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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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.

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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.

Real Trouble

Having just put Trouble in his room again for stalking Lady (because we know how that will end), I’m concerned he’s emerging as the villain in this story and wanted to make clear that he’s actually a sweet and well-behaved cat.

In the beginning, we were worried because he has peed on things in the past to express unhappiness, but even though he has spent long hours locked in a small room alone and is obviously unhappy about sharing the house with another cat, we haven’t had any difficulties on that front. In addition, Trouble rarely scratches furniture, jumps on counters, bites, or bats. Even when he misbehaves, simply telling him “no” or blowing gently in his face is enough to get him to stop.

Early on, he discovered an empty basket in our front hall (empty because I was slow to20150702_135812 (2) move hats, mittens, and scarves to their new home) and decided to make this his time-out spot. The few times we’ve raised our voices to him, he has banished himself to this basket or gone up to his room on his own. When he does this, we just give him his space and let him rejoin us when he’s ready. Lady has never felt the need to go into Caitlin’s bedroom, so it is the one place in the house that is truly his own, and he seems happiest there, surrounded by his person’s things and his person’s smells.

Trouble is the kind of cat that makes the strongest argument for keeping cats indoors and allowing them to live a longer, disease-free life out of harm’s way. In the morning, his first 20150728_152613perch is in one of our front windows. They overlook a busy sidewalk and almost always have a nice breeze blowing through them. He’s very interested in Lady’s comings and goings, so he also spends a great deal of time at the back door, but mostly he moves around the house to different windows, perches, blankets, chairs, and other ideal nap spots throughout the day.

Before he and Lady got into an actual fight, he’d cuddle with us now and then, and even sleep in our bed. When he cuddles, he has an odd habit of kneading the open air in front of him with one paw. He also lifts one paw slightly when hungry, as though he has read the famous fable, and we are more likely to care for him and give him food if we think his paw is hurt.

But he hasn’t been cuddling at all since we started separating them and, of course, he spends every night shut into his own room. He hasn’t become hostile toward us in any way, but there’s no question he’s confused about why we don’t want him getting rid of that other cat. Never mind that she was here first.

Trouble is an easy companion. We’re just hoping he doesn’t try to get rid of us once Lady leaves!

An Anxious Night

Lady didn’t come home at her usual time last night, even after we called–and she always comes running when we call. In fact, we’ve settled into a polite and respectful schedule.

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Sly, 1998-2014

After sixteen years of waking up to Sly knocking over glasses of water or whacking us on the head, the fact that Lady waits until we’re up and dressed before asking to go outside is a delight. She comes back several times during the day for a snack or short nap, then always comes home for good around dusk.

When we have to call her in, she usually comes running, throws herself at our feet, and does her signature belly-up wriggle. It’s hard to resist.

Last night, we called her name several times over the course of several hours with no luck.

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Terry decided to walk around the block. I did the same in and around the yard. She gets excited when she sees me outside and always comes to say hello before running off again. It’s a wild, unkempt yard, with sturdy ferns and overgrown brush, paradise for bunnies, chipmunks, chickadees, and Lady–but also for a neighborhood red-tailed hawk and the occasional owl or bald eagle.

Last night was gorgeous, with whole constellations of fireflies floating all around. Back when we called them lightning bugs, we caught them in jars to watch them light up in our hands. Sometimes we’d try to keep them forever by poking holes in the lid. Then we got older and wiser and threw grass and drops of water inside, knowing bugs needed more than air to survive. Of course, these stories always had sad endings, no matter how hard we tried.

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Trouble on Lady’s former favorite spot.

In the yard, I tried to tell myself that if anything happened to Lady, I could take comfort in the fact that her short life was fully lived. This is the logic the kids give me, knowing I live happily on the indoor-cat side of the fence. I understand what they’re saying, but Sly was genuinely happy. For that matter, Trouble seems to be adjusting to life outside the food chain as well.

We were about to give up when I heard a cat wail at the side of the house. Lady was ten feet up her favorite tree, and a familiar Siamese was running back to his yard.

She climbed down and flopped at my feet, out of breath. After making sure she wasn’t injured, I took her inside and texted Terry I had found her. I am older now than I was when I first took the lid off the jar and let the fireflies go–older, even, than when I stopped catching them altogether–but with every year, I have more questions and fewer answers. That was unexpected.

But I do know Lady was grateful for the safety of the house last night, and we were both grateful to have her safely tucked inside.

A Dangerous Life

I begin with an apology to the neighbor who called several times to complain about Lady driving her dogs crazy. She called last week because Lady had climbed into her car, so I walked down to introduce myself, a bag of squirt guns in hand to discourage Lady when needed. Turns out the neighbor was sane and mosty concerned about Lady’s safety.

We bonded, unexpectedly, over watching our adult children’s pets for the summer as two quart-sized Yorkies came yapping to the door (yes, they do go crazy), but I left20150411_153018-1 feeling unsettled. She made a strong case for keeping Lady indoors–one I am familiar with, which is why we tried so hard to keep her inside. This picture, which I’ve shared before, was taken the day we gave up and let her go outside.

Over the years, Vets and Humane Society workers have helped us memorize the dangers, quoting the lifespan of outdoor cats as 4-5 years. Outside, cats become part of a food chain that includes other cats, dogs, birds of prey and, sadly, humans who mean them harm. There are diseases, parasites, and the straightforward dangers like eating the wrong thing, or sudden storms–like the one Lady was caught in the other day, raindrops fat and heavy as hail.

There are other arguments for keeping cats indoors, but I’ll leave the debate about whether cats are a serious threat to the environment or a scapegoat diverting our attention from the rampant destruction of habitats alone, except to note that “Felis Catus” is officially listed as an invasive species.

So why do I find myself wondering if we should have allowed our family cat, Sly, outdoors during his time with us?

The answer is simple and unscientific: Joy.

Whether she is leaping from our deck into nearby trees or sleeping under a canopy of ferns, Lady throws herself into the outside with an abandon I long for–delighted with the world, never doubting it was made just for her. 20150627_112702It makes me feel guilty for every moment spent inside. It makes me long for the days I used to climb up the maple in front of our house and read for hours, or bike miles in one day, going “no hands,” the wind streaming across my face.

I had no knowlege of disease or parasites on those bike rides–or car accidents that could take the life of someone you love in less time than it took to breath their name. I hadn’t learned about how life could change on a sunny Tuesday over lunch, or while biking a riverfront trail with your brother. I could not imagine that other humans would ever mean to do me harm. I had no fear of birds of prey.

All of this protectiveness of our lives, our children, our pets.

I find myself grateful the decision has been made for me–that Lady refused to play nicely indoors and insisted she be allowed outside.

I find myself hoping she can teach me how to climb again.

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Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

We live in a quiet neighborhood. Most days, we could hear groups of children playing blocks away, if groups of children still did that kind of thing.

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People in my neighborhood worry about their yards and walk around the lake. We swap ladders and occasional garden tomatoes…but in general, we keep to ourselves.

Along comes Lady–as likely to chase a limping chipmunk past your feet as she is to flop on her back and wriggle until you pet her belly.

Luckily, our closest neighbors are cat owners and have been losing battles to bunnies and chipmunks for years. They greet Lady by name and watch out for her when dogs or toms are around. Our neighbors further out aren’t so sure.

Lady’s range is about one block in every direction. We know this because of the calls. We’ve received calls from people who had her in their arms, and calls from people who tied her up, and one alarming voicemail from two elderly women with Lady caterwauling in the background–She scratched my friend. (Everything has turned out okay.)

I’m surprised by how much control people think I have over this Queen of the Suburban Jungle. It’s not like I google a daily route and tell her which animals are fair game before 20150704_102507 (2)sliding the screen door open. It reminds me of school conferences and dreaded phone calls home–the pressure to make sure our children were perfect, and the judgement when they proved to be inevitably, humanly, beautifully flawed. The nature/nurture debate has been squarely settled over coffees and in classrooms across the country. It’s always the parent’s fault.

At first, my apologies for Lady embraced her entire history: We tried to keep her indoors, but she was raised as an outdoor cat…. Then I tried explaining why outdoor cats don’t stay in their yards. Clearly, I’m expected to answer for all of Lady’s sins. No one gives me credit for her cute wriggles-for-rubs routine.

The bird lovers are the angriest. Their yards are filled with feeders and oranges and special plants pressed up against picture windows. After an anonymous but vague I-love-animals-but threat was left on our machine, we added a bell to her collar.

One call was from a woman so concerned about Lady’s safety that we had to come pick her up. Her real goal was to scold us in person. In addition to harassing the birds, Lady was making her dogs bark. We’re not fond of bait and switch tactics in our house, so forgive us for smiling, now, every time those dogs launch into their chorus.

The other day, just after 6 am, a young man drove Lady home in his pick-up. He introduced himself as Jake and said Lady had been on Pine Street. I was still in my pajamas. I know Jake from Pine Street didn’t notice or care that I broke the code and sold out parents everywhere, but I still feel guilty about my short, that-explains-everything answer:

“Yeah. She’s my son’s cat.”

Just for fun…

Mending Wall, by Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”