Why? Just… why?

I am not into “cat think” yet, unlike people in the cat litter marketing video I’ve watched about ten times.

I try. Take today for instance. I imagined I had run around outside chasing things, getting tired, perhaps tasting raw frog or feathers. Then I came inside and took a nap in a really warm room for hours, perhaps a little mouth breathing. I wake up and I imagine I’m getting really thirsty.

Why would I walk past this

And do this instead?

Why? Why?

The Shadow, Renamed…

Most people my age have had numerous pets of their own, and also have had their children’s pets to contend with. In addition to that, I have a soft heart for strays of all kinds and have successfully passed the gene on to my daughters. I have grandpets. I truly know the joys and sorrows of pet ownership. Most people my age could live very well without any more pets, thank you.

But there was this small cat, barely out of its kitten hood, that my brother and his wife found. It was under their car as they were leaving a graduation party this spring, mewing pitifully. It was skinny, wet and cold, probably hungry. And it was black. For some reason, being black is a strike against a cat. They are least likely to get adopted once they are abandoned. My brother tried but could not find the owner and since the cat was overwhelmingly friendly, they took it home.

More than that, they had their vet look the little creature over and give it some drops for its eyes and an appointment to be spayed. It was litter trained already and acted grateful for a warm bed, food and people petting it.

This is where I came in, thinking that the husband might enjoy having a cat to pet and take care of. He’s retired and spending a lot of time at home without much to do. He’s gotten attached to cats in the past. It seemed reasonable. And the first few days, when the cat was tired and half starved, were peaceful days. And then it got frisky.

Now, several months later, I am very much reminded of what cats do. I have wiped up mounds of semi-digested cat food from the carpet. I have awakened in the middle of the night to find the cat sleeping on my chest. I have taken to smelling any pile of laundry left on the floor for the all too familiar odor of cat pee. I frequently walk around the house feeling like the cat is tied to my leg with string, trying not to trip over it. I sneak to doors and try to get through them before the cat hears me. I could go on – you’ve all heard about cats, if not experienced them yourselves.

So Shadow, as my niece named her before I took her, finally got well enough to keep her surgery appointment. We thought she might be in heat because of the way she kept running to open windows and trying to get through the screens. It was hard keeping her inside. I was glad she was getting spayed.

The vet called later that morning. “You have a very lively cat”, he told me. “She’s unusually active (which made me wonder what kind of fun they had anesthetizing her) and it took a little longer than we had anticipated. Oh, and by the way, we couldn’t find any female organs. She must have been spayed already. We looked extensively to make sure so she’s going to be pretty sore for a while.”

She was. There were a few more peaceful days until she had recovered somewhat. I cautiously let her go outside to sit in the sun. That’s what I would have liked to do if I were a cat. I would leave the sliding doors to the patio open just enough for her to squeeze through. She was definitely an indoor/outdoor kind of cat, who loved both worlds. She came running when I called her and loved to nap inside, but was just as eager to get out again.

It wasn’t long after that when I realized what she was doing outside. She was hunting. One morning I found a mostly dead mole, inside the house. I found him by following the trail of blood spatters on the floor and wall. It had to have been a tortuous way to go. This was followed in short order by several frogs who also bled and lost body parts. I got suspicious of her antics any time she seemed to be having fun “playing” with something.

I knew her skill was increasing one day when she brought in a bird. She had it cornered under a bookshelf and I was able to rescue it. It was so tiny and had a numb, dazed look in its eyes. I took it outside, wondering what to do with it, when it flew away!! I had saved it! I wish I could have done the same for the next two she caught. But I had to wonder… how is she catching birds?

We were having dinner on the patio one pleasant evening. The cat was also out and we were watching her tear around the lawn. Without hesitating she aimed at a tree and went up it like a squirrel to a fairly high branch. Hugging the dark branch, with leaves all around her, she was hard to see. I think that’s why the large flock of sparrows flew into the tree all around her and perched – poor unsuspecting things. So now we know she doesn’t wait for them to come down. She goes up and gets them.

This brings me to today. This morning Shadow brought in a small grey mouse and let it get away. She was waiting patiently by the couch where it had fled for shelter, waiting for it to come out and play again. I got down on the floor with the flashlight and witnessed it scurrying back and forth, trying to find a safe escape route. Definite mouse panic. I felt sorry for it, but what could I do? I couldn’t get under the couch either.

I don’t know where the mouse is. I came in the living room this afternoon to find the recliner upside down – the one the husband usually sits in. He’s doesn’t know where the mouse is now either, but he’s pretty sure it was in/under the chair. I think we now have two house pets.

Do I hope the cat will catch the mouse? I can’t quite decide. But I am renaming her. I’m calling her Shadow of Death because it fits her very well. Just sayin’…

Ode to Zoe

wpid-wp-1443801946646.jpeg

 

Zoe, I always thought your name was a little unusual

but that it was suitable for a cat who was not the usual kind.

I could not determine if you were strange to me because

of your breed or because of your life experience.

Long of leg, large of body, small in head – your were not

the cat we photographed often. Your stare was unsettling.

 

 

I knew you when you belonged to your previous owners,

a beast barely tolerated by some, and you busied yourself

staying out of the way of dogs and scratching leather furniture.

When your claws were removed, and you could not defend yourself

they were afraid to let you outdoors. You were famous for

filling the litter box all too quickly, and making loud noises in the night.

 

 

You came to us when others became allergic. We took you

in for love of them and not out of love for you. I don’t

think you loved us. I knew you when you were overweight,

and your hair came out in great clumps. I knew you when

you chewed yourself bloody where the fleas congregated.

You didn’t look at us very often, you didn’t look happy.

 

 

But for all your mess, things we had to wash up, scrape off

and deodorize, for all the times when you fought the other

cat and left fur all over the room (you both were gray and we

could not tell who had won), we began to love you. You stopped

eating desperately and became slim. Your fur became soft

and easy to pet. And you watched us differently.

 

 

You learned to go through the cat door, to love the outside

and to run to the sound of your automatic feeder. Your favorite

place was on the man where he was soft and warm and you purred.

The man gave you special food and doted on you. You made loud

noises looking for him, often in the night when you were lonely.

I loved that you went outside and no longer used the litter box.

 

 

You no longer needed to look out for the other cat (she died)

and you relaxed and all the space became yours. You only ran from

the vacuum cleaner and small children. You and the man became

very much alike, with your routines and the places you camped

out as you watched television and napped. You were all the animal

we had and I guardedly say that we enjoyed you most of the time.

 

 

Today, you are gone. I am sad, but especially the man is missing you.

Feeling that you may have had a terrible fright at the end and violence.

We would not have chosen that for you but neither would have had you

be ill and lingering and miserable. As I said, you were never impressive

for your looks and not much photographed. But you were loved and

part of our family, even though your stare was still a bit unsettling.

Zoe
Zoe

A to Z Family Stories: C for Cat Tamers

This is a collection of family stories that are told repeatedly anytime the Smith clan congregates during a vacation or a holiday.  I’m sure some of them are told more from my perspective than others but I welcome added insight from those involved. These stories are part of who we are and I want them recorded. Not all of them are pretty, but that is ok. 

Young ones growing up on a farm had an important job. It was taming the kittens.

Cats are an essential element on a farm. Barns and other farm buildings are like hotels for mice if there are no cats around to keep them in check. Most of our cats were not the pampered, brushed and combed, vaccinated and neutered kind that are fed fancy food. Barn cats were and are excellent hunters who feed on small rodents almost exclusively and travel around the farm at will. And even if some cats were neutered or spayed, there was no guaranateeing that the neighbors cats were, therefore … kittens abounded.

You found them in the hayloft. You knew to look because a cat who had been looking kind of hefty for a while was suddenly skinny. We loved going into the loft to look for kittens because it was the ultimate scavenger hunt. You could follow mama cat if you were wiley enough to not let her know, otherwise you just had to start searching the crevices between the bales and hope you got lucky. The prize was finding that sleeping pile of gorgeous kitten fur, four or five of them most of the time. They were often a variety of colors and patterns, tiger stripe, calico, orange tiger, black and white, or maybe even solid black. It was best to find them when they were very young and let them see you often as they grew, but sometimes the mother would be skeptical of motives and move the family to a new hiding place. So the hunt would resume.

Older kittens were more difficult to deal with. They would instinctively hide and bite and scratch, but if they weren’t tamed they would grow up wild and too many wild ones would result in a cat population growing way out of bounds. Our job as children was to find, tame and help the kittens be people friendly so they could possibly go to a new home.

One time, my brother Stubby (we don’t call him that anymore) had been working on an older kitten and was making some headway when he heard of a family in need of a cat. He very much wanted them to take this kitten and was able, with difficulty, to get it into a box. With glowing reports of how pretty this kitty was he took them to the barn to see their new pet. Unfortunately, every time the box was touched it exploded into a shaking, jumping, growling, banshee shrieking package that was not very inviting. Amazingly, they took it.

As a young mom, I was able to live once again on the farm where I grew up. My own children learned the art of cat taming just like I had. They carried kittens in their arms, dressed them up in doll clothes, put them to sleep in dresser drawers (which was the first place we looked when one was missing) and in general subjected them to all sorts of handling. They were gentle and bomb proof by the time they were grown. Caring for them provided many lessons and so much fun for my own two cat tamers.

Esther and White Necklace (they always had descriptive names)
Esther and White Necklace (they always had descriptive names)
Julia and Rebel, asleep for the moment.
Julia and Rebel, asleep for the moment.

Eulogy to Grey Kitty

Things change.  Back from a ten day trip, I spent the morning picking up the water bowl, the food bowl, cleaning out the litter pan, putting the towels and sheet used for bedding in the laundry, uncovering the furniture in her “sick” room.  Then I sat alone at my writing table thinking about all the times that sitting there would have guaranteed a cat in my lap within a couple minutes.  I will miss her and she was a good cat.

She came to us as a kitten, found alone by one of my daughters in a city parking lot.  She was very young, very scared and spent the first week hiding under my daughter’s bed.  We weren’t sure if she would make it.  What a way to start.  I think her memory of that contributed to her quietness, her timidity, her reclusive nature.  She grew to tolerate other cats but was never one to initiate friendship or cuddle up to any of them.  She grew to trust some people and be affectionate but that trust had to be earned. The sound of strangers in the house always made her disappear. She would come out from her hiding place when things got quiet again.

her magnificent green eyes and a pretty white bib

her magnificent green eyes and a pretty white bib

When my daughter moved away to school she left Grey Kitty with me, which was fine since I had grown fond of her.  I had inherited another cat from my second daughter and it would have been nice if they had gotten along but they didn’t.  They fought like, well, like cats.  They had both grown up being “only cats” and didn’t want to share their humans.  We had to keep them separated or there were consequences of loud cat growls and tufts of fur everywhere.  Once when we were away they were accidentally shut in the same room.  We found them sitting quietly in opposite corners pretending nothing had happened, but the room told a different story, way different.  I thought they might have gotten it out of their system and become friends, but no.

Grey Kitty was hesitant about all kinds of things.  There was the usual cat maneuver of standing in front of an open door, debating whether or not to go through.  She had the nervous tail tic.  It drove me crazy and I would sometimes pick her up and make the decision for her.  But most of the time, in deference to our friendship, I just waited until she either bolted out or sauntered in the other direction.  I think my willingness to let her be who she was made her like me as much as she did.

She had patience with me as well,  Many times she would come up on my lap and get settled for a good sleep and minutes later I would have to get up to answer the phone.  She had patience in the kitchen. She knew the sound of pans rattling and cans opening and would appear at mealtime.  After circling my feet for several minutes in an attempt to get my attention (trip me) she would sit quietly and look at me with her best stare.  The stare would continue right up through the meal until the husband would relent and give her a small bite of people food.

One day, years ago, I thought I had accidentally killed her.  She was in the garage when I closed the door automatically and turned my back to go into the house.  For some reason she waited until the last second to try leaving and got caught under the door.  When I looked again I could only see the back half of her and the door was down.  She evidently had been crouching low and hadn’t triggered the safety beam.  I slapped the control and ran to get her but she ran out faster than I could get there.  I was pretty worried about her but decided if she could move that fast she probably didn’t have a broken neck.  She was always a little leery of the garage door after that.

As she grew older, she began to be a very picky eater.  Dry cat food was not good enough.  Canned cat food was better, but only certain kinds.  She started losing weight, and her breath smelled awful.   Tests at the vet’s office showed kidney disease, so we tried various brands of special food.  She didn’t like any of them.  Finally, to keep her from starving I let her eat anything she would eat.  She was pitiful, and her soft meow changed into a more raucous sound that was disturbing and insistent.  I think she had nausea.

This story ends as you might suspect by now.  I took GK to my daughter the veterinarian and she and I, compassionately and with tears, euthanized her and laid her to rest.  She served a purpose in my life, as I believe animals were meant to do.  These awesome creatures that God made to share the earth with us make us think, make us love, make us give of ourselves and make us aware that we are not alone.

Now it’s a bit simpler at home – I don’t have to shut the doors to prevent cat fights, I don’t have to search for obscure brands of special food, I don’t have to clean up sick messes.  Simpler, but not necessarily better. I’m just sayin’, she was a good cat and I miss her.

P.S. This is not to be interpreted as a request for another cat.

The Weight of Decision

I love animals.  I am in awe of their endless variety, the ways that they can interact with us humans, the comfort they can give, the lessons they can teach, their surprising intelligence (once we learn how to detect it), and the love and devotion they show. They are enough like us that it is scary at times and I am never more aware of this than when I look into my cat’s eyes.  She meets my gaze and we have a moment of reading each other’s thoughts – or so it seems.

I say “my cat” (and she would probably agree) but in reality she was rescued by my daughter Julia.  As the story goes, she was found wandering in some parking lot in Orlando, Florida as a kitten.  Kittens do not survive well in parking lots, so my daughter, who is a rescuer by nature, brought her home and she became our cat.  She had a few names, however the one that stuck, because it was easy to remember, was Gray Kitty.  Not very imaginative, but it worked.

Years later when Julia moved away to attend veterinary school, she took two of her cats with her but left Gray Kitty with me.  I didn’t mind.  I haven’t seen very many cats that are as beautiful and pleasant to look at as Gray Kitty.  Gray is a nice color to begin with, plus the added attraction of white feet and bib, topped off with white whiskers and brilliant green eyes – there is a pretty cat.  Most of the time her voice was tiny, quiet and responsive.  I would say her name and she would answer.  I would enter the room and she would acknowledge me.  I would pick her up and she would start purring immediately and not stop until I put her down. For a cat, she was sensible and seldom caused trouble or worried me.

Her eyes are really green, not red.
Her eyes are really green, not red.
"I know you guys are eating.  I know you can't ignore me... "
I know you guys are eating. I know you can’t ignore me…

There was a season in my work life when I would come home exhausted every day, barely able to make it to the recliner.  No matter where she was in the house, the sound of the recliner being stretched out would have her in my lap within seconds.  She would get comfy in her feline manner, and settle down for “our nap”.

She learned that kitchen noises were associated with food, for her and for us.  She learned the art of silent begging.  When we would finally sit at the table, she had her spot close by where she could fix her eyes on us and dare us to ignore her.  She loved drinking out of the bathroom sink. She loved being outside.

And now she has gotten old, and don’t I know how that feels!  We have more in common than ever.  But she has also fallen ill with kidney disease.  Her appetite has waned and in the last few weeks she has hardly eaten anything in spite of special food, constantly available.  She is as light as a feather.  Her calls, or cries, have become different and more plaintive.  She often sits or stands in odd places with a dazed look on her face, and sometimes loses her balance.  She is failing.  These kinds of things do not improve.  The pain of seeing her suffer is at war with the pain of deciding to stop her suffering and I feel the weight of decision.  It is heavy.