One year gone

Today marks one year since Gordo died. He was cremated and I planted tiger lilies (given to me by a thoughtful and knowing friend) above the place in our yard where I scattered the ashes. The flowers bloomed and then died, and I fretted until my friend told flowers for Gordome they would grow back again the next season.

One day recently, Ian started to accidentally mow over the burial spot and the lawn mower—which is electric and had full batteries—sputtered and stopped working. “Gordo says hi,” he told me later.

The flowers are growing again now, and should bloom soon.

In the year since Gordo died, I’ve thought about him often. Every day, most likely, since I see things all over the house that remind me of him. I almost started crying when I opened a box of Band Aids recently—peeling off their wrappers would cause him to come running from wherever he was and he would beg to be able to eat the paper.

At first I wasn’t sure how I’d sleep, since every night for nearly 16 years he would curl up under my chin and purr me to sleep, but soon after he was gone BK started sleeping where he used to. She tried to be sneaky about it at first—she’d climb into bed this is how we sleptand get between Ian and me as usual, but when I would wake up in the morning she’d be on my right side, snuggled up to me and my pillow just like Gordo used to. (Well, almost. She’s not super into being spooned like he was.) Now, though, she is pretty obvious about what she’s doing and many nights she’ll immediately settle down next to me and start purring. I’m not sure if she set out to intentionally comfort me, but it worked. It still works.

I don’t see him in Dragon (what we finally settled on as a name for the male foster kitten we ended up adopting) at all, which is a relief. I was so afraid I was subconsciously trying to replace him by adopting another male ginger cat, but he’s pretty much the exact opposite of Gordo. He’s a kinetic ball of energy, and is both skittish and brave at the same time. He isn’t too fond of people, but he loves BK and King Boo and Stella is his best friend. He’s not super cuddly, and I don’t think I could ever hold him long enough to cry into his fur, but he brings a different joy and energy into the house.

And this morning, I woke up with both him and BK sleeping next to me.

I knew the feelings of hollow sadness wouldn’t last forever, but it’s a relief to have made it a year and be able to think back easily and sweetly of the time I spent with Gordo. He was one cool cat who lived a good, long life. So rest in peace, old buddy. I’ll be drinking in your honor today.

RIP Gordo

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.

Dogs are pretty cool

I had this whole blog post written up comparing the way I relate to my cats vs. Stella, but I just re-read it and I sound like I’ve really gone off the deep end. Maybe I have. Maybe I was never sane to begin with. That’s probably more like it.

Anyway, things are good. The house is starting to feel more harmonious; BK has been spending time out of her cat tree, down on the couch with us and sleeping in the bed every night. She ignores Stella for the most part, and will hiss and smack her if she gets too rowdy when she’s nearby, but I’ve seen them sleeping on the couch next to each other a few times so I know she’s not scared or too irritated by her.

We’ve enrolled Stella in a dog day camp once a week to help her expend all of that puppy energy, and let me tell you: It’s not cheap but it’s worth every penny. She comes home completely exhausted and is calm for at least the next day, sometimes two days. She also comes home completely covered in dog spit and dirt, so we’ve had to start bathing her after each visit. She’s pretty good in the tub, but I need to get one of those hand-held sprayers or shower heads that hooks onto a tub faucet. She’s got so much fur, especially now that she has her winter coat, that it takes forever to rinse the shampoo out of her.

I’ve also hired a trainer to come to the house and help me train her with leash walking. We met Julie at Play Dog Excellent when she was the teacher for Stella’s most recent obedience class, Manners Matter. She came out to the house on Tuesday and showed me some exercises I can do outside to help Stella learn where she should walk in relation to me on our walk, and then more importantly, what I can do to teach her not to pull. She’s preparing a full assessment on Stella (which I can’t wait to read), but the main thing is that while Stella wants to please, she also gets ridiculously excited when she goes outside. I need to learn to break through that excitement and get her to focus on me. Hoo boy.

One of the things we learned in that Manners Matter class is that with a “toddler-aged” dog (10 months to two years), you’re going to have a lot of good and a lot of bad days. This is one of the truest things I think I’ve ever heard. We’ll have days where I think Stella is growing up, where she seems like the smartest and best-behaved dog. And then we’ll have days where she scratches to go outside and wants back in 20 times in an hour. Where she won’t stop pacing when I’m trying to work. Where I’ll try to walk her and she’ll go in all different directions and bark at anything that moves.

But man, the good days are so good. She’s getting more affectionate, and sometimes Ian will put her up in the bed with me in the morning and she’ll lay against me and go back to sleep. When we’re driving somewhere she’ll get up on the center console for a bit so she can see out the front window, and she’s started doing this thing where she will lean against me. At first I thought it was for balance, but I’ve noticed her doing it when we’re driving straight ahead. And more and more often I catch her leaning up against Ian as she sleeps on the couch.

Our bed is too high for her to get up and down safely on her own, so we’re looking for some dog stairs that are tall and deep enough to use. She’s a bit nervous around stairs in general, so it might take some practice, but hopefully she’ll get used to them and in the mornings she can join the animal pile that our bed becomes.

As long as BK doesn’t mind, that is. That cat rules the bed and even we have to move to accommodate her.

They just know

The way animals sense things is extraordinary. Most of the time I see it in action when the cats know there’s a bug on the ceiling, but I haven’t seen it yet. They’ll claw at the wall and meow, I’ll get annoyed, and then finally I’ll see the spider and realize why they were going nuts. As I squish it (or, more plausibly, yell for Ian to come squish it), they’ll look at me like I’m a simpleton for taking so long to acknowledge the impending danger they were warning me about.

Last night, I was having some really bad ladyparts cramps. All ladyparts cramps are bad for me since I rarely have them, but last night was horrible. I spent most of the night with a heating pad on me, but when I fell asleep and turned on my side at some point, it slipped off me and onto the bed and was lost to the covers.

I woke up this morning on my back with BK laying on my abdomen, positioned so that the warmest part of her body was on top of where the worst cramp had been. She was purring and staring at me through slightly closed eyes.

Not surprisingly, I felt much better.

I’ve heard that a cat’s purr has healing properties, and last year when I had kidney stones BK spent a lot of time laying on my abdomen, too. Maybe there is really something to it. Either way, I know someone who’s getting a can of tuna tonight.

Sick kitty on the mend (hopefully)

By Saturday morning it was clear BK was getting worse, not better, so we took her back to the vet. While she wasn’t entirely sure, all signs pointed to her having had an allergic reaction to the two vaccinations she got on Thursday. Her belly was bright red and she cried when the vet touched her abdomen, so her best guess was that she had developed vasculitis in reaction to the shots.

Poor baby kittySo she got a shot of cortisone and antibiotics (in case she had developed a UTI; we hadn’t seen her pee in almost a day and she had laid down in the litter box, which is extremely out of character for her), and then some fluids for support. We brought her home and she immediately ate some wet food I put out for her, so we felt comfortable enough to leave her for the weekend since we were going back to Murfreesboro and Mt. Juliet to celebrate Christmas with Ian’s family (we had missed it originally because he was sick with the flu over Christmas).

The whole weekend I was worried sick. I barely slept Saturday night, afraid we would come home and find her dead. Fortunately, she greeted us at the door Sunday evening when we got home. She ate some more wet food and was more affectionate than usual. She wasn’t able to jump up onto her condo, though, and later that night when we went to bed she couldn’t jump up onto the bed so I had to put her in it.

BK is still sick, but getting betterBut yesterday morning I woke up and she was in the closet, sleeping in the corner where she sometimes likes to sleep, but usually not overnight. She did get in the shower after Ian got out, which is part of her normal routine, but I found her in it a bit later looking like she couldn’t get comfortable. I had to put her up in her condo later in the morning because she fell when she tried to jump into it, which was a really sad thing to watch.

So I called the vet’s office and they told me to make sure she is getting enough food. She ate two cans of wet food and a bit of dry food, and seemed to have perked up by the time Ian got home from work. She hung out with me while I packed up some of our kitchen stuff, and then she slept in the bed almost all night. She still wasn’t able to jump into the bed, but once I put her up there she seemed comfortable. When we woke up this morning she was sleeping in the cat condo in the bedroom, which is usually where we find her in the mornings.

On the mend, hopefullyI canceled the appointment to bring her back to the vet today because she seemed improved enough to not need to go in. Packing her up in the carrier and carting her over there in 10 degree weather would probably just make her feel worse, so I’m going to continue to keep an eye on her today and see if she continues to improve. She’s sleeping in the closet instead of in her cat tree right now, which makes me a little nervous, but when I’ve gone to check on her she’s been more alert than in previous days. The vet’s office told me that if she seems to be regressing again to just call and they’ll get her in to be seen.

You know, there are many times I’m glad to be able to work from home, but this situation is one that makes me especially grateful. Being able to watch her all day and night without missing work is a huge relief, as is knowing I could run her to the vet immediately if I needed to. Hopefully she will continue to get better and will be back to her old self very soon… and then I’ve got to have a conversation with the vet about not having to vaccinate her again. I am not going to put her through this every year, that’s for sure.

We’re not off to a great start

BK spent the day at the vet yesterday getting her shots updated and her belly fur shaved off because of all of the mats, and now she’s laying around crying and feeling uncomfortable.

King Boo freaked out when I brought her back home and has been camped out by the couch for about 14 hours. I finally brought some food and water over to him and as soon as he started eating it, Gordo came over and shooed him away so he could eat it. Ass.

Oh, and I had to take my car into the shop this morning because it started making this horrible metal-on-metal scraping sound yesterday when I was taking BK to the vet. Based on the noises I described they told me it was probably the brakes, but I had those replaced a year ago and they shouldn’t need replacing again so soon. Here’s hoping they call and tell me the real issue is something else, but not something else that’s going to be really expensive.

2014, you are not impressing me so far.

The Treehouse of Peace

I can’t really pinpoint when the rift began, but I could definitely feel it all of last year. I suppose, if pressed, I would say that it started when we brought home King Boo. That’s when I would say BK got angry with me.

She’s always been Ian’s cat, more or less. When we first adopted her, she depended on both of us. I was her mom, he was her dad. But as she grew into a teen and then an adult, dependence turned into tolerance and she doled out affection like a reward, as most cats do. She’s now planted herself firmly into crabby old lady territory, where she will kiss you one day and swish her claws the next. It’s a gamble. She’s still sweet, but it’s balanced with salty.

I am not sure how to refer to our trouble, BK and I. She started sitting with me less. She had always slept on Ian’s pillow, but often she would wedge herself between us and sometimes lay next to me. That waned, and she would hardly deign to let me pet her. You’d think Gordo moving himself to the upstairs floor of the house would have been a clue, but I just assumed she was doing that thing cats do. Where they change their minds. Get moody.

But now I am almost certain that she was upset with me for bringing home King Boo. She was the baby kitty. She was the young’un. And then we brought home something that required her to confront the truth that she was no longer the youngest being in the family. Maybe she became aware of her own mortality, the way we all do when we hit middle age. And despite Ian and I both bringing King Boo home, she knew he was my baby. My cat. And so she started pulling away.

When we moved, I carried all of the cats in my car. I sweet-talked to her the whole ride here. When she was afraid to leave her carrier once it was in the apartment, even after Gordo spent time sitting with her, I sat on the floor and spoke in a calm voice. I told her she was safe. I smelled like home.

She was so mad at us for moving her out of her house. The house she was supposed to guard. She spent every day in bed for a month, and because I work from home, I spent some time every day with her as she lay in that bed. I pet her. I told her she was safe. I made sure I got her favorite toys and played with her.

Eventually, she started to get up out of the bed more. She still laid with Ian more often, but on weekdays she started coming out of the bedroom and finding me at my desk. She would nuzzle her head into my hand and purr. She would bring toy mice to me.

A month or so ago, I bought this giant cat condo that we call the Treehouse. I bought it for BK and King Boo because they like to be up high and climb on things, respectively. King Boo took to it immediately, scaling it using only his nails on the scratching ropes, but BK couldn’t figure out the ladder. Ian tried lifting her up onto it, but she couldn’t figure out how to get down so she would jump nearly six feet onto the hard, concrete floor. I winced a few times watching her. She rarely used it, and I can’t say I blame her.

But then I had an idea. I brought one of our kitchen chairs over next to the Treehouse and set her up at the top. Sure enough, she jumped down to the chair and then to the floor. And I guess once she realized she had a safe way down, she felt it was OK to use the ladder to get up. She stopped sleeping in the bed all day and began perching herself atop the Treehouse, where she could keep an eye on me or look outside over the traffic.

One day as I was driving to Nashville for work, Ian texted me a picture of BK and King Boo in the Treehouse together. Considering how previously she couldn’t be within three feet of him without growling or lashing out, this was incredible. I assumed it was a one-time thing, but I soon noticed her up there with him every day. For hours on end, they will nap next to each other in the Treehouse. I’ve caught her grooming him as he sleeps a few times.

Double occupancy!

And then, a strange thing happened.

I woke up in the middle of the night and realized I was spooning her. She did the same thing the next night, and has done it every night since then. At some point in the middle of the night, she wakes me up by licking my nose and paws at me until I lay the right way and spoon her, both of our heads on the pillow as she makes biscuits in the palm of my hand and falls asleep.

During the day, now, she sleeps in the Treehouse but will come down to check up on me. She will sit by me on the couch sometimes. The rift I felt before seems to have faded. I have to wonder if it’s because she finally stopped hating King Boo and doesn’t have to blame me for his annoying existence anymore. Or maybe it’s because we, as a family, moved to a new place and she realized that everything is temporary and she shouldn’t take her family for granted.

I can’t talk to her to figure out what she has been thinking, obviously. But if it’s possible to have, lose and then repair a friendship with a cat, I’m pretty sure that’s what happened.

A symphony of meowing

We knew moving the cats to another city would be an ordeal. On July 20, we loaded each of them into their own carrier and then into the back seat of my car, the rest of which was packed full of everything we didn’t want the moving company to handle that we hadn’t already moved to Chattanooga the weekend before. Ian drove his car, too, which was also packed to the gills with our belongings. We were basically the Clampetts.

BK cried the whole way. But Gordo, who nine years ago when we moved completely flipped his shit—sending three grown men running—was completely calm. He chilled in his cat carrier the whole way down, even over the mountain when BK was singing the blues louder than the music I was playing.

King Boo was silent. He was so scared. Every once in a while I heard him whimper in response to BK’s cries, but for the most part he sat wide-eyed and frozen.

BK has been singing the blues the whole way. She especially hates rain showers and driving up the mountain (but was cool with driving down it).

When we arrived at our new apartment, Ian went up first to make sure the sealant on the floor was dry (they had resealed the concrete a few days prior), and then we hauled all three carriers up all three flights of stairs because the elevator was broken. Of course.

We set the carriers in the bedroom and closed the door so the cats wouldn’t be overwhelmed by too many new sights and smells immediately. We opened all three carrier doors and sat down on the floor, but only Gordo would come out. Considering he had screamed and cried and had to be drugged with both thorazine and valium the last time we moved, I was in awe of how normal he was acting. He literally did not have one shit to give about being uprooted from his previous life and home. He just wanted to check things out.

But after he walked around a bit, he must have noticed that the other two cats were still scared. And then I witnessed what is probably one of the coolest things I have ever seen a cat do: He started comforting BK and King Boo. He crawled into BK’s carrier and laid with her for a while, purring. Then he got up and crawled into King Boo’s carrier and did the same thing. He went back and forth, mashing himself in there on top of them, purring and cuddling. Let me note: None of these cats *ever* cuddle with each other. They get along, but they have never ever cuddled. I’m no veterinarian, but I saw this as him going out of his way to comfort his brother and sister because he knew they were scared.

Is it possible to feel your heart break and swell at the same time? Because that’s how I felt watching him.

Gordo knows King Boo is scared so he got in his carrier with him.

Eventually, BK and King Boo came out of their carriers to eat and drink and use the litter box we set up in the bedroom. Ian and I inflated the air mattress we’d brought with us and piled blankets on it, and later that night we had all three cats sleeping on it with us.

But poor King Boo was more nervous that weekend than I’d ever seen him. He’s always been affectionate with me, but Saturday night he made sure that at any given moment he was touching some part of my body. Instead of sleeping above the covers in the crook of my knee like he usually does, he burrowed under the blankets and wedged himself right next to my stomach, making sure that he was as close to me as possible. It was like I was the only thing in the world he trusted to keep him safe.

I left Sunday evening to drive back to Murfreesboro since I had to meet the movers the next day, and Ian said King Boo slept right up next to him that night. But by the time I got back to Chattanooga on Tuesday night, he was right as rain. A little freaked out by all of the boxes, but he was back to strutting as he walked.

BK was depressed for a couple weeks after the move, but we made an effort to pay extra attention to her every day and it seems to have helped. She is mostly back to normal now, although we do still find her sleeping in the bed a lot instead of hanging out in the living room with us in the evenings. I’ve always heard that female cats are more territorial than males, though, so I imagine she is holding a grudge because we took her away from the house she diligently guarded for nine years.

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