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.