Barbara J. King

Friday Animal Blog

Our Twenty-Seven Christmas Cats

December 17, 2010

Only one of our cats, the jet-black Nicholas Longtail, is named for Christmas- he showed up, abandoned but people-friendly, at the feral colony my husband manages, a few Christmases ago. So we named him in a Beatrix Potter-ish way (remember Mr. Jeremy Fisher, Jemima Puddleduck, et. al?) after St. Nick and in honor of his lengthy tail.

But all 27 cats in our care bring us Christmas every day.

I don’t mean that statement in an entirely fuzzy-warm way. After all, Christmas—or whatever seasonal holiday is yours-- brings its hassles. We celebrants careen from item to item on an elongated ‘to do’ list and deal with exacerbated stresses (and stressed finances).

But in the end, it’s not only all worth it, the joy and love far exceed any costs.

It’s like that with the cats. When there’s one more litter box to change, one more vet bill to pay, one more abandoned cat to spay-neuter, it can feel like the tipping point for us.

And yet the joy and love that the cats bring us—with their hopeful faces and bright eyes and amusing behaviors—sustain us every day of the year.

Only 7 of the cats live indoors with us. We’re not prone to hoarding. Then again, maybe ‘only’ isn’t the most apt adjective with this crew, a mixed-age bunch with personalities ranging from the genteel to the hyped-up energizer-bunny cat-on-wheels destructive.

In descending order of seniority, we have Jenna (adopted from the shelter); Pilar (found wondering around the post office parking lot, claimed by no one); Nicholas Longtail; Flame (abandoned at the colony); Emma (ditto); Michael (rescued from the shelter); and Diana (another colony rescue).

I’ll describe just our two youngest here. Michael was about to be euthanized because he suffered from a corneal rupture and a suite of other abnormalities ranging from the dental to the anal. He’s FIV+ and maybe just a little slow cognitively. Other cats chase catnip mice with full-body abandon; Michael lifts one paw and deliberately aims to contact the mouse. He’s the sweetest boy you’d ever want to meet; daily he looks at me with his misshapen eyes and odd teeth and climbs onto my lap for a bout of mutual affection.

One day two summers ago, I heard pitiful wails coming from triangulated locations – two bushes and a tree—at the feral colony. Eventually we trapped three hungry kittens, and kept for ourselves the energetic female I named Diana. Though our youngest cat, Diana is now the biggest—and outsized in personality too. Hear a crash somewhere in the house? Guess who. I’ve more than once come home from work to ask my husband, “Well, has she knocked herself out yet?” because of her habit to run full-speed, fail to make a turn, and skid into heavy furniture. Diana is frightened of everyone but my husband and me, but with us, she’s a loving girl.

Eleven more cats, former ferals who had rough starts in life, live on our property in a large pen with a two-story shelter and numerous hiding places: Scout, Drake, Black Ghost, Marble, Big Orange, Patrick, Daniel, Dexter, Sandy, and “the white sisters” Hayley and Kayley. Some have medical issues, like Scout, whom we found one day at the colony with her eyeball more out of the socket than in. (The vet removed the eye and stitched up the orbit). Others are just heartbreakingly unsure of the human species, even after years of daily gentleness from the only humans they see. All, I believe, enjoy our visits in their own ways, and our bringing to them food, water, conversation, and in good weather, a desire just to hang out with the felines.

Two more cats, India and her son Ivan, recently adopted our yard. Because our pen is full, my husband constructed for them a basic winter shelter. They’re very wary of us, yet the other day Ivan was romping around the driveway, propelling a leftover autumn gumball around with his paw.

The remaining seven are the wild-colony cats. Except for one elusive male, we have spay-neutered each of them (as we do for every cat): Dark Tortie, Sheen, Longhair Black, Big Tabby, New Tabby, Moustache, and Blackie.

Here at home, we talk cats daily: who needs special care, who did what funny thing. We laugh so much because of these cats!

And every day, out goes my husband to feed the pen, yard, and colony cats. So many other people—in Virginia and elsewhere-- do similar things. They feed homeless cats behind a church there, next to a grocery store here, on a college campus nearby. And they do it in snow, ice, rain, and wind, or in extreme heat and humidity: every day, without fail.

The light in the cats’ eyes make it all worthwhile.

To my readers who help animals—cats, dogs, birds, rabbits, monkeys, apes, elephants, and more—Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. You’re the best.


  1. December 17, 2010 7:34 AM EST
    Last year we were visited by an possum who came at night to eat bird seed that I scatter on our deck. Because it's really a little too cold here for possums, my husband built this one a little shelter from a bucket. It worked. I tend to think that since we humans have overrun the world so terribly, it's our responsibility to help out the other animals we've so often displaced. It always heartens me to know of other people who do their part--or more than their part! Thank you--and your husband. And Happy Holidays!
    - Mary Pratt
  2. December 17, 2010 9:14 AM EST
    Merry Christmas to your immediate and extended family, Barbara. And lots of cat-love for the New Year.
    - Colleen
  3. December 17, 2010 12:00 PM EST
    This is wonderful!! It is amazing how our animals can be such a pain, and so much work, and at the same time bring so much joy.

    Happy holidays to your rag-tag menagerie from our rag-tag menagerie: Rescue dogs Dudley and Rosie, and the three cats: Moochy, Darwin, and Darrow.
    - Stephanie
  4. December 17, 2010 1:15 PM EST
    Mary, I love that philosophy & also the possum shelter. Great idea. Colleen, my warm Christmas wishes for you and yours as well. And Stephanie- cats named Darwin & Darrow! Too cool.
    - Barbara J. King
  5. December 17, 2010 1:40 PM EST
    A wonderful love letter from your chums around the corner.
    For your readers, we have adopted two of Barbara's cats, Dewey (brother of Dexter and Diana) and Bianco, a beautiful, blue-eyed Red Point Siamese -- both of whom were dropped off at the colony. They are two the the most loving cats one could meet, and give back far more than we give them -- in love, caresses and humor. Dewey and Bianco are ambassadors in the household and they not only accept other cats being brought in, but help them to settle and even wash new arrivals' faces and ears. It is as though Dewey and Bianco understand this home is a sanctuary and they are helping us to welcome other felines. These cats possess a wisdom of their own.

    So, Merry Christmas to all from our felines, rabbits and birds to your animals, whatever species they may be.

    Cats: Dewey, Bianco, Henry Henkel Harpo Beauregard Booth, Mademoiselle Tatie, Tinky, Pixie, Silver Star, and our newest arrivals, 12-year-olds, Noushine and Peaches (both of whom were saved from Euthanasia when their long-time, loving mistress had to go into senior care. Noushine and Peaches are now learning to love their new home and enjoy the company of the other cats.

    Cockatiel: Festus (named after Gunsmoke), and parakeets, Skipper and Suraya and recently adopted rabbits, Jeremy and Jilly.

    Home would not be home without all our little friends, and we are surrounded by feather and fur during film nights and BritComs (their favorite programs) - which brings a special joy!

    Merry Christas and Happy Holidays to all - and to nearby woodland creatures, Rachel the Racoon, and Obediah, the Opposum.

    With love and best wishes, health and happiness for the New Year.

    - Nuala Galbari
  6. December 17, 2010 3:01 PM EST
    Purrrrr. We just have two cats--Sasha, a long-haired grey the color of a Russian blue, who is absolutely typical cat (me first) and Sophia, a tabby who is the sweetest cat I've ever known (and I have known cats all my life). They are both shelter cats; by our reckoning these cats have died and gone to cat heaven. But we only have two; I cannot image your menagerie. But thanks for doing this, Barbara. Have a terrific time in Nevada. And a great Christmas break.
    - Kitty Preston
  7. December 17, 2010 8:44 PM EST
    so nice to hear the details on the cats! As you know we are in a very heightened cat-awareness situation right now, with a very ill cat who is yet trying so hard to facilitate his own survival. I can only say that I feel we are learning all sorts of lessons from this cat, who has always been a blessing.
    - Joanne Tanner
  8. December 17, 2010 9:54 PM EST
    Nuala, Kitty, and Joanne- I enjoy reading about others' animals. And of course I know Nuala's, FEEL like I know Joanne's, and hope to meet Kitty's! Joanne, I'm doing so, so much better nowadays health-wise, but if I have an off day I find that I very badly miss our Gray, in particular. He lived for years with FIV+ status and many issues, from transient diabetes to pneumonia and much more, with good days and bad days, and like Lennie he responded beautifully and with spirit for as long as he could. He had a big old Tomcat face, and he would turn it towards us and love all that attention we gave him. He started out literally "on the docks" as a boat-landing feral cat, and then joined our pen group for a good long time, and finally when he was not as strong, he became our indoor cat (living apart in our bedroom). I found him very inspiring. And I am thinking every day of Lennie.
    - Barbara J. King

Selected Works

Why are animals so irresistible to us? Why do we live with and care so deeply about them? From the famous "art caves" of ice-age Europe, to the ancient villages where animals were first domesticated, to stories of apes, whales, dogs, and cats doing fascinating things today, King weaves together a scenario about the animal-human bond that encompasses our past, present and future.
Can scientists discover a prehistory of religion just as they have traced the evolution of technology, language, and art? What does compassion in chimpanzees, or burial patterns in our human ancestors and Neanderthals, tell us about the origins of religion? In Evolving God, named a Top Ten Religion Book for 2007 by the American Library Association, Barbara King explores these questions.
How do chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas-- the African apes -- communicate using body postures and gestures? Using her many years of experience studying these apes, Barbara King answers this question in a book that offers a new perspective on the evolution of language.