A Red Robe Memory for Zoey’s 11th Birthday

It all began with sweet Kit.

Many years ago, long before she was even a kernel of leopard-spotted existence in my life or this world for that matter, Zoey had already stolen my heart. It began with Kit, a stray cat I found in my driveway one cold and damp evening when I lived in Upstate New York. Of course, I took her in and she went on to live a happy and full life with me. When she passed at eighteen years of age, it was not a surprise as I had been mentally preparing for months, if not years, for the inevitable day she would no longer be with me.

During Kit’s life, many feline companions came and went, all holding a special spot in my heart. But there was one breed I always wanted – a Bengal. It’s no secret I have a love affair with all thing’s leopard, and I had spent endless hours researching this wildly exquisite creature, longing to have one of my own. But the timing was not right. Kit was very frail during her final years of life and I didn’t feel it would be fair to introduce a new, rambunctious kitten into the household dynamic.

When Kit passed the mental pain was excruciating. Despite there being three other cats, a dog, my youngest son, and my fiance Dan living with me, the house was cloaked in a veil of sadness I couldn’t shake. Needing a bright spot, the elusive creature I had been dreaming about for so long seemed to make sense now. Especially with a recent development – our Maine Coon, Zee, about 3 years old at the time – was becoming increasingly aggressive with our other older resident cats, probably due to boredom, and I thought a younger companion would be a good diversion to channel his pent-up stress and energy.

Zee – the poster cat at the time for what a bored and frustrated cat looks like.

Once my mind was made up it didn’t take even an ounce of energy to convince Dan we needed to find a Bengal. Back then, it was natural to look for kittens in the newspaper as breed resuces were not prevalent in the mainstream as they are today. I found a breeder and off we went. It was about an hour’s drive and it was surreal when we entered the cattery. One Bengal is spectacular, but seeing several of them in the house – from tiny newborn kittens to large, mature adults, all with gorgeous leopard spots – I felt like we were on a safari, witnessing a rare glimpse into the world of wild jungle cats.

Because I’d thought of this for so long and knew I’d be getting a female, I had already picked the name Zoey for Zee’s potential new best friend, and as suspected, the moment I laid eyes on her – a tiny and beautiful ball of spotted fluff – I fell in love. She was just a fuzzy slip of a thing that fit perfectly in the palm of my hand and when I placed her in the carrier to bring her home, I was not prepared for the intensity of her reaction.

At first glance at this pretty little kitty, one would never know the strength and force of her personality.

She had a relentless, blood-curdling noise that bleated from her little lungs and her petite paws had a death grip on the carrier with amazing strength. Small, yes, but no one was going to stop her from trying to outwit her entrapment. She screamed like a wild banshee the entire trip home, making an hour seem endless. To this day, her meow is piercing, breaking the silence of anything with jarring disruption.

Zee meets Zoey for the first time.

Zoey was to be my soul-mate kitty, but Zee had other plans. He was instantly intrigued by this femme fatale, with a full-blown love affair soon to follow. Sure, the first moment they met was awkward – Zee towered over Zoey like a mammoth giant and Zoey was mildly curious, but certainly not impressed. She was a no-nonsense, honest-in-your-face kind of kitty who embraced life with utter abandon and vigor in levels that Zee was unfamiliar with. Dan and I were overly cautious and very protective of her, too. The first time Zee decided to wrestle with her, we scolded him, telling him not to be rough.

Zoey completely discounted our concern, to the point she would deliberately provoke Zee, fighting him back with all her might while thoroughly enjoying it! Zee didn’t care. He followed her everywhere and she could do no wrong in his eyes. She was an inspiration. Everything to her was an opportunity for imagination and adventure. What used to be a cat condo Zee would lazily scratch his claws on, became a challenging mountain for her to conquer. She would run full speed around the house and then, out of nowhere, agilely jump in a single leap up to the very top of the “mountain,” then, just as quickly, jump down and boomerang back up to something else. Zing. Zip. Zoom. They became inseparable and after a full day of rough-housing, you would find both curled up on the couch together, completely worn out and exhausted, Zee’s paw lovingly and protectively tucked around her.

Zee and Zoey after a busy day of playing together. Their love was very evident.

Several months later I noticed a change in Zoey. She stopped running around the house and was lethargic. Her tummy had a slight fullness and her nipples were becoming more pronounced. She had begun to “pink up” with a noticeable rosy glow to her ears, face, and belly – in other words, she was with kittens. I had all the intention of getting her spayed, but it was too late and that’s also when everything changed. Zee was no longer Zoey’s priority and she began to take comfort from me, somehow sensing I understood her situation better than he.

Zoey, the night before she gave birth.

As the days inched closer to her due date, she became very devoted and attached to me. She would come to the couch each night and lie on top of my outstretched legs, a habit that continues to this day. It was winter back then (February) so I was always bundled up with my thick, soft red chenille bathrobe on. Zoey loved the material on her belly, and I could feel the miraculous rolling movement of the kittens on my legs. I would stroke Zoey’s silken fur for hours – it seemed to keep her calm and content, as well as me because in all honesty, I was nervous about her delivering kittens.

I didn’t let on with her, but I was a wreck, worrying about everything under the sun. What if she had the kittens while Dan and I were at work, in a dangerous spot where they could fall and get hurt, or what if she had the kittens and one of the other cats attacked them, or what if she rejected the kittens, or what if one of them was born and could not breathe, and so on. It was the second week in February and my gut was telling me she was going to go in labor any moment. On February 11 we went to bed like normal – the next morning was a workday for me and Dan was leaving for a business trip. It was about 4:30 a.m. when Zoey woke me with a loud, meowing cry, something not necessarily unusual for her, so I wasn’t sure if she was “just talking” or something else. She stopped, so I assumed it was her being her usual vocal self, but when she came in an hour later her meow was much more insistent, and it was clearly directed at me.

My cozy, red chenille robe at the ready.

Sensing her urgency, I got up. It was still very dark – I reached for the red robe I had waiting at the foot of the bed, “just in case,” and groped my way to the living room, guided by her meows. She jumped up on the couch and I sat with her, which pleased her. I made myself comfortable, lying down, and she immediately tucked herself into my belly while I held her close and patted her. Her loud purr was evidence she was very happy to have me with her.

Minutes later, I felt her body contort, but she was still purring, and she didn’t move or meow in any sort of pain. And since it was still dark, I really didn’t know what was going on. I then heard a very faint noise and my instinct told me she just had a kitten on top of me! I panicked and screamed for Dan. I couldn’t see, so I didn’t know where the kitten was, or if it was okay, and I was terrified it might fall on the floor. Dan came in and turned on the light – sure enough, she had given birth to a kitten on my red robe! I had him get Zoey’s birthing box and we very carefully moved the kitten and Zoey into the box and then brought them both into the bedroom closest where we had created a birthing den for her, waiting for more kittens.

Zoey just minutes after the birth of her four kittens.

With the calming presence of Dan and me, she had three more kittens. After cleaning them up, she quickly settled into the role of mama, encouraging them to nurse on her. Thankfully, they were all healthy and it appeared Zoey had her new family under control. I reluctantly went to work, giving her some peace and quiet. When I returned home, the first thing I did was open the bedroom door to check on her and without even a second thought, she bolted up and out of her box like she was a spry kitten herself and not a cat that had just given birth a mere few hours ago. She promptly forgot about her new and completely helpless family and galloped out of the bedroom so quickly that I had no idea what was going on.

Her intention was to find Zee, evident from her nuzzling up to him, and she made it clear her kittens were the last thing on her mind, which concerned me. Newborns need full-time nourishment and warmth – both of which were supposed to come from Zoey. I had to get her back into “mom” mode, pronto. I tried to coax her back into the bedroom and into the box with the kittens, but every time I corralled her into the box, she would jump out as soon as I stood up. So, I did what any cat-loving person would do, and I set up camp in the closet with her. I grabbed the essentials – a snack to eat, a pillow, a blanket and my cell phone in case Dan called. I put the blanket next to the box and laid down. Zoey seemed intrigued with the set-up and jumped into the box where the kittens very happily welcomed her, burrowing into her warm, soft belly looking for milk.

I pet her and talked to her, which greatly appeased her. As long as I was lying down, she was fine. As soon as I got up, she jumped up with me so I spent the better part of the night lying next to her and the kittens in the closet, making sure they got the critical time with her they needed. The next morning, Zoey still tried to run out of the room, but I corralled her back in and somehow managed to get her to stay with the kittens so I could shut the door and leave for work. I felt she would be okay with them for the time being and I also knew I would come back at lunch to check in on her and lie down with her for a bit, if necessary.

It took a few days to help her settle in, but once she did, Zoey was a very content and proud mama.

I don’t know if she stayed in the box while I was at work, but I think she did. When I came home for lunch, she stayed with the kittens while I was there, so, worst case, I knew I could get her through the day, as I would be home again soon and with it being Friday, I would also have the weekend to help her if that was what she needed or wanted. It was when I changed her bedding I knew everything would be okay. Although cats have a natural ability and instinct to keep their kittens clean, she obviously could only do so much. I had to lift each tiny, fragile little kitten out of the box and place it on the blanket next to me so that I could put in fresh towels.

The kittens squealed a symphony of noise which caused Zoey such panic  I think it jarred her into maternal reality, comprehending these little beings were indeed under her charge. She anxiously waited for me to finish and once she was certain each kitten was safely accounted for, she jumped into the box, nuzzling and licking their fears away. The transformation from that point was astounding. There was no doubting her commitment and love to her babies and her demeanor changed before my eyes. I could feel her beaming as if to say, “Aren’t these babies the most beautiful things you have ever seen?” “They are mine and I created them.”

Watching TV while crocheting, with Zoey on my legs – it’s times like this that I’m my happiest.

The privilege extended to me by Zoey is the foundation of our bond and relationship. She is my soul-mate cat and has allowed me to share in the most intimate of acts – the birthing and raising of her kittens. With today her 11th birthday, she has mellowed with time and her wild days are over. There is the occasional zoom around the house for no apparent reason and her vocal cords have not gotten any less piercing. We still have a strong and loving connection, especially enjoying our time on the couch together, and very often I will find her cradled into my belly when I go to bed at night, a memory reminiscent of that miraculous day on the couch. Happy Birthday my sweet leopard kitty and thank you for making my life and heart full with your love.

Happy 11th birthday, beautiful Zoey!

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  1. Sue Brandes says:

    Happy Birthday Zoey.

  2. Zoolatry says:

    My little Zoey just had her 13th birthday on Saturday … but we did not have quite as interesting a story to share … though a red-velour robe still hangs on the back of my door, albeit somewhat frayed after many years.
    Happy Birthday to your beautiful girl …
    Happy Day to you!
    As always, a warm and loving post.

  3. Brian Frum says:

    That was quite the amazing story! Happy Birthday from all of us sweet Zoey!

  4. Ingrid King says:

    Happy Birthday, Zoey!

  5. Sandee says:

    ♪♪Happy Birthday to you,♪♪
    ♪♪Happy Birthday to you,♪♪
    ♪♪Happy Birthday Dear Zoey,♪♪
    ♪♪Happy Birthday to you.♪♪

  6. Zoey, you don’t look a year over 10! Happy Birthday!

  7. I enjoyed reading the story of Zoey. Happy Birthday Zoey!

  8. We enjoyed reading the beautiful story of Zoey ! Happy Birthday, Zoey ! Purrs

  9. jmuhj says:

    A big beautiful Happy PURRthday to you, Zoey! Enjoy it in safety, good health, happiness, comfort, and LOVE! *and many more!*

  10. Zoey is a beautiful girl. Happy Birthday to her!

  11. Edith Chase says:

    Happy Birthday Zoey!!!

  12. Happy 11th Birthday, Zoey. We just loved the story about you that you shared. We hope you have a wonderful day with the ones you love. Thanks for the share. Have a great day and love the proud mama photo of you.

  13. Ellen Pilch says:

    Happy 11th birthday sweet Zoey! XO

  14. Mary McNeil says:

    Happy Birthday to your Zoey and to Anne of Zoolatry’s Zoey too,

  15. Happy Happy 11th Zoey!!!!!!!! Beautiful post! Do you believe Cody turned 12 on April 1? Where has the time gone?

  16. meowmeowmans says:

    Such a terrific story! Happy birthday, Zoey!