We lost a long-time family member today. I tried for a short little blurb to just put on Facebook, but found myself surprised by how many memories have flooded back. I guess every cat deserves to have her story told. This is going to be a long one.
Adopted from the Mat-Sun Animal Shelter the day after Christmas in December 2006, Princess Damascus Bug-Bane (“Dama”) was an easy kitten to overlook, with her short gray/brown tabby fur and quiet green eyes.
Which was probably why, although she had arrived as a small kitten (part of a litter), she was still languishing at the shelter at four months of age.
They had too many cats and kittens at the shelter that Christmas, and this quiet little girl, hiding at the back of her cage, was not slated to remain beyond the new year. Her time was up.
So of course, being the day before Christmas, I put a hold deposit on her, quickly bought some cat toys at the pet store, and placed the toys and a hand-written “Kitty Voucher” in a gift box under the Christmas tree – for Jerry!
We actually (and quite unintentionally) ended up bringing home two kittens that day, as some of you already know. But I believe our huge, mellow red-head, Mokume Gato (“Mo” to sister Julie’s family and friends), who moved to California to live with my sister when he was three, deserves his own story. I’ll leave that for another time.
Dama has very much been “Jerry’s girl” from the day she finally decided people were worth owning, and has become even more bonded with him as she’s aged. He’s always been a sucker for a hard-luck story and hers tugged at his heart. Dama was aloof, even at only four months old. Jer worked hard at winning her over.
She rewarded his efforts with her own brand of affection; perching on his shoulder at mealtimes, paw ready to snake down to grab his spoon, sprawling across his arm while he was trying to type, or trotting up the stairs ahead of him, only to stretch full-length across the stairs, ready to trip him. This last token of love accidentally got her tail stepped on once or twice, but otherwise she and Jer both survived sixteen years of ongoing staircase sabotage.
Anyway, when the kittens first arrived, it was Jerry’s turn to choose names for our newest pets (we took turns), which is how we ended up with a little girl cat named Damascus (as in the lovely multiple-times folded, hammered and pattern-welded steel swords), and a little boy cat named Mokume Gato (a play on the exotic metal-working method of Mokume-Gane … envision a folded, patterned blend of yellow gold, white gold and red-gold) … or better yet, visit James Binnion’s webpage. (mokume-gane.com). He created Jerry’s and my mirror-image Mokume wedding bands 25 years ago this week. ❤️
Dama fit into our existing pack seamlessly and almost invisibly. She didn’t care about the dogs, Pocket and Patch, and studiously ignored the resident cats, Whiskey and House Mouse. Both cats were seniors and ignored her right back.
Mokume was more of a challenge for her, being young, large and playful, but Dama was not a “cat’s cat” – she has never bonded with any of our various cats over the years – so Mo, although happy to share a sofa with the old cats, eventually turned to the dogs for companionship and entertainment and left Dama to her own devices.
In hindsight, I think Damascus would have been perfectly happy as an only cat. Since that wasn’t her lot in life, she simply pretended it was, and seemed happy in her own little bubble.
She liked the dogs well enough. This was the cat who, during her early years, would rush out of hiding and literally blind-side Border collie, Patch, plastering her small self to his face and biting his ears. Note; there was never a yelp out of Patch, so I’m pretty sure it was just play-biting.
Patch, being blind and easy to sneak up on, would roll on the floor, tongue lolling, swiping happily at the cat with his front paws, tail wagging furiously at the unplanned play session. Sometimes, Damascus would simply walk to the center of the hallway and very intentionally stand there – waiting for Patch to walk into the room and trip over her.
Also the same cat who would, a couple of years later, try similar antics with Abby. There was no sneaking up on Abby, of course, whose eye-sight was excellent, but Dama would still leap in ambush from a chair onto Abby’s well-cushioned shoulders, only to slide off, unable to get sufficient grip in Abby’s long fur.
Tail wagging, Abby would give a shake and continue on her way, unfazed by the encounter. Abby’s tail was also fair game for a Dama-attack. Often swishing back and forth, tail-fur as tempting as a feather boa, it was irresistible. We regularly found Abby circling around, trying to figure out what was dragging her tail to the floor.
That Damascus managed to lived to sixteen is, I believe, a testament to the good nature of our dogs. She did, however, nearly meet her match in our youngest dachshund, Rhonda.
Sneaking up on a dachshund is not as easy as all that, and bopping a 10-week-old dachshund puppy on the nose might seem to be great fun. Once. After that, it was game on!
By the time Rhonda was 3-4 months old, she was nearly as fast as the then twelve year old cat. We had tried intervening, knowing that Ronni’s instincts to chase prey animals was eventually likely to over-ride her training to “leave the cat alone!” Especially since it was the cat who kept blithely initiating the play bouts.
It was actually our younger and larger cat, Qiviut, who saved Damasc from her own folly.
Finding Dama so easy to chase, 4-month-old Rhonda decided to give Qiviut a little sass. Qiviut, fully armed with wicked scimitar-sharp claws and very little patience for troublesome puppies, swatted Ronni smartly across the nose, drawing blood and – at least temporarily – setting her back on her little black butt.
Ronni was still young enough, fortunately, that she didn’t decide – in true dachshund fashion – to immediately attempt to rumble with the big, once-feral cat. Fortunately, over the next few weeks, young Ronni came to the understanding that bad things happened if she chased HOUSE cats.
In the end, Dama never did stop initiating play romps, and Ronni continued to oblige her with short, scrambling chases (more like games of “tag, your it!”, as Dama would come right back for more) until Damascus finally became too old and frail and gave up the game earlier this year. I’m happy to say that although Rhonda was easily capable of taking Damascus out had she chosen to, she was content to nose-butt the old cat rather than grab, so peace prevailed in the household.
She got kenneled if she chased the old cat with any serious intent (the cat also got crated a few times), and Qiviut …? Well, that just wasn’t a smart thing to do. Outside cats, however, remain fair game in Rhonda’s mind. Fair’s fair. She has yet to actually catch one. Fingers crossed.
The two cats, although never fond of each other, both came to be friends with Ronni. Yep, even Qiviut. Go figure.
Although Damascus liked me well enough through the years, especially if I had milk in any form, Jer was undeniably her person. In all her sixteen years, Dama only favored one other family member with true, unconditional affection – and that was Abby.
I can’t be sure, but I honestly believe it was after Abby passed over the Bridge in 2020 that Damascus started sliding downhill. It may have just been coincidental, but our little cat seemed to grieve the loss of big, sweet Abby more even than the Dachshunds did – and they both did – but then, they still had each other.
We left Abby’s big green bed on the floor by the TV for months. Partly because neither of us could bear to remove that last physical reminder of our Abby, but also because we so often found Damascus curled up “on her side” of the dog bed, as if she was pretending her buddy still slept next to her. I totally understood that feeling.
I’ve always loved all our cats, but I can admit that, for me, Damascus was sort of part of the background. She was Jerry’s cat. The dogs had more of my attention, and even among the cats, she always ended up coming in second.
When Dama first arrived, I still had my precious old House Mouse, and of course, Mo. A few years later, with both House Mouse and Mo gone, we [mistakenly] thought Damascus was lonely as an only cat, so we added a sweet, quiet adult Abyssinian, Buffy (another last-chance shelter cat, but much more affectionate than Dama). Dama hated her at first sight though, and all attempts at friendship from Buffy fell on flattened ears.
Dama continued to maintain solo-cat status in her own mind, and Buffy ended up being the lonely cat. She SO wanted to be cat-friends.
I have to thank my lucky stars for Buffy though. In 2014, if it hadn’t been for her loving, maternal instincts and unending patience, I honestly don’t believe Qiviut would have been savable. Completely feral when we finally live-trapped him at 9 weeks old (the rest of the litter having already been successfully brought in, gentled and found homes for much sooner), he was a growling, spitting, hissing ball of fur and fury – and claws. Very sharp claws.
He either had to come around to being handled safely, or we would have to have him neutered, vaccinated and released to the barnyard, where his feral mother, “Field-Mouse”, continued to reside – having been live-trapped, vaccinated, spayed and released weeks earlier.
I was close to giving up on Qiviut when Buffy intervened. I guess she had been spending a lot of time next to Q’s big wire dog kennel while I was at work. This terrified kitten was definitely quieter and calmer when she was nearby. After a full week, I was still barely able to reach in to change out food and water. He was fast as lightning with those big claws.
One day, while I was intent on this chore, not taking my eyes off our well-armed little captive, Buffy suddenly pushed past me and into the kennel. I was aghast, fearing the worst. But Buffy knew what she was doing. She ignored his hissing, head-butted him none too gently, and proceeded to hold him down and groom him just like any mama cat would with her kittens. ❤️ He was soon putty in her paws and purring. He was safe again. He had a mama.
It really was just about that simple. Kittens trust and obey their mama – especially feral kittens who need to learn quickly to survive.
As soon as Q accepted Buffy as his adopted mother, it was much easier for him to accept me as well. His mama obviously liked me, so I must be safe. Less than a week later, Qiviut was free to roam my bedroom, where he and Buffy played, groomed and napped together in quiet joy. He kept a wary eye on me for several weeks, but with Buffy’s encouragement, he became a cautious, but loving house cat.
I’ve often wondered if Buffy had kittens at some point. She was already spayed when we adopted her, so we never knew. Her maternal instincts were sure strong.
It took another year before Qiviut truly warmed up to Jerry, but he got there eventually. Besides, Jer had Damascus.
So what, you may be asking, does this have to do with Damascus? Well, not a whole lot, I suppose, since Dama managed to completely ignore all the kittens as they passed through our hands and on to new families.
However, it made for a happy ending for Buffy, who finally had the cat-friend she had so longed for. We couldn’t bear to send Q off to a new family at this point – Buffy was so very happy with her adopted son – which also took pressure off Damascus. Buffy no longer bothered to make overtures to become friends. She had Qiviut.
These two were inseparable from June, 2014 through November, 2017, when Buffy was tragically killed in the 7.2 Alaska earthquake. What a sad day that was.
After that, Qiviut and Damascus shared the house in an uneasy peace, but were seldom to be found on the same floor. Dama was the downstairs cat, where she had Jer’s lap and attention, while Qiviut seemed content with the role of upstairs cat, where I spent much of my at-home time.
I honestly think this may be the only picture I have of the two of them [sort-of] together.
I don’t think Qiviut is going to be much affected by Dama’s absence, but we’ll see. Sometimes cats can surprise you.
Jerry, however, is really missing his old friend today. I’m missing her too, but in more of a “part of the fabric of our family is gone” sort of way. Dama was under-foot and into mischief, chasing dogs, napping with Jer or stealing food off our plates … for the past sixteen years. Her mere presence was bigger than I’d realized.
Baxter seems a little worried by the change, but is trying to console Jer by covering as much of his lap as possible. I don’t think he’ll mind not having to share.