- Pets and Animals
The Story of Finn
How Finnigan the Cat Became Part of Our Household
One of the things my husband and I always believed in was the importance of having a pet as a child. Soon after our first daughter was born, we spent some time thinking about it and decided to get a kitten. We are both actually dog people, but we felt a cat would better fit our lifestyle and living accommodations at the time. So began two decades, filled with cats! At one point, we were even an impromptu cat shelter, with as many as 14 cats!
The following story is of the rather unique way our newest family member came to join us. For that, we need a bit of a background.
The townhouse we live in now has a rather unusual balcony set up. We are on the second and third floors, overlooking the river valley. Directly below our balcony is a steep drop, filled with trees and bushes, with only a narrow path between our building and the city owned lot below us. On one side of our balcony is a small doorway leading to the fire escape.
Since moving here, I've started to do some balcony gardening. For a while, I kept my extra bags of soil and gravel stacked under our living room window. One dark night, as we were sitting in our living room, one of my daughters suddenly noticed a pair of glowing eyes, staring at us through the window! A cat was sitting on the bags of soil, watching us!
It turned out to be a pair of cats that had discovered our balcony (more about them here). The poor things were in rough shape and clearly starving. They were also clearly house cats, who loved people and loved all the attention we could give them - after we gave them food and water, that is!
Freya - Getting to Know our Visitors
My children promptly named the cats. The tuxedo was called Freya. She still had a collar when we first saw her and we hoped that meant she had a family somewhere that was looking for her. One day she came by with no collar. We could see the wound on her neck from where it had rubbed her fur away because she had outgrown it.
We took to leaving food and water out on our balcony. We had an old scratch tower with "rooms" inside it for our own cats that needed to be replaced anyhow, so we put that on the balcony as well. That way, we could keep the food bowl inside it where the cats could get it, but the magpies couldn't! Every time we saw them on the balcony, one of us would go outside to spend some time with them.
Horatio - Getting to Know our Visitors
The girls named the other cat Horatio. She had long hair and was in even rougher shape then Freya. We brushed the knots out of her fur as much as she would allow. The poor thing was so thin and nervous!
In time, both cats learned that our balcony was a safe place to go, where food and water would be relied on, and we saw them more often. As summer turned to fall, we began to be concerned about how they would fair when the weather turned cold. We decided to take both cats to a vet to see if they had microchips. If we could get them back to their families, great. If not, we would see if we could find homes for them. Since we already had two cats of our own, there was no way we could take them in ourselves.
At the vet, we discovered a few things about them. First, there were no microchips. Second, Horatio was hiding a secret under that long fur. She was a he! Which meant that...
Yup. Freya was pregnant.
What to do? - Searching for homes
So now we had to make some decisions! With no way to trace their families (and the very real possibility that they had been abandoned in the valley), we started to hunt for homes. After consulting with a friend who works at the local pound, we sought to adopt them out ourselves first, as the local shelters were already overwhelmed with stray cats.
Yet, who would be willing to adopt an intact male and a pregnant female?
We put up signs, sent messages out to various local groups and put up online ads. There were a few people interested but, in the end, no one followed through.
As Freya began to grow larger and we could see she would be having her kittens soon, we tried to make a better shelter for her on our balcony. We took a pet carrier, removed the door and lined it with an old, soft blanket. The temperatures were starting to drop, so we insulated the carrier with another large blanket that we could spare, then set it up next to the scratch tower. The cats investigated it but never used it. It was just too open and exposed.
Still With Us - As the Temperatures Drop
One day, Horatio came by without Freya.
When we didn't see Freya for several days, we knew she had found someplace else to have her kittens. When she finally did come by, she was thin and once again starving. She ate her fill, indulged in some cuddles, then quickly left.
Around this time, we found we were finally able to get a new dining table. Our previous apartment didn't have a dining room, so when we moved to our townhouse, we started using our patio table as a dining table. With a new table on the way, we took the old patio table and moved in onto our balcony. Both the scratch tower and pet carrier could fit under the table. I also covered it with a cheap vinyl tablecloth, left hanging low to hide most of the space under it. Would the cats use it now? After checking it for several days, there was no sign of them in there.
Then, one day in the beginning of November, I saw Freya on our balcony and went outside to give her some attention. I sat on our patio swing, while she jumped back and forth from my lap to the food bowl and back again.
I was facing the door to the fire escape, so I knew she hadn't left the balcony, but there was no sign of her! Where could she possibily have...
Could it be?
That's when I got down on the floor, checked the cat carrier and found this.
Our balcony surprise!
Okay, so that wasn't quite what I saw when I looked in. What I actually saw was a dark shadow in the back of the carrier that hissed and spit at me in terror! The poor thing! Freya went in and out as I visited her kitten and seemed quite happy for me to be there.
Now, finding a kitten on our balcony is one thing. It's the realization of what Freya had to do to get him there that amazes me!
First, she had to carry him from wherever it was that she'd found to have him in.
Then she had to get him to our balcony. To do this, she first had to carry him up a couple of steps to a landing.
Then she had to take a turn and carry him up a second set of steps to another landing.
THEN she had to take another turn and carry him up a third set of steps to yet another landing.
Finally, she had to somehow squeeze under the door to our balcony, dragging him with her!
All so that she could bring him to us, and the cozy cave we'd made in hopes she would use it.
What a mama!!
Of course, the girls were thrilled as well, and we encouraged them to spend as much time as they could, socializing the kitten. I was adamant, however, that they would NOT be coming inside. We already had two cats (there's a two pet maximum where we live), and it would have been just too stressful for them. Just taking Freya and Horatio in for one night, so I could take them to the vet in the morning, was hard enough on them.
Some video that I took while giving Finnigan some time to get used to people.
Our Cats - Tiger and Harley
I suppose now's a good time to tell you about the cats we already had.
Tiger, the tabby, is a cat with her own story to tell! We got her from the SPCA in Richmond, BC, and she is the veteran of several moves since then. As of 2012-2013, we figure her age to be at least 13 years, but we don't really know. She is my older daughter's cat.
Harley, the tuxedo, was an odd acquisition. Someone in our apartment building put up a sign about giving away a free kitten. We wanted our younger daughter to have her own pet, so we decided to take a look. When we got to the door, the young woman basically handed us the kitten, gave us the scratching post, toys and supplies she had and that would have been it! We did insist on asking questions, including why she was getting rid of her kitten. It turned out she was being evicted, and her new apartment did not allow cats.
So what were we supposed to do?
We brought the kitten home.
As you can see just from the above photo, their personalities (catonalities?) were very different!
Tiger, being a cooperative model for our macro lens
Harley - being... Harley
In From the Cold - But it's only temporary! I swear!
As the weeks went by and the end of November approached, we began to be concerned. The forecasts were predicting temperatures of -30C (-22F). For all the care we took to create a shelter on our balcony, there was no way such a tiny kitten was going to survive those temperatures!
At that point, I went to our co-op administrator. After telling her about the strays and the kitten, I asked if it was okay for us to bring Freya and her kitten inside, despite the two-pet rule. Of course, she said yes. I expected nothing else - no one was going to let them freeze! - but I wanted to make sure the right people knew what was going on.
Freya and her baby - now named Finnigan - made themselves right at home!
Horatio left and never came back. To this day, I am positive I saw him about a week later, in the adoption area of a pet store that is partnered with the local Humane Society. I hope he went on to a good, forever home!
Our own cats weren't too happy with the situation. Tiger is somewhat used to the sudden appearance of strange cats, as she was with us when we went through our cat shelter phase, but Freya was too energetic for her liking, and Finnigan would just puff himself up, hiss and spit whenever Tiger came near.
Harley avoided them as much as she could.
But this was going to be okay. We were still hunting for someone who would take both mama and baby. Surely, there was someone out there willing to take them in? If nothing else, we'd wait until Finnigan was old enough to wean and adopt them out separately.
However it turned out, one thing was certain. We could not keep them ourselves.
We all made extra effort to get the kitten comfortable around people. Freya seemed very happy with this, too!
It was pretty clear that Harley didn't like having the new cats around, and she kept to herself upstairs most of the time. She had never been a particularly sociable cat, anyhow, so this was no surprise.
Then she started peeing all over the place. Stress, perhaps?
One evening, a couple of weeks before Christmas, I heard an odd noise and looked down the hall. There was Harley on the plastic, carpet protecting mat we'd put at the top of the stairs. She was sitting in a puddle of pee.
It was red.
Alarmed, we isolated her from the other cats, made her as warm and comfortable as possible and, in the morning, went to take her to the vet. She had hidden herself between the furnace and the wall, and was soaked in urine. We had difficulting getting her out. Her condition had deteriorated dramatically in just a few hours, and could barely move her back legs. I rushed off to a veterinary hospital. Within hours, I found myself having to give the okay to have Harely put down. She had suffered a sudden, massive kidney failure.
To this day, we don't know what happened. In retrospect, there are things we'd noticed about her that may have been signs of a possible, undiagnosed birth defect, but we had no way of knowing. Given how suddenly she became ill, it could have been something else. We simply don't know.
While never a social cat, Harley did like company - so long as we didn't pay too much attention to her! Wherever we were, she would find somewhere nearby to hang out. When I was in my work station, which includes an old computer desk, she would jump up and squeeze herself under a shelf while I worked. I think she liked the heat from my lamp.
A Growing FinniganClick thumbnail to view full-size
Making a Decision
As Finn got older, we tried to get the other cats used to him. Harley would have nothing to do with him, but Tiger was more than willing. In fact, she was downright motherly, when given the chance. I finally just put Finn next to Tiger and kept him there. Tiger responded in her usual way, and immediately started to groom him. After some initial alarm, Finn relaxed, and the two started to get along. This also gave Freya a bit of a break. As baby Finnigan became adolescent Finnigan, the two of them would tear around the house like crazy, and Mama was getting tired!
With the sudden loss of Harley, we found ourselves in an uncomfortable position. We hadn't expected to be able to actually get a new pet. Now we could - but we could only keep one!
How on Earth could we choose?
In the end, I made the decision. We would keep Finn. Once he was old enough, we put signs out to adopt Freya. I was going to put classified ads out and so on, but never got the chance. A young couple called about Freya, wanting to see her. Soon, Freya was off to her own Forever Home.
And once again, we were down to two cats.
Finn Growing Up - Click on the images belowClick thumbnail to view full-size
Finn's First Christmas (2011)
As Christmas rolled around, we were somewhat concerned about how the cats would be once the tree was up. We have an artificial tree that we put up and left empty for several days, just so they'd get used to it, and we could start teaching them to stay out of it. Once it was decorated, we were surprised by how little interest they had in it. Freya was still with us at the time, and we would often find her and Finn under the tree, nursing! Only twice did Finn get into the tree, which you can watch below. After that, he pretty much left it alone.
As I write this in 2013, another Christmas has come and gone, and Finn made no effort at all to climb the tree. I think he realized he was too big and heavy for those branches!
Finn vs The Shoebox
As he's gotten older, Finn's tempermant has been really developing! One thing we discovered is he likes to eat shoeboxes.
Actually, he likes to sit in them, bite off chunks and spit them out.
He eventually tore the front of this shoebox off completely before we finally threw it out! What a mess!
Finnigan vs The Glass
We also discovered the Finn likes to eat strange things. Like garlic stuffed olives. He loves the brine. Go figure!
We found he likes a drink called Green Goodness, which has things like spinach, jerusalem artichoke and kiwi in it.
Yet he won't touch raw meat! He'd rather have commercial cat food.
All Grown Up
As of this writing, we've had Finn for a little more than a year. We never expected to become his Forever Home, but now that he is, we are glad that his mother brought him to us.
Perhaps she knew something we didn't!
Update: Nov. 2014
Amazingly, after two years, Freya returned to our balcony! We don't know what happened with the family that adopted her, but we had lost all contact with them - and she was pregnant. We found a family that took her and she had her litter there, but she was extremely unhappy, refused to eat, bullied the other cats in the household, and eventually refused to care for her own kittens. The family finally asked us to take her back, which we did when the kittens were weaned (they were all adopted out).
Sadly, Tiger passed on at the age of about 15, which meant Freya was able to stay with us permanently. She has never behaved the way she did in the other home, and doesn't show any interest in even going outside anymore.
So now we have Finn and his mother, together again!!
Do you have a story to share as well? What do you think of Freya, Horatio and Finnigan?