Saturday, December 11, 2010

Decorating the Ceiling

Decorating the Ceiling

The main thing about cats is that they are insatiably curious. Anything new must be sniffed, tasted and poked to find out of what use it might be. Usefulness for a cat falls into three categories: sleeping, eating and playing. Thus, any new object must be immediately placed into one or more of the categories of usefulness. For example, I would fall into all three categories since I provide warmth when sleeping with or on, I supply food upon demand, and, not only am I the provider of toys, but often the animator of them as well, in that I toss them about for the kitties to chase. This makes me very useful to Quint and Hedge.

Newness for cats can be either a newly acquired object that has been brought home from the store, an item that has never previously been part of the household, or it can be a toy whose existence has been conveniently forgotten and has now been rediscovered. In the case of the former, the categorization process must be engaged immediately. For the latter, the category has already been established, but newfound delight can be experienced as a result of the rediscovery process.

All of the previous information is quite pertinent to the upcoming season, that being Christmas. Over the years that we’ve been together, Carol and I have acquired a great many Christmas decorations, including a lovely artificial tree and lots and lots of decorations, some handmade, some purchased and a few that were received as gifts. Some of these decorations are quite unique and delicate. At Christmas time we enjoy unpacking all these things and using them to create a festive atmosphere in the house. Two years ago, when we first adopted Quint, we decided not the put up the tree so that he wouldn’t get himself into trouble by behaving in a way that is natural for kittens. The year after that, Hedge became part of our household, and so we applied the same logic and chose to forego the tree again. This year, we decided, once again, to take the pro-active, preventive route and left the tree in its box. At this point, we’ll probably continue this strategy indefinitely, more because we like our solution to the problem then for any mistrust of our now fully-grown cats.

Two years ago, I had this brilliant idea. Since our house has quite a high ceiling which is spanned by lovely wooden beams, I thought it might be interesting to decorate that ceiling, putting all the delicate decorations out of reach of the curious kitties, but still allowing us to enjoy them by simply looking up. It has worked out wonderfully. We like our decorated ceiling and the cats don’t get in too much trouble over the holidays. It’s also a challenge to find new and interesting ways to create that festive atmosphere, and still maintain our kitty-safe environment. Part of our responsibility in living with cats is to let them be themselves as much as possible and, yet, still maintain a shared environment that works for all of us. Decorating the ceiling has proved to be a nearly perfect solution to what could have been quite a problem. The only drawback in the scheme is that I have to be very careful not to fall off the ladder while I’m putting up the decorations. So, far, I’ve succeeded.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Undercover Cat

Time for Dinner

Despite having a very nice fur coat, cats are heat-seeking little creatures. Quint is certainly no exception, so when he trots into our bedroom at around 6:00 a.m. each morning to fulfill his duty as Carol’s alarm clock, he’ll often end up crawling under the sheets and blankets of our bed to snuggle with us for a while before someone gets up to feed him. Once he settles into a warm spot somewhere near the small of our backs, he decides that breakfast can wait for thirty minutes or so and that an extra morning nap is the perfect thing at the moment.

After that thirty minutes of warmth and closeness, the backup alarm trots in. Hedge is the backup alarm clock. Once he realizes that Quint his again succumbed to the lure of the safe, warm people-nest, he jingles into our room and warbles a query to Quint who responds with an answering chirp and a lashing of his tail. Quint’s tail lashing is soon followed by Hedge’s leaping up onto the bed. This causes Quint to crawl out from under the covers and begin the morning game of Chase. Chase continues in and out of our bedroom until someone gets up and serves breakfast.

Throughout all this, Quint still carries out the primary alarm functions, the tail lashing, the dashing across the bed, the trampling of Carol and I, and the jumping onto the floor with a loud thump. Hedge doesn’t thump, or trample, due to the fact that he is so light footed that if it weren’t for the bell on his collar we would rarely know where he is. The only way we know that Hedge is on our bed is when he lies down and leans against us. When he jumps down, he makes almost no sound. But for the jingle of the bell on his collar and the occasional chirrup, you would never know he was around. You can be putting cat food into dishes in the kitchen and, seemingly from nowhere, suddenly there is a black cat rubbing against your ankles. Hedge, if he were allowed to go outside, would be the perfect hunter; a fast, silent and deadly killer whose prey would never become aware of him until his needle sharp claws had found their mark. He has a bit of the Cheshire in him, too, in that he appears and disappears at will. He sits within a shadow, completely concealed and perfectly camouflaged, until you see a pair of glowing yellow eyes peering at you out of the darkness.

This morning’s wake-up call was particularly memorable. After a lovely Thanksgiving get-together with friends and family yesterday afternoon and evening, Carol and I, after we had returned home, had stayed up late and watched a movie. This morning was a perfect morning for sleeping late and so we did. Quint and Hedge are understanding about this sort of thing, but only to a point. Breakfast must be attended to and indulgence of human sloth can only go so far. Quint had crawled into bed with us and fallen fast asleep, willing to be as slothful as his human companions. Hedge, though, was hungry and leaped up onto the bed to let everyone know that it was past time for breakfast. Quint began the usual tail lashing and Hedge commenced an attack on Quint’s tail as it writhed about under the blankets. I chuckled and surrendered. Hedge was right, it was time to get up and start a new day.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Unlocking the Kitty Code

Hedge Revealed

I received a book recommendation a short time ago from, Rachel, an on-line friend and reader of this blog. She said that she was surprised that I hadn’t read “The Silent Miaow” by Paul Gallico. Not only hadn’t I read it, I’d never even heard of it. I love a good internet research project, so I began my search for information about this book. I quickly found it on and, after reading a summary, knew I had to have it. There are two versions of this book available; the original, which features black and white photography by Suzanne Szasz and her husband; and a more recent version with color photographs. I chose the original version and when it arrived I knew I had made the right choice.

“The Silent Miaow” is an instruction manual for cats written from a cat’s point of view. The author claims to have translated it from a manuscript written by a cat who he suspects is most likely Cica, the cat who owns Suzanne Szasz and her husband. After reading the book, I suspect that it was indeed authored by a cat. It has the ring of authority and authenticity that only one who is experienced in the field can lend to this sort of manual. Those of us who live with cats should be grateful that this information has been made available; those who haven’t read it, ought to waste no time in finding a copy of this book and absorbing this vital information.

Not only is “The Silent Miaow” as wonderful source of insight into how cats think, it is also a lovely collection of candid photos of the everyday life of a cat. So lovely, in fact, that, upon finishing the book, I immediately set my camera to “monochrome” and have been following Hedge and Quint around for the last couple of days snapping endless shots of them as they perform their daily routines. I’m finding that the black and white photos show more of the form and feeling of the cats without the distractions that come with all the pretty colors. It is also proving to be a superior way of capturing images of Hedge. It seems that the black and white setting works better for photos of a black cat.

Thanks to Rachel for the recommendation and thanks to Mr. Gallico and Ms. Szasz for the book. I’ve not only gained useful knowledge of my cats, but I’ve gotten a bit of artistic inspiration as well. This may well be the best $4.00 I’ve spent in a very, very long time.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Hedge and I


Hedge is beginning to be my cat. In the same way that Quint is Carol’s cat, Hedge is mine. Certainly, both cats are fond of Carol and I, but when Carol is inside the house, Quint is with her. If she’s at her desk, he’s lying on the towel next to her keyboard, the towel having been placed there for just that purpose. If she’s in the dining room, he’s in the cat tree right above her head. If she’s on the couch watching TV, he’s there, too, within reach of her hand so as to be available for any petting that might be forthcoming. If she’s in the kitchen, he’s there at her feet, often bringing with him a toy mouse for her to throw and for him to catch. Quint loves Carol. At bedtime, Carol tells Quint the hour at which she desires to be awakened. The next morning, Quint promptly appears at just that hour and sees that she gets up on time.
I’m not saying that Quint doesn’t like me, too. It’s just that he really, really loves Carol. Quint and I have a different relationship, more businesslike. I’m in charge of brushing his teeth each day after dinner and he will come and remind me of that if I get busy or forgetful. I’m also in charge of refilling his food dish if the kibble supply should run low, and he reminds me of that as well. If Carol is not at home, or busy around the house, Quint will come and sit next to me on the couch if I’m watching a movie, but he prefers to be with Carol. I don’t blame him. She’s a much more pleasant person to be around than I.
Hedge, though still very much the skittish and shy type, will, if he’s in one of his rare confident moods, seek me out and insist that I pet him. He does this by coming into whatever room I’m in, squeaking at me and then walking deliberately out the door with a glance over his shoulder to see if I’m following. If I’m not, he’ll squeak again and insist that I come with him. I then must follow him until he’s in a space that he feels is the proper one to receive his petting. With Hedge, you can’t just get down on your hands and knees and pet him. No, you are only allowed to pet him if you remain standing and bend over at the waist to pet him, otherwise, he’ll suspect that you are going to try to pick him up and he’ll run away. He dislikes being held, but he loves being petted. He doesn’t seek out Carol for this since she loves to pick him up, instead he comes to me. My inclination, like Carol’s, is to pick him up and hold him while I pet him, but I know he doesn’t like being held, so I do things his way. By accommodating his needs, I’m hoping to help him get over his shyness. We’ll just have to wait and see if my strategy will be effective. It may take a very long time.
I like Hedge, and I think that he likes me. It used to be that the only individual in the house that Hedge really liked was Quint. No matter what Quint was doing or in which location he happened to be, Hedge wanted to be right there with him. Lately, though, Hedge has become a bit more independent of Quint and doesn’t have so much of a need to be with him constantly. They’ll often be found, now, napping in separate rooms. If I have time for an afternoon nap, Hedge will sometimes come and join me. Quint will come in the room to see what’s going on, but he usually goes off and takes his afternoon nap somewhere else. I understand Hedge. He doesn’t like to be restrained in any way, instead he wants to approach you and deal with you on his own terms. If he lies down with me for a nap, I don’t try to hold onto him or even touch him very much, a couple of scritches on the head are enough. For Hedge, even a slight desire for human companionship is progress in my eyes. If I make it safe for him to want to be with his people, he’ll eventually get better at being part of the family. I like him just the way he is and I’ll take whatever affection he’s willing to offer. If he feels safe and wants to offer more, I’ll take that, too, but I’m perfectly content to just let him be. He’s doing the best that he can and, considering his origins, that’s not too bad.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Spirit of Cat

Books on Cats

I have acquired a whole stack of books on cats, some came as gifts, some came from the used book store, and some I bought new. I have books on Cat Philosophy, Cat Behavior, Cat Psychology, Cat Humor, Choosing a Cat, and Caring for Cats. Some of them are written by veterinarians, the scientists of the cat world. My favorites are written by people who actually own and care for cats, sometimes those people are also veterinarians, sometimes not.

If you are trying to figure out exactly where to cut your cat's claws, go with the veterinary science approach to cats. They'll tell you where to cut so that you don't get into the living tissue inside the claw. For medical advice and treatment of physical problems, again, go with the veterinarian. That's what they do. They are the cat mechanics. They understand how the cat's body works and can help you fix it when it's broken. They can drain an abscess, stitch up a wound, pull a tooth, remove a growth and prescribe medications. I don't go to the scientists, though, for information on why my cat follows my wife around, or how to play with my cat, or how to communicate with my cat. With rare exceptions, that's not what the scientists are good at. Scientists think everything is a machine and that everything can be explained by mechanics and genetics.

If you are looking for all-around good advice about choosing, caring for, feeding and understanding cats, I recommend looking to the cat lovers for the best information. Cat lovers know that to understand cats you must look beyond the mechanics, beyond the bodily functions and instincts, beyond the genetics. You must look to the unique spirit that is the essence of each individual cat. There are no two the same. Just as no two souls are the same, no two cats are the same. Ask a scientist why your cat behaves the way she does and you'll get some answer that involves instinct and hard-wired genetic behavior. Ask a cat lover and the answer will be, "Because that's what the cat decided to do, of course."

You can't account for a cats behavior by only looking to genetics and instinct. Some of the things a cats does are quite obviously motivated by conscious decisions made by your cat after he has evaluated all the available data. Cats are usually quite rational about what they choose to do or, even, what they refuse to do. Sure, there are some pretty darn neurotic cats around, but most of them are not. A lot like us people, each cat has had life experiences that color its behavior. Animals that have been abused are often cowed, submissive and prone to hiding under the bed. Animals that have been raised in a safe, loving environment are normally sociable, friendly and fearless. Animals that grow up without any human contact tend to be aggressive and wary. Change the environment and you can change a cat's behavior. Take a wild, street cat and put him in a safe, loving home and you'll very likely end up with quite a good companion. The same goes for abused animals. If you show them that not all humans are trying to hurt them, they'll eventually figure thing out. It might take some time, but it most certainly can be done.

There's a reason that cats, like ourselves, respond to kind and loving treatment. It is because cats, like ourselves, are not simply a body with a brain. They, and we, are spiritual beings that just happen to inhabit these bodies. This is why, when we live in a safe, comfortable environment surrounded by people who care for us, we thrive, and why, when the opposite conditions prevail, we wither and diminish. We feel better when we are around people who love us because it lifts our spirit. People who love and care for cats, or any animal, know this. Wise veterinarians and human physicians know this as well. Beware of those who don't acknowledge, respect and nurture the spiritual nature in humans and animals. Sure, take care of the body. Keep it healthy, well fed and well rested, but also make sure that you provide nourishment for the spirit. Providing a loving, happy, playful and interesting environment is a more essential factor in maintaining good health than anything else you can do for yourself or for your cat. Keep this in mind when you are reading books about cats and be sure to take into account the spirit that is your cat and not just the cute, furry little body that the spirit lives in.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

In the Company of Cats


In the company of cats there is warmth -- physical and emotional warmth. There is head-butting, ankle-stropping, lap-sitting, affection-demanding and attention-attracting warmth. Sometimes it arrives exactly when you expect it and sometimes it comes as a surprise visit in a quiet moment. You'll hear the jingle of a tiny bell and then feel a presence at your feet. You reach down and give a little scritch behind the ears and you are rewarded with a happy warble and the twitch of a tail. You take comfort in the warmth of your affectionate companion because you know that you have to earn a cat's love and trust. You can never take a cat's affection for granted, but like many things on this planet, you reap what you sow. Love, care and affection invested in your cat will pay dividends in excess of anything you might imagine.

In the company of cats there is laughter. Whoever said that cats don't like to be laughed at was correct. What you weren't told was that to laugh with a cat is perfectly acceptable. Cats know when they are being funny and they appreciate a responsive audience. Cats can provide countless hours of wholesome family entertainment, and they work for kibbles. All you have to do is encourage the entertainer within your cat and you can disconnect your TV. It is sage advice, though, to never laugh at your cat. When a cat occasionally misses a jump, or falls off a perch, or otherwise makes a mistake, it is best to just pretend to ignore it. (However, do note such behavior and, should such accidents become more frequent, get your cat a check-up, it could be the sign of a health problem.)

In the company of cats there is friendship. When your cat joins you wherever you go in the house, either he is hungry or he likes being with you. If it's not meal-time and your cat still wants to be near you, you can be sure that it's because he likes you, otherwise he'd be elsewhere. Cats are the kind of friends that you don't have to constantly talk to when you are together. Just being in the same space is enough. There's no need for constant physical contract or emotional reassurance, it's a simple matter of being happy in be in each other's space.

I'm grateful to be in the company of cats. I don't like cats more than I like people, I like cats differently. That's really all they ask from us, that we like them for who they are. Sure, cats appreciate regular meals, just like the rest of us, but mostly they want someone to like them, just like the rest of us. What makes the relationship with cats so satisfying is that a cat will almost always return your affection in kind and in abundance, whereas people sometimes will not.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Feline Protocols

Getting Back to Normal

It appears to me that there must be a set of cat protocols for dealing with nearly every situation that might arise. How else can I explain what happened around my house while Ebony was living here, and what happened after he passed on?

When Ebony first arrived from his most recent home where he had lived with a menagerie of other cats and dogs, he was old, thin and grouchy. During the time that he was with us, none of that changed very much. As the time went by, he seemed a bit less grouchy, but, like anyone who is not feeling well, he didn't particularly welcome large amounts a frivolity. Understandable, of course, however, why should that effect the way in which Quint and Hedge behaved when they were not interacting with Ebony?

The behavior change wasn't drastic, Hedge and Quint would still play chase with each other and tended to nap in many of the same spots as they had before, but there were some things that they stopped doing and areas that they would come to avoid. Initially, it may have had some relation to the huge quantities of fleas that Ebony was depositing wherever he went. After we got the fleas under control, though, Quint and Hedge still avoided or only briefly visited some areas where, previously, they had been quite comfortable. They stopped climbing in the cat tree, napping on the bed, and they avoided some the window perches that Ebony favored.

Now that Ebony has left us, the boys have resumed all of their briefly suspended behavior and we have risen back up to the playful and affectionate group that we had been before.

It seems that once Hedge and Quint figured out what was going on with Ebony, i.e. that he didn't feel well and was in a rapid decline, they adopted a set of "sick-room" protocols that they then applied while Ebony was living with us. Since he was unable and unwilling to engage in play activities, and not the least interested in becoming part of the feline "herd," Quint and Hedge left him alone for the most part. They let Ebony have those areas of the house where he felt most comfortable and accommodated themselves to the needs of their ailing housemate. I believe it's analogous to our own behavior when we find ourselves in the presence of the injured, sick and dying. We don't have a party or do much laughing and joking when we visit someone that isn't feeling well. It just doesn't seem appropriate, most of the time. I know that it is difficult to feel very much joy, or maintain a sense of humor, when your attention is on enduring whatever your body is trying to inflict upon you. Us humans get that and adjust our behavior accordingly. Cats get it, too.

I appreciate the efforts Quint and Hedge contributed to helping make Ebony's last few months as pleasant as possible. It was a very kind and generous thing for them to do. Today, though, it made me very happy to see them getting back to their happy-go-lucky lives. I like it when we can all share a happy moment. I missed that, and I'm glad to see those moments have returned to our family.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Hand-Me-Down Cat Moves On

R.I.P. Ebony, August 13, 2010

I knew yesterday what I would likely have to face today. That didn't make today any easier. It was out of my hands and in God's, but I still had to make the decision and say the words. I told him before we left this afternoon that it was time for him to leave his failing body behind, that it was time for him to move on and seek a new life in a new healthy body. He seemed to understand. I hope he did.

Ebony stopped being able to eat yesterday. What he did eat or drink came right back up tinted red. We discovered today that he had a giant growth inside his abdomen that hadn't been there just a couple of weeks ago. That, combined with his hyperthyroidism had reduced his quality of life to an intolerable minimum. I couldn't bear to have him end his life in pain and starving, so I asked the veterinarian to put him to sleep. I would have wanted him to do the same for me. Just so you know, though, that doesn't make it any easier a decision.

It's not like he and I didn't try to get him feeling better, though. We tried pills to get his thyroid problem under control, but they only made it worse. They we tried some transdermal medication applied to the inside of his ear. He got his last dose of that yesterday evening. It wasn't helping. Still, I medicated him and brushed him and put antibiotic gel on his gums and cleaned up after him. It was difficult, trying to help him and not seeing any results, but I didn't really mind. He seemed a bit more comfortable and I think he was happy to be getting all that attention, even if it wasn't helping him very much.

I think he was ready to move on. He seemed to be okay with my explanation of what to expect this afternoon. I know it was the right decision, but that doesn't really make it any easier. I miss the little guy. He was grouchy and whiny and petulant and he didn't really like to be touched unless he was in your lap, but he made himself at home here as best he could after a lifetime of being moved from place to place, and if you held him in your lap and brushed his thin little body gently, he would purr and purr. He was a good companion to Carol's mother and father for many years, and that is his legacy. I am grateful that we were able to make his last few months as good for him as possible. He got as much love and care as he could handle, and he was blessed with interesting, good-natured companions. We should all be so fortunate.

So, goodbye, Ebony. You had a good long life surrounded by people who loved and cared for you. You got to live in lots of interesting places and meet lots of wonderful people. Be at peace now. Take a moment to rest, and then move on to your next life with renewed hope and a healthy body. Farewell, Ebony. You will be missed.

Friday, August 6, 2010



It's quiet in the house. Afternoon is naptime for the cats, Carol is at her job in Burbank, and the neighbors aren't engaged in any major construction or gardening projects for the moment. I like the quiet. There are no distractions now and no demands on me other than those I place on myself.

I think the thyroid medication is helping Ebony. He's been calmer these last couple of days. It's good to see him feeling a bit better. He seemed so desperate when he first arrived here. Desperate for affection, for companionship, for nutrition, for relief from his ailments. He's getting what he needs now and that is beginning to show in his behavior. He's basically a good kitty, he just hadn't been getting the kind of treatment that would let his better side show. We're starting to see that now, his kinder, more playful side.

Yes, it's quiet, but I can feel the life all around me. We all feel more secure when we're together. We all know that there's someone nearby who loves us and will care for us. Knowing that adds a calmness to the house. And though we may appear to be oblivious to what's going on around us, rest assured that we're all alert and ready to spring into action at the least possible sign of threat, each of us in our own way. Quint would immediately investigate, Hedge would find a safe, dark corner to wait out the crisis, Ebony would stand his ground, and I would stand ready to defend us from whatever might befall. We not only take comfort in each other's presence, we gain strength from each other. If Carol were here, she would be on the front line, too. It's that kind of family.

Right now it's quiet, though, and there is no need for us to stir from our repose. Just know that we can and will man the battlements should the need arise. Beware the quiet man and his cats.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Cat People

Black, White and Shades of Quint

Carol and I spent the weekend in Denver attending her high school class reunion. I won't tell you which year her class graduated, just assume that it was a while ago. We had a lovely time talking to some old friends and getting re-acquainted with some of her classmates whom she hadn't seen for a great many years. We also spent some time with my family, most of whom live somewhere relatively near Denver. For me, the best part of traveling is getting back home where my bed, my desk, my kitchen, my cars and my cats wait for me.

We have the perfect cat-care arrangement with our friend, Stephanie, who lives in the house at the back of the property. She takes care of our three while we're gone and we do the same for her two when she goes away. As I said, it's the perfect arrangement. We know that our kitties will be well cared for while we're away so we can relax and enjoy our trip.

On Friday night, the first reunion event was a casual mixer at the Lakewood Elks Club. At one point during the evening, I was showing off some of the cat pictures I had brought along to one of Carol's classmates and explaining how we had ended up with Ebony, our hand-me-down cat. As I related how he was adapting to life with the much younger Quint and Hedge, I heard from over my shoulder, "We couldn't help overhearing your story. We're cat people and we are just about to introduce a five-year-old cat to our already cat-full home and were wondering if you had any advice on how to go about it?" Of course, I'm always ready to talk about my cats to whomever will listen and I have more than once successfully introduced new cats into my own cat family, so I explained to them my successful method. I also recommended that they read Warren Eckstein's book, "How to Get Your Cat to do What You Want," which has some great advice on the subject. I told them that what I have done and what Eckstein recommends is to put the new cat into a room where you can close the door between the new guy and the cats who already live in the house. Let them sniff each other under the door for a while, maybe a month or so, and then gradually let them come into contact with each other in your presence so you can break up any major fights should such a thing occur. Or, I told them, you can do it the way I just did with Ebony and just throw them all together and hope for the best. The only reason throwing them all together worked this time is because Quint and Hedge are so good-natured. They are perfectly willing to share their house with another cat, if that's what we ask of them. If you don't have the Quintessential Cat and his pal, Hedge, at your house, you might be well advised to go with the more gradual method.

What people would ask me what I did for a living, I told them I was a writer. Oh, they would ask, and what do you write about? Well, mostly I write about my cat, I would say. Oh, really? Most people just laugh and start to move away at that point, and then I say, "And my cars."

"Oh, and what kind of cars do you have?"

"Old Volkswagens."

"I had a VW Beetle when I was in college . . . . ."

Everybody had a VW Beetle, or knew someone who had one. I'm one of the few people who still has a few, well, three, to be exact. Since, I didn't go to high school with any of the people I met, we could talk about cats and old Volkswagens.

The same subjects got me through the afternoon with my family. Between those and stories about my new acting career, I have enough material to get me through nearly any social event. If I have an attentive audience I can tell the story of the Cat Named Room 8, or Ebony's latest trip the vet, or how I built my dune buggy, or how Quint and Hedge came into our lives. I'm discovering that I have a whole lifetime of stories I can tell, some are rather interesting, like the time I got lost on the canoe trip, or how I lost my left eye. I might have to start another blog just so I have a place to tell those stories.

Quint and Ebony were happy to see us when we came through the front door after our brief trip to the Mile High City. Hedge was a little nervous, but he soon realized that it was us and not some strangers moving in and he's back to normal now. Stephanie continued with Ebony's new trans-dermal medication while we were gone and I see a bit of improvement in Ebony. He seems less distracted, less frantic, and a bit more aware of his environment. I didn't ask her to apply the anti-biotic gel to his gums, you really ought to know what you're doing before you put your finger into a cat's mouth. It's easy to get yourself pinched by accident. I've resumed the treatments since we returned and I think he's liking the gel. I imagine it soothes his raging gums a bit and that's got to be a relief.

I'm glad to be back home with the boys. We'll be cat-sitting for Stephanie for a few days this week, so I'll be spending time with Tiki and Ginger in the evenings, as well as with my boys. Looking back over the weekend, I survived the airplane flight, got to talk about my cats and my cars, got to see my family and some old friends, and got to spend some time with Carol, so, all-in-all, a successful trip with only good things to report. That's just the way I like it.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Hand-Me-Down Cat Makes Another Visit to the Vet

Ebony at the Vet

Ebony is slowly finding his place at our house. For an old, deaf cat with a thyroid problem, he's doing amazingly well. Our first trip to the vet was too much, too soon for the old guy, though. Plus the meds we got only made his condition worse, so I just let him settle in for a few weeks. Nowadays, he's keeping what he eats in his stomach, most of the time. He was pretty stressed out there at the beginning, and that, combined with the hyper-thyroid thing and the new meds was just too much for him. He's better now.

He's joined the 6:00 a.m. kitty alarm-clock squad, adding his very loud vocalizations to Quint's and Hedge's hopping up on the bed and jumping up and down on Carol until she wakes up to feed them. Carol is very good natured about the whole thing, lucky for them.

Once I could see that Ebony was feeling at home, and holding his own, I made another appointment with the vet. I wanted to see if we could get him on some medication that would help handle his thyroid and not make him throw up all his food. As I remarked to the vet, "It really doesn't make sense to me to have him starve to death just to keep him on the thyroid medications." So, now we're trying some trans-dermal stuff which I smear on the inside of his ears. He's supposed to absorb the medication through his skin. I hope it works. We're on the second day and all seems to be well at this point. I'll take him back in about three weeks and see if it's helping.

I also wanted the vet to look at his teeth. They looked bad to me, but she seemed to think that they were in fairly good shape for his age. I wanted to see if we could get them cleaned, but old cats with thyroid problems often don't survive being knocked out for dental work, so that isn't an option for him. He's got some gum disease problems, too, but I've started him on some topical anti-biotic gel, the same stuff I use for Quint's gums. Ebony doesn't seem to mind, so I'll be working on getting his gum disease under control as well. He's been really good about letting me put stuff in his mouth and he's getting used to me smearing stuff in his ears. I spend a bit of time brushing him when I medicate him, so he's starting to see the whole process as a good thing. I don't want the other cats to get jealous of all this attention that Ebony is getting, so we're working on spending equal time with all of them.

Still no major cat fights, though Ebony is still a bit grouchy. Perhaps he'll lighten up as we get his thyroid and his gums feeling better. I'm very glad that Quint and Hedge are both so good natured and accepting of old Ebony. I hope Ebony will come to appreciate what a great environment this is, and what great friends he has in our family. Time will tell. It always does.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My House is a Cat Playground


It's true. Anyone who visits our home will observe two obvious things. One, we own a lot of books. Two, our cats dominate our lives. We have a friend with whom we trade cat-sitting duties. We take care of her two guys when she's gone and she does the same for our three guys. I was talking to her the other day and she remarked that our house was quite the complete cat playground.

We didn't really plan to decorate our house around the entertainment needs of our cats, but it seems to have evolved into that sort of environment. There's a great picture window in the living room and when we first moved in, I built a foot wide, carpeted bench that runs the entire length of the window, just at the height of the sill. It's a perfect place for a cat to nap in a sunbeam and still safely keep track of what's going on outside. That bench proved so popular that we have added window-ledge shelves wherever we can -- in the dining room, in our bedroom and in my office. We have even gone so far as to hem the curtains in the living room a foot short of the bottom of the window so the cats have an unobstructed view out.

There also seem to be cat toys in every room except the bathroom. In the kitchen there are a number of small toy mice that we keep on a little shelf just above kitty eye level. When it's play time, Quint will drag down whichever of the mice he wants to play with and we'll throw that one for him to chase. The living room contains the biggest collection of toys, some in a basket on the floor and many in the space under the glass top of our cocktail table. There are cat sized openings around the bottom of the table so the boys can reach in a grab a toy whenever they need one. The toys from the living room eventually get scattered around the rest of the house, so we gather them up from time-to-time and return them to the toy box.

We also have "napping towels" scattered all over the house. Whichever spot in the house, except for the dining room table and the kitchen counters, that a cat picks for a napping spot gets a towel placed upon it. This makes for a softer little bed and helps to keep the unattached cat hair under control. We've also covered most of the furniture with towels and blankets for the same reasons. On laundry day, we just gather up all the towels and blankets and run them through the washing machine and dryer. When we have company, we uncover the furniture and our guests don't get completely coated in cat fur when they sit down. Of course, there's always some cat hair on every exposed surface, but the towel and blanket method does help to keep it to a minimum.

And then there are the scratching posts and cardboard scratching blocks which we also have in nearly every room. We have one of each in the living room and bedroom. In the kitchen we have this nifty little cardboard scratcher shaped like a fish that I found at Cost Plus Imports. There's no room in the bathroom for any cat accessories, and, for some reason, none of the cats seems to find my office furniture appealing to the claws, so those two rooms don't have scratchers in them.

For quite some time, we'd been debating the merits of a cat climbing tree. Part of the reason for the delay was figuring out where the heck we would put one. When we finally decided to go ahead and get one, we found a three level, carpeted climbing tree that more-or-less fits in our dining room, right next to a window. For the first couple of weeks, the tree was the napping, climbing, and playing location of choice. Hedge would occupy the topmost shelf, with Quint one tier down. Eventually, though, the novelty wore off and they have gone back to napping in the more usual spots. The novelty has also gone from the kitty jungle gym, though it still resides in the front entryway. It was fun for a while, back when Quint was an only cat. Now it seems that he has better things to do.

The best entertainment for the cats right now is each other. At least for Hedge and Quint that is the case. Ebony is still trying to figure out his place in the family. Hedge and Quint, though, spend quite a lot of their awake time chasing each other and playing together. Hedge is very often the instigator of the games and will seek out Quint and poke at him until he agrees to play for awhile. It is great fun to watch them interact as they change roles back and forth from aggressor to victim, all it good fun, of course. They never growl or hiss as each other, no matter how serious it looks, and no one every seems to get injured.

I do seek them out at various times throughout the day to pet them and tell them what good boys they are. They know that I mean it and I want them to know that it makes me happy to see them getting along so well. One thing is missing, I think. I'm going to get them one of the those play balls inside of which you can put cat treats that will then fall out when the ball is played with. I believe that would be a fun thing to have.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Conversations with Cats


I don't know about you, but I talk to my cats, and I'm pretty sure that they understand a lot more than most folks think they do. I know for a fact that they understand "Get off the table" very well indeed, since when I say it, they immediately jump down. I'm also sure that they understand "Stay off the table" and simply choose to ignore it. Cats practice what I call Selective Listening. I think they understand a great deal of what is going on in the house, but are very selective about what they acknowledge.

Willful, that's what cats are. And Stubborn. And Contrary, sometimes. But, of course, their defining characteristic is their legendary Curiosity. They like to know what's going on, even if it's none of their business -- especially if it's none of their business. If Carol is wrapping a present for someone, the cats are right there overseeing the whole process. If I'm slicing vegetables for soup, the cats have to stop by from time to time to see how I'm doing. That must be the reason, since they certainly don't like vegetables, except for Cat Grass.

As an example of Contrary, my cats will drink water out of anything except their own water dish. Carol always keeps a plastic pitcher of water on the kitchen counter to use for watering houseplants. The cats love to drink from that pitcher. One time we bought a little fishbowl and put some of those blown-glass fish in it as a decoration for the cocktail table in the living room. That bowl soon became their favorite place to drink. So much so that ultimately we removed the little glass fish and now just keep it, there on the cocktail table, filled with fresh clean water for their convenience.

The question I most often ask the cats is: "What?" One of them will walk up to me, look up and make a little sound. "What?" I ask. The default answer to nearly every question I ask them is, "Feed me." For Quint, though, sometimes the answer is, "Play with me." For Hedge, the answer is often, "Hey, there's a cat outside the in the yard. Come over and see." Ebony, who is deaf, mostly says, "Feed me NOW," though, of late, I've occasionally had him just walk up to me to say, "Hello."

There is one thing both Carol and I always tell them as we are leaving, whether it is for a shopping trip or for a weekend get-away, and that is: "Guard the house." Laugh, if you will, but it has worked. We've not been burgled since we've had the cats policing the house. I also think it's good for the cats to have something to do when we're away, something useful and helpful. It keeps them busy and productive. The best part is that they don't have to do anything that they aren't already doing. Guarding the house, for cats, mostly consists of checking all the doors and windows regularly, and they already do that. If they're on guard duty, though, it gives their normal activities a bit more purpose which is very good for their self-esteem. However, now that I think about it, I've never really seen a cat with a self-esteem problem. Still, I like to think that giving them a job while we're away is good for them.

When we get home from wherever we've just been, we always acknowledge them for a job well done. I know it always makes me feel better to get praised for doing something well, why should cats be any different? A little, "Well done, guys!!", takes so little effort and, yet, if it makes your cats feel better about themselves it is worth it. If you add, "Are you hungry?" to that greeting, you'll likely receive a reply on the order of: "No problem, always glad to be of service. And yes, a little snack about now would go down just perfectly." So, talk to your cats, and give them a little tasks to do around the house. You'll all be much happier as a result.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Frank, the Gregarious Cat


I met Frank when Carol and I were living in Hollywood a couple of years after we moved to Los Angeles from Colorado. The house we were in at that time was in a lovely little neighborhood within walking distance of Griffith Park. There was a large avocado tree in the back yard which meant that every other year we had about as much guacamole as we could eat. I loved that house. The owners lived in San Diego and were wonderful people.

Frank found us and the next door neighbors at about the same time, and, for awhile, both families were feeding him. He was an orange and off-white cat with beautiful markings, but what really made him special was his personality. He had an ability to make friends instantly with anyone, including other cats and even most dogs. He was fearless and so full of self-confidence that he was not intimidated by anything. He was just one of those animals that assumed everyone would like him and operated on that basis. Friendly. That's what he was. Friendly.

I'm not sure why we won the battle for his affections, but eventually he moved into our house and we adopted him. He fit right into our household which already included two cats, Max and Müss. Frank and Max soon became best friends. Frank, though was a free spirit and would roam around making new friends and visiting old ones. When people would go by with their dogs, on a leash of course, Frank would walk right up to the dog and go nose-to-nose with it. The dogs never seemed to mind. Frank just wanted to say hello and the dogs were okay with it most of the time.

When we had to move from that house to where we live now, it took awhile for Max and Müss to adapt to their new environment. Not Frank, though, he immediately went around and introduced himself to the neighbors. Everybody loved him, even the people who didn't much care for Carol and I. People would stop on the sidewalk in front of our house and wait for Frank to come out and say hello to them. Some people were known to make a special trip just to say "Hi" to Frank. He made himself useful, too. He kept the birds from nesting in the eaves of one of the neighbor's houses, which the neighbor told me he appreciated. He was perfect.

He took to roaming a bit too far, though, and that proved to be his downfall. When he took up visiting the neighbors on the other side on the street, his fate was sealed. One evening I heard screaming coming from the side of the house. It was Frank. He had been hit by a car and every time he tried to move his back legs he would scream. We rushed him to the emergency veterinary hospital since our regular veterinarian was closed at that hour, but all they could do was make him comfortable. When we moved him over to Highland Park Animal Hospital the next day, we learned that his hip was broken and was pinching his sciatic nerve when he tried to move causing him extreme pain. Every time I heard him scream, the sound went right through my heart. The wonderful people at Highland Park referred us to the Animal Specialty Group. We took him there to see if they could help us. If they couldn't, it was likely that no one could.

I was working as a sort of paralegal at the time and had to run around during the day getting signatures on contracts and legal documents for a case I was helping with. All the while my attention was on how Frank was doing. I kept hearing that scream and my heart would ache and the tears would well up in my eyes. It was one of the worst days I've ever had. I got the signature I needed, knocked off for the day and went to visit Frank. The vets at the Animal Specialty Group had decided that they would try to fix his hip. I talked to him before he went into surgery. He tried to crawl towards me and there was that scream again. I told him to hang in there, that the surgeon was going to try to fix him.

He didn't make it. As soon as they put him under the anesthetic, he gave up his little body. They spent a consider amount of time and effort trying to revive him, but he'd already gone by then. I'm sure he just wanted to be free of that pain. I wanted that for him, too. Still, it broke my heart when I got the news. It breaks my heart still today. It is very difficult for me to even tell this story. The people at the Animal Specialty Group were angels. They went to extraordinary efforts to save Frank and I am grateful to them for their efforts. After all they did, they never even sent me a bill, only a lovely, heartfelt card to express their sympathy.

Time has helped to heal the heartache I can still feel from the loss of Frank, but I have Quint now, and he has all of the best characteristics of Frank and more. And I have Hedge, who has grown up into a sweet, handsome fellow who makes me smile with his antics. Finally, for contrast, I have old, grouchy Ebony who loudly informs me that he's hungry several times a day. Life goes on, so the saying goes, and time does help to heal those old wounds, but I still miss Frank. Next to Quint, he was my favorite.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Help!! Vampires are Eating My Cats!!

Independence Day Kitteh

After I brush Quint's teeth each evening, I then brush his fur. That's what I was doing last week when I noticed a whole lot of little black spots on his face. I wondered what he had gotten into and proceeded to brush his face to remove them. That's when one of them moved. Yikes!! He had fleas on his face. He's an indoor cat, how did that happen?

After I considered this quandary for a moment I figured that the fleas must have arrived with Ebony. The person who had been taking care of Ebony before he arrived at our house apparently hadn't been dealing with his fleas. When Hedge and Quint first arrived, I immediately had the vet give them all their immunization shots and dose them with a flea killer that also handled ear mites and intestinal worms. Since both of them had come to us from being wild outdoor cats, I suspected that they might be infested with any number of parasites. Ebony, on the other hand, had come from a household, and I wrongly assumed that any potential flea problem would have been taken care at his previous home.

For some reason, fleas don't bite me, but they do bite Carol. She had complained, a few days before my discovery, that she was getting bitten by something and suspected it might be fleas. This is California and there are fleas everywhere so I thought that her bites had, perhaps, come from fleas in the grass out in our yard. I just couldn't imagine that my indoor cats would be infested with bugs. They were.

This called for drastic action. I needed to get some flea killer immediately. The next morning I was scheduled to meet with a hair stylist who was working on fitting me with a wig for a TV role for which I had been hired. Since I had to drive to the San Fernando Valley to do the wig fitting, I also had planned to visit the final resting place of Room 8. I added a trip to the veterinary hospital to my schedule for that day, and picked up the flea killer before I drove back home. As soon as I walked in the door and put down my camera bag, I went looking for cats. I quickly found and dosed each one.

By the next morning, I saw a complete change in all three cat's behavior. I hadn't really noticed it before, but all the cats had been increasingly restless and rather frantic over the past few days. Now they were more relaxed. They were quite relieved to be rid of the vicious, six-legged vampires that had been feeding on them for the past couple of weeks. Quint and Hedge resumed their normal pattern, playing chase all morning, napping all afternoon. Ebony seemed a bit more relaxed, though still grouchy toward the other cats and very demanding of Carol and I. I gathered up all the towels and pillow cases that we use to cover the furniture to keep the cat hair at a minimum and ran them through the washing machine.

We're still seeing a few little jumping vampires around, but, as time goes by and they don't have any host to feed upon, they will die off. Next time we adopt a cat, I will not fail to make sure that any flea problems are handled right from the first day. Lesson learned.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Room 8, The Cat With Purpose, Chapter 3

Room 8's Grave Stone

As I continued my research into Room 8's history and legacy, I discovered a few unexpected and quite delightful treasures. One these was Roger Vargo. On one of my internet searches I came across Roger's website, Explore Historic California. There, I found a first-hand account of Room 8 from someone who actually knew him as a child. His story is filled with quotes from Room 8's surviving friends and a litany of extra-curricular activities whereby Room 8 reached out into the community and the world as an example of the best of human-animal relationships. I also found the Room 8 Memorial Cat Foundation, a no-kill shelter and adoption agency for special-needs cats in Riverside, California. The Historic Echo Park website has a short article on Room 8 which features a lovely photo of one of the students and the cat being entertained by one of his guitar-playing neighbors. He even has his very own Wikipedia entry. All this for a cat who passed on over 40 years ago.

Why does a little elementary school, hidden away in Elysian Heights, still celebrate the life and the accomplishments of a simple alley cat? How did such an unassuming little animal come to be so beloved, not just in his community, but around the world? What was there about this cat that endeared him to everyone who met him or even knew about him? Perhaps it's not just a quality in Room 8 that created this phenomenon, but a quality that all of us humans possess. Certainly, Room 8 had qualities which we humans admire -- loyalty and independence, certainly, but aloofness, too, and an ability to wordlessly express affection, distain, satisfaction and love. But what human quality caused the staff of the school to break the rules and adopt a cat? What need in all of us is fulfilled by such relationship? Do we have an inherent desire to nurture the helpless, to give shelter to the homeless, to adopt the stray animal, to return the baby bird to its nest, to rescue the cat in the tree. Perhaps we do.

Perhaps humans at their best are kind, generous, helpful, happy and loving by nature. If that is the case, then someone, or some cat, who needs help would appeal to the best in human-kind. Room 8, it would seem then, became the focus of this impulse to help and, thus, brought together a school and a community, the effects of which spread across the world via the print and electronic media. Room 8 got just what he needed, a very large, loving, extended family. His worldwide family in turn received the satisfaction of seeing the object of their help and affection go on to thrive and live a long, rich life as a result of their efforts.

It is a perfect example of what can happen when people get together with a common goal to do something good, good for themselves, good for Room 8, good for their city and good for their world. When your goals move you toward survival, toward a better life for yourself, your family, and your friends, it is very easy to get lots of other people to help you. That impulse to help, to do something good, is what Room 8 brought to Elysian Park Elementary School. That impulse lives on in the memorial etched in the concrete around the school, in the classroom where Room 8's story is read to students each year, in the Room 8 Memorial Cat Foundation, in Roger Vargo's Room 8 story on his website, and in every mention of Room 8 in articles and guidebooks. That is Room 8's legacy, that is why he came to Elysian Heights Elementary School. He brought out the best in his human companions, he enriched their lives, lightened their hearts, made them laugh and, then, left them to carry on his work.

The last thing I found in my quest for the history of this extraordinary cat was his gravesite. Room 8 was buried in Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park in 1968 after he passed away at age 22. I drove out there the other day to see for myself the final resting place of this remarkable creature. His monument stands in the middle of the well-tended cemetery, under some beautiful trees in Calabasas, California. It's a bit off the beaten path, but it was well worth the trip to find the ending place of the main character in this story. As I approached the stone, a sparrow, who had perched there, flew off into one of the surrounding trees. I stood in front of the stone and thought about all that I knew of this cat and was struck by how much joy and purpose this one animal had brought into the lives of so many people. I thanked him then, turned and walked back to my car. May the memory of Room 8, and the legacy he left, never die. The world is greatly in need of you, Room 8, now more than ever. So, thank you, Room 8, you've gained another fan. Keep up the good work.

Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park

Monday, June 28, 2010

Room 8, The Cat with Purpose, Chapter 2

The Title Page from Room 8's Biography

I figured that my next step in my quest for more information about Room 8 was to find a copy of his biography, A Cat Called Room 8. I looked for it on the internet, but found only a listing with no copy for sale anywhere at any price. That was unusual. Very often, even a rare book is available for sale, though likely at a price I would be unwilling to pay. There didn't appear to be anyone willing to part with their copy at the moment, so I'd have to look elsewhere.

Los Angeles recently built a new library just a couple of blocks from my house. I had visited this new library on it's opening weekend and one of the most remarkable things about it was how few books there were. I was so disappointed that I didn't even bother to apply for a library card, seeing no reason to do so at that time. Now, I thought it might prove to be a source for the Room 8 biography. Again, I used the internet and searched the Los Angeles Library for the book. They appeared to be copies available, though the ones that were nearest were in the reference section of the main library in downtown Los Angeles. There also appeared to be a couple of copies available for lone from a branch library in the San Fernando Valley. I thought I'd try the library "hold" system and attempt to get the book delivered to my nearby branch. To do that, I'd need a library card, so I walked down to the new library, applied for and received my card. I took the card home, and using the number thereon, put in a request for the Room 8 book.

Over the next week or so, I'd check the status of the book through the library's website to see if and when it might arrive. The status never changed from "pending." I decided that I would now have to drive out to the San Fernando branch and get the book myself since the hold system didn't seem to be working. I got back onto the library website to make sure the book was still at that library. It had disappeared from that library and was now back to being listed at only the downtown location. Okay, I thought, maybe the Glendale Library has a copy. I found their website and, yes, they did, indeed, have a copy. There, too, the book was only available as a reference book. Well, I'd just have to go to Glendale and read the book right there in the library.

With a pocket full of quarters to pay for parking, I drove over the Glendale. I asked at the Reference Desk for the Room 8 biography. Yes, they had one in their Special Collection. The Special Collection areas weren't open that day, but the gentleman at the Reference Desk told me that he would go get the book for me and showed me where I could sit and read it. He also told me where the copy machine was and that I could make copies from the book if I need to do so. A few minute later, he came back downstairs with the book. I recognized the illustration on the cover as he was approaching the desk. At last, I had in my hands A Cat Called Room 8.

I took the book over to a nearby table and sat down to read. What I found was a beautifully illustrated and well-written children's book about the first fourteen years that the cat had lived at and near the Elysian Heights Elementary School. The book was only sixty-one pages long and it had a illustration on every page, so it took only a few minutes to read it. When I came to the end of the story, I was quite touched by how much this big, gray and white alley-cat had come to mean to the staff and students of the school. One of the great honors for students at the school was to be chosen to be Cat Feeder. Interestingly, the cat spent his nights somewhere other than in the school building. When everyone left school for the day, so did Room 8. In the morning, when school started, Room 8 was there in attendance just like everyone else. He would spend the day roaming the halls and taking cat-naps on various desks, sometimes having to be removed from a student's desk when he was preventing that student from working. There was even a designated Cat Mover that would be called in when needed. What a delightful relationship they had, this group of people and this cat.

It was rare enough for an entire school to adopt a cat that Room 8 became rather famous, world-famous in fact. In 1962, LOOK magazine ran a three page spread on Room 8. There was an article about him in the Weekly Reader, and he even appeared on Art Linkletter's "House Party" television program. This was quite an accomplishment for a formerly homeless cat who, some years before, had wandered into the school looking for something to eat and safe place to take a nap. It's no wonder there is a concrete memorial in the sidewalk outside the school. This was a remarkable cat, but the staff and students at the Elysian Heights school are no less remarkable for sharing their lives with Room 8, taking him into their hearts and, occasionally, their homes, and giving him a long, rich life he wouldn't have had as a homeless street cat. Not surprisingly, Room 8's memory lives on in the hearts of those who knew him. I discovered one of his old friends on another round of internet research. We'll explore that in the next chapter.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Room 8, The Cat with Purpose, Chapter 1

Mural Portrait

In a recent trip to one of my favorite used bookstores, I found a book called Stairway Walks in Los Angeles by Adah Bakalinsky and Larry Gordon. Carol and I like to take walks around the neighborhood and this book described several in our immediate area, so I bought it. One of the walks in the book is in Elysian Heights, which is just over the hill from our house. In reading the narrative that goes with the route instructions, there was mention of a famous cat that once lived at the Elysian Heights Elementary School where this walk begins. The book went on to describe a memorial inscribed in the concrete sidewalk surrounding the school. I was, of course, intrigued. Earlier this year, I had read Dewey, the Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicky Myron and I thought this cat might have a similar story, so I decided to find out more about this famous Los Angeles cat.

The first thing I did was to pull up a map on the internet to see how to get to the school. It seemed quite simple. All I had to do was get on Alessandro, turn onto Baxter and in a few short blocks I'd be there. One thing I didn't take into account is that road maps are flat; they don't show the terrain. I soon discovered that the section of Baxter Street that I was driving has some of the steepest paved hills I've ever driven up and down. That day I was driving our 1965 Volkswagen Beetle, a car which has a history of strange and dangerous mechanical problems, so navigating the nearly vertical hills made me a bit nervous. The car and I made it, though, and I breathed a sigh of relief as I parked on the street near the school.

I got out of the car and began my explorations. I walked around the school looking for the memorial that I had read about. I found a mural on the side of the school building and then another. I took photos of the artwork through the tall chain-link fence surrounding the school property. I still hadn't seen any memorial, though, until I looked down at the sidewalk at my feet. There in the concrete, barely visible under a layer of dust and leaf debris from the trees above, was inscribed a series of short poems and drawings in tribute to a cat named Room 8. The poems were simple and heartfelt expressions of the love that the students and faculty of the school had felt for this cat. The poems and drawings all appeared to be dated 1968, the year that Room 8 had passed away. I stopped at each well-worn slab of cement and snapped a photo. It was a touching shrine to this obviously beloved cat. I had to learn more. I got back in the car, consulted my map and found a way to return home without driving up and down Baxter Street. I figured I'd pushed my luck with that car enough for one day.

Over the next couple of days, I did a bit of hunting around on the internet to see what I could find out about this cat which they had named Room 8. I discovered that there was a book, published in 1966, about this remarkable animal. It was entitled A Cat Called Room 8 and had been written by Beverly Mason and Virginia Finley and illustrated by Valerie Martin. I put it on my list of books to look for on my next trip to the book store or library.

Three days later, I was back at Elysian Park Elementary School, this time with my wife, Carol. I wanted to show her the Room 8 Memorial and she wanted to take on the stairway hike as described in the book. I shared with her the forty-two year old poems and drawings which weather and foot traffic were gradually wearing away. She admired the mural on the side of the building, a much more recent work, and remarked that after all the years, this cat was still a very prominent figure in this school's history. I snapped a few more photos, hoping for a better shot of some of the sidewalk drawings. We went on with our hike up and down the stairways of Elysian Heights and along the edges of Elysian Park, and as we walked, I kept thinking about Room 8 and the effect he had upon the students and faculty of that school. I wasn't done with this cat, yet. I knew there was much more to learn from him and I was determined to find out as much as I could about him and his life.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Hand-Me-Down Cat Settles In . . . Sort of

Settling In

The newest member of our household is starting to settle in. It hasn't been an easy transition for him. Ebony's a bit of a grouchy old man and moving in with the ever playful and active Quint and Hedge is sometimes a bit too much for the old guy. He'll occasionally hiss and growl when one of the youngsters gets too enthusiastic about encouraging him to participate in the day's activities, but, for the most part, he's doing okay, and is slowly starting to establish himself in the group.

Part of the reason he's a bit growly is probably due to his hyperthyroidism and his bad teeth. I'm working on getting his thyroid under control with medication, but I got a bit too enthusiastic at the onset and started feeding him pills before he got over the stress of moving into his new surroundings. I think he was a bit overwhelmed for the first couple of weeks. At this point, though, he's explored the house, found a few good napping spots, a hiding place or two, and is pretty sure about what time breakfast and dinner are usually served. Now that he's feeling a bit more secure, I started him back on his thyroid meds. I'm doing it gradually with just one pill a day for a few days. After we see how that works, then we'll try getting him up to the two per day he's supposed to be taking.

I tried brushing his teeth during his first few days with us, but his gums are quite sensitive and bleed very easily so I'm going to have to approach his dental problems a bit more gently at first. In the next week or two, I'm going to take him back to the vet and see if we can get his teeth cleaned. Once we get that done, I'll be able start rubbing his teeth and gums with a bit of gauze to handle the plaque and apply a bit of antibiotic gel to help with the gum problems. He's not very difficult to handle and doesn't try to bite me when I open his mouth, so with a little practice we should be able to establish a daily tooth cleaning routine just like I have with Quint.

I noticed today that Ebony is starting to mimic some of Quint's behaviors. He's begun hanging out in some of Quint's favorite places, and was even playing with Quint's favorite purple toy mouse this morning. I think Ebony has made excellent progress in settling into his new home and I have every hope that in the near future he'll be a healthier and happier cat. If he isn't, it won't be because we didn't all try to make him feel at home.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Cat Who Forgot Where She Lived

My Toy!!

There really was no way for anyone but Carol and I and our friends to know how old Müss was, no one could tell by looking at her. You certainly couldn't judge her age by her actions. She was as lively and eccentric at 19 as she had been at 3. Just because she no longer hunted and captured socks, or slept in trees, didn't mean she had settled down to a dignified and sedate old age. No, Müss must have gotten bored, or decided she hadn't done enough with her life. Whatever her reasons, she took to visiting the neighbors with a mind to having a bit of a slumber party at their house.

She would wander off into one of the neighbors' yards and seemly forget to come home. At suppertime, we would have to go walking around calling for her. We'd find her in someone else's yard, or asleep on someone else's porch. She'd be fine for a couple of days and then she would disappear again. At one point, though we looked and looked and called and called, we just weren't able to find her. We suspected that a coyote had gotten her, or a car, but we never really gave up looking for her. After a couple of weeks, though, it seemed likely to us that she was gone for good. She certainly wasn't anywhere we could find her.

For some reason or another, in a conversation with one of the neighbors, the subject of cats came up. This neighbor said that a young cat had just wandered into her house and made herself at home. Upon hearing a description of the cat, we knew it was Müss. Apparently, she had decided she needed a new home, or forgotten that she already had one, and had found our neighbor's house to be a great place to live. We disagreed, of course. We gathered her up, took her home, and closed up the cat door.

She was quite content to be an indoor cat from then on. Eventually she went deaf, so someone had to tap her on the shoulder to get her attention when it was time for breakfast or supper. In her last year she began having occasional convulsions. Whenever she had them and I was with her, I would hold her and tell her that it wasn't time for her to go just yet. She was in her 20th year the day I came home and found her on the floor, cold and stiff. It was the one time I wasn't there to tell her not to go. I put her little body in a shoe box and put the box in the freezer. Then I sat and cried for awhile.

I just couldn't bear the thought of having her little body in the freezer, though, so I called a friend who works for a veterinary hospital and made arrangements to bring Müss's body to her that evening. I had a very hard time talking to my friend as I made the arrangements and it was very hard to drive the 20 miles or so to where the hospital was, the tears made it very difficult to see where I was going. Still, it was better to take her body to a place where it could be properly disposed of, and I felt a bit better after I left the hospital and drove back home. It was a difficult evening, but by the next morning I was at least able to talk about her without breaking down.

It's been quite a few years now since we lost Müss. I still miss her, of course.
She is a cat of legend now, climber of telephone poles, mighty sock hunter, sleeper in trees, adventuress. Her adventures make for wonderful stories that we can tell to our fellow cat lovers as we talk about our beloved pets past and present, and, thus, she lives on in our memories and in the stories we tell. I take some comfort in that.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Cat Who Slept In Trees

Muss Up a Tree

Müss, after she passed through her infamous sock-hunting phase, began sleeping on a variety of perches at various heights from the ground -- table tops, dressers, shelves and, eventually, trees. She started with Edges. Edges: as in as close as possible to the edge of any horizontal surface on which she happened to decide was a perfect napping place. If she was on the table, where she wasn't supposed to be, she would lay right along the outside edge. If on the bed, she would carefully position herself on the very edge of the mattress. Occasionally, she would forget where she was and fall over that very precarious edge. Whenever that happened, her body language said it was obviously the table's fault or the bed's fault that she had ended up on the floor. She would sit where she had landed and lick her fur back into order, all the while radiating indignation at the offending object. She would then avoid that particular place for a time and find some other napping place that she considered more trustworthy.

When I would see her laying on the edges of things around the house, I would point out to her the safer middle area and encourage her to move inward.

"Edge, edge, middle," I said, as I pointed to those places.

She didn't listen. Müss was a very stubborn cat.

During this Napping Dangerously period, we had to move from the house in Hollywood to our present location in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Silverlake. There were, in addition to the usual furnishings inside the house, several small trees on the property. There was a spectacular Hibiscus in the yard, just off the front porch. It featured quite lovely leaves and flowers on the outside and a tangled network of bare branches inside. As soon as she adjusted to her new house and yard, Müss decided that the Hibiscus tree was the perfect spot for napping. We would often find her asleep inside the web of branches in that tree. She paid little attention to the sparrows that perched on branches nearby or to the hummingbirds that whirred from flower to flower just a few feet from her perch. At first she would sleep in branches five feet or more from the ground, but as she inevitably found herself rudely awakened by crashing through the foliage to the grass below, she wisely chose lower and lower branches for her arboreal napping. After she had fallen off all of the accessible napping spots in that tree, she'd give one of the other trees a try, always progressing from a high perch to a lower one until that tree has also proven completely unreliable.

Eventually, she retired completely from naps in the trees and chose indoor places that were softer and closer to the ground. In spite of, or, perhaps because of, her penchant for high-risk napping places and other sorts of adventures, Müss went on to live with and entertain us for a very long time -- twenty years, which is very old for a cat. The day she lay down for her last nap was one of the most difficult days of my life. Even though she turned rather grouchy in her later years, her determination and her spirit of adventure never left her. Those were the characteristics that made her unique. In addition to forgetting where she was while she was napping, later in life, she sometimes forgot where she lived. But that's another story.

Thursday, June 3, 2010



When Carol and I first moved to Los Angeles, we rented a room from her sister, Terry. Part of Terry's household included three cats - Max, Müss and Scooter. When Terry moved away, we took over the house and adopted the three cats. The two boys, Max and Scooter, were the same age. Müss, being their mother, was a little older. The two boys were quite normal indoor/outdoor neutered male cats. Müss, by contrast, had a few little quirks. The most remarkable of these was her affinity for socks. Not our socks, please note, but the neighbors' socks. When it was laundry day next door, the clean, wet stocks would be hung on the line to dry. Once they were dry, Müss would slink over and nab a few off the line and carry them home. She would march triumphantly into the house with a nice clean, dry sock in her mouth, mewing her little heart out to let us know that she had once again successfully brought down her prey. Yes, she would leap up from the ground and drag those socks right down off the neighbor's clothes line. I guess she thought they were alive, waving there in the gentle breeze.

We would praise her when she brought one home, telling her what a mighty hunter she was, and then we would take the sock and hang it over the fence between the two houses for the neighbors to retrieve. We thought that this was a pretty clever solution to a rather embarrassing problem and everyone seemed happy with the arrangement.

What we didn't realize was that the socks Müss was presenting to us were just a small percentage of those she was actually capturing. One day, the sink in the kitchen became clogged. I tried to unclog it from above but to no avail, so I decided to crawl under the house to see if there might be a clean-out below the floor that would allow me to clear the blockage and get the drain flowing again. With my trusty pipe wrench and a flashlight I proceeded to crawl under the house. That's when I discovered the true extent of Müss's sock predation. I would estimate that there were at least 100 socks on the ground under the house, big ones, small ones, white ones, black ones, argyles and even baby socks. I was horrified. I left the socks there under the house, but that Christmas we gave the neighbors a large bag of clothes pins to use to keep their laundry on the line where it belonged. Once they started using the clothes pins, the sock ravaging stopped and Müss found other ways to amuse herself.

A few years later, after we moved from that house, Müss took up sleeping in trees, but that's another story for another day.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Hand-Me-Down Cat

Hand Me Down Cat

Some fourteen or so years ago, my nephew pulled into the driveway of my mother and father-in-law's house on the outskirts of Boulder, Colorado. In the back of his vehicle, nestled among the suitcases and other belongings, was a momma cat and her kittens. After a few days stay, it was time for him to load the car and continue on his trip. When it came time to put the cats back in the car, one little black kitten refused to go. Rather than force the kitten into the car, my nephew left him there in Boulder. Bob and Ardis, my mother and father-in-law, had taken a liking to the little cat and he to them, so they were more than willing to adopt him. They named him Ebony.

You'd think a cat named "Ebony" would be black and, in most cases, you'd be right. This Ebony, though, wasn't exactly black. Each hair of his seemingly black fur is actually white about half way up its length. It doesn't show unless you "rub him the wrong way." Then you can see the underlying white. In bright light, he has brown spots on his fur like a panther. He's not a very big cat and he has always been rather thing, almost boney, like a cat version of a fashion model.

Ebony lived quite contently for a few years in the house in Boulder. Bob and Ardis eventually sold their home in there and moved to Temecula, California so as to be nearer to their grown children and grandchildren, most of whom lived in the Los Angeles area. From there they moved to Laguna Woods and finally to Verdugo City where they rented a small apartment. Ebony adapted to all the changes and was a good companion to Bob and Ardis through the years.

While living at the Verdugo City apartment, Ebony made friends with another cat, Lovey, who lived down the hall. He would visit Lovey quite often and sometimes stay for dinner. When Bob and Ardis would travel, Ebony would stay with Lovey and her human, Murel. When first Ardis and then Bob passed away in 2008, Ebony went to live full-time with Lovey and Murel, and when Lovey and Murel moved to Long Beach, Ebony went with them. Carol and I received periodic reports from Long Beach that Ebony and Murel and Lovey were getting along just fine.

A few days ago, we got a call. The situation in Long Beach had changed and Ebony could no longer stay there. Would Carol and I be able to take him? Of course Carol immediately said, "Yes, of course, he's family." I thought about it for awhile, after she told me about the call, and decided that Quint would be up to the task of integrating another cat into our little family and that Hedge would go along with whatever Quint decided to do, so I agreed. We'd already made Hedge a part of the family, why not Ebony?

On Saturday morning, Ebony arrived at our door, safely contained in his carrier. We set the carrier down in the living room. Quint trotted in, looked into the carrier, gave Ebony a couple of sniffs, stepped back a bit and started grooming himself. There was no growling and no hissing, so I figured it would be okay. I took Ebony into the bathroom where we had already made up a temporary litter box and let him out of his carrier so that he could take care of anything that might be necessary after his trip up from Long Beach. A little while later we loaded Ebony into our own carrier and drove to the veterinary hospital to have him checked over. Since we didn't have an appointment, we discovered that the waiting time was upwards of an hour, so we rescheduled for the following Monday with an official appointment.

We took Ebony back home and left him in the carrier for awhile again. Since there didn't seem to be any undesirable or unfriendly actions occurring on the part of any of the cats, we decided to let him out. Ebony explored a bit and then hid under a couch for awhile. He would venture out from time to time to explore different areas of the house, and then retreat back to his hideout. At one point he hissed at Quint, but Quint knows that he is the head cat so he held his ground but didn't otherwise react. Hedge did a bit of hissing back and then retired, temporarily, from the game. Still no fights, though. And so it went for the first day.

By the second day, Ebony had found a favorite spot to nap in the sun and Quint and Hedge didn't seem to mind very much, though it was one of their favorite spots, too. For now, I guess we'll have to see how it goes, but I predict that, given how good-natured Quint and Hedge are, Ebony will learn to get along and ultimately will become a contributing member of the group. Of course, Carol and I will do whatever we can to help make that happen.

So, to Ebony: Welcome to your new home.

Monday, May 10, 2010

My Greeting Committee

Quint with Black Cat Bokeh

I'm working swing shift right now which means I get home, usually, between midnight and 1:00 p.m. I try to be as quiet as I can when I pull the car into the driveway, but the devices attached to the ends of the exhaust pipes on my dune buggy, though they look like mufflers, don't really quiet the exhaust sound so much as deepen and mellow it. The noise only bothers one of my neighbors, but then all noise bothers him. I discovered some time ago that, for some reason, my very existence bothers him. Since nothing I do will make him happy, I've stopped trying.

After I get the car parked, I grab all of the stuff - books, drawing pads, lunch box, pencils - that I take to work to keep me from succumbing to terminal boredom, and I trudge up the driveway to the front door. As I unlock to door and push it open, I'm nearly always greeted by a "thump" from somewhere in the house and then the "jingle" of the bell on Quint's collar as he trots through the house to find me.

"Hello, Big Guy," I say as I put my bags and boxes down and hang up my coat. I pick up the book bag and take it into my office. Then I drop my lunch box off on the kitchen counter. Finally, with both hands free, I can reach down and scritch Quint behind the ears as he rolls around on the kitchen rug.

He's not just there to say hello, though. He's on a mission, because when I get home after work it's Tooth Brushing Time. I pick him up and cradle him along my left arm as I walk over to the dining room table. (Geez, the house sounds huge when I tell the story, but all these places are just a few steps apart.) I sit down in my chair at the table where I keep the little tray that holds Quint's tooth brush, poultry-flavored toothpaste and antibiotic ointment (for his gums). As I brush his teeth, Hedge usually shows up and begins purring and rubbing against by legs. There's no "thump" when Hedge jumps down from wherever he might have been sleeping. He's very light on his feet, but he has a bell on his collar, too, so I can hear him coming. Once I've finished with Quint's teeth, I brush his head for awhile. He likes that. Hedge will let me brush him a bit as he walks around and around by legs, but as soon as Quint jumps down, Hedge follows him to wherever he might be going.

That's my nightly ritual and I do look forward to it. It always makes me smile and I can't think of a better way to end my day.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Me and My Shadow

I realized the other day that we probably should have named Hedge "Shadow." Not that "Hedge" isn't a good name for the little guy, but, in reality, he was living under a fern when he first appeared in our yard. Of course, "Fern" is a terrible name for a cat. Carnivores should not be named after plants. "Shadow," though, would have been a perfect, if trite, name for him. Not so much because he's a black cat with the ability to disappear at will, but more because of the way he mirrors whatever Quint is doing. When I saw them the other day, they were both asleep on the bed in almost exactly the same position, parallel to each other and lined up equidistant from the sides of the mattress. I quietly exited the room and grabbed my camera from the office so that I could capture the moment. They both awoke at the snap of the shutter and in a wonderfully synchronized movement looked up to see what I was doing.

Hedge eats when Quint eats, naps when Quint naps, and always is ready to play, even when Quint would rather not. However, Hedge isn't always the shadow, sometimes he the invisible presence waiting to pounce as Quint walks by. Hedge is also more inclined to play with the multitude of cat toys available to him, whereas Quint's interest in all the dead toys waned once he got Hedge to play with.

But then, Quint has always preferred to play with his housemates rather than with a toy. Quint is more of a social critter and always very curious about what is going on around him. So curious and playful that he makes it quite difficult for Carol to get anything done around the house. He particularly likes to help her wrap gifts and write in the cards. He enjoys making his mark on each envelope by perforating one or more of the corners with his teeth. Quint also seems to enjoy watching movies with us, or at least being in the room while the movie is playing. He doesn't really watch. What he does is lie down on the couch next to Carol and take a nap while we watch.

Hedge, in shadow mode, will sometimes join the movie audience briefly, but when he discovers that Quint is napping and not ready to play, he usually finds something else to do on his own. Quint continues to be a good influence on the little black cat and so Hedge is finding himself more and more inclined to be in the company of his humans. So much so, that, of late, I am able to scoop him up and trim his claws regularly. Hedge's claws grow into needle sharp little hooks that he has trouble controlling. If I don't keep them trimmed, the poor guy gets hooked on the blankets and towels that we have put on all of the furniture to keep the cat hair deposits at a minimum. A cat's natural reaction to getting a claw hooked in something is to pull back against it, which drives the claw further into whatever it is he's grabbed. I'm sure this works very well on mice and birds when you are trying to catch and eat them, but having a blanket attached to your foot makes it difficult to move around easily, so I try to keep his claws trimmed to a manageable length.

We're thoroughly enjoying the interaction of the two animals, and since I'm not at home as much I used to be, I'm glad they have each other as playmates. It's also rather rewarding to see Hedge's continuing evolution from recluse to contributing group member. It's a lot more fun having him around when we get to interact with him, too.

Thursday, February 18, 2010



After my long stretch of unemployment, I have finally returned to the ranks of the employed, or the over-employed in this case. Carol and I and the cats are still trying to figure out how to deal with my swing-shift schedule. We might have been able to get a workable routine established had it not been for the understaffing problem that exists at my new jobsite. In the last few weeks, I've gone from bored at home to 52 hours my first week, 56 hours my second week and another 56 hours this week. Not that I'm not happy to have an income, but it would have been a bit better to ease into the world of employment instead of being swept into 6 and 7 day weeks and 12 hours days all at once.

All my well-established routines are no longer possible. Brushing Quint's teeth now sometimes happens at 12:30 a.m. or even 4:30 a.m. He doesn't seem to mind. If he's around after lunch, sometimes that's when the brushing happens. Most mornings I still arise between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m. and Hedge still looks for me at that hour, though he's less interested in chasing the laser pointer light and more interested in being scritched behind the ears for as long as I'm willing to spend doing so. If I'm up too late and rise early to see Carol before she leaves for work, I'll try to take a bit of a nap in the afternoon. Often, one or the other of the cats will join me. One day last week, when I went to lay down, Hedge was already on the bed. Instead of his usual "hop down and go somewhere else" behavior, he stayed where he was and then snuggled up against my leg while I rested. He's still a bit skittish and we never know how he will react when we approach him. His reaction seems to be running about 60/40 in favor of moving away, but that's a vast improvement from how he was when he first arrived. He's made tremendous progress. Hedge is also getting bigger. I suppose all that food he's been eating is finally starting to do him some good. I haven't weighed him lately, but he is noticeably heavier, and it looks like he's added some length to his body as well. He may well turn out to be around the same size as Quint.

I miss my routine sometimes, but I'm sure we'll adjust to our new situation. We're all trying very hard to make it work. I've taken to driving to Carol's office a couple of times a week and walking with her over her lunch hour just so that we can spend some time together. I'm glad that Quint and Hedge have become such good friends and can keep each other company while Carol and I are away at work. We'll all just have to make the most of the time we do get to spend together. It helps that we're all willing to do that.