The Incredible Life of Tia-pet, the Dominican Wonder-Cat

Tia-pet (1998-2014) was a lovely and lively Caribbean short hair domestic cat. Photo taken by (Aunty) Jenny Spencer in August 2011.

Tia-pet (1998-2014) was a lovely and lively Caribbean short-haired domestic cat. Photo taken by ‘Aunty’ Jenny Spencer in August 2011.

I am not aware of many cats that have lived out all nine lives on Dominica, but I can assure you that my dear little Tia-pet was

Tia was tiny when he found his first parents in a residential area north of Roseau early in 1998.

Tia was tiny when he’ found’ his first pet parents (Lorraine and Steven) in a residential area north of Roseau early in 1998. Photo by S or L Ricketts.

one of a select few felines in this category.  At the age of 16+ human years, he  departed this earth en route to “cat heaven.”  Since  my furry friend passed away at home on May 3, 2014, I feel as if I have the lost the greatest gift I ever received on

Aunty Susan Weeks painted this image of Tia in 2011 . it was based on a photo I had taken of him at play in 2010.

‘Aunty’ Susan Weeks painted this likeness of Tia in 2011 . It was based on a photo I had taken of him at play in 2010.

Dominica.  But I am oh so thankful for all the time we had together; his constant companionship amounted to another enduring and exceptional experience on the Nature Island!

When I made the final decision to move to Dominica, I first settled

at Springfield Plantation in August 1998.  There, I met a British/Dominican couple who had found a little kitten where they lived for some time before moving to the mountainous site to work on the property.  Although  a male, they had named him Tia when he was very tiny.  Lo and behold, they came to me after I had not been there for more than a month and informed me that they would be returning to the U.K.  As they could not take their animals with them, they asked me if I would be interested in adopting the young cat.  As I  was moving in to their little house, I found myself in the horns of a dilemma.  I reluctantly agreed, although I was not really interested, due to allergies and other plans. I figured he would just wander away to another home if I showed no interest. Well, you can see that never came to pass. I resisted and Tia persisted.  He would cry and cry until I let him in and as a very determined little critter, he simply wormed his way into my heart.

I always referred to Tia as being the 'King of the Kiity-Cats' on Dominica.  He sure had a regal look to me!

I always referred to Tia as being the ‘King of the Kitty-Cats’ on Dominica. He sure had a regal look to me!

Perhaps one of the strangest things, and the biggest blessing for me, was that I was NOT allergic to him.  For a while, I thought I had lost that allergy, but then I have proved that I still have it over the years with different cats both here and abroad. Go figure!

TTia as also known as Garfield after  a period of too much canned milk and kibble.  he was put on a strict diet by the vet!

Tia was also known as Garfield after a period of too much canned milk and kibble in his younger years. He was put on a strict diet by the vet!

Tia was a frisky critter and liked to jump from the counter to the fridge-top in his younger days.

Tia was a frisky critter and liked to jump from the counter to the fridge-top in his younger days. But even as he got older, he was always full of fun!

By the time I moved from Springfield, we were firm friends.  I could go on about his adventures and close calls, but suffice it to say that  Tia was one tough kitty.  He was never a cuddly, jump-on-your lap cat.  Instead, he delighted in very rough play.  I and others who dared came away with scratches, superficial bites and sore arms from playing with that cat for hours at a time.  And if he was hungry, or wanted in or out, it was hard to ignore that powerful yowl.

Tia loved to hunt - real critters or toy ones.  He was playful pussycat!

Tia loved to hunt – live animals or toy ones. He was a playful pussy cat!

Of course he was spoiled, but the pleasure was all mine.  He reciprocated with gifts from field forays: lizards, mice and little birds.  Sometimes there were other souvenirs from his outings: a number of vets treated Tia for cat bite abscesses .  Sometimes they were so large they had to be surgically removed.  Although Tia had been neutered when he was young, he remained a territorial type.  At all times of day and night ,I would hear the unforgettable piercing screams of two cats at war. Neighbours would sometimes tell me that my cat was giving their cat “blows.”  But then came the day when Tia could no longer hold his own and his opponent seemed to have the advantage.

When he was 12  years old, I decided it would be in his best interest to become an indoor cat, as he was starting to lose those feline battles.  The vet was worried that he would not adapt well, but Tia took it all in stride.  He still had access to protected porches and balconies and was able to content himself by hanging out in those locations with a view.  And of course, he would always still  play with anyone who dared!

While there were signs of slowing down which became increasingly obvious this past winter when he turned 16, he still jumped up on the porch balcony to check out the birds by day and the bats by night.  But one evening, I  let him out on the porch  alone while I did something else inside for a few minutes.  When I went to check on him, I could not find him.  I took a flashlight, looked down two flights below to the ground – and there he was – still moving.  I ran down, scooped him up and called Tia’s last vets, husband and wife team Dr. Ronnie George and Dr. Nausima Paul in extreme panic.  Fortunate for me, they had just finished their clinic and were on their way home, which is nearby.  They came right away and examined him.  There did not seem to be any obvious or serious injury, except for some sore muscles.  Without access to x-ray or ultra-sound, there was no way to know anything further.  However, from that point in late February, Tia rapidly declined, although he did hang on for some time.

This is the last photo of Tia, taken on February 27, 2014.  By then, he had already fallen off of the back porch and had to be helped onto the bed - but his spirit was still strong.

This is the last photo of Tia, taken on February 27, 2014. By then, he had already fallen off of the back porch and had to be helped onto the bed – but his spirit was still strong.

Those wonderful vets continued to check on him – frequently. They also  received a number of calls from Tia’s scared mummy as his behaviour changed and he seemed not himself over those last couple of months.  It was hard to watch him fail, but that rough cat definitely had the heart of lion, and I was sure to tell him so.  He did not seem to be in pain until the very last day.  I sensed that the end was near and stayed right beside him for many hours.  I am so thankful that I was there when he looked at me wide-eyed and then took his last breath.  I assured him that I loved him, and then he left for that great mouse-hunting field in the sky – “cat heaven” as my mother referred to that celestial abode when I was a little girl.

This whole sad event would have been much more devastating  had it not been for the calm and reassuring counsel of my Canadian friend Nancy from Springfield.  We spoke many times on Tia’s last day on earth.  After he departed, she kindly offered to bury him at Springfield the next morning.  I was  comforted by her generosity, as that beautiful mountain location means so much to me.  Tia had gone full circle and his remains now rest at the place where we first became a family.

It was sunny and lovely on Sunday May 3, 2014.  Nancy drove a distance to collect me so we could take Tia’s body for burial.  She allowed me to sob and cry and unleash my grief while she alone  prepared the ground with pick-axe and shovel.  I offered to help her, but she refused.  I was impressed with her strength and grateful that I could mourn freely.  Fortunately, it was a quiet day and no one else was on the property.  When Tia was placed in the earth by Nancy, we said a final good-bye and she tucked his toys all around him.  I placed some rosemary for remembrance over his towel-shrouded body.  Then we covered him with the damp  heavy clay earth, small stones and  finally larger ones.  I placed a bouquet of white  anthurium lilies and  we put some pretty potted  flowers on top of the grave.

Tia's final resting place at Springfield is in a peaceful spot surrounded by fruit trees.

Tia’s final resting place at Springfield is in a peaceful spot surrounded by fruit trees.

Tia's grave site has spectacular views at Springfield.

Tia’s grave site has spectacular views at Springfield.

Although I was extremely sad, I was content with the knowledge that he was at rest at one of the most beautiful places on earth.  I will miss him for as long as live, but I am extremely thankful to have had endless pleasure from the companionship of a little boy cat named Tia.  “Thank you for being in my life . I love you – forever and ever.”

THANK YOUs

As I think back over the 16 years that Tia was in my life, I am quite amazed at the number of people who have helped me with his care.  I am indebted to all of you and I thank

Neigbour Kristelle was Tia's best friend for many years.  After all, they were the same age!  She ehlped to take care of him many times for me.

Neighbour Kristelle was Tia’s best friend for years. After all, they were the same age! She helped to take care of him many times.

you for what you have done so that Tia could have the best quality of life possible for a cat.  God bless you!

Friends, neighbours and cat lovers:

Special thanks to Vernon Gordon and family, my former neighbours who looked after Tia often between 2004-11.  Their willing assistance and wonderful cat care enabled me to travel all over Dominica for my writing assignments, spend time in other Caribbean countries as well as  summers in Canada and leave quickly when my mother died.

Also to Ursula Joseph, my faithful  helper for 14+ years who was always there for Tia and even rescued him from a couple of scary situations (which gave her a fright).

Nancy Osler at Springfield helped me through the most difficult process of Tia’s imminent death, his burial at Springfield and the painful hours afterwards by being there for me and allowing me to freely grieve.

Liz Madisetti was on stand-by to take care of Tia this forthcoming summer, even though his health was failing.  She was completely willing  to pet sit, despite the uncertain circumstances.

Other caring pet-sitters over the years (also known as Tia’s ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles”) included: Eddie Shillingford, Tessia Butler, Dr. Patricia Rodney, Whitney Sommers, Malcolm, John, Peter, Dr. Caryl Lockhart, Susan and Alden Weeks, Jenny Spencer, Ben Tapley. (If I have forgotten anyone else, I’ll be sure to list you and soon as I remember!)

Veterinarians played a critical role in ensuring Tia’s good  health and well-being over his long cat life, and I have the utmost of respect and admiration for their compassionate work with all animals:

Dr. John Toussaint, Dr. J. Collin McIntyre, Dr. Caryl Lockhart, Dr. Reginald Thomas, Dr. Nausima Paul and Dr. Ronnie George were always available when Tia had an illness or an injury or was in need of a check-up.  I especially appreciate the many times that Dr. Reggie Thomas came to the house to examine Tia as  he became a senior cat.

Husband and wife veterinary team Dr. Ronnie George and Dr. Nausima Paul attend to Florence, beloved pet of Mark Steele at Beau Rive.    These wonderful vets can be contacted at their clinic (767) 440-8387 or by mobile at 277-4811/275-4935.

Husband and wife veterinary team Dr. Ronnie George and Dr. Nausima Paul attend to Florence, beloved pet of Mark Steele at Beau Rive. These wonderful vets can be contacted at their clinic (767) 440-8387 or by mobile at 277-4811/275-4935.

Finally, I am forever grateful to Dr. Nausima Paul and her husband Dr. Ronnie George who provided phenomenal geriatric and end-stage care.  They were basically on-call for the last two months of Tia’s life. Their support, guidance and interventions enabled me to better  understand this phase  and allow Tia to make a smoother transition to the hereafter.

To Tia’s first pet parents, Lorraine and Steven Ricketts: If you ever come upon this blog post, know that you gave me the greatest gift of my life in Dominica.  Heartfelt thanks.

Rest in peace, dear Tia-pet.

Footnote:  In June 2014, Lorraine, Tia’s first pet mummy contacted me out-of-the-blue by email and enquired about me and the little cat.  We had lost touch for several years and I had to give her the sad news of his passing straight away.  However, it was lovely to reconnect with her and to have shared the special gift of Tia-pet, the Dominican Wonder Cat!

English Immersion on the Nature Island: French Students Learn about Dominica’s Flora and Fauna*

Students Carole (l), Victoria and Marie-Agnes from Ludicademi in Martinique demonstrated tremendous interest and keenly participated in class discussions.

Students Carole (l), Victoria,Marie-Agnes and Charles from Ludicademi in Martinique demonstrated tremendous interest and keenly participated in class discussions.

The Crapaud frog (aka Mountain Chicken) is critically endangered and is endemic to Dominica and Montserrat. Read about its plight and the exceptional efforts to save it here.

The Crapaud frog (aka Mountain Chicken) is critically endangered and is endemic to only Dominica and Montserrat. Read about its plight and the exceptional efforts to save it here.

During a class held at the University of  the West Indies Open Campus in June, the English immersion students from Ludicademi in Martinique grasped the significance of  relevant and meaningful vocabulary  that could be directly applied to plants and animals on the Nature Island. Over the course of three hours, they began to understand  the meaning of biodiversity, the importance of wildlife conservation, as well as how, why  and what endemic, migratory,  endangered and vulnerable species are found here.

By the amount of questions that they posed, it was clear they were tremendously interested in the less common  and threatened species that exist on Dominica. That afternoon,  renowned author and  Forestry and Wildlife Officer Arlington James (retired) would be taking them on an interpretive tour of the Syndicate Forest Nature Trail (located above Dublanc on the west coast, in the foothills of Morne Diablotin). I was assured that they would come away from this day’s topic with a great appreciation for and understanding of Dominica’s flora and fauna.

The Fragile’ Mountain Chicken’ Frog

They were particularly fascinated by the ‘Mountain Chicken’ frog (aka Crapaud), which is critically endangered (almost extinct!) due to a persistent fungal infection. It is a regional endemic, as a very  are few found on Dominica and Montserrat. Those that manage  to survive are being closely monitored by Forestry and Wildlife Division officers, with much appreciated assistance from specialists at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

Birds, Birds, Birds!

The Imperial or Sisserou Parrot is endangered and is only found on Dominica.  This is a female.  Photo taken by Forestry Officer Stephen Durand.

The Imperial or Sisserou Parrot is endangered and is only found on Dominica. This is a female. Photo taken by Forestry Officer Stephen Durand.

I referred them to the classification system of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) where they would discover the survival status of specific species. They had no idea that Dominica’s two parrots, the Sisserou which is endangered and the Jaco which is vulnerable are only found on Dominica.  That means that they are endemic to this country alone!  However, some of the students wondered if they might have seen Jaco parrots on Martinique.  I could not confirm this, of course.  I do hope that they queried Mr. James.  The Jaco’s numbers are increasing and the distance between Dominica and Martinique is not great, so I wonder if it is possible…I will certainly check with my friend, Forestry Officer/Bird Specialist Bertrand ‘Dr. Birdy’ Jno Baptiste when I next see him!

Certainly, Dominica can be described as a bird enthusiast’s ‘heaven’.  Over 200 species of our feathered friends have been sighted here, although only about 50 are resident year-round (reference:birdlife.org).  Of course, the others are migratory.  The class was intrigued when I showed them a photo of a Blue-Headed Hummingbird, which is only found on Dominica and Martinique.  That means it is a ‘regional

The vibrant colouts of the male Blue-Headed Hummingbird are a sight to see. it is only found on Dominica and Martinique.

The vibrant colours of the male Blue-Headed Hummingbird are a sight to see. it is only found on Dominica and Martinique. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

endemic’!  I was very surprised that no one in the class had ever seen one on our sister island to the south.  I could only hope that they might catch a glimpse of one in the Syndicate area, as I had with ‘Dr. Birdy’.

Snakes and Lizards

Friends took me to see a nest of Boa Constrictors (locally called 'Tet-Chien' in Creole) on Canada day 2012.

Friends took me to see a nest of Boa Constrictors (locally called ‘Tete-Chien’ in Creole) on Canada Day 2012.

I showed the class a number of other photographs of animals on Dominica – at least my favourites!  They were really astonished by the possible length of the endemic species of Boa Constrictor snake – which can reach 10 feet!  I assured them that it was not poisonous, nor were the other three species that are found here.  While the confirmed numbers of this reptile are not exactly known, it is felt by some experts that they might be vulnerable, especially due to habitat loss and hunting.  They do play a vital role in keeping down the rat population.  I am always thrilled to come across one in the forest, which is not that often!

DSCF4538

The endangered Lesser Antillean Iguana (called Leza in Creole) is the largest lizard on Dominica. Recently some other types have colonized here from other countries.

The other reptile that I enjoy watching up close is the Lesser Antillean Iguana.  

Amazingly, the class had seen a bright green juvenile in the Botanical Gardens the previous day but didn’t know what it was!  It is the largest of about nine species that thrive on the Nature Island. Again, it has been suggested that  their numbers are in decline and that they are classified as endangered on the IUCN Red List.  However, on Dominica, these creatures are protected by law, so I hope they fare better here than on other islands.  I have seen them  in various locales along the west coast, including Champagne Beach, Mero Beach and  seaside at Coulibistrie.

This 'stick insect' is endemic to (only found on) Dominica!

This ‘stick insect’ is endemic to (only found on) Dominica!

Whales and Dolphins  and Other Mammals

Of course, I told them a little about the sea creatures as well, including a resident year-round pod of Sperm Whales, and plentiful dolphins.  A number of other types of whales are migratory and pass through Dominica’s waters annually.  Dominica is known as the ‘Whale Watch Capital of the Caribbean’, as the likelihood of spotting some cetaceans  on an excursion is very high.

Then we talked about  a few of the other 16 mammals that exist on Dominica:, including 12 species of bats, the rodent-like agouti, and manicou (opossum).  They are similar to, if not the same varieties on Martinique, according to some of the students.

Sea Turtles

There was a very lively discussion when I showed the class some video clips about the three types of endangered sea turtles that regularly nest on Dominica’s beaches (Leatherback, Hawksbill, and Green).  To see the females come in to  dig a nest and lay many eggs, or to watch hatchlings run into the sea are awesome sights.  As these animals are protected by law on Dominica, some students queried the balance between tradition and conservation.  Historically, turtle meat and eggs have been eaten by some people here.  There was  some concern  in the class about being denied one’s rights to eat a traditional food or to protect an endangered species.  It can be a delicate subject, but I urged the students to consider that if they were plentiful, and if there were no other food sources, I could understand the need to hunt them.  Most definitely, that is not the case these days, and anyone caught interfering with the turtles is arrested.  I also told the group that a number of community associations, especially on the east coast, patrol the beaches at night when the turtles come in.  They also offer turtle  watching tours!

Flora/Plants

There was so much to say about the flora and fauna found on Dominica that I ran out of time.  It was important to point out that the Smithsonian Institute In Washington D.C. has previously described Dominica as “a giant plant laboratory, unchanged for 10,000 years” (Fodor’s Caribbean, 1996).  I made sure to emphasize that there are over 1,000 flowering plants in Dominica, of which 11 species are only found here, and nowhere else!

These red and pink ginger lilies are called exotic plants because they were introduced to Dominica from sources in Malaysia.

These red and pink ginger lilies are called exotic plants because they were originally introduced to Dominica from sources in Malaysia.

These beautiful anthurium lilies belong to the monocotyledons class, of which tere are 186 species on the Nature Island

These beautiful anthurium lilies belong to the class of ‘monocotyledons’, of which there are 186 species on the Nature Island

Two species of heliconia flowers are only found on Dominica.

Two species of heliconia flowers are only found on Dominica.

Prolific Gommier Trees are indigenous to the caribbean region.  There are about 200 forest trees in Dominica.

Prolific Gommier Trees are indigenous to the Caribbean region. There are about 200 types of forest trees in Dominica.

I quickly showed them a few more photos of my favourites and then they were off for their excursion with retired forestry and wildlife expert Mr. Arlington James to learn more in the forest at the Syndicate Eco-site.

This "chicken of the forest' mushroom is edible, although there are other species on Dominica that are poisonous!

This “chicken of the forest’ mushroom is edible, although there are other species on Dominica that are poisonous!

I think they were truly amazed about the extraordinary amount of biodiversity on the tiny lush Nature Island!

* This mini English immersion programme was organized by Tina Alexander, Executive Director of Lifeline Ministries, Dominica.

Reference: Overview of the Flora and Fauna of Dominica [notes] prepared by Stephen Durand For Dominica State College Basic Skills Training Programme, October 2006.