Category Archives: cats

If it’s not one thing . . .

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A few days ago, the last of Binkles’ foot drama was over. The vet removed the pin in his foot that was used to reset the bone that had fractured.  I felt relieved that not only was my Binks as good as new, but I was looking forward to a period of time where it didn’t feel like I was dating my vet, so frequent were my visits.

As I pulled into the driveway with my newly-pinless bunny, I noticed that Pretty, my pet feral cat, was limping pretty badly as she came out to greet me. When I got out of the car, she came up to me, gave me a plaintive meow and held her paw up. Part of me was thinking “oh no, you poor thing” and the other part (the cheap, less compassionate part) was thinking “oh for crying out loud! Seriously?”

I took a look at her paw and could see nothing obvious. It clearly wasn’t broken as she was putting weight on it, and there was no visible or felt object stuck in it. She was moving around (albeit limping a bit) and eating just fine, so I figured this was a watch and wait situation.

The next day, she seemed better. Still slightly limping, but definitely in better spirits. I was relieved. However, the day after (on a Saturday, of course) I could see the paw had definitely taken a turn for the worse. It was swollen to twice its normal size, and her limp had become much more pronounced. No more waiting and watching. She is a feral cat, after all, and if it got worse she may go into hiding and I would never be able to get her.

Fortunately, she does let me touch her, so I petted her a while as she ate.  Then I betrayed her by quickly scruffing her and then stuffing into a carrier. She complained loudly and mournfully as we drove to the emergency vet.

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The nightly ritual

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I did this piece of writing recently for a class I was taking. The writing prompt was “ritual.” Since I want to get some momentum going again with my blog, I hope you don’t mind some recycled material.

She knows the sound of my car coming up the driveway. I always drive in rather slowly, vigilantly, because I never know from where in the yard she will pop out. Occasionally, mostly in the winter months, I actually have to call for her, so during those times, I wait in the car a couple of minutes to give her time to make her appearance. Then I get out to find her pacing excitedly in front of my car. I say my first line:

“Oh, there you are.”

I’ll then open up the back passenger side of the car to scoop about half a cup of Cat Chow into an old buttery spread tub.

“Do you want some dinner?” is my next line.

She doesn’t answer, but rather heads towards the corner of the driveway where I have fed her every day for the last four and a half years. Her tail is erect and she keeps looking back at me as if to say “come on, hurry!”

I pour out the cat crunchies on the pavement. I used to use a bowl, but it kept getting pushed down the embankment by the raccoons.

“Here ya go, Pretty. Here’s your dinner.” I say stating the obvious.

Over five years ago, when Pretty was just a kitten, someone had dumped her and her sister in my neighborhood. Perhaps they knew that there were feral cat feeders in the area. Or perhaps it was just convenient. All I remember were these two kittens suddenly started showing up at the bowl where I was feeding another local stray. To distinguish between the two kittens, I started calling them by their predominant traits. Pretty was named such because, well, she’s pretty – a calico torbie, with the most perfect white markings and the greenest of eyes. Her sister I called Skitty because, well, she was skittish. Skitty disappeared shortly after I captured them both to have them spayed. Pretty has stuck around, but has refused all attempts to move her into the house.

When I first put the food down, she takes a couple of bites and then circles my legs, lightly rubbing against me. When she starts eating again, I pet her soft, shiny fur.

“Who is my pretty girl? That’s a good girl, eat eat.”

She takes a few more bites, and again circles and rubs.

“Come on, sweet pea, eat eat. I’m not going to stand out here all night.”

At night, Pretty will only eat while I am watching over her. She’s a very vigilant girl, if not a wee bit paranoid, and I think she feels safer when I’m there to ward off the imagined armies of raccoons, possums, neighborhood dogs and other cats. And perhaps she is overreacting a bit, but her strategy has worked as she is still here after five years whereas other ferals have come and gone during that period.

This cycle of eating, circling and rubbing continues at least three more times (longer in nicer months). I stare up at the stars and try to imagine my mind like a big open sky. Finally, I’ll call it a night.

“I gotta go, sweetheart, Keep eating. I’ll see you in the morning.” I say as I lean down to get one more hit of her soft soft fur.

It’s been like this night after night year after year and I can think of no happier ritual to welcome myself home.

The mystery of the disappearing Yogi

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About a week ago, on a beautiful sunny winter’s day, I was rushing to leave the house to go meet a friend.  Yogi, the little cat who I had taken in  a month previous, was vacillating, as cats do, about whether or not she wanted to go outside.  She parked herself, half in and half out, in the middle of the doorway.  I didn’t have time for her nonsense, so I gently nudged with my foot to go outside.  She was already down the walkway by the time I turned around from locking the door.  And that was the last I saw of her.

Yogi was to be my great experiment in having an indoor/outdoor cat.  She had been outside for several weeks before she finally walked in to my house and made herself at home.  She knew a good thing when she saw it.  When I let her out on previous occasions, she would hang for a while outside, but was always eager to come back into the house.  I never had to bribe her or even ask twice.

She was an odd little cat.  It was in November that she started making guest appearances at the spot where I feed Pretty, my longtime feral cat.  This little black and white stranger was not at all skittish, and would immediately start purring and making air biscuits when you picked her up.  I figured with a cat this tame, that she must belong to a neighbor and  was just another annoying moocher who came around and ate Pretty’s food.  I’m very protective of Pretty, and any creature who disturbs our routine is subject to my annoyance.

One of my neighbors, Bonnie Jo, who feeds a feral colony at the end of my street, decided to take on Yogi (whom she called Pogo) as one of her clan, and started feeding her and set up a little cat house for her on my property, away from Pretty.  I had no problem with that.  With a regular feeding schedule (Bonnie Jo is like clockwork) and a warm place to sleep, Yogi became a regular.  Even Pretty even learned to tolerate her. And giving Yogi a nice petting in the morning became part of my routine.

One sunny day in January, it was so warm I had my front door open as I went about my household chores.  Yogi parked herself outside the screen door in the morning and started looking inside longingly.  “Oh don’t try to make me feel guilty, young lady”, I told her every time I caught her looking in.  She just sat there.  And sat there.  And sat there some more.  All day.  Finally, around 4:30 pm I broke down and called her bluff.  “Fine. You want in?  I dare you to come in.”  I opened the door and in she walked.  And after some initial inspection of the premises, she curled up on my favorite blankie and went to sleep.

Yogi makes herself at home

For the first couple of days, I would put her back outside when I wasn’t home. She needed to get checked out by a vet before it was safe to to have her interact with my other cats, Sasquatch and Tangerine. One morning, however, she decided that this arrangement was not suitable and wanted to be in the house NOW.  As I was getting ready for work, that damn cat started leaping up on my window sills and climbing my screen doors.  She would not take no for an answer.  After I made some minor configurations of the house in order to keep the newcomer away from the old timers, Yogi moved in.

Yogi and I had a strange relationship.  Maybe it was the bold way she foisted herself on me, or maybe it was learning within a week after she joined the household that she was soon going to cost me $600 to get a possibly cancerous lump on her side biopsied (plus the promise of further  medical costs and/or the pain and sadness of watching her decline).  She had her moments of being very affectionate and sweet, but most of the time she was indifferent to to everyone in the household.  She was an odd little presence, but I accepted her and was willing to take care of her, though she wasn’t necessarily in my heart.  But, I certainly didn’t want her to leave.

There are, of course, theories as to where Yogi has gone. I try not to dwell on the bad scenarios. I’m hoping maybe her previous people found her and there was a joyous reunion.  Or perhaps she just walked into someone else’s house  to try them on for a while.  Or maybe she was merely an emanation who came into my life as to test how open my heart was. If that was the test,  I fear I failed it.

Good intentions

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Friday morning, Nov 26

Today is the day I’m finally going to bring Pretty, the feral cat that I’ve been taking care of for the last five years, into the house and try to tame her down. I’ve prepared my home office with a litter box, a safe hidey-hole and have spritzed the entire room with At Ease, a pheromone-based herbal calming spray.  I have no illusions that this will be particularly easy, but I’m going to give it a go. It has taken a long time for this little cat to trust me enough to let me pet her, to be able to pick her up.  I hope I don’t blow all that collateral in this attempt to bring her in so she is safe and warm.

Friday afternoon, Nov 26

Pretty was no where to be found when I went downstairs to feed her this morning.  I am not entirely surprised as this has been happening more and more. Other cats in the neighborhood have apparently caught wind to the fact that there is food and a shy cat who refuses to fight for her territory over here.

What does surprise me, however, is that someone picked up her food dishes from outside my back door and placed them on my porch while I was out of the house for a mere hour.  I find this extremely disturbing.  And while I’m not proud of this leap in logic, I took it as a sign that Pretty was dead.  Yes, in my dark fantasies, people kill cats and then leave their empty dishes on your porch as way of letting you know.  (Note to self: skip the annual Godfather marathon on AMC next year.)

Friday evening, Nov 26

Pretty isn’t dead. When I head out to my car to go to the grocery story, she comes dashing up the stairs in search of food.  I’m ecstatic to see her, but the nerves kick in as I know this is my big chance.

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Comings and goings

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It’s hard to love a wild thing.

I tell myself it’s a good for my Buddhist practice.  I tell myself I won’t get attached.  I tell myself I can love it unconditionally, wishing only for their happiness and well being.  I tell myself a lot of things.

The truth of the matter is I do get attached. Really attached. And these wild creatures, these feral cats, break my heart on a regular basis.

A couple of weeks ago, Boots, one of the neighborhood strays,  got hit by a car.  Boots wasn’t even a cat I took care of, but he was a frequent visitor to my yard. He was such a  handsome boy. And while he was a bully to the other neighborhood cats, he was a total sweetie to me.  The evening after my neighbor told me that Boots had been killed, I ended up wailing like some old Sicilian woman grieving the loss of her child.

RIP Boots

Yet those  tears weren’t merely for Boots.  I was also grieving for the feral cat I’ve taken care of for over four years, Pretty.  Pretty had disappeared about a month previous and I was certain  that she was gone for good.  So I sobbed for Boots and I sobbed some more for Pretty, and while I was at it, I sobbed for Alaska and Nomie, who have been gone one and a half years and three years, respectively.  It’s was sob-a-pa-looza at Chez LB.

The very next day I went out to leave food for Pretty, as I always do, even when she has disappeared (she’s done this before).  I was wandering around my front yard forlornly calling for her knowing that if she was around she would call back – she is a very talkative little cat and always calls to me whenever she hears me come outside or hears my car drive up.   I probably sounded pretty pathetic – mournfully calling for a cat that I was certain was dead.

Pretty scarfs down

Then I heard it.  It wasn’t coming from any of her usual places, but from behind my house, on the hillside.  I followed her plaintive mews until I saw her on the hill.   My sadness quickly gave way to excitement.  My Pretty was alive! And she was here!  She looked skinny and a bit stressed, but she was alive and had a lot to say.

Soon Pretty and I were back at our old routines.  She seems happy and much more confident.  The only thing that is different is her voracious appetite. But, with her focused so intently on the food, it has allowed me to attempt to pet her. And as long as she is distracted by the food, I can touch her to my heart’s content.  If I wanted to I could simply scruff her and bring her in the house.

So, that’s where my mind is at right now.  What is the kindest and wisest thing to do for this little cat?  The neighborhood has changed over the last few months – many more dogs and far fewer cats. This used to be a very safe area for these feral cats. There are four or five feral cat feeders within a three block area.  They had all been  neutered  and were being fed on a regular basis (the cats, that is, not the humans).  But, the cats are disappearing.  At least we know what happened to Boots.  The others, well, it’s a mystery. It could just be cats being cats and maybe finding greener pastures. It could be someone who doesn’t like cats. It could just be the dangers of being a wild creature.

I accept that part of my reasons for wanting to bring her in is that I can’t take having my heart broken again – at least not just yet.  I want her to be safe.  But will she be happy?   After being born feral and living feral for over four years, can I tame her down enough to only be mildly neurotic like her daughter, Tangerine, who now lives with me?

I don’t have the answer yet.  Each day since she has returned she seems happier, healthier.  And I worry that she would feel betrayed by being nabbed and placed in a house. She’s never lived in a house. She wouldn’t understand that it’s safer than the outside world.  Could she even appreciate it? I don’t know.  I guess I’ll just try my best to do the best for her.  It’s all I can do.

Stories I tell myself

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Don’t you love it when you learn something new and within a few days, WHAM! Exhibit A is all up in your face?   Yeah, it happened like that to me just a few days ago.

The other night, as part of a series of talks in the Awakening Joy class I’ve been taking with some friends of mine, author MJ Ryan was talking about some recent findings in neuroscience.  To paraphrase (very poorly), she basically said that facts are initially processed down near the base of our brain. This is the  where the input from our senses is initially processed, or as Sgt. Joe Friday would have said “just the facts, m’am.”  But  in some upper segment of the brain stuff from our past is stored – in particular traumas, strong memories, etc.  So, what happens is that the data/facts then get filtered through all this stuff from the past and this makes up our interpretation of those “facts”.  So, for example, if someone was bitten by dog, when they see a dog, they see something dangerous  and react accordingly.  Whereas dogs and other animals have always been a source of love for me, so I go all ooey gooey and start talking in an annoyingly high voice.  Same input. Different interpretations based on past experience. Got it?

Just a few nights after hearing this lecture, I noticed that Sasquatch is limping pretty badly.  I freak the fuck out. My mind immediately thinks he is in end stage renal failure since muscle weakness is a symptom of a very sick kitty. Within the past three years I have experienced two much beloved cats die of kidney failure. So, that’s where my mind went even though Sasquatch has not displayed any other symptoms of kidney failure (excessive thirst, weight loss, vomiting).   Within a few minutes, however, I catch myself in my story and recognize it for what it is – a story based on past trauma.  Breathing deeply, I attempt to come back to the  present moment and try to parse the story from the facts.  Intellectually, I was good.  But, deep in my body – my chest, my gut – Sasquatch was still dying.

Knowing the symptoms of renal failure, I was able to back myself off that particular ledge, only to jump over to another ledge: Sasquatch probably has diabetes, and his limp is the result of diabetic neuropathy in his leg.  Yes, that’s it. And why does Sasquatch have diabetes? Because I’m a very bad owner and haven’t taken him to the vet in five years and have done nothing to help him lose weight.  Oh my god, my cat is dying and it’s all my fault.

Even though I was aware my dire diagnoses of Sasquatch were all just stories I was making up based on pretty flimsy evidence, my mind raced most of the night. I would sleep an hour or two and then wake up and reach out for Sasquatch to make sure he was still alive.

First thing in the morning I call the vet and was able to get an appointment for late in the afternoon.  I spend most of the day  doing a lot of breathing meditation and trying to keep myself off the ledge.  My gut is in a knot and I can’t eat. Sasquatch, meanwhile, appears to be the same as he ever was, except for a slight limp.

Transporting this cat anywhere is a huge challenge.  Sasquatch, you see weighs 29 lbs and is deathly afraid of the car. He also is quite smart and knows when I am even thinking of trying to get him out of the house and into the car. So, in addition to being quite convinced he was dying, and I was also fairly certain that in transporting him that I would lose him, because, well, that almost happened a few years ago (which in retrospect makes a hell of a funny story, but it was also incredibly traumatizing for both me and the cat).  Normally, when transporting him for his annual grooming, I make a Sasquatch burrito by wrapping him several times in a blanket and then whisking him out of the house and into the car like some kind of kidnap victim. But, that won’t do at the vet because who knows how long I’d have to wait to get into an exam room. So, I employed the burrito technique and then stuffed the burrito into a dog carrier (sounds like some kind of concoction that Taco Bell would come up with – “New from Taco Bell! It’s the Burrito Dog!  An all meat burrito stuffed into a hot dog bun!  Perfect for those times when a burrito seems just a bit too ethnic.” Available in Arizona only)

The actual vet visit was less dramatic than any scenario I had running in my head. Sasquatch refused to show the nice doctor his limp and instead jumped up on the bench, yowled and stuck his head into my purse.  She gave Sasquatch a once over, and did not find an obvious cause for the limp.  She speculated it was probably arthritis and that I should try to trim 4-5 lbs off of him and put him on Cosequin for his joints. But, she wanted to do blood work to rule out any other possible causes. I was relieved when she told me we would have results the next morning.

By the time I got Sasquatch home I was done in. I had planned to spend my day off catching up on errands, doing a little cleaning, and relaxing with a good book.  That didn’t happen, but at least there was some relief in knowing that I would have an answer to Sasquatch’s mystery limp within 24 hours.  Yet the elephant that had parked itself on my chest was still sitting there. My body was fully in the story, even though I was intellectually aware that I was probably over-reacting.

The next morning while waiting for the results I found myself getting way too invested in the USA vs Ghana World Cup game.  Soccer seems much more interesting when you’re using it not to think about something else. Good thing the game went into overtime because the phone didn’t ring  until  2pm

“Miss LB? This is Dr. Burke. I have Sasquatch’s test results.”  she said in a measured professional tone.

“Yes?” The elephant on my chest feels like he’s invited a friend or two over.

“His blood work came back perfect. Everything is right down the middle. Looks very, very good.” I could hear the smile in her voice.

Like a damn fool I start crying in relief. “So, no signs of kidney insufficiency?” I felt compelled to confirm.

“No. Not at all. His kidneys look good. Glucose levels good. Thyroid good. All the things we start to worry about in an 11 year old cat.  He probably has a touch of arthritis and he may have taken a bad jump. If it doesn’t clear up in three weeks, we’ll do X-rays, OK?”

“So, basically he just has an owie.” I said.

“Yes, it appears it’s just an owie.” she laughed. “Have a good day.”

With that reassurance, the story I had been telling myself drew to a close.  The elephants got up off my chest and ambled away.

The pecking order

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Being as I am the only one in my household who possesses opposable thumbs and a debit card, I think it’s fairly clear who is in charge here. Despite their attitudes to the contrary, my four critters do respect me for my ability to open a can or pour food into a bowl.

For the longest time, the second in command was always the cat with the most seniority.  Both Nomie and Alaska knew how to work their household status to their own advantages, and rarely was there a question as to who was the Alpha Cat.  Usually, Alpha Cat status meant they got their choice of sleeping spot on the bed, as well as being the first to chow down.  However, when it came Sasquatch’s turn to assume that mantel he really couldn’t be bothered.

You would think by the sheer number of Sasquatch’s toes – two extra on each paw – that he could make those thumbs oppose if he really wanted. And with opposable thumbs and his sheer bulk, he could challenge me for head of the household. But, no, my gentle giant has no interest in being in charge.  He just wants to chill.

Into this leadership void, a most unlikely candidate has stepped up to the plate.  The smallest of my crew, weighing in at just four-and-a-half pounds, Mr. Binkles has asserted himself as Alpha Bunny.  Granted, I probably shouldn’t be too surprised.  When he first entered my life two and a  half years ago, Binkles and I battled mightily for household dominance. He laid claim to my couch, my reading chair and even made a play for my bed.  I never really understood what completely nasty little creatures these sweet cuddly-looking bunnies could be until I let Binkles into my home. It wasn’t until I got him neutered and then got him a girlfriend that all the bad behaviors finally subsided.  Now, with me, he’s my sweet little guy.  He’s even a bit of a momma’s boy (much to the annoyance of his girlfriend, Mrs. Peabody).

Yet, it was only the other night that I realized how much the Binks lords it over the other creatures.  I mean, I knew he was dominant over Mrs. Peabody.  I’ve seen how he sweetly grooms her ears only to turn around and mount her head too many times to know who is in charge in that relationship.   I didn’t know, however, how much he bosses the cats around.

Tangerine, my formally feral now just really skittish indoors cat, has come to love this little round fleece nest that used to belong to Alaska.  I’ve placed the nest in my bedroom and when she is not curled up with Sasquatch, she sleeps there. That is, unless Mr. Binkles is out and about. When I come home in the evening, I let the rabbits out  of their roomy pen for their free range time.  After a few laps around the house, usually they settle into their spot du mois and just relax.  Binkles has decided that his new most favorite spot in the whole world is Tangerine’s nest.  I’ve seen him bully her out of her nest and then just take over – stretching out as big as his little bunny body can be.   In theory, they could both fit into the nest, but no, Binkles needs to take over the whole thing.

And when he isn’t hogging Tangerine’s nest, he’ll be in the dining room chewing on Sasquatch’s beloved cardboard box. Sasquatch really enjoys sleeping on cardboard, so when I got a large fairly flat box, I put it on the floor and Sasquatch claimed it as his own.  That is, unless Binkles wants to be there.  If Sasquatch wanders into the dining room chances are he’s heading over to his box for a nice nap. But, if Binkles is there, he just walks by and heads over to one of his other sleeping spots. He never challenges the little bunny even though Sasquatch could totally kick his ass if he wanted to.

No one seems too bothered Mr. Binkles claim to dominance.  They have managed to work it all out between themselves without any intervention from me.  So, now all I have to do is kick back and enjoy the show.