The DNA results are in!

A couple weeks ago, we did a Wisdom Panel DNA test on Stella to find out what the hell she is since we had no idea and everywhere we go with her people ask us. We’d been telling people she was definitely a herding breed since she herds everything around her (people, cats, other dogs, groundhogs…) and is likely mixed with Chow. We assumed the herding breed was Border Collie (or just regular Collie) or Australian Shepherd, mainly because of her smaller size (she’s 35 lbs, though the vet wants her to be around 30. Hey, my girl likes to eat.).

Today we got the results in and she’s…

Mostly mixed breed (38 percent), with herding breed as the most likely group. (This means that her lineage was mixed farther back than the three generations they can test for.) I was kind of afraid this would happen, since we figured she had to be mixed with a lot of stuff to not have a prominent look of any recognizable breed.


Boston Terrier my ass. She’s way too cute.

After this, she’s 25 percent Chow, which I can’t see in her face but definitely in her fluffiness. Then she’s equal parts Golden Retriever (she’s got the ears), Irish Setter (I can see this in her fringe fur) and Boston Terrier—ew, gross. Those dogs are seriously butt ugly. However, I think the Boston Terrier part would explain her size, since all of those other breeds she’s supposedly mixed with are much larger than she is. Boston Terriers generally weigh around 10-20 pounds and are much shorter than she is, so I could see how mixing a small dog like that with the other larger breeds would yield a medium-sized beast like Stella.

It’s pretty funny to learn about her Chow-ness, though, since when we set out looking to adopt a dog I was adamant about avoiding dogs with Chow in them because they are known for being aggressive assholes. She must have only gotten the fluffiness and coloring from her Chow ancestors—she is a very sweet pup and not aggressive toward people, dogs or cats at all.

This was super-fun, but it also makes me want to do a different DNA test on her to compare! I might wait until there’s one available that can go back farther, though, since she’s apparently a serious, serious mutt. But she’s my mutt, and she’s unique, and I wouldn’t change her for anything.

Stella's DNA ancestry

Stella’s ancestry

My first foster failure

Two months ago, I overestimated myself.

Ian and I agreed to foster two neighborhood feral kittens until they were old enough to be spayed and neutered and adopted out, and I thought, “Oh sure, it’s too soon for us to get another cat so it won’t be a problem. I’ll find these siblings a nice home with some nice folks and everything will be fine.”

foster kittens

At first, we were only supposed to keep them for a week. Just to help out a neighbor who was overwhelmed with foster kittens. But then I went to Chicago for a week with Stella and Ian agreed to keep the kittens even longer.

That should’ve been my first clue.

Eventually they gained enough weight that they could be fixed, and then it was time to try to adopt them out. My neighbor and I brought them to a high-end pet supply store to talk to customers and hopefully find them homes with people who spend hundreds of dollars on pet food every month, and we found a man who wanted to bring home a kitten for his hyper dog to play with. I was skeptical, but the people who worked at the store knew him and said he was very good to his pets and would provide Rafi, the boy kitten, a great home.

I walked him out to his car with the kitten and wouldn’t let go of his car door. I gave him my phone number and pleaded with him to call me for any reason, and told him that he could bring the kitten back at any time—no questions asked.

That should’ve been my second clue.

I got home and cried all night, and Ian made me Moscow mules to drown my sadness. I knew it was a good thing that one of the kittens had gotten adopted out, but I felt in the back of my mind like I’d failed him somehow. I decided we were going to keep the girl kitten because I couldn’t bear going through that again. I wasn’t being rational.

That should’ve been my third clue.

But the next day the man called and said his dog had urinated in protest all over his house—twice—and he was bringing the kitten back. I was filled with relief.

That should’ve been the clue that smacked me in my delusional face.

Rafi and Stella

My neighbor asked if I wanted to hit the pet supply store again, but I declined. A friend/co-worker and his 16-year-old daughter were looking for a kitten, and he told me they’d adopt one. I knew they were good to their pets and would be good to the kitten, so I invited them to come visit me for the day and choose one.

I expected they’d pick the boy, since he’d previously been the more outgoing, friendly and not-scared-of-anything kitten, but while they were here Rafi hid almost the entire time. Instead it was Jane (who we’d nicknamed Scorpion Princess because of the way she folded her tail over her back when excited), historically skittish and unfriendly except with King Boo, who captured their attention. She played excitedly with my friend’s daughter and inspected their puppy (from afar) and showed no fear. It’s one of the few times I’ve actually seen an animal choose its owner. So while I knew I’d miss her, I knew she was going to the right place.

As soon as they left with her I cried, but then I saw King Boo grooming Rafi. And later, as the two of them wrestled and ran around the house, I realized I had gotten a kitten for my cat.

King Boo plays father-figure to Rafi

All of the guilt I’d felt with adopting them out was tied into how much King Boo loved having them around. We’d started calling him Papa Boo because of the way he’d supervise their play time, and then jump in to diffuse things and lick their fur back into place. The whole time we were fostering we joked that Jane was his girlfriend, but now that she’s gone he snuggles with Rafi just as much. They sleep together in the bed each night, they nap in my desk chair together every afternoon and they wrestle the shit out of each other at least five times a day.

Despite all of the attention he paid to me, I think I’d been trying to push Rafi away a bit because he was a male orange tabby and I didn’t want it to seem like I was trying to replace Gordo. But as the vet told me the other day when I took him in for shots and they knowingly chuckled at my first foster failure, you can never replace a pet. And not keeping Rafi because he is the same color as Gordo, even though he’d endeared himself to everyone in the family including Stella, wouldn’t be fair to him.

So here we are, a three-cat family again. I’m slightly annoyed with myself for thinking I could foster so easily, but then I see how happy King Boo is to have a cat friend again and I figure it’ll work out OK.

My world is always full of cats

It’s been almost two months since Gordo died. I’m still sad, but I think I’m done grieving in the every-minute-of-every-day sense. Little things around the house remind me of him all the time, but I’m able to smile at the memories now instead of feeling this immense sense of helpless loss. I still haven’t buried his remains, though. I need to do that before the beautiful tiger lily bulbs my friend brought me die, too.

We’re now fostering two seven-week-old orange tabby kittens at our house, which has been an interesting challenge. One of our neighbors runs a trap/neuter/release program in the neighborhood and ended up with six feral kittens that needed to be fostered and socialized, so we took two—and it seemed fitting to help out the orange ones. There’s a male and a female, even though only about 25 percent of all orange tabbies are females.

A little mid-day nap is always a good idea.

They were fairly wild when we first got them a week and a half ago, but now they’re definitely domesticated. King Boo has made friends with the little girl—he grooms her and plays with her and it’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen. Stella loves them both, of course, but is partial to the little boy because he’s not afraid of her and lets her groom him. They both eat Stella’s food and Stella will eat theirs if I don’t watch her. She’s got this thing for wet cat food that I don’t understand, but that dog will do anything for just a spoonful.

Well these two became BFFs pretty quickly.

BK, of course, gives zero shits about the kittens. She’s allowing them to exist in her presence, and that’s all we can ask of her.

Our house has been a bit of a zoo lately, but it’s been fun. In a way it feels cathartic to foster these kittens. I can’t keep them for various reasons, but it’s nice to be able to help the little guys out for a while. And the fact that they resemble Gordo makes it a little bit more meaningful.

Maybe I’m reaching there, but it’s helping.

The end.

this is how we sleptWe look for meaning in death, and it’s easy to understand why. It never feels like we’ve had enough time, so we look for signs to make peace with the end. Signs that it’s the right time, if we’re the ones making the decision. Signs that it was meant to be, if we’re not.

But the truth is that we never really do have enough time, and I don’t think there’s a way to feel confident that it’s perfect timing when a decision needs to be made (or it’s made for you). You just do your best with what you’ve got.

Gordo was my companion for 16 years. I was 19 when I got him—a lifetime ago. He was with me through changing jobs, boyfriends, homes. He licked Ian when we started dating and that meant we were going to get married. He comforted me when I was sad, and made biscuits on my shoelaces before I’d leave the house. Every night he got in the bed and requested I turn on my right side so he could curl up under my chin, my arm wrapped around him so he could fit his head in the palm of my hand. I used to not be able to sleep unless he was there.

Gordo was my friend. And now he’s gone.

We’re getting there

Happy dogStella is the first dog I’ve ever had, so I’m not sure if she’s more or less protective than most. But she is a great watch-dog. I feel safer when she’s in the house with me, especially at night. She does this thing where she’s sitting on the floor by the couch with us and she thinks she hears something, but instead of a full-on bark she kind of puffs. Like “buff, buff!” It starts out strong but gets quieter, until she’s sure the danger has passed.

She’s getting good at recognizing Ian’s car and footsteps, and she rarely barks anymore when he comes home at night unless his arrival wakes her up from a nap.

I’ve been working on training her to walk on a loose leash, with varying degrees of success. She still pulls, but I’ve found that tying a half-hitch around her waist just above her legs—so that when she pulls it puts some pressure there—helps tone it down some. Wednesday night it snowed, though, and all bets were off. She wanted to plow her way through untouched snow all over the neighborhood yesterday morning, and who was I to stop her? I wanted to do the same thing.

UntitledIt’s funny how having a dog suddenly makes all outdoors adventures much more fun. I loved hiking before, but now that we have Stella it’s all I want to do on the weekends. And I’d never dream of going without her. Last year we got about the same amount of snow (8 inches) and we were all “Let’s throw the cats outside for a few minutes. Ok, back inside!” But this year? I woke up Thursday morning and the first thing I did was take Stella outside so we could explore our neighborhood covered in a puffy white blanket. Ian ran around in the backyard with her. The cats were still unimpressed.

Having a dog is still challenging at times, especially when all I want to do is lay around or play a video game and she wants me to watch her sit outside and eat sticks. Or let her inside, and then outside, and then inside again. And then outside. But for the most part, we’re past the “developing routines” stage and into a good rhythm. We’re at the beginning of the fun part, I think. Somewhere among house-breaking and obedience classes and hikes and bar-hopping I acquired this little sidekick, and I rarely want to go anywhere without her now.

Stella totally pwned the first night of her new obedience class

Stella is back in obedience class, this time taking one for dogs 10-24 months old called Manners Matter. It builds on the skills we learned in STAR Puppy and teaches different ways to get our dogs to focus on us and to stop pulling on their leashes, barking, jumping, etc.

The first class was Tuesday, and after the introduction we were told to make a large circle with our dogs and get ready to practice having them focus only on us for 10 seconds. I immediately got nervous and expected Stella to make a fool out of me, since in past classes most of the other dogs completed their tasks effortlessly while Stella’s tried to run around the room like a crazy asshole.

But I’ll be damned, I got her attention and said “Watch me!” and that little turd looked me dead in the eyes for 10 seconds! So I gave her the treat, and we did it again. I was afraid the first time was a fluke, but no—she focused on me again! We tried a few more times and occasionally another dog would bark and break her gaze, but for the most part she focused on me for as long as I’d ask her to (as long as it wasn’t more than 10 seconds or so).

The second skill we practiced was teaching our dogs that patience rewards you and demanding what you want means you get nothing (so basically the opposite of real life). I had to hold a treat in my hand and let her smell it, but she couldn’t have it until she moved her head back away from my hand and the treat. She could nudge and lick my hand, but as soon as she tried to use her teeth or if she touched my hand with her paw I had to put my hand behind my back and say “Nope!”

Knowing how impatient Stella is I figured she would not be on board with this patience exercise, but she surprised me again. She put her paw on my hand twice, but that’s it—the third time, and every subsequent time, she moved her head back after only a few seconds and waited for me to give her the treat.

I was so excited I yelled “Holy shit, Stella, you are so smart!” and the couple with two young kids and a German Shepherd glared at me. Their dog was whining and barking the whole time and had to have a barrier between it and the other dogs so I think they were already in a bad mood. Sorry guys, I was just celebrating how smart my shelter dog is.

No joke, after nine weeks of classes where Stella was always one of the worst-behaved dogs, this time she was the best. She got a little restless in the last five minutes of class, but otherwise she was completely on-point. If I could have high-fived her furry little paw and yelled “SUCK IT HATERS!” I totally would have. Actually, that might be a trick I try to teach her.

The difference

When we adopted King Boo in the spring of 2009, I couldn’t get over how much more four cats felt than three. It was just one more cat, but we might have adopted 40 more. We went through so much more food and litter. The dust built up around the house like crazy. At feeding time, all four cats would circle around me like sharks and I would exclaim “We have SO MANY cats!” each time as though it were the first time I noticed.

I thought maybe part of it was that King Boo was a difficult kitten. He was rambunctious, and you could never not notice his presence. I thought maybe his personality was so big that adopting him just made it seem like we had adopted more than one cat when we took him home.

But now that Evil Twin is gone and we’re back down to three, I’ve definitely noticed a difference again. Evil Twin was a quiet and unassuming cat. He didn’t take up much space or time. And while his absence in particular is noted, there is definitely a difference between having three cats and having four cats. I think that’s where the line for “crazy cat lady” should be drawn.

I don’t think we’ll adopt any more for a while. Partly because four cats was too many, at least in our tiny house. But you know, each furry creature I bring into the house is evidence of another eventual heartbreak.

That sounds dramatic, but I’m still wallowing. Anyway, let’s look at one of my favorite pictures of Evil Twin. Emily reminded me of this on Facebook earlier in the week. I took it after we’d come home from Bonnaroo one night in 2011 and decided to decorate Evil Twin with our glow bracelets. Always happy with any attention, he complied. I think this picture sums up his personality pretty well, actually.

Evil Twin gets ready for his rave

Bye, guy

When Evil Twin first showed up at the house one summer night eight years ago, we ran him off with a water hose. When he showed up again the next spring, we thought he was pregnant (nope, just fat). Letting him in at night when it was cold turned into letting him out occasionally, and he would patrol from the front door around to the back patio. We’d find him meowing at the back door to get in, covered in mulch, content that he’d protected us and our house.

One summer a few years ago, while my sister Emily was visiting, we took him to the vet because his urine smelled sweet. He was diagnosed with diabetes, and we could either put him to sleep or give him insulin shots twice a day. I told Ian to make the call, and he opted to treat him.

Evil Twin getting pettedHis insulin was switched out various times over the years, each time getting more expensive. He kept us awake at night meowing for water out of the faucet instead of drinking from a bowl. Out of revenge for the nights we didn’t get up out of a dead sleep to turn on the water, he clawed the carpet to shreds. He rarely cleaned himself, and he ruined our couch and various walls with his greasy coat. He wasn’t cuddly, but he loved to lay on Ian’s legs, tearing up his pants with his claws that he would never retract. He was mean to BK; he didn’t want to play with King Boo. He was Gordo’s evil twin.

But there was something about him that was endearing. He was protective of me. Of our house. He was friendly when people would come over; he let kids pet him and pull at his tail. He wasn’t scared of anything.

A couple months ago, we decided to stop giving him his insulin shots. It wasn’t making a difference in his health that we could tell, it wasn’t curbing his water-demanding habits, and at times it made him sick to his stomach. A couple weeks ago, we realized he had lost a lot of weight. Last week, he weighed eight pounds. He used to weigh 14.

On Wednesday, Ian was out playing trivia and I came downstairs to find Evil Twin sitting on the couch. His face had changed. Just like that. I saw death when I looked at him, and it gave me chills.

So I quit yelling at him when he got in the sink. I stopped pushing him off the bed when I would wake up to find him curled up next to me in all of his stinky glory. I started petting him a bit more.

Pretty sure this guy is on his way out. His face changed yesterday.

This past week, we realized he hadn’t been eating. He tripped over a shoe that was right in front of him, and he had been having trouble jumping up onto counters. We thought we heard him crunching on a loose tooth, so on Saturday we took him to the vet to get checked out.

His tooth was fine. He had chosen on his own to stop eating. He was severely dehydrated, despite the fact that he had been drinking a lot of water. Dr. Barker, our vet, told us that he likely was in kidney failure. He could possibly have had cancer, or some other common ailment, but he was nearly blind due to cataracts, and we had believed him to be going deaf for quite some time, too.

Here was a cat who was at least 10 years old, if not older, who was diabetic, asthmatic, almost blind and deaf, severely dehydrated and most likely in kidney failure. We could have spent several hundred or thousand dollars finding out what exactly was wrong, but the vet was not hopeful he would return to a healthy state.

He was, in the vet’s words, on his way out. So we decided to let him go.

R.I.P. Evil Twin

I asked that we be present because I didn’t want him to die alone. He was so dehydrated that they couldn’t get a catheter in him, so they had to inject him in his stomach. It was supposed to take 30 minutes for him to die but it took less than a minute. Dr. Barker said that was an indication that he was sicker than we had suspected.

They brought him into the room in a towel and laid him on the table, where we pet his head and talked to him as he seemed to fall asleep. In less than a minute, he was gone. His little tongue was sticking out, and his face had changed back.

I thought this would have been easier. He was just a stray that showed up years ago. We didn’t seek him out. He wasn’t cute. And we knew he was dying. I kept hoping we would come home from work and he would be lying still under the bed. It’s a lot different when you have to make that decision for another living being, even when they’re old and sick.

I know we made the right decision. But I didn’t expect to miss him so much.

Shaved kitteh is shaved

You’d think I’d have learned my lesson after last year, when I waited until April to have King Boo shaved and wasted almost an entire month chasing around after his tumbleweeds. You’d think, after summer came in February this year and spring was hardly to be seen, that I would have just gone ahead and gotten his hair cut in early March like I kept threatening.

What you don’t know is how glorious his fur is, though. Like a rabbit’s, except that it’s attached to the friendliest and silliest cat I’ve ever known. I wasn’t aware that a personality could attach itself to fur, but apparently it can. And did. And so I procrastinated shaving it off him.

But we’re in this weird, belated spring period now, which means I want the windows open at all times. Which means cat hair that had fled beneath the couch has been unearthing itself for the past week. Which means it was time to shave King Boo.

So we did. Well, the groomer did. And now, my beautiful, sweet, silly, kind cat who’s never in a bad mood and usually looks like this:

Now looks like this:

He’s gotten over it quicker this year than he did last year, but I think he can tell we’re laughing at him. Poor guy.

Making the rounds

Over the past couple of weeks, every single one of our four cats has come down with the same illness: A sneezing, wheezing, eye-swelling sickness. I have had cats my entire life and have never seen an illness spread from one to the next as reliably as this one has.

Poor Evil Twin is sick now :(The first to get it was Link, and he sneezed a couple times a day for maybe three days. Then a few days later Gordo started sneezing, but he was much worse. He sneezed in spurts of five or six at a time, probably every hour of the day. Last weekend I noticed his nose was swollen and he was having a hard time breathing through what sounded like nasal passages filled with snot, so on Monday I took him in to the vet. They decided he had an upper respiratory infection, gave him a shot of antibiotics and a shot of cortisone, and within three days he was much better. He still sneezes once in a while, but he’s nowhere near as pitiful as he was a week ago.

But then, late last week, BK started sneezing. And her eyes became slits. And she acted pretty puny. She seems to have gotten over it without needing veterinary intervention, though.

Evil Twin doesn’t seem like he’s going to be so lucky. He started sneezing on Friday, and has spent the entire weekend either sneezing, wheezing, or trying to open his eyes wide enough to make us feel bad that not only does he have diabetes and asthma, but now he’s contracted the feline bubonic plague. So he’ll probably need some antibiotics to get over this, too. Damn orange cats and their shitty immune systems.

Ah, the fun of having multiple cats.