If you've ever been to KitTea in the early afternoon, you may have witnessed a curious sight: Buffy, catapulting herself onto someone’s shoulders, then perching like a parrot.
Buffy is a tiny, spry black cat often mistaken for a kitten. She is both lighter and less long-bodied than her sister Shiloh, whom she was nearly identical to when they arrived at KitTea nine months ago. It is her small stature that makes her hopping habit possible into adulthood when many other growing kitties might have abandoned it.
Once she leaps into the air toward a Cat Wrangler’s shoulders, Buffy transforms the calm Cat Lounge into an electrified performance space. Her triumphant landing is met with “oohs” and “ahs”. Cameras and phones pop out. (Sometimes we cat wranglers wonder how many social media accounts and vacation albums we've appeared in simply because Buffy was standing on us.) Guests climb to their feet and approach Buffy tentatively but eagerly. Would Buffy do them the honor of standing on their shoulders as well? Why yes, she would! People giggle and clap as she makes her way from one set of shoulders to the next, purring as she goes. “This is the best thing ever,” one woman tells her friend. “I have never seen a cat do this before!” another guest exclaims. And indeed, sleek, black, and elegant, poised on a guest’s shoulders, head held high above the ground, Buffy is quite a sight to behold.
Buffy is already a bright-eyed cat, her round, yellow eyes giving her an air of perpetual surprise, but her eyes take on an even wider, especially mischievous glint when she looks for a set of shoulders to claim. Usually, she approaches a cat wrangler or volunteer first, someone she knows, but occasionally she’ll set her sights on the tallest guest standing near a table. If her chosen human is moving too much, she'll follow them around the room, across the benches, and from table to table, until she makes eye contact. If it's one of the staff, we'll recognize that bright and determined look, watch her wiggle her hips and tail, and square off our shoulders in anticipation.
Once she’s up there, she doesn't exactly hold still. Sometimes she'll walk a small figure right from shoulder to shoulder, facing first left, then right. She might rest her bum on your head for a second, only to abruptly point it toward the camera that's trying to capture the spectacle. She might slide her front paws down your back as you lean forward to try to counter her weight, and just when you think that maybe she'll leap to the floor, she stays in that spot, perfectly content with her sapien furniture. What's best is when she curls her face toward yours, purring in your ear, inviting you to reach up and pet her cheek or scratch her chin. Beware, though, for at this point you may discover that Buffy, an open-mouth purrer, has been drooling on your shirt and now your fingers.
But it's all worth it, even the drool, to listen to her purr and see how happy she is to be up high and bonding with a human. We often invite her up, initiating this ritual ourselves, despite the occasional scratches we receive when she misjudges the distance or loses her footing. And it's so wonderful to watch how happy the guests are when she leaves our shoulders and steps onto theirs, sometimes walking across a chain of four or five people in a row, bringing each of them into her special world at KitTea.
Sometimes people ask if we trained her to do this. Not at all--although I'm sure she finds the pets and adoration rewarding--it was her idea from the start. And she does it every single day.
*This the first part of a new series on our sanctuary cats. We’ll be highlighting them one by one, as well as exploring the unique relationships and bonds between them that together create this special rescue cat colony.*