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Cat coexistence

By Christopher Swan / May 12, 1988

FREAK and Friskie never really got along. In fact, Freak and nobody ever got along. One night she chased a large German shepherd out of our house and into the street. And although she shared the house at different times with as many as nine other cats, ranging from kitten to old age, she never came close to any of them. Friskie was friendly, but wary. She fought like a svelte samurai when the need arose, all taut silence and then a sudden, ruthless strike. You could pet her, but often risked pulling your arm out of your socket trying to reach her receding form as she abruptly decided to keep her distance.

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Freak practically picked your hand up and put it on her head whenever you sat down. She craved attention, lived for it.

Both cats - Freak, the black and white, longhaired tiger that looked so beautiful people almost gasped, and Friskie, the sleek, short-haired, brownish, average cat - traveled along separate boulevards in life. Occasionally, circumstances would throw them together, on a trip to the food dish, perhaps; and Freak would hiss darkly.

All of this began to change one day. Or maybe I should say, over many days, because the change was so gradual as to be almost unnoticeable. They didn't exactly become friends. But the hissing died down, like a radiator ceasing to spit out steam after the boiler cools.

Sometimes they curled up in sleep on distant ends of the same couch.

It was about this time we noticed that Freak and Friskie had simultaneously become pregnant. Their flanks began to bulge, showing those telltale tufts of fur on either side that betray new flesh underneath. And their tummies started to sway as they walked ... something they did ever so much more laconically, as time went by.

When you petted them, they rolled over, the way porpoises roll over, closing their eyes, and letting your hands run over the contours of new life in their bellies. Sometimes, one of these contours would wriggle under your hand, and you'd know that their time was soon to come.

Then, in remarkably close succession, Freak and Friskie had their litters. Five slithering figures in one box with pillows; six in the other. We kept them separate, respecting the fact that both cats still preserved a certain distance.

But two strange developments were to change all this.

The first was that Freak could not nurse. Her kittens tried, but it was clear that they were not getting any nourishment. So we prepared to feed them with an eyedropper. And that's when the second strange development came about. Freak took her kittens, one by one, gently in her mouth and carried them to Friskie's box, dropping them in the moiling throng around Friskie's belly. As each new kitten appeared, by now all fluffy and awake, Friskie pulled it in with her arm to her new-moon curved torso and began to lick it.

The new kittens pushed their way in, fighting for a teat to nurse on; and, by and large, the cohabitation was as perfect as it was impromptu. The overcrowded conditions caused some traffic jams, but feeding, cleaning, and sleeping gradually evolved a workable pattern.