Life lessons from my cats

What I learned from my ‘cats with personalities’

In 1996, my friend Kristel’s cat had kittens. We lived in Curaçao, but I was about to go back to the Netherlands to take care of my 12 years younger brother Michael R. Jacobs. I had no experience as a ‘mother’ but wanted to give him (and maybe also myself) a homely experience as much as possible, after the messy divorce our parents had been through. That’s how I got the idea to bring two kittens with me as a surprise for my brother.
They already managed to attract a lot of attention on the plane. Because they were so small, they were allowed to fly in the cabin in a carry-on travel cage. The flight attendants and even the pilot said I could ‘let them walk around’…

White cat, black cat

I called the white one ‘oMalley’ and the black one ‘Enigma’ (or was it the other way around?). However, when my brother saw the kittens, he thought the names should be swapped. Since then, there has been confusion about the names.

“Has Enigma had any food yet?”

Esther Jacobs – Life lessons from my cats

“Um, that used to be the black one, but now it’s the white one. Or was it the other way around?” Before long we just called them ‘white cat’ and ‘black cat’…

Domestic life with a cat

For me, the cats became the symbol of security, the domestic life that I had not known since I was 17. Occasionally they even played a part in an interview, as you can see in one of the photos.

Both cats had unique characters. The white one flawlessly found the ‘frequency’ in my head when she wanted to come into the house at night. Not through the special cat door I had installed, of course, which opened automatically, but through the front door. She would sit outside the front door and say ‘meow’ very softly. Only once. And I woke up instantly. And of course, let her in.

Cat training

In the beginning, the cats were allowed in the whole house. Later we decided that they were not allowed to come upstairs (they sometimes peed on the bed). Since then, the door to the hallway and stairs was their sole area of focus. They played psychological games with me. At night they scratched at the hallway door. It drove me crazy. You may only punish cats if you catch them in the act. But walking down would give them the attention they asked for. Besides, no matter how softly I tried to sneak down the stairs to bang on the door, they caught me flawlessly and had long since stopped scratching and had moved away from the door.

In the end, I won this ‘battle’ through the following plan. Cats are afraid of the sound of vacuum cleaners. So I set up the vacuum cleaner downstairs before going to sleep, with the hose directed to the door. I walked up the stairs with an extension cord, and put it near the socket in my bedroom. Then when the cats started to scratch the door at night, I, very sneakily, plugged it in….

Esther Jacobs – Life lessons from my cats

Their own social life

I traveled a lot and when I was in The Netherlands, I spoiled my cats quite a bit. They got a bit fat and had to be on a special diet. But they had their own social lives and happily poked a fork here and there in the neighborhood. One of my old neighbors told me she was marinating lamb chops once, turned around, and saw my cats running off with her meat.

There was no way to control their diet. I explained the situation to all my neighbors and gave them packets of diet food. They assured me that of course they would only give them the diet food. Meanwhile, a box of Whiskas sitting on their kitchen counter (while the neighbors had no cats of their own)…
One day the black cat squeezed herself through the cat door, but she was so fat that the plastic frame of the door caught on her stomach. She ran across the living room in a panic, banging the plastic door everywhere. Sorry, black kitty, it was a super funny sight.

Esther Jacobs – Life lessons from my cats

A better home

When I spent so much time abroad that I basically only kept my house for my cats, I decided that I should no longer feel guilty, and find a good new home for them. Kristel, their ‘grandma’, now also lived in the Netherlands again, with three lovely daughters. They offered to take the black cat and the white one was invited to live with her parents-in-law in the countryside.

Both cats, although sisters, had never really gotten along anyway: they tolerated each other more than they liked each other, so that was a good solution.

Can a cat be transsexual?

The white cat slowly became demented and lived on the farm for a few more wonderful years.

As cats befit, the black cat has gotten itself a completely new life. She thrived in the family. She lost her excess weight, enjoyed all the attention, and explored the neighborhood.
But there was something strange about her. Although she was a female, she had something masculine about her. Manuela van der Horst, a good friend who can communicate with animals, had talked to her once and said that she answered in a very deep voice and saw herself as some kind of black panther. Kristel’s daughters knew nothing about this but decided to call the black cat ‘Thomas’. Crazy enough, that name just fitted.
(Could cats be transsexual too?)

Several times a year I would visit and Thomas would meow back when I talked to him/her, just like he/she always had. I had the feeling that we still had a bond and that he/she was grateful for this second chance.

The final years

Thomas grew older and less mobile. Another cat came into the family and they did not get along. His favorite spot became a table in the garden, from which he could watch the busy family life from a distance. There is nothing more fun than being part of the family without having to participate in it yourself.
In the meantime, Thomas was already 21 or 22 years old by then. Every time I spoke to Kristel, I was afraid of bad news. “Is Thomas still going strong?” I asked carefully. “He sure is!” she would assure me, after which we were both surprised again about the long and crazy life of this cat.

One day Kristel called me. “I have something sad to tell you,” she said. I knew immediately: “Thomas!” It turns out that he disappeared just before their vacation, looking for a quiet place to go to sleep forever. His story and his long life have been beautiful, and it was OK. Thomas is now again that slender, strong, black tiger running through the ‘eternal hunting grounds’.


Do you know that my cats have given me tremendous insight? In my book ‘What’s Your Excuse?’ I describe how they initiated a valuable process. You can read the chapter here.

So with this, I want to thank the white and the black cat: not only for many years of cat fun but also for the wise lessons. Also thanks to my ‘Bro’ Michael R. Jacobs for the ‘excuse’ to bring the kittens for you, and of course to Kristel, her family, and parents-in-law for the years of good care for ‘our’ cats.

Is there a special cat in your life?

What did you learn from him/her? Curious to hear your stories…