i. Blackbolt the ragdoll kitten
Not a cat lover either, I obsessed my way into wanting a ragdoll kitten. Jat was able to take care of one named Melanie for a day or two, and his stories, together with my intense googling about ragdoll cats convinced me that a ragdoll kitten was perfect for us.
The ragdoll is a fairly new breed of cat. It’s one of the largest breeds of domestic cats, with soft and silky fur (aptly described as rabbit-like), and a gentle disposition. A ragdoll cat goes limp like a ragdoll when carried, follows you around like a puppy and is very affectionate and trusting. Ragdolls endear themselves to kids and are incredibly understanding towards them even when these kids unknowingly manhandle them.
It wasn’t easy finding a ragdoll cat. I must have called up nearly every breeder I could find online, and got vague answers in return. Jat and I even went to Pampanga – in a hilarious comedy of errors, to visit and reserve what turned out to be a Persian kitten that suspiciously looked like the orange-and-white cat loitering near the cat cages, and not his supposed white father and yellow-and-black mother. At my wit’s end, a friend of mine from law school, Dionne, who is a ragdoll cat owner herself, referred me to a certain Leena Calso.
Luckily, Leena rewarded my persistence by giving me a slot in her forthcoming kitty litter. Are you okay with a male kitten, she asked us. We said yes. When we visited Blackbolt for the first time, and even when we took him home at last, Blackbolt was the smallest in his batch. Don’t worry, you’ll be surprised that he’ll become the biggest of the three, Leena assured us.
Blackbolt looked like he was always half-asleep, but he and his sister Katniss (then named Sadie), played together a lot while Meerka, the third, mostly stayed with her mother.
The night we took Blackbolt home was purely on impulse. It was week two of the Bar, and Jat and Jonas were exhausted after a grueling Comm law exam. The next thing we knew, Jat, Jonas, Giardini and I were off to Leena and William’s place and some time after, Blackbolt was up and about in the car, trying to get to the nearest passenger window to watch cars whizz past. Surprisingly, Blackbolt easily adapted to his new home and only meowed faintly when we locked him inside a room once or twice to have a ciggy in the living room (a no smoking policy around him is strictly enforced!).
ii. Blackbolt, the king
We initially called him Odin, but reconsidered and went through perhaps a hundred different names before fjnally settling on Blackbolt (a.k.a. BB). Blackbolt is Jat’s favorite comic book hero, a powerful king whose voice could shatter worlds and thus, does not utter a single word. Although his costume looks cool and he is good looking, he has a ridiculous tuning fork on his forehead (to control his voice and the electrons it excites), which in hindsight, dovetails with Blackbolt the ragdoll’s lynx pattern (vertical stripes) on his face.
True to his namesake, Blackbolt hardly uses his vocal chords. He purrs and chirps like a bird, but rarely meows – mostly when he’s cooped up in his carrier while in Jat’s car, and wants to roam around the car. Of course, once he’s outside his carrier, he’s an energetic ball of fluff, happy to look out the window and turn the car into his mini-playground.
Named after a king whose power is by nature destructive, BB is also just as good as wreaking havoc, especially when it comes to paper. He clamors for attention and constant play. BB has never seen a real mouse and only knows his toy mice, and I wonder what he will do when he finally sees a real one. He has a lot of toys (because of me!) but favors Bernie the Monkey, which he alternately wrestles with and grooms affectionately. He trips over his own chubby legs, can be carried like a baby but just as quickly wiggles out of Jat or my (probably) suffocating embrace and hates having his butt wiped. BB also loves to explore and wanders around the condo, sniffing and licking and looking around as though always seeing his world for the first time.
iii. Enuh the Paranoid Android
My brief and limited experience with pets, particularly a succession of furry, fragile hamsters and Google – have turned me into a paranoid android. I spend my free time reading and reading all sorts of cat-related stuff – mostly about detecting illness, because cats are notoriously good at hiding them. I endlessly worry that Blackbolt might end up with taurine deficiency, and eventually blindness as a result, or eventually suffer kidney failure because of his dry food. Every sniffle, every soft stool, every sneeze never goes unnoticed. I suffer from a hypochondriac transference disorder (ok, I made it up!) – that is, anything unusual about Blackbolt, no matter how minor, is a potential life threatening and dangerous illness in my book. Jat, thankfully is a lot more chill than I am, and even then finds it difficult to get me off my paranoid android mode when I’m needlessly worrying.
However, between the two of us, Jat does the hard work. He has endured deeper bites and scratches when it comes to doing necessary but unpleasant things like giving BB a bath, making him take his medicine, or cleaning his ears (especially when he had mites!). Jat is often on the receiving end of Blackbolt’s aggression and wounded feelings (tampo) while I preach away about proper nutrition and this and that illness I read about.
iv. How to train your ragdog
Ragdoll cats are intelligent creatures. Their puppy-like traits make them easier to train than other cats. However, to this day, we cannot train BB to use his litter box perfectly and have to run after him to wipe his butt and paws (since he is prone to stepping on his poop).
Blackbolt’s innate desire to explore and roam cannot be trained away – my mom can attest to that! One of our vets, Doc Gina, tells us often than BB’s behavior is unusual for a cat, even compared to the ragdoll cats of her other clients. She often tells us that Blackbolt must be half-puppy, half-cat and as my nephew Gabby puts it, Blackbolt is indeed a “ragdog”. Interestingly, strangers who see Blackbolt for the first time often mistake him for a puppy before they realize that he’s a cat.
We’re still trying to teach him to respond to his name, but the times when he does, he usually responds to the tasty treat we offer as a reward and not really his name. Or maybe there are times when he just doesn’t feel like being at our beck and call – he is a cat, after all.
At the same time, BB seems to be training us in his own way. For example, to haul me out of bed to give him food – at whatever ungodly hour, he starts by showing me lots of affection – marching on my chest, head butts, nose kisses, and rubbing. It seems that he figured out that a half-asleep human merely reciprocating his affection will not fill his food bowl, so to get the attention that he needs, he starts biting. Little playful bites, of course – a toe here, an ankle there, an exposed wrist – enough to slowly but surely wake up an already surly sleeper who has no choice but to get up and put some food in his little bowl.
v. The devil is in the details
For the last five or so months, BB has been eating dry kibble exclusively – Royal Canin Persian Kitten 32, to be more precise. However, thanks to Jat’s never ending supply of fresh chicken from their farm, we have begun introducing real food, boiled chicken, into his diet – at least for dinner. Since cats (and other animals) tend to shun pet food once they’ve tasted the real thing, we mix the kibble with the chicken. Earlier tonight, I tried a little experiment by serving BB his chicken and kibble and briefly taking the chicken pieces away so BB wouldn’t pick out, and just eat the chicken meat.
Upon the advice from the third or fourth vet we’ve gone to, we’ve increased his vitamin supplements slightly (the dosage approximating half or a third of his current weight mixed with his drinking water). I’m still on the fence about canned food, so I’m looking at personally prepared meals for dinner with vitamin supplements.
Jat recently was successful in getting BB to take a bath by letting him play in the tub with enough warm water to get him wet. As for cleaning his ears on a regular basis, with his mites gone, BB’s ears are a lot cleaner now.
When I’m not too tired on weekdays, I try to clean BB’s play area (which is nearly the entire condo unit) and disinfect the place wholesale. Of course, this means confining him in one of the rooms to make sure he doesn’t come into contact with a Lysol-laced wet floor.
These are seemingly trivial tasks, and BB often gives us a hard time but it’s these little pockets of routine that make us feel important, that we are doing something necessary for our pets to be healthy and happy.
vi. Spread some kitty love
I read in Animal Scene that pet owners should not be merely owners but should see themselves as pet parents. Parents because choosing to raise a pet should not be taken lightly. It involves some lifestyle adjustment and sacrifice. While Jat and I are new to this, being a pet parent is in many ways, what we are or aspire to be.
I never thought that taking care of Blackbolt would open up a whole new community of fellow pet parents. The other great thing about finding Blackbolt is meeting his human parents, Leena and William, as well as other pet parents whose cats are several litters removed from Blackbolt’s feline parents, Blue and Tabby. We share photos with each other, swap stories about our cats, and generally bask in our love for our feline companions. It also warms my heart that my sorority sister and former professor, LP Susan, brought Blackbolt’s sister, Katniss home and I content myself with looking at her photos, marveling at how big she’s gotten, too. Remote as the connection may be to other lucky human parents of Blue and Tabby’s kids, such as Oliver and Jimilu, Jat and I’ve learned so much from them, too.
Sha and Ezra, two of my good friends, are also great role models when it comes to pet parenting. I will always be grateful to Dionne for referring me to Leena in the first place, and Lorr and my other cat lover sisses for the advice and the virtual affection extended to BB.
My previously underutilized awesome iPhone camera is now dedicated to capturing Blackbolt in his unguarded and silly moments as often as I can. Some of these photos and videos find their way to Facebook, to share with everyone else, but the rest are in my photo albums, which I like to look at during the day when I’m away from BB. Jat and I’ve received tons of personal and virtual compliments from our vets, our friends and even strangers about BB. Of course, the compliments have nothing to do with us, but we beam with pride nonetheless.
vii. Halfway mark
The first few months of this year were nerve-wracking – BB was in and out of the vet’s clinic for hookworms, diarrhea and ear mites – thankfully, normal kitty problems. Jat and I took it one day at a time, and slowly eliminated these problems one by one. Luckily, BB was playful and active all throughout, and remained his affectionate, happy self.
Last week, BB weighed in at 3.5 kilos or 7.7 pounds and free of the illnesses I mentioned. Since we started feeding him chicken on top of his kibble, we’ve been monitoring his progress closely and BB feels a lot heavier and healthier, too. Adult ragdolls generally weigh from 15-20 pounds, so hopefully BB is on the right track.
Jat and I still marvel at how much BB has grown in the last few months. He’s gone a long way from being the runt of the litter into a gorgeous and lovable big ball of fluff. Despite his size, Blackbolt is still very much the silly little kitten we took home, and we love talking about the silly little things he does. Now that he turned 6 months old today, I dread the day he starts spraying and marking his territory – a sure sign that he’s become a “teenager”. But then again, before we know it, kittenhood will be over just as quickly. Blackbolt will become an adult, and a year or two after, we will finally see his gorgeous color and pattern in full bloom. By then, maybe he will be less restless, less playful and more placid. While Jat and I don’t enjoy the biting so much, we will miss his playfulness if he outgrows it. But for now, waking up to his playful bites, his panggigigil, his distinct brand of carino brutal, and coming home to see him waiting by the door, makes us feel loved and incredibly blessed.
Having a feline companion was not something I signed up for, but it’s been such an amazing experience so far. Everybody has a lovely story to tell about his or her animal friend, and out there, there’s always someone like me who is discovering or rediscovering the wonder of caring for a pet. As I write this, I know there’s more to learn from Blackbolt and more surprises to come.