Of Kings and Queens

When Lady came to stay with us, among her personal effects was something called an Infinity Cat Scratcher Lounge, a fancy name for an amazingly effective twist of layered cardboard meant to encourage cats to scratch places other than your furniture (it works).

20150626_055423 (2)It was her favorite thing in the world. She would scratch endlessly and roll all around on it, wiggling in and out of the holes, playing hide and seek–or simply sitting up and looking out on the world majestically. We took to calling it her dais.

When Trouble popped in for the summer unexpectedly, we thought for a while it might become neutral territory.
20150814_112843 1But at the end of the day, it became one of Trouble’s many conquests.

In fairness, Lady was outside all day and the dais sat in the best window of the house. Still, knowing how much she loved it, it was hard to watch Trouble furiously scratch every inch and mark it with saliva. Then again, at that point he was marking everything–including her food dishes, litter box, and favorite blanket. That cat was determined to be King.

Since Lady left, Trouble has relaxed significantly. We were concerned Lady might be a lightning rod for his
20150817_182810frustration over being kept inside, and that once she was gone, he might take it out on us…but now that he has secured his rightful place on the throne, he snuggles with us often and even sleeps in our bed at night. In fact, he enjoys lolling around the house so much that he’s getting bigger! We’re making him work harder for his dinner these days with this fun little food dispenser!

Meanwhile, Lady is relaxed and happy in her new home. The kids have more energy, and might just have enough to keep her entertained. They sent us this picture of her, sound asleep after playing with them, her favorite toy tucked beneath her.

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With both cats settled and happy, I’ve decided to bring this blog about their adventures to a close. This began as a fun way to keep the kids up to date on how their kitties were doing in our care–and our friends and family up to date on how we were surviving the kitties. It was a pleasant surprise to have so many far-flung cat-lovers follow along. There were a lot of other surprises along the way. I had no idea domestic cats were considered an invasive species, or that our insatiable appetite for cat food was tied to horrific human rights violations in Southeast Asia. Please read, reread, and share the information on TNR programs and the importance of keeping our cat population under control.

20150627_113109 (2)When it came to our own backyard, as you know, our main concern was for Lady’s safety–wild jungle cat that she is. Since I spent a few nights worrying about how this story might end, it is a great relief to close with two happy, healthy cats. Now that he is the undisputed King of the World, Trouble is quite comfortable staying inside. The rest of our summer should be blissfully dull since we won’t be walking around the block, entertaining our neighbors by calling for wayward cats.

And Lady? We made sure the kids packed her dais into the car the day they left (and quickly ordered a second one, pictured above). She still chases bunnies by day, but she returns home every night, clearly happy to be Queen. IMG_0175

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The Price of Unconditional Love

$  .69, Vinegar
$  .99, Baking Soda
$9.99, Nature’s Miracle Odor Remover
$7.50 (in quarters), “Super Wash” setting, Industrial Washer, Laundromat
Ability to breathe freely again? Priceless.

Watching water and suds go around and around through the Nautilus-like door of a laundromat’s extra-large washing machine, I’m wondering if Trouble peed on his fabric carrier while at the kitty hotel, or if his loud mewing on the ride home was telling us he needed a pit stop. Either way, we’re hoping this first accident is our last.

A friend recommended a product called Nature’s Miracle, which worked beautifully. At the pet store, there were spray bottles, shampoos, wipes, gallon jugs, and laundry boosters to choose from. They make a solution for skunk, too. These were nestled below wee-wee pads for puppies and above pad holders in multiple colors, some topped with fake grass. There were cat toys that stick on windows or hang from doors, and multiple versions of balls forever trapped inside boxes, tubes, or fabric—the cat-owner’s version of the mechanical arm that tosses balls to your dog so you never have to play with your pet.

20150809_142111 (2)I have been resisting the urge to add up the money we have spent on Lady and Trouble because I don’t want my kids to feel guilty; we knew what we were getting into, and most of the cost was laid out by choice, not necessity. When we took Lady to the vet, we considered the optional feline leukemia shot our gift to the outdoor cat community ($80). The licenses ($10/each), heart-shaped address tags ($18/ea.), and overpriced jingle bells ($2.49/ea.) were our effort to keep peace with neighbors. Recently, we bought a food-dispenser ball for Trouble because Caitlin said he looked fat in the pictures ($9.49) and a new “Infinity Cat Scratcher Lounge” because Lady took her dais with her when she left and Trouble was eyeing up our couch as a new scratching post ($29.95 + shipping).

Cat Costs

According to Visual Economics, the average annual cost of owning a cat is $500, which adds up to $7,640 over the lifetime of the cat. The numbers are sound, but we are outspending that pace in our short stint as cat sitters. Nationally, the American Pet Products Association estimates we will spend a record-breaking $60.59 billion on our pets in 2015Supermarket spending—more than three and a half times what we were spending on pets twenty years ago, and more than we currently spend at the grocery store. Click on this link for Retale’s eye-opening, real-time look at some of our other spending priorities.

There are many reasons for the increase, but with JFK International Airport installing an animal terminal that includes a canine swimming pool and the ability to buy ten-foot high fantasy cat trees online for a mere $2,000, it’s hard to deny things have gone a bit far.

JFK Canine Pool

The ARK, at JFK

The problem is, the dark side of overindulgence goes far beyond any embarrassment we might feel–or even the growing epidemic of pet obesity now affecting the majority of cats and dogs in the our country.

Recently The New York Times ran an in-depth article called “‘Sea Slaves’: The Human Misery That Feeds Pets and Livestock,” It examined the brutal existence of men and boys in Southeast Asia who are kidnapped and forced into slavery on fishing boats that go years without touching land. One of the leading economic forces driving this abusive business is America’s insatiable appetite for cat food.

Of course, the food and distractions we shower on our pets are simply an extension of our own overindulgence, and striving for more–of everything–is as hard-wired into our brains as it is in the brains of the pets we love. It’s the instinct that pushes Lady to climb walls looking for a way outside so she can hunt, and moves Trouble to ask for more food even when he can’t possibly be hungry. Want is key to our survival; it marches incessantly on with or without actual need.

When John D. Rockefeller was asked how much money was enough, his answer was human: “Just a little bit more.”

The world has always been interconnected, but it’s hard to imagine the average citizen of Rockefeller’s time being aware that the food they fed their pet had a concrete impact on the life of a 15 year-old boy in Cambodia. Today, we have laundromats with 24/7 cable and wireless. We have the ability to see and hear about lives on the other side of the world while waiting for a load of wash to finish. We have sons and daughters who cross oceans in hours, instead of days, and treat the entire world as though it were their own backyard–because it is.

Maybe it’s time we trained ourselves to strive for just a little bit less.

Saying Good-bye to Lady

It’s hard to say goodbye.

Liam and Sarah with Lady

Last Sunday, after coming home from Catnip Hill, we packed up Lady’s things and sent her off to a new, cat-friendly apartment with Liam and Sarah. Their place is on the third floor. There is talk of cat hutches suspended from windows like swallows’ nests and cat ladders running up and down the house. Lady’s oblivious to the care and concern going into her happiness–on all sides. By Sunday night, I was texting to see how she was doing, and I’m a little embarrassed by how much I look forward to every new picture from Sarah. I miss her.

Lady wasn’t easy, but I loved the way she found us when we were outside and flopped at our feet like a slippery fish, and the way she came (almost) every time we called. Watching Terry’s heart melt the night she bounded across several yards at the sound of his voice will be with me always.

It took Lady a long time to accept us. After living with Sly—who talked and purred constantly—Lady’s near silence always seemed tense. The night before Trouble came to Lady Sleepingstay, she finally allowed herself to fall asleep on the couch next to me, sometimes resting one paw on my leg. That was after six months. The next day, she purred audibly in my arms for a full fifteen minutes while Trouble galumphed around upstairs. She never fully relaxed while inside again.

True, she got used to Trouble. Just last week she stretched out on the kitchen floor and pretended to sleep while Trouble crept past, settled nearby, crept back again—then pounced at the floor just behind her. When nothing happened, he walked away, bored. Then the phone rang. The minute I started talking he charged straight at her again and was promptly whisked away to his tower. It was probably entrapment.

It’s a shame we never got to see Lady and Trouble curled up together like soul mates, but if they had hit it off, I would have a large, bow-legged, despondent tom on my hands right now. Instead, when Liam took Lady out to the car, Trouble was sitting cheerfully upright in the second-floor window, mewing down at us the whole time. When we let him out of his room, he headed straight for the basement to examine the corner where Lady’s litter box had been, then he cased the whole house before spreading out regally in the middle of the living room for a bath.

All summer, PathI’ve been “planting” a stone walk alongside our house. Lady assumed it was for her. It was a favorite place to sun, bring prey, and sleep under the ferns. When I added my one step a day, she always came by, sometimes slinking toward me, sometimes leaping out of the brush.

There’s no question the path is lonelier this week.

But I know she’s with her people. Holy Sheboygan! gave us a private concert last June, and Lady was in heaven—rubbing against band members while the music played, contemplating climbing into the bass. When they left, she watched out the front window, clearly expecting to be the next one loaded into the car.

She watched them packing the car through the front window again last Sunday, and we know she was relieved when they came back for her this time. Lady

Terry and I wish them safe travels, warm nights, and even lots of bunnies. Who knows? Maybe Trouble was sending good wishes, too.

Catnip Hill: Kitty Hotel

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Big St. Germain Lake, Saint Germain, WI

Every August, we rent a cabin up north where we water ski, fish, dive into the deep center of the lake, then wake up sunburned to the high-pitched bickering of bald eagles and do it all over again. This year, that meant our two bickering house guests would have to share a room at a cat-boarding facility for an entire week. We’ve never boarded before, relying on a nearly endless stream of neighborhood kids to give Sly food, water, and love when we were gone. But Lady and Trouble don’t always behave–and we wanted our neighbors to still like us a little when we returned–so we decided Catnip Hill’s very reasonable prices were well worth the investment.

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Catnip Hill, catnip-hill.com

Christine, owner of Catnip Hill is a bona fide cat whisperer who assured me our two house guests would be fine once on neutral turf. Christine has been running Catnip Hill for over ten years, having picked up the idea while living in the United Kingdom where, as she put it, they don’t have a culture of handing keys over to neighbors when they go on holiday. Since so many U.S. boarding facilities are designed for dogs, she thought a cats-only boarding house might be well-received. Judging by how quickly her rooms fill up, she was right.

I was still worried. Lady and Trouble don’t play at fighting; they fight. And since we want to return the two cats to our two kids unscathed, we have abandoned our intensive program to help them make friends. They have been leading separate lives, like roommates with a line drawn down the center of the room.

But Christine has so much experience, that when she told us all would be well, we believed that not only would they make it through the week, but they would be returned to us grooming each other and sleeping in each other’s arms the way I’ve always dreamed it would be if only I owned two cats.

The day we took them to the Kitty Hotel, the cats were not as optimistic. It was a forty-minute drive. Lady glared at us from her carrier the entire time while Trouble threw himself into a Houdini-like escape plan, which involved turning his mesh-and-fabric carrier inside out while he was still inside.

Still, as soon as we turned up the driveway and drove past the rolling fields surrounding Catnip Hill, we knew it was perfect. Inside, 20150809_084143each of the twelve rooms had a window, a chair, and three long perches. There was room enough for Terry and I to move freely as we unloaded cats and sacks. We put Lady’s favorite blanket on the highest perch so she’d feel comfortable, but she didn’t appreciate the kindness and let me know we were no longer on speaking terms. Meanwhile, Trouble was up and down the perches and chairs, checking out every corner. He kept jumping from the window to the door and back and didn’t even notice when we left.

20150809_084840 (2)For the first few days at the cabin, we watched our phone, waiting for Christine’s call…but it never came. When we picked the two of them up at the end of the week, not only were they both out of their carriers and enjoying the window sort of almost together from two different perches, they even interacted in cat “smalltalk.” It would be a stretch to say the conversation was pleasant. Still, no death threats were involved.

20150809_08454420150809_085152We packed them up and headed home, foolish enough to think the fact they were wailing in harmony was a good sign. What could be better after a week at a cat spa than a common enemy?

But once home, it took less time than the drive for Trouble to charge Lady and wind up locked in his room yet again.

Do you think Christine hires out?

Portrait of a Cat Activist, Part II

In my last blog entry, I wrote about how friend and poet, William Reichard, and his partner, Jim, came to live with 7 cats. But the real story is how they began working with Feline Rescue, Inc., in St. Paul to make a genuine difference.

The population of stray cats exploded in Bill’s neighborhood when the economy took a downturn and foreclosure signs started popping up everywhere. Cats are the most popular pet in the United States, but they are also a large portion of the 2.7 million healthy, adoptableInfographics-111011 pets euthanized in shelters each year. They are far less likely than dogs to be adopted or reclaimed by their owners. In fact, the Humane Society lists “Euthanasia—often of healthy, unwanted cats [as] the #1 cause of death” for cats. That number is rising, even as the number of dogs euthanized each year declines.

When it comes to honoring our 10,000-year relationship with cats, it’s clear, we’re not holding up our end of the bargain.

Bill gets frustrated. “People hold on to this weird myth that domesticated cats are more wild than dogs, so you can just throw your unwanted cat outside and it will be fine. You would never do that to a dog! Cats who have been raised in a home don’t know how to hunt or where to find water.” Basically, owners who abandon their cats are dooming them to a long, slow, and painful death, and impacting the entire neighborhood.

This only tells part of the story. Some estimate that the feral cat population in the United States is equal to or well beyond the number of cats living in households. Assuming ideal conditions, one pair of breeding cats can lead to 400,000 kittens being born over the course of seven years. Overpopulation is a genuine problem, and one that falls through the cracks of most legal systems.

UofN

The good news is that there are solutions—some of them easy.First, have your pets spayed or neutered, and encourage every pet owner you know to do the same. Second, adopt your next pet from a shelter. According to the Humane Society Fact Sheet quoted above, only 30% of pets in loving homes have been adopted from shelters—we should all be aggressively encouraging the practice of shelter adoption for new pet owners.

Finally, support the great work being done by Feline Rescue, Inc., of St. Paul and other organizations across the country. Feline Rescue is dedicated to a no-kill approach. Their mission is “to provide safe shelter, veterinary care, and socialization for stray, abandoned, or abused cats until good permanent homes can be found for them”. They also believe all tamed cats should be kept indoors.

Along wih the help of many volunteers, like Bill, Feline Rescue uses the Trap-Neuter-Release approach popularized twenty-five years ago by a grassroots group out of the Adams-Morgan neighborhood in Washington, D.C. call the Alley Cat Allies who had success bringing their own feral cat population down to zero and convincing communities across the country to join their efforts.

TNR not only reduces the rate of breeding, but leaves the existing cat colony in place, keeping new colonies of cats from moving in. While costly and labor intensive, a recent study released by the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) found that spaying or neutering only 35% of the cat population caused a significant decrease in population.

Lukas

Lukas–ready for a new home!

In addition to Bill’s story, Feline rescue has many success stories, and many adoptable pets they can put you in touch with–like Lukas.

Give them a call, write them a note of encouragement (feel free to include a check!), or find the TNR program closest to you. Any society that has an entire TV channel devoted to cat videos needs to step up and care for their pets.

Portrait of a Cat Activist, Part I

My friend Bill is a wonderful poet and a teacher of many things. Lately he’s been teaching me how to ease newly-introduced cats into a peaceful existence. If you’ve been following this blog, you know I’m not the best student—but with seven cats coexisting peacefully inside his home, there is no doubt that Bill is an expert.

Alice, Bill's soulmate

Alice B. Toklas, Bill’s soulmate

Bill and his partner Jim didn’t set out to house seven cats. “When we moved in together we had three. Jim had Cameron, who was very old, and then we had the sisters, Alice and Gertie [aka Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein].” Losing Cameron and Alice was tough, but Gertrude is still their self-appointed Queen of the World.

Gertrude Stein, Queen of the World

Sometime around 2008, foreclosure signs started popping up in their St. Paul neighborhood, and the number of outdoor cats increased dramatically. “Some of these were feral, but others obviously were not. We don’t know what happened, of course, but it was as though people decided they couldn’t afford pets anymore, so they opened their door, and let them out before leaving the neighborhood.”

Bill and Jim started leaving the door to their garage open a crack so the cats could go inside during the long, cold Minnesota winters. Soon, Bill found himself digging a trench through his garden in order to run electricity into the garage so they could keep the water and food from freezing. Inexpensive warmers for the cats followed—then word seemed to get out in the cat community.

Josette, mother of Callie, Esme, Howard, and SteveMost of the cats that visit Bill’s garage are skittish, but one—now known as Josette Dupres—would approach Bill whenever he was outside, sit by his side and, eventually, allow him to pet her. Josette tamed Bill slowly. They worried when she disappeared, but soon found her in their garage nursing four kittens. It was a short trip into the house for all from there. A few other cats have chosen the garage to have their litters, while others remain loners. Bill and Jim work closely with Feline Rescue, Inc., in St. Paul to get the cats adopted or, minimally, to trap, neuter, and release them. They’re doing great work that I’ll be highlighting in my next blog.

Callie as a kitten

Esme, who embodies good and evil

Howard and Bob

Steve

Steve

When another mom had kittens in their garage, Bill and Jim were able to find homes for the entire litter except for a “sort of clumsy male” who Bill describes as, you know, not the brightest bulb in the pack—and that’s how Bob came to share a home with Bill, Jim, and six other cats.

Bob

Jim with Bob

During the Great Depression, hobos used to draw cat figures on fence posts outside homes to tell other lost souls that a kindhearted person lived there. I wonder if cats have hobo-signs-11 (3)drawn similar figures all around Bill’s house—on the sidewalk out front, in the trees bordering the yard. Maybe one was even scratched into the bark of the copper birch Bill sacrificed when he ran the electricity out to the garage. In any case, however they find him, it’s clear that a kind heart lives here.

 

Next Up: Feline Rescue, Inc., and their TNR program.
Find the entire blog at troublinglady.com.