Frankie. Our little fluffy bundle of joy came into our lives on December 30th 2013, and now we can’t imagine our daily lives without him. There’s something about having a pet that brings out this bizarre parental instinct in you that makes you feel great and makes other people think you have totally lost the plot. I am the daughter of two self-confessed cat-nuts and have never had any other type of pet, so my fate as the Crazy Cat Lady has pretty much been sealed my entire life.
But truth be told… Frankie was nearly a dog. With Oscar always saying that he hated cats and was “a dog person”, that was the original direction we were going in. We even had our puppy picked out (a Chilean terrior, bred by his Uncle) and a potential name. We saw this tiny-weeny 4 week old blob when we went round for an asado on one trip to Chillán, and instantly fell in love when he snuggled into the crook of Oscar’s arm when he held him, and did one tiny puppy-lick on the tip of my nose when it was my turn. We nearly brought him back in the car there and then, but FOR ONCE! common sense took over and we decided to go home and think about the implication properly (yes, mother, it does happen occasionally!).
After two weeks of to-ing and fro-ing between it being a great idea and a terrible mistake, we finally decided that the sensible thing would be to not have him. At that time we were still living in a very small apartment, and the thought of me having to look after and train a small puppy with no previous experience and to do so on my own when Oscar was at Paranal was sort of scary. I think we were both gutted at that decision, mostly because we had already met him and named him – THE WORST THING YOU CAN DO! – but because we both knew how much these Paranal shifts for up to two weeks at a time really sucked for me. Going from spending all day with someone to being on your own for 14 days is hard, and I hated it.
A few days later, on one said shift at the Observatory, Oscar says the magic words: “Why don’t we get our own little cat?”. Now cats I can do! “We should get one from scratch!”, he continued, giving me visions of an Ikea-style build-your-own-kitty set. So just playing around, I Googled something terribly complicated, like “Kittens for sale, Santiago”, to see what sort of things were available. One website seemed to have lots of options, and the first one I clicked produced a photograph of this tiny white lump of cotton wool, with bright blue eyes and head cocked to one side as if staring deep into your soul and saying “You know you want to…”. I showed it to Oscar, and that was it. Another fate sealed, and not long after we called to express our interest in the little thing.
We decided on the name before we collected him. When throwing ideas around, Oscar really wanted to call him Frankenstein “because it will be funny!” That was not going to fly with me, but figured that it could at least be shortened to ‘Frankie’ and prevent me from being subjected to future scoffing (a friend of a friend called their kitten ‘Megatron’ once – now that I like!). Our friend Anna came up with adding ‘Stein’ as his surname, which does give her comedy credits despite the fact it kind of makes him sound a little of Jewish origin now. Although given how he currently is, Frankenstein is actually quite fitting as he is indeed a bit of a monster! There’s no feeling quite like peeling him off the bedroom curtains at 5am on a Saturday, or cleaning up-chucked Go-Cat from the bed when you get home from work. Oh well, it’s all practice for having kids…. Right?!
The-kitten-that-would-be-known-as-Frankie was to be found in a house in Maipú, a commune found to the far west of Santiago. Santiago is a huuuuuge city, so it was a good 45 minute drive to get there in the heat of the morning (don’t forget that December is the middle of Summer here!). As the look of our locale changed dramatically – and not for the better – we wondered what on earth we were getting ourselves into. Were we really headed towards a drug cartel, enticing us in with a promise of seeing those big blue eyes in the photograph? Were we going to be sold into slavery as punishment for being enamored with a currently-intangible ball of fluff?
We eventually find the house in the middle of a dodgy-looking estate and are greeted at the door by the couple, 72 dogs and 164 cats (within a margin of error). The first warning sign. As we walked through the door into their living room and checked out our surroundings we were both thinking “oh crikey…” (to paraphrase, because my parents read this). It was a little like walking into an episode of ‘Pet Rescue’. There were animals everywhere, it smelled weird, and looked like we had just been transported back to the house of a 90 year old granny in the ’70s. We sat on the very edge of the cigarette smoke-stained sofa, wondering if we had made a mistake
And then the came bumbling over. Looking like a little rat with his messed-up fur and skinny tail, Frankie came to check us out for the first time. The husband got a bowl, filled it with cat biscuits and poured milk over the top like breakfast cereal and held it for baby Frankie to drink. That was my second warning sign, as any responsible cat owner would know that they are generally lactose intolerant and should never be given milk, contrary to what ‘Tom & Jerry‘ taught us throughout childhood. Frankie just lapped up the milk, unable to eat the huge biscuits with his fragile kitten teeth, then retreated to the cat bed on the floor to chew on the blanket.
As Oscar talked to the guy about him, I could see that we were going to be in for a fun time… Those beautiful blue eyes from the photograph had been replaced with pink, sore eyes, completely crusted up with mucus which the husband claimed was just “because his mum has stopped cleaning him now he’s bigger.” Warning sign numero tres. Never heard so much rubbish in my life, and knew that the poor boy had an infection. On top of this, he was sneezing (cat ‘flu), had really thin fur that was crawling with huge black fleas, and looked skinny but with a very swollen belly – a classic sign of worms. Yet despite all this, he seemed to be having the time of his life chewing the blanket, chasing it when I wiggled the end, jumping around everywhere. Like he didn’t have a care in the world.
Placing Frankie in his new travel cage along with a little cuddly reindeer he had been constantly playing with, and which he still loves (“Un regalo!”, said the husband. A present!), we drove him back to Las Condes and took him straight to the vet to get sorted out. Eyes cleaned, bathed in anti-flea wash, given anti-parasitic medicine, eye drops and antibiotics – a traumatic first few hours, which he was able to sleep off in the car as we had to drive the 4-hour trip straight down to Chillán for New Year’s Eve.
But our little Frankie is a trooper. Despite being so sick, he was still full of energy and willing to play and get to know his new family. We do wonder if he is as sweet as he is now because of all the care we had to give him in those first few months. To this day, he has never bitten or scratched anyone maliciously – even when playing, his claws are retracted and he doesn’t bite down when he has you in his grip. His favourite place is sitting on people’s shoulders like a furry parrot, and he loves to have his chest scratched. There is still a funny reminder of his tough first month of life, however: Frankie eats and drinks with his eyes closed! The food starts off in his bowl and ends up on the floor surrounding it, as he pushes it up the side with his nose and over the top with his eyes firmly shut. The only explanation is that this is how he has learnt to associate eating, when his eyes were sore with conjunctivitis and gunked-up to the point where they were almost glued shut so that he had no choice but to eat without looking at what he was doing.
I have also never known a cat to live by such a strict routine. We generally get home from work around 6:30pm, and he immediately demands his dinner which HAS to be biscuits mixed with a bit of Whiskas else he refuses to look at it (but only for the evening meal! He’s very happy with just biscuits morning and afternoon). He throws it out of the bowl, as shown above, then has a long drink of water. Then it’s play-time: chasing his toy mice, running through his tunnel, attacking his dad from underneath the laptop on his lap. After such fun activities, it’s time for a little nap on the rug ready for the madness to begin at 10:30pm – just as we start to think about bedtime ourselves, Frankie begins his favourite games of “Let’s climb the curtains!”, followed by “Uh-oh, I’m trapped on the roof and will complain until you rescue me!”, and ending with “I’m going to look you straight in the eye while I scratch the sofa!”
We go to the bedroom and he runs past us and jumps on the bed. As we settle down, he walks over us in the most awkward, heavy-pawed way possible, and sits on my chest and starts to purr like a motorboat – the only time in the day he does this. At no other point in the day does he sit on our laps and make noise! So he gets scratched and fussed over for a while before we try to sleep. He trots back down the bed and lays down on the bottom right-hand corner by my feet (sometimes via a little micronap on my pillow behind my head). At some ungodly hour of the night, he will suddenly decide to check that we are still breathing, bounce along the length of us until he reaches our faces, and press his nose next to each of ours in turn giving us eye- and mouthfuls of whiskers. When we inevitably wake up flinching and complaining, he starts to purr, gets a chest-scratch and resumes his anterior position by my feet, wholly satisfied that his humans are ok.
We stopped using an alarm clock months ago, as Frankie never fails to make sure we are awake in plenty of time to get to the office. Every morning around 7:30am, he will repeat the face-full-of-whiskers routine to stir us. More purrs, more cuddles. If my alarm does happen to go off, he races along the bed and jumps all over me, en route to my bedside cabinet where he points at the clock like an Irish Setter until I turn off the annoying beeping. Off he goes to climb the bedroom curtains to ensure we physically get out of bed to remove him, then happy with his success he trots off to the kitchen in search of breakfast. We go to work, come back, and the whole kitty cycle repeats itself.
These little creatures worm their way into your life and into your heart and take root, languishing in the love and attention you give them in return for huge vet bills and ruined furniture. We have just dropped him off to Oscar’s family down in Chillán to be looked after for the next 5 weeks while we are on a trip to Europe, and the house simply isn’t the same! As much as I constantly complain about being woken up with a paw to the throat like a feline karate chop at 3 o’clock in the morning, I also wouldn’t want it any other way. Frankie Stein may be a little monster, but he’s OUR little monster. 🙂
Hasta la proxima,