Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Educated Cat-Keeper

Basking in the Afternoon Sun I know some things about cats, clues about their state of health, how to help prevent hair balls, how to brush their teeth, how to “pill” them, how to entertain them and even a bit about how to train them. I didn’t always know these things. Being a good help-mate, friend-with-the-thumbs, responsible companion to my cat, Quint, meant that I needed to learn something about him. Quint is not the first cat I’ve ever lived with, but until he came to live with us, I was a rather accidental cat person. When I was growing up, okay, well, getting bigger, I’m still not what most people would consider a grown-up. As a child, my family, when we had a pet, had a dog. My dad liked English Setters. They are beautiful dogs, but what they like to do best is run. And they were my dad’s dogs, not mine. My mom hated cats. She said they were sneaky, whatever that means. My wife already had two cats when I met her. I was given another one around that time by a bartender in Birmingham, Alabama. That one was named Juniper. We also had a German Shepard which we rescued from the pound. We had to give all our animals away when we moved from Colorado to California. We cried about that, but the place where we were going already had three cats in residence, so we found good homes for our friends and reluctantly left them behind. When we arrived in California, we met Max, Müss and Scooter. They were great cats, but we weren’t their people, at least not right then. Scooter contracted feline leukemia and died. We inherited the other two when my sister-in-law moved away. We loved Max and Müss and did our best to be good companions for them. Frank showed up about that time and he was great, smart, social, street smart and orange. We brought Frank, Max and Müss with us to the house where we live now. Frank fell victim to a speeding car and his last day still ranks as the worst day of my life. Müss lived to be twenty. She was deaf by then, and as quirky a cat as I’ve ever seen. I wrote about her in an earlier post. At the end she was having seizures and I would hold her and talk to her until they stopped. Then there was the day I came home and found her cold on the bedroom floor. I was heartbroken. Our dentist, at the time, hearing the sad story, gave us an Abyssinian already named Rocky. Poor Rocky was not bright. That was back when we had a cat door. Rocky didn’t understand about cars and streets and it was his undoing. Soon thereafter, that same dentist gave us Jasmine. She was five years old when we got her and very set in her ways. We loved her, but she was another quirky kitty. She would sit in your lap and let you brush her, but as soon as you tried to hold her she would fight you. She was impossible to medicate. In spite of that, she had a pretty good life with us until we discovered that she was diabetic. By the time we figured that out, her internal organs were damaged beyond repair. I decided I didn’t want another cat after that. That decision, and my grief, lasted about eighteen months. That’s when Quint came into our lives. I decided that I would try to be a better cat person when Quint arrived and I proceeded to educate myself and put into practice a few things I had learned over the years. First of all, I never wanted a repeat of a cat who couldn’t be handled, so from his first day in our house, I started getting Quint used to being touched. I messed with his little feet, I played with his ears, I rubbed his little kitty belly, and I put my fingers into his mouth and rubbed his gums and teeth. This has made caring for him as easy as it can be. When we took him to be neutered, the vet discovered that he has a plaque allergy which, unhandled, would ultimately have cause him to lose all his teeth. Instead, I brush his teeth every evening and not only are his teeth always beautifully white, but his allergy is under control without any dangerous medication. After brushing his teeth every day for over five years, he now knows when it’s time for his daily brushing and lets me know by standing up on his hind legs and grabbing my arm with a front paw. He doesn’t even let me finish my dinner when he decides it’s his turn. He keeps poking me until he gets his teeth brushed. Thus every evening, I get a good look at his mouth and gums which are very good indicators of how the rest of him is doing. I also brush him thoroughly and make sure I handle every inch of him, just in case some other part of him might need attention. It’s easy, because he loves the attention and doesn’t resist being handled. When he does need to be medicated, which hasn’t been often, he allows me to push a pill into his mouth and doesn’t hold it against me or try to bite or run away. He knows that it is my intention to help him and that I would never hurt him. I made a video of my technique for giving him doses of some nasty-tasting anti-biotic. He hated the taste and would involuntarily back up from the eye-dropper when I squeezed a dose into his mouth. I was losing skin every time I did it, so I just turned him over on his back on my lap and dosed him that way. It worked. He got his medication and I didn’t bleed. I know that not everyone will be able to use my methods, mostly because there is no other cat quite like Quint. Still, all the work I put in with him early on has paid off. He’s easy to handle, nearly painless to medicate and doesn’t get stressed about anything we need to do. I also have collected a good sized library of cat-care and cat-behavior books, all of which I have read. I don’t remember everything in them, but if I have a question, I usually know where to look for an answer. Of course, there are also a large number of resources available online and I use those, too. For example, say you want to bring a cutting of a plant from your garden into the house and put it in a vase. Do you know if that plant might be toxic to your cat? If you don’t know it’s safe, you should make sure. Many, many very common houseplants are toxic to cats on levels from making them very sick to making them very dead. We keep the indoor houseplants to a minimum. Instead, we grow a weekly crop of wheatgrass in small containers. We use two containers in rotation and grow the grass on our front porch. We have one crop available for the cats on the floor in the kitchen where it can be watered as needed. While the cats munch on that crop, we grow another crop out on the porch. This way they always have some nice fresh greens to keep their digestive system healthy. We used to buy “cat grass” at the grocery store for about $4 or $5 for a small container. Then we bought the seeds which are usually sold nearby. They, too, were rather expensive. Once I figured out that what we were buying were just wheatgrass seeds, I got on the internet and found a website where you can buy bulk seeds for a small fraction of what you pay in the pet or grocery store. Wheatgrass is very popular among the health food eating folks and the seeds are readily available and inexpensive. Cats love wheatgrass and it is good for them. It’s easy to grow. All you need is potting soil, water and sunlight. It will grow indoors or outdoors. It sprouts quickly and grows up tall and lush in just a few days. Quint and Hedge, our other cat, love their wheatgrass and will both come running when we bring in a fresh crop. A fresh crop of greens is about all that Hedge will come running for, though. But that is another story. Where I succeeded with Quint, I got only mediocre results with Hedge. But then, they came from different sides of town and had different kitty-hood experiences. Handling and dealing with Hedge is an entirely different story, but we’ll save that tale (tail) for another day. The point of this whole post is stated by that old cliché: Knowledge is power. It’s true. The more you know about your cat, the more you communicate with your cat, the better a companion you will be. The reward is all the love you get in return and the knowledge that you are giving your friend as high a quality of life as is possible. What I have learned is simple, start early, earn their trust, know as much as you can about your cat, play with your cat, keep your cat inside the house, and make the house as cat-friendly as can. There’s more, of course, but with those things as a foundation, you’ll do well with your cat.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Adventures in Cat Sitting

Cat Sitting. Cat feeding, petting, playing, grooming and loving is a more apt description, for the way we do it anyway. We only have one client and she only needs us a half-dozen times a year. The two cats that we occasionally take care of used to live in the little house on the back of the lot behind the house where we live. Their names are Tiki and Ginger. When they lived in our back yard we took care of them for free because: a.) we love cats, b.) they were in our back yard and, c.) the cats’ human was a friend and she would take care of our cats when we went away for our one weekend of vacation that we take every year. That’s not to say that it was always easy, but it was in the back yard. When Tiki and Ginger lived in the back house, they were indoor/outdoor cats. Their cat door was opened in the morning and they could go in and out as they pleased during the day. Most of the time they stayed close to home, though Ginger would roam as far as the nearby neighbors’ yards. In the evening, they were coaxed and/or captured and brought inside for the night where they are safe from the local predators and vermin. Rounding them up in the evening was often a challenge for their regular human companion and even more so for us cat sitters. Some nights it took a several attempts to capture Tiki, but we always managed to get him inside before any of the local predators ate him. The locals in my neighborhood include coyotes, skunks, raccoons, opossums, rats and a few feral cats. When Tiki, Ginger and their human moved to a new house a few miles away, they weren’t allowed outdoors anymore. It was just too dangerous in their new neighborhood. The surrounding hills were howling with coyotes and other cat-unfriendly beasties. Of course, this made Tiki and Ginger very unhappy. They only came out from under the bed at mealtime. The rest of their days were spent sulking. For us catsitters it meant a drive to the new neighborhood; a climb up the 52 steps to the new house; feeding, petting, cleaning litter boxes, etc.; descending the 52 steps; and, finally, the drive back home. Carol, initially, was determined not to do anymore cat sitting for them. It was just too far away and would take far too much time. Weeks passed and we weren’t called upon to help with Tiki and Ginger. Carol’s initial aversion faded a bit. Of course, we didn’t have very much experience with the new situation, so we didn’t really know how much time it would take. Tiki and Ginger weren’t the only ones having trouble with their new location. We visited them in their new house a couple of times and the drive over wasn’t quite as bad as we had expected. The new house was very nice and had potential to be quite cat-friendly. It still wasn’t in our back yard, though, and we hoped that there might be some nice friendly neighbors who could take over the cat-care duties from us. Unfortunately, Tiki and Ginger’s new house is not surrounded by friendly, cat-loving people and so we were gently and gradually called back into service. We made a few more visits to the new house. We did a couple of weekends cat-sitting stints. It wasn’t too bad. Not convenient, certainly, but not impossible, either, and we still loved the cats. So, we came to a new agreement. We’d still do the occasional weekend for free, but for longer periods, vacations and the like, we get paid. We agreed on a fee, about half of what the “pros” charge, but more than enough to cover gas and take the sting out of the driving back for forth. It has proved a workable arrangement for us humans and, I think, more than that for the cats. From the beginning, we decided that we’d help Tiki and Ginger get more in touch with their new house. To do that, we would coax them out from under the bed, brush them, praise them and, most important, play with them. The playing made all the difference. We’d throw their toys around and play chase, which was fun, but the best thing of all was the string. A simple length of household string was the key to making the house a home for the cats. I dragged that string all over and the cats couldn’t help but follow it wherever I led them. I played with them in every room. Soon, they were spending less time under the bed and more time exploring their new domain. I told their humans what we had been doing while we were taking care of their cats and left them a whole ball of string so that they could continue the process. As the cats new house evolved, their humans created an outdoor cat run on one side of the house. The kitties have their own fenced-in space where they can roll in the grass, dig up the dirt and bask in the sun. They are free to go in and out as they choose. Still, the last time we were called upon to care for them, from the very first day, they were waiting for me when I came up the stairs and opened the front door. I find that rather flattering. I guess they know that I like them and want them to be happy in their new home. I had a lot of fun with them during this last round of visits. Tiki, especially, still likes playing with the string. Ginger mostly just likes rolling around outside in the grass. They both still love to be brushed. And an added bonus, my cat, Quint, enjoys sniffing my shoes when I return from Tiki and Ginger’s house. I suspect that it’s like reading the news to him.

Monday, November 11, 2013

All American Cat Quint and I just wanted to say "Thank you" to all the Veterans of the United States military for your service to the country.