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Saying Bye to Beanie

We think Sabrina, or Beanie (as we call her), is getting ready to cross the rainbow bridge soon. She’s 15 now, and back in November she was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. She’d gone from about 12 to 9 pounds and just seemed constantly anxious and agitated. Once we started her on thyroid medicine she seemed to improve. She didn’t gain any weight back, but she maintained her weight, her fur seemed less unkempt, and she just seemed more settled and happy. She also corrected some litter box issues she’d been having. All seemed right in Beanie’s world.

But 2016 hasn’t been kind to her. She lost some more weight, down to 8-1/2 pounds, then gained it back. She started moving slower; you can really tell she’s a senior kitty. And a few days ago she had some kind of incident, possibly a mini-seizure. Dave found her lying down with one of her back legs kind of up in the air, and she seemed dazed. We waited for her to come out of it, watching to see if she seemed to be in pain (she didn’t), and she slowly came back to her usual self. But I can tell when I pick her up that she’s lost weight again (I don’t want to know, so I haven’t weighed her). She’s still eating and drinking, taking her medicine, but we can just tell she’s getting ready.

Dave and I talked and decided not to take her to the vet unless she seems to be in pain. All of my previous cats ended up being put down in the vet’s office, and I’m sure that’s what they would do to her if we brought her in. I don’t want that, unless she’s suffering. For once, I want one of my beloved cats to die peacefully in her own home. I want her to be surrounded by the things she loves and the people who love her. I want to honor all the happy days she’s given us.

I watched this series called Time of Death a while back, and it made a profound impact on me, totally changed how I view the process of dying (which I was terrified of before). I know she’s a cat and not a person, but I want to apply some of that philosophy to how we handle Bean’s last days with us.

This is an excerpt from a previous entry, and it sums up Miss Sabrina about as well as anything:

Our oldest cat, Sabrina (aka Beanie) was in residence for about ten months before the former-feral girls joined the household and rocked her world. Beanie is the sweetest, friendliest cat you could ever hope to meet. If you come to our house, you’ll meet Beanie. She’ll stomp toward you on her squat little legs, look you right in the eye and meow softly. She’ll stare at you, wearing you down, until finally you give in and pet her on the head. Beanie loves being petted, even on her stomach. She’s so docile and loving; sometimes she purrs so loud that we have to turn up the volume on the TV. (If we’re watching TV, she’s almost always sitting with or on one of us.)

Beanie’s a little weird about sniffing your hand, though. She seems to have a sensitive sniffer, and often seems offended if you let her sniff your hand. This is a common thing to do, offer your hand to an animal so they can sniff it first, and it might look like Beanie is slightly repulsed by your presence. Don’t be fooled, though; she loves everybody. She just doesn’t necessarily like the way they smell.

Beanie often seems put out by the fact that she’s so far below us, walking on the floor when we’re apparently up in the heavens. She’ll follow us around and meow pitifully, or sit on the floor in the bathroom while I do my makeup or brush my teeth, staring at me sadly. Finally, I give in and pick her up; I carry her round the house with me or I put her on the counter so she can watch me. She settles in happily and starts purring; no more meows, no more sad looks. Beanie really needs to just be carried around the house in a sling, the way I used to carry the kids when they were babies. To make Beanie happy, all you have to do is pay attention to her.

And don’t make her sniff your hand.

She is a wonderful, gentle, loving cat – we couldn’t be luckier to have been her family for the past 11 years. I wanted to write this now while she’s still with us, when I know I can publish this post, then walk into the bedroom and give her a kiss on the head and tell her how much I love her.

Quick Takes, Holiday Edition

1.  They say our area has a 90% chance of snow on Christmas. It seems hard to believe, with a high today of 48 degrees and Christmas only two days away. But we’ll see – stranger things have happened. The main thing is that the snow they swear we’ll have tomorrow night is not supposed to be of the ‘well, we might get your road plowed by next week’ variety. Just a dusting, not enough to mess up the roads on Christmas Day.

2.  We’re in good shape as far as preparations go, with the exception of one gift for Dave that is obviously not going to arrive by Christmas Eve (or ever, apparently). I’ve already warned him that he’ll be helping me choose a replacement gift on Dec. 26th, hopefully from a seller that actually plans to ship things.

3.  I realized I hadn’t gotten anything for the cats. In the old house we actually hung stockings for them from the stair railing on the second floor. In this house I barely had room for the stockings that belonged to humans (I turned our large hope chest into a makeshift mantel next to the Christmas tree), much less room for the cats’ stockings. I guess not having the stockings out made me blank out on getting them a gift. Yes, I know they are cats. Yes, I know they don’t know it’s Christmas and expect no gift from us. But what kind of mother would I be if I forgot them?!

So I got them some Yeowww! catnip bananas, after seeing photographic evidence of my friend Kellie’s cat loving on his banana. (That sounds wrong, but you know what I mean.) I’ve gotten them Cosmic Catnip toys before but this is a new brand for us. I ordered them from Amazon because I knew they’d get here in time using their Prime shipping and, remember, I waited until the last minute to order them. They arrived promptly and I put them on a high shelf in the kitchen pantry, which is really just shelves off the kitchen that I’ve covered with a curtain.

The cats are now going crazy, pacing in front of the pantry, sticking their heads up inside the curtain, meowing, etc. This is for catnip toys that are in their packaging AND inside their shipping materials. I can’t wait to see what they do when we actually give them their bananas. (Go bananas, maybe? ahem)

4.  We’re in charge of Christmas cookies for dinner at my mom’s on Christmas Day, and I’ve been making a few types each day so we’ll have a nice variety to bring. Yesterday I made Italian anise cookies, which I remember fondly from my childhood. I can’t believe I’ve never made these before, because Dave loves licorice I don’t even know what made me decide to make them – I think the recipe popped up in an Allrecipes email or something.

There are wildly different recipes out there and I was really torn between them; finally I chose one from and crossed my fingers. If you’ve never had them before, they are almost like a little cake/biscuit type cookie with a glaze on top. We had to go to two stores to find anise extract, but it was worth it – I doubled the amount of extract in the frosting from 1/8 to ¼ tsp (we like the flavor) and they are so good. Dave’s face when he tasted the first one was priceless. He handed me a piece, I took a bite and said, “Oh my gosh, this brings back memories,” and then my eyes filled with tears. Crying over a cookie! But it just reminded me so much of Christmas Eve at my Aunt DeeDee’s house, my dad (who loved anise anything – cookies, biscotti, anisette liquor), and just all those Christmases of my youth when a platter of those cookies always seemed to be present. I am so glad I made them.

Italian Anise Cookies

Our Italian anise cookies — I remember the ones with round sprinkles the best.

This year we have a full day on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and I already know I won’t be writing again until Friday. So I want to take this moment to wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a wonderful holiday season, no matter what holiday you celebrate. Thanks for being my friends, for sticking around even when I don’t write for weeks, for your valued feedback and comments and perspective. I hope all your wishes come true!

Goldie Update

It is a balmy 38 degrees (!!) as I type this, and I am happy to report that Goldie the feral cat made it through the polar vortex unscathed.  I’m pretty amazed, to be honest.

We had probably three straight days of double-digit below-zero temperatures, all day long (it would get up to maybe -13F, at the most).  At night it was even more brutal.  Once the first super-cold day rolled in, we stopped seeing Goldie.  Usually she’s there every morning, waiting by the food and water dishes we keep next to the patio door on the upper deck.  Because we had a fresh layer of snow, it was easy to see that she hadn’t been by – there were no paw prints of any kind.

As I mentioned before, Dave had gone down and set up a second house for her under the larger deck, where she seemed to be spending more time.  He also set up a heat lamp.  I’m not sure how long she actually stayed there, because after the first bad night (with wind chills of 50 below zero) we saw paw prints on our driveway.  We weren’t positive, but Dave thought they looked like Goldie’s.  He speculated that she left and went in search of a neighborhood colony … more bodies = more warmth.

Every day we checked to see if she’d been by to eat, and for four days the snow was pristine.  We didn’t know if she was under the deck, or if the heat lamp was still working.  I was pretty sure she hadn’t made it through this horrible cold weather.

Then it started to warm up.  Dave went down to check under the big deck and she wasn’t there, but the heat lamp was still working and keeping the little house nice and warm.  We don’t know if she used it during the cold snap, though.  The first day it got up to about 8 degrees, but it was still below zero in the early morning and overnight.  We didn’t see her on that day either.  The next day, though, we saw paw prints in the snow in front of the dish.  We got pretty excited, although I tried not to get my hopes up; we do have about four other cats who visit periodically, so it could have been one of them.

Later that afternoon, I was in the kitchen and happened to be looking out the patio door when I saw her little face peek over the steps to the upper deck.  I grabbed Dave and pointed and squealed into his shoulder.  I can’t even tell you how happy I was to see that little cat!

She strolled up to the food dish, no big deal, and started eating.  Dave opened the door to talk to her and he was able to pet her on the head.  He urged me to pet her, but I hesitated because usually she runs away from me.  She’ll sniff my hand and then back away; she knows Dave because he’s the one who usually feeds her.  I gave it a try though, reaching out to pet between her ears as she ate.  Not only did she let me pet her, she stopped and butted her head against my hand.  That was a first!  I petted her while Dave brought out some canned food as a treat.  Ever since, she’s been here every morning.

Last night, Dave went downstairs to clean the litter box.  A few minutes later, he called my name.  I met him on the stairs and he said, “We have a visitor at the window.  I really think she’ll come into the house so I’m going to open the window and see what happens.”

He opened the window and we both retreated into the downstairs bathroom to watch and wait.  “Where is she?” I asked.  I couldn’t see her at all.  “I don’t know – I think she left,” Dave sighed.  We waited a few more minutes and never saw her.  “Let’s shut the door and go upstairs.  Maybe she’ll come in if we’re not there,” Dave suggested.

We went upstairs and I looked to see if she was up on the deck, but there was no sign of her.  After a few minutes, Dave went down to shut the window.  He came back upstairs and said, “She’s back by the window.  I’m going to see if some food will get her to come inside.”

I wasn’t with him, but he came back upstairs a few minutes later and described the scene.  “She was right there, watching me.  I’m talking to her, and I figure she must know the window is open – either she can feel the warmth from the house, or tell by the smell.  So I reach out and set the food there, and she does this [here he demonstrates a cat recoiling in shocked horror].  She was completely SHOCKED when I did that – it freaked her out and she left right away.”

I laughed, imagining Goldie’s reaction:  This man can reach through windows and walls!  And once again, she proved to us that she has absolutely no interest in coming into the house, even though we swear time and time again that she seems to want to.

Later that night, she was back on the deck.  Dave, ever optimistic, opened the door wide and invited her in.  He didn’t realize she’d brought her boyfriend, Mr. Big, along.  Mr. Big (who lives up to his name) must have a sugar mama somewhere, and he is not afraid of coming into a house.  He started to stroll through the door (inducing mild panic in Dave, who isn’t ready to have an intact male cat wandering our house with four female cats in residence).  Goldie, however, reached out and smacked Mr. Big on the head, giving Dave time to shut the door.

Goldie (with the white chest) keeping Mr. Big in line, on the lower deck

Goldie (with the white chest) keeping Mr. Big in line, on the lower deck

Yes, I’d say she’s doing just fine.  Silly little girl.

How to Pet a Cat

You know how they say that no two snowflakes are alike?  The same goes for cats.  We have four, and woe unto you if you try to approach and, consequently, pet them incorrectly.

Maxie is about nine years old, we figure.  She was as wild and feral as they come when we trapped her in the spring of 2006, nursing her two kittens who, we found out later, weighed just a pound or two less than her.   All these years later, she’s mellowed out and is the most approachable of the three.

MaxieCat - How can you resist that face?

MaxieCat – How can you resist that face?

To pet Maxie, just hold your hand out to her.  Let her approach you, sniff your hand.  I keep my fingers curled in toward my palm; it seems to be less aggressive.  Maxie will take the reins; she likes to decide where she wants to be petted.  If you move your hand toward her, she’ll get a little nervous.  If you take it a step further and start petting her any which way you wish, she’ll duck her head out from under your hand with a little look of annoyance.  Hold your hand still.  Let her come to you.  First she’ll rub her cheeks along your knuckles; every now and then you’ll feel her teeth scraping too but don’t worry, she won’t bite you.  Then she’ll duck her head down and push it against your hand; at this point it’s permissible to run your knuckles from her nose up between her ears.  Bring your hand back and hold it still.  Always remember, Maxie likes to be in control.

Maxie has two daughters and they both live with us.  We originally thought Alice was the runt; she was so tiny, much smaller than Grace, and seemed to constantly be the last to eat.  She was the most shy of the three, running from the room every time we entered.  Even once the other two girls were comfortable upstairs, where we spend all our time, Alice would lie flat on the top step, peeking over the edge.  She’d observe but never participate.

Ally-Kat, and part of her long, long tail

Ally-Kat, and part of her long, long tail

Then Alice found her voice.  She grew.  And grew.  She outgrew her sister, then her mother.  Now, at seven years old, she’s muscular, sleek and beautiful, a true tuxedo cat with the longest tail we’ve ever seen.  And that voice!  After we heard her meow, we wondered if her dad was Siamese.  Her meow is loud and piercing, and she’s persistent.

Alice, or Ally-Kat, is always just out of reach.  She’ll come up to you, meow loudly, wind in and out of your chair leg as you sit at the computer.  When you reach down to pet her, she’ll step just far enough away that your fingertips can’t touch her.  If you stretch your fingers, she’ll sidle further off.  To pet Alice, you have to move.  You’ll end up crouching over, following this cat as she constantly steps just ahead of you but meows as if to say, “Why aren’t you petting me?”  Petting Ally-Kat involves a workout.

Her sister, Grace, was a spitfire as a kitten.  And I mean that fairly literally; at one point I was just sure we could tame these wild little balls of fur, and I sat in an enclosure with her.  I crooned and beckoned, trying to get Gracie to sit with me.  Instead, she backed into a corner, back arched, fur at attention as if she’d been shocked.  She hissed and then she spit at me.  I’d heard the term ‘hissing and spitting’ before but never, EVER have I had a cat actually spit at me.  I was so scared of this little kitten that I had tears in my eyes; I couldn’t get out of that enclosure fast enough.  I was sure she’d claw my eyes out.

When we took her to the vet just a week later, the vet tech swooped her up and pressed Gracie to her chest.  “Oh, but you have to cuddle them!” she crooned, as Gracie froze in her hands.  I had to turn away; I couldn’t watch this poor girl get ripped to shreds.  Luckily, the unsuspecting young lady set Gracie down before she got her wits about her; she’d been so stunned by being picked up that she was temporarily immobile (and docile).

Gracie, or Baby Grace, was such a ball of fur that she looked much bigger than her sister as a kitten.  Over the years, she’s stayed small and petite; she still looks like a kitten, really.  We took to calling her Baby Grace because of her size, and it stuck.  She’s been the most suspicious of the three, the longest to hold a grudge.  If you reached your hand out to her, she’d bat at you (and sometimes connect … those claws are sharp).  For the longest time, the easiest way to pet her was to approach her when she was on top of our armoire.  It’s in front of the window in our bedroom, so she’d shrink against the window as she got petted.  She wouldn’t run away, and sometimes she’d start purring, but she always seemed nervous.

Baby Grace in one of her favorite places, the downstairs window

Baby Grace in one of her favorite places, the downstairs window

Baby Grace is the only one that still runs away when we come into a room (although if she’s sleeping on our bed, she’ll usually stay there).  If she’s at the patio door watching birds or squirrels, and you come into the kitchen, she’ll run off with her tail held high.  She’s getting better, though.  Sometimes I can crouch down and call to her, and she’ll stop in mid-run.  She’ll turn and look at me, think about it for a minute, then saunter back toward me.  She’ll rub her side along my leg, sometimes let me pet her.  Then she’ll head off again, at a slower pace.

There are two times of the day I can pet Gracie:  first thing in the morning, and at bedtime.  It’s a little ritual now; when she sees me get into bed and grab my Nook tablet, she joins me.  She cautiously walks up toward my face, then rubs her head against the tablet.  Then she goes a little crazy, head-butting my hand, purring; I can pet her with abandon.  She ducks her head down, as if she’s going to do a somersault; sometimes she stretches out along my leg, and I periodically reach down to scritch her under her chin (her favorite).  Baby Grace is a love bug during those two times of the day, and I’m waiting hopefully for her to realize she can get petted like this all day long if she wishes.

Our oldest cat, Sabrina (Beanie, aka Beanie Baby) was in residence for about ten months before the girls joined the household and rocked her world.  Beanie is the sweetest, friendliest cat you could ever hope to meet.  If you come to our house, you’ll meet Beanie.  She’ll stomp toward you on her squat little legs, look you right in the eye and meow softly.  She’ll stare at you, wearing you down, until finally you give in and pet her on the head.  Beanie loves being petted, even on her stomach.  She’s so docile and loving; sometimes she purrs so loudly that we have to turn up the volume on the TV.  (If we’re watching TV, she’s almost always sitting with or on one of us.)

Beanie’s a little weird about sniffing your hand, though.  She seems to have a sensitive sniffer, and often seems offended by smells; she’ll recoil at an extended hand.  This is a common thing to do, offer your hand to an animal so they can sniff it first, and it might look like Beanie is slightly repulsed by your presence.  Don’t be fooled, though; she loves everybody.  She just doesn’t necessarily like the way they smell.

Beanie often seems put out by the fact that she’s so far below us, walking on the floor when we’re apparently up in the heavens.  She’ll follow us around and meow pitifully, or sit on the floor in the bathroom while I do my makeup or brush my teeth, staring at me sadly.  Finally, I give in and pick her up; I carry her around the house with me, or I put her on the counter so she can watch me.  She settles in happily and starts purring; no more meows, no more sad looks.  Beanie really needs to just be carried around the house in a sling, the way I used to carry the kids when they were babies.  To make Beanie happy, all you have to do is pay attention to her.

Beanie wants to know why she's on the floor like a CAT, geez.

Beanie wants to know why she’s on the floor like a CAT, geez.

And don’t make her sniff your hand.

The Tease

We’d just finished watching TV; I was in the kitchen, putting away the now-dry pots and pans from dinner.  Then I heard Dave scream.

It wasn’t a high-pitched girly scream, or an I’m-in-pain scream; it was more of a ‘holy crap what was THAT?’ scream.  I cocked my head, trying to figure out where he was in the house.  I couldn’t be sure, but it sounded like he was downstairs so I headed that way.

As I headed down from the landing, he was on his way up.  “Come here!” he said, grabbing my hand.  “Look at what I saw when I came down here to feed the girls.  Scared the crap out of me!”  I peeked my head around the doorway and saw a furry face staring in the window.  Our lower level isn’t really a basement – the windows are at ground level – so any animal can wander by and look right in.

“The last thing I expected was to see a face in the window!” Dave continued.  “I swear, I think she’s trying to find her way into the house.”

The face belonged to a feral cat we’ve named, in an original streak of genius, Goldie.  She seems to be from an extended family of cats in our neighborhood that all have the same type of coloring – black, white, gold – and two of those cats were original visitors to the bowl of cat food we keep on the deck.  One of them, with more white fur than the others, was originally a very frequent visitor.  An obvious relation of his (sibling?  cousin?) would visit very infrequently; his fur is all splashes of black and gold, no other color.  Goldie showed up quite a while later, and she got her name because she has the most gold fur of the three.  She took no time running the other cats off, even though we’re pretty sure they’re related somehow.  (Couldn’t she be nicer to family?!  Geez.)

Pretty Goldie, the mooch

Pretty Goldie, the mooch

Goldie showed up last fall and quickly set up residence under our smaller deck, which is enclosed.  It took us a while to realize she was hanging around as much as she was; we have a high volume of wildlife that visits in the evening to eat and drink on the larger, upper deck and we just assumed that, like them, she was coming around for a snack and then leaving.  It wasn’t until winter arrived and we happened to see her jumping up and into the lower deck that we realized she was sleeping there.

We’d still have periods where we wouldn’t see her for a few days, but over the past few months she’s been a regular visitor.  When our cats wake Dave up at 5:30 am for breakfast, Goldie is waiting outside the patio door, pacing back and forth.  When he feeds our cats again later in the evening, she’s there.  She usually comes up in the afternoon as well; once or twice I’ve found her pacing by the door right before I head to bed.  Any time the dish (her dish, in her opinion) is empty, she lets us know.  In fact, last night we heard a loud banging sound while we were watching The Voice.  We paused the show, looked at each other and then got up and went to the kitchen.  There was Goldie, food bowl empty thanks to a possum, staring indignantly through the glass.  (We still don’t know what she did to make such a loud noise – throw her body at the door?!)

Having had experience with truly feral cats in the past, we have no doubt that Goldie is feral and not simply somebody’s cat who’s allowed to be outdoors, or a previous pet that’s now a stray.  She behaves the same way Maxie did before we trapped her; even though she knows we’re the ones that feed her, she won’t come anywhere near us.

Oh, but she’s a tease!  Especially in the morning, when she’s hungry.  She’ll rub along the door frame and look at us lovingly.  Each time, we get suckered into thinking that this will be the time she lets us pet her.  We’ll open the door a crack and she’ll run back to the end of the deck.  We talk to her, shake the can of food … anything to get her to come closer.  No dice – the cat acts like we have the plague.  So we shut the door and she runs back, doing her arched-back little dance of love until we open the door again, like fools.

About a month ago, Dave managed to touch the top of her head while she was eating.  He can do that now, but only in the morning when she first gets her food.  When I try this, she comes up, sniffs my finger and runs away; she knows I’m not the One Who Feeds Her.  If Dave goes out on the deck to fill the food bowl, she’ll run to the stairs and wait there while he finishes.

A couple of months ago, Dave opened the door a crack and she walked up to it.  He breathlessly told me, “I think I could get her in the house!”  I looked at him for a second and said, “And then what?”  He deflated a bit and admitted that he hadn’t thought that far.  So we talked about it, quite a bit.  We realized that while we could probably lure her into the house by leaving food just inside the door, we would then have a wild, feral cat running around the house.  Our current four cats, three of which are mostly-but-not-completely-tamed ferals, would definitely freak out.  We don’t know if she has diseases, fleas or worms.  We couldn’t pick her up to get her into a carrier and take her to the vet.  (Heck, we can’t pick up our own three former-ferals … that’s the one thing they refuse to let us do, besides trim their nails.)

When we trapped Maxie and her kittens, we already had two very docile cats and one mellow dog who didn’t have a problem with the additions to the household.  They also took very, very long – over a year – to make their way from living down in the lower level (which was our candle workshop at the time) to coming up into our main living area.  By then everyone was used to one another and there were never any fights, just some hissing every now and then.  But Maxie, Gracie and Ally-Kat are nothing like Sabrina, and they’ve already expressed their displeasure with Goldie by hissing and swatting at her through the screen.  All I need is cat fights and pissed off felines spraying and marking their territory (I’m not sure they would, but I really don’t want to find out).

So we shelved the Ermagerd Let’s Bring Her in the House!!1!! plan, and went back to making sure she has food and water and a warm place to sleep outside (Dave built her an insulated house and put it under the small deck, so she has double protection).  But we still get starry-eyed every now and then, especially when she acts so loving from behind the glass … surely we can figure it out and bring her in and tame her, right?!

Then she runs away from us again, tail held high in disdain.

Doctor Dolittle

Today was ‘clean the hedgehog cage’ day; it comes around every two to three weeks and it involves emptying the cage out, washing the wheel (where Spike does most of his …business…) and replacing the fleece liner on the floor.  I usually wait until I’ve got everything out, and the wheel cleaned, before I attempt to pick up my prickly grandhog.  He gets moved to a temporary home while I replace his liner and re-stock his cage.

Dave realized what I was doing and excitedly asked if I was going to pick Spike up soon.  “No,” I said, “I usually wait until the very last minute before I do that.”  He seemed disappointed, and I explained that Spike isn’t like our other animals – he really doesn’t appreciate interaction with humans.  (He doesn’t mind his ‘mom’ picking him up, but even Paige mentioned that he takes a lot longer to warm up to her now that she’s away at college and can’t interact with him as much.)

Cleaning progressed, and I bundled Spike into his extra fleece to pick him up and transfer him to his temporary box.  Dave wandered into the room shortly after.  “Oh!  You picked him up already!”

“Well…yeah.  He really doesn’t appreciate his grandma messing with him too much.”

Next thing I knew, Dave was lifting fleece-enrobed Spike from his box, cradling him and crooning to him in the same voice he uses for the cats and, well, any animal he talks to.  I watched as he carried him around the house, introducing him to the sleeping (and very uninterested) cats, carrying on a one-way conversation all the while.  He eventually sat down with him and tried to coax him out of the ball he was curled into.

Spike the Hedgehog

Spike the Hedgehog

This is what I love about Dave.  He can tell all kinds of stories about his rough-and-tumble past, but when it comes to animals, he’s a big softy.  I always felt you could tell a good person by how they treat animals and children.

One of the things I still remember about the first time or two he met the kids was a tender scenario that played out while I watched from inside the house, sick with a horrible cold I’d caught at the last minute.  Dave took Paige outside to burn off some of her 3-1/2 year old energy; she was riding her tricycle up and down the sidewalk in front of the house.  Every now and then, she’d stop and Dave would bend down to the sidewalk in front of her.  I couldn’t figure out what was going on.  After they came in, I asked Dave what he was doing.

“Well, Paige was worried about riding over the worms so I was moving them out of the way for her.”

Sigh.  Yep, he’s a keeper, I thought.

Over the years, we added quite a few animals to our home, thanks to Dave.  He was the one who took Paige to the county animal control (aka the ‘pound’) and found our Cockapoo, Toby, in 2000.  He was also out with Paige when they came across a guinea pig being given away for free at our local pet store…Seymour was presented to me as a birthday gift, the first guinea pig I had ever owned.  That ballooned into a whole thing with a two-story cage made from cubes and coroplast, and research that pointed out that guinea pigs get lonely by themselves…so of course we had to adopt more guinea pigs (from a local rescue organization).

When we discovered feral Maxie and her kittens, Grace and Alice, living in our enclosed deck in 2006, Dave didn’t hesitate when I brought up the possibility of trapping them, getting them spayed/vaccinated, and keeping them.  Our household grew instantly from two to five cats.

When Paige was going into her junior year of high school and desperately wanted a hedgehog, I put my foot down.  “Not until you get a job and can take care of it financially,” I insisted.  They required special food and an exotic animal vet if veterinary care was required…definitely not inexpensive.  Plus the cost of a hedgehog alone was fairly expensive.  One day as we took our morning walk around the neighborhood, Dave talked me into fronting her the money for the hedgehog.  “I think the responsibility of taking care of it will be good for her,” he reasoned.  So it was thanks to Dave that Spike joined our home (and yes, Paige did pay me back for all the money he cost in the beginning).

Then a couple days ago, the weather started turning cold.  Like, bitterly cold, down near zero at night.  We provide a few outdoor cats with food and water, and we were suspecting some of them might be living in our enclosed deck like Maxie was a few years ago.  Originally we weren’t sure if these were feral/stray cats or just pets allowed to roam – they really don’t look thin or rough the way she did when we first trapped her.  But since we’re still seeing them in this really cold weather, I’m starting to think they may not have homes to go back to and I’ve been worrying about them.  When we got advance notice of a wind chill advisory that was going into effect last night, I started doing some reading on stray cats and winter weather.

“I don’t know, hon…this says it’s better for them to have a smaller enclosure because they’ll stay warmer than if it’s a big area.  Our deck is pretty big and I’m not sure how warm they’ll be…maybe we should make something for them,” I worried.  I figured Dave would just nod and murmur reassuring words, since he’s used to me worrying about nearly everything.

I went about my morning, getting some packages ready to ship, and realized I hadn’t seen Dave for a while.  Then I started hearing weird noises from downstairs.  Before long, he came up the stairs and motioned for me.  He had made an outdoor cat enclosure!  I couldn’t believe it – just one chance comment, and he went downstairs without a word and made a perfect outdoor kitty home.

We set it up by our lower deck – we have a smaller, lower deck attached to the larger top deck.  I didn’t even think the cats could get into the lower deck (Maxie was in the larger deck when we found her – it’s easy to get to from under the stairs that go from the top to the lower deck).  We watched yesterday as one of the outside kitties ate lunch, then went down the stairs and jumped up and into our lower deck.  Son of a gun!  So we know they’re using that; hopefully they’ll notice the smaller enclosure nearby as well.

Stay tuned…if we do move and get some land (if we end up living in a more rural area, that is) then Dave insists that he wants some goats.  To be continued…


Earlier this year I wrote about our former-feral kitties, three girls that have lived with us for 6-1/2 years now.  They are quite tame compared to their early wild days, but they still don’t let us pick them up and I was worrying-in-advance about trying to get them into cat carriers when/if we sell this house and need to move to a new place.

When we had the power outage in the middle of the 100 degree heatwave this summer, we had to leave the cats (the three former-ferals and our other cat, Sabrina) in the house because we couldn’t take them to my mom’s as she’s allergic.  After that ordeal, I got the bright idea to get the former-feral girls all “legal” in case this ever happened again, so we could pay to have them boarded.  (As far as I know, you can’t board an animal unless it has a rabies shot.)

The girls all got their vaccinations back when we first trapped them and took them in to be spayed, and Maxie even went the following year for another rabies shot, but after that we never attempted it because it was too hard to catch them and put them in a carrier.  I was determined this summer though, and we made a valiant attempt to catch them and take them to a low-cost vaccine clinic.  (We=Dave)

Let’s just say it was not successful.  We won’t speak of the pitiful yowling, the cat that was placed into a carrier and then broke through the door of the carrier and escaped.  After listening to the mayhem for about 20 minutes on the other side of the bedroom door (Dave was in there with the cats), I knocked on the door and told Dave to stop – it just wasn’t worth it.  He opened the door, panting and wild-eyed, and I surveyed the scene.  The bed was up on its side (the cats had been hiding under it) and the room looked like a tornado went through it.

On the bright side, the girls forgave us fairly quickly (it took one day of shunning us and another of giving us dirty looks as they ran past).  But I realized that if we couldn’t even get them into carriers to get vaccinations, there was no way we could catch them if we had some kind of natural disaster and had to evacuate.  I had to accept that it was what it was.

Well, within the past 3 weeks we’ve had a bit of a breakthrough.  It started when I was sitting on the couch reading.  Maxie (the mama feral) jumped on the couch, walked around me a bit, and then tentatively climbed into my lap.  I was happily stunned – she stayed for about 5 minutes and then wandered off.

Since then, if I’m on the couch and she comes into the room, she will leap onto my lap with no hesitation.  She even falls asleep there, and it actually has gotten to the point where I’m kind of stuck on the couch, because she’s sleeping on my lap and I don’t dare disturb her.  All this time I’ve been wishing the cats would get comfortable enough to do this, and now I think, “Oh man, I have to get up and I don’t want to move the cat!”  I’ve actually called out to Dave to come over and entice her off my lap so I can get up.

The other girls, Grace and Alice, are not lap cats yet but Grace will now come and cuddle with me in the morning, when I’m still in bed.  So who knows…maybe by the time we move, we’ll be able to just sling these cats right into their carriers with no worries.  Stranger things have happened!

A Tale of Five Kitties

When I was a kid, my mom was not big on pets but I kept bringing home stray cats, mice that I found in the woodpile, etc. I talked her into hamsters and chameleons as pets, but she would not allow cats or dogs. (I did have a puppy, briefly, but she gave him away when she realized the bulk of puppy care would fall to her and not me. Hey, I was 9 years old, what did she expect?!) At one point, my mother told me in exasperation that I could have a zoo when I grew up and had my own house. Now we laugh about that when she comes to visit, with cats winding around her ankles and a dog rolling over on his back for belly rubs.

I’ll be honest…I’m a cat person. We do have a dog, a black Cockapoo named Toby, and I love him with all my heart. If it weren’t for Dave, though, he would not be part of our household. It was Dave who took a then 5-year-old Paige to the county pound back in 2000 and told her they were going to look for a dog. It was Dave who picked Toby out, named him, declared him the Perfect Dog. It is now Dave who gives Toby his Neverending Haircuts, takes care of any problems in his nether regions (dingleberries, anyone?) and reassures me when Toby does Dog Things that worry and confound me. Dave is a Dog Person. I’m glad he’s a Dog Person, because our lives wouldn’t be the same without Toby. However, I don’t get dogs the same way I do cats.

When Dave and I met, back in 1998, I had one cat. His name was Bear, and he lived to the grand old age of 20 years. Dave and Bear got along famously and I think he was Dave’s first experience with a cat that was kept indoors and pampered, rather than an outdoor farm cat.

We adopted another male cat from a shelter the following year. He’s all white and his name is Sugar. We had originally intended to get a female cat, figuring Bear would accept a female quicker than a male. Sugar, however, won Dave’s heart by grabbing onto the hood of his sweatshirt jacket as he walked past the cage. We read the index card attached to the bars, and found out that Sugar had been rescued from the streets. He’d been in the shelter for 5 months and was only 7 months old, although he looked full grown. He’s partially deaf, and could only go to a home with a ‘hearing’ cat to help him along. We agreed it was a sign — after all, we were both partially deaf and we could really relate to a partially deaf cat!

We went along like this for quite a while…Bear and Sugar the cats, Toby the dog. We even adopted 3 guinea pigs from a guinea pig rescue organization here in Illinois. (For some reason, none of our cats think of the guinea pigs as prey…they completely ignore them.)

Bear’s health deteriorated in 2005 and we had to have him put to sleep that summer. It was heart-wrenching for all of us — the kids had Bear in their lives forever, and I’d had him with me since he was just a tiny kitten in 1985. Dave & Bear had forged a bond that was truly amazing — Bear would sit on Dave’s lap, and Dave’s lap only.

We waited a month, and at the end of August 2005 Dave took me to look at cats waiting to be adopted. We had promised the kids we’d get a kitten — we figured it would be easier for Sugar to accept a kitten, and the kids had never had the experience of raising a tiny kitten before. However, I immediately fell in love with a 4 year old long-haired black female cat. I couldn’t help but return to her cage again and again — the kittens were cute, but something about her just drew me in. Dave declared her my birthday gift and we brought her home. We named her Sabrina and she fit into our family immediately — she is by far the friendliest, most laid-back cat I’ve ever owned.

Later that year during winter, we noticed a stray cat in our neighborhood. We assumed it was a male. We first noticed it walking on top of the wooden privacy fence between our home and our next-door neighbor’s. As we watched this little cat do an amazing balancing act, I declared to the family that I wanted that cat…it was meant to be with us…after all, it was black and white, which was a combination of our current two cats (Sugar, all white, and Sabrina, all black). We made jokes about having only monochromatic animals, and everyone began to humor me when I made noises about wanting to bring this cat into our home. After all, we had no idea if it was truly a stray/feral cat or if it was somebody’s pet that was allowed outdoors.

As the weather warmed up in early 2006, this black and white cat started showing up by our patio door. We sometimes set a plate of cat food outside on the deck, and this cat figured out that a free meal was available. We began feeding it, called it ‘Max’ and would all gather around to watch as it polished off each plate of food.

In mid-May of that year, our lawn had grown to jungle proportions and Dave went under our deck to retrieve the lawn mower. The deck is enclosed, and as he opened the doors he was met with a surprise: there was ‘Max’ under the deck, along with two tiny kittens. We realized Max was a girl, and the reason we’d been seeing her on a daily basis was because she was living under our deck.

We spent about 2 weeks going under the deck to feed the cats, sitting on old crates quietly until the kittens would come out of hiding and begin eating. We brought down an old litter box, an old cat bed, blankets, food and water. We rarely saw Maxie (her new, more feminine name) but the kittens began to get used to our presence. Since they were eating solid food, we figured they were 5 or 6 weeks old. We named the grey and white kitten ‘Smokey’ and the black and white kitten ‘Boots’, for its white paws.

We found this all fairly amusing — we had promised the kids we’d still get a kitten, if the time was right and the right situation presented itself. We had to admit that having 2 kittens pretty much drop into our laps seemed very much like a sign!

On top of discovering the kittens, we also began to have a problem with tomcats coming into our yard. More than once we found them looking into the windows of our candle workshop, and they were always in and out of the yard. We would see them chasing Maxie through neighborhood yards. Eventually, one of them took to waiting on the deck, near the entrance under the stairs, that Maxie was using to get in and out (since she hadn’t mastered opening the deck doors with her paws!) which made us very nervous. We had no idea if they were going to try to harm the kittens.

One morning we went down to feed the cats and saw a large amount of grey fur outside the deck door. This fur looked exactly like Smokey’s fur, and we were certain that a tomcat had gotten in and killed one or both of the kittens. We had been planning to eventually trap the kittens and bring them indoors, and this pushed our plans into high gear. We ended up emptying everything out from under the deck, hoping and praying that what we found wouldn’t be heartbreaking.

We’d cleared the deck entirely and found no sign of any of the cats. At that point I was convinced Maxie had moved the kittens to another location. There was only one item remaining under the deck — a large platform ladder. Dave lifted it up and both kittens shot out!

We were able to coax both of them into cat carriers and then we moved them into a large crate in our garage. The next day we set the crate on the deck, using the kittens as ‘bait’ (how horrible that sounds!) to catch Maxie as well. This literally took hours as she circled the crate but refused to go inside.  We had tied a string to the crate door (the kittens were in a sectioned off back part of the crate, which was huge – it was a crate for a large dog).  We extended the string into our house through the deck door, closed the blinds and peeked out while we waited for Maxie to walk inside.  We were beginning to think she would never fall for this, when she finally walked into the crate to sniff her kittens.  Dave pulled the string, the door slammed shut, and Maxie went crazy…but we had her!  All of the cats were okay, although Maxie had an obvious fight wound on her side.

We set up an area in the garage, using the crate as well as some shelving material, to give the feral cats a place to stay where they couldn’t run off but also couldn’t expose our current animals to any diseases or fleas.

We took all three girls to the vet a few days later. (This was easier said than done…we had to once again trap all of them into cat carriers for the ride to the vet, and this took about 45 minutes each time we had to do it.)  We found out that both kittens were girls, so we renamed them: the grey/white kitten became Grace, and the black/white kitten was christened Alice. They were in remarkably good health, with no worms, fleas or ear mites. Maxie was spayed and her abscess was cleaned up and stitched closed. (It was huge; the vet said she would have died if we hadn’t intervened.  Poor girl!!)  She did have worms, which were treated and cleared up, but no fleas or ear mites.  The kittens got all of their vaccinations and then got spayed, and we began very, very slowly working on socializing them.

In the beginning, Gracie was much more friendly — she would come up to us, let us pet her, pick her up, etc. She was completely fascinated by Toby and loved to walk up and sniff him. Alice was very timid and would run away if we approached her. However, at the vet’s office she was the calm one and Gracie was the hissing, spitting wildcat!  Over the years, their roles reversed.  Alice (or Ally-cat, as we often call her) is friendlier and will come up for long petting sessions.  Gracie is still very nervous and will often shoot out of a room if we enter.  Every now and then, we can get her to hang around long enough for us to pet her.

Maxie is my little sweet pea. She will come up to us, rub her head on us and let us pet her. As I mentioned before, we don’t pick her up. As soon as we move our hands to her sides, as if to lift her, she slinks down and runs off.  She has come a long way, though! She used to swipe at us and hiss if we came near. Now she sits on our chests if we’re lying in bed, sits with us on the couch, and she even tolerates Toby, Sabrina and Sugar.

If it weren’t for the fact that we still can’t pick them up, you’d probably never know these cats used to be feral.  It took about 2 years of patience, but it’s really been worth it.

We submitted their story to Borders for their Hopeful Tails book project, and it was accepted.  You can see a short story and sweet photo of our girls on page 79 of the book.  One funny note:  in the abridged version of their story that was published, my name was changed from Wendi to Melissa in the middle of the paragraph.  Everyone who sees the book wants to know who Melissa is!

Each of the girls has their little quirks:

Maxie loves to jump onto one of the kitchen stools when we’re cooking.  She peeks her face over the corner of the kitchen island to watch and sniff the enticing aromas, but she always stays on the stool and never tries to jump up onto the counter.

Gracie is our Flying Wallenda.  We often find her on the fireplace mantel or on top of our work oven in the workshop.  She’s the one most likely to leap from surface to surface without hesitation.  She’s also still absolutely in love with our dog, Toby!

Ally-Cat loves to come up for chin scratches and back rubs, and will flip over in a ninja roll when you start to pet her.  We’ve never seen a cat do somersaults before!

The cats tend to hang out downstairs in the summer and in our bedroom during winter.  It makes Dave a little bit nervous; he has to race Maxie into the bedroom and try to leap into bed before she gets there.  Otherwise he has to try to slip under the covers without her thinking it’s a game – a couple of times we’ve had cats attacking our toes under the covers and boy, their teeth are sharp!

So that’s how we ended up with 5 cats.  🙂  Here’s a photo of Dave with all the cats and Toby…I believe this is the only photo we have with all of them in one shot:

All of the cats and (one) dog in a single photo

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