This is the story of our new cat, Bjorn. Only he’s not new, not to us at least. The newness of his existence is that he’s now fully ours, and enjoying the comfort of life indoors, while trying to adjust to being a brother to our previously only-child cat, Avery.
Bjorn’s story is one of persistence, of patience, coupled with a demonstration of what we saw with our first cat, Avery – what it looks like when a kitty chooses their humans rather than the other way around.
I’m going to start by pointing out the elephant in the room. One glance at Bjorn’s smoosh face and you know he’s not a typical tabby. Without thinking, or much experience with designer cats, you’d probably say he’s a Persian. Take a second to ponder and you may arrive at our best guess, which is that he’s half tabby and half purebred Persian.
When Bjorn first came into our lives, we assumed he was bred to look the way he did. We thought he belonged to the same family all the other Persians waltzing around our street belonged to. Besides him, there were three; cats we called Porthos, Aramis, & Athos.
(Psst – here without having read my post abut The Three Musketeer Cats? Catch up on that story first.)
Flash to the first day we first met Bjorn. We were trying to lure the last of the Three Musketeers to our garden. We’d managed to convince the other two we were trustworthy, and they stopped by (Porthos regularly, Aramis occasionally) for the good time of chasing a makeshift cat toy – a hedge branch – round our garden.
In swung Bjorn, full force with a powerful shriek, demanding we hand the cat food to him. I wasn’t about to torment a cat by making him watch another eat, so Bjorn (as well as Porthos and Aramis) got a few bites of kibble while we coaxed Athos to hang out.
Bjorn ate with a ferocity the others didn’t. Thomas mentioned his suspicion the others were more dominant or quick, beating him to the bowl at mealtimes. This explained his behaviour well, but as we later found out, wasn’t the true story.
I immediately labelled Bjorn the “Bear Grylls” cat. He seemed to me wildling in terms of mannerisms and aesthetics, nowhere near as graceful as the others.
The nickname “Bear” stuck, though we gave him the proper name (to keep in line with The Three Musketeers) d’Artagnan. This proper name we later changed (to Bjorn, since it means “bear”) prior to taking him in.
Like with the others, we refused to feed Bjorn after we gained his trust. We spent time with him, played with, pet him, but made sure he still had plenty of reason – (food!) – to head home on the daily.
Weeks went by. Porthos would snooze on our rooftop for hours, waiting for a call of his name to play. Infrequently, Aramis would drop in, but Bjorn always seemed around. Each time we’d open the door to our garden, within minutes, Bjorn would arrive. And a red dust kept re-appearing on his fur…
Suspicious, I decided to come out as stealthily as possible one morning, curious to learn if there was someplace nearby he slept. A second later he appeared, stretching by the shed. Just to the right there are steps; beneath those steps – one look and anyone would’ve made the connection. Red soil littered the floor, as well as an enormous, cluttered mess of rusted paint cans and near-empty plastic bottles.
This was one of the few places in our garden sheltered from rain, but it wasn’t an ideal spot for a cat to sleep. We ordered a cat house. For the meantime, I tidied the space, switching in a large cardboard box for a newspaper-wrapped concrete block Bjorn had been using as a bed.
He loved it. Porthos loved it, too. The excited fellas lounged in the cardboard box together – full on approval from both.
Bjorn cuddled, snuggled, and played. The more time went on, the more cuddle-loving he became, and oddly, the cuddly-ness seemed to rub off on Porthos, who prior to Bjorn’s presence would never come over for a snuggle on his own.
Bjorn had a sociable personality – asking to be pet by extending a paw to the air, air-kneading and licking my hand whenever I pet his forehead, dozing on my lap as I sat on the stairs in the sun…
At this point, I truly believed Bjorn was going through a phase. That he rarely left because he was enamoured with us, but that he’d still visit home daily to eat.
It never occurred to me he might not have a home.
But the clues dripped in, one by one. The next? Bjorn’s dreadlocks.
To an indoor cat owner like me, all outdoor cats look a little unkempt. And long-hair outside kitties have a lot more work to keep up a nice coat than short hair breeds. But while Porthos looked a smidgen messy, Bjorn was downright shaggy, and the more we pet him, the more we realized – Bjorn’s hair was heavily matted; he had unhealthy levels of tangled fur.
Taking one look at any of the other Persians, then a short glance at Bjorn – it occurred to us this was strange. We couldn’t understand how an owner who took such excellent care of the others would leave one of her own in such a state. Even having noted this, the clues still didn’t even begin to add up for me.
The cat house came. Porthos napped there instead of the roof, bouncing in and out, leaving in the evenings, only to return in the afternoons. Bjorn would stake the house when Porthos wasn’t in, or would snooze in the cardboard box under the steps.
Over the next month, I began watching Bjorn’s behaviour more closely. One evening, Thomas noticed him head over to our neighbour, then quickly return.
From an upstairs window, we spotted a little food bowl our neighbour later told us she leaves out for Aramis, the only one of the Persians she’d seen visiting her yard.
Worried over the fact that she may be feeding the cats dog food (and not knowing enough Portuguese to ask), and that hers was the only pet food Bjorn was eating, I decided to supplement Bjorn’s diet with Avery’s kibble to be sure he’d get the Taurine he needed.
Then, the day before Christmas, we learned from our neighbour a black cat had sadly been run over by a car. Horrified at the idea it might be Porthos (we’ve had confirmation by his month-long absence), I panicked, fretting over the idea that the same could happen to Bjorn.
All the while, Bjorn warmed up to us more and more. When we’d arrive home, he’d be standing at the front steps, wait for us to enter through the gate, then greet us with a chorus of meows – the same greeting we’d get indoors from Avery.
He’d follow us around as we moved to sit in the sun – back to front yard, then returned with us to the backyard once the sun’s rays had set. Not wanting to rest in the heat himself, he’d hide in the shade made of my shadow.
Sitting beneath my feet at times, he’d roll over on his back, shove my hands onto his forehead to demand a petting, then happily knead into my socks. He imprinted on us like a duckling.
I was devastated as weeks went by and Porthos didn’t show, simultaneously wanting desperately to take Bjorn in. But although he’d chosen us as his family to the point where he never left, and I knew I could really help him with a simple visit to the vet, I still didn’t feel right taking him because I thought was someone else’s. To this point, it hadn’t yet occurred to me how ridiculously unlikely it was he belonged to the family of The Three Musketeers.
It took a message from my brother where he described Bjorn as looking like “a grumpy, overgrown Walker” (my mom’s tabby cat) to make me even begin to realize we may have gotten Bjorn’s story wrong all along. The triplet feral street cats our direct neighbour feeds of look ridiculously similar to Walker. Maybe their mom was also his?
With this thought, I began to piece together the clues. Certainly Bjorn was half tabby, but maybe he was not bred to look this way.
The owner of The Three Musketeers had Aramis in a cone – surely she would’ve handled dreadlocks as terrible as Bjorn’s if he were hers. And what cat would refuse to go home to eat, but would desperately take only from the snack kibble left out by our neighbour?
Then there was the case of Bjorn not being neutered, while all the other male Persians visibly were. We’d assumed Bjorn was too young; we learned later at the vet’s – he’s middle aged already, close to 4 years old!
Flash forward to the vet’s. Bjorn is scanned – no chip. We sigh a breath of relief just as we did when Avery was checked for a chip, years ago. But there’s one more hurdle Bjorn has to overcome – one more thing that could prevent us from taking him. If Bjorn is sick with something that could harm Avery, we can’t possibly have him in our home.
The vet takes a blood sample. We wait nervously – 20 minutes – for the results.
Clear. Another breath of relief.
Bjorn is given a parasite pill and we take him home, creating a cozy room for him, away from Avery.
A week later, we take him back to be neutered, and under anaesthetic, he is chipped and his matted fur is shaved. The vets told us prior – his cut wouldn’t be pretty, as the shave would have to be close to the skin to remove the entirety of the mats.
We pick him up. He looks ridiculous, no longer so much like a bear.
There have been hiccups. Stresses. Worries. Moments where I wonder if I’ll regret having him because I’m concerned over how his relationship with Avery will progress.
But he’s happy. We’re happy. And I’m sure in the end, all the kinks (pun intended!) will be worked out.
The day after we took in Bjorn, a series of week-long rain and wind storms kicked up. They’ve yet to let up completely; this morning it poured quite heavily. I was relieved to no longer have to think about whether he was dry, whether the wind would blow the roof off his cat house, or if he might be hungry or cold.
The morning before we took him, I stood in our backyard for hours, hearing cats fight nearby. I didn’t want them near him, and wanted to chase them away if they came ’round our garden, in case the fight took a violent turn.
He’s safe now, from the other cats, and from the plethora of dogs in our neighbourhood as well. And of course, from the cars by our front gate that took Porthos’ life.
He stuck around, and eventually, we let him in.
It should’ve been sooner, and if we’d known he was a homeless Scooby Doo, we would’ve taken him and his Shaggy dreads in immediately.
Of course, we still don’t know where Bjorn came from. We have a number of theories, some which came from the vet. He told us Bjorn could easily have been abandoned as a young cat because his owners found him to be too much work (that curly hair!).
He also told us – people often move, and in their moves, sometimes leave outdoor cats behind if they have to go while their cats are absent. These theories would explain why Bjorn is sociable, cuddly, and trusting.
My favourite theory, however, is my own: that Bjorn is the lovechild of the late Porthos (pre-neutering) and the triplets’ tabby mom.
Bjorn got along well with Porthos and, in my opinion, acted more like him than the other Musketeers. There was always something courageous, fierce, and fearless about the pair – traits the other cats didn’t have.
I’m fully aware this is probably wishful thinking, that my theory may not even be likely, but I love to believe it’s true.
It brings me comfort to think I may have a piece of Porthos still with me in Bjorn. A cat who was never mine, but whom I loved dearly, as though he was my own, nonetheless.