Category Archives: pets

Coats of Many Colors

Once again, I return to one of my favorite topics – cats.

I was inspired to write about cats again by a post that showed a picture of a friend’s new cat, which was all black, except for a few white hairs that appeared on the cat’s chest. I commented, “All black cats are required to have at least ten black hairs somewhere on their body. It’s a rule.” I do believe that, and nobody’s going to convince me otherwise.

Dan a never owned an all-black cat, but we have had one that was what’s called a “tuxedo cat,” all black except for a white bib and, in this case, little white feet and magnificent white whiskers.

As befits a cat wearing a tuxedo, she was very dignified and hated it when anything happened to offend her dignity. You could see that she was appalled.

(By the way, it’s not true that black cats are more likely to suffer human predation around Halloween, despite the rumors. It’s an Urban Legend. Shelters will let you adopt a black cat at any time of year, too. But I digress.)

We have owned black-and-white and gray-and-white cats, a couple of gray tabbies and a couple of orange tabbies, plus assorted calicos and tortoiseshells (calicos are actually a variety of tortoiseshell, with white added to the orange and black). I’m generally the one responsible for inviting the calicos and torties into our home, as I’ve always been attracted to their colors. Dan is partial to the orange-striped cats.

Calicos are particularly interesting because they are almost invariably females. Their tricolored fur is a result of genetics. The calico pattern is determined by two X chromosomes. An XY cat is a male and can’t have two copies of the calico gene required to express those colors of fur. Technically, a male cat can be calico if it has two X chromosomes and a Y, but this is very rare and a male calico is almost always sterile.

Another genetic trick that some cats have is heterochromia, or one eye a different color from the other. (Technically, lots of other animals can have heterochromia, including dogs and humans). We have a cat with one green eye and one gold (a calico), but even more striking are all-white cats that have one blue eye and one of another color.

All-white cats have a greater chance than other cats of being born deaf, but how many are or become deaf varies, partly with eye color. White cats with non-blue eyes have around a 20% chance of deafness. White cats with one blue eye are twice as likely to be deaf, and a white cat with two blue eyes has more than an 80% chance of being deaf. Interestingly, a cat with heterochromia (also called an”odd-eyed” cat) who is deaf in only one ear, is usually deaf on the side with the blue eye.

Another fascinating genetic fact (at least to those of us who are fascinated by this sort of thing) is that orange tabbies are most likely male, by a ratio of about 75%. Tabbies don’t have to be orange, though. There are also gray tabbies with darker gray or black stripes. (We’ve had two of these, and both had tan tummies with spots on them. Don’t ask me why. They’re silly-looking, but kind of endearing. But I digress again.)

There are a couple of different varieties of tabbies. The most common one, called the “mackerel” tabby, has vertical stripes that run from its spine down its sides. The “classic” tabby has thicker horizontal stripes that swirl over the cat’s side parallel to the spine. (I always thought it was the other way around. Goes to show what I know, I guess.) All tabbies have a marking like the letter M on their foreheads.

Nose leather (or rhinarium, as it is technically called) is a thing I didn’t even know was a thing until fairly recently. Apparently, nose leather is a touch-based sense organ, which may be why cats insist on sticking them in our faces. Cats also have “nose prints,” analogous to human fingerprints. The color of a cat’s nose leather doesn’t matter, but some of the various colors are pink, black, gray, and even ones called “red,” “coral,” “liver-colored,” “rose,” and “copper.” (I once had a cat whose nose leather I could only describe as “burnt terra cotta.” But I digress. Again.)

The only cat coat I don’t really care for is no coat at all. I understand that the Sphinx cat is highly prized by many and a breed that is often featured in cat shows. They just look disturbingly naked to me.

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Cats in Space

Those of you who follow my blog know of my enduring love for cats – and not just my own. Last week my blog post was about cats in mysteries (https://butidigress.blog/2022/08/21/mysterious-cats/), so this week I’m going to tackle cats in another genre – science fiction and fantasy. Because science fiction books aren’t as predominant as they once were, I’ve expanded my source material to include various other media.

Let’s start with books, though. The most famous cat in a work of fantasy fiction is undoubtedly the Cheshire Cat in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (who shared the stage for a brief appearance of Alice’s cat Dinah). Notable for appearing suddenly then disappearing slowly starting at its tail until only its grin was left, the Cheshire Cat is sometimes considered a guiding spirit for Alice, directing her to various destinations around Wonderland.

(The Cheshire Cat is prominently featured on t-shirts and other Alice memorabilia, including a coffee mug that pictures the cat’s scene with Alice. When a hot liquid is poured into the mug, the cat vanishes, leaving only its grin. This is, I think, much more entertaining than the mugs that feature ladies who shed their clothes under the same circumstances. But I digress.)

Superstar writer and opinionated curmudgeon Robert A. Heinlein had a soft spot for cats, which appeared in a number of his works. A cat named Pete appeared in his novel A Door Into Summer, which was inspired by an actual cat that Heinlein once owned. (Or that owned him. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.) Another book, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls (shades of Lilian Jackson Braun!) featured a cat named Pixel that mysteriously appeared wherever the narrator happened to be. Cats played minor roles in some of his other books, including one named Mr. Underfoot, which I have been known to call all my cats at various times.

Perhaps best known to modern readers are Hermione’s ginger cat Crookshanks and Argus Filch’s cat Mrs. Norris in the Harry Potter series of books. Mrs. Norris was somehow able to detect student misbehavior at Hogwarts School, which happened a lot. Crookshanks comes to no harm, but Mrs. Norris is temporarily frozen by the gaze of the basilisk in Chamber of Secrets, though she first appeared in Sorceror’s Stone. (She gets unfrozen and suffers no permanent harm.) In the book, Mrs. Norris is described as bony and dust-colored, but in the films she was portrayed by three much more impressive Maine Coons.

Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series of fantasy books features a feline character, Tybalt, King of Cats, a fairy (Cait Sidhe, technically) who can transform from cat to human size and shape, in which form he woos and weds October after an on-again-off-again semi-adversarial relationship. (The character Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet is referred to as “prince of cats” for his sleek and violent nature. But I digress again.)

When it comes to cats in SF&F film and TV, we have Ripley’s cat Jonesy, who along with her manages to survive in Alien. There is Pyewacket in Bell, Book, and Candle, a film about witches that ought to be a Halloween movie but is instead a Christmas film, much the way Die Hard is, because it takes place during the winter holiday. And then there is Orion, the cat in Men in Black, whose collar proves to contain an important plot point.

The overwhelming winner for cats in media, however, is Star Trek. In the original series (or The Original Series as it’s now known), there are two different episodes that feature cats. One is “Assignment Earth,” which features a cat named Isis who may or may not be a human being, and “Catspaw,” featuring Sylvia, a woman who may or may not be a cat.

There are two other Star Trek cats of note. One is Data’s cat Spot in the TV series The Next Generation and the movies Star Trek Generations and Star Trek Nemesis. Spot is an orange tabby, but that’s about all the continuity it has. It has been portrayed as a Somali cat and as an American shorthair. It (I use the term advisedly) has been identified as male or female on different episodes, though I think we have to settle on female, as Spot gets pregnant at one point. In one episode, Data writes and recites an “Ode to Spot,” the first stanza of which is:

“Felis catus is your taxonomic nomenclature,
an endothermic quadruped, carnivorous by nature.
Your visual, olfactory, and auditory senses,
contribute to your hunting skills, and natural defenses.”

In the series Star Trek: Discovery, the character Booker has a Maine Coon cat named Grudge, which was meant to make a one-episode guest appearance but became a more featured player in a number of episodes. We know Booker has left the ship for good when he leaves Grudge with Captain Burnham. Grudge is described by various characters as “fat,” possibly due to a thyroid condition, but more likely attributable to the fact that Grudge is portrayed by two Maine Coons that are, at 18 pounds, at the top end of the range for that breed.

There’s more that could be said about cats in science fiction and fantasy, from the Tom & Jerry movie Blast Off to Mars to one Simpsons hyper-violent “Itchy and Scratchy” cartoon called “Flay Me to the Moon.” (Scratchy is the cat. I always have trouble remembering that.)

I’m sure there are others I’ve missed, and I’m equally sure that outraged cat-fen will point this out to me. My husband wanted me to include the 1935 cartoon “Dancing on the Moon,” which featured a number of animal pairs including two cats. And now I have.

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The Rainbow Bridge

I know that when pets die, it’s often said that they have crossed “the Rainbow Bridge.” It’s a powerful image, but I don’t know if it’s the right one.

The Rainbow Bridge is a euphemism or a metaphor for passing to another astral plane or a spiritual place – death or an afterlife. Some even believe that the Rainbow Bridge is where they will meet their pets when the pet owner dies. The phrase perhaps originated in a sentimental poem that is often given to pet owners on the death of their pets. Many people find inspiration and comfort in it. Those are good things. I wouldn’t take that away from the people who find solace in it.

I do, however, think that the poem and the metaphor “prettify” death. The death of a beloved pet can be tragic, but it is seldom pretty. I lost my darling Louise, a cat I had for over 20 years, a number of years ago. I held her on my lap. I counted the seconds between each of her last breaths until finally they stopped. I hope I gave her comfort in her last moments, and indeed throughout her whole life. She certainly gave comfort to me.

But, though her death was peaceful, it wasn’t pretty. One minute she was there and the next minute she was gone. I cried for days. Nine years later, I still miss her dearly.

She has appeared to me in dreams and when she did, I took it as a message that she and I had both moved on and it was time for me to find another cat to care for and love. That’s a pretty thought, but it was only a dream, and I don’t know whether I believe that dreams reflect reality or give us a vision of another realm. Mostly I think they are jumbled constructs that our brains make of memories, thoughts, and the firing of synapses in our brains. I know that doesn’t leave much room for deeper meaning, except that the memory of Louise was still deep in my thoughts when I had the dreams.

I know there’s theological disagreement over whether animals have souls. Many people don’t believe they do because animals were not created in the image of God. Other people do believe in animals’ souls because they are a part of Creation.

I strongly believe that animals are self-aware beings with emotions that resemble those of humans, though I know that there are people who disagree with that too. If it means they have a soul as well, I don’t know theologically, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and say they do.

But do all animals have souls? Sheep and tarantulas and trout and the surly hedgehog that my husband kept as a pet? Will they all go to heaven or meet us at the Rainbow Bridge? Do we imbue our pets with special attributes because we love them so? Are we projecting our feelings onto them or anthropomorphizing traits that we see in ourselves? I surely don’t know the answer to those questions, but they do seem important in some way. I will say that, if we believe that cats and dogs have souls, we should extend that dignity not just to our pets, but to all of them, feral ones included, even though we don’t develop familial bonds with them.

When I think about the death of pets, I also think about the subject of euthanizing them. I’ve seen a post go around the internet that pets shouldn’t die alone, and that it is a form of abandonment not to be with the animal when its last moment comes, that death at the hands of a vet is cold and unemotional. I do know that vets react with compassion to the death of a pet and to the owner as well. But they don’t prefer to have the owner present at the death. They’ll allow it if the person feels strongly about it.

I think the internet post shames people who cannot be present at the death of their pet. It says that there is only one right choice, no matter whether the person feels they are capable of being present at the end. They have their reasons, and I think we should honor them and their grief and pain without judgment.

So, is there a Rainbow Bridge? Do all pets or all animals go to heaven? We each have our beliefs, but whether or not they will be fulfilled is to me an open question. If, after I die, Louise is present for me, along with Django and Jasper and Anjou and Julia and all the other cats I’ve shared my life with, I will consider myself truly blessed. But will they be? I guess I’ll have to wait to find out.

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A Cat in the Night

Cats have a reputation for being aloof and unemotional. I’m here to tell you that’s not true. (They also have reputations for being graceful, which anyone who’s seen a cat fall off a window ledge can testify is unfounded. There are plenty of online videos that prove it too. But I digress.)

Actually, cats have wide emotional ranges, which can include anything from passive to pissed-off. One of our previous cats, Maggie, could snub a person so thoroughly that they knew they had been well and truly snubbed.

But every now and then, a cat will read your emotions and give you exactly what you need.

We have a cat named Toby. He’s generally happy-go-lucky, with a trace of skittishness. He doesn’t purr much, but he makes crazy sounds like “ma-weep” that I don’t know how he can do without proper lips. He does like to cuddle when we’re on the sofa or the comfy chair, either nestled in my husband’s arms or draped across my capacious bosom. (If I were a different sort of writer, I would have titled this “Bosom Buddies.” But I digress. Again.) At night our other cat, Dushenka, snuggles up by Dan’s head, while Toby sometimes curls up by my feet, to be joined by Dushenka if Dan starts rocking and rolling too much in his sleep.

This day, though, I had simply had enough. Dan forgot to pick up something I needed when he went to the store. I was still suffering the aftereffects of dental surgery and was sorely sick of eating broth and mush, enlivened only by peanut butter or the occasional scrambled egg. Something I ordered arrived but wasn’t right. It wasn’t a day when big problems unexpectedly dropped in my lap. It was a day when I felt like I was being nibbled to death by ducks.

I sat on the sofa beside Dan, tears slowly trickling down my face, which he didn’t see. Later he claimed he did but didn’t know what to do about it, which is in some ways worse.

At last, we went to bed and Dushenka curled up next to hubby as usual. Dan went promptly to sleep, a thing I can never manage to pull off. I lay in bed, tears still trickling, making small puddles in my ears.

Then Toby came, and lay next to me, his furry little head resting on my arm. And he stayed with me. He would sometimes move a little, twist around to find a better position. But he always ended up in some configuration with his head on my arm. He was a soothing presence, giving me just what I needed – silent comfort and undemanding physical contact.

We stayed like that for hours. Once in a while, I reached to touch him, but it didn’t seem to disturb him. It was me and Toby, communing through the long, dark hours of the night.

Eventually, I was calm and reassured enough to sleep, and I turned on my side, the only way I ever sleep. Toby retreated to his usual position alongside my feet, close enough to return to his protective, gently soothing position if I needed his presence again. But I slept through the rest of the night, dreamless, and awoke calm, ready to face the next day and all its ducks. Knowing that Toby was there if I needed him.

More gushy food for Toby! (And Dushenka)

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The World of Cats

Once I was reading Julie and Julia (or maybe it was Julia Child’s memoirs) when I came across the statement that because she was living in France, she needed a pousiquette. I had studied French since junior high through college, and though my French is so rusty it has holes in it, I couldn’t place the word. Was it some piece of French cooking equipment? An herbaceous plant?

I began to sound out the word: poo-see-kett. Then it hit me: Julia needed a pussycat! Despite the fact that the French word for cat is chat and for pussycat is minou (I looked it up), Julia, with her inimitable flair, had made up her own word. I’ve been using it ever since and the cats don’t seem to mind (or notice).

Then recently, I learned through Facebook that the French equivalent for “purr” is ronron, which seemed a lovely approximation of the sound of a purr. I began looking up other languages’ words for “purr.” I was somewhat disappointed to learn that many other languages simply use the word “purr.” Spanish, being a Romance language like French, used ronroneo.

Other countries were more inventive. “Purr” in Vietnamese is gugu. In Croatian, it’s presti. In Japan, a cat expresses contentment by going gorogoro. German and Dutch pretty much agree on schneurren and snorren (which bring to mind “snore” rather than “purr.” This is okay with me, as we have a cat that snores. Daintily, but she snores.)

I even looked up Italian (fusa, for some reason, despite its being another Romance language), Korean (puleuleu), Hindi (myaoon), Romanian (tors), Hungarian (dorombolas), Swedish (spinna), Polish (mruczec), and Russian (murlykat).

While I was at it, I also looked up the word for “pussycat.” Spanish: minino. Dutch: poesje. Polish: kisia. Korean: goyang-i. Japanese: neko neko. Italian: micia. Hungarian: punci. Swedish: kisse (which I think is adorbz).

I restrained myself (ran out of time, really) before I could look up different versions of “meow.” Another time, I will. (But Julia’s pousiquette would have said “miaou.” With a French accent, no doubt.)

My husband and I have traveled a bit, and we love meeting cats around the world, no matter how they purr. I was in Mexico, staying at a small resort, where cats had the run of the place. The cats’ main duties seemed to be to take up lounge chairs and hope guests would drop ice cream. Each resort cat that had been neutered had a slight clip on the ear to indicate its nonreproductive status. (I understand this is also a practice in the US, a procedure known as TNR, for Trap-Neuter-Release. The clipped ear indicates the cat does not need to be trapped again. But I digress.)

In the Slovenian Alps, we met another cat with a much more strenuous job. As tourists went single file exploring the Plitvice Lakes, at the head of the column trotted a black-and-white cat who seemed to have appointed itself the tour guide. It was easy to follow even in the falling snow.

In Dubrovnik, we met a small black kitten, who proved that cat games are universal. We had dropped a brown paper bag on the ground and the kitten immediately crawled into it. We thought it was playing the bag-mice game, in which a cat makes a rattling sound in a bag and then tries to catch the imaginary mouse. But when we tried to extract the cat, we quickly learned that it would not leave the bag and wanted to go home with us. We were tempted.

Soon, we hope to go to Ireland, where, disappointingly, the pussycats will purr, just as they do in the US. Maybe we’ll find out whether Irish pussycats play the bag-mice game too. I’m betting yes.

My Emotional Support Animal

service-dogs.jpg (1525×1246)

I have an emotional support animal. They’re a trend now – so trendy, in fact, that people are trying to certify miniature horses, pigs, and sloths as support animals so they can live with them in rentals and take them on airplanes. (I personally would not want a support horse, of any size, with me on a plane. I’ve seen and smelled horse flops before.)

These are not the tiny “purse dogs” that fashionable women used to carry a decade or more back. Those were merely accessories, and cost as much as such women pay for other accessories. Of course, they were adorbs, but like the obnoxiously rich women, they did no work. Even more obnoxious is the fact that one can buy on the internet animal-sized bright red vests that claim an animal to be a working dog, when in fact it has no training or official status.

Other dogs have real jobs. Seeing-eye dogs were probably the first working dogs most of us heard about or saw. They perform an important function and are not to be treated as pets if you encounter one. (It’s totally politically incorrect, but a friend of mine wrote a song, “My Seeing-Eye Dog and I Don’t See Eye-to-Eye.” It was funny, though. But I digress.)

Since that time, dogs – and particularly dogs’ noses – have been trained to detect any number of items. They detect drugs and bombs for the police and airlines. They find live people or dead bodies under rubble following an earthquake or building collapse.

Then there are animals that provide care and support of another kind: therapy animals, emotional support animals, and psychiatric service animals.

Therapy animals are most often used with geriatric patients and children in hospitals. In some nursing homes and convalescent centers, you find programs that bring small animals to interact with the residents. Even farm animals – chickens, lambs, piglets – may spark memories that had been hidden away for years.

Emotional Support Animals are dogs or cats (or, less commonly, other animals such as guinea pigs) that live with and provide comfort to a person with a psychiatric disorder. They should be registered as such, and there are places with laws that allow such animals to accompany their humans into public spaces.

Some folks confuse Emotional Support Animals with Psychiatric Service Animals. They think that “training” a dog to offer a kiss on command, or jump in their lap is a task making the animal an official service animal. Service animals, including psychiatric service animals, must receive special training that teaches them how to alleviate the symptoms of an ADA-defined disability.

Legitimate tasks for PSDs (psychiatric service dogs) include counterbalance/bracing for a handler dizzy from medication, waking the handler at the sound of an alarm when the handler is heavily medicated and sleeps through alarms, doing room searches or turning on lights for persons with PTSD, blocking persons in dissociative episodes from wandering into danger (i.e., traffic), leading a disoriented handler to a designated person or place, and so on.

(By the way, forget about cats as service animals. Just try training a cat to do anything it doesn’t want to do. If you are able to register your cat as an Emotional Support Animal or get a medical/psychiatric recommendation, you may be able to have your cat live with you in a pet-free community or have the fee for a pet waived. But that’s about it where cats are concerned.)

I, on the other hand, have an emotional support animal that requires no diagnosis or permit, though I guess you’d have to say that he does require special handling and a bit of training – my husband. In addition to the many other things he does for me, Dan is my emotional support for distressing situations, such as going to the dentist, of which I am terrified. He gets permission to enter the treatment room, sits on a stool that’s not in the doctors’ way, and touches or pats my foot (the only part of me that he can reach in that set-up).

This tiny touch grounds me and provides emotional comfort. And my husband doesn’t even have to wear a bright red vest.

The Lens and the Brush

Very meta: A photo of a painting of a photo

“The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.”

Ansel Adams said that when he was tired of hearing about people who liked a photograph say, “Wow! You must really have a great camera!”

Funny, nobody ever says to painters, “Wow! You must have an amazing brush!”

I have a story that involves both a camera and a brush. Here’s how it happened.

I wanted to give my husband a painting of his much-loved cat, Matches, for his birthday. I know a really great artist, Peggy McCarty, and asked her if she could do it.

“I’ll need a photo of him in natural light,” she said.

No problem, I thought. I took the cat outside, where the light is as natural as you can possibly get, and took a few pics of him wandering around the yard. (Including one with a super-blep, which was amazing, but just not right for a portrait.)

Those photos wouldn’t work, I was told. There was natural light, sure, but no contrast. This time Peggy gave me more explicit instructions. I should take the photo indoors, but somewhere that there was natural light, like by a window.

For those of you who think it would be hard to get a cat to pose by a window, well, you’re wrong. Matches was the most laid-back cat ever. I could pick him up, plop him down near a window where there was light shining through the slats of the blinds. He’d sit still, looking bored, while I snapped a few shots. Then he would get up and stroll away. I would follow him, pick him up again, plop him down by a window, and take a few more pics. We repeated this several times, and he never got annoyed.

I took the photos to Peggy and she deemed them all right in the lighting department. Then she surprised me. “Could I put some plants around his feet and lace over the window?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said. “As long as the cat looks like the cat, add anything you want to.”

It turns out that the plants were necessary because my photo didn’t show the cat’s adorable feet. And the lace curtain was because Peggy likes to play with textures in her paintings – and still does.

It was perhaps the best birthday present I ever got for my husband and, amazingly, it survived the tornado that hit our house, needing only a new frame.

As the years have gone by, Peggy has practiced her art until now she paints on commission regularly – and has regular calls for pet portraits.

And, as the years have gone by, I’ve learned to use a camera better, especially since they invented the kind that cancels out the tremors from my shaky hands. The problem is that my husband has improved at photography too, and every good photo we have he claims he took, even if I know I was the one who took it. Unless he’s in the photo, of course. Then he might be willing to admit I snapped it.

But he’s never tried to claim that he took the photo of Matches that turned into the painting of Matches. That would be absurd. The proof is hanging on the wall.

Peggy McCarty has a Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Peggypaintings/, where you can see more of her amazing art and get in touch with her.

Growing Old Together

No, this isn’t going to be a post about me and my husband, although it’s true that we’re growing older (every day) and we’re still together (after nearly 40 years).

Instead, I’m going to write about growing older with my cat, Dushenka. (Dushenka, incidentally, is Russian for “Little Soul” and is used colloquially to mean “Sweetheart” or “Darling.”)

I once had a cat (Louise) who lived to be 21. That’s rather old for a cat. I had her with me since she was a kitten. While she wasn’t mine for all of my life, I was hers for all of hers. Figuring cat-to-human years is tricky, but she was definitely a senior cat. But I digress.

I don’t really know how old Dushenka was when she came to us, but the vet records show we first brought her in in 2012. Assuming she was two or maybe three when she chose us for her family, that makes her 11 or 12 years old, or approximately the same age as I am now in cat years. We are aging together, and not always gracefully.

In fact, “gracefully” is a memory for both of us. Every time she jumps down from her perch by the window, her back legs don’t work so well and she bonks her little bottom on the floor. To get up on the perch, she now has to take a route from one of the chairs in my study and make a smaller leap, rather than jumping up from the ground.

I know exactly how she feels. Sometimes my legs don’t work right either, and more than once I’ve gotten up off the floor by using a chair as an intermediary.

When cats age, they often get gray or white hairs on their chin or around their muzzle. Dushenka avoids this by having a completely white chin and muzzle already. (It should be noted that all my profile pictures were taken mumblemurph years ago.)

I get cold very easily and need sweaters or blanks tucked around me. So does Dushenka. Her favorite napping spots are on a chair that contains one or more of my sweaters or a pillow that makes her look like a princess. Her favorite sleeping spot is in our bed, curled up in a little nest made of the comforter, or on top of my husband (who radiates heat like a fuzzy stove).

Dushenka is, however, not too old to play sometimes. She likes “get that string” and is pretty quick at it. I like playing “get that string” too, from the other end of the string.

She likes sun and fresh air, sitting or sleeping on her perch when the sun is shining and I’ve opened the window for her to sniff the wonders outside. She watches cat TV, also known as “I wanna bite the birdie.” I like the feeling of sun on my old bones too, and the fresh air, as long as I have one of the sweaters. I watch human TV and enjoy “I wanna bite the birdie” when they’re fixing poultry on “Chopped.”

She does not go outside, primarily because I want to keep her safe from fleas, diseases, and marauding cars. I stay inside to ward off pandemics and how people-y the outside world is.

Still, it would be foolish not to say that Dushenka and I are both on the decline. She will likely reach the end of her life a few years earlier than I do, given the cat-year-progression thing. And when that happens, I will have to think hard about whether to get another cat. I surely wouldn’t want to adopt a young kitten and leave her all alone at some point in the future.

Maybe a senior cat. They always need homes. And we can grow older together.

 

Missing My Friend

Last week I received an answer to a query. An agent I had contacted about my mystery novel had asked to review my complete manuscript.

My first thought was, “I have to tell Robbin about this!” But I couldn’t.

No, Robbin doesn’t have COVID and she isn’t dead. But she had a severe stroke last month and is in a nursing home. I can’t visit her or even call her on the phone. 

Robbin has a limited range of motion on one side of her body. With the other hand, she keeps trying to pull out her trache tube, which has made her life a tennis match between hospital and nursing home. Hospital to insert the tube, and back to the nursing home until she pulls it out again. Evidently, the nursing home does not have personnel able to put in a trache.

Robbin’s daughter and husband have had “window visits” with her, and now Stu is allowed to visit her in person. Stu and Kelly phone me frequently to give me updates on her condition, though there isn’t really much to tell, except transfers to and from the hospital and occasional infections and fevers. The latest update was that they’re now treating her for pneumonia. None of it is in the least encouraging.

I fear I will never have my friend back again.

Robbin and I met when she applied for a temporary job at a publishing company where I was working. I remember seeing her credentials and editing test and thinking, “We’ve got a live one here!” She only worked at the company for a few months, but it was enough to bond us.

Robbin has been my partner in crime, my commiseration buddy, my writing cheerleader, and my test audience. We have compared notes on our mental and emotional states, bitched about our husbands, given each other gifts, talked for hours about everything or nothing much. We have crashed parties together. We have made rum balls together. (My contribution was to taste them and advise, “Needs more rum.”)

She has taken me shopping and dressed me up like her own personal Barbie. Until she came along, I didn’t know there were any colors other than beige, olive drab, and camo. She took my husband shopping too, when he needed a suit for his class reunion.

When a tornado destroyed our house and my husband and I were stuck in a Red Cross shelter, Robbin and Stu gave us a lift and the use of their credit card to get us into a motel, where we stayed for a number of weeks.

I gave Robbin the first cat she ever had (Norman), thus starting her on a long career as the local Crazy Cat Lady. We’ve supported each other and cried our way through many a feline illness and death, and reminisced about our little friends afterward. I know her cats and her little chihuahua Moochie are missing her too. (This cat would surely remind her of Sandy, or one of the many others she opened her heart and house to.)

Robbin has never been good at diplomacy. She says what she thinks and doesn’t sugarcoat it for anyone. You always know where you stand with her. She has a generous heart and a raucous laugh that I fear I will never hear again. Her absence is a hole in my life that no one else can fill.

I know that the odds are not good for her to recover from this, the second stroke she’s had. I know I will likely never get my friend back the way I knew her. And I know my feelings are as nothing compared to those of her husband and daughter.

But I wish I had the Robbin I knew back, even for just another phone call.

Magical Magnetic Noses

My cat has a magnet in her nose. My husband does not.

Dushenka is a wanderer. She wandered into our lives one day and decided to stay. Occasionally, the wanderlust still seizes her and she gives the phrase “Door Dash” new meaning. We’ve tried chasing her, with no success. She always comes back after she finishes with whatever she’s doing and strolls right into the house, where we call her “Naughty Grrl” and she remains completely unrepentant.

Then we moved, to a little apartment in a medium-sized complex. For six weeks, Dushenka showed no interest in the outdoors. Then one day, when our groceries were delivered and our attention diverted, out she raced. Naughty Grrl.

This time was even more panic-inducing. We had been in the apartment for only six weeks and we were quite sure Dushenka didn’t know her way around the neighborhood. Besides, it was 90 degrees outside and I pictured her lost and melted into a pitiful calico puddle somewhere, panting and expiring from heat exhaustion.

Imagine our surprise when 20 minutes or so later, she showed up on the doorstep (where I had put a bowl of water). I opened the door and Naughty Grrl strolled right in, as usual.

Admittedly, this story is not as dramatic as the ones about dogs whose families move away and track them down across the country. But it did get me to wondering. How did Dushenka find her way back?

Apparently, it has to do with the magnet in her nose.

Note that we didn’t put a magnet in her nose. It seems it was there all along. Scientists have discovered that various animals such as trout and migrating birds have in their nasal cells a mineral called magnetite, which, you might have guessed, is magnetic. Evidently, it allows them to sense magnetic fields such as those surrounding the Earth. How do salmon find their way every year to where the bears wait for them? Magnetic noses. (“Magnoreceptors,” if you want to get technical.)

Dushenka’s nose is tiny and pink (I have only ever seen one tinier and pinker, on a cat named Julia). You’d think there wouldn’t be room for a magnet up there. But apparently, it’s standard equipment.

Human beings ought to have the same sort of device lurking up their nasal passages, but we seem to have evolved away from that. There are tiny magnetic particles in the ethmoid bone in a person’s nose, but not enough to make a difference. Or at least not for some people.

Despite the fact that men are supposed to have a better sense of direction than women, my husband can’t find our car in a parking lot, or do that thing where you make three right turns to get back to where you started, or read directions in reverse in order to get home from an outing. He used to be embarrassed by this, but I think it’s comforting for him to know that he’s merely magnet-deficient and therefore (probably) more highly evolved. Or I as I think of it, topographically challenged.

Why don’t I get him a GPS, you ask? I did, but he never even installed it, much less used it. No, he prefers a human GPS (i.e., me) to go along with him whenever he has to trek to somewhere new. The magnets in my nose seem to work just fine, even though they can’t give directions in the voice of Han Solo.

Soon we’ll be moving back into the house where we lived when Dushenka came to us. I feel confident that when she inevitably makes a break for the great outdoors, her marvelous magnetic nose will bring her right back to us. Where we’ll tell her yet again that she’s a Naughty Grrl and she’ll flop down to rest up until her next expedition. I just hope Dan doesn’t get lost trying to chase her down.