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.