Tag Archives: Dushenka

I Tried Not to Love Her

Dushenka came to us as a stray. She hung around the neighborhood for about a week, with my husband trying to coax her closer. Then she disappeared for a week. One day, though, she came trotting through our garden and up to our door. She had chosen us as her family.

It turned out that her former family lived just a couple of streets away from us, which we found out because the vet discovered that she had a microchip. (We also found out that her original name was Carmen, which isn’t a bad name for a cat, but we had already started calling her Dushenka because we couldn’t keep calling her Li’l Bit. “Dushenka” is Russian and means “little soul.” But I digress.)

I tried not to love her. I really did. We had recently lost our darling cat Julia, another little calico, and Dushenka reminded me so much of her. I just felt I wasn’t ready to give my heart to another one yet. But there Dushenka was with her little pinky nose, her smudgy chin, her crazy eyes, her super-long white whiskers, her floofy white belly, and her gorgeous, silky calico fur.

I began to suspect that I was falling in love when a neighbor (not Dushenka’s former owners – they never responded to us) lost their cat, also a calico, and came to inquire about the one we’d found. I found myself quizzing them closely about what their cat looked like. He said she was female. Check. I asked if she had a dark smudge under her chin. What were her eyes like? Then I brought Dushenka out for him to look at, and he said that she wasn’t his. I began to suspect she was ours (or we were hers) and that I was in love with her.

It turned out she is different enough from Julia that I was able to think of them as individuals. Dushenka has shorter fur than Julia did. Julia had a distinctive, bitchy meow. (She wasn’t actually bitchy. She just sounded that way.) Dushenka almost never meows, but she has a strong purr. And she snores. Daintily, but she snores.

She has acquired nicknames. (Baby Cat. Pretty Grrl. (Occasionally Naughty Grrl when she goes walkabout.) The Incredible Pettable Pet. Ms. Muss (rhymes with puss). Shenka-doo. (I may or may not have once called her Shenka-Doodle-Doo.) She even has her own song (“Shenka-Shenka-Doo, where are you? On your little kitty adventure!” ttto the Scooby-Doo theme song.) But I digress. Again. At length.)

I’m not sure exactly how old Dushenka is because she came to us fully grown, though still youthful. Now she seems more like a little old lady, or at least on her way past middle age. Lately, she’s been in poor health. She just can’t seem to pee. She eats and drinks just fine, but nothing comes out the other end. Several vet visits later, it seems – no big surprise here – to be a problem with her kidneys. I hesitate to say how much we’ve spent, what with the weekend emergency vet visit, the blood tests, and the x-rays.

We’re giving her subcutaneous (subQ) fluids, a process we learned how to do over the years with other cats. It involves immobilizing the cat – no easy matter – and sticking a needle under the skin between her shoulder blades. (That’s always my job. Dan can’t bear to do it). We have a bag of fluids and a drip set and let about 150 ml run in. The fluid occupies the space between skin and flesh and makes her look lumpy and weird until it gradually absorbs. Repeat the next day. The idea is to flush out her kidneys. The process exhausts us and Dushenka, too. Afterward, Dushenka has a little snack for her nerves and then we all go have a lie-down. These are the things we do for the little soul we love.

Every so often we look at Dushenka and say, “Who could not love this cat?” Other than the people who had her originally, I don’t know. I couldn’t not love her. I tried.

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No Bitey!

Our cat Dushenka is really a sweetie. In fact, she’s a love-muffin. She’s a part-time lap cat and is given to nose touches, head bonks, and loud purring. She slurps my husband’s forehead. Sometimes at night, she walks back and forth across our (formerly) slumbering bodies, making sure that each of us gets some of her attention. We call her the Incredibly Pettable Pet.

But, once in a while, she goes a little wild. If we rub her belly a bit too long or scritch and fuzzle her head a bit too much, she changes. When she gets overexcited or overwhelmed by all the play, her teeth come into play, too. She bites the hand that pets her.

Most of the time this is just a love-bite, with no attempt to harm. She just places her teeth on your hand or wrist. When that happens, I tell her, “No bitey” and withdraw my hand. She knows that when she calms down I’ll go right back to adoring her and demonstrating it with more caresses.

This week, however, she didn’t follow her usual pattern. This time she chomped down on my forearm. And drew blood. There was nothing different in the way I was petting her. I wasn’t pulling her tail or touching any of the places she doesn’t like to be touched. (Not that there are many.) I immediately stopped petting her and went to get a tissue to mop up the blood. The mark was gone by the next day. It didn’t get infected the way it once did when Dan’s cat Matches bit me on the web between my thumb and forefinger. And since then she’s been perfectly agreeable.

Why did this happen? Well, the BCSPCA (2022) says, “Many cats exhibit what behaviourists call ‘petting-induced aggression,’ an instinctive reaction to something they find unpleasant, even painful. Compared to dogs, cats are generally less tolerant of petting. When, where and how long cats can be touched before they become overstimulated vary from cat to cat.” Another source compares it to being sensitive to being tickled. When it’s just too much to handle, the tickle-ee tries to get away. If they can’t, they lash out (Shubin, 2022).

(Yes, I’ve been doing some work that requires me to use APA 7th citations, and I can’t quite break myself of the habit. And yes, I have also been tickled past the point of play into pain and know what it is like. Nonetheless, I didn’t bite anyone, though I probably should have. But I digress. Twice.)

Still, while Dushenka’s occasional bites are almost certainly petting aggression, that isn’t true of every cat that’s ever sunk their teeth into my tender (but apparently yummy) flesh.

Anjou, for example, got to me while I was sleeping. She came to me in bed and gave me the ol’ face-nuzzle. I grunted and tried to ignore her. I failed in this, because she immediately nuzzled me again. I grunted louder. Then she nipped me on the tip of the nose, which startled me nearly awake. Reflexively, I caught her up with one hand and heaved her off the bed. My husband said she flew through the air in a graceful arc and never stopped purring the whole time. It’s a pretty picture and I hope it’s true. He’s been known to exaggerate. But she certainly didn’t seem to resent it and showed no sign of harm or even stand-offish-ness the next day.

Another bitey cat was Louise. We got her when she was a tiny little baby kitten. I bonded with her right away, to the point I could even hold her belly up like a baby in my arms.

When we went to bed, however, it was a different matter. Every night, she wriggled under the covers and attacked our toes. Her teeth may have been tiny, but my God, they were pointy! They were like little needles piercing our lower digits. (Afterward, we referred to her as “naughty baby Fek’lhr,” a joke that almost no one gets. But I digress again.) Fortunately, she grew out of it.

Right now, Dushenka is upstairs cuddling with Dan. If I hear a yelp, I’ll know why. It’s not as likely to happen to him, though – Dan has thicker skin than I do. I know it’s not because he doesn’t pet her.

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A Cat in the Night

Cats have a reputation for being aloof and unemotional. I’m here to tell you that’s not true. (They also have reputations for being graceful, which anyone who’s seen a cat fall off a window ledge can testify is unfounded. There are plenty of online videos that prove it too. But I digress.)

Actually, cats have wide emotional ranges, which can include anything from passive to pissed-off. One of our previous cats, Maggie, could snub a person so thoroughly that they knew they had been well and truly snubbed.

But every now and then, a cat will read your emotions and give you exactly what you need.

We have a cat named Toby. He’s generally happy-go-lucky, with a trace of skittishness. He doesn’t purr much, but he makes crazy sounds like “ma-weep” that I don’t know how he can do without proper lips. He does like to cuddle when we’re on the sofa or the comfy chair, either nestled in my husband’s arms or draped across my capacious bosom. (If I were a different sort of writer, I would have titled this “Bosom Buddies.” But I digress. Again.) At night our other cat, Dushenka, snuggles up by Dan’s head, while Toby sometimes curls up by my feet, to be joined by Dushenka if Dan starts rocking and rolling too much in his sleep.

This day, though, I had simply had enough. Dan forgot to pick up something I needed when he went to the store. I was still suffering the aftereffects of dental surgery and was sorely sick of eating broth and mush, enlivened only by peanut butter or the occasional scrambled egg. Something I ordered arrived but wasn’t right. It wasn’t a day when big problems unexpectedly dropped in my lap. It was a day when I felt like I was being nibbled to death by ducks.

I sat on the sofa beside Dan, tears slowly trickling down my face, which he didn’t see. Later he claimed he did but didn’t know what to do about it, which is in some ways worse.

At last, we went to bed and Dushenka curled up next to hubby as usual. Dan went promptly to sleep, a thing I can never manage to pull off. I lay in bed, tears still trickling, making small puddles in my ears.

Then Toby came, and lay next to me, his furry little head resting on my arm. And he stayed with me. He would sometimes move a little, twist around to find a better position. But he always ended up in some configuration with his head on my arm. He was a soothing presence, giving me just what I needed – silent comfort and undemanding physical contact.

We stayed like that for hours. Once in a while, I reached to touch him, but it didn’t seem to disturb him. It was me and Toby, communing through the long, dark hours of the night.

Eventually, I was calm and reassured enough to sleep, and I turned on my side, the only way I ever sleep. Toby retreated to his usual position alongside my feet, close enough to return to his protective, gently soothing position if I needed his presence again. But I slept through the rest of the night, dreamless, and awoke calm, ready to face the next day and all its ducks. Knowing that Toby was there if I needed him.

More gushy food for Toby! (And Dushenka)

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Cats, etc. – The Little Soul Who Strayed, Then Stayed

The slim calico prowled the neighborhood, checking out the opportunities. This house? That one? There was a nice culvert in the cul-de-sac where she could both hide and find water.

The big, dark car stopped beside her and the door opened. The cat froze, waiting to see what came next. The human made cooing and chirping sounds, and the ones she’d learned to recognize as “here, kitty, kitty.” But she ignored him and sauntered on. You don’t get into a strange car with just any old human, after all.

Still, the human hadn’t appeared threatening. Maybe she’d check out this area again.

Carefully, the calico watched and waited. The big car went by several times a day. If she was hidden well, it passed by. If she allowed the human a glimpse of her bright eyes and sleek tri-colored fur, she might also listen to the low, comforting sounds that spoke of invitation.

Sometimes she strolled past the place she had lived before, just to check it out. Loud dogs barking in the house. In the yard. Not worth trying right now. Maybe some day the dogs would go away, just as she had.


“I’ve seen this little calico around lately,” my husband said. “Doesn’t look like anyone owns it.”

“Her,” I said. “Calicos are almost always female. They need two X chromosomes to get that color pattern.” I knew I was being pedantic, but I wanted to keep the conversation out of emotional realms. Our big gray and white cat Django had died not long before, and I wasn’t ready to give my heart to another feline companion.


A few days later, the calico saw the sign above our door, visible only to cats: SUCKERS LIVE HERE. FREE FOOD. Casually, she picked her dainty way through the garden and up to the front door. Just as the sign had revealed, the man from the car opened the door and brought her an offering of food. She started hanging around the house more. She could smell that there were other cats there. One dog in the back yard, but not a very noisy one. She allowed the man to take her inside.

He gave her a room to herself, with a constantly filled food dish and a container of litter. The man, and sometimes the woman, would visit her and pet her and give her a lap to sit on. There was a window to look out of and a comfy chair and lots of shelves and bins and boxes to explore.

No barking.


“If we’re going to keep her, we need to take her to the vet for a check-up,” Dan said.

I was still trying to resist. “But are we going to keep her? I’m not ready yet. It’s too soon.”

“Even if we don’t keep her, she needs a vet-check before we can let her mix with the other cats. We can’t leave her in your study. If we do try to find her owner, it could take a while.”

“There was a sign up a couple of streets over about a missing calico. It’s probably this one,” I said.

The neighbor came to see the little calico. I made him describe her before I brought her out. She might not put up with being held very long and turn into a clawed tornado. He neglected to mention the sooty smudge on her chin or her crazy eyes, one gold, one green, and when I did bring her out for inspection, he shook his head sadly. No.

“Good luck,” I said, holding the cat firmly against my chest.


“We’ve got to name her something, if only for the vet records. And we can’t keep calling her Li’l Bit. She’s not so little any more now that she’s eating regularly,” Dan said as we prepared to put her in a carrier. “Do you have any good ideas?”

“Well, there’s Dushenka,” I offered. “It’s Russian and means ‘little soul.’ On Babylon 5, Ivanova’s father called her that as a term of endearment.”

“That’s it, then. She’s Dushenka.”


All Dushenka’s tests were fine. She did seem like she hadn’t been on the street too long – glossy coat, not malnourished, definitely not feral. Just as we were about to take her home for another round of “Should We Keep Her?” the vet said, “I should probably scan her. Lots of cats have ID chips these days.

The quick wave of a wand over her shoulders and – BEEP. Somewhere Dushenka had an owner. And it wasn’t us.

The vet called the chip registry service and the phone number they gave her, but had to leave a message. A few days later, she gave us the address and phone number too. The cat’s registered name was Carmen, and she had lived one street behind us.


We tried. We really did. We called, left messages, even put a note on the door.

And I tried not to love her. I really did. But, truth be told, she had me as soon as I saw the crazy eyes and the smudgy chin.


So we got the vet to write a letter to the chip registry about what awesome pet guardians we are and how all of us had tried to contact the registered owner. And we sent in the $25 re-registration fee. The paperwork done, her ownership officially changed hands. To this day, we’ve never heard a squeak from the neighbors who used to have her.

We’ve seen this meme since, and except for the pronouns, it’s perfect.


She’s OURS now. And we LOVE her.