(originally published 4/3/2012)

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] opened the bedroom door yesterday morning and Lola strolled in, purring ecstatically, wearing my underpants on her head.

(Yes, I took pictures and no, you can’t see them)

I made a mental note to ALSO lock up the dirty laundry basket. These days all household objects, from art to razors, fall into one of these categories:

  • Nailed down
  • Museum-gel’d down
  • Locked behind a door
  • Cat toy (default)

Lola and Nikki, my Savannah kitten-cats,* have been home for about six months, and it’s fair to say we’ve bonded. They’ve staked out their territories (most of the house) and I’ve staked out mine (the garage, the studio, my bedroom and the great outdoors), and established playtimes, cuddletimes, lesson times and beat-up-your-sister times.

They are astonishingly loving–I’ve never seen any cats flirt as much as these–and inventive to the point of eerie. Lola watches intently as I perform a task, then will rise up on her hind legs and imitate my movements almost exactly. If she had a little more strength and opposable thumbs I’d have a real problem.

They’re a mass of contradictions. They love water, will sneak into the shower and ask for a pet (what happens when soggy fur swipes against your calves in the shower is a scene straight out of Psycho), and–unless the lid is down–have been known to sit in the toilet asking me to flush (we call it “cat jacuzzi”). Yet you can deter (and highly offend) them with a single flick of water.

They adore petting, lap sitting and cuddling. They’ll perch on my shoulder or plaster themselves against a leg (or my face) whenever I sit down.

But they can’t stand to be confined or have their claws clipped. Period.

We’ve come to an understanding on this point: I won’t clip their claws, and Lola won’t amputate my hand. I can drape her over my head, flip her upside down and cuddle her like a baby, rub her belly as she rolls in ecstasy…but the minute the clippers come out, this is what I get:

Nikki will escape–she can wriggle out of ANYthing. Lola goes berserk. After my last claw clipping exercise with Lola landed me in the ER (I’m not kidding), the vet scoffed at my timidity and offered to clip both cats’ claws for a measly $10. The first time.

The second time she charged $16 for Lola, all by herself, “because she’s a three-man job.” One tech–with all her weight–holds down an 8-pound kitten-cat, the second holds her head and the vet wields the clippers, while Lola deafens everyone with her screams. Five minutes after they finish, she’s in my lap, purring contentedly and demanding love. Go figure.

They have an unerring instinct for playing Queen of the Hill and will climb ANYthing to reach the topmost point in the room. This particular trait, more than any other, has helped edit my modest art collection. Since their arrival we’ve eliminated:

  • A 4-foot tall ceramic figure
  • A large ceramic urn
  • 5 assorted blown glass vases and bowls
  • 3 cast glass sculptures
  • 7 blown or torchworked glass ornaments
  • 1 watercolor (the watercolor is salvageable, but the frame is history)

Luckily, they mostly break pieces I wasn’t all that crazy about to begin with…or maybe I’m just better at securing the stuff I love. I’m slowly replacing the open display cases in my house with new ones…with LOCKABLE doors. (Lola is really, really good at figuring out latches)

The cats do not sleep with me. We’ve tried it a couple of times, but when Lola plays coversmouse with my toes she takes no prisoners…and I need my toes intact, thank you very much. After my toes healed from the kittens’ first sleepover, I tried again, resolving to simply hold very still throughout the night to avoid tempting Lola’s prey instinct.

Unfortunately, Nikki’s idea of cuddling involves carefully draping her furry belly over my face and purring, and I woke up during a nightmare that involved monsters, suffocating me with a pillow. I thrashed, Lola pounced, and that was the last night they spent in my bedroom.

Now we cuddle until I’m sleepy, then I toss one of their toys down the stairs and quickly close (and lock) the bedroom door while they hunt it down. They’re getting wary about this, so at some point I’ll be dumping yowling bundles of fur out in the hall and running, fast.

I’m getting used to the sounds of crashes and bangs downstairs. As long as there’s no smash-tinkle-tinkle-crunch or yowl of pain, I sleepily open one eye, yawn, and make a note to check it out in the morning.

I call them “sisters,” but they’re not: They have different parents and were born about a month apart. They behave like sisters, though. I like to think of them like this:


Reality is more like this: Nikki finds a sunny spot and purrs herself to sleep. Lola walks over, gives her a loving lick, and then whales the holy tar out of her.

Or Nikki watches approvingly as Lola washes herself in the sun:

And attacks…

The Savannah folks assure me that this is simply how these cats express affection. Personally, I think Lola regards Nikki as a very large cat toy. With teeth.

Nikki usually gets the worst of things; Lola can be a bit of a bully. OTOH, Nikki knows how to bide her time, and when Lola gets in trouble, I swear, I hear Nikki snickering.

The girls don’t eat anything as plebian as Friskies. This is because, when she first arrived, Nikki would snuggle happily into my lap and fart like a stevedore. It ought to have been funny, a tiny kitten contentedly passing gas, but Nikki took pungent emissions to a whole new level. “HOLY COW!” my friend Tami gasped, “Was that YOU? You need a checkup, Cynthia!”

The vet, an experienced Savannah physician, nodded sagely. “We see that frequently in these cats, especially early generation Savannahs like Nikki. Their stomachs don’t tolerate catfood well–they need a raw diet.”

Raw does not equal hamburger. In the wild, felines apparently don’t just lunch on the muscle part of the prey, they eat the whole thing, bones, stomach contents and all (ick). The stomach provides plant nutrients they can’t get on their own, and the bones provide calcium. So “raw food” means “special patties of meat ground up with vegetables, bone and gristle.”

The stuff’s not cheap, you keep it in the freezer, and it comes in a variety: Duck, rabbit, beef, chicken, lamb and bison. (Bison? I’m getting this picture of Nikki and Lola on the Great Plains, chasing a herd of buffalo, and it’s entirely believable.)

Interesting sidenote: A raw diet does wonders for litterbox policing. The volume goes down dramatically and any smells virtually disappear. I have no idea why, but it’s a definite improvement.

We tried each flavor, in turn. The beef was devoured. The lamb was carefully lifted OUT of their bowls, placed in the litterbox and covered. They dragged the laundry room rug over the untouched chicken, bison, duck and rabbit.

I got the message, filled the freezer with beef catfood, and donated the rest to the Audubon Society.

Finicky as they are with catfood, they eat vermin with abandon. They both go looking through the bathrooms for silverfish and fight over who gets to eat them. I think they caught a mouse…but all I found was one tiny foot, discarded on the floor.

About the only thing they won’t touch are ants. They ran in yowling one day, grabbing at my leg to COME NOW!, and led me to their foodbowls, which had filled with ants.

Ant hunting was apparently MY job. The catfood is now served in moats.

They’re equally picky about toys. Those intended specifically for cats–such an iPad app called “Expensive Cat Toy,” which featured an animated mouse squeaking across the screen (above)–get short shrift. iPads, it turns out, make much better beds (right).

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m a pushover. The girls and I have a nightly training session, similar to training you’d do with a dog. They refuse to do anything with “roll over” or “stay,” so far, but they’re wizards at “sit,” “sit up” and “get down.”

So I’m not a pushover. Really. I’m not.

*I generally think of kittens as cats less than one year old, but Savannahs don’t actually reach their full height and maturity until they’re about three. Lola and Nikki are a year old–Nikki’s birthday was last month and Lola’s is in a few days**–and teenager sounds really, really dumb, so I’ve started calling them kitten-cats.


**And no, I didn’t bake them a cake. If I had, I suspect I would have gotten the cat equivalent of a condescending pat on the head. Nikki and Lola love attention, but any hint of gushing sends them to the top of the highest bookcase in the room, with a disdainful, “Anthropomorphizing again, are we?”