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.

R.I.P. Arthur Belvedere Dent, 2003-2014

He’s like the son I might have known
If God had granted me a son.

“Bring them home”
From the musical Les Miserables

Eight years to the day after we put our cat Sprite to sleep, today our cat Arthur also went to that great big clover patch in the sky as well. It’s like the gods are trying to tell us something.


Like most of these feline-human relationships, the end, when it came, came rather abruptly, although not unexpectedly. Arthur Belvedere Dent (usually it was just “Arthur”) had been a kitty in decline for more than a year. Like most cats with a terminal condition, he soldiered on with life, likely in discomfort and pain but mostly without obvious complaint. It’s hard to know exactly what his condition was, but lots of cats die from tumors or inflammation of their digestive tracks, and it was likely he had at least one of those. The only surprise with Arthur was that he was taken from us while relatively young. We were told he was three years old when we got him in 2006, but likely that was just a wild estimate, as stray cats don’t come with birth certificates. Our cat Squeaky made it to seventeen; her brother Sprite nearly hit 20 before he passed on. Shorter lifespans is part of the problem with many strays, not to mention purebred cats. That seems to have been true with Arthur.

Sprite, as I expressed in a moving eulogy after he passed away (and which still usually gets a couple of hits a day) was an angel. I will never be as bonded to a cat as I was to Sprite. I don’t dance, but somehow Sprite and I could dance together. We understood each other intuitively and bonded in a perfect symbiotic relationship. Arthur, on the other hand, was my son.

It’s true that I called Sprite my son too, but Arthur earned the title. I don’t have a son in real life, so I look for substitutes. The only substitutes close at hand are male felines in the house. While I have never had a son, I understand what a father-son relationship should feel like. Sons generally respect their father, but they are still very much apart from their father. That’s the way it was with Arthur. We loved each other and enjoyed each other’s company, but we could not dance together. However, we could enjoy our time together and we did.

Strays are hard to socialize so unsurprisingly Arthur was too. It took a year, but he settled down. It finally occurred to him that this was his home, and we weren’t going to get rid of him so he could stop peeing in the vents and running away from strangers. One of our most memorable times with Arthur was when we brought him home after his first visit to the vet. He was totally floored. He was back to the same place and he told us all about it. He was not a particularly vocal cat, but that day he certainly was. If a cat could show joy, Arthur showed joy that day. Trips to the vet were never fun, but they got easier as he aged. He knew he would always come home. Well, at least until today.

Those of us who have cats love them because they are like fingerprints. They often look alike, particularly the ubiquitous tabbies like Arthur, but none are alike and each will project personalities that are distinct. If you find people interesting, it’s hard not to find cats interesting as well. While they cannot speak a word of English, somehow you know pretty well what they are feeling and what they are saying. Purrs usually give away how they are feeling.

As cats go though, Arthur was a simple kitty. He liked his humans (us), could warm to the occasional stranger but mostly kept his distance from them. He didn’t expect that much out of life except some amusement from his humans, a place to sit in the sun and when the weather was warmer, access to our screened in deck. There in safety he could bliss out in the sun, let the wind waft through his fur, or let the local birds and squirrels keep his attention. There was something about the tall tree next to our house that held his attention when he was on the deck.

He had to be taught to sit on laps but enjoyed it once he got the hang of it. Once the inflammation started in his tummy though, lap sits were too uncomfortable. Life became simpler: endless days on the top of the cushy chair behind the ottoman in our TV room, with a prime view of the outside including our comings and goings. It meant daily shots from my wife, which he hated and consequently meant that he grew to distrust her. It meant us finding ever more creative foods that he might actually eat; otherwise he was doomed to waste away. Toward the end we went through many variants of Fancy Feast, verboten to most cats whose owners listen to their vets, but for cats with a limited lifespan, why not? He mostly ate the Fancy Feast mixed with baby food (with meat) in it. He seemed to like the baby food part the best. It was gentler on his stomach. Still there was lots of diarrhea, an inability to sit comfortably due to the inflammation, and awkwardly stumbling up and down stairs to his kitty boxes with his legs abnormally splayed. Since he wasn’t absorbing much food, more food became very important. He would let us know about it when we came near the kitchen, and would wait patiently in the kitchen until someone fed him. The telltale sign of his health, his unusual tail that curved up behind him, disappeared some eighteen months ago and never returned. That was our first clue we had a sick kitty.

With the help of our vet we gave him a pretty good quality of life in spite of these issues. We probably got a year more of his company thanks to special foods and medicines. We knew it could not last forever. Today his life abruptly came to an end. After I went to work our daughter found him on the floor unable to move his front left leg, and howling in pain. This brought me home from work to assess the situation. It was clear that this was the end. He tried awkwardly to move with one good paw and two ineffectual back legs. It didn’t work. He twisted himself up like a pretzel. The time had come. All we could do is minimize his pain.

A quick assessment by the vet confirmed our diagnosis: there was no good quality of life left. It was time. They gave him a tranquilizer while we petted him. It definitely calmed him down to the point where he seemed dead. His eyes lost focus and the edges looked black. We said we loved him, stroked him continuously, made sure to watch him and then let them take him from us. It was not the ideal way for him to go, but it didn’t last that long. He went we believe knowing that he was loved.

Particularly during his decline I made a point of going by his spot behind the ottoman several times a day and spending time petting him and talking to him and assuring him that we loved him. And he always purred. My message was consistent and loving. All you can really do is love your pet to the extent you can. And then on one heartbreaking day, you have to let them go.

It’s the yin and yang of owning a pet. There is the joy of having a pet, and the sorrow of putting them down. It has to be this way, it’s not fair but it is what it is. I can’t read my son’s mind, but I do believe he knows he was loved, and he was, very dearly. This father sure has had his share of heartache today, putting down his adopted son.

Rest in peace, Arthur. And thank you for seven and a half years of gentle love and heartfelt genuineness. I told you a million times that I love you and will always hold you in my heart. I still do and I always will.



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.

Belated cat blogging

It was two years ago this September 9th that we adopted a homeless and rather ordinary looking black and brown three year old tabby. After two years of living with us, Arthur is settling in well. For a cat, he is living the good life. He has a home of his own. We provide him with shelter, food, water and plenty of attention. Arthur even has his own cat door to our screened in deck. There he can while away a day sleeping on a table or watching the birds, squirrels and bunnies that traverse across our back yard.

Whatever trauma was inflicted on him as a young cat still lingers. While he loves his adopted humans very much, he is still not comfortable being picked up or cuddled. He remains profoundly skittish and paranoid. When I can get him on my lap, just a slight shift in position is enough to make him bolt off my lap. He still requires an escape route before going into any room. Having too many people at close range makes him nervous.

At the same time, he dotes on attention and petting. He is an easy cat to please. Scratch him on gently on his head, or under his chin, or pull lightly on his tail and he purrs contentedly and looks at you with adoring eyes. He loves being brushed so much that if he were not so ordinary looking he might win a pet competition. With continual coaxing, I can get him to jump on my lap. Occasionally, he is in such need of attention that he will jump on my lap on his own initiative. He is discovering that being on my lap can be enormous fun. Yet, he has to weigh his fun against his intense feelings of paranoia.

For a while he let us trim his nails but he must have figured out that it reduced his ability to defend himself, so now that is out of the question. This makes bearing a cat on my lap challenging. Even when I wear heavy jeans, I often feel the sharp prick of a claw on my leg. When I wear shorts, I can see the scars I bear for the honor of being loved by a cat.

Arthur has every comfort a cat could want but does not know what luxury means. We bought him a nice clean kitty bed that he has never slept in. We have a cat condo used by our previous feline residents, but he has never ventured into it. His favorite place to sleep is in the basement on a couch, where he has ample warning of people coming and going.

In the morning, I typically find him in our TV room looking out through our blinds at the street. Occasionally he will greet me at the bedroom door in the morning, but since our daughter is a night owl, he tends to need his morning rest. Mostly in the morning, he is looking lethargically out the window. He may well be in a hypnotized state.

His cat door is actually inset into a window in our kitchen. It is hard to get in or outside of without something to rest on, so we have turned a kitchen chair into a cat stool. On the other side of the window is a table we use sporadically when we feel the desire to eat outside he uses as a platform. He makes a dozen trips a day or more outside. The sound of the cat door opening and shutting has become very familiar.

Arthur is a simple cat. He is neither particularly stupid nor brilliant. We have purchased various cat toys for his amusement. For the most part, they are ignored. It is likely that his kittenhood was too traumatic to have learned how to play. All he wants is positive attention at the times of his choosing. He seems to lack most common feline curiosity, although to my surprise I recently saw him looking at me from the other side of the bathroom door. Previous felines in our household delighted in hiding in closets or under furniture. They also enjoyed getting vertical. Arthur likes to always be in plain site and generally avoids sitting on furniture. In that sense, he is a remarkably respectful cat.

He does have one serious deficiency. Perhaps the litter boxes at the shelter were not changed as often as he would like. Despite having two litter boxes cleaned twice a week, he has been known to periodically urinate on the carpet, much to our consternation. He always picks the same spot. When this happens, out comes our oversized bottle of cat urine odor remover, although it never seems to quite do the trick. Worse were the occasions when he would pee down our air ducts. Then his odor would stink up the whole house. There were times that the smell was overwhelming. We have had our ducts professionally cleaned, covered one register completely and put a special vent over the other. His favorite spot on the rug for peeing is now covered with a rubber bath mat. Soon we expect to replace the carpet with a wood floor, which will make future episodes like this easier to deal with. (Yes, he has been to the vet on this issue. One incident showed he had a bladder infection. All other times he has been clean.)

He is learning to beg. Generally we avoid giving him table scraps, but I do keep a container of kitty treats on the kitchen table, and give him a few when he shows up. Fortunately, none of it seems to be going to his hips. Arthur has always been a big boned cat, but never a fat cat.

His least favorite thing is going to the veterinarian. This is to be expected, but with his advanced avoidance skills, it can range from difficult to impossible to get him into a cage. Unfortunately, Arthur has needed to see the vet on various occasions. Most recently, he had to suffer the indignity of having three rotted teeth extracted, which gives him the appearance of Bucky Katt. Now his face looks a bit offset.

His favorite activity is receiving lavish belly rubs from me. I give them to him when I am under the covers in bed shortly before retiring. He can get quite upset if I do not make the time for his belly rub. He knows exposing his tummy could be dangerous, so it must be exquisitely pleasurable to override his innate cautious sense.

I hope for the day when he is completely over his skittishness and I can hold him in my arms and cuddle him like I did with my late, lamented cat Sprite. Perhaps that day will come, but I am increasingly dubious that it will. Arthur is an affectionate kitty, but he has to get affection on his own terms.

Perhaps in another two years, if I post about him again he will be recovered from that early trauma. Perhaps I will be able to cuddle him in my arms someday without risk of being seriously scratched. Stay tuned.

Marital lessons on love courtesy of my cat

In spite of what you are about to read, this is not “Let’s beat up on my wife day”. I love my wife. Obviously, there are things about her I wish I could change. I am sure she has a list of things about me that she would correct in me if I could somehow reprogram myself. We both are who we are. We are the people we were before we entered into marriage 22 years ago, plus the unique dynamics of those last 22 years. Our fundamental personalities are immutable.

Like many households, we have pets. Actually, we have a pet, one four-year-old male cat named Arthur that we picked up from a no-kill pet shelter about a year ago. Arthur too is a product of his conditioning. He was found on the streets of Lovettsville, Virginia where he probably lived a very scary and Spartan existence. At his core, Arthur is a sweet and affectionate cat, just incredibly skittish.

Arthur gets plenty of attention from us. The basement is his sanctuary. When he needs to escape, he retreats there and sleeps on the couch. When he is awake, he wants our attention, but he does not want to be picked up. When I am at my computer like now, he will often sit on the floor next to my chair. I have to reach down to pet him. This is not terribly convenient for me. It would be much more convenient to have him on my lap, like my last cat Sprite. Perhaps he will achieve this level of trust someday, although I doubt it.

When he deigns to pay us a visit, we greet him warmly. “Hello Arthur!” we generally say and we pet him and he purrs and he wraps himself around our legs. Even though we are confident that he does not understand English, we talk to him as if he understands us. I ask him how his day is going. I know his favorite spots. He likes scratches behind his ears, long belly rubs and to have his tail gently pulled. Generally, we try to keep him engaged but eventually one of us loses interest. He seems content to sit near us. Eventually he will find another human to greet, or will go back to the basement for more sleep. Should he ever feel bored, he has ready access to our screened in deck. Some months back I installed a pet door that insets into one of our kitchen windows. He traverses in and out of the deck dozens of times a day. In short, for a formerly homeless cat he has it made in the shade. The idea of escape does not occur to him.

I find myself more and more envious of Arthur, and particularly my wife’s reaction to him. I keep thinking to myself, why can I not get from her the level of attention that she gives the cat? I guess the same is true with me. I fuss over the cat probably a lot more than I do my wife. All I know is that if I got the same amount of attention from the people in my house that our cat gets, I would feel much more loved.

As an experiment the other day, I bounded down the stairs into the kitchen where my wife was preparing something and I said, “How are you? How is you day so far?” Of course, we had just talked about things a few minutes earlier, so she looked at me puzzled. I told her that I wondered what would happen if I started to give her the kind of focused attention that I gave the cat.

If I got that kind of focused attention from her, I suspect my marital satisfaction level would skyrocket. Oh, we do regularly trade the news of the day. I tell her what is going on in my life. (I leave a lot out actually, knowing that the intricacies of office politics would bore her). She keeps me up on what is going on in her life too. Yet I often suspect that her mind wanders when I tell her what my day is like. Moreover, truth be told, my mind often wanders too. Her boss is a voice I have only heard on the phone. Yet there are all sorts of details about her relationship with her boss and coworkers that she is willing to share. Therefore, some part of me is faking my interest in her non-home life, and I suspect the same is true when she asks me about my day. The reality is we do not care that much because these are separate areas of our lives largely walled off. This interaction may be more about giving the appearance of caring than actual caring.

However, we are both intensely interested in Arthur’s life. Every coming and going in and out of the deck is reported. If Arthur is in a playful mood, we will enjoy his antics. We pay attention to the sheen on his coat and monitor his urinary and bowel habits. We are fascinated with his reaction to bugs. (He plays with them more than tries to kill them.) Particularly as our daughter transitions into adulthood, the cat is becoming our new surrogate child, ever fresh and wide-eyed, recipient of enormously amounts of interest and love.

Perhaps it speaks to a relative paucity of engagement in our own relationship. There are times when after 22 years it feels like we are more like strangers living together than a married couple. Both of us are quite introverted. Our activities in common seem to be diminishing over time. She has little interest in most of my activities. If I can drag her to the Unitarian church I attend, it will not be more than once a year. The church thing does not interest her probably because it was not a product of her childhood. She believes in worshipping God by sleeping in late on Sundays. On the other hand, her fascination for adult fan fiction and in particular slash leaves me cold. I took the time last year though to attend a slash convention in Las Vegas with her. Her friends were all quite interesting people in their own right, but the slash thing bored me to tears. Perhaps in response I infuse more of my spare time in blogging. She has little interest in exercise, and certainly does not want to join my gym, so I exercise alone. Her knees do not allow her to go biking with me so my twenty-plus mile biking journeys tend to be a solitary experience.

Perhaps it does not matter. Perhaps this is the natural state of marriage between two introverted people after more than twenty years. Still, something must be missing because I observe our cat and the love he receives from all of us. I wonder, what would it mean to our marriage if we invested the time and attention in each other that we invest in our feline? Would it be healthy or counterproductive?

Scarier still, is the main purpose of our cat to allow us to express feelings that we find it hard to express with each other? Is it the simplicity of the cat’s life that we find so appealing?

All I know is that I have a new vision of heaven. It does not include God or the choir invisible. It involves in my next life being a spoiled and pampered housecat where human affection is always readily available, I never have to worry about food, water or a dirty litter box. I can bask in the joy of a sunbeam or spend enrapt hours looking out the window as life passes by. Perhaps one such life as a cat would suffice and I would want to go back to the complexity that is human life. I do know there is something very appealing about being this kind of cat. I could deal with hairballs and the occasional urinary tract infection. All I know is I would feel so loved and I would be so happy.

I strongly suspect that this kind of love is simply not available in human experience, at least not for very long. Human life is too complex and our pathways through life are too stressful to allow this kind of love. Still, I want it even though I know it will never happen.

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.