When we moved to rural Mallorca in 2004, we never imagined that so many cats would come into our lives. In total, 17 kittens and cats have called our place home for a while. For the past three years – in addition to our own cat Minstral (a 20-year-old Birman) – we have had an ‘outdoor feline family’ of seven.
Six years ago (on March 31st and July 31st) a young feral black cat we named Jetta gave birth to two litters of kittens, before we could catch her and take her to our vet’s to be spayed. Of her original nine kittens, five are still with us – coming regularly twice a day for their food. We’ve had them all spayed/neutered and we give them the necessary treatments for their good health. They’ve become as tame as pets – and just as loved.
Jetta soon tired of her maternal duties, spending increasing amounts of time away from our finca, where her kittens had made themselves at home. They just wouldn’t give her any peace, constantly trying to suckle her, play with her tail, or lick her ears. As if she had had enough, one day she didn’t return from her usual territory patrol. We searched the lanes around our home, but never saw Jetta again.
The kittens were, by then, on solid food; they didn’t need mum’s milk, but they clearly missed snuggling up to her. One day they found the perfect surrogate: we spotted Beamer – the largest male cat of the first litter – stretched out on the ground with a row of sibling kittens sucking at his tummy fur. There was no milk, of course, but lots of snuggly comfort to be had from the warmth of their big brother. This touching little scene was repeated on several occasions and Beamer accepted his unusual role as though it were perfectly normal.
Not surprisingly, Beamer became the head of our outdoor feline family. He regularly gives his siblings a wash – a firm paw holding them under his grasp while he licks their ears clean. They don’t always enjoy this enforced spruce-up, but it is Beamer that each cat greets first when they gather at meal times. And if Beamer wanders off down the field, it’s not unusual to see two or three of his siblings following him nose-to-tail in a line. It’s a lovely sight that gives the lie to the belief that cats are solitary creatures.
Beamer also enjoys human company and seeks us out when we’re outdoors, announcing his arrival with his distinctive meow. He likes being stroked – and even groomed occasionally with a brush – but will not tolerate being picked up. Perhaps this handsome and sweet-souled boy feels it would undermine his authority as the boss cat…