Joia

July 1976. I heard of a sidewalk sale at a nearby mall in Culver City, California, and decided to check it out. I was always happy to find good deals on whatever merchandise that might strike my fancy or was at least utilitarian.

What I went home with that day was a kitten.

I hadn’t intended to get a kitten.  The landlord’s rules for our little apartment building was “no pets.”  But I was walking along the sidewalk at the mall and heard mewing sounds.  I turned to look, and saw a young man and an older woman with a large box. The young man handed a furry gray kitten to an interested passerby.  Smiling, I stopped to admire the kittens.  There were only two of them left, I could see.  It was no more than a casual interest on my part – I loved cats but I wasn’t thinking of getting one.

The next kitten that the young man lifted out of the box was almost identical to the one the passerby was now holding – all ash gray and furry – except that it had NO TAIL!  My interest was immediately piqued; after growing up with a Manx cat as a pet, I was partial to the breed, knowing how affectionate they could be.

“That kitten,” I said to the couple getting rid of the kittens, “it doesn’t have a tail.”

“No, it’s not supposed to,” the young man replied. “It’s a Manx – a breed without a tail.”

“But the other kitten has a tail,” I pointed out.

“Yeah – well, their mother is Manx, but their father – well, we’re not sure who he was, but he definitely wasn’t a Manx!”  So, he explained, it was logical that some of the litter would have tails and some would be tailless. This had been a litter of three – Manx cats tend to have fewer babies than other cat breeds, and one had already been sold.

The young man seemed prepared to explain about Manx cats, since most people don’t know about them, but I said, “I grew up with a Manx cat, and my aunts raise them – I love Manx cats!”

Next thing I knew I was carrying the “stumpy” to my car (she had a stump about an inch long protruding from her behind) wrapped in a small blanket.  Although the couple had hoped to sell the kittens, I had shown such enthusiasm and warmth that they gave her to me for free.  I hadn’t talked to my boyfriend about this, of course – there were no cell phones in 1976 – but I hoped he’d approve of this addition to the household.

gray manx kitten

Leaving the kitten in the car and cracking the windows open an inch or so, I went into a department store to buy basic supplies: a litter box, a small bag of litter, a food bowl and a few cans of cat food. Then I drove home to our apartment in West L.A.

I didn’t bring the kitten in right away – I had to warn my boyfriend first. Besides, I couldn’t find her.

I ran into the apartment and breathlessly told him about the kitten:  “She’s beautiful, but – but – I can’t find her! I’m afraid she escaped!”  Having expected her to meow all the way home, her silence and then not finding her, I was sure she’d escaped somehow, perhaps when I’d opened the door to put my purchases on the front passenger seat.

My boyfriend was delighted and curious to see her.  He came out to the car to help me look for her. We searched what seemed like every cranny of our Toyota Corolla, but then he found her:  he saw in the darkness under the driver’s seat two golden eyes shining out at him.  She was so scared that she had pressed herself into a hard-to-reach corner under the seat and had not even let out a mew of protest. She hadn’t been looking out from under there when I’d searched from her so I didn’t see her.

When he saw those bright shining eyes, my Brazilian boyfriend said, “joia!”  Joia is the Portuguese word for jewel, and it also is a slang term for beautiful.

So this was how our half-Manx kitten got her name even before she came into her new home! Joia – it was perfect.

Kirry: my first cat

Kirry is a Manx word for “cat” or “kitty”. Kirry was, of course, a Manx cat.

I must stop here for some explanation. Probably those of you who are interested enough in cats to read this blog already know about Manx cats. But maybe not. And for those who don’t know much about cats, here’s a bit about Manx cats.

Manx cats originated in the Isle of Man, an island in the Irish Sea. Centuries ago, cats were introduced into the Isle of Man, probably as early as man himself.  Over time, since cats on the island were isolated and didn’t  interbreed with other cats, they developed their most distinguishing feature: the lack of a tail. The gene for taillessness is dominant, and therefore the tailless gene is more likely to be expressed.

There are actually two types of Manx cats, known as “rumpies” (they have no hint of a tail at all) and “stumpies” (they have a “stump” or a very small protrusion at the end of their spine where a tail would begin). Their back legs are longer than their front, to compensate for the lack of a tail, which normally provides balance for the cat.

Manx-3

The Manx breed has become  popular with some cat lovers, including two of my aunts, who had several Manx cats. They are known for being very affectionate and seek out their human companions for attention and TLC – petting, lap sitting, sleeping, etc. They seem to vocalize more than other cats and have a variety of sounds, including trills that sound like inquiries: “What are you doing?” or “Is it time to get up already?”

So it was that, after I wore my parents down begging for a cat, we obtained one, a male stumpy kitten, from my aunt in Arizona. He was a gray striped tabby with white markings on his chest, belly and legs. His name was Kirry and we got him when he was about six months old. I was about ten or eleven when he came into my life.

Kirry, our Manx cat

Kirry, our Manx cat

Everyone loved Kirry – he was a very affectionate and well-trained cat. He was intelligent, affectionate and loved to sleep under the covers with me! My parents insisted on putting both the dog and the cat in the garage before they went to bed at night, a custom I found silly, but usually I didn’t notice, because by the time they took the cat from my room or my brother’s room, we were fast asleep.

My brother, two years old than me, and I alternated nights with Kirry. It was the only fair way to keep from fighting over monopolizing the cat, although I secretly believed my brother didn’t love Kirry nearly as much as I did. My brother teased me mercilessly, and he also teased the cat when he could. Kirry loved to get into paper bags or boxes, so my brother would leave one lying around to entice him, and once he was inside, he would pick up the bag or box and swing it around, causing the poor kitty to howl with fear. If I was around, I would vehemently  insist he leave the cat alone, but my protestations made it all the more fun for him to do it!

Then he’d put the bag or box down, and Kirry would shoot out of it in a flash of fur, getting as far away as he could. Needless to say, it didn’t take long before Kirry lost his curiosity to get into paper bags, especially when that annoying young male human was around!

Kirry got me through adolescence. Junior high was the worst three years of my life, and I often needed comfort after an aggravating day at school. There were two ways I could deal with the emotions of those traumatic times – listening to my Beatles albums and having Kirry with me.

It was as if he could sense my sadness, and he’d come looking for me. He’d jump up on my bed seeking affection – the feeling was mutual! He would stretch his hind legs higher as I stroked his back, he’d lie down and knead me with his paws, purring and purring. Sometimes I would request having Kirry in my bed at night when it was my brother’s turn, after I’d had a particularly bad day. And, uncharacteristically for him, my brother would generally agree.

For more information about Manx cats, here are some web sites (copy and paste into your browser).

http://www.cfainc.org/Breeds/BreedsKthruR/Manx.aspx  (Cat Fanciers Association web site)

http://www.petfinder.com/cat-breeds/Manx#comment

http://voices.yahoo.com/manx-cat-pros-cons-owning-9004113.html