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Bengals have become quite a popular breed of cat in the UK over the last couple of years. Among one of the more expensive cat breeds (a recent article listed them as the third most expensive to buy) they are sometimes bought as a status symbol but more often it is because they are a very beautiful cat. Known for their loyalty, intelligence and the ability to learn tricks, this has also made them popular. However, they can also be a very challenging pet and anyone considering one should take this into account. They have an abundance of energy and they will need to work it off in order to live a happy life. This means either access to the outdoors or their guardian setting aside a lot of time to play with them, to help them stay active, entrained and to help them avoid boardroom.
Recently, my wife and I became the guardian of a Bengal cat that we named Ekanath. We hadn't set out to get a Bengal as such; we were looking for a cat that needed a home because we had a home that needed a cat! Our previous cats, a pair of litter mates named Golgotha and Gethsemane had both died of inoperable cancers within weeks of each other the previous year and we were finally ready to offer a home to another cat. Fate chose Ekanath for us when a friend contacted us to say she knew of someone who desperately needed to rehome a ten-month-old Bengal. He had bought the cat to keep his Savannah cat (another beautiful but challenging breed) company but she was terrified of the new cat. Local shelters had been unable to help, and he wanted to find it a loving home.
My wife and I are fortunate in so far as we are both self-employed and working from home, meaning we can reorganise our work day on a whim, letting us dedicate the time, patience and energy it requires to settle in a new cat — even one as demanding as a Bengal. What is more, we live in the NE of England which has no remaining natural predators of cats. In addition, we live on the edge of a beautiful nature reserve in a small community that is both reasonably close knit and which has a large number of cats and cat owners. This is a very cat-friendly area. The local cats have formed a sort of loosely knit clowder and the occasional unaccompanied dog has either learned to leave cats well alone or they learn very quickly, since any threat to one local cat tends to be met with at least half a dozen other tomcats rallying to the rescue in an instant, often supported by neighbours.
Despite all of this we knew that a Bengal could be a challenging cat to have, and we were certainly right about that! We discussed it thoroughly before making the decision that yes, we could cope and would love to be able to offer the little guy a loving, safe home. We spoke to the vet about how long to keep our new cat in before letting him experience the joys of the outside world, we bought a truck full of new cat toys, treats, cat-food and cat-calming products, we arranged pet insurance and booked him in to the vets to have his inoculations and to be microchip and we took over the guardianship of one of the sweetest natured, gentle and loving cats any one could hope for.
We love him and are only too happy to provide him with a forever home, but what follows is just one of the many adventures he has lead us upon since he became our cat.
I call it Ekanath the Aerialist.
There are few things that I find more frightening than heights. I'm not certain where my fear of heights came from as I can recall a time in my youth when I would gleefully climb rocky outcroppings and small cliffs without the aid of a rope, safety equipment or common sense. At some point in the past though something tripped a switch in what for want of a better word we will refer to as my "brain" that turned off my ability to deal with being higher than a few rungs of a ladder. Even getting into the loft has become an impossible task for me now and I've no idea why it happened.
Remember how I said there are "few" things that frighten me more than heights? Well, it was no accident I selected the word "few" because there are one or two things. Specifically, there is one thing that frightens me more than heights, and that one thing? Well, that would be watching someone else up a height. Even when that someone is a cat.
Now that's a bit of a problem, to be honest, given that cats, as a species, are sort of renowned for their affinity with heights. Gethsemane used to regularly give me a fright by looking right at me from outside my old office window — a fact that doesn't sound as if it should alarm me till you remember my old office was upstairs and she was perched on a tree branch in the garden some 12 feet or more above the garden.
The tree is gone now (it grew too large and began listing alarmingly over the house) and my office is now on the ground floor at the opposite side of the house. None of which prevented Ekanath from giving me a panic attack just days after he came to live with us.
They say nature will find a way. Well when the nature in question is a cat and the way they are trying to find is a way to panic their humans, the saying certainly holds true.
For the first day and a half of living with us, Ekanath largely hid under the couch. By day two he would venture out from time to time as he grew to trust his new monkey servants more and more, but if anything remotely alarming happened, he would retreat under the couch again. Our first indication of just what an outdoors sort of cat he was, came as something of a shock and lead to me seriously considering his tactic of hiding under the couch till everything got a bit less alarming.
It was a scorching hot night, and it is our habit to sleep with a window open in our bedroom. Now, our bedroom has large opening windows which we haven't used in over a decade, after all, a cat could easily wander out of them onto the window ledge and I have a constant fear they would slip and fall from there. Above those, however, we have small hatch windows which, if set to the first notch on the latch should theoretically be too small for a cat Ekanath's size to get out of. Besides which, the only way to reach them would be to leap the height of the lower window from a standing start — something I've not seen any cat attempt...
...Not until Ekanath did it.
Not only did he make the jump look easy but he proved the theory about being unable to fit out the upper hatch to be flawed as well. Within seconds he was dangling out of the highest window in the house, with just his back paws and fuzzy little butt still inside the room, counterbalancing him, as he eyed up the flat roof of the porch. Only the porch isn't directly under that window, it's set back several feet. A jump that would be difficult for a cat that has to do it from a standing start while balanced precariously on a window frame with a half closed window limiting his vertical arc.
Now, it's about at this point that things get a wee bit hazy because as Ekanath dangled precariously out of the window, refusing to respond to my panicked and desperate pleading to come in, I had a full blown panic attack. Marie immediately leapt to the rescue, grabbing the cat sticks and trying to entice him back inside while at the same time trying to find a top to slip on, having leapt out of bed to join the rescue attempt. The same bed that I was now curled into the fetal position on, rocking backward and forwards and repeatedly squeaking some enchantment to whatever patron saint has the unenviable job of protecting adolescent cats with no discernible sense of self-preservation.
Of course at this point Ekanath decided that rather than the incredible feat of aerial acrobatics he had planned, it might be more fun to turn round — something that almost sent him tumbling from the window and almost had me hyperventilating — to leap instead on the curtains –—which responded by sliding wide open and exposing Marie to half the neighbourhood as she stood there semi clad and wagging a cat stick. Still, fortunately there don't tend to be a great many people pottering about the street at that time of night on a week night.
Shame it was a Saturday really.
Not that the gaggle of teenage boys who happened to be returning home from whatever shenanigans "yooffs" get up to these days (tea-dances or discotheques or ram raiding perhaps) thought it was a shame.
Rather made their night actually.
So, now we have Marie trying to avoid ending up on some sort of register as she juggles the curtains, the cat stick and trying to get into the shirt she had hastily grabbed, me rocking back and forwards on the bed trying to breathe and Ekanath swinging back and forth from the curtains like he is some sort of feline Tarzan of the jungle and a rapidly growing audience outside who are wishing they had brought popcorn.
Fortunately, Marie managed to get the shirt on and the curtains closed in time to close the window while Ekanath was still doing his trapeze practice on the curtains.
Just to add insult to injury, the cat finally alighted on top of the chest of drawers we keep next to the window. The chest of drawers that is about three feet high in total. The chest of drawers he acted like he was stranded on for the next half an hour because, apparently, THAT is too high for him to jump down from.
That's cat logic for you.
The window hasn't been open since.