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.

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.

 

The Joy of Napping

Dibujo de una nia en la cama preparada para dormir, es de noche, se est tapando con una manta mientras sonrie

Robert Fulghum tells us that he learned everything he needed to know in kindergarten. I can’t go all the way with him on #1 – Share everything – especially when it comes to Facebook, but I’m a solid believer in #12 – Take a nap every afternoon. (Well, and #9 – Flush.)

I love naps – the sensual pleasure of snuggling into my bed in a cozy little nest of pillows, sheets and blankets; the quiet purr of the fan and the cat who perches on my hip; the knowledge that, for a time, I can let go of the cares of the day; the promise of renewed spirit and energy; the satisfaction of turning off my phone.

Two of the best ways that I know of improving my mood are having a meal and taking a nap. The one often follows closely on the other, a phenomenon I am told is called “postprandial torpor.” (I’ve often wished I could call in sick to work and claim that affliction. Or “rhinotillexomania.” They sound so serious. But if anyone at your workplace knows Latin, you’re busted.)

Naps, however, are part of the reason that I can no longer work regular hours in a regular office. I find that bosses get upset if you take the phrase “break room” too literally. In the past I’ve contemplated keeping a sleeping bag under my desk, but that would never work. Let’s face it – I snore. Prodigiously. Someone would be sure to notice, and object. When I was traveling with my mother, she used to beg me to let her get to sleep before I nodded off.

Fortunately, I work at home, so breaks and naps are entirely my own choice, except in case of deadlines. The transition from desk chair to bed is easy. I’m usually already wearing my jammies, and the commute is just up the stairs. (I can’t nap on the couch. It’s too uncomfortable. I used to be able to nap face down on an airline tray table. This was useful because the flight attendant, seeing me, would think I was dead and leave me alone for the rest of the flight for fear of alarming the other passengers.)

Unfortunately, I’m not able to take “cat naps” – a misnomer if I ever heard one. My cats sleep on average 18 hours a day, and invariably right where a human wants to walk or sit. One of my cats even snores – daintily, but audibly. And no, it’s not a purr. We’ve been thinking of getting a tiny CPAP machine for her, but we think she’d object to the mask. And cats have unpleasant ways of making their objections known. If you have a cat, you know what I mean.

But I digress. Short, 20-minute naps do me no good. They don’t refresh me at all. In fact, they leave me more muddle-headed than ever. But the real reason I can’t take short naps is that it often takes me 20 minutes or more, usually of reading, to fall asleep. Since that’s the case, it’s hardly worth sleeping less than an hour or two.

But some of the time, even two hours of napping doesn’t do the job. Hence I have invented the Mega-Nap, of at least four hours. The Mega-Napping doesn’t usually interfere with my nighttime sleep, either. On one memorable occasion I Mega-Napped for a good six hours, and woke at 9:30 p.m., just in time to go back to bed and sleep for another 10 hours, giving the cats a run for their snoozes. I also suffer from Nap Attacks, when I hit the wall – hard – and simply must nap, collapse into a heap, or bite someone’s head off. Napping is usually the wisest choice.

My husband naps differently. He can take 20-minute naps and get some benefit from them. Even the nine-minute snooze-button naps seem to do him some good. He can also fall asleep at will, which is severely annoying, especially if we’re having a fight. But he has occasionally been known to join me in a Mega-Nap. He has an excuse, however: He works third shift.

With apologies to Robert Fulghum, I do see one glaring difference between kindergarten naps and grown-up naps. Children resist them and resent them and get cranky when they have to take one. Adults seek them and savor them and get cranky if they can’t have one.

 

 

 

The Power of the Purr

My father hated cats – until he cared for Bijou.

His feelings toward cats had their roots in his childhood. Once his mother was bitten by a stray cat that she was trying to help. For that, my father held a grudge. Bijou changed his mind.

Bijou was a smallish tortoiseshell calico, my very first cat. I picked her out of a roomful of cats at the shelter because of her gentle demeanor and because her quiet ways didn’t seem to garner a lot of attention from the other prospective pet owners. Over the years she became a cuddlesome kitty who slept curled up in one of the curves of my body, behind my knees or snuggled by my waist, safe and cozy and sharing warmth.

When my husband and I went on our honeymoon, I asked my parents to look after Bijou. I knew my dad’s feelings about cats, but I felt sure he could at least give her food and water, if not warm up to and love on her as she liked.

My father had cancer – multiple myeloma – a particularly vicious form of bone cancer. It was hard for him to move about, so when he went to our house, he usually ensconced himself in the barrel-backed chair while my mother did the honors filling food and water bowls.

But then Bijou jumped up on his lap.

And purred.

She had been avoiding us a bit before we left, preferring to take up residence under the bed or behind the sofa. We thought it was just a normal reaction to all the confusion and chaos surrounding a wedding.

Actually, she had feline leukemia. She was isolating, as cats often do when they don’t feel well. Maybe the stress of the wedding preparations caused her disease to become active. Maybe it was just her time.

Whatever it was, it touched my father. He had never been one for cancer support groups with names like “Make Today Count.” But one small cat, purring her way through pain and illness that would ultimately defeat her reached him the way nothing else could.

Maybe he saw in her the tenacity in the face of suffering that he too would need. Maybe he read her purr as acceptance of her lot in life. Maybe he saw a cat with every reason to strike out at someone choosing instead to jump up and purr.

However she did it, Bijou changed his mind about cats.

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.

Pets, etc.: Alternatives to Cats

This week the blogosphere will be full of posts about marriage equality. You’ve heard plenty of people’s opinions by now, so you don’t need to hear mine. I’m sure I agree with one of those people. Instead, I will post about pets.

I write a lot about cats. They are the most entertaining of animals, with the most befuddling actions, the most expressive facial and body language, and the most comforting presence. But we’ve had experiences with other sorts of pets too. They’re not as endlessly fascinating as cats, especially our new little guy, Toby, but here are a few stories so they (well, their owners, really)(1) don’t feel left out.

My husband is a cat person (and a dog person too), but he’s really responsible for most of the other kinds of pets who’ve lived with us. When we got married, he came with a set of hermit crabs that lived in a terrarium. They were a little disconcerting because they made odd clicking and scrabbling noises at night. Dan claimed they were constructing a secret missile base, and I can’t prove he was wrong.

That’s about all there is to say about hermit crabs. They’re really not all that interesting as pets go, though if they ever completed that missile base, I would have liked a tour.

Another terrarium-based acquisition was a hedgehog which he named Codger for his sparkling personality.(2) I believed Dan got him to punish me for taking a vacation to Michigan without inviting him along.(3)

On the internet hedgehogs are cute and wear adorable hats or curl up in muffin tins.(4) Codger was not adorable. He was a surly little bastard. His entire repertoire consisted of growling, snarling, and rearranging the furniture. He had a little hedgehog house and a ball to amuse himself with, but all he seemed to do was push them around.

Dan claimed that his spiky pet was so unlovable because he had not raised Codger from a baby. Apparently hedgehogs do better if you socialize them to humans when they’re young. I suggested that Dan try to interact with him, but Dan’s idea of interaction was poking him with a plastic fork. Dan explained that Codger had poked him enough times, so it was only fair.

Once our family included the hedgehog it became more difficult to find someone who would care for the animals if we went away for a few days. It’s relatively easy to find someone to feed and water and play with cats and dogs. It’s a little tougher to find someone who will feed a surly bastard live worms and clean out his habitat while threatened with poking.(5)

And now for the other most popular pet in America – dogs. Perhaps surprisingly, Dan and I both had dogs while growing up. Ours was really the family dog, not anyone’s personal dog. First there was Blackie, and then there was Bootsie.(6) They lived in the garage, exercised on a chain attached to the garage, and ate Gainesburgers. They saw the vet once a year for a rabies vaccination.

I know that nowadays this would be considered animal abuse.(7)

Dan and I once had a dog named Karma, a stray German shepherd mix.(8) We decided it would be karma if his owners found him and karma if they didn’t and we kept him. Hence the name.

Two of my favorite memories of Karma are the time he needed to go to the vet and we needed to provide a urine sample. Dan, always inventive, attached a glass jar to the end of a long stick and walked the dog, strategically placing the jar under Karma’s pizzle at the apropos moment. It worked beautifully.(9) My mother said that she would have paid to see that.

Karma’s other notable behavior was burying bones. You might think this is quite an ordinary thing for dogs to do, but Karma buried rawhide bones straight up and down, with one knobby end sticking up out of the ground, presumably so he could find it later. Our back yard looked like a rawhide graveyard full of tomb-bones.(10)

Our next, and current, dog is Bridget. She was a feral stray puppy that Dan rescued from his workplace when she was trapped and scheduled for extermination. We always tell people that her mother was a golden retriever and her father was a traveling salesman.

She never quite got over being feral. She prefers to live on our deck, where she can see into the house, but not have to interact with anyone inside.(11) (She has a dogloo with cozy blankets, a sun awning and a basement condo, which she hates, for icy weather.)

Dan tried walking her once, but when she saw another dog, she cowered and peed all over Dan’s shoe. We are the only people who can get near her.(12) Bridget once came within sniffing distance of Dan’s friend John, who was a master of the Zen technique of standing on the deck, smoking a cigarette, and Pretending There Is No Dog.

Bridget is getting old now, and has already had one operation for cancer.(13) When she goes, I don’t think we’ll get another dog, though of course that’s up to the universe. Karma, if you will.

What other pets might we have someday? I guess if I take another solo trip to Michigan, I’ll find out.

(1) Don’t get me started on whether we own our pets or they own us or they are family members or we are pet parents with fur babies and similar semantics. I would probably vote with Jackson Galaxy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackson_Galaxy) that we are “pet guardians,” though I have been known to address various felines, even full-grown ones, as “Baby-cat.” Just not around people who have human children, unless I know them well.
(2) I would put a footnote here about pets resembling their owners – uh, guardians – but Dan wouldn’t appreciate it.
(3) I don’t quite know why I think a hedgehog is punishment for a solo vacation, but there you have it. I never said my thinking was always rational.
(4) It may or may not surprise you to learn that baked hedgehog was considered a delicacy by noted jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. We did not try this with Codger.
(5) In point of fact, Dan’s friend John was the only volunteer ever. I think they had snarling contests, or maybe decorating competitions. We had to supply the live worms, which I always liked to claim we got at the bugstore.
(6) Hey, we were kids at the time. Think of all the cats there are named Miss Kitty. I got better at naming later.
(7) Although I think the pendulum has swung a little too far the other way, now that we have refrigerated gourmet pet food and Kitty Caps toe covers.
(8) Mixed breeds now are just getting silly. “Labradoodle” is a funny word, but there is no earthly reason for a shih tzu-poodle cross, except someone wanted to call it a shitz-poo. (Which is actually pretty great when I think about it.)
(9) Okay. “Beautifully” isn’t quite the right word. Maybe “effectively.”
(10) Sorry. (Not really.)
(11) When the deck door is open a bit, she and the cats will play a round or two of “I’ve Got Your Ear.”
(12) Her ferocious-sounding bark scares off meter-readers, but if they come into the yard, she hides under the deck.
(13) We did have another pet once, a parakeet named J. Alfred Prufrock (see “The Bird Who Spoke Cat.” https://janetcobur.wordpress.com/2015/01/11/the-bird-who-spoke-cat/) We once got an operation for him when he was sick. Try to find a vet that will do that. There aren’t many.

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.