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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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.

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.

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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.

A Few Words on Worry

Last night, as Terry and I were walking around the block in the dark, calling Lady’s name, I was thinking about this blog. I was wondering how the story might end, and how I would write about it.

It was a gorgeous night. The sky was clear. The moon will be full by tomorrow; it felt as though it was full last night. A gibbous moon: more than half, but less than full, and growing. Such a specific word.

There are probably other words to describe the evening. I wonder what the word would be for my husband’s outward calm as he walked into the road to examine a pile of leaves, in case it was a hurt animal, or the particular kind of imagination that leaves you trying out phrases like, “We lost your cat.” This is different from the kind of worry you feel when your adult child is struggling with things they don’t want to name–at least not in front of you. Different still from when they broke curfew and didn’t answer their phone, or came home crying because no one played with them at recess. Then there were those nights, barely an adult yourself, when you crept out of bed and placed one hand on your newborn to make sure she was still breathing.

My daughter is travelling alone in Cambodia, where the language barrier is considerable and internet is spotty. There is no way to rest my hand on her while she sleeps. There really ought to be a word for this as well.

When linguists write about northern tribes who have fifty–even one hundred–words for snow and ice, the translations are beautiful: fine snow; fallen snow; soft, deep fallen snow on the ground. Of course, these are necessary for survival, but they are also words of love. Why, then, is there only one word–one phrase–for a mother’s worry? And what of the father? There’s another word we need: the concern I see in my husband’s eyes that he does not want to show.

Over time, there are temporary thaws in the arctic, but there is no turning off what we feel for our children. My guess is that even when parenting goes horribly wrong, this overpowering, hard-wired instinct–or the need to push against it–lurks somewhere at the core.

Of course, the reason we resist–even demonize–mother’s worry is that we are all afraid. Fear is a constant companion, basic as the need to secure air and food. Fear has kept humans alive through eons of forces stacked against them. The voices in our head warning us not to follow our friends over the quarry’s edge into the water or climb too high in that tree are as all-encompassing as snow and ice in Grise Fiord, Canada. Mothers make an easy scapegoat. Overwhelmingly in charge of helping children navigate their prolonged infancy, childhood, and adolescence (unlike Lady, already breaking curfew at three), a mother’s long list of instructions likely outweigh any other influence post-birth. But the truth is, our fears come pre-installed, just as we know how to root for our mother’s breast before opening our eyes.

I hope my children learn to embrace their fears as their own, even as they conquer them, even as they accept their mother’s worry as a constant that cannot be turned off. I hope they learn this is worry born of love, not any lack of confidence in their abilities. Maybe they will find new words. I don’t know what these words will be, but I already know hundreds of translations by heart: hand placed on newborn’s back; tendril of a question; fingers brushing child’s hair away from his forehead; the silence that fills the house when waiting for a call.

It was one a.m. when Lady came home last night. Her meow at the door was carefree. It could have been three in the afternoon, or dusk, when she usually comes home. She asked for food, then settled in for a nap, the concern we’d had for her all night entirely unnoticed. There ought to be a word for that.

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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.”

Trouble Arrives!

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The first thing I noticed about Trouble when he got here last Friday is that he’s a BIG cat! He’s twice Lady’s size, and although twelve pounds is average for domestics, it’s the largest cat we’ve ever had in the house. When he jumps from perch to perch on the second floor, it sounds as though an adolescent oak has been felled.

Trouble also assumes everything exists for his enjoyment. While Lady tip-toed into our house, creeping around the edges and hiding in the basement, Trouble was eating Lady’s food and stretching out in “her” window in no time.

He arrived while Lady was outside, so he could check out the house in peace for awhile. But Lady wasn’t gone long, and when she came back, it turned out she remembered him from Christmas.

Lady and Trouble 2

Within seconds, Trouble was locked in a bedroom so Lady could adjust to his scent. Neither of them was happy. They held these positions for hours.

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Trouble reaching out from underneath a bedroom door.

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Lady on guard at the other end of the hallway.

Months earlier, before we even knew Cat Boarding Houses existed, much less that we would become one, Terry had given his blessing to a mother/daughter getaway on Father’s Day weekend. So while we were enjoying the American Players Theatre‘s productions of Pride and Prejudice and Streetcar NameWisconsin River, near Arena, 6.19.15d Desire, Terry was struggling to get two angry cats into two separate rooms. While we were paddling the Wisconsin (thank you, Wisconsin Canoe Company) Terry and Trouble were watching out the front window in horror as Lady taught them the sound a distressed baby bunny makes. Happy Father’s Day!

Gruesome as it was, it would be wise for Trouble to pay attention to Lady’s demonstration of strength.  She’s a killer–a fact some of my neighbors celebrate while others…well…more on that later.

But Lady is also half Trouble’s size and has gone back to hiding in the basement. When we got home, I found her there when I went to do laundry. She demanded to be picked up, then sat in my arms for a far-and-away record of fifteen minutes before I had to put her down and get back to work.

It’s true that she does most of the hissing and growling and swiping in the house…but I’ve seen Trouble hide gleefully around a corner when he heard her tags jingling up the stairs. Little angel. Pfft!

Trouble Napping

So here we are. Terry and I have only recently learned to embrace empty-nesting and have a long list of things we want to explore together, but we’ve already canceled one trip. Our town’s 4th of July fireworks go off outside our front window and we’d like to make sure no animals are harmed in the making of that particular weekend.

Sigh.

So where are my cat-loving, semi-feral children while we’re watching Trouble and Lady? More on that next time!