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.

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