Category Archives: pets

Ms. Whisht and Buddy

They look so innocent, don’t they? Of bank robbery and murder, as my Dad would have said. In actuality, these cats are naughty little fiends who try to get away with anything they can, including chicken bones if we don’t keep a sharp eye out and a lid on the garbage can.

Their names are Toby (the tabby) and Dushenka (the calico). (Dushenka, if you’re interested, is Russian for “little soul,” but has a colloquial meaning of “sweetheart.” But I digress.) All our cats have had nicknames, from the descriptive (Mr. Underfoot), to the sickening (Toto-Booboo), to the ridiculous (Sir Boinks-a-Lot), to the obscure (Naughty Baby Fek’lhr). But when these two take up the sport of door-darting, they acquire new ones – Buddy and Ms. Whisht.

Dushenka is the primary door-darter, and in a way, I can’t blame her. Before she came to live with us, she was a mostly-stray cat in our neighborhood and it might be expected that she would want to pussyfoot around in her old haunts or beg handouts from other suckers. But we don’t let our cats outdoors for health and safety reasons, and once she joined our little family, she had to follow the rules.

Except, of course, she didn’t. One day I looked out an upstairs window and said, “That’s a pretty calico walking up the neighbor’s drive. It looks a lot like Dushenka. Hey, wait a minute…!” We would chase her, to no avail. We would stand outside and call her name fruitlessly, then give up. After about half an hour I would go back out, lean on the car, and call her name again. Shortly she would amble into the cul-de-sac and flop down on the macadam, where I could scoop her up and tell her she was a naughty girl, which she ignored. Toby got out occasionally too, but he wasn’t used to the outdoors, so he was much easier to round up.

When we moved to a new neighborhood, though, we had new worries. This wasn’t familiar territory for either cat. If they got out, they might not be able to find their way home.

Of course, it happened. Dushenka slid through the screen door opening (which I would have sworn was only two inches wide) and made for the street. Dan and I threw on pants and shoes and followed as best we could. She wandered about, inspecting the row of houses across the street as we followed along behind her. When we got within about seven feet of her, she would casually stroll into the backyard or over to the next house or into a stand of trees.

Finally, we gave up, exhausted. We were headed back to the house to start printing up Wanted posters, when I noticed that, about seven feet behind Dan, Dushenka was coming trot-trot-trot in his footsteps. She followed him all the way home and flopped down on the patio, looking smug.

She had invented a new game, which was fun only as long as we played it. We took to waiting out her occasional escapes until she had had enough boredom and come home, usually in about 30-45 minutes.

Still, our goal was for her not to get out in the first place. Now I have to stand guard when either one of us opens the door. Dushenka has learned that when I take up position, clap my hands, and loudly hiss, “whisht,” she is to remove herself to another part of the house, or at least stand back six feet.

I then engage in a little monologue. “Don’t even think about it, Missy. I have my eye on you! [making the gesture where you point at your own eyes and then theirs] You’re thinking about it. I can tell. Don’t make me whisht you! ‘Cause I will!” While I’m at it, I pin Toby down. “You too, Buddy. Don’t you get any ideas either. Whisht!” He wanders off, pretending he has no idea what I’m talking about.

They still try every once in a while, especially when Dan is bringing in an armload of packages. He has to ring the bell so I’ll know to get to the door and be ready to clap and whisht. I can’t wait until we have company over and they get a demonstration of our little routine. It may sound stupid, but it works for Ms. Whisht, Buddy, and us.

Living the Wild Life

Our house felt remote, surrounded by trees and a small stream and prairie grasses and wildflowers. Our neighbors were remote enough that we could have become practicing nudists, were it not for the invention of telescopes. Actually, it was very close to everything required for modern life.

The animals in our area did not know this. We were regularly visited by squirrels, chipmunks, snakes, bats, deer,  and rabbits. (Also wasps and carpenter bees, but those were much less welcome.)

My husband’s favorite visitors were the hummingbirds. Every summer, one brave hummer would fly up to his study window to let him know that it was time to get out the feeder and fill it up, damn it!

When we first looked at the house we would need to rent (after a tornado demolished our beloved home), I was dismayed to see that it was in a cookie-cutter suburb with zero character. But then I saw a blue jay fly out of one of the bushes. It was the first one I had ever seen and I considered it a good omen.

We moved in and began to make the place our temporary home. The first thing we bought was a double bird feeder, with a regular feeder as well as one for hummingbirds.

And the birds came. In droves (or flocks, I guess). Enough to terrify Tippi Hedren. We saw blue jays, sparrows, chickadees, pigeons, and the occasional red-headed woodpecker, once the word got about in the avian community. Many of the birds were messy eaters and showered seeds on the ground around the feeders, which occasioned the arrival of dozens of birds at a time, eager to chow down at our all-you-can-peck buffet. Then something would alarm them, and they would all take off simultaneously.

The alarming something usually proved to be a squirrel. The local squirrels grew fat and sassy on the spilled seeds. When they were depleted, the squirrels made attempts on the feeder itself. Let me assure you, few things are funnier than watching a squirrel courageously climbing that thin pole and then sliding helplessly back to the ground.

Occasionally a squirrel would make it up to feeder height, then be completely stymied by the construction of the feeder. Stranded on top of the feeder, but unable to maneuver down to the perches, the squirrels eventually gave up and resigned themselves to raiding the buffet on the ground.

The neighborhood we’re now living in is very homogenous, with manicured lawns and houses close enough together to discourage even attempted nudism. (None of the neighbors seems bold or reckless enough to practice the art (hobby? lifestyle? pursuit? avocation?)) With such wild life unavailable, we figured that we were out of luck too when it came to spotting frolicking animals (the type unclothed by anything but fur). If the stereotypical suburban houses and lawns were that uninviting, surely there would be little to no local fauna, aside from the ravenous squirrels. Or so we thought.

We were wrong. We have seen a number of local cats strolling through our back yard (if they count). There has been at least one chubby bunny nibbling our conservatively mown grass. And then we saw a different animal, one we couldn’t quite figure out. It was obviously a large rodent of some kind, bigger than a cat would want to attack, and, as it was brown, clearly not a possum. (With which critter I have had some unfortunate experience – https://wp.me/p4e9wS-46. But I digress.)

As it waddled as quickly as it could toward the treeline at the back of the property, we caught a glimpse of a tail, though we didn’t get a good enough look to determine the size and shape of the trailing appendage. Aside from being startled, we had many questions. Was the tail broad and flat enough that this could conceivably be a beaver? (The next suburb over was named Beavercreek, after all, although around our rental house there was nary a wetland to be seen.) Was it a groundhog (or woodchuck)? Did groundhogs have tails?

A quick trip to Google informed us that groundhogs and woodchucks were the same animal; that they did, indeed, have tails; and that they were almost completely herbivores (which I suppose means it was after the seeds, like everybody else). A check of the hive mind on Facebook produced a consensus that what we had seen was most likely a groundhog, as well as a few jokes about how much wood it was or wasn’t chucking.

Our cats, of course, look upon this abundance with assorted amounts of glee and hunger. We placed a cat tree near the window so they could enjoy this version of Cat Food Network, or mope that they couldn’t reach the birdies to bite them.

Will I be glad to get back to the environs and the familiar wildlife that I miss? Of course. But will I also miss this new diversity and fresh delights that I have found? Of course, also.

But since the tornado flattened most of the trees in our old surroundings, I’m afraid that the fauna will likely change. And nudism will be out of the question.

 

Cat TV and Other Amenities

Moving is always a challenge. Moving with cats doubly so. Yet, we have accomplished it thrice in a month. And all of us, feline and human, survived. Not necessarily happily, but we survived. The cats were the least happy of all and we tried our best to remedy that situation.

When our house was destroyed by a tornado, at first the cats had to remain in the shell of the house, as we were unable to get them out until the way to our front door was cleared of some of the fallen trees and other debris. (There was a crap-ton of debris.) We made journeys through the wreckage every day to bring them food and water until we were finally able to stuff them in pet carriers and rescue them. They did not appreciate the abrupt transition.

They went from chaos to indignity. The motel we were staying at did not allow pets, so they boarded at the vet, where they were looked after, given shots and medication, and the occasional pets and skritchies any time a worker came through the door. It was better, but still not ideal. From a home to an entire wrecked house to roam in, they saw their environs shrink to cages.

The next hotel we stayed at was pet-friendly, though they were dubious about cats. As they began to waffle (“I dunno…”) I whipped out the paper they had made me sign. With my patented wide-eyed, innocent look, I pointed to the place on the form that specified dogs, cats, birds, and fish as being welcome, though subject to a surcharge in case of damages. (Try and tell me they wouldn’t take cats! We saw mostly dogs around the hotel, though I suppose birds and fish might have escaped our notice.)

We humans suddenly had amenities we had been missing – a huge TV, kitchenette and its accouterments, a laundry on the third floor. But for the cats, there was little in the way of normalcy or entertainment. We bought them scratching pads, which were moderately successful in keeping them from damaging the furniture. My husband put small potted plants on the windowsill where they could knock them off while admiring the fifth-floor view. And they loved the bed, where they took up residence. But all in all, there wasn’t much for an active cat to do.

At last we moved to a rental house nearby. Suddenly the cats had, if not what they had at our original house, a fair facsimile. The first thing my husband bought for the new place was a bird feeder, which he positioned squarely in front of the living room windows. Voilà! Cat TV and an opportunity to play “I wanna bite the birdie.”

Then Dushenka and Toby started exploring the house, busy-nosing and pussy-footing everywhere until they determined their favorite spots to crash. One was the multi-level cat tree, placed thoughtfully within viewing range of the all-bird channel. The other, of course, was our bed.

We knew the cats felt at home when Dushenka was brave enough to go walkabout. Scooting out a poorly guarded door, she led us all around the neighborhood, inspecting people’s yards, and cars, and gardens, as well as a stand of thick brush and fir trees that we humans couldn’t penetrate. We tried tempting her with food and water, to no avail.

Finally, we gave up. We were exhausted and decided to go home and make Wanted posters. As soon as we headed back to the house, there she was, following Dan trot-trot-trot down the street and into the house, since the game was clearly over. We told her she was a naughty girl and in disgrace, which she completely ignored.

Moving so many times within such a short period, a matter of weeks, was hard on us, but we tried our best to make it easier for the kitties. After all, their comfort was the most important. Just ask them.

 

Living Large in a Hotel

You know all those movies from the 30s where people live in hotels and call for strawberries and champagne and poof! they appear at their door? Well, life in a hotel is not exactly like that, but it does have its moments.

We’re living in a hotel now not because we’re wealthy socialites or retirees looking for an alternative to a nursing home, but because our house was destroyed in a tornado and this is what the insurance company has set up for us. So, first of all, living in a hotel beats the hell of living in a Red Cross shelter, though we were very glad that there was one available the day the tornado hit. They provided hot meals (our current hotel provides hot breakfasts) and purchased us new underwear (which our current hotel has yet to offer).

When we left the accommodations at the First Baptist Church of Kettering, welcome as they were, we set up at a motel right across the street from a McDonalds. We were assigned a suite and later moved to a nicer suite. Both offered a fridge/freezer, microwave, cable TV, and USB ports in the electrical outlets, an amenity which we did not expect but greatly appreciated, what with all the telephone calls we would be making and receiving once we retrieved our cell phones.

Unfortunately, this microscopic motel did not allow pets, so our two cats were put up in a different facility, our vets’ boarding kennel. There they received three squares a day, a cozy room each, and all the loving they could con out of the attendants, plus shots and treatments for the various indignities they had suffered. In some ways, particularly the pets and scritchies, they were better off than we were.

Later, the insurance company moved us to a pet-friendly inn for residence, where we remain to this day (two weeks after the tornado struck). This is a semi-proper hotel. Not that the other was an improper hotel, the kind we spent our wedding night in. But this one features full breakfasts rather than Continental, plus mixers with appetizers three nights per week.

No strawberries and champagne, alas. There is no room service unless you count the local pizza parlors that service the establishment. No cocktail lounge either. But the kitchenette is improved by a full-sized refrigerator/freezer, a cooktop, and a dishwasher in addition to the microwave.

When I traveled with my mother to Rio back in the day, she was delighted by the wee room service amenities such as tiny pots of jam and decanters of cocoa, which she had never encountered before. This hotel equips the guests with not merely soap and shampoo, but small packets of salt and pepper, dishwashing liquid (to go with the plates, glasses, pots and pans, and other kitchen paraphernalia), paper towels, can opener, corkscrew – nearly everything a patron could wish. (The front desk sells laundry soap and there is a coin laundry on the third floor.)

Then there is the housekeeping service. I actually have no problems with this service – they even start the dishwasher if there are enough dirty dishes (though I’m not sure what quantity that is). The problem I have is with my husband. We could never have a maid at our home because (aside from the cost), the house would never be clean enough for a maid to come in and clean. He has a similar problem with the housekeeping staff, which means that we are piling up used paper towels, kitty litter (and barf), and such detritus until such time that enough of these items disappear that the housekeeping staff would not be appalled to vacuum our floors and change the sheets.

All in all, I can’t complain about living in a hotel, though when we move to a rental house (perhaps next week), we will have to make numerous trips to transfer all the clothes, food, and other accouterments that we have acquired during our stay. The bag of potatoes, for example, not to mention the laundry, both done and undone, could easily comprise a single load.

It’s been worth not having champagne and strawberries at our beck and call to have a safe and comfortable place for us and our kitties to recover and feel at least a little more normal. It will be a relief, though, to have a place, even if not our own, to spread out a bit more and resume our habits of daily living and not have to worry about the maids’ opinion of them.

Blown Away

Here’s the thing. It didn’t sound like a freight train to me. I was on the second floor, in bed, when the tornado hit. I remember the crash of the lightning and the bangs, like bombs going off as the trees in our wooded area exploded. Then half the roof came off. I was caught in a blizzard of insulation and dirt. I put my pillow over my head and hoped for the best.

When the wind died down, I got up and took a look around. In the hallway, a bookcase had fallen over and I was trapped upstairs. My husband was at work and I had no idea where the cats were. My cell phone worked, so I called Dan and let him know about the roof and all.

He left work and headed straight for the house despite the branches and debris in the road, driving over people’s lawns to avoid downed trees. He made it to within about a half mile of the house before he was halted by downed power lines. It took him another hour, in the dark and with no landmarks left, to get to the house. But he made it He came for me. Together we waited amid the piles of insulation for rescue.

Help arrived in the form of fire/police/medics, who yelled at us to grab our medications and come with them. It was a mandatory evacuation – not that we wanted to stay put – and they guided us step by step through the obstacle course of trees, branches, wires, roofing, shingles, boards, and other debris till we got to an ambulance.

Neither of us was hurt, so were taken to a local shopping center where we were given water and loaded on a bus for the Red Cross shelter in the gymnasium at the First Baptist Church. It was about 4:00 a.m., but there was food and there were cots. People kept arriving – mostly not tornado victims, but people bringing enormous amounts of food and water. Soon a hot breakfast was ready.

And then, miracle of miracles, we got hot showers. And clean clothes. The helpers even bought us packages of clean underwear and a glucose meter for Dan. They brought him shoes, as he was wearing bedroom slippers when we were evacuated. Food and water and volunteers kept coming, handing out bags of toiletries, and big bags of nonperishable foods when we left.

We stayed only a few hours at the shelter, as we had dear friends, Robbin and Stu, who staked us to a motel room. There was one with a vacancy only a few miles from our house. It’s funny how those tornadoes skip around.

Since then, we’ve been working the phones, getting in touch with our insurance providers (Farmers, by the way, who have helped in every conceivable way. We’ve been back to the house, which is a total loss and keeps deteriorating with the rain and other stresses. I would have guessed that the stresses would have gotten to us, too, but we are taking things slowly, one phone call or errand at a time. We’ve rescued our cats, who are now boarding at the vet, and a few clothes and other things. (There’s a laundromat right down the road.)

I am blogging this from the computer in the lobby of the motel. In a couple of days we will move to a residence hotel that is pet-friendly so we can have our little family all back together. Insurance is picking that up too, and the pet boarding as well.

We have experienced nothing but kindness and understanding from the people around us. Family, friends, and total strangers are all doing what they can. People along the roadside offering free food, free water, and free hugs. Ministers of various denominations have been through the area, dispensing bottled water and prayer. Burly young men with chain saws have begun clearing paths to people’s houses, though it will likely be a week or two till we get full access to ours.

We are mostly numb right now, carrying on with all that still needs to be done, one thing at a time. Sometime in the near future, when things have settled down a bit, I expect the emotions will catch up with us and we’ll have a bit of a breakdown.

But for now, we are working together and thinking about how to rebuild our lives and eventually our house, our home.

Facebook, What Have You Done Now?

We all remember going to an amusement park or a store and seeing a rack of hats or keyrings emblazoned with people’s names. What a thrill it was for kids to find their own names, and how disappointing when your name didn’t appear or was spelled another way! (Now, of course, parents are wary of putting children’s names on their clothing because of potential kidnappers. But I digress.)

Custom printing can be a wonderful thing. It meant that I was able to order two t-shirts for my husband and me featuring the cover of my new book. (Shameless plug: Bipolar Me, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and in bookstores.) Friends of mine have ordered multiple copies of shirts with screen prints of albums or book covers or business logos to give or sell as promotional “merch.”

But custom printing is also getting a little bit creepy. I’ve seen ads on my Facebook timeline recently for t-shirts that say: I May Live in Ohio But My Story Began in Kentucky. Now, this is true: I was born in Lexington, KY, and I now live in Ohio. But I can’t believe that some company has t-shirts that feature every combination of states in America and sells them to anyone who finds them appropriate. It would take 99 sets of shirts to account for former or current Ohioans alone. If my math is right (which I don’t guarantee), that would mean nearly 5000 shirts for every combination of possibilities. And I can’t believe that a t-shirt company routinely stocks thousands of differently worded shirts against the hope that someone will buy one.

No, these are targeted t-shirts. I’m guessing that Facebook has sold my birthplace and current address info to some company who has a template they fill in with Ohio and Kentucky, if I should be so inclined to buy one. Until or unless I do, that shirt may never actually exist.

But with all the brou-ha-ha about Facebook selling people’s information, I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised. After all, I was silly enough to tell people where I was actually born and now live, just in case, ya know, someone wanted to make sure that I was the right Janet Coburn they wanted to contact, rather than the one born in Hawaii who now lives in Minnesota.

I don’t really mind when Facebook sends me ads for shirts featuring my favorite singers with a list of all their songs. I can believe that John Prine and Emmylou Harris have enough fans that might want t-shirts but can’t get to concerts. Someone could actually have pre-printed those shirts. But again, the fact that I liked them on Facebook sure seems as though the fact’s been plucked from my favorites listing and sold. I never get ads for shirts featuring Metallica’s greatest hits or songs by Justin Bieber.

So what else does Facebook apparently know about me? That I’m a science and science fiction geek and a literature lover and a word nerd and crazy cat lady. That info could easily be generated by the pass-alongs I pass along. So, of course, I get ads for Star Trek items and book-themed gifts and shirts about the Grammar Police and anything connected with cats.  I’m sure it’s no coincidence that I just saw an ad for cat book shoes. And I guess I’m fine with that too, although I wonder how much such companies pay Facebook for the use of their algorithms.

But the home state/current state shirts have me a little spooked. Am I going to start seeing ads with my high school’s name? My favorite quotations? My political associations (if I had been bold enough to list them)?

Frankly, I’d prefer to remain a little anonymous and just wear nightshirts that say I ❤ My Bed.

 

From Hell They Came

From Hell It Came is one of my favorite bad movies – possibly the worst that I can actually stand to watch. (Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is a close second.  And I love The Blob‘s theme song.) The plot, according to IMDB: Tabonga, a killer spirit reincarnated as a scowling tree stump, comes back to life and kills a bunch of natives of a South Seas island. A pair of American scientists save the day.

It wasn’t just the fact that the threat was a scowling tree stump that made it so awful. It was the fact that the actor in the Tabonga suit could only move at a pace of a few steps a minute. All of the terrified natives who tried to run away from it could easily have sat on a rock for a few minutes, moved a foot or two, sat on another rock, and kept waiting for it. Conversely, a whole bunch of natives could easily have surrounded the Tabonga and dispatched it with their primitive weapons.

It wasn’t a case of “Run, Forest, Run!” but of “Shuffle, Stump, Shuffle!” I get the giggles every time it moves or catches someone.

eyes cat coach sofa
Photo by Ghost Presenter on Pexels.com

But the Tabonga is not the only creature from hell that I’ve ever encountered. Another was a cat. A kitten, really. The Devil Kitten From the Crawlspace of Hell.

My husband found the tiny feline under our house, too young really to be separated from its mother, who hadn’t hung around. Being a tender-hearted soul (read: sucker), Dan brought the little beast upstairs.

As always, when a new cat enters our house, we keep it isolated from the others until it can be vet-checked. The little guy decided that the floor of the bathroom closet was its favorite hidey-hole.

That was fine, except that when either one of us entered the bathroom, it would spring from its lair and savagely attack our ankles. Although the kitten was adorable, it had tiny needles for teeth and claws and could do a lot of damage. We had bleeding ankles. I had shredded pantyhose. That little sucker was fast (unlike its spiritual cousin, the Tabonga).

Again and again we detached the Devil Kitten from our tender flesh and – encouraged – it to retreat to the closet. We decided not to keep it, but when we took it to a no-kill shelter, they said it was too tiny for them to take. We’d have to bring it back once it grew some more and gained weight.

I did feel sorry for Devil Kitten. It obviously had what in humans would be called an attachment disorder – it had simply been taken from its mother too young and had never been socialized. It was left running on instinct and that instinct said, “Attack, shred, kill!”

I will admit that we considered feeding the little thing lead pellets to get its weight up more quickly, but that was just a passing fancy. We waited on its weight and then handed it over, quite thankfully, to the shelter.

I sometimes wonder whether the Devil Kitten ever found a substitute mama to show it the way to be a proper cat. I also wonder what family eventually took it home, and what the state of their ankles was, and whether they had to buy chainmail socks.

This all happened many years ago and I’m sure Devil Kitten (or whatever its adoptive family named it) is no longer around. Perhaps it is in the afterlife, using the Tabonga as its own personal scratching post. It would explain the scowling, anyway.

How I Learned I Was a Cat Person

cat-pet-furry-face-162319.jpegI looked around at the rooms full of cats. Black cats, white cats, orange cats, gray cats. Cats sleeping, playing, hiding. But I wasn’t a cat person. Or was I?

When I was a kid, we never had cats – only dogs. Back in those days, dogs didn’t live in the house but also weren’t allowed to run loose. So they usually had a length of chain or a fenced yard to circumscribe their limits. Only tiny fluff-dogs such as Pomeranians had the run of the house. My mom, it turned out later, liked little fluff-dogs, but my dad didn’t. So our dogs, first Blackie then Bootsie, lived in the garage, with a chain to run on.

I never really bonded with either one. Another thing that was uncommon back then was dog obedience school, so when I went out to feed the dog, he would jump all over me with muddy paws. And when he got to ride in the car for long weekends away, he would drool, track mud on the towel we laid down for him, and vomit (until we learned to give him half a Dramamine before we started).

I longed for a cuddly pet and one that I could call my own. My next pet was a rabbit, which I named Christina, the most beautiful name I could think of. This was also in the days before rabbits became indoor pets, so Christina lived in a wood and chicken-wire cage, in the yard in summer and in the garage in winter. No real opportunities for cuddling or bonding.

So it went. No pets in my college dorm. No pets in the apartment complex where I lived after I graduated. But I began to think more and more that what I needed was a cat. My father had hated cats because one had once bit his mother. Perhaps it was time for generations of antipathy to stop.

At last I got an apartment which was four rooms on the second floor of a house. I asked the landlady if I could have a cat – just one – and was given permission (if unenthusiastically).

The obvious place to find a cat was at the local Society for the Improvement of Conditions for Stray Animals (SICSA). And the obvious person to bring along to help me was my fiancé.

SICSA had rooms full of cats (and other rooms full of dogs). Some were in individual cages and others shared larger rooms with other cats. I thought I might want a calico cat as I found them the most attractive, but there were none at the shelter that day. There were, however, a few tortoiseshell cats.

Tortoiseshells are a variety of calico with mostly black fur, mottled with some orange, thanks to the same genetic arrangement that causes the distinctive calico pattern. Some people find them unattractive, but I was drawn to a little tortie. She was shy and quiet and gentle, the opposite of the dogs my family had had.

But there were other cats that attracted me too, to the point that I was overwhelmed. “Which cat do you think I should get?” I asked my fiancé.

“I don’t know, honey. They’re all nice cats,” he replied, proving that I had indeed chosen the right man to marry.

I took the little tortie home and called her Bijou. (Her nametag said, “Bejeau,” but I assumed it was a typo.)  She spent the first night sleeping across my throat. She was otherwise so shy that she didn’t want to be picked up. But every day when I came home from work, I picked her up and gave her a kiss and set her back down. Eventually, she gained enough confidence to sit with me on the sofa and watch the Today Show and for me to carry her around.

Ever since, I have had up to five cats at a time, and almost always a calico or a tortie – or both – among them. Bijou, Anjou, Julia, Laurel, Louise, and Dushenka have fulfilled my need for a calico or tortie to call my own. Not that I haven’t loved the orange tabbies and gray tabbies that my husband favors and the tuxedo cat, the gray, and the black-and-white spotted cat we’ve also lived with.

But the calicos and torties hold a special place in my heart. They taught me that cats were what I really needed.

Adventures in Cat-Sitting

House-sitting is a great way to get away from home, relax, water a few plants, and scare off burglars who are frightened by lights turning on and off without a pattern.

Cat-sitting is an entirely different matter.

Most cats do all right if you leave them alone for a day or two – even a three-day weekend. Just set out extra food and water and maybe an extra litterbox (depending on how many cats you have). They’ll be fine. They’ll snub you when you get back, but they’ll be fine.

When you’ve got a special-needs cat, or your trip is longer, it’s a different story.

My friends were off to DisneyWorld for a ten-day stay and one of their cats is an insulin-dependent diabetic. I volunteered to sit house and cat. It was a house in a quiet country setting by a stream and the cats were pretty chill, even the diabetic one. Give him treats, I was told, and you can stick him easily. There were four of the critters, but I’ve had as many as five (I love cats), so I left our two in the tender care of my husband and headed for the north woods.

When I arrived, the cats assembled to sniff and greet me and I quickly discovered that they, having been described to me as “large,” were in fact small, medium, large and HUGE. (The small cat had somehow given birth to the other three, a feat I did not envy her in the least.)

P.J., my soon-to-be patient, flopped on his side and demanded a belly-rub. He was the large cat, easily 15 pounds. Maybe more. He was wearing a jaunty purple collar so I could tell him from his brother Red, the HUGE cat (upwards of 20 pounds, I would estimate). Both of them were orange tabbies and only a few pounds separated their heft.

The trial injection went well. I had experience giving cats subcutaneous fluids, which was one reason I was tapped for the job (the other being that I could do my work on the family’s computer instead of my own). Pinch up a fold of skin between the shoulder blades, stick the needle in, squirt, and voilà!

There was a packet of needles on the counter, a bottle of insulin in the fridge, and a handy sharps container for the used needles. Two water dishes and two food dishes, a huge plastic bin of dry cat food, four litter boxes, and several bags of treats stashed in the cabinet completed my cat-sitting kit.

For the most part, the cats ignored me. That was okay. Most cat owners are used to being ignored by their cats. On occasion, Red would accept an invitation to curl up on a blanket beside me on the sofa and allow me to stroke him, or demand treats. P.J. would do his belly-exhibiting routine on the dining room table, and Mama Cat and Vaughn (small and medium) wouldn’t give me the time of day.

Then one day, when I checked P.J.’s litter box (he had his own; he was the only cat in the household who would use the granules with an absorbent pad underneath them), I found a circle of pink around the yellow. Blood! I thought. I had instructions on what to do if the big boy looked lethargic and zoned out (rub corn syrup on his gums), but nothing had prepared me for this. Except when one of my own cats had a blocked urethra, which required surgery.

The vet’s number was on the refrigerator and on my list of instructions. But it was the weekend. I didn’t know if the vet’s office was open, or what the charge was for emergency visits, or where the cat carrier was, or whether I could get P.J. in it, or whether I could even pick up and carry the awkward thing with my bad back. (It was hard enough picking up Red when he wanted to be on the sofa but couldn’t be bothered to jump.)

Well, you all know what the next thing I had to do was: text DisneyWorld, or at least my friends there. They got back to me remarkably quickly (must have been waiting in a line). They discouraged me from running off to the vets and advised I just keep an eye on things, i.e., the pee-pad, and see whether P.J. pee-peed pink again. Or red. (Not Red.) Or some other color.

Two hours later I checked the pee-pad. Nothing. Not yellow, not pink. Nothing.

I had lunch. I checked the pee-pad. Nothing.

I did some work. I checked the pee-pad. Nothing.

I took a bath. I checked the pee-pad. Nothing.

By this time I was biting my nails. The next symptom of a blocked urethra is an inability to pee at all.

I checked the pee-pad. Nothing. I went to bed.

The first thing I did when I got up (after peeing) was check the pee-pad. There was pee and all was clear (or at least yellow).

Then P.J. flopped down on the dining room table and grinned at me.

Sometimes I hate cats.

 

 

The Things We Do for Cats

“Would you get me a beer, honey? I’d get it myself but there’s a cat on my lap.”

In our house, one of the things we do for cats is to give them priority seating. Often that seating is on top of us. And the person so sat upon is immune from chores or any activity that requires getting up. If the cat is sleepy, this condition can last for hours.

Other things we do for cats are less ridiculous. My husband and I, and a number of people we know, have been trained and trusted with our cats’ medical procedures. Most people can give pills or liquid medicines, eye drops or ear drops at home. (Although even these duties are not for the faint of heart. One of our cats invented the sport of projectile drooling when given a pill.)

Some go even further. When one of our beloved cats developed kidney disease, and vet visits and fluid treatments became prohibitively expensive, we were permitted to buy the supplies at cost and administer them at home.

What it takes is a dripset, a bag of fluids, and a disposable needle. You hold or hang the fluid bag higher than the cat’s head, attach the dripset (hose and controls), and carefully attach the needle. It resembles an IV for a human.

But the fluids are delivered not intravenously but subcutaneously – beneath the cat’s skin. The procedure is a little tricky. You pinch up a triangle of skin between the cat’s shoulder blades and insert the needle under the skin but above the muscle. Then you turn the little wheel and the fluids flow. You watch the bag carefully to make sure the right dose is given, and you hold the cat still.

That would be the tricky part, and the reason giving sub-cue fluids generally requires two people. Many people wrap the cat in a towel, which is supposed to be immobilizing, but isn’t. We prefer putting the cat in a pillowcase, which makes it easier to control all four paws. If kitty is feeling very poorly, she may not object strenuously, but a cat on her way back to health can be a handful.

Naturally, after the procedure, you dispose of the needle safely and give kitty a treat or let her go off by herself and sulk.

In order to do this level of cat care at home, you must have at least one person who is willing and able to stick the needle in the cat. My husband is an old softy, so I am the designated cat-poker in the family.

It’s a valuable skill. It isn’t just the cost savings that makes a person go through the sometimes distressing procedure. Ailing cats do better when they receive treatment at home from their loving, reassuring caregivers. And they avoid the stress of those extra visits to the vet.

Yes, it’s difficult (it gets easier with practice) and no, it’s not for everyone. But in our house it’s just one of the things we do for cats.

P.S. Even as I post this, I’m house- and cat-sitting for a friend whose cat needs insulin injections twice every day. I’m not suggesting this as a career, but it is nice to know someone you can trust with advanced home cat care.