softened one such hard heart and are helping break down the “real man” bullshit narrative.
I also discovered that I will put up with a large cat deciding to curl up on my chest in the middle of the night, or a catlet who wakes me up with toe-sharking, or a high-speed pass over the bed. And I love my sleep, so that’s saying something!
After my dear old greyhound Fergus died four years ago, I was reluctant to get another pet, even if it was going to be a cat. It hurts when they have to go, and I didn’t really want to go through that again, but then I reminded myself of the benefits of owning any pet. But also…cat! They may not live as long as we do, but for the most part, pets give more love per minute than a human does to make up for it, so that’s a pretty fair trade off, I think.
Having this constant reminder that we all die, is a valuable thing when life gets bogged down with the mundane and I lose track of what’s important.
Their personalities are as different as human ones
Before I got a cat I figured that a cat was a cat and they were all pretty much the same, but the longer I have these two in my life the more I see that they have their own distinct personalities and moods. Much like humans, there are times where they really don’t want company, and others where they want to chat away constantly or sleep on my face just to get close enough.
Kiska is a teenager in cat terms…and she behaves like one! She is either flat out sleeping or full on running around the house tormenting her uncle or demanding food and being sassy if I won’t share mine.
Also, Siberian Cats are talkative and very clever! So far both Krasnyy and Kiska are very chatty cats when they are in the mood! They have a variety of meows, trills, and chirps. The conversations are quite entertaining. Krasnyy has learned that when I ask if he’d like to go outside, he goes and sits beside the basket that contains his harness and lead and sits patiently while I get him fitted and ready to go. If he wants to be brushed, he sits and pats the brush until I comply. Hmm perhaps he’s got me trained more than I have him trained?
All in all I am loving having cats around the house, they are everything I had hoped they would be in all the years I wished to have them, and so much more. It has only been seven weeks, but it feels like they have settled in well and I have adjusted to them. It feels as though they have always been part of our family. I look forward to growing older with them enriching in our lives and our home.
As with any cat guardian my phone’s photo roll has filled up with cat photos and I share them from time to time on my personal Instagram account, and they have started popping up in comics and sketches in my sketchbook, I post those over on my art Insta account.
Would you like to learn more about Siberian Forest Cats? You can read about the breed standard on the blog of the woman who first imported them into Australia, here and more general information about their origins here.
Do you have cats? What is the best thing about them? What am I yet to learn?