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.