Chapter 1 - My twelfth birthday

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I asked Koko what she want for her twelfth birthday, Koko signed "cat."

I wasn't surprised that Koko asked for a cat for her birthday. I have been reading to Koko for many years. Two of her favorite stories have been "Puss in Boots" and "The three little kittens." Koko gets very interested in the stories I read her. When reading the story of the three little kittens who lost their mittens, Koko sees that their mother is angry. She notices that the kittens are crying.

            "Mad," Koko signs

     Koko loves picture books. Books about gorillas are her favorites. Books about cats are next. She likes to go off on her own with a book. She will look at the pictures and sign to herself. On her birthday I gave Koko the usual presents. She got apple juice and some special fruits and nuts. She got a baby doll, too. I didn't want to give Koko a stuffed toy. I knew she'd eventually destroy it.

      The only durable cat toy I could find was in a mail order catalogue. I order it right away. It was made of cement and covered with vinyl and black velvet. I decided on it because it looked real. It was strong - gorilla-proof. The toy cat didn't come in time for Koko's birthday. So I decided to save it for Christmas.

       In December, I made a list for Koko. I drew about 20 pictures. "What do you want for Christmas?" I ask as I showed Koko the pictures. Koko carefully look at the book. Then she pointed to a doll, nuts, and -- a cat.

I bought Koko some nuts and a new doll. I wrap the toy cat. I put it with the rest of her presents.

On Christmas morning, Koko ate her cereal. Then she open her stocking. It was filled with nuts. Koko threw the nuts aside. She went to her next present

As Koko unwrapped the velvet cat. "That red," she signed.

Koko often uses the word red to express anger. Koko was very upset. She started running back and forth, banging on her walls. It is natural for gorillas to do this to do this when frightened or in great danger. But this was Christmas. It was usually a happy day for Koko, and she was with people she loved.

I finally understood Koko's strange behavior. She was unhappy with her Christmas present I had made a mistake. Koko did not want a cement and velvet toy cat. Koko wanted a real cat. Koko really wanted a REAL pet.

     Things don't always happen as quickly as we would like them to. Every day is full of its own activities. So it was almost six months later when Karen, one of my assistants, came with three kittens.                     Karen showed the three kittens to Koko.

'Love that," Koko signed.

"Which one do you want?' we asked. 'That," signed Koko, pointing to the Gray tabby. 

      I am not sure why Koko picked the Gray Tabby as her favorite. I never asked her. Perhaps because he didn't have a tail. A gorilla has no tail. That night, all three kittens went home with Karen. Two days later, the kitten came back for another visit. Koko was happy to see them. "Visit love tiger cat," Koko signed. She cradled the Tabby on her legs. She examined its paws. Koko squeezed, and the tabby's claws came out. "Cat do scratch," Koko signed. "Koko love." "What will you name the kitty?' I asked. 

"All ball," Koko signed. "Yes," I said. "Like a bail, he has no tail."

Ball stayed overnight as a visiting kitten. By the end of the week, Ball was permanently member of the household. Koko had her kitten at last.

For the first few weeks, Ball lined in my house. Every evening at six o'clock, I would take ball to Koko's trailer for an evening visit. I carried the kitten in my pocket as I got Koko ready for bed. Koko soon grew used to this routine. 


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