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.