Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Family that Plays Together

Time to get Hedge a Bed of his Own

I never realized how funny cats can be until Quint came along. His antics made us laugh from the day he arrived and he still makes me laugh every day. Now that Hedge has joined the family, the fun has just multiplied. Not only does Hedge follow Quint around and imitate almost everything he does, but the not-so-little-anymore black cat has his own set of tricks to add to the show.

We have a cream-colored throw rug in the living room which Hedge has adopted as his toy storage area. Any small item, from feathers to little plastic animals is likely to be carried from wherever in the house he finds it and left on that rug. Today, you can find there several feathers, eight assorted toy mice, a toy squirrel with a chewed-off tail, a toy opossum, and a toy bird that chirps when moved. Neither Carol, I, nor Quint put any of those things on that rug. Those are Hedge's toys. I just can't help but laugh when I look at that ever-growing collection on the rug.

And then there's the little cat bed which is a hand-me-down from a friend of ours. It was just the right size for Quint when he was a kitten, and though he's really too big for it now, he still manages to squeeze into it and make it look comfortable. Hedge, the copy cat, decided that he should be able to sleep there whenever Quint wasn't looking. Then, finding out he could get away with that, Hedge found a way to curl up in that little bed alongside Quint. Now that was funny!

Lately, Hedge has taken to hanging around in the dining room in the evening after dinner when I brush Quint's teeth. He's only curious right now, but it's just a matter of time before he jumps up and insists that he get his teeth brushed, too.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Having Fun, Wish You Were Here!

Cuteness Overload

If Quint could write this, he'd be telling you about what a good time he's having these days. It's obvious from his behavior that he is thoroughly enjoying his life and it appears that he is achieving a new balance of activity that embraces all his companions.

When he wakes up in the morning, his first mission is to check all the windows he can reach to see what is going on outside. Next he hops up on our bed and wakes up Carol. Some mornings, Hedge helps him with this. Once Carol is up and seeing to his breakfast, he and Hedge romp around a bit. Both cats then gobble down a few bites of breakfast and resume their morning routine, which alternates between jumping up into the windows to look outside and chasing each other around the house with brief wrestling matches interspersed. Carol will often play with Quint in the kitchen while she's putting her lunch together, tossing a toy mouse back and forth for him to chase. I usually wake up about this time, grab a cup of coffee, turn on my computer, set the coffee cup on my desk and take the laser pointer out into the living room to play with Hedge while the computer boots up.

Quint is a bit bored with chasing the red light from the laser pointer, but Hedge loves it and will come into my office to find me in the morning so that we can play. When Quint sees how much fun Hedge and I are having playing laser-pointer chase, he'll occasionally get involved briefly and then retire to a vantage point to watch the game. I think he hopes I'll wear out the kitten so that he can get a little peace and quiet for his morning nap, but Hedge is tireless and when he loses interest in our chase game, he goes back to hunting Quint and pouncing on him unexpectedly.

As distracting as the constant pouncing and playing with Hedge is, Quint is finding time to play with his people, too. He's re-discovered his little purple toy mouse and has resumed batting it around the kitchen. To the delight of Carol and I, he's taken up a bit of jumping again, as well. I see it as an expanded horizon on Quint's part. He's becoming more well rounded, able to balance his life more thoroughly and manage his time more effectively. It's a joy to watch him playing with Hedge and jumping for the toy that Carol throws for him. I find myself laughing with him and at him. He makes me happy. Now that I think of it, that may well be what he does best.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Quint has his own Pet

Windowsills are for Napping

Though Hedge is making steady progress at becoming more of a social animal and less of a recluse, Quint has other ideas about Hedge's role in our household. I think Quint believes Hedge to be his kitten. Carol and I don't really have a problem with that concept, since we are thoroughly enjoying watching the two cats play with each other. The home furnishings are taking a bit of a beating though.

Quint wears himself out each day keeping track of and playing with Hedge, and Hedge keeps the game going as long as possible. Poor Quint has gotten a bit jumpy lately and is always looking over his shoulder, as he never knows when Hedge will sneak up behind him and pounce on his back. The games they play keep them both very busy as they dash around the house scrunching up the throw rugs and sliding into the walls. Hedge still has a tendency to seek refuge behind the couch or under the bed, but he doesn't stay hidden for long and Quint almost always knows where Hedge is hiding. When he doesn't, Quint will roam through the house making a little warbling sound that says, "Come out, come out, wherever you are. It's time to play."

Quint has only one really loud sound that he makes when he is disturbed about something going on outside. The other sounds he makes are soft chirps and warbles. Hedge, who is mostly very quiet and stealthy, is beginning to develop his own vocabulary of mews and an occasional Quint-like warble. We equipped Quint's collar with a little bell so we can always tell where he is, but Hedge's collar is unadorned and he is very light-footed which makes him rather undetectable most of the time. Hedge also seems to be able to teleport himself around the house, or at least it appears that he does since he will suddenly appear on the couch which moments ago was quite empty.

The latest development for Hedge is his finding the courage to take naps on our bed during the day, often within a few inches of Quint. That is quite a step for the little recluse and Carol and I are very pleased with his progress. Last night, as I was going to bed after Carol had already retired, I saw both cats sleeping on our bed with her. Hedge was curled up on her legs, just above her feet and Quint was asleep at the foot of my side of the bed. Adorable!! Also, lately Hedge forgets to run and hide when Carol or I walk by him, and if he does run, he doesn't go very far. I think he's figuring out that we're the good guys.

Monday, October 19, 2009



As trite a saying as it is, you really do need to be careful what you wish for or you just might get it. Take Hedge, for instance, the formerly homeless cat. He wished for a safe, warm place to live where meals appear regularly. He got us. Stephanie, our neighbor and cat fosterer, wished for a good home for little Hedge. She got me. And then there is Carol.

From the moment we adopted Quint, the quintessential cat himself, Carol thought we should also adopt a little female kitten as a companion for him. I was resistant to the idea, since Quint seemed quite content being an only cat. We had our evenings together playing in the kitchen, the three of us together. And during the day, Quint had lots of toys to play with and lots of windows with comfortable ledges where he could sun himself and watch the world go by. It seemed to me that life was going along quite smoothly and that everyone had what they needed, even if Carol didn't have everything she wished for.

But you know how wishes are, they float around looking for a way to come true. Carol's wish was out there manipulating events, changing the course of history, causing things to happen. When we adopted Quint, Hedge hadn't even been born. Because of that one little wish, Hedge came into this world. Somehow he survived his first six months of life and made his way into our back yard. He found Stephanie to help him on his way, but ultimately he ended up in my living room on that fateful Saturday, the fulfillment of a wish made over a year before. No, he wasn't a little female kitten, but with a little salesmanship on my part, Carol tentative agreed to give it a chance. Hedge and Quint bonded immediately, and though Carol sometimes gets discouraged when Hedge runs and hides from his people, she realizes that it's going to take some time for this relationship to evolve. She's mostly okay with that.

Hedge has been with us now almost a month, I guess. Hedge and Quint play together from dawn until noon, at which time they both take a nap until around 4:30 p.m. They chase each other around until dinner time and then there is a brief lull in the activity to take care of after dinner grooming and cat napping needs. Then there is more play until bedtime. Hedge still isn't much of a people cat, though he's getting better about that each day, but he's a wonderful companion for Quint. Quint is proving to be a very good mentor for Hedge, teaching him how to be a cat and showing him that there are at least two people in the world who can be trusted. I feel very certain that before too long, Hedge will be hopping up on my lap insisting that he too needs his teeth and fur brushed, and he'll be hopping up on Carol's lap for some petting and admiration.

As for me, I just want everyone to be happy. And here I am surrounded by people whose wishes are coming true. It's kind of perfect. The only thing that could make it any better is if I could figure out some way to get paid for writing about my cat. Starlight, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might . . . .

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Two Steps Forward

Just Remember, I Was Here First

The relationship between Hedge and Quint continues to evolve, as does the relationship of Hedge to his humans. Hedge is becoming less and less of a scared and timid hidden presence and more and more of a playful, but still wary, little kitten-like creature. All of us have been working on our little family relations, each is his/her own way.

Carol, who usually feeds the cats, is now occasionally able to grab Hedge, sit with him and pet him for awhile in the evenings. As soon as he gets restless, she lets him go, but now, instead of running away and hiding, Hedge will just move off a few feet and attend to some grooming needs, or go and find Quint for some evening playtime. Carol wants a lap cat, to sit with her while she is reading or working at her desk. She also wanted our next cat to be female with a sweet disposition. Both the cats are very good natured, but they're also still very young, and ALL boy, so their lap sitting abilities have yet to be developed. Quint already often sits at Carol's elbow when she works at her desk, so I believe his lap-cat potential exists. At the moment, though, both cats are enjoying the novelty of playing with each other and don't have all that much time for their human companions. Still, I think our new tactic of just letting Hedge be and giving him time to adjust to his new home is beginning to work.

Quint still insists that he is Head Cat, and reminds Hedge of that fact whenever it seems appropriate to him. Hedge, however, frequently informs Quint that though, for the moment, this may be true, a kitten grows quickly and Quint's size and weight advantage may not last forever. Neither of the cats is at all vicious during the domination games they play. I've heard some minor squeaks of protest when things get too rough, but I've never heard them hiss, growl or spit at each other. As I've mentioned, Quint is inherently good-natured without a mean bone in his body, and he still has quite a lot of kitten playfulness left in him, so I think he's rather liking having a playmate of his own species. However, there are times when Quint misses the days when he was an Only Cat. Carol and I miss those days a little bit, too. It was great fun playing with Quint in the evenings and having him all to ourselves. Sharing him with Hedge means we've lost our evening playtime with Quint, since he'd rather play with a very much alive kitten than with toy mouse. I can see his point. So, we have to get our Quint time in other ways, petting and brushing and watching him play.

I've been working on teaching Hedge to play with his humans and not just with Quint. To that end, I've been seeking the perfect cat toy which will prove irresistible to a kitten, and I believe I have finally found it. It works, not just with Hedge, but also with Quint. It was simple when I finally figured it out. The solution was in a corner of the kitchen "junk" drawer all along. Have you guessed it yet? A six foot length of string has proven to be just the thing I was looking for. What cat, young or old, can resist a bit of string being dragged along the floor? I started the string training two evenings ago and we've all had fun with it. Hedge will chase it for a few feet and then Quint takes over, pounces on it and kills it, over and over again, while Hedge watches. I've also been dangling the string over their heads so that can bat at it. Quint shows Hedge how it's done. Since yesterday, when I enter a room where Hedge is playing or sleeping, instead of running away, he looks at me as if to say, "Are we gonna play now?" I'd call that progress.

We're growing, the four of us, in ways none of us could have imagined. We're getting closer, physically and emotionally, and we're learning from each other. We're laughing together, and playing together. We just have to remember that if we listen to each other and allow each other to be who we already are, we will continue to find ways to enjoy each other's company and bask in the love we have to give each other.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

One Step Back.

At Least He's Not Running Away

We're making progress with Hedge, the shy and elusive kitten, but grabbing him after dinner and brushing his teeth was a bit too much, too soon. We've backed off a little and are just letting him be for the moment, acknowledging him when we see him, but otherwise leaving him alone to find his own way into the group.

It's obvious that Hedge wants to be part of the family. Each day he spends more time out in the open, and when he does hide he doesn't run quite a fast to get there. Quint plays with Hedge whenever the little cat comes out of his cave, but Quint has also resumed some of his interaction with Carol and I as well, and both cats are less frantic about each other's presence in the house.

It's difficult to be patient with Hedge, to wait for him to accept us on his own terms, instead of enforcing the contact, but the new strategy seems to be working, so we'll keep it up until some other approach proves more effective. Quint was such a social animal from the first moment he arrived, rather easy-going and good natured, and it is a bit of an adjustment for us to take this new approach with Hedge. When Hedge first arrived, he was scared and insecure, and Quint was a bit confused by his presence and our intentions in bringing in this other cat, and probably a bit jealous. We are careful to treat Quint with extra care and attention during this adjustment period so that he doesn't feel that our relationship is in any danger and to alleviate any jealousy he might be feeling.

Slowly we are succeeding in recreating our little family around the added dynamic of this new kitten. I am very much enjoying the experience as Carol and I and Quint and Hedge learn to trust and accept each other. Any day now, I expect Hedge to jump up on the bed and sleep at our feet right alongside Quint.

Friday, September 25, 2009


I Think It Must Be Cooler Under the Table

Quint never ceases to amaze me. Hedge, the little black kitten we adopted last Saturday, was a scared and reclusive little critter when he first arrived here. Not even a week has passed and the two cats have already bonded. I got up to see what they were up to a few moments ago and discovered them both asleep together under the shelf in the living room where Hedge has been hiding out.

I attribute this rapid progress to Quint's basic good nature. From the first day, he just made himself at home here. He was ours and we were his from the very beginning. Now, he's not just accepted a strange new kitten into his house, but he's taken on a mentoring role and is teaching Hedge, by example, how to be a cat. Or maybe Hedge is just learning by example. Whichever it is, Hedge has been following Quint around and doing pretty much whatever Quint does. Left own their own, I'm convinced that they'd be running all over the house together exploring and playing. The only reason they don't is that Hedge is afraid of people and hides whenever Carol or I get within six or eight feet of him. If we just stand or sit and watch him he's fine, but as soon as we move toward him, he's off to one of his hideaways, either behind the futon in my office, or behind the couch in the living room.

I'm working on remedying that sort of behavior. At dinnertime, I find Hedge, wherever he might be hiding, pick him up and carry him over to his food dish. He'll eat with me hovering over him, now, so we've made some progress. After he's finished his dinner, I grab him before he can return to the hideout, carry him into the dining room, sit down in my chair with the kitten in my lap and proceed to brush his teeth and then his fur. All the tooth brushing practice I've had with Quint is paying off with Hedge. I can do it quickly and easily so it's not traumatic for him. He likes having his fur brushed and will sit still for a few moments, and then, being a kitten, he wants to get down and play. Usually he'll go a find Quint and the two of them will play for awhile. Both Carol and I have been enticing Hedge with cat toys on strings, and he is getting more accustomed to our presence every day, so I think there's some hope.

There's a downside to having a new kitten, though, at least there is right now. By the time dinner is over, dishes are washed, and Carol and I have time to play with Quint, he's worn out from playing with the kitten all day and isn't much interested in playing with Carol and I. We're determined not to let that get us down and instead hope to get both of them playing with us sometime soon. For right now, though, the dynamics of our little group have changed. I think Quint is less bored. I know that Hedge is happier having a safe, warm place to stay where there are regular, nutritious meals and friendly people to take care of him. Carol and I will just have to work with both of them so that her and I get included in the new cat group as playmates. In the meantime, it is truly delightful to watch Quint and Hedge as they learn to live and play together.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Visitor

The Little Stray Cat

A few weeks ago, a small black kitten showed up in our back yard. There are two houses on the property where we live, and three cats, or at least there were three cats. Two of the cats, Tiki and Ginger, belong to Stephanie, who lives in the small house at the back of the property. The other cat, Quint, lives with me and Carol. Stephanie noticed that there was a little black kitten living under the ferns in the space between the two houses. He was very reclusive, but didn't seem particularly feral. Stephanie has a soft spot for wayward kittens, which I suspect is why this one chose her as a possible human companion.

Once Stephanie had noticed the kitten, it's destiny was determined. It was going to have a home . . . somewhere. She set out a bowl of food and another of water near the spot where the kitten was hiding. The kitten would briefly come out from under the plants and steal a few bites of food before darting back to safety. He was very wary of humans, as well as of Ginger and Tiki. Ginger and Tiki are indoor/outdoor cats. Stephanie brings them in at night and lets them out in the morning. Tiki especially is quite possessive of his territory and he wasn't very happy about having a new citizen in residence in the middle of it. Stephanie saw that the little black kitten would most likely perish if left to its own devices, so she determined to capture it, tame it and find it a home. After a few days of stalking the little kitten, Stephanie managed to scoop him up and hold on to him. He responded well to petting and, once captured, didn't seem to mind human companionship, so she began to tame the little creature. Eventually she brought him into the small utility room at the back of her house and closed him in with food and water so that he could eat without harassment from her other cats.

Since the little black kitten had been living outside, there was no telling what diseases he might be carrying, and not wanting Ginger and Tiki exposed to any of them, Stephanie decided to take the kitten to the veterinary hospital to have him checked over. That's when I got involved. Late one afternoon a week or more ago, Stephanie called me and asked if I would like to accompany her to the vets to have the kitten examined. I, too, have a soft spot for wayward kittens, so I agreed to go along. I got to pick up the kitten and hold onto him while the vet did the examination. The little kitten was quite a submissive little guy, rather apathetic, really, but he was clean and bright -eyed and had a quiet little voice. When we got the results back from the blood test, he was certified to be quite disease free. On the way out, he had a little accident in his carrier and from the odor and consistency, the vet though that perhaps he might have giardia and so a sample was taken and sent out to a lab. A couple of days later the test came back positive, so Stephanie picked up the proper medication, administered it as instructed, and a few days later the little kitten was healthy again. She kept him indoors after that, since she now had a substantial monetary investment in the little guy. She also had an emotional investment in him and I received a couple of calls, while Stephanie was away at work, to go back and check on him just to make sure he was okay.

Now that he was healthy, the search for a new home could begin in earnest. Stephanie took some pictures of him, posted them of her Facebook page and asked if anyone would like to adopt him. By this time, Carol and I had had enough contact with the little guy that we were growing rather fond of him, too.

Carol has toyed with the idea of adopting another kitten as a companion for Quint, but she always thought that a female cat would be ideal in that there wouldn't be that male rivalry aspect of cat relations to deal with, so the little black male cat wasn't her first choice. Actually, when I first suggested the possibility, the little black male cat wasn't a choice at all. I sort of liked the idea of adopting the black kitten, though, so I was gradually able to break through Carol's initial rejection of the concept with a proposal. I would ask Stephanie to just bring him over in his carrier and see how Quint would react. Carol wasn't completely opposed to the idea and so I suggested it to Stephanie. What with getting schedules coordinated and such, it took several days for the experiment to commence.

On Saturday, Stephanie stopped by for a visit momentarily and brought over some of my favorite Whole Foods Market Seeduction bread for us to enjoy. While we were talking I suggested that this might be the right time to bring the little kitten over for a visit. It was. Stephanie put him in his carrier and brought him into the house. She placed the carrier in the living room and we all watched while Quint sniffed and sniffed and peeked though the holes. He eventually came around to the carrier door and got nose to nose with the kitten. There was no hissing, no cowering in terror, no aggression at all from either cat. We let that go on for a bit and then I opened up the door to see what would happen. Again, no fireworks at all. The little black kitten came out of the carrier and walked around a bit. Quint was mildly curious, but not aggressive, so we let the little kitten explore. Eventually he found a spot he liked in back of the couch under the shelf I built along the picture window. Quint would go under there with him, warble at him a bit, and then come back out. So far, so good. Stephanie went home, leaving the kitten with us for awhile.

Carol and I did stuff around the house for an hour or so and just let the cats be. Still no problems, so we went out grocery shopping for an hour or so. When we got back, all the cats were still alive and un-bloodied. Stephanie stopped by a little later that evening to see how things were going. We decided to let the little black kitten spend the night. It is now Monday and the little kitten is still here in the house. We've started calling him Hedge, since that's the name one of Stephanie's friends gave him when he was living under the ferns. It seems appropriate.

Hedge continues his reclusive behavior, but he ventures out more and more frequently. Quint keeps a close watch on him and chases him around the house sometimes. Quint is also exhibiting some dominance behavior, but he's not too insistent about it and Hedge is appropriately respectful so there hasn't been any problem so far. It's fascinating to watch the development of this relationship. Hedge is currently residing under the futon in my office. Quint stops by and warbles at him occasionally. We'll just have to wait and see how it goes, but we may well have acquired another cat.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Creatures of Habit

Sweet Dreams

Quint and I are both creatures of habit. He wakes up at pretty much the same time every morning. I wake up about the same time every morning, too, but it isn't the same time Quint wakes up. Quint wakes up about dawn, or about 6:00 a.m., whichever is earlier. I wake up after I've had about seven hours sleep, so depending upon when I went to bed that can range from 7:00 a.m. to much later in the morning.

One of the first things Quint does is run around to all the windows from which he can view the outside world and make sure everything is just where he left it the day before. He sits at each window and makes a warbling commentary on what he sees outside and then moves to another window. After he's satisfied that everything outside is in an acceptable condition, he comes into the bedroom to wake up Carol. This usually occurs at about 6:30 a.m. He's not obnoxious about his wake-up call, he simply jumps up on her side of the bed and warbles a greeting. He knows that in order to get his breakfast, Carol has to first be awake and moving around the house, so he makes sure that she gets up and starts her day on time.

Carol feeds Quint and has her own breakfast at about the same time, and then she will throw the toy mouse around a bit for him to chase and jump. By this time, I'm usually waking up and I can hear the clumping sound on the kitchen floor as Quint lands from one of his jumps for the mouse. I also hear the clink of the spoon on the cat dish as Carol puts the cat food in it.

We use small ceramic bowls for cat dishes. Plastic bowls eventually get scratched and gouged and develop crevices that are difficult to get clean. Plastic bowls also tend to retain odors of past meals and dishwashing detergents. The little ceramic bowls have proven to be nearly unbreakable, clean up easily, don't scratch and don't smell bad. Plus, they're just the right size to hold the small portion of canned food that we give Quint twice a day at breakfast and dinner. We try to feed a mouse-sized portion to him at each meal, mouse-sized meaning not the size portion a mouse would eat, but the size a mouse would be as a meal. There's not too much meat on a mouse. We also keep his kibble bowl topped off so he can refuel at anytime during the day.

At the end of the day, there are the evening rituals of dinner, tooth brushing and playing. Quint likes to eat when we do, so he gets fed just before we sit down to dinner. Evening times are less regimented than mornings. Sometimes we go for a walk before dinner and eat late. Sometimes we eat early and watch a movie. Quint seems to be okay with our variable schedule, though I'm sure he'd like it better if he got his dinner at a more predictable time. He does demand his tooth brushing and playtime, but he doesn't insist that they happen at any particular time. He will remind me that it's tooth brushing time by walking up to my chair at the dining room table, standing up on his hind legs and putting a paw on my arm, with just a hint of claw, an implied claw as it were, to make sure he has my attention. When he thinks it's time to play, he'll sometimes bring his toy mouse into the room where one of us is sitting or working and drop it on the floor in the doorway so that we'll be sure to see it.

Other times of the day, though, pretty much anything goes. Quint catches a nap almost anytime during the day, but he's always ready to play and will wake up instantly to investigate any toy mouse rattling sounds that he might hear. Cat ears are like little sonic radar receivers and are always active. They are also selective, in that they only activate the cat when the sound constitutes a threat, a possible meal, or something fun to do. But that's a whole other subject and will probably end up being a post of its own at some point. Let me end this one by saying that, though all of us, Quint, Carol and me included, have our daily habits, we also tend to be rather adaptable, with a willingness to change our routines to fit current contingencies. I like that about us and I hope that part about changing never changes.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Saving the Toy Mouse

Quint and His Favorite Toy

Some time ago, I bought a twelve-pack of little toy mouse-looking creatures. The package included three each of four different colored little toy mice. I just checked and, to date, we've used eight of the twelve. Of the eight we've taken out of the package, four are currently available for play and reside in known places around the house, one completely disintegrated and had to be thrown away and three have been lost. The one that disintegrated was purple colored, and Quint was devastated when I threw it away. We tried to interest him in another of the mice from the same package. We tossed the proposed replacement back and forth across the kitchen, but it just wasn't the same. He loved that chewed-up purple mouse.

I don't know what the veterinary science community current thinks about how a cat's vision functions, but I do know from experience that cats see in color. They can tell the difference between vivid purple, gray, fuchsia, and neon green. I know this because, until I opened up the package and got out another purple mouse, Quint was a broken cat. All it took was one toss of that purple mouse across the kitchen, though, and we were back in business. Apparently, he likes the color purple in his cat toys. I don't know what he'll do if he meets a real mouse and discovers that it's just a dirty gray animal. Probably he'll ignore it.

The Purple Mouse (before)

He's still playing with the replacement purple mouse, though it was lost for awhile and he had to settle for the other purple mouse from the set. The one he likes is falling apart and has no tail. During our jumping game in the kitchen he has batted it into a sink full of dishwater a couple of times which has caused the fake fur to start coming unglued from the little hollow plastic body. A couple of days ago, Carol had to sew up the seam along the bottom of toy to keep the fur from falling off. Last night I hot glued a big piece fur back on. We decided that sewing and hot glue are the best methods for re-attaching the little mouse's fur, since neither method uses any toxic chemicals. It's only a matter of time, though, until we're down to only one purple mouse, and without a back-up, I'll have to make another trip to the hardware store where they sell those particular toys and pick-up another twelve pack. I wish they sold the purple ones separately. I think I'll write to the manufacturer and see if I can order just the purple ones.

I know what you're thinking, "He's only a cat, he'll get over it and eventually settle for some other color." I suppose so, but considering all the joy and shared laughter Carol and I get from playing with Quint and his purple mouse, the least I can do is keep him supplied with them. It's a small price to pay in return for all that he gives us.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Quint is my Muse


In thinking about why Quint is so much fun to play with and such a good companion, I realized that the reason is largely because he's always contributing something to the game and the relationship. When we are playing, he always adds a new dimension to the game, or demonstrates an increased ability. He'll jump a little higher, turn in the air a little quicker, or grab the toy and carry it off somewhere, only to bring it back for a whole new round of jumping and running and laughing. His enthusiasm is contagious and at the end of the game we all end up laughing and energized. Quint's creativity and self-confidence are what makes him an extremely valuable member of our family.

Thinking about things like creativity and relationships tends to get me to thinking more about creativity and relationships, which got me to thinking about relationships and friends and things I've read over the years. In one of his books, "Time Enough for Love" I believe, Robert Heinlein has the Lazarus Long character stating that there are makers, takers and fakers in the world. He goes on to say that he prefers the first category, but has assumed roles in the other two if that's what it took to feed his family. As I thought about this, I realized that my friends and those people that I respect are all of the first category - makers. They are, without exception, people who create things. Some of my friends are crafters who sew, or knit, or glue, or paint, or build. These people make things. They take pieces of stuff and they put them together with other pieces of stuff to create objects that other people value. A bolt of cloth, or a skein of yarn has value, true enough, but cut up the cloth and make a dress or a shirt, or knit the yarn into a sweater or a pair of socks, or a hat and you've not only added value, but you added utility as well. I have other friends who are writers, teachers, secretaries, professionals, business owners and homemakers, and they too are creating things. There is immense value in inspirational thoughts, or practical advice injected into the public discourse, in problems solved, in relationships improved, in young minds awakened and set free, in good service provided, in support and encouragement rendered, in chaos set to order. All these people add value to the world with what they do, and in how they go about it. That's why I value them as friends. We enrich and enhance each other's lives. We grow together, rise the occasion, look forward, move ahead.

I have meet the others, too. There are those people who delight in belittling others, who revel in the destruction of the useful, wallow in the chaos they bring, laugh at the misfortune of others, subtly destroy lives and relationships, covertly tear apart society, disparage good manners, impugn the good intended, lie, cheat, steal, burn, murder, and destroy. These are not my friends, nor are they yours, but they are among us. The news media would have us believe that they are legion. They are not. But they do exist and we should be sure to identify them when we find them. You can know them by their products, the ruined lives that surround them, and the destruction that radiates from them. They are the ones who would take by force what you have earned by your creativity and give it to someone who has earned nothing. Look behind the sweet smile, the facade of innocence, and beware the knife in the hand you don't see. There aren't that many of these people out there, but there are enough of them to destroy a culture, or a nation, if one does nothing to stop them.

You are a person of good will. Seek others of your kind, the creators, the builders, the contributors, the bringers of light, the seekers after truth, the majority. Together we can continue to build a world where success is a virtue, creativity is honored, production is rewarded, and people are encouraged to build things, overcome obstacles, conquer their fears, help their neighbors, and be responsible for their own actions.

You and I may not have met, but I suspect that we agree on a great many things. I suspect that we both believe that it is better to create than to needlessly destroy. I believe that we would both rather be surrounded by helpful, encouraging, loving friends and family than by those who would disparage and destroy us. I think we ought to expect creativity and virtue in those who claim to represent us and lead us. I think we ought to be uplifted by a leader, not leveled; encouraged to produce, not stimulated to consume; asked for help, not told to be silent; rewarded for our production, our creativity and our entrepreneurial spirit.

There is greatness in you and I. We would be better off if we were left in peace to pursue it. If we are punished for production and rewarded for sloth, which do you suppose will triumph? We don't need to be encouraged to produce. Production, the satisfaction of a job well done, the exchange of our efforts and creations for the efforts and creations of others is reward enough. We just need to be set free to get on with it. It's what we do best. Federal, State and local governments ought to just get out of the way and let us do it.

Isn't all of this what you love about your friends? They encourage you, they help you, and you do the same for them. Is it really that simple? Of course it is? The big lie on this planet is that man, left to his own devices, will tend toward evil. The evil use that lie to justify their actions, but it's still a lie. The truth is that man is, in essence, good. There are evil people, certainly, and, yes, they sometimes become leaders and cause great damage in the world, but the good people keep winning, somehow, and moving forward despite the evil and the insanity. That gives me hope. My friends give me hope. Quint gives me hope. The fact that there still remain men and women of good will who do not sit silently by, but find ways to speak truth to other men and women of good will gives me hope. Hold your friends close. Keep a close watch on those others.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Amazing Teaching Cat!

Amazing Flying Cat

I learn new things all the time. I like the process of venturing into areas I haven't explored yet. Recently I've discovered that there are actually some history writers that take the trouble to make their subject interesting and even exciting. I wonder why we were never introduced to any of those writers during my school days. Public school history textbooks are as dry as noon on a summer day in Death Valley. They were, and I'm sure still are, dead, lifeless renderings of some of the most exciting events that ever occurred. It must have taken special talent to turn the Revolutionary War into just a series of battles, dates and places. The history textbook writers must have a special school they attend to teach them to remove everything interesting about history. On the other hand, there are historians who write about the people and what they did and why then did it in such a way as to bring a whole era back to life. I regret that I didn't discover this earlier in my life, but I am glad to have the opportunity to experience it now.

I'm learning a lot from Quint, too. He's helping me discover how much fun it is just to play. Each evening when Carol and I and Quint gather in the kitchen after dinner, we all get to change gears from whatever we were doing during the day and downshift into the simply joy of playing with each other. I didn't do very much of that sort of thing when I was a kid. I was kind of a loner, not from choice, just from circumstance. My family moved around quite a lot when I was young, from the city of Chicago to the suburb of Morton Grove to Peoria and then to East Peoria and then back to Peoria where we stayed from my junior high years until after high school. After that we moved to Idaho Springs, Colorado and shortly after that, I left home and lived on my own, mostly, until I met my wife, Carol. What with all that moving around, I didn't get a chance to develop any lasting friendships. I was always the new kid. Being the new kid sucks, or at least it did for me. You move into a neighborhood where all these kids have been hanging around together for years and you just don't have a common frame of reference to understand each other. The new kid doesn't get the inside jokes, doesn't remember the big snowstorm, and wasn't in Mrs. Brown's class last year. When I married Carol, her two boys where already five and seven years old, they already had a dad, and they would spend weekends with him fishing and all that other stuff that dads do with their kids. So, I didn't get to do much playing with my step kids.

It's not that I didn't want to play, it's just that once you're an adult there is all that making a living and keeping the cars running and working on the yard and all manner of stuff which keeps you very, very busy. And, so, finally I have arrived at a place where there is mostly just Carol and I and Quint. Oh, we have a group of friends who we like to get together with about once a month, but the rest of the time, it's just the three of us, mostly. And we play together in the evenings after dinner. We don't always feel like it at the start, but after awhile Quint is jumping around and running back and forth and Carol and I are laughing and laughing and all the nonsense of the day becomes insignificant and there are a few minutes right then when we just have fun. I'm grateful to Quint for teaching me how to properly play and laugh and enjoy a moment or two each day. Thanks, Buddy.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Listening, Learning and Creativity

Waiting for the Mouse to Move

Quint almost always has something to say. When he makes his soft trilling sound, it means he has a question or needs help with something. Usually, it means that he has batted his little toy mouse under the closet door and needs help getting it out. Sometimes, it means that it's time to brush his teeth and groom his fur. When combined with him standing up on his hind legs, reaching up with a paw, grabbing my arm and pulling, it means he needs something right now. He's very bright. He knows that there are some things he just can't do by himself, so he asks for help.

There's a lesson to be learned from this, especially for me. I usually try to be mostly self-sufficient. This is a good thing when you're trying to get stuff done around the house, or trying to fix your broken car along the highway somewhere. It's important, though, to realize that sometimes you need help getting to where you want to go. Some things require more knowledge and expertise that any one person can have. This is true for artists in particular, I think. Artist are good at creating art. They are also good at thinking up ways to create art. They are good at learning techniques that help them create art. They are, very often, not so good at sales, promotion, public relations, organization, and networking -- those skills that would enable to artist to actually earn money from his/her art. The business of art is, seemingly, an entirely different field than the creation of art. An artist creates something and, at that point, considers his/her job done. He/she has created a communication, has said what he/she intended to say, but unless that communication reaches its intended audience, it isn't really a communication at all. It's just a potential communication, an impulse outward with no destination. Somehow that piece of art needs to reach an audience to accomplish its creator's purpose, and therein lies the problem. The solution seems to be to enlist the help of people who are good at that sort of thing.

There is this problem of finance. The artist would like to be paid for his work, usually. So, would the sales, promotion and PR people. For the artist to get paid, the work must have value to its audience, must reach that audience, and then there must be a way for the audience to reach back to the artist with appreciation in the form of money so that the artist can continue to live and produce more art. Reaching the audience and making that return flow possible is the hard part of creating art. At least, it is for me, and that's where I need help. The problem of finance is funding the promotion of the art before there is any income with which to pay the promoters. And so it comes back to the original problem. I'm good at creating art. I'm terrible at selling it. Just like Quint and his games, I'm great a doing things, I'm just not so good at opening doors.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Differences and Similarities.

Anytime, Anywhere, Naps Are Good

As Carol and I were driving toward the high desert of California yesterday, I heard an announcement of a running and walking event which was called something like Paws for the Cause. The sponsors were asking that people bring their dogs on this walk/run, pay the entry fees and support the cause. I don't recall which cause it was. That got me thinking about my not being able to bring my cat to the event, and those thoughts led to my thinking again about the differences between cats and dogs, which got me thinking about their similarities as well. Wild dogs and wild cats don't necessarily conform to my list of characteristics, though some of these traits seem to be hard-wired into each species.


Love to play.
Are attached to their human companions.
Can be trained.
Use their mouth as a "hand."
Can communicate some basic concepts to their human companions.
Will play by themselves, though cats are better at it.
Will peacefully interact with close same-species family members.


Dogs are pack hunters.
Most cats are solitary hunters. Lions are the exception.
Cats can hold and lift things with a single paw, dogs cannot.
Normally, cats will not overeat. They will leave food in their bowls to be consumed later.
Dogs will eat everything in their bowls and then look for more.
Dogs dig holes (dens), cats do not.
Dogs like to live in dens/caves.
Cats normally only go into caves when they are afraid or very sick.
Most dogs are social animals, most cats are not.
Dogs are much more easily trained than cats.
Cats are sprinters, dogs are runners.
Cats can climb.
Cats use a litterbox.

Of course there's more to this than just the above lists. Early-in-life conditions and relationships play an enormous role in later adult behavior. If Quint had never been adopted by humans, he would have grown up with a much different personality. If we hadn't started playing with him early on, he'd probably be less of a social being then he is. I don't think that cats are more intelligent than dogs, though that sometimes seems to be true. I think, to some degree, it depends upon what we expect of our dog and cat companions. Stereotypes play a role, I'm sure, as in "dumb dogs", and "sneaky cats." If a dog-owner has a basic distrust of strangers and an aversion to trespassers, his/her dog will probably reflect that attitude. Thus you have the overly guardy and aggressive dog. On the other hand, a warm, open, friendly dog-owner usually has a dog that behaves similarly. I know cats that are very distrustful of strangers and will run from anyone but their own people. I have even met a couple of cats that are very aggressive in defense of their territory. I think cats are inherently wary of strangers and of anything new, but, at the same time, they have an insatiable curiosity that drives them to explore, in spite of the possible danger. This internal conflict makes the cat a cautious, but persistent explorer. Most dogs, I think, are rather fearless when it comes to new things and strangers and will just rush on in to see what's going on. Seemingly, dogs can be trained to do almost anything. They make great companions and helpers for people with physical limitations. Cats are not so easily trained. I've never heard of a cat that will go to the kitchen, open the refrigerator door and fetch you a beer. A dog will do that. I've never heard of a guide-cat, whereas dogs make wonderful guides for the visually impaired. Cats don't seem to be bored to the degree that dogs do. A bored cat will just lay down and take a nap. A bored dog has a tendency to chew on things. You can usually leave your cat at home alone with a minimum amount of care. If they have food and water and a couple of cat toys they seem to do alright. Cats enjoy having their humans companions around, but they don't seem to need their humans quite as much as dogs do. I think dogs are more dependent on their humans than cats are for their entertainment and social needs.

And yet, I love my cat. He fits the way I live. If I get home late, the house is still in much the same condition that it was when I left it. In the middle part of the day, Quint naps while I work. In the evening, he wants to play and so do I. When Carol is home he plays with her, when I'm home he plays with me. When we are both home we all play together, or nap together, or he sits on Carol's desk near her hand and then comes in a visits me for awhile. He's perfect.

So, I guess the reason my cat and I don't get to go on the 5K Fun Run is a reflection of the fundamental differences between the two species. I suppose it's a lot more fun to run with a animal that runs right alongside of you, rather than have to carry your animal in a large plastic box as if it were luggage. Still, I might try it sometime. I'll be the one showing up at the 5K Run/Walk with Quint in his carrier.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cats Don't Have to Look for a Job

Playing Catch

Unlike his human, Quint has a full-time job. He was born with it. Hunt for food, eat what you've caught, sleep, repeat. As an indoor cat, he finds that hunting for food is a simple matter of walking into the kitchen and seeing what's in his bowl, but that doesn't mean he is unemployed and it's no reason to rest on his laurels. Nope, he practices his craft constantly.

Carol and I call it playing, but Quint is a very serious little toy mouse hunter, very serious. He stalks that little mouse all over the house. He never lets his right paw know what his left paw is doing as he animates the little furry toy and then chases it, pounces on it and kills it, again and again, until the mouse runs under a door and into a closet. He hasn't figured out how to open the doors for himself, yet, so he depends on Carol and I to release the mouse from the closet, or dig it out from under the dresser, and then the game begins anew. He lets us know that he needs our help by coming to wherever we are and asking. He always knows right where the mouse is hiding and he will herd us in that direction as we walk through the house. If we're not around, he'll lie down outside the particular closet door under which the mouse has "run" and wait. As soon as someone comes home, he demands that we help him find the mouse.

In his more reserved moments, he will gather up his toy mice and place them on the floor beside his food bowl so that when he's ready to practice his hunting skills he'll know where they are. Quint is a pretty organized cat and likes to keep his toys neat and orderly. We have a box in the kitchen where we store some of his less favorite toys. Usually, when he's done playing with those toys, he'll put them back in the box. We like that about him. Me, I leave my toys all over the house.

The last couple of evenings, when Carol and I are playing with him in the kitchen, he'll dash off with one of the mice in his mouth, chase it all around the house and then bring in back into the kitchen, dropping it in front of one of us, ready for another round. We've started giving him treats for doing that. I suspect the game is taking on a whole new dimension.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Quint Gets to Keep His Teeth

Check-Up Time

Good news!! All the tooth brushing and antibiotic applying has paid off. On Quint's visit to the veterinary hospital last week, all the vet found was a minor case of gingivitis. This is in contrast to the possibility that he would loose all his teeth due to his plaque allergy. Instead, it looks like he's outgrowing his allergy. This doesn't mean I get to stop brushing his teeth every evening, but it does mean that with my help, he'll have strong, healthy teeth with none of the complications that gum disease brings to a cat.

Actually, these days, both Quint and I look forward to our evening dental hygiene routine. As soon as he sees me grab the little toothbrush, he walks right over and lets me put him in my lap. Once we're through with the tooth brushing, we get to do some fur grooming. As we keep the routine going, he's been staying in my lap for a longer and longer time. I suppose he's growing out of his hyper-active kitten stage and into an only slightly less hyper-active teen-age cat stage. Whatever the reason, growing up or positive reinforcement, I do enjoy our grooming time each evening. Quint seems to like it, too.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Separation Anxiety

Can I Come Out And Play?

Every year for the last nine years, Carol and I have packed our camping gear onto the back of our dune buggy and driven up to Big Bear Lake, California for the annual Manx Dune Buggy Club rally that takes place on the second weekend in July. Last year, we held off getting serious about adopting a kitten until after that weekend. This year we had Quint. From the day we adopted him on August 2, 2008, we had never been away from home for a whole day and night, let alone a whole weekend. Questions went through our minds. How would he react to us being away for the weekend? Would he tear up the house while we were gone? Would he be okay all alone for most of the weekend? How would we feel about not having him around to play with and care for? Would he be mad at us for going away?

Lucky for us, we have a long-standing cat-sitting arrangement with our friend and neighbor, Stephanie. We take care of her cats when she travels and she takes care of ours on those rare occasions when we are away. I met with Stephanie a couple of days before we left and showed her which toys were Quint's current favorites and went over how much and how often we were feeding him. It's good to have someone who knows about cats as your cat-sitter. I didn't show Stephanie my tooth-brushing technique. I figured Quint would be okay with dirty teeth for a couple of days, and Stephanie would certainly be much happier with whole, unchewed fingers. When we hit the road on Friday morning, we felt like Quint would be well taken care of, but I still had my questions as to how he would react to our absence. I know it's absurd that I should worry this much about how my pet feels, but if I make a commitment to something or someone, I do feel honor bound to uphold it. In addition, we'd been having so much fun with Quint and getting such joy from the relationship, I didn't want to do anything to jeopardize it. Since, he had spent some of his early months abandoned, I was hoping he would not see this as something similar, but I just didn't know, thus I was a bit worried.

In spite of my misgivings about leaving, we left. We drove the car up to Big Bear and got settled into out camp. Later that evening, after a lovely dinner and a hilarious movie viewing, I took time out to call Stephanie. She had already been over to our house and fed Quint and spent some time playing with him. It seemed as though he was doing just fine. I was relieved, and so was Carol. We called Stephanie again on Saturday night just to make sure everything was still going well. It was. Quint was still doing fine. It seems that all my worrying was unnecessary.

When we arrived home on Sunday afternoon, there was Quint, acting normally and seemingly happy to see us. We exchanged hugs and greetings and he enjoyed sampling all the new scents on our shoes and clothes. In the evening we fell right back into our normal routine, none of us the worse for our brief separation. So, Quint still occupies his quintessential cat pedestal. It seems that the love and trust that we've invested in each other has paid off. I think he knows that, even if we are away briefly, we will always return and we will never abandon him.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Keeping Everybody Happy

Wanna Play?

Cats, big cats, house cats, engage in a finite number of activities. In order of time spent these are: sleeping, playing or practicing hunting, hunting, day dreaming, talking, and eating. I think everything they do falls into one of those categories. The amount of time spent on some of the activities might vary a bit with each cat, but sleeping is definitely at the top of the list. Cats sleep an average of eighteen hours a day, not all at once, of course, but about eighteen hours total. Sometimes, your cat's sleeping times coincide with your own, sometimes not. Sometimes the not sleeping times occur in the very early hours of the morning, say 5:30 a.m., for example. When this occurs, you might be tempted to discipline your cat to discourage this early morning activity. It won't work.

Quint starts his day as soon as there is enough light to see the birds in the trees and the neighborhood cats and dogs on the street and in the yard. This is much earlier than either Carol or I are willing to wake up. There are only four windows in our house available that allow Quint to get a decent view of the outside environment. One of those windows is in our bedroom, right next to the bed. There is a bookshelf there where he can sit and watch the birds and squirrels in the back yard. On that bookshelf there is also an alarm clock which Carol sometimes uses to help her wake up in time to get to work. The alarm clock we used to have on that bookshelf had a button on the top that would let you turn on the radio for a time and then it would automatically shut the radio off. That button was in just the right location for a cat paw to press when that cat was sitting on the bookshelf trying to see the birds and squirrels in the backyard in the early hours of the morning. The radio sounds didn't seem to bother Quint at all, but they did wake up Carol and I every time Quint managed to step on the button. Lucky for us, that clock radio stopped working and had to be replaced. The new one isn't so easily stepped on by Quint, so that problem has been solved.

The thing about that window that is true for nearly all windows, is f the cat can see out the window, everyone else, including people, can see inside the room. Now this is only a problem for the humans, and only when they are in some state of undress which only occurs for short periods of time in the morning and late evening. Still, it had been our habit to keep the blinds closed on that window from early evening until morning, after we were up and dressed. This window blind closure period did not fit Quint's bird watching schedule at all, at least in the morning. After he discovered the joys of bird watching from this window, he would hop up on the bookshelf at dawn and attempt to open the blinds himself. This makes a very strange sound, not loud, but strange enough that it would wake us up. We tried telling him to go away and come back later. We tried spraying him with water to discourage this behavior. We tried pushing him off onto the floor. None of these were at all effective.

I realized that we were trying to discourage him from a behavior that is natural for cats. He was hunting, well not exactly, but certainly an indoor cat's attempt at hunting behavior. One morning, I suggested to Carol that perhaps, after we were done with dressing and undressing for the day, she would consider raising the blind about eighteen inches. That way Quint could see outside and not have to bother us with his attempts to open the blinds. We tried that the very next day. It worked. It was the perfect solution. Quint gets to watch the early morning activities in the back yard and we get to sleep. Domestic bliss has been restored. All it took was our realization that he was just doing what comes naturally to a cat, and make a small adjustment in our routine to accommodate that behavior.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Who's in Charge Here?

The Hunter and the Hunted
Recently, the relationship between Quint and has humans has changed. A role reversal has occurred. I was sort of aware of it while it was happening, but didn't really take it very seriously until now. It appears that Carol and I are no longer in charge, instead, Quint has assumed the role of head of household. Yes, I've heard the old adage that cats have servants, but it's not quite like that. Quint doesn't expect us to wait on him. Okay, well maybe he does, but only at meal times, and after dinner at tooth brushing and fur brushing time. But now he's taken the lead at play time.

Mornings and evenings are most often the times when we are around to play with Quint. Carol plays with him after breakfast in the morning. When I get up, I grab a cup of coffee and go into my office to turn on my computer. While I'm waiting for the computer to boot up, Quint and I play Chase the Laser Pointer. After Carol leaves for work, Quint usually spends the morning napping while I catch up on e-mails or work on writing or photography projects in my office. In the afternoon, Quint alternates between napping and watching the birds and other animals out of various windows on different sides of the house. About 5:00 p.m., Quint is awake and ready to start his evening. The big evening event, of course, is Carol's arrival at home from work, when enthusiastic mutual greetings are exchanged. Then, we feed Quint and ourselves. After dinner, it's tooth and fur brushing, and right after that it's normally playtime. All of these events happen at about the same time everyday, a nice comfortable routine.

I've noticed that Quint is now enforcing the routine. After he has breakfast and plays with Carol, he will wait outside the bedroom door for me to wake up. When I do finally crawl out of bed, he leads me into the office where the laser pointer is and wants to play. Actually, he kind of herds me into the office like a sheepdog. When we first started playing with the laser pointer, I got to choose where to shine the little light and then Quint would chase it. Now, he waits for me to point it in the direction that he wants to run and ignores it when I don't. He's taken over control of the game. In the evening, when he sees that we've finished eating dinner, he walks over to where I'm sitting, looks up at me and meows to let me know that it's now time for brushing. After that, he'll sometimes make a quick check at all the windows to make sure there's nothing interesting going on outside, and then he'll walk through the dining room and into the kitchen where he will sit down right in the middle and look at us. This, of course, means it's playtime. If the routine is interrupted and either Carol or I are not near the kitchen when it's playtime, he will come and find us and let us know that he wants to play right now. He's very insistent about it. Again, he's taken charge of the game.

It's quite fascinating, his ability to take control of his life. He may well be better at it than I am. I am looking forward to seeing what other aspects of his life he learns to control.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Way to a Kitten's Heart

Oh, He's a Big Help Alright

Sure, Quint likes me alright. He'll come and visit me while I'm at my desk, or sit in my lap while I brush his teeth, but he completely adores my wife, Carol. Whenever she's at home, Quint follows her everywhere she goes. He sits on her desk while she's at her computer. He "helps" her make the bed in the morning. He goes into the bathroom with her while she's showering, putting on makeup and fixing her hair. He just likes being with Carol. It's been like that from the day he arrived. It may have something to do with the fact that Carol is the one who most often feeds him, but I suspect that it's because Carol is just inherently more lovable than I.

It's true. I've never been much of a people person, at least not on a wholesale basis. I have my close friends, people who I'd do just about anything to help, and I have a wider group who I like pretty well and would enjoy spending more time with, but, in general, I'm not a big fan of humans as a species. Maybe it comes from being picked on pretty severely when I was growing up. My family moved around a lot when I was elementary-school age so I didn't have long term friends or people I grew up with. Having no social skills whatsoever and being the new kid in town didn't endear me to the locals in any way. The sort of teasing one encounters as an outsider tends to make matters worse with regard to the development of any sort of useful social skills. By the time we settled down in one spot, I was already fourteen years old and rather wary of people for the most part. In addition, I had absolutely no common sense at all, so any effort I made to be accepted by my classmates at school was doomed to failure. I'm not complaining, just stating the facts of my formative years. I was socially awkward to the extreme. I'm a little better now, but it wasn't until after I left home to live on my own that I learned any sort of useful people skills at all, and the ones I did learn still aren't those of a sophisticate. What people skills I have are adequate to keep me from getting into fights and for navigating small gatherings, but are useless for much of anything beyond that. I'll never be a salesman, and I don't like talking to strangers on the telephone.

Carol, on the other hand, has social graces and people skills that amaze and astonish me constantly. She loves talking to people, all people. If you sit down to a conversation with Carol, be prepared to tell her your life story. You'll find yourself telling her things you wouldn't tell your best friend, and it's not just because she has the people skills to hold conversations with others, no, it's because she's genuinely interested in you, even though you've just met. Carol is the sort of person who, had we gone to high school together, I would never have dared approach. She knew all the cool kids. Heck, she was a cheerleader. Socially, Carol is way out of my league. She looks forward to going out to large gatherings to meet new people, and when she gets there she has a good time. Almost everybody loves Carol, they just can't help it.

Quint is no exception. Quint loves Carol. He likes me, but he loves Carol. If she's home and she goes outside to do some gardening, Quint meows loudly at the window until she comes back inside. At night, he sleeps on her pillow above her head. In the morning, he wakes her up at whatever time she asks him to. I envy Carol her people skills, but I'm glad that Quint and I have her as a friend and companion. She's a civilizing influence on us both, and I don't blame Quint for adoring her. How could he not?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Keep Away


One of Quint's favorite toys is the little red locking-rings that you have to remove from a one-gallon milk container to unscrew the top. The first time we dropped one on the floor, he batted it around and chased it as if it were a live animal. He played with it for hours, that first time, all by himself, all over the house. I suppose it satisfied some hunting instinct that is hard-wired into a cat’s brain, but it looked to me like he was just having fun. Like he was pretending it was alive and catching it and letting it go, and then catching it again, only to release it for another round. I like watching him play. He is so completely engaged with playing when he is doing it. Completely. It’s the Zen of a cat, that ability to be completely doing whatever activity he has decided to do. He hasn’t perfected it, as he can be distracted momentarily, or even longer, but he never forgets, and after dealing with whatever it might be that distracted him, breakfast, a noise at the window, a knock at the door, he goes right back to single-mindedly doing whatever it was he was doing before he was distracted.

Everything in his world, which, granted, is pretty small, is a potential cat toy. And until he has explored it thoroughly and either classified it as “toy” or “other,” he never gives up on it. If he sees a small object on a shelf above his current jumping height limit, he doesn’t categorized it as “unreachable,” but as “not reachable at this time.” He will go away and think about this new thing and consider his options. How will he reach it? Can someone in the household be encouraged to move it to a more accessible place? It there something nearby that can assist in obtaining the height necessary to reach the thing? I know he is thinking about it. I can see him staring off into space, imagining solutions to the problem, calculating heights and distances and traction coefficients, working out the cat physics of the problem. He never gives up, and he never forgets. If I walk over to that place, he watches me and he makes that noise that says “I want that.” I don’t always know what it is he wants, but he knows, and the “I want that” noise is only used for that demand. There are other noises for other communications.

Playing is ofttimes an individual activity, especially late at night. I hear him dashing about the house, pursuing phantom mice and rats, practicing his night vision skills, dodging obstacles in the living room, leaping from couch to love seat to floor to rug to counter top to the forbidden tabletop to the bookshelf under the dining room window. Once in awhile, he leaps up on our bed, just to make sure we are still there, and then it’s back to dashing about the house. Finally, when all the phantoms have been caught and killed and he is satisfied that all is safe within the house, he will come and join us in bed. Sometimes he sleeps on the pillow above Carol’s head, more often her curls up between our feet. That way he can make sure that if anyone moves, he will immediately know about it.

But playing is always more fun when there is someone else to play with. Since Quint doesn’t have any cat playmates, he has to settle for his human friends. Sometimes that is Carol, other times it’s me, and lately both of us get into the game. The game is a variation of “Keep Away.” Now, Keep Away as a game can be rather cruel, in that, usually the person who is being kept away is an unwilling victim. If you are unfamiliar with this game, it occurs when two people grab something valuable or necessary from a third person. The two grabbers then proceed to toss the grabbed item back and forth between them in such a way as to make it very difficult, or just barely impossible, for the victim to retrieve it. The cruelty comes into play as the two perpetrators must make it appear that there is some hope of the victim regaining the grabbed item. Of course, no such hope exists, but the apparency is important to the longevity of the game and the cruel delight of the grabbers and tossers. It ends when the victim collapses into tears and apathy, which was the purpose of the game in the first place, at least as it was played when I was a child. Usually, I was the victim.

The variation of Keep Away that we play with Quint would be better called Jump Away. There is no cruelty involved, but there is the element of danger, not to Quint, but to Carol and I. It’s a waiting and observation game, but it is also a test of each player’s reflexes. Here’s how it goes. I get on one end of our rather narrow kitchen, Carol gets on the other about eight feet away from me. Usually we are both kneeling. One of us has previously gathered from all over the house, the aforementioned red rings which he so enjoys chasing, three of them is good, four is even better. Quint, who knows this game, sits or lays on the floor between us, waiting. It begins when the possessor of the rings entices Quint by twirling the ring on the floor with a finger. When he begins to stalk the ring, but before he pounces on it and the twirling finger, you toss it into the air toward the other end of the kitchen. You see where the element of danger enters into the game. If you don’t pay close attention, your finger, hand, and arm could be mistaken for a cat toy and bloodshed can occur, not maliciously, of course, but cats don’t really understand the softness of human skin. Cats have hide and a thick layer of protective fur. When cats play with other cats, they don’t usually injure each other because of the fur and the toughness of their hide. No so with us humans, so one must be alert. As I said, this is a excellent test of each player's reflexes. Now, as the ring is, hopefully, sailing through the air, Quint’s part of the game is to catch it. He uses three different methods of doing this, the leap, the flip and the roll. The leap is the most satisfying for all the players. He jumps into the air and catches the ring in his teeth or paws, throws it to the ground and proceeds to ritually kill the poor thing. The flip is fun, too. He’ll let it sail over his head and catch it as it flies away from him, it’s a jump and turn kind of motion. It’s not as high a jump as the leaping technique, but it has a greater difficulty factor. The roll maneuver is executed towards either the beginning or the end of the game. At the beginning of the game, part of the enticement ritual involves tossing the rings to him while he’s laying on the floor. He’ll roll and reach out and grab them as they fly by. Once you’ve got him reaching and grabbing, you can proceed to the leaping and flipping parts of the game. When he gets tired of the leaping and flipping, the game goes back to rolling, reaching and grabbing. This game usually goes on for upwards of fifteen minutes or so, and is played each evening after Quint has had his dinner and his teeth brushed. Someday, someone should make a video of this activity. Someday.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Great Escape

He's an Indoor Cat

It was a typical day around my house. I sent Carol off to work at about 8:30 or so. I had a day off, so I surfed around on the web for awhile, read a few more chapters in the book I was current working though, had a bit of lunch, and took a little nap. When I awoke, I looked around for Quint, just to see what he was up to. I hadn't seen him in awhile, but that was not unusual since he normally sleeps through the middle part of the day. It was well past that time now and I had to meet Carol at 5:00 to pick her up from work so that we could attend a charity showing of a sailing movie made by Roy Disney.

It was very quiet in the house, too quiet, as the line goes. I started looking for Quint. I looked in all the usual places, the shelf behind the couch, the bed, the couch in my office, the chairs in the dining room. He wasn't there. I made a more thorough search, Carol's closet, the linen closet in the hall, under the bed, behind the couch, in the closet in my office, and still no sign of Quint. Okay, I'm starting to panic now. Where could he be? Could he have gotten out of the house? Earlier, I had heard a commotion outside behind the house, a bit of a cat squabble. I didn't think anything of it at the time, since the cats in the back will sometimes argue with each other. Could that have been Quint fighting with the neighbor's cats? It didn't seem likely, but I went out the front door and started looking around the house and yard. I called his name as I searched the perimeter of the property. There were no cats to be found, not even the neighbor's cats who are usually hanging around the yard. Now I'm really getting worried.

I went back into the house and searched everywhere there was room for a cat to hide. It was still very quiet in the house. Quint is quite a talker, as we've discussed, so this was not a good sign. My cat is now officially missing, and I'm officially panicking. It's also getting close to the time I have to leave the house to go pick up Carol in Burbank. What to do? What to do? Okay, I decided to make one last effort to find him outside in the yard. I went back outside and down the driveway. I didn't see him. I still didn't see the other cats, either. I walked to the house in the back of the property where our neighbor and her cats live. I opened her gate and went into her back yard. I still didn't see any cats. I was calling Quint's name the whole time. As I was looking down the narrow path between my neighbor's house and the fence next door, three cats came over the fence and climbed down onto the dark path. Three cats? One of them just had to be Quint. I squeezed into the dark, narrow pathway, tripping over a flower pot and almost falling. I moved up the path toward the front of the house and out into the space between our two houses. There they were!! All three of the cats were together and moving away from me and toward the front yard. As I followed them and reached the corner of my house, they all disappeared. Now what? I headed for the front door with the hope that maybe, just maybe, Quint might have gone there to be let back into the house. He was there!! I opened the screen door and he scampered though and into the house. I started beathing normally again. I picked Quint up and tried to explain to him that he was an indoor cat now and that he didn't need to be wandering around the neighborhood. I checked him over thoroughly, looking for puncture wounds or other damage that he might have incurred in the course of his adventures, but he seemed to be just fine. I let him know how glad I was to see him again and made him promise never to scare me like that again.

I don't think he realizes how dangerous it is out there, and he'll probably go back out again, given the opportunity, so we'll have to be extra vigilant to make sure he doesn't have any more outdoor adventures.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Cat's Don't Get Called for Jury Duty

Keeping Watch

It true, you know, that cat's don't get called for jury duty. When I said goodbye to Quint on Friday morning, that is where I was headed. Every other day of that week when I checked in to see if I would be required to show up, I was told that I wouldn't be needed. I figured I had it made. Why would they start a whole new trial on a Friday? Well, someone figured that there might be a need for a few more potential jurors on Friday and some random number generator in some government computer somewhere chose me. So there I was, saying goodbye to Carol and Quint and heading downtown with the possibility that someone might be crazy enough to want me to sit in judgement on someone else's future.

Quint, in the meantime, gets to sit in the window and watch the birds hopping around among the plants on the front porch, or take a morning nap in a nice warm sunbeam. Some years ago, I made this low bench to fit along the picture window in the living room just so the cats could lay there and nap or watch the birds. Carol hemmed the curtains for that window about a foot short so that they didn't interfere with the view. It's the perfect place for a cat nap, and most certainly a vastly more interesting place to spend the day than the jury assembly room in the criminal court building in downtown Los Angeles.

That's just where I was, though. I'd arrived early, about 9:15 a.m., checked in, found a chair away from the juror indoctrination meeting that was going on in the next room and opened one of the three books I had brought with me. An hour or so later, I'd finished up that book and had gotten up, walked around, stretched and returned to my chair. Nothing else had happened. Not a single one of the fifty or more people assembled there had been called to go into a court room. A few people were called to the check-in window to correct some error on the form they had filled out attesting that they were qualified to be a juror, but other than that, nothing had happened. I started a new book, Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose, the "story of Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the opening of the American West," according to the subtitle on the cover. A few minutes later, a video played on the monitor in the corner telling all us potential jurors all about the wonderful places to eat and things to see in beautiful downtown Los Angeles. I went back to reading my book. At noon, they told us we could go to lunch, but that we had to be back by 1:30 p.m.

I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to get some fresh air and take a walk. Out in the hallway there was quite a crowd waiting for the elevators to take us down to the lobby. Some of the more experienced jurors chose not to wait but to take the stairs down instead. Later, I counted the flights down from the eleventh floor, but on that trek it seemed like a lot more than there actually were. I was guessing around thirty-three by the time I reached the lobby (It was actually twenty-two). I walked out of the building into some lovely Southern California weather with big puffy rain clouds and patches of blue sky and sunshine. I had put a little point-and-shoot camera in my bag when I left the house that morning. I hadn't used it much lately, so I figured that the battery would have plenty of charge left to snap a few shots of whatever downtown buildings and street life that I might encounter. A quick word of advice here: Never forget to bring your spare battery. I turned on the camera and focused on the Los Angeles City Hall and almost immediately got a low battery warning telling me that there was not enough energy to actually take any photos, but that there was plenty left to look at the photos which I hadn't yet been able to take. I found that, if I was quick, I could turn on the camera and squeeze off a shot before the camera's little "brain" realized that the batter was too low to actually do that. I got two hastily framed, bad shots that way and gave up. Nothing left to do now but walk, so I did that. I walked around the block which is uphill on one side and downhill on the other, and then walked back into the building. I had some lunch in the cafeteria on the first floor and then took the elevator back up to the jury assembly room. I found a more comfortable chair and settled in for what promised to be a deadly dull afternoon.

At about 1:50 p.m. they announced that we weren't going to be needed after all and that we could all go home. Ahh, freedom, sweet freedom. I'd done my civic duty again and now I'd be off the list for another year. I celebrated by going shopping at Target to get some wrapping paper for a birthday present we were going to deliver over the weekend. I love going to Target but I never come home with only the items which I intended to get. This time I found a cool little cat toy shaped like a bird. It's makes little chirping sounds whenever you move it. Quint loves it. He played with it all night long. No matter where I was in the house, I could hear the little chirping noises as he prodded and poked at it. I wish I had as much fun with my toys and he has with his.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Cats Are Not Dogs


While I was taking one of my frequent walks around the local reservoir, I got to thinking about dogs and the people who love them, and about cats. More precisely, I started thinking about the differences between cats and dogs.

Now, I or my family, over the years, had quite a few dogs. When I was living at home, we almost always had a dog. My dad was fond of English Setters, so we had lots of those. Beautiful animals, those Setters, but boy did they like to run. Most of the time, my mom or dad would feed the dog in the morning and then let it outside and we wouldn't see it again until that evening. That was fun for the dog, but it didn't really make for much companionship for us kids. The most interaction we had was in the evening when we had to somehow convince the dog that it would be better to come inside for the night than stay out and play. Not an easy task, that convincing. Another problem with letting one's dog run loose all day is that, unless you live in the middle of a wilderness area, there are highways and streets all around where cars move at high speeds. We lost all but two of our dogs to automobiles. That's one of the ways I learned about death at a fairly early age. I learned a lot about grief, too. Despite the fact that I didn't get to see the dogs much, the time I did spend with them was fun. I got to loving those dogs, since they were much more fun to play with and easier to relate to than most of my human friends at that time. With one exception, we never had a cat when I was living with my parents. My mother didn't like them. She claimed they were unreliable and sneaky. Mostly, I think she just didn't trust anyone that wouldn't do what she told them to do, or come when she called them.

My first cat came to me from a loading dock. He didn't last long, sadly. He started following my sister around. He followed her across the busy county road one afternoon near Idaho Springs, Colorado where we were living at the time. My sister made it across, the cat didn't. She didn't understand about cats. Cats don't get the concept of streets and cars. It just doesn't make sense to them. Rats and mice and dogs and skunks and opossums and birds are things that cats understand. Pillows and towels and sock drawers and closet shelves and sunny windowsills are what cats like the best. A dog will lie down in the middle of the yard and trust that no one will run the mower over him or drive a bicycle over his tail. Cats want a place that's safe from all that for their nap. Cats want a vantage point where they can see what's coming after them, and a place nearby where they can run to if they don't feel like fighting. A dog will follow you around all day and be happy just hanging around with his human. A cat wants to have a choice about what it does. I don't believe that dogs do very much thinking and considering before they act. A cat will ponder an action for awhile, sort of mull it over, before he does it. Even when he's hunting, a cat will think about strategy, he'll wait, he'll stalk, he'll watch his prey and once he's figured all the angles, he'll pounce. It doesn't always work for the cat, but you can see that he always has a plan. A dog will love you if you feed him, pet him, play with him and make him feel safe.

With cats, you have to earn that affection. At the beginning of your relationship, a cat will love you when he needs to be fed, petted and played with, but wants to be left alone when it's nap time or tongue-bath time. If you're lucky, and you do everything right, sometimes a cat will love you all the time. He'll miss you when you're gone and he'll be waiting at the door when you get home. That sort of cat will walk into whatever room you are in and make sure you are okay. He'll then go about his napping or playing, knowing that everything and everyone is where they belong, but he'll come back and check once in awhile just be make sure. But you have to have established a mutual trust with your cat to achieve that kind of relationship. You can't ever forget to feed him, you can't ever step on him, and you try not to ever surprise him. If you treat your cat with the love and respect that he knows is his due, he will return it to you ten-fold. Quint is that kind of cat. He takes pretty good care of his humans and we sure do appreciate his concern.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dental Hygiene for Cats

He's Just So Little

It is likely that there are a number of different methods we could have used to clean the plaque from Quints little teeth. The veterinarian rubbed his teeth with a gauze pad. I thought method that lacked dignity and it certainly had no element of fun whatsoever, plus it seemed like it would be pretty expensive and wasteful, what with using and discarding one gauze pad for every cleaning. If you're going to be cleaning your cat's teeth once or twice a day for the rest of his life, you better find a way to make it cheap, fun and interesting for the both of you.

We already had the poultry-flavored toothpaste, so now we needed a brush of some sort to do the cleaning. We already had a couple little brushes that are attached to a splint-like plastic device which fits on a fingertip, but they were too big to get inside a kitten-sized mouth. Nope, it looked like we were going to have to put our hands into the lion's mouth. Okay, the kitten's mouth. Still, those little teeth are very sharp, so how do we keep our fingers out of harm's way and still get the job done. Yet another flash of brilliance on my part had me heading off to the local drugstore to see if toothbrushes for babies might be the right tool for the job. It turned out that they were perfect. Baby toothbrushes are available in two colors, pink and blue. Since Quint was a boy (well, not as much of a boy as he used to be), I went with the blue color and bought two.

Armed with the proper tool and the will to accomplish the mission, I now had to create a workable technique. There are quite a few very sharp obstacles in the road to kitten dental hygiene, ten claws and lots of needle-sharp little teeth. Any technique that evolved would have to take into account the avoidance of all of them. It took some trial and error, but eventually I achieved a moderately decent accomodation between my vulnerable flesh and his lethal weapons, though I did shed some small amounts of blood in the process. One bit of good fortune that made the process easier was that Quint liked the flavor of the toothpaste, which transformed the whole process from an annoying ordeal into a bit of a treat for him. I learned to keep the claws from automatically reaching up and pushing my hand away. I learned, too, that when you apply ointment with a bare finger, it is best to keep said finger out from between the upper and lower jaws. Ouch!

I give you the benefit of my research in hopes that you will avoid some of the bloodshed which I experienced. Here's how I brush Quint's teeth. First, I always wait until he's in nap mode, or at the very least, in a relatively calm and relaxed state. Trying to brush a cat's teeth when he's only interested in playing is a recipe for pain on your part. When I first started the brushing, I would pick him up from wherever he was laying and hold him in my lap. Now, he usually comes to me after dinner and asks if it's time for his brushing. Next I let him watch me as I put the toothpaste on the little blue brush. Then, I cup the back of his head in the fingers of my left hand and reach around under his jaw with my thumb to pull back his lips at the corner of one side of his mouth. Holding his head this way lets you tilt it back to you can more easily see what you are doing. With the right hand, I gently brush his teeth as far back as I can get and then brush forward to the fangs. I repeat the process on the other side and then I let him lick whatever toothpaste remains on the brush. While he licks his lips, I put a bit of the antibiotic oinment on my right index fingertip. Using the same technique as I use for the brushing, I apply the ointment to his gums from front to back and as far back as I can get my finger, being careful to keep said finger from straying in between the jaws. I do the other side the same way. Finally, to reinforce the pleasant aspects of the experience, I brush his fur for awhile. Bushing your cat's fur is highly recommended, even if you don't brush his teeth. I use a soft brush, since he's a short-haired cat, but I also use a regular fine-toothed "people" comb which I find gets out quite a lot of loose fur. Removing as much of the loose fur as possible every day helps keep your cat from having so many hairballs to cough up and leave lying in the middle of the floor, all cold and wet and squishy under your bare foot in the dark.

Now that you know the technique, go forth and brush your cat's teeth. Take my word for this, it will save you money in the long run. Cat dental hygiene helps keep your veterinarian bills much lower, and your cat much healthier. Tooth and gum problems in cats can have all sorts of complications and cause severe damage to other areas.