From Hell They Came

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Why I Wear Plaid Flannel to Work

If you guessed that I’m a lumberjack, you’re wrong.

Photo by Kelly

I am a writer, editor, and proofreader, and I work at home. In my pajamas.

It’s great. My commute to work is from upstairs in the bed to downstairs at my desk. I have a coffee maker in my study and a box of cold cereal under my desk. That takes care of everything from breakfast to my mid-morning break. Lunch is only a kitchen away and the sofa is in the next room for TV watching. Then voilà, I’m all ready for bed again.

Of course, there are other choices than plaid flannel, but I like to stick with the basics. (And, hey, lumberjacks can be beefy and hunky and… stop that, Janet, get back to work! Try to think of Sheldon Cooper instead.)

Personally, I buy men’s flannel pajamas, as women’s have the curse of all women’s clothing – no pockets. At least men’s pajamas have a pocket or two where I can stash my cell phone or a snack for later. And I like my pajamas loose and comfortable. If you can’t be comfortable, there’s no sense in working in your pajamas.

In the summer, I prefer nighties that are basically long t-shirts for comfort and clever sayings and graphics (I ❤ My Bed, It’s Meow or Never, a kitten in an astronaut helmet). Or plain men’s big-n-tall t-shirts, again because of the comfort and the pocket.

It’s true that my study is on the first floor, and has a window that faces the street. Fortunately, there is a strategic shrub in front of it and a set of blinds so that I can keep my pajama-clad work habits to myself. But I live on a little-traveled cul-de-sac and my neighbors already think I’m weird, so it’s really not that much of a problem.

Another problem I don’t have is business meetings. Most are handled by telephone conference calls, so there’s no problem there. But even if I must Skype, all I have to do is keep a respectable top in my study (and not allow the cats to sit on it). No one will ever notice – or even see – my pajama-clad legs. (Or bare legs in the summer.) It gives me a nice rebel feeling too, like I’m getting away with something, which of course I am.

On-site business meetings are something I can well do without. Suit or dress, pantyhose (if anyone still wears those), shoes (instead of fuzzy slippers, part of my usual ensemble), coiffed ‘do (did I mention I can have bedhead or at most a simple ponytail at work?).

To tell the truth, I’ve even worked in my underwear on really hot summer days. You can conduct a phone interview in your delicates (especially if you have plaid panties) with no one the wiser (except maybe the neighbors, see above). Just imagine you have a suit on; people can hear it in your voice. They really can.

Of course, there is one drawback to working at home in your pajamas – cats. Besides sitting on your one respectable blouse, they may try to sit on your lap, keyboard, or papers; or nuzzle your screen; or try to capture your mouse. You can shut the door if you have one, but that will only lead to a lot of meowing, hissing, squabbles, and thumps. (What happens if you have kids, I don’t know. Probably more meowing, hissing, squabbles, and thumps. Plus the kids are likely to want to go to school in their pajamas, citing parental precedent.)

By the way, men can join the work-from-home-in-your-pajamas club too, but since I wear men’s pjs, I think it only fair that they wear women’s.

 

This post was inspired by a comment thread in the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop (EBWW) attendees Facebook page.

 

When You Have a Cold: Some Unsolicited Advice

Say you’ve got a cold or a light touch of the flu. Then keep far away from me. You feel awful and I don’t want to feel awful too. I know you don’t want visitors, but here I am. And at least I’ve brought a gift: a few suggestions for entertaining things you can do while you suffer in peace and quiet. Except for, you know, the coughing and sneezing and assorted other noises you’re making yourself. Relative peace and quiet, if you know what I mean.

Drink tea. It really doesn’t matter what kind, since you can’t smell it anyway. Earl Grey will smell just like jasmine. Peppermint and Irish Breakfast, the same. And if you want to, you can use it as the base of my father’s restorative tonic, which consists of tea, bourbon, and horehound candy (tea optional). Or boring old lemon and honey, if you insist, though my father would not approve.

Cuddle large, fuzzy cats. Even if you’re allergic to them. You’re already sneezing as much as humanly possible, so you have nothing to fear from dander. Bonus: A large, fluffy cat makes an excellent substitute for a heating pad or hot water bottle.

Read. Or pretend to. Actual reading may distract you from how miserable you are (unless you’re reading Les Miserables). Pretend-reading will encourage people to keep their voices low, plus it doesn’t matter if you fall asleep with the book elegantly displayed on your chest. (Make sure it has a classy dust jacket, even if the book inside is Fifty Shades of Grey. Which I don’t recommend, unless it’s for pretend-reading. It may lead to barfing, which may be in your future anyway.)

Eat chicken soup. Tell everyone that you need it for the fluids and the electrolytes. Egg drop soup is an especially good variety, since if you can’t convince someone in your household to make it and bring it to you, you can always convince the Chinese take-out down the street. Nibble saltines daintily, or the little fried things that look like Chinese tortilla strips.

Hit the Nyquil. And I don’t mean the non-drowsy kind. Sleep through as much of the cold as possible. Warning: Do not mix Nyquil with Southern Comfort or the bourbon-horehound mixture (see above). You’ll barf and you may be doing that already. Also, don’t mix Nyquil with cough syrup, which can cause unintended psychedelic effects and more barfing.

Squash tissues. Let them blossom all around you in a protective ring that no one will want to cross. If you try the ones with built-in lotion, don’t use them to wipe your glasses before actually trying to read (see above).

Call the doctor. Don’t go see the doctor. You’ve got a virus and there’s nothing she can give you for it. Just ask how long it is until you can get an appointment, then rest assured that your cold will be over before that. Unless you start making a sucky, moist kind of wheezing sound when you breathe. The advantage is it will keep people even farther away from you, but the downside is that you may have pneumonia, which is even less fun than a cold.

Use Vick’s Vapo-Rub. You won’t be able to detect the scent because your nose is busy with something else (snot), but other people sure will, encouraging them to keep a respectful distance. If you don’t have Vapo-Rub, try Ben-Gay. Bonus: Nice warm feeling on your chest. Note: If you use either Vapo-Rub or Ben-Gay, do not cuddle the large, fuzzy cats (see above). Unless you want to look like Bigfoot. Just sing “Soft Kitty” instead, or insist that someone else sing it to you.

Whine. Punctuate with coughs and sneezes. Again, the goal is to get people to leave you alone. If this isn’t working, move on to even more disgusting symptoms. Keep a bucket by your bed, just so people get the idea that you could use it at any moment.

P.S. I’ll give you one guess why I wrote this. If you don’t get it right, I’ll start whining. And coughing. And sneezing. And barfing. Just bring me some egg drop soup and leave quietly.

You wouldn’t want to catch what I’ve got.

 

 

 

Adventures in Cat-Sitting

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

Cat-sitting is an entirely different matter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes I hate cats.

 

 

The Things We Do for Cats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adventures in the Not-So-Deep Woods

The bird stopped chirping.

That was not a good sign.

All day my husband and I had been playing a game of “Where’s the damn bird?” and the cats had been playing “I wanna bite the birdie!”

Dushenka scored a point when she managed to get a tooth on it, leaving for us a lone feather and a spot of blood.

On our bed. It was an indoor game. And when the bird stopped chirping, the game was over.

How did the bird get into the house in the first place? It was a mystery. It could have taken advantage of a torn window screen or come down the chimney of the wood stove. It might even have squeezed in when the deck door was open a few inches for ventilation.

Various critters, some more welcome than others, visit us fairly regularly. We live in a house on an acre-and-a-half wooded lot with a tiny creek and a plethora of flora and fauna. (My husband believes it’s over three acres, but you know men and measuring.)

Our house is not really what you’d call rural. The property backs up to an off-ramp and is a mile and a half from a shopping mall. But tucked in our little corner of the plat is an isolated patch of green with few neighbors, except for the non-human kind. We’ve seen deer, squirrels, chipmunks, spiders, snakes, assorted insects, cats, dogs, frogs, and fish. The most problematic ones are those that make it inside the house.

Most of those critters are mice and moles, which the cats love to play with, eat, and leave half for us as a gift. (One cat was even so kind as to dispatch his prey in the bathtub, where at least the crime scene was easier to clean up.) A snake that made it indoors also proved a fun toy for flipping in the air, until we deprived the cat of it.

Another indoor visitor was a bat, which I discovered in the middle of the night in the downstairs hallway. I screamed for Dan, not because I was frightened of the bat (except for the knowledge that bats can carry rabies and few (well, none really) are vaccinated). But I knew I couldn’t capture it on my own, even if it was wounded. Dan threw a shirt over it, nabbed it, and escorted it outside.

Dan escorts most of our visitors outside (if they make it past the cats), except for stink bugs, which we catch in pill or water bottles and forget about. But spiders, bees, wasps, mice (the ones that survive, that is), and snakes all get a second chance at life on the outside.

When Dan’s away, I’m a little less Buddha-like. Bees and wasps terrify me (see “How I Faced My Fear…And Failed” http://wp.me/p4e9wS-7H) and if I must deal with them, they get mashed or stomped or hit with a wet towel and then mashed or stomped. Possums can also be a problem (see “How to Get Rid of a Possum” http://wp.me/p4e9wS-46), but fortunately rarely come calling.

But, at any rate, the only remaining question about our invasive, game-playing bird: Did it exit the way it came in? Or did one of the cats dispatch it to the great beyond? And if so, did it leave the whole carcass or part of the carcass or even an eaten-and-spit-up carcass for us to find? (One of our cats would kill mice and save them “for later” in his little pantry, also known as the springs of the sofa bed. I suppose I need not tell you how we discovered his secret stash.)

Living in the almost-woods is nice. We don’t get many trick-or-treaters and Dan doesn’t have to mow or plant grass. He plants wildflowers and I sit on the deck and look at them and the animals that are polite enough to stay where they belong. We can’t see the off-ramp and pretend the sound is a rushing stream.

I’m just thinking we should invest in a heavy-duty butterfly net for the next time an avian visitor comes to call.

My (Lame) Attempts at Babytalk

First, let it be noted that I have no idea how to talk to babies. They stare at me like I’m from Mars and I stare back or read them the newspaper or something. Once in a restaurant a woman handed me her baby while she went to the restroom. Said baby and I had a staring contest, as there was not a newspaper handy. I jiggled it a little, which the baby didn’t object to, though I felt ridiculous. My husband took a picture, which I made sure no longer exists.

But with cats, it’s a different story. One conducted almost exclusively in babytalk. (I say “almost” because I do not use babytalk for communications like, “Get down off that shelf before you break the vase we bought in Italy!”)

toby2
Toby (aka Baby Boo)

The rest of the time, I sound like a blithering idiot. The blithering starts with their names. “Dushenka” becomes “Shenka-doodle” and “Toby” becomes “Toto-Booboo” or even “Toto-Booboo Baby.” (And we can’t overlook the geek-inspired “Toby-Wan Kenobi.” Sometimes Dushenka is even “Shenka-doodle-doo.” I knew you were wondering about that.)

I know there are those who feel these are not dignified things to call a cat, but the fact is that cats have no use for dignity. Despite their reputation, cats do the most un-dignified things, from licking their nethers to sneezing in my face. (One cat did this while I was blithering, “Sugar for mama?”)

Then comes feeding. “Does kitty want some noms? Nice noms for the kitty! Om-nom-nom!” And to think I used to make fun of my mother-in-law, who used to call her cat to the food bowl by yelling, “Pussy-Woo! Chickie!” (At least it’s not just me.)

For some reason, babytalk must be delivered in an unnaturally high-pitched voice. Of course, people talk that way to babies, too, but with cats it just adds to the absurdity. Maybe babies process language better at higher pitches, but I’m not really sure cats process language at all. Although I did once know one that would respond appropriately to a cry of, “Hey, you! You with the fur! Get down from there!” That was delivered in a regular, rather than squeaky, tone of voice, which is probably why it was effective.

Maybe the reason that I can babytalk cats but not babies is the fact that I have been around cats for years and years, while that encounter in the restaurant constituted most of the sum of my experience with tiny humans. It can’t be that only babies look at me like I’m from Mars, because the cats do too, when they aren’t just ignoring me.

Somehow, though, I feel that babies judge me and cats don’t. When your sole comment on anything is “mmma-weep!” (that’s a direct quote from Toby), you can’t afford to cop an attitude. (Dushenka has a wider vocabulary, including an assortment of purrs, trills, sighs, and snores. Dainty snores, but definitely different from the purrs.)

It’s ludicrous, I know, and one more sign that I may be turning into an official Crazy Cat Lady. Sometimes it’s even so bad that I make myself want to retch. (Does ittle Toto want snuggles from mama? Can I get the floofy white belly, Shenka-Doo? Does oo want to play with the nice mousie?) I mean, gag me. In either sense of the word.

Of course, it’s my belief that talking babytalk to babies sounds like blithering too. It’s just more socially acceptable. But since I’m seldom out in public with my cats, only my husband and closest friends know my little secret. And another little secret – I sometimes catch my husband cooing at the kitties as well.

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.