Joie de vivre

There was one vital last step in our relocation and unpacking. It involved getting some new cats. Our last beloved cat Arthur passed away last year. In a way his unfortunate demise was fortuitous for us because we would not have moved until he was gone. It’s cruel to relocate a cat, particularly a sick one.

The opposite is also true. When setting up a new household it’s cruel to get a cat too soon. Once they arrive, a cat will want everything to be where it will always be. For weeks after moving in there were a slowly diminishing set of boxes, as well as lots of cleaning and re-cleaning and rearranging of stuff until things settled in to our satisfaction and a cat’s.

Finally we were ready to drive to an animal shelter, but which one? There aren’t many here in Western Massachusetts, but a clean and well-run one was a good sign. Variety is good too, which is why we ultimately chose Springfield’s Thomas J. O’Connor Animal Shelter over the closer Dakin Animal Shelter in Amherst. There we fell in love with a calico white, black and cinnamon-colored cat named Applesauce, who we quickly renamed Cinnamon. She was found underweight and malnourished on the streets of Springfield and looked more waif than cat.

Cinnamon sensed right away that we were to be her forever people. Our niece Cheryl was visiting at the time. Cinnamon sat patiently on her lap in the backseat on the way home from the shelter; gently purring and looking out the window. Once in her new home, she quickly adopted but spent most of her first few days hiding under our bed. We knew she felt at home. At night as I stumbled into the bathroom she would be there on the heated floor and wrap her torso around me when I sat on the toilet.

One-cat domestic tranquility was not to last for long. My wife wanted a pair of cats. In particularly she wanted Wilma, a small orange female tabby at the shelter. However, Wilma was not yet available; she had to be fixed. We put in our reservation awaiting her recovery and took her home the day before Halloween. For this and her orange fur she was quickly renamed Pumpkin. Within a day of her arrival Pumpkin contracted something that wholly removed the wind from her sails. We took her to the vet, fretted and gave her plenty of attention until she slowly recovered.

This of course was when the two-cat integration started in earnest. Cinnamon hadn’t really established her territory as she was new too and Pumpkin was too sick to give her a hard time anyhow. Once recovered though Pumpkin showed us exactly who she was: trouble with a capital T. Although she had had a litter of her own (as had Cinnamon, who is about two) she was hardly more than a year old. Pumpkin decided that she was still a kitten. Henceforth her mission was to keep us entertained and/or exasperated, with much more of exasperation than entertainment.

Pumpkin, in a brief moment of rest watching Cat TV
Pumpkin, in a brief moment of rest watching Cat TV
Cinnamon is the laid back and generally inoffensive cat. In Pumpkin’s world everything is a toy and everything merits her incessant curiosity. She can be in a corner of the house and in a mad dash ten seconds later be upstairs in another far corner. There is no chill pill for Pumpkin. Relief arrives only with utter exhaustion. Then she will reluctantly find a sleep spot, usually on my wife’s pajamas on the top of our bed. Even while she sleeps this sleek and all-muscle work of nature often twitches. You can see her eyes move under her eyelids as she prepares further adventures in her mind.

Our bedtime dynamics quickly changed with Pumpkin’s health. It was clear that she would be jumping on us all night long and at random intervals, which meant she had to sleep elsewhere. This also meant Cinnamon had to sleep elsewhere. The hard part was figuring out a way to get them both out of our bedroom. We eventually settled on a reward approach: saving a kitty treat for both just before retiring, then scrambling to our bedroom while they ate them, quickly turning off lights and shutting the bedroom door. To register her disapproval Cinnamon started clawing at the carpet under the door and meowing. This eventually caused me to install a flap under the door. The clawing still continues, but now she picks at the flap instead of the carpet.

Cinnamon has quickly porked out. Pumpkin remains a lean and usually roving awesome kitty machine, constantly sticking her nose and claws into places they should not go. The rubber mat under the kitchen sink she treats as her personal scratching post. She eats from Cinnamon’s food dish. She constantly jumps on the dining room table, mostly to hunt for pens that she will brush onto the floor and which will soon end up under furniture. She has knocked over things on the windowsill. She loves loves loves anything to do with flowing water, be it from a faucet or a toilet. I throw her out and shut the bathroom door before shaving otherwise I would never finish. She loves sinks so much she will often take a nap in my wife’s sink in our master bathroom. For better or worse Pumpkin bonded with my wife and liberally uses her legs as a scratching post. We continuously correct her behavior but so far little of it has sunk in. She just looks at us with her playful eyes. It’s not hard to read her thoughts, which endlessly go like this: “play play play”.

Pumpkin is full of joie de vivre, which may be her most endearing aspect. While a total pain in the ass she is at least a cute pain in the ass. She is one hundred percent joyfully alive and will suck every possible microsecond of such joy during her existence. If she can’t find it, she’ll invent something. Usually a wadded up ball of paper will work for a while but a whole plethora of toys scattered across our wood floors somehow is never quite enough to fully scratch that itch.

One joy is stalking her new sister Cinnamon and then pouncing on her. Cinnamon finds her stalking obsession annoying and freakish and spends much of her day trying to stay out of her way. All this simply encourages Pumpkin to find her and engage her, so there are endless numbers of minor scuffles all day long, rarely anything serious and mostly an expression of Pumpkin’s endless supply of nervous energy.

Perhaps in part as a reaction to her freaky sister, Cinnamon usually follows me around all day. She is so often underfoot that I must constantly watch where I step. Going down stairs is challenging because my foot can easily end up where she has placed herself. Generally whenever I move, Cinnamon moves as well right at my heel. In the morning she looks forward to coming upstairs with me and my cup of coffee, and usually settles at the top of the stairs. There she can keep an eye on Pumpkin and at least have some warning if she is going to be stalked. As the larger cat, Cinnamon certainly outweighs her and could probably out-smack her too. She just prefers domestic tranquility.

I try to ignore Pumpkin most of the time, leaving her to annoy my wife instead, who will at least interact with her by frequently yelling and correcting her behavior. Pumpkin and I will become friends in time, but she has to settle down first. She has to stop doing evil things like chewing through my wife’s earphone cords. Pumpkin does like to curl up on a lap so she has a lot of potential as a lap kitty. Cinnamon mostly avoids laps, but she does like attention. Both cats will get on our desk in front of our monitors and settle in as if to say, “Well of course I am far more important than that glowing, boxy thing.” And this is endearing. I can still get work done by moving content to the top of the screen while petted her irregularly.

Unquestionably though Pumpkin is the animated cat of the household. She is taking the retire out of our retirement and is a natural topic of conversation, not to mention exasperated cries, angry voices and yowls when she digs her claws into your legs. And yet she looks so cute and harmless all the time. No jury would convict her of anything, even with photographic evidence. She gives us a reason for living, if only to regularly put bandages on our legs and arms.

We’re hoping Pumpkin settles down soon but I have a feeling that’s not her nature. As long as she is alive she is likely to be in trouble and entertaining us. We had best adapt, and maybe that means wearing two sets of jeans at once.

Suffer the little kitties (and humans)

It’s tough being without a cat. It’s been this way since March, when our last feline Arthur passed away. Normally there would be a grieving period (there was) and then we would be at a cat adoption agency selecting a new cat. But this assumed that we would be staying put. We’re not. If you read this blog regularly, you know that we are planning to move.

Cats may be independent but overall they are much more attached to home than dogs. They want their space and they don’t want it to ever change. Given this reality learned from cohabitating with cats for many years, we opted not to get another cat until we have resettled, likely in western Massachusetts next year.

This is an easy decision to make unless of course you are used to having cats around. Going cold turkey was not easy. I am having a somewhat easier time of it because my childhood was largely pet free. For my wife, going without a cat is a major stressor. There has almost always been at least one cat in her life. As something of a substitute, along with half the nation she watches cat videos online. Curiously she was doing that when we had a cat as well. Watching cat videos though while not having one you can pet is something like torture to her.

What to do? We are tempted to violate protocol and just get a cat anyhow, even though it will be relocated five states away in a few months. That of course is quite selfish because while living without a cat is stressful to us, it is nothing compared to the stress a cat undergoes when it gets relocated. There are exceptions of course, but overall it’s bad for the cat and bad for its owners.

Which is why we are volunteering to take care of homeless cats instead. It was actually my idea. My wife was actually getting depressed over not having a cat in her life. Watching cat videos was becoming an obsessive-compulsive behavior. Watching these videos simply drove the addiction and there was no way I could order her to stop watching them. Fortunately, we have a couple of friends who help with animal rescue and fostering of felines. They work for Four Paws, a local cat-only rescue organization. I practically ordered my wife to volunteer us already.

This ended up with a biweekly gig whereby we go to the Petco at the Greenbriar Shopping Center in Chantilly, Virginia and take care of two rescue cats staged there. The Petco is nice enough to provide a glass-enclosed room and a couple of large cages that amount to two cat condos, one stacked on top of the other. Each cat effectively has three rooms: an eating room, a pooping room and a play/rest room. It’s up to us volunteers to clean the rooms and play with the cats. During the day of course Petco customers come by to see the cats. They can’t play with them as they are behind Plexiglass but there is information about the cat and adoption forms.

Volunteering for this duty is a mixed experience. It gives us some time with actual live cats, but it’s also clear that these rescue cats don’t like being there. They are all looking for permanent homes. They seem more than a little traumatized being in a temporary home and don’t particularly like being on display like zoo animals. The sad reality of course is that for a rescued cat there are likely going to be several temporary homes before they get a permanent placement.

So these cats at the Petco tend to move in and out. Rarely are the same cats there when we visit that were there two weeks earlier. As part of the cleaning process we open their cages, allowing them to get out if they want into the enclosed area. We lock the door to the store first to make sure they cannot escape. Some cats gleefully bound out onto the cat trees in the room. Others (usually the new ones) will cower in the back of their cages. Some will let you play with them. Some will not.

Volunteers like us come by three times a day to check on them, sanitize things and make sure their litter box and food are freshened. This is far more personal care than any cat of ours ever got. Typically I cleaned the litter box twice a week and put out food once a day. The cat would then disappear until it wanted attention. This usually worked out well for both cat and human.

These cats for the most part not only resent being in the cages, but also seem obviously scared by the whole experience. There are these constant humans coming by, all smelling differently and sticking their fingers through the holes in the cage and saying inane stuff like “Here, kitty kitty.” Most of them do get placed, but occasionally an older or a black cat will stay in the condo for a few months. Sometimes they come back to the foster home because they seem too stressed by the experience. Their condos are sanitized three times a day, which might contribute to the stress. They have little opportunity to impart their odors on the cage, making it not feel like home.

Recently, my wife helped out at an adoption fair at another Petco in Fairfax sponsored by Four Paws. Dozens of cats were there in hopes some would get adopted. About half were adopted. It was clear though that the vast majority of these cats were traumatized by the experience. It’s bad enough being in a foster home, but to be put in a cage and placed in a room with lots of other cats to be poked and petted by people they did not know really stressed them out! It’s a sad but necessary process in getting them adopted. Mostly these cats live in foster homes with other cats. A typical home will have six to ten cats, carefully watched over by a volunteer.

One of the cats at this fair was a sleek black cat, a female named Cupid, who is about a year old. Our daughter Rose, who had recently moved into her own studio apartment, picked her as her very first cat (that she owned). Curiously, this black cat was brought to her forever home on Halloween. She was promptly renamed Mimi, and went to hide under the couch. Mimi is still getting acquainted with her new home and her new human, and it is likely to be a long and stressful process for Mimi. The same was true with our cat Arthur. He must have been moved around a lot because it took him about a year to accept that he was in his forever home, and always would be. Once he fully made the transition, he turned out to be a great cat.

It’s not widely known, but most cats (certainly the domesticated ones) are not native to North America. They are in fact an invasive species, and they eat or dismember billions of birds a year. So humans who choose to have cats should keep them inside, or ensure that if they have access to the outside that they can’t hurt anything.

Because cats are an invasive species we must be careful to limit their numbers. Obviously we are not doing a great job in making sure all cats are spayed. All of ours were, of course, and any cat Four Paws places are spayed or, if a kitten, the owner must agree to spay them.

As traumatic as the placement process is for most of these cats, considering the obsessive way they are catered to while in placement, some should feel jealous. Who? Our homeless, or really any of the millions of Americans struggling at the margins. These cats may be traumatized, but at least they are cared for, eat healthy food and have their medical needs attended to by regular vet visit. It makes me angry that we simply refused to do the same for those you would think would matter even more: the actual human beings around us.

Doggone it

There are cat people and dog people. Is it possible to be both? If it’s possible with any dog, it should be possible with Parker. Parker is our guest dog this weekend, a dog in a house that has always been for cats only, thank you very much. Only, we’re sans cats at the moment as our cat Arthur passed away last month. It’s likely we’ll be petless until we resettle in retirement next year. My daughter agreed to watch our friends’ George and Joann’s dog Parker. Parker, like most dogs, is very sociable. It seemed cruel to keep him home alone with a hostile cat. In addition, my wife is still grieving over the loss of Arthur. I thought having an animal in the house would be therapeutic for her. So we invited Parker over for the weekend.

Parker the guest dog
Parker the guest dog

Parker, as you can see, is 100% dog. He’s an English Setter Spaniel, something I would not know, as I can’t identify more than a handful of breeds. As dogs go, he’s an eighty-pound bundle of love. As I am considering a dog for companionship in retirement, a weekend with Parker seemed mutually beneficial. For me, Parker’s presence would help me figure out if I want a dog in my life. For a dog that dotes on companionship, it was good for Parker.

For if Parker can’t sell me on owning a dog, no dog can. We were impressed with Parker during a holiday party. He was the life of the party, happily going from person to person for attention. When he got a modicum less of attention than he felt he deserved he flitted over to the next person. Parker is a happy dog that excels in companionship. Most dogs do that, of course, but generally dogs fall into two types: the loyal dog that bonds with one and only one person (or with the family) and the indiscriminately affectionate dog. Parker is definitely the latter type, perhaps because he was a rescue dog. He will push his snout between your arm and waist to make sure you know he deserves your undivided attention. And his big brown eyes will stare deep into yours, lovingly, patiently, until you just kind of give him a hug, pet him and praise him. And then he will plead for more.

So there’s not much not to like about Parker. Still, for cat people this constant companionship thing is a bit overwhelming. There is devotional, like always going to church on Sundays, and then there is dog-devotional which amounts to “If I am awake I must be at your side.” Parker scampers up the stairs ahead of me. He anticipates walkies I don’t intend to give him. And particularly when I am eating something, he is totally enrapt watching me put food into my mouth and examining my plate. It’s because — and granted I am new to this dog thing — he is hoping I will share. Surely anyone who loves him as much as he thinks I do will share their plate, or at least some morsels, right? He is prepared to look at me with those bright brown eyes of his indefinitely until I give in. He’s got plenty of time and nothing else to do.

His attention mania is not necessarily bad, although it can be hard to type on the computer with that nose nudging me. However, dogs not only need love, they need services. Specifically, they need the outdoors for both #1 and #2, and they need it several times a day. And they need regular brushings. And teeth cleaning. And in Parker’s case, their ears periodically need to be nipped. And they often need their paws wiped before coming indoors and, if they were outside in the rain, you probably want to wipe their coat of most of the rain. They need nails trimmed and they need a human to vacuum up their excess fur. And most dogs need a deodorant or at least regular baths. They unfortunately smell of dog, an acquired smell perhaps, but not one I particularly welcome.

Me and Parker
Me and Parker

To this cat person, dogs in general seem kind of peculiar. With noses thousands of times more sensitive than ours, they are more smell-focused than visually-focused. Smells are their passion. Every dog’s urine must smell subtly different, because they are particularly focused on smelling fire hydrants and mailbox posts. Finding just that right spot to wee wee seems to be vital to dogs. I am guessing they are looking for an unused spot. Also vital is acknowledging the presence of other dogs, through general yipping. I’m not sure what they are saying exactly but I think it’s, “Hey, you’re a dog!” and the other dog yips back, “Hey, you are a dog too!” I suspect the conversation then gets into an extensive discussion on the virtues of the smells at their specific spots, and how the other dog better not be peeing on their spot. For humans like me walking the dog also gives us close encounters with dog excrement. I can’t say it’s interesting. I changed my daughter’s diapers because it had to be done. Spending ten years picking up dog poop doesn’t sound like a reason to own a dog.

I also suspect dog owners develop enormous biceps. A dog like Parker has quite a will, and he will lead me more than I will lead him. Parker can literally dig in his heels when necessary when he has found a particularly interesting spot to sniff. He takes great force to move. And he will happily run around me, leaving the leash wrapped around my legs. I assume dog owners develop an instinct on when to shorten or lengthen a leash.

But perhaps all the attention dogs require makes the relationship balanced. I can’t say that about the many cats we have had over the years. When they need to go I don’t escort the cat to their litter box. I do brush them from time to time, but it’s easy to forget and they don’t seem to mind. Granted, cats aren’t usually quite as much gluttons for attention as Parker, but some can be. Some prefer you leave them the hell alone, but will give you hell if you don’t feed them on time.

Dogs are not one-dimensional either, although I can see how it can seem that way. Parker is a love dog, but there are also excessively protective dogs. There are dogs that bark at the slightest provocation, and that includes when a speck of dust going past their noses. Some dogs whimper and whine, some expect you to feed them at five a.m. and raise hell if you don’t. And some dogs like to chew the legs of your furniture, the same way some cats like to shred your furniture. Paper-training puppies is reputedly a huge hassle and I imagine it must be challenging for a dog to learn how to time excretion to mornings and afternoons.

So I’m not sure about this dog thing, although I am willing to host Parker a few more times to find out for sure. It may be that I will prefer to do most of my walking alone with a podcast in my ear rather than escort a dog.

Today was yard sale day in our neighborhood. We brought Parker outside for part of it. It was clear to me that he was good for business, as dogs seem to attract dog people. People-friendly dogs like Parker are the equivalent to pushing around a baby in a baby carriage. Happy, healthy and attractive dogs like Parker are especially in demand. John, my financial adviser, is also a cat person. He was in my home consulting with me yesterday when Parker arrived for his stay. Parker went immediately to John and wedged his nose into his hand. “That’s one friendly dog,” John said, clearly impressed.

Yes he is. Which means that if I can’t get into Parker, I’ll just have to accept the sad fact that I am not a dog person. My loss, I guess.

Going to the dogs

It was a brief moment today. I was driving to work through a residential neighborhood. As I often do on Tuesdays, I had to wend my way past the trash truck. I give these guys a brake and wait for them to say it’s okay to pass them. Today though the guys on the trash truck were oblivious to me. They were petting a dog.

One of the homeowners had her dog on a leash and was doing walkies along the sidewalk. This dog, like most dogs, is a friendly dog, as was evident by its wagging tail. I didn’t quite catch the breed, but it was smaller than most, and black. The guys hauling the trash, unsurprisingly I am sorry to say, were also black. There were two in the back and one in the cab. The two in the back normally gather trashcans from both sides of the street at once, and the guy in the cab drives.

Today though the crew had gone to the dogs, er, dog. Both of them had stopped the hauling and were petting the dog that was happily making their acquaintance and straining at his leash as if he wanted to sit on their nonexistent laps. The lady at the other end of the leash was laughing. The guys on the street were laughing as they petted the dog. The guy in the cab smiled through his side view mirror at the encounter. I pulled around them cautiously and made my way to work, smiling as well.

That one dog provided a lot of happiness. Moreover, like most dogs, this was a colorblind dog, both physically and metaphorically. Dogs, bless them, have no sense of social class. One friendly human is as good as another to them. Black face, white face, brown face, red face – it just doesn’t matter to them. All that matters is their sense of you and how you relate to them. Everyone in this encounter appeared to be a dog lover, at least for that moment. No one cared if a minute or two of productivity was lost. There was a friendly dog that wanted some attention and was glad to give some attention. At least until that encounter ended, social class simply did not matter. The dog had brought together people who would probably never talk to each other otherwise.

In the gospels we learn that Jesus was a man from Galilee, he was definitely human and that he was also a holy man who many believe was God in human form. Jesus of course spent some years in Galilee and Judea preaching about love and inclusiveness. It’s hard to know where Jesus was in the social class of Judea at the time. If he was truly a carpenter’s son, he could probably be considered middle class for those generally impoverished times. For a while he developed quite a following, at least according to the Gospels, but he also developed enemies. The priests in the temple did not like him because he was so different and because people called him a rabbi. The Romans put him to death. And it appears he drew the scorn of many because he hung out with losers like Mary Magdalene, a common prostitute in the eyes of many, as well as lepers, the homeless and general miscreants. Our understanding of Jesus is of course imperfect. We have only the legend of Jesus, as there is no scrap of evidence that he actually lived, and the original gospels have long ago returned to dust. But Jesus as he is depicted certainly believed in transcending class, and in universal love, and in recognizing our common humanity.

Jesus, in other words, was a man who had gone to the dogs. It would not have surprised me if his family had a dog. For if you have to learn about love and have no other guide, in most cases you can get it courtesy of the family or neighborhood mutt.

I am a cat person more than a dog person, simply because my wife introduced me to cats and I had no pets to speak of growing up except for a family parakeet. I have spent enough time though with dogs to know they are fundamentally different than cats. Cats are Republicans. They want to know what’s in it for them and it’s almost always me first. In general, they will only return affection when they first get some. They may rub at your heels for attention, but their attention tends to be fleeting. If you ignore them for a few weeks, you will probably lose any affection they had for you.

Dogs, on the other hand, are Democrats. Certainly not all dogs are friendly, and many will be affectionate only with their master. But once you have earned their trust, and it usually takes nothing more than a chew toy, snack or just a scritch of their heads, you are part of their tribe. It may be fleeting or it may be permanent. Dogs are all about finding joy in life and in getting in touch with the feelings of creatures around them. Class means nothing to them. Most of the time they will radiate love, particularly with their owner, but often with anyone in their locality. If you don’t look happy they will sense this and come over to you, and darn well try to make you happy. It’s their nature.

Christians are still waiting for the second coming of Christ. Many believe he will descend from heaven through the clouds, with his radiance pouring down across the earth. Then the saved will be saved and the damned will be damned. As for me, today’s encounter makes me think that Christ has already returned. In fact, he’s been here for a long time and you can find him nearby. Just seek out your family or neighborhood dog. Feel their love, feel their radiance, feel the cares of the world recede when you are with them or, as I saw today, see class barriers momentarily disappear. If you want to be more Christ-like, perhaps you could just imitate your mutt more. Be friendly, be open, be loving by nature and if you sense someone is hurting go over and say you want to help them feel better.

We should all go to the dogs.

A suffering feline

Six and a half years later our three-year-old rescue cat Arthur is now pushing ten years of age. His age is just an estimate, but the veterinarian that examined him estimated that he was born in late 2003. He came to live with us in September 2006. It took him a whole year to get fully housebroken. This was perhaps not too surprising given that he probably had been mostly living on his wits the first years of his life.

Arthur the cat (2012)
Arthur the cat (2012)

A video of Arthur

Picked up off the street in Lovettsville, Virginia, our domestic shorthair cat made his way to a no-kill cat shelter in Loudoun County, Virginia and eventually into our house and into our hearts. Affectionate with people by nature, he was not completely domesticated. He remains unusually skittish but after a year of occasional naughty episodes like peeing in our vents he fully settled in. He seemed finally completely at ease when the carpets were ripped up and replaced by hardwood floors. No more scents of deceased cats to torment him. We marveled at his relative youth when we got him, for we were used to aging cats that often threw up more than they digested and were more than a bit senile.

At around ten years old though, there are signs that Arthur will not live the nineteen and a half years his predecessor Sprite did. Arthur has become an expensive cat, attested to by $1400 in medical bills racked up in the last couple of weeks. His symptoms were perhaps not surprising to long term cat owners: vomiting, diarrhea and sneezing. Various veterinarians have puzzled over him. Pills were tried and special cat food was put in his dish but they did little. Eventually it seemed just part of his nature, something to endure. Because otherwise Arthur seemed happy, eager to sit on our laps, happy to be perched on a chair and looking outside the front window in the mornings and anxious for daily commutes in and out of our screened in deck via his special kitty door. He purred easily, never was the least bit malicious (unlike our late evil cat Squeaky), never considered escape and never shredded the furniture. He enjoyed being fussed over him and we fussed over him a lot.

It’s hard to know when a cat is really sick. One way is when their habits suddenly change. That was what triggered the start of $1400 in veterinarian bills to make Arthur whole again. Arthur was nothing if not habitual, and he did not come out to greet me when I came home. I called and called and he eventually showed himself, but wholly spurned the dinner he usually scarfs down. His water had hardly been touched, and he was losing weight again. Moreover, he was usually quiet and rarely purred. There was plenty of diarrhea, however. The truest sign of this sick cat was the moribund tail lying flat on the ground. It is usually extended behind his back and curled up toward his head. I scheduled a trip to the vet for the following morning and wondered if he might be dead before I got him there. Our wily cat that can usually sense a cat carrier a dozen feet away did not object when I gently put him in it and took him to the vet.

Shots for hydration. Shots to stimulate hunger. Shots to cool an enflamed butt, because his bowels were enflamed. Newer, blander cat food to try, plus a day in the cat hospital being monitored and getting blood work. He ate well at the vet, perhaps due to his shot. But mostly there was an urgent request from the vet to get him an ultrasound. It was likely one of three things: a tumor, a general lymphoma or irritable bowel disease.

He came home, survived another night while looking ever weaker and more dispirited. The following day he was seen at the local Southpaws where for $600 or so he had his belly shaved and an ultrasound performed on his GI tract. A tumor was thankfully ruled out. A thickening of the bowel walls was noted, but it was impossible to say if it was a lymphoma or the IBD that was causing the diarrhea, although a kitty colonoscopy for another $600 could probably rule out one of these. Another shot in the butt to calm things down was followed by more water injected under his fur. And there were pills. A pill developed for people with cancer to stimulate appetite. Another to get rid of his diarrhea. And one twice a day pill to calm his inflamed intestines: a steroid.

Lots of pills, lots of shots, lots of bills but his progress seemed marginal. He mostly didn’t want to eat, so it was hard to get pills into him, even when put in his food. As anyone who owns a cat knows, pilling a cat is generally not an option. Mostly Arthur was listless and out of our faces. His food and water seemed mostly untouched and he kept losing weight. So yet another trip to the vet was scheduled, this one for $200. More shots. More hydration. And suddenly we had a cat that was ravenous and would not stop eating. And one who purred again. And one who sat outside our door in the mornings again, and looked out the window after finishing his food, just like old times.

And so it went for a day or so, and there was great rejoicing, until his appetite ebbed again. Getting pills into him via his food on time became problematic. Arthur was in a better place, but still struggling. And there he remains today, a subject of considerable concern.

He is aging and he is struggling. He will probably need to be on pills the rest of his life. Right now we wrap them in cheese in hope they will get consumed. It works, for now, but history suggests it will not work for long, and cheese may not be good for him. The root of his problem is likely an allergy, but to what? We have no way to know. We try different prescription foods and see if it has an affect on his explosive sneezing. Or maybe it may be something environmental that we could not possibly know.

It seems crazy to spend $1400 on a cat, and we will likely spend a lot more than that over the course of his remaining life. He is such a plain and ordinary cat to look at, but such a total sweetheart in person. He is constantly sweet (or when he cannot be, at least inoffensive), constantly gentle, full of good heart, honest and naturally endearing. If this is the start of his decline, it will be a sad process to witness every day. Meanwhile we hope for the right combination of food, environment and medicine so that this ultra sweet cat can simply go on being his sweet, inoffensive and endearing self.

Arthur, we love you. It may not seem like it but we are doing our best for you. Stay with us. We will do our best to keep you safe, healthy, warm, hydrated and loved.

Interview with a cat

Our current cat Arthur is sweet, a bit dumb but quite lovable. He was obviously traumatized at an early age. Brought home from a shelter, even after having been with us more than a year, he remains skittish. If we rise from our chair, he moves immediately toward safety. He would make a good military planner; he always has an exit strategy. I have been working to coax him into be a lap kitty like my late lamented cat Sprite. Perhaps he will chill out in time. I occasionally put him on my lap but he quakes with nervousness. If I scratch him lightly while he is on my lap, he will hang around for a few minutes. Eventually his panic button takes over and he jumps off my lap. Only once has he actually sat on my lap and only very nervously.

My wife knew I missed having a lap kitty since Sprite went to his well-deserved feline reward. Since she has friends into animal rescue, she pitched the idea of another cat to me. I was amenable to the right cat. Through her friends, she learned of Tuxi, a 4-year-old female cat who is very much the lap kitty type. If you have a lap, she will be there. Tuxi is a large cat, with short charcoal black fur and white paws. Her markings make her look like she is wearing a tuxedo. From her modest girth, she obviously eats too much. She apparently spent many of her early years outside. This might explain her attraction to laps: they are warm and frequently the outdoors is cold.

Things looked promising at first. We kept Tuxi confined to the TV room with a litter box, water and plenty of food. We lavished attention on her. Tuxi though quickly wanted out of the room and that was a problem. She whined and complained when we were not there. When finally given the opportunity to get outside the room she bounded around our rooms putting her nose literally into places where they did not belong, like the blinds. She was not intimidated by our nearness or heights.

Arthur watched her curiously and looked desperately like he wanted her to be his friend. However, Tuxi wanted nothing to do with him. She hissed whenever he came near. One evening she mysteriously escaped from her room. She spent the night and the subsequent day under the living room couch howling, often at ear piercing volumes, refusing to go use her litter box or even be moved. From the smell, we knew she had peed on the carpet under the couch. When Arthur plaintively approached she would hiss some more and growl until we could feel tremors in the floorboards. Her yowls reached all corners of the house. She refused to shut up until 4 a.m.

She has scratched me once when I needed to get up. However, when I sit down, she is on my lap in an instant. If I need to get up before she has received her quota of lap time, she can hiss and bite. Her bite though does not leave an impression.

What to do with a desperately affectionate kitty obviously carrying the baggage of a less than stellar kittenhood? It is hard to say no, but she is just not working out. Her loud yowls are even louder than our former cat Squeaky’s. Yet I realize Tuxi is just being herself. She is a product of her environment. She would work out right in the right home, just not here.

Maybe we need to leave well enough alone. Arthur may not be much of a lap kitty and he often seems bored, since he does not quite understand the concept of play. Nevertheless, he is generally quiet, friendly and predictable. The most evil thing he has done was pee in our vents after we first got him. That cost several hundred dollars in duct cleaning, which we needed to do anyhow. Since then he has been amazingly sweet and innocent. He may never get over his skittishness but that is okay. Our bonding time will be on the bed when I am under the covers. There he languidly stretches out on his back and allows me to scratch his tummy. He purrs obscenely as I (generally unsuccessfully) read a book.

I hope Tuxi finds a home worthy of her. It will need to be a place where she is the only cat. She will want access to the great outdoors. She will want plentiful access to laps. She will need a home where her loud yowls will go unnoticed. I think she will find such a place in time. It breaks my heart that our home is not the place.

If you can offer her such a place, never abuse a cat and live in Northern Virginia, send me some email. (Please put Occam’s Razor in the subject line to bypass my spam filter.) She may still be up for adoption. She has had all her shots, is neutered and has tested negative for feline leukemia. She is a delight to have on your lap. In the right home, she would be a terrific cat.

Coaxing the Cat

Language is a wonderful invention. If only we could talk to the animals like Doctor Doolittle, perhaps life’s little adventures with our pets, like trying to pill a cat, would be much less stressful on all concerned.

Our three year old cat Arthur has been with us almost two months. Whereas he used to spend 90% of his time hiding in fear behind the couch, now he spends about 25% of his time there. He can come out when coaxed a bit, and sometimes when not coaxed. When he comes out we lavish him with attention, which mainly consists of petting and belly rubs. He purrs outrageously.

But he is a cat from a shelter. He spent a year in a cattery with thirty plus other cats. So it is not surprising that he is skittish. He is used to being vigilant 24/7. He is constantly watching for threats. In short, he has not learned to trust us, probably because he was abused by a previous owner. If we approach him he generally backs away toward a safe distance. We usually have to get on the floor or assume a non threatening posture before he will move toward us. Our approaching steps give him plenty of warning. He assumes the worst: that there is some evildoer out to kill him. He figures it is better to be safe than sorry. So behind the couch he goes.

Arthur must have lived a Spartan life. He does not know how to enjoy life. We bought him a nice, comfortable cat bed and even tried placing him in it, and he runs away from it. We also have gotten him a scratching post. He will not go near it. Instead of a nice cushy cat bed, he chooses to sleep behind the couch. There he feels relatively safe, but he is always facing with his eyes looking outward so he can react to potential threats. Our last cats liked nothing more than to rest in the sunbeam in the middle of the living room floor. He either doesn’t understand its allure or sees being out in the open like that to be too much of a threat.

He likes the safety of our screened in deck. When weather allows we send him out there. He vigilantly looks down upon the lawn in search of other animals. A cat wandered into our yard once. That got him very excited. The days are now shorter and cooler now, so it is harder to send him outside. However, he must petition us endlessly even if after going outside in 40 degree weather he quickly decides maybe inside is better. He is very polite about petitioning though. He will sit a few feet from the door and stare at it. Surely, he must think, if I stare at it long enough it will open. Of course if the weather permits we let him out. We do not have a pet door.

He has also discovered the basement. Aside from the deck, it is his favorite place. He traipses down the stairs and sits on the old couch in the family room, facing the door. This way, of course, he has plenty of warning if predators are approaching. I think this is where he finds the most peace. He has at least thirty seconds to hide, if necessary. It is quiet and cool in the basement. I come down in the evenings to say hello. I often bring a kitty treat or two. He is a bit reluctant to let me sit next to him, but eventually accommodates. Getting a tummy rub is too much of a temptation.

Arthur is also an oral cat. Thankfully he is not particularly aural. His meows are more like high pitched squeaks, which makes him rather enduring. He would just as soon lick you as have you pet him. His sandpaper tongue is a bit annoying, but it is his way of saying he loves you. He would be thrilled to lick your finger or, better yet, gently gnaw on a digit or two. Arthur is amazingly respectful for a cat. He has never scratched us or bit us out of malice. In fact, his one game with us is to gently push our hands away with his paws when he is lying on his back. He is inured to typical cat toys. Even a peacock feather failed to elicit a playful reaction from him.

For a homeless and likely previously abused cat, Arthur is adopting rather well. Still, earning his full trust will require many more months, at least. On occasion he can be coaxed on to our laps, but only for a moment. Like virtually all cats he has the ability to jump on couches and countertops. However, he prefers the floor. Maybe he figures they are forbidden territory.

So earning his trust is a long term project. This is why his recent bladder infection was particularly unwelcome. A few weeks ago we noticed the pungent smell of urine when the heat went on. In fact, it was so bad I nearly had to leave the house. We investigated the heating grates and sure enough, there was evidence that he left his markings. We have had enough cats to suspect what the issue was: a urinary tract infection.

Off to the vet he went. He did better getting into the cat carrier than I expected. Still he whined all the way to the vet, but calmed down once he was in the office. They had to keep him all day in order to get a urine sample. Sure enough, the UTI was confirmed. We were given a two week supply of pills. But they also wanted us to put drops into his ears and eyes. Uh oh.

At first, getting the pills into him turned out to be rather easy. They have these Pill Pocket thingies now for pets. You place the pill inside and generally the cat or dog just gulps it down. They think they are eating chicken or fish or whatever. As for the ear and eye drops, they quickly became impossible to administer. Arthur simply did not trust us enough. Both my wife and I have scars on our arms from valiant attempts to keep him restrained while the other person put them in. In fact, medicating him made the situation worse. He spent more time behind the couch, not less. Eventually we decided the trauma we were inflicting was counterproductive. We gave up on the drops for now.

Then a few days ago Arthur figured out that there was something funny tasting inside those pill pockets. He became reluctant to eat them. We could have picked him up and tried to shove them down his throat, but we knew that would exacerbate his trust problem. So we were reduced to coaxing. And if you know cats you know how well that worked. I was reduced to putting it in his food dish and waiting until he got hungry enough to eat it.

A return trip to the vet yesterday gave ambiguous results on whether the infection had cleared up. Fortunately we returned with a different flavor of pill pocket, this one salmon flavored. Arthur decided this one was okay to eat. With less than two days of pills left, we may get through the UTI problem. Still, our house still smells somewhat of cat urine. I have cleaned the heating grates with a professional cat spray odor remover. I did the same thing to the wood floors. I sprayed parts of the carpet. The odor still lingers from time to time. I hate it.

Hopefully the UTI and spraying problems are now behind us. He hasn’t been digging at his ears as much so we are hopeful there too. Perhaps we can now regain his trust. Perhaps eventually we will reach the point where he will realize we are there to help him, not to hurt him. We are looking forward to it because while he is a skittish cat, he has a fundamentally sweet nature.

I keep hoping that one of these days he will nestle into my lap like my last cat Sprite so enjoyed. He may not be a lap cat at heart. I have coaxed him up on our bed a few times, and he enjoyed the attention he got. But the road to winning his full trust will likely be a long one. Perhaps if he has a long enough respite from further medical issues, he will feel like a full member of the family.

Welcoming Arthur Dent

It took about a week, but Arthur Dent (our newly adopted cat) has emerged from hiding. He still likes to spend much of his day trying not to be seen by hiding under the sofa. Increasingly though, we find him in less hidden spots, such as on a dining room chair. He is waiting, waiting silently and patiently for something or someone. Maybe his is waiting for the other long dead cats that he smells to emerge. On the other hand, maybe he is just waiting to feel sufficiently safe to release a restless spirit that so far he has not chosen to manifest. Since he chooses to wait then we will wait too.

Our cat Arthur

When he wants attention, it helps to listen. Unlike our evil cat Squeaky, he is not a shouter of a cat. He lets out plaintive and short duration high-pitched squeaks. We understand that means, “Does anyone want to pet me?” Mostly though he prefers silence and stealthiness. Having spent a year with thirty or so cats in a room the size of our living room, perhaps he is just enjoying the luxury of being alone.

He remains something of a peculiar cat. We are used to cats that are in your face. It is likely that over time, as trust is established, he will become one of these cats too. Right now, he remains skittish. He wants to be approached gently and quietly. If I lumber down the steps, he will go hide. If I sit down on the floor, call him in a soft tone, look him in the eye and then gently offer him my hand, he will approach me tentatively. Once I give him a quick pet and he turns into my love slave.

He loves to be gently scratched under his chin. He also likes me to use both hands and gently scratch both sides of his face at once. Like most cats, he demonstrates pleasure by kneading the carpet with his paws, licking me with his sandpaper like tongue and, when he is feeling very comfortable, flopping on his back and exposing his belly. I can rub his belly up near his chest, but not much further. In that sense, at least so far, he is a different sort of cat for us. My last cat Sprite was totally fearless in my arms. I could touch him anywhere, carry him anywhere, and put him in any position. The more outrageous the move, the louder he purred.

Perhaps in time Arthur will become this way. Right now, he seems to be in no hurry to sit on our laps. This seems to be something he does not do. He has not established enough trust with us to allow us to pick him up either. Nevertheless, when stimulated he certainly can be very affectionate, purring strongly and rubbing his soft fur against our hands and legs.

He is not much of a vertical cat. We are also used to cats for whom ascending vertically is as natural and walking. Thus far, he has not gotten above chair height. I am thinking that perhaps a previous owner trained him not to get up on the furniture. This is not necessarily a bad thing. We never liked our cats to think they could jump onto tables and countertops, and would shoo them off. Otherwise, we gave them free reign to ascend as high vertically as they wanted.

Nor has Arthur yet expressed an interest in the outside. Darkness and quiet are mainly where he finds comfort right now. We have tried to entice him to play with a number of toys. No dice. His one game is the paw game. He will reach out and pat your hand or finger with his paw. He does it very nicely and does not scratch you at all.

We have learned a few things about Arthur from his medical record. He is about three years old. He spent the last year in the Friends of Homeless Animals cattery. He has been to the veterinarian twice while he was homeless, once for an upper respiratory infection. He is current on all his shots and is neutered. He also once had mild conjunctivitis. He has an appetite and generally eats all the food I lay out for him. He is fastidious for a cat. He keeps himself well groomed, which I take as a sign that he is reasonably happy. Mostly he is a gentle cat. This is fine with me. I just wish he would come out more often. Every time he does, he gets plenty of positive attention. The good news is that we can usually coax him out now.

For myself, I am satisfied at present. Now that he is out, I am content to let him become adjusted to his new home at his own pace. If I can pet him once or twice a day, that suffices. If I can eventually coax him to jump on my lap, I will be happier. If he turns into a cuddle cat, I will be ecstatic. I think in time all these things are possible as trust is slowly extended and replied to in kind.

One thing for sure: our house now feels like a home again. Thanks and welcome home at last, Arthur.

Small Steps

Allegedly, we are cat owners again. I say “allegedly” because we have not seen much of our cat since he arrived last Saturday. If Lord Voldemort is “he who shall not be named”, our new feline is “he who shall not be seen”. Well, at least not very much.

These are some of the hazards of adopting a cat who was likely abused earlier in life. If instead we had adopted kittens, it is unlikely they would be so reticent about showing themselves. So far, our new cat, which came to us by the name of Papa, has spent daylight hours studiously in hiding under our couch.

Picture of our new cat, named Papa in the cattery

After we unfortunately had to evict him from under our bed the first night, he spent the first couple of days and nights under the loveseat in our entertainment room. We slipped a litter box behind it, which he quickly found. We could hear him use it occasionally. Now he prefers to spend the day under our living room sofa. This is a bit of a problem since there is no way to put a litter box behind it. He eats, drinks, and defecates at night. In the morning, there are signs that a feline has been around. There are little clumps of grey dander on the floor and carpet. Generally, his food is gone too.

We know it is important to be patient. This new cat will eventually fully emerge from his shell. He is already making small steps. Sometime after eleven o’clock at night when my wife is the only one still awake, he quietly emerges. She may hear the litter box in use. After two nights, she looked down the stairwell to see the cat looking up at her, fear in his eyes. The next night, he made it up a couple more steps and waited there for a while before returning to under the couch. Three nights ago was a breakthrough. He came into the computer room where my wife spends most of her free hours and sat warily under the desk. My wife avoided any major movements, but slowly put her hand down by her side. It took about ten minutes, but he warily approached her. She gently scratched his head. He stood up on his rear legs, put his front paws on her legs, and purred outrageously. This went off and on for half an hour before he slowly ambled downstairs and returned to his spot under the couch.

Since that time, he has visited my wife every evening, when it is quiet, around eleven o’clock. I dutifully fill his food bowl and change his water dish in the morning, but otherwise I do not see him. It is not easy for me to give him space. I want to peek under the couch, as my daughter does when she comes home from school, and say hello. However, he does not seem to like this attention right now. Eventually he turns around so he is not facing her. He will fully emerge in time, but on his own terms, and only when he feels it is safe.

I have to respect that. Still, I find it hard. After six months without a cat on my lap, the absence of a feline has made their lure that much stronger. Now, I am practically aching for a feline on my lap. I am not sure this cat will even be a lap sitter. Nevertheless, it would be nice just to pet him. I would like to give him a scratch under his chin, as I did with my last cat Sprite. I must be patient.

I did see him briefly this morning when I stumbled out of bed around 6:15 a.m. I usually elect to wake up our daughter and send her to school. I am now careful to open our bedroom door slowly in case he is out there; I do not want to startle him. So far, that has not been a problem because he is elsewhere. This morning though when I did glance down into our living room, I saw him on the carpet, just next to the living room couch. He looked up at me warily. I doubt cats are schooled in reading human emotions, but I smiled and said nice things to him. “There you are,” I said. “There is no reason to hide. We love cats around here.” That was enough for him: fifteen seconds or so of cautious staring, then a quick dash back under the couch. That is where he had remained utterly silent all day. I sent a toy ball under the couch this evening in the hopes that he might play with it. However, it must make too much noise for him. Right now, he is still anxious not to be seen.

It is human nature to anthropomorphosize pets. It takes deliberate effort to remember that he is a cat, not a human being. Animal scientists assert that the emotional part of animal brains is much larger than their rational parts. They are believed to live mostly in the present, but to carry powerful emotional impressions of their past. Found outside a gas station in Lovettsville, Virginia and rescued by Friends of Homeless Animals, this three-year-old cat has likely been abused before. Trust will have to be earned slowly, on his terms, in small paw steps.

Meanwhile, I avoid upsetting his delicate balance. I want him to heal and to trust. It is probably not a good idea to run the vacuum cleaner today. Since his cat box is in the entertainment room and he may need to use it, I have avoided television. Fortunately, this is no sacrifice, since I have largely given up television anyhow.

Perhaps tonight will be the night we become a little better acquainted. Since I do not have to go to work tomorrow, I plan to stay up late. I am hoping that if I sit quietly here on the computer he will gently head up the stairs around eleven o’clock, as he has the last several nights. The question is whether he will keep coming up the stairs when he sees me, or will head back under the couch. Maybe, just maybe, I will get to pet him.

This is of course quite a change from the cat we met in the cattery. There you simply sat down and he was one of a half dozen cats all over you. There were cuter cats than him, but arguably, he was one of the most affectionate. The message to us seemed clear: he liked us and he wanted a new home. The reality of a new home though will take some getting used to. He may smell evidence of cats past, wonder where they are, and whether they are going to attack him. Therefore, he remains very wary and very cautious. Cats for the most part do not deal well with change. Relocation is one of their biggest traumatic events. Yet he must settle down eventually. In time this new world with us will becomes routine and the old memory of the cattery where he spent about a year will fade. He will understand he is in a place where he will be loved and doted on. It will be a special place that will be all his and we will be his special humans with whom he has chosen to spend the rest of his life. When the weather is temperate, he can sit out on the screened porch and enjoy nature. Otherwise, he can roam the house as he pleases, watch birds, humans and automobiles pass by on the street through the window, sleep in his new bed that he has not tried out yet, and generally be spoiled rotten with as much attention as he can hold.

For now, we just wait for him to emerge. It must be done on his terms though, not ours.

Lucky Animals

The Friends of Homeless Animals shelter is out somewhere in Loudoun County, Virginia. I will not say exactly where it is. Their web site does not tell you. Considering that many of the animals at their shelter were found abandoned or abused, there is no point inviting more trouble. However, if you gently inquire and you do not sound like a dog or cat abuser, they will provide directions to the shelter.

You will have to visit them on the weekends when they have adoption hours. However, if you fall in love with one of their homeless cats or dogs, plan to wait a week. The adoption committee will first check out you out. If you had animals before they will inquire with your veterinarian. Expect a home visit. No “cat stays in the garage” types need apply. In fact, you have to promise that your adopted cat will stay indoors, will never be declawed, or will be taken to the animal shelter. In other words, you have to not just say that you love your cat or dog; you should be able to demonstrate that you can follow through.

If an animal at FOHA has to wait for years to find the right owners, so be it. Any cat or dog that ends up at FOHA is a fortunate animal. First, in many cases they have been rescued from neglect. Second, if they have not been spayed, the veterinarian will take care of it. Third, they will be fed a healthy diet, be brushed and cleaned regularly, and, if they are a dog, exercised regularly too. Fourth, unlike many animal shelters, they will not be euthanized because there is no room at the inn. Fifth, most animals will be adopted in time. They will then have the quality love and attention they might not have received from their last owners.

It takes a constant stream of devoted volunteers and doubtless a heap of money to run this kind of animal shelter. Much of the work is not glamorous. Dogs need to go for regular walks. Cages must be cleaned. There are many cat boxes to be changed, and cat gorp to be removed from the floors. They need volunteers during adoption hours. Then there is the work involved in maintaining the substantial infrastructure: hauling food and supplies, managing the property, fixing kennels, and showing off pets periodically at local events.

As you wind your way through the one lane gravel road toward their property, you are likely to see volunteers walking dogs on a path in the woods. As you park your car, you are likely to hear the sometime deafening roar of dogs barking. Most cannot wait to be your friend. Our particular destination was the cattery. A cattery is a house for felines. This particular cattery held about thirty cats. As a rule cats prefer to have their own space. I suspect some of these cats were a bit stressed from having so little personal space. Still they made do, and could often be found going through a cat door to a protected outside space. One room in the cattery was devoted to kittens. It is currently kitten season, and there were plenty of kittens needing adoption.

We were looking to replace the irreplaceable. Sprite, my cat companion of more than 19 years, was put to sleep in March. Since that time, something has been deeply wrong in our house. To put it plainly: it lacked a cat. A trip to FOHA made us realize just how much we missed having a feline in our lives. It also made me sad to see so many wonderful animals without homes of their own. I wanted to bring them all home, but I knew it could be only one cat.

Only which one? This was a source of some consternation in our house. For we each had different requirements from a cat. My wife wanted one that minimally impacted her allergies. Domestic short hairs were preferred over longhaired cats. My daughter wanted one that was young, playful and affectionate. However, she was nearly 17 and would be out of the house soon. Since we would be responsible in the long term for the pet, my wife and I had to be mindful of our limits. I wanted Sprite back. Since that could never happen, I could settle for a generally quiet and affectionate adult cat, preferably the type who would rest happily on my lap while I worked on the computer. At least none of us wanted kittens. Having done it once we knew that while they were awfully cute, they could also be amazingly destructive.

Our daughter fell in love with a cat named Stephanie. She had tested positive to exposure to Feline Infectious Peritonitis, and had a number of teeth removed. She was sweet and snuggly, but after talking it over with our vet she looked like she might turn into more of a special needs cat than we could handle. I was directed to a cat called Spike, a lovely yellow tabby, who was very quiet and docile. I felt sorry for Spike. Mabel looked like a good compromise choice: small, short haired and affectionate like Stephanie, but without the potential FIP problem. She might have come home with us had she not scratched our daughter unexpectedly.

We settled on a cat called Papa, a very affectionate brown and black haired tabby who was also docile enough to let us pick him up and cuddle him. Papa had been found on the side of the road in Lovettsville, Virginia. A sister of a FOHA worker took him home, but he volunteered to hide in her basement. She thought for sure he was going to be a hostile cat, but she was surprised to find that in time he turned into one the most affectionate cats she had ever met. Thus he came to FOHA, where he stayed for a few months until we adopted him today. He was named Papa because in the shelter he was both affectionate and looked after all the younger cats.

Thus far, he has yet to come out from under our bed. While we hope he will not hide there too long, we can certainly understand how this kind of transition would be hard on any cat. Meanwhile, we are pondering new names for Papa. Papa may turn out to be like our cat Squeaky, who named herself. Originally, she was named Pixel. However, because she could not stop talking and made a sound like a door on a rusty hinge, Squeaky became her name. Papa’s meows are small and rather plaintive. I doubt, now that he is away from other cats, that he will turn into a loud cat.

Loud or quiet, we are glad to have a feline in the house again, even if he chooses to hide under our bed for now. Whether a good or evil cat, we will love him regardless and do our best as pet owners.

We have lived in our house thirteen years. Since Sprite died, it has felt more like a house than a home. When the couches are covered in cat dander again, when I automatically empty the litter box on Sunday and Wednesday nights, when I find myself lounging around and find that a cat has appeared on my lap, when I have to watch where I walk lest I trip over a cat, then it will likely feel like a home once again.