Photo by Annette Joyce/NWO | Chesterbelle gives Peyton O’Brien a double high five, one of many tricks Peyton has taught the cat.
by ANNETTE JOYCE
When his neighbors rescued a kitten tangled in the netting of their batting cage, Paul O'Brien and his family were the first people approached about adopting the young feline. Even though his wife, Myla, and their daughters Allie and Peyton, now 19 and 17 years old, begged to keep the kitten, Paul was adamantly opposed to it.
"There was no way I would have another cat. We already had one cat and we didn't need another mouth to feed or more vet bills. I sent her on her way," he said, smiling sheepishly as he recalled his initial reaction to bringing another cat into their family.
It took two days before the women in Paul's life wore him down. That was two years ago, and the beautifully colored cat, which is a mix between a Siamese and tabby, has since become a beloved and entertaining part of the family.
The Kernersville-based family initially thought their new addition was male, so Paul named it Chesterberg. But a trip to the vet revealed "he" was actually a "she," so they amended her name to Chesterbelle.
Adjusting to life in the O'Brien household came with some challenges for Chesterbelle. The family had another cat, Gracie, a 12-year-old tabby whom Paul describes as an "ornery old lady." Chesterbelle hoped she would be a friend to play with, but Gracie was not interested.
After about six months and a lot of patience from their humans, the cats were finally able to cohabitate without issues. Gracie still does her own thing, but Chesterbelle has turned her attention to her people and found a way to participate in most of their activities.
"In most cases she wants to be near you or around you," Paul said. For instance, when the family is eating dinner, Chesterbelle likes to climb up to the space between the kitchen cabinets and the ceiling where she can keep an eye on what's going on below.
And, when the family heads for their pool, Chesterbelle's right there with them. Last summer, the girls decided Chesterbelle might enjoy lounging in the water on one of the floats, so they placed her in the middle of a giant flamingo blowup. That worked for a while, until Allie fell out of the float with the cat in her arms. To add insult to injury, she and her sister determined the chlorine might be harmful to Chesterbelle, so they gave her an outdoor shower.
This summer, Paul and Peyton decided Chesterbelle should have her own flotation device. With stay-at-home orders in place due to COVID-19, the father/daughter team found themselves with plenty of time on their hands and set about constructing a float that resembles a throne - at least, a throne for a small animal.
The base of the apparatus is made with pool noodles attached to a piece of plyboard. A thick piece of foam covered in plastic and topped with a folded towel assures that Chesterbelle will be comfortable. It's all topped off with four pegs and a rope that makes pulling her around the pool easy. Because they found all the materials at home, the two didn't even have to leave the house or spend any money. Best of all, Chesterbelle is happy to lounge on her homemade float as she enjoys her time with the family.
Perhaps the most unusual thing about this lovable creature is that she does tricks - a feat rarely seen in felines. It seems Chesterbelle is very food-motivated and is willing to work for her treats, which are actually bits of her regular food.
Peyton started working with Chesterbelle after reading that Siamese cats can be trained to do tricks. The kitten caught on quickly, and now has an entire repertoire of entertaining skills. On Peyton's command, Chesterbelle sits, shakes hands, stands up on her hind legs, rolls over, does a high five and a double high five. When Peyton points her finger at Chesterbelle and says "bang-bang," Chesterbelle falls over as if she's been shot.
"It takes time and patience and you should make sure you have someone else to help you," Peyton said when asked about tips for teaching tricks to cats. "It helps that Chesterbelle likes her food so much."
Although Peyton said kittens are the easiest to train, she's still teaching Chesterbelle new tricks. Her most recent trick is to spin around.
While Chesterbelle is lucky to have found such a great forever home, it's obvious the O'Briens feel quite lucky to have her around.