Basil & the Catnip Plant
If we hadn't planted a Cat nip plant , we probably wouldn't have attracted Basil. But we did plant one and we did attract Basil.
It started when we got back from our summer vacation on Savory. We had Tika and Junior at the time. I went into the garden, and my next door neighbor Hiro, asked me what on earth had we got in the garden, as there were lots of cats swarming around. I proudly pointed to our huge Cat nip plant that was all enshrouded in chicken wire and big wooden stakes. "Probably this plant." I said. "Cats are very attracted to it and will get quite high on the volatile oil the leaves contain." Hiro our neighbor was probably quite disgusted as he had bad allergies and particularly disliked cats. He always yelled at them if they dared to wander into his yard. I contemplated the plant. It had been quite a challenge getting one to grow without being demolished before it could flower. Time and again I had started one only to come out in the morning to find all trace of it gone. Just a patch of shiny beaten earth. Probably all the cats had a Cat nip dance right on top of it. So we figured out that we really needed to protect it very well. So by being well protected from ravening cats,the plant was well established by the end of June. When we returned in early September it was bursting out of its cage.
I first noticed Basil one morning soon after our return from the summer vacation. I saw a cat way down the end of the garden under a dead apple tree. The next time I looked the cat was still there. I took the time to look closely and then approached the tree. The cat ran away. I had seen enough of the cat to arouse my curiosity. It was very battered and thin. I as usual felt sorry that a cat was in such a bad way. I took a bowl of dry food out the next time I saw him. I approached, rattling the bowl. The cat started to run away but then held his ground. I put the bowl down about halfway to the tree and retreated to our sun deck. Sure enough the cat cautiously crept up to the bowl and started eating. He seemed hungry. I say he, as I was pretty sure it was a male cat and probably a tom. That lean and hungry look seems to go with the tom cat. But as I mentioned, this cat looked particularly scrawny and the fur was poor. So the food bowl was put out daily and Basil was eager to feed. After a few days I put it down on the patio and called out. I was pleased to see the cat coming up to me. I sat quietly and watched him eat. Although very nervous he was not really so shy that he couldn't stand his ground. By the next week he was waiting at the bottom of the staircase to the sun deck. I could pet him with out any trouble. Dana then got friendly with him. We gave him some fresh Cat nip leaves and they were a success. He definitely was hanging around for that , because we had not been in residence for a couple of months. Anyway, to make a long story short, he had practically moved into the house by Thanksgiving. That weekend my sister was visiting and she being a cat lover also was quite interested in the process. He ran out the cat door at the slightest fright. Sudden moves and heavy footprints were the things that sent him flying, but he was back in again right away. Junior was getting very old by then . He was eighteen and not able to control things the way he used to. So apart from some very hard glares he left Basil alone. Tika was quite outraged but kept out of his way.
We then had to decide what to do about his care. He definitely was a tom of uncertain age. The ears were practically gone. Mostly scar tissue. Fur was dry and sparse. Very thin but at the rate he was tucking in he would be filling out soon. I decided to take him in for shots and an exam. It turned out he had to have the shots before being neutered. The Vet noticed his Canine teeth were broken off and he had poor gums. That meant dental work, also he had ear mites. We decided to get all the recommended things dealt with. He took his neutering operation very well. As soon as I brought him home he wanted to go outside and sit by the Cat nip plant. Once I saw he was going to stay put I left him for a while. He eventually came in and had a good nap and then seemed as good as new. The Vet was quite intrigued by Basil's ears, such as they were. While other cats perk them up, his went down. They had a definite downturn to them just like the breed called Scottish fold. Of course this was just a coincidence but we did wonder if there was a thoroughbred in there some where.
I think it was the plant Basil that I named him after not Basil in Faulty Towers. However I was never quite sure about that as it was around the time it was on television a lot. He was very devoted to me right from the start. This caused a lot of jealousy with Tika. She and he had many power struggles over the bed site. Basil eventually won. I felt sad that I couldn't be shared. Once on holiday at Savory it was cold and they went under the covers together that time. Also Tika and Basil walked well together. Basil right by my side and Tika all over the place. I think he didn't want to let me out of his sight and also on neutral territory all enmity between them was forgotten.
Basil did had dreams of being the one and only, as he was caught out quite a few times creeping up behind poor weary Junior as he trudged back and forth to the food bowl and nipping at his hamstrings. Junior would collapse in a heap, Basil would be reprimanded. He did look as if he knew he had done wrong. His eyes were quite expressive. Then the battles with Tika accelerated as he felt more secure. One day I was sitting on the sofa and looked up as Tika was strolling by. Basil was on a chair up higher and before I could warn her he jumped on her in ambush. Much shrieking by Tika. I immediately sent Basil outside and locked the cat door. I kept him out for a while. How sad he looked gazing in the sliding door. He was quite abject when let in and all went well for a few days before it happened again. Again out side. Eventually I was able to see it about to happen and I would catch his eye and say "Don't you dare Basil." He would look distinctly embarrassed and run over to me and be very loving. So they did keep a sort of truce. Tika never took him on and I can see why. Basil now all healthy and shiny, was a very strong animal. He never lost his hard tom cat body. When cats are neutered as kittens before the hormones come in they stay rather feminine looking. But Basil was about nine and had all those years as a big tom cat. So there were a few scenes and Basil would get sent out into the cold and Tika would have to be reassured , but it all added to the excitement of life with cats.
Basil was most affectionate with me and eventually got fond of all the family. He badly misbehaved once with Dana though. Dana went out to pick some Cat nip from the famous plant. As he picked it, Basil rushed over and badly scratched him. Dana retaliated by grabbing him by the scruff and shaking him. Dana said he was so mad he felt like strangling him. Basil never did that again.
The first time we went with him to Savory we were going to the new cottage we had built. Basil had never been away from his old haunts. I let him out of the cat basket and he shot off into the shrubs. We had to wait at least 8 hours before he crept out. Then he got oriented and loved the place. The country is paradise to a cat and Basil and Tika both loved to hunt and generally do those country cat things. Anyway he stayed quite close, but would come for the walks with Tika and me. Junior was now getting deaf and rarely went off the decks unless it was to pay a visit to the sand dune. That was a huge kitty box as far they were concerned.
I don't have a photo of Basil, but I had just started painting and I did a little portrait of him. He did have the most attractive markings. I guess he was a Tabby but his spots were beautiful and then there were the side stripes. The under fur was a light tawny colour which went well with the big yellow eyes. If he had had nice tidy ears he would have been quite something. As it was he was quite remarkable looking.
It turned out that he was well known in the neighborhood. I was out in the garden one day and a neighbor stopped and noted that Basil had moved in with us, but he called him "Poppa". " I see you have given Poppa a home?" he said. It turned out Basil alias Poppa had fathered a lot of kittens in his time . I said " I guess he decided to retire from the fray". We always wondered who he had lived with, in the past. Although very skittish around strangers and lots of chaos, he obviously had been used to human. Usually a feral cat will not get to be house tamed.
We haven't had cat nip growing in our garden since we left that house, but yesterday Dana discovered two young Cat nip plants growing in amongst the cucumber patch. We are going to nurture them and who knows we may get a really big patch again. We no longer have dear Basil but Precious and Miso just love their Cat nip.