Pepper and Mint
Pepper and Mint are our two little Chartreux kittens. The Chartreux are a breed of French cats, said to have been bred by Carthusian monks in the Chartreuse Mountains for their beautiful blue-gray fur.
Actually, we broke tradition by naming our kittens Pepper and Mint, as the first letter of a Chartreux cat needs to encode the year of its birth. Pepper and Mint were born on the 15th of May, 2009, so they both should have had names starting with E, while 2010 kittens have names starting with F (and so forth, except the letters K, Q, W, X, Y and Z are skipped).
We first met our kittens on the 1st of August, when they were still tiny scared little things with deep blue eyes (their eyes turned golden soon after). In retrospect we should have wisked them away then, but we waited a few more weeks so they reached the recommended age. We think that the woman who bred the kittens didn't spend any time with them at all, as their mother hissed when she picked them up, and the poor little things were petrified when we brought them.
Back home they spent several days hiding underneath our filing cabinet, or climbing up into the hollow back of the sofa. Fortunately, Lydia was able to find a program for domesticating feral cats online. In around a month or so, Pepper and Mint would let us approach during dinner. The big breakthrough came with the cat dancer, which the kittens chased with so much delight that we could trick them into jumping on to our laps.
The nervousness of Pepper and Mint is so exceptional that our surprised vet asked if they were rescue cats, as Charteux are normally placid and affectionate. After having to wear thick gloves to pick up Pepper he prescribed them both some anti-anxiety drugs, to calm down for a few months and learn that we aren't going to hurt them. Either the drugs or the treats are working, as the kittens happily climb over us for food and little Mint even lets us pick her up to help her climb. A long way from when I had to use a oven mits and a blanket to capture Pepper to take her to the vet. Perhaps the legend about the Chartreux being feral mountain cats from Syria, brought back to France by the Crusaders, is true, and our kittens are a throw back to the wild.
Chartreux are said to bond with one person in the house and follow them around. Pepper and Mint have definately chosen Lydia. Apart from night time (when they are barred from our room due to their night time play) they are never far from her side. When I open the bedroom door in the morning they bolt through and jump up onto our bed. We used to play "under kitten, over kitten", as Pepper would sit on Lydia's lap while Mint loved to crawl under the covers. These days Mint joins Pepper topside, possibly because Lydia keeps kitten treats by her side at all times, and they are guaranteed a few in the morning.
Bath time is another good chance for the kittens to get treats, so they run in as soon as Lydia gets in the tub. Pepper doesn't mind water so much, and often sits on the edge and lets Lydia clean her tail. Mint is petrified of the water after having fallen into the tub a couple of times, but she still climbs up when treats are available.
To give Pepper and Mint some privacy, we built them a little cat condo, out of Ikea furniture. The idea is for them to climb up a ramp to a discrete side entrance cut into a cupboard, go through a cat door into their antechamber, trigger the motion detector LED to turn the lights on, then through another cat door to the kitty litter. Pepper worked it all out fast enough, but little Mint has a lot of problems with the concept of a cat door. Even seeing it open and close, and having Pepper walk in and out, she just can't think of it as anything other than a wall. We made up a practise box with a cat door in it, and Lydia spent an hour every night trying to teach Mint how to use it. Food of course was the teaching aide, smearing some food on the door and then placing a tray just inside. Mint would lick the food off the door, which would sway backwards and forwards, then should would run around the box looking for a way in. Even when Pepper calmly walked through unaided Mint would try jumping on top of the box and scratching her way in. Lydia insists that Mint has made a lot of progress, but the practise box is now in our basement and the cat doors are permanently taped in an upright position.
While they are sisters, Pepper and Mint are very different. Pepper is the strong independent cat. She likes to sit next to me or Lydia and happily takes treats, but she is generally skeptical and suspecious of anything, especially hands. I play a game with her where I reach out to bop her nose, she generally lets me get close enough to check whether there is food, but if I make contact she runs out of the room at full speed (Lydia gets her revenge by putting kitten treats on my nose while I am asleep, so they can bop me back). Pepper loves nothing more than stalking bugs, leaping up to catch the smallest midge and eat it with gusto, but when there are no bugs around she will run after lazer pointers and reflections. We used to call her "Frog Cat", because of her odd way of sitting with her legs hanging out behind her, but now more often she sprawls around with her belly in the air.
Little Mint is very different. Maybe it is her overwhelming desire for food, but she trusts us a lot more than Pepper. She doesn't mind being picked up or played with if there is any chance of a treat. But unlike Pepper, she doesn't like to hang out with us if food is not on the cards, either hiding away in some cupboard for hours on end (or, in one episode, in the kitchen plumbing) or, if Pepper is with us, sitting primly underneath our couch. The number one in Mint's life is really her sister Pepper. She lets Pepper boss her around endlessly, giving up any toys and chirping at any bugs to let Pepper know they are around (but rarely catching them). As much as Pepper is the boss, Mint gets her own back frequently - she hasn't grown up from kittenhood, and likes to catch Pepper unawares, often waiting to get her on the way out of the kitten condo. Mint loves toys that run across the ground and don't involve jumping, especially her dear fish-bird. When fish-bird gets put away little Mint paws anxiously against the cat toy cupboard.
These two little rascals are now firmly part of our lives, and are missed dearly when we travel.
To be honest, though, they probably enjoy having the house to themselves.