Tag Archives: crazy cat lady

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.

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.



Who Would Spend Thousands on a Pet?

Me, for one. And quite a few other people I know. None of us is wealthy, but still we have laid out what some would consider extreme – even obscene – amounts on our pets.

First, let me say that these are regular cats and dogs, mostly rescues, strays, and shelter animals, not fancy, purebred show animals. The expense doesn’t come with the initial investment. Vet check, shots, worming, spaying and neutering – though shelters and local organizations sometimes offer lower-cost options on these – are just the cost of entry into pet guardianship.

Likewise, toys, beds, pet furniture, and other accouterments don’t need to be large investments. I’ve known cats that would ignore fancy toys to play with the plastic rings that come on milk jugs. Dogs can be amused for hours with a stick, tennis ball, or Frisbee.

No, the real expense comes with veterinarian bills. When I was a child, hardly anyone took pets to the vet, except to get the mandated yearly shots or to stitch up an injury from an attack by another animal.

My, how times have changed!

We know a lot more these days about heartworm, feline AIDS, urinary or intestinal blockage, fatty liver disease, kidney failure, and a host of illnesses that pets experience. We sympathize because we humans can get many of the same or similar ailments as well (though we don’t generally catch them from the animals).

So how do the costs scale up into the thousands? Well, veterinary training is as rigorous as medical school – perhaps more so because of the number of different animals a vet might be expected to treat. (A cow and a cat have different anatomy, after all.) Veterinary drugs can sometimes the same ones humans take, though usually at different doses. An x-ray is an x-ray and an ultrasound is an ultrasound. And you can expect to pay more for an after-hours emergency clinic visit than a regular office call.

Still, thousands?

Yes. We’ve been through it a number of times. When my cat Laurel had fatty liver disease, she needed, in addition to all the regular medical care, several weeks of intensive treatment – hand feedings, fluids, specially mixed vitamins. The vet actually took her to his home and treated her there for several weeks. I got a raise that year at work, and every cent of it went to that marvelous vet. He didn’t have to do what he did for Laurel – and I suppose not many people would have paid for the personal care. We did so willingly.

When our dog Bridget developed a tumor on her shoulder, the vet was honest. “We can operate on it, or we can do nothing.” Bridget was middle-aged, as dogs go, a formerly feral rescue dog.

“Do whatever it takes,” Dan said. “She deserves a chance.”

“She’s lucky to have you,” the vet replied.

Bridget came through the operation, never had a recurrence and died peacefully at the age of 17.

We’ve learned to give subcutaneous fluids to cats with kidney failure. We’ve taken them to specialty vets who have given them – literally – years of comfortable life with us. (Once we even had a parakeet that needed an operation – and pulled through.)

Every time we pulled out a checkbook or a credit card and paid willingly, though often with a wince. Some vets kindly allowed us, as long-time customers, to pay in installments.

But the question remains, why? Why do we spend this time, energy, care, worry, and especially money on maintaining the health of our pets or making them comfortable in their last days?

I don’t expect everyone to understand this, but these animals have become family to us. And as family members, they deserve our attention, care – including medical care – and love as long as they are capable of benefiting from it.

When the time comes that we have to let them go, when there is nothing we can do medically except prolong their misery, we take them to the vet for that final act of mercy, or let them pass quietly at home.

And the only cost we count is in our hearts.

Cat Visits From Beyond

First of all, let me say that I don’t believe in ghosts. I also don’t believe that dreams predict the future.

Still, when it comes to cats, spirits and dreams are definitely involved.

Whenever one of our cats dies, my husband and I take turns selecting the next cat – unless one simply shows up at our door and chooses us, which has been happening more and more lately. But if I’m the one to choose, how do I know when it’s time?

I’ve known plenty of people, including my mother and my mother-in-law, who, when a pet dies, swear they will never get another one. Unless they move into a small apartment that doesn’t allow pets – or requires an exorbitant fee for the right – they always do.

I don’t know how other people know when the time is right, but when it’s time for a new kitty, I have a cat dream that lets me know.

Once the cat was Shaker, a tuxedo cat we had for many years. Some time after she died I dreamed about her. She was sitting on the walkway in front of my grandmother’s house, looking just as beautiful and dignified as she did in life. She meowed, turned, and walked back up the sidewalk. I was happy to see her again. (I always am when dead friends visit me in dreams.) And I got the feeling that she was ready for her spirit to move on and make way for another cat in my heart and home.

Another time I dreamed of Chelsea, a black-and-white cat we lost to kidney failure. In the dream, she was curled up in a dresser drawer with assorted clothes – and five tiny kittens snuggled up to her, nursing. Real-life Chelsea was spayed (all our cats are neutered), so I remember thinking it was odd. But again, the message of the dream seemed to be that her visit was to reassure me that she was not alone in the afterlife, and that another kitten was to be welcomed.

Sometimes, however, phantom kitties appear in waking life.

Everyone who has owned cats has had the experience of seeing movement out of the corner of their eye and thinking for an instant that it’s a cat. But when you look around, there’s no cat there.

The strange part is that the half-seen cat is often not a cat that the person currently owns. It seems to be a cat from the past or future, or even an unknown cat, just visiting. Nor is it always just a figment of the imagination, a trick of vision. I have experienced standing still and feeling a cat brushing against the back of my leg. When I looked down, of course, again there was no cat present.

I think these “visitations” are caused by the cat energy that builds up in a house that has hosted felines. It gets tucked away in corners and closets, only appearing when you don’t expect it. I find these phantom kitties comforting, not scary. They are welcome in my house.

A friend of ours lived in a small apartment where he was not allowed to have pets. One day he told us that he would like to have a cat and we told him that his landlady could hardly object to a phantom cat. After a week or so, he told us that no phantom cat had appeared. “Well,” we said, “invite one in.”

“How do I do that?” he asked.

“Put out a mental call – roll out a spiritual welcome mat,” we said. If there’s a better way to describe it, I don’t know what it is.

So John put out a welcoming vibe directed at any spirit cats in the area. The next day, he told us, he saw some movement out of the corner of his eye – a cat he could never quite visualize but also could never ignore or deny. The spirit cat even moved with him when he went to a new apartment.

So are these really cats from beyond or tricks of the light? Wishes or fantasies of cats? Glitches and vagaries of human perception? The truth is, I don’t really care. These feline phenomena – whatever their source – comfort me and connect me with cat friends that I still love and badly miss. And that’s enough for me.


Cat Myths Debunked

Cats as a species have a reputation for being graceful, clean, aloof, inscrutable, finicky, and sneaky.

I’m here to tell you that none of that’s true. Cats just have a really good PR agency.

Here’s the truth of the matter.

Cats are graceful. Cats certainly look all graceful when they stretch or make elegant arches, but any action more complicated than that can go seriously awry. Among the things that I have seen cats do are run head-first into a clear glass door (to be fair, I’ve done that too), climb the curtains and get stuck at the top, put a paw in the water bowl and upend it, and run furiously up the stairs dragging a plastic bag tangled around one foot. A few cats may aspire to or pretend a certain amount of dignity, but it is a thin veneer, easily dispelled by one misjudged leap. If you watch closely you can even catch the cat give an “I hope nobody was looking” look.

Cats are clean. They may try to be, but any animal whose idea of grooming is licking themselves all over is never going to be truly clean. Think about it. For one thing, all that grooming leads to hairballs, which are like huge dust bunnies, only gooey and therefore worse to step on in bare feet.

Many cats are also prone to sticking their heads right under the cat food can as you try to put food in their dishes. Therefore, many cats have small blobs of cat food on their heads, ears, and/or whiskers. You try walking around with food on your head all day and see how clean you feel.

Also, some cats are, shall we say, less than champion groomers. The long-haired ones in particular need some help. Without it they are prone to what blogger Jim Wright refers to as “ass-fur turds.” They’re no fun to remove, for either you or the cat. Hint: The cat won’t do it, so you have to.

Cats are aloof. Supposedly standoffish, cats can instantly sense who in the room most dislikes cats and will spend considerable time rubbing themselves all over that person. Even a cat with a reputation for being shy and gentle has been known to get up in a person’s face and deliver nose touches, head bonks, and the occasional sneeze or nip. (See above, cleanliness.) They may also demonstrate their affection by obsessively licking a person’s face, or indeed any exposed skin. If that’s aloof, we definitely have different definitions of the concept.

Cats are inscrutable. On the contrary, they’re almost entirely scrutable. If you don’t know what a cat is thinking, it’s generally “Is it almost time for food?” or “I’ll stare at nothing until these people think they have ghosts.” Cats also make their opinions pretty clear. They use, or rather not use, the litter box as a platform for delivering smelly messages, all of which translate as “You annoy me, human, now cut it out or you pay.”

They can also express emotions in transparently clear body language. One cat I knew, when offended, could snub like you have never been snubbed. She would ostentatiously turn her back, then give little peeks back over her shoulder just to make sure you knew you were being well and truly snubbed and were properly contrite.

Cats are finicky. Not the cats I’ve known. Various cats of my acquaintance have had dietary preferences for corn, pumpkin, bread, vegetable soup, Cheerios, Vaseline, donuts, and Milky Way bars. (Don’t bother telling me that chocolate is bad for cats. I know it’s supposed to be, but I can only report that the cat that ate the Milky Way bar continued alive and well for a good many years.)

Occasionally a cat will pretend to be finicky just to confuse and distress you. They will shun a flavor of cat food that yesterday they inhaled, then do the same with whatever variety you replace it with. This is just a little game that cats play. Humans fall for it every time. Trust me, they aren’t going to starve, no matter how pitiful they may try to look. (Note: All cats are capable of that Puss-in-Boots pathetic, sorrowful unloved kitten look.)

Cats are sneaky. They are reputed to commit violence on smaller animals and then try to hide the evidence. This may be partly true. I have known cats to hide their kills, though really I think they are just saving them for later – especially the cat who stored dead mice in the sofa springs, his own personal pantry. But most cats willingly share mice, birds, moles, snakes, and anything else they catch with their humans. They don’t sneak around about it. They leave the carcasses where are you are sure to find them, or simply drop them at your feet. If they’re polite, they’ll leave a half-mouse in the bathtub, where it’s easy to clean up.

Now you have the facts. If you’re thinking of allowing a cat to own you, you’ll know what you’re getting into – a relationship with the worst roommate ever. Who will fascinate, entertain, and love you, even while decimating your house, belongings, nerves, and poise. In my life, that’s considered a good trade.

Cats, etc.: The Grooming Salon

I do so love to watch cats grooming themselves. I find it hypnotic and soothing – the smooth play of muscles as they twist and stretch, the sensual splayed toes, the darting little pink tongue, the occasional glimpse of the cat’s nethers.

My husband does not find it nearly so soothing. That’s because Dushenka takes a pause (1) from grooming herself, she starts grooming him. This could keep her busy all day, since he has a lot to groom.

She usually starts with a brief lick to the nose, which I assume is to let him know what’s coming. Then she starts in on his beard.(2) When she’s had her fill of that, she moves on to his eyebrows, though she occasionally misses and grooms his forehead.

Whenever Dan’s shirtless, which is usual in summer and not unknown even in winter, she goes for his prodigious chest hair.(3) I have never seen her miss and accidentally lick his nipple, though I’m pretty sure if she did, he wouldn’t tell me. And I won’t even speculate about her grooming his nethers.(4) They may engage in these pursuits when I’m not around, for which I’m mostly thankful, but about which I’m perversely curious.

I remember a Robin Williams routine in which he said, “If you think cats are so clean, you go eat a can of tuna fish and lick yourself all over.” By that theory, my husband is coated with a thin layer of Super Supper and cat spit, which I must block from my mind when I hug him.

Dushenka occasionally gives my nose a lick, but that’s as far as she goes.(5) Cats in general find no pleasure in grooming me, although I once had a cat, Julia, who was irresistably drawn to roll on my head whenever I had my hair done at a salon. I think she was enamored of the coconut-scented mousse my stylist used, though I know of no of no other cat attracted to coconut.(6)

I also once knew a cat who, when I was sitting on a sofa, was drawn to my curly-permed ponytail.(7) But she did not slurp. She pounced, apparently believing that my ‘do was some sort of rodent or other cat toy.

The only time I experienced a lengthy cat-grooming attempt was when Dan rubbed catnip on my leg. (Thankfully, I was wearing jeans.) Lick, lick, slurp, slurp ensued, until I had a round, damp spot on my thigh.(8)

But ultimately, this post is not about cat spit, or tongue-prints, or even pants-licking. The take-away from this is: Cats groom their kittens. My husband’s mother, therefore, is the cat Dushenka, and he is her child. Please don’t tell the woman who birthed and raised him. Her claim has been challenged. And we all know what happens when you engage in a war of wills with a cat.

The cat wins.

Mama Dushenka and Her Baby
Mama Dushenka and Her Baby

(1) Yep. I went there. Tell me you’re surprised.
(2) Here’s a probably-not-real study that is nevertheless awesome.
“Cats were exposed to photographs of bearded men. The beards were of various sizes, shapes, and styles. The cats’ responses were recorded and analyzed […] 214 cats participated in the study. Three cats died during the study, due to causes unrelated to the bearded men. Fifteen cats gave birth while viewing the photographs.”
For the full story, see: http://www.shinyshiny.tv/2011/01/useful_scientific_research_cats_reacting_to_bearded_men.html
(3) I recently blogged about men’s chest hair, including Dan’s. See: https://janetcobur.wordpress.com/2015/06/14/what-belongs-o…st-if-anything/
(4) Except I just did, didn’t I?
(5) Of course my hair situation is unlike Dan’s. Thank goodness.
(6) Pumpkin, yes. And corn. Neither of which is usually featured in hair products.
(7) Hey. It was the 80s.
(8) Incidentally, I understand that cats’ tongue-prints are as unique as humans’ fingerprints. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that if you leave the butter out, you will find tiny but disgusting furrows in it from kitty’s tastebuds. I guess you could scrape off the affected area of butter, if you’re frugal, but I think most people would prefer to replace it. Especially if there are also little tell-tale hairs clinging to it.

Cats, etc.: Stupid Cat Tricks

All cats do stupid things from time to time. Some cats perform tricks.(1) But the Truly Stupid Cat Trick is a thing of awe and wonder. (You wonder how – or why – they do them.)

Let’s examine some cat tricks, of various varieties.(2) First there are…

Animal Imitations

Dan’s first cat, Matches, would fetch little wadded up pieces of paper, which soon became spitballs, or sometimes bat them back with his paws. It was eerily dog-like, except for the ping-pong.(3)

Matches would also ride in a car like a human or a dog, without going into hysterics and trying to attach himself to the driver’s face.

And he could imitate a bird. In that Dan could put him in a bird cage and hang him from the ceiling. Just like in the car, Matches would quietly and calmly look around, zen-like in his contemplation of the view. But I guess that was really more of a Stupid Human Trick.

Useful Tricks

Matches knew how to use door knobs. This was useful only to him, since Dan was trying to keep him out of certain rooms.

In addition to paper wads, Matches would fetch other cats. Dan would have Matches and Maggie out in the garden. When it was time to go in, he would say, “Go find Maggie.” Matches, naturally, would pretend he hadn’t heard and was just wandering around. But within a couple of minutes, he would stroll casually to whatever plant Maggie was lounging behind.

Stupid Tricks

Bijou crashed one of my parties by sauntering in, holding a tampon applicator in her mouth, looking for all the world like a tortie Groucho Marx. That was a conversation stopper.

Projectile drooling. ‘Nuff said? Thought so.

Truly Stupid Tricks

It takes a special sort of cat to perform a truly stupid trick. We have known such a cat.

Her name was Shaker, and she was a tuxedo cat of vast and lofty dignity. If you found a shed whisker, put it on her head and went “boop, boop, boop,” she was mortally offended.(4)

One day Dan and I were sitting on the sofa, doing something with toothpicks.(5) I had a small bundle of them in my hand. Shaker jumped on the couch and delicately plucked a single toothpick from the cluster with her teeth, then whipped her head around and flung it across the room. Then she did it again. And again. We never did figure out why.

Dignified cats are inscrutable. But she had us trained. Every now and then we’d get out the box, just to see her fling toothpicks again. And she’d always perform.

(1) Only when they want to, of course.
(2) Yes, I know that’s redundant. So sue me.
(3) When he was done playing, he would drop the repellent spitwad at Dan’s feet and dare him to pick it up and toss it again.
(4) We could actually see her disapproving of us. It only works for dignified cats.
(5) What were we doing with the toothpicks? Making canapės? Probably not. Building a model of the Eiffel Tower? Definitely not. Picking our teeth? Oh – you mean you don’t use a separate pick for every tooth?

Cats, etc.: Love to Eat Them Mousies

Kliban cat singing "Love to eat them mousies"
Copyright B. Kliban, 1975

Yes, they do. It’s nature’s way.

Apparently, it’s also nature’s way to give half a mouse to the one you love.(1) The cats, however, seem unable to decide which half is the good half.

Our cats have always been in favor of eating the back half and proudly presenting the front half. A neighbor’s cat did just the opposite, leaving a regimented little line of mouse butts in front of the garage door, a veritable mouse-ass buffet for . . . well, someone.

Many people’s reaction to this love offering is to scream, which must be mightily confusing to the cats. My husband tries to interrupt the process while it’s still at the gee-this-is-fun-to-play-with stage (2) and escort the erstwhile victim outside.(3)

The usual drill, though, (after the semi-obligatory scream) is to praise kitty as a mighty hunter, then quietly clean up the carcass (4) while the cat isn’t looking. She may expect you to eat the proffered half-mouse. Whether you do depends on how devoted you are to your cat and how much you like rodent tartare.

Justine Alford has a different theory on why you receive half-mice from your cat: “Given that female cats are most likely to bring back animal presents, the most likely explanation for this behavior is that they are trying to teach you the hunting skills that you clearly lack.”

This means that the cat is your mama and you are her baby. And she is thinking, “Come on, dimwit. Give it a try. I can catch these and I don’t even have opposable thumbs. How about you catch mice and give them to me for a change? Honestly, I don’t know how you manage to feed yourself!”

We may need the training after all, when we retire and live under the Third Street Bridge. But don’t tell the cats that. They’re smug enough already.

(1) Remember this tip when Sweetest Day rolls around. And isn’t Mother’s Day coming up?
(2) As opposed to the “aw-this-is-no-fun-since-it-quit-moving” stage.
(3) My husband also gets to escort spiders, snakes, moles, bats, birds, and other still-living catfood outside. He has definite Buddhist tendencies when it comes to home invaders of the non-human sort. Wasps that make it inside I insist that he kill. Stink bugs get trapped in pill bottles, batted under furniture by the cats, and forgotten.
(4) Our cat Django used to take his intended victims into the bathtub, where they had less room to maneuver. The crime scenes were also easier to clean up.

Cats, etc.: Sir Boinks-a-Lot

All our cats have nicknames. Some more than one.

The cats we have right now are Louise

The Queen of Everything
The Queen of Everything

Garcia (1)

Horrible Mr. Horrible Face
Horrible Mr. Horrible Face

and Dushenka.(2)

Li'l Bit
Li’l Bit

Then there was Django.(3) A robust gray-and-white male, he was the one we called Sir Boinks-a-Lot.(4)

Would you like to guess how he got his name? Hint: It wasn’t because he boinked a lot.

No, he just tried to boink a lot.

Gender didn’t matter. He would go after either boy-cats or girl-cats – neither with any degree of success. He was neutered.

His intended didn’t even have to be another cat. Or even animate. We once caught him trying to mount a feather duster.

But the escapade that earned him his nickname was when he tried to have carnal knowledge of my husband’s elbow. Never mind that there was no orifice. Sir Boinks-a-Lot was determined to make one. He kept drilling and drilling, but he never struck pussy (so to speak).

Dan’s theory was that when he worked on his computer, his forearm resembled the shape of an aroused female cat. His hand and wrist were the head, his arm the body, and his raised elbow the…er…target zone.(5) Or it could be that Django was near-sighted with no sense of smell.

My theory was just that he was a horny bastard.(6)

He was also camera shy, which is why there isn’t a picture of him here, but then again, who wants their sexual peculiarities displayed all over the Internet?(7)

Alas, Sir Boinks-a-Lot is no longer with us, though he proved as determined about fighting cancer as he was about finding someone or something that welcomed his advances. We still miss him terribly.

I think even Dan’s elbow misses him a little.(8)

(1) Also Mr. Underfoot, Red-Headed Stepchild, Baby-Cat.
(2) Also Ms. Crazy Eyes and Baby-Cat. Everyone is Baby-Cat except Louise. Other memorable cats have been Matches (Badness, Checkers), Chelsea (Chips), Shaker (What-a-Pie), Maggie (Gelfling, Gertzie-Girl), Laurel (Keet), Joliet (The Silly Pet), and Bijou (Angel Kitty).
(3) He was named after guitarist Django Reinhardt. I figured if Dan could have a cat named after a guitarist, so could I.
(4) Also Baby-Cat.
(5) Django never tried this with me, but my chair arm was narrower, or maybe my wrist and elbow were just not as appealing.
(6) Django, I mean. We will not discuss how pets come to resemble their owners.
(7) No, wait. Don’t answer that.
(8) Although it’s tough to tell with an elbow.