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November 26, 2004

Ah, yes, the holidays ...

For some reason incomprehensible to me, I-75 apparently only runs one direction on holidays -- southbound. Which is to say, we always wind up packing up all the dog's shit and piling in the RAV (yeah, we bought a baby-ute for pretty much this reason) and driving to Greater Cincinnati.

Besides the fact the dog sometimes runs back and forth between the back seat (where he's supposed to be) and the front seat (where he's absolutely not supposed to be), it seems there's always some family rift/politcal bloviating from some smug right-wingnut/unexpected annoyance that we have to endure.

The wingnut bloviating/racism/sexism/you name it always happens at Tony's family's place, by the way. For the most part, my family are lefties, if not all equally progressive. We comprise a spectrum from somewhere around Dick Gephardt to just left of George McGovern, at my family's house, when Tony and I are there (we're probably a hair to the right of McGovern, but left of most so-called Democrats today).

Tony's family includes people who probably think Goebbels was resolute and upstanding, if a little too moderate, and that George Wallace was racially tolerant, though they also have their moderates in the family, most of whom who have put up with so many years of ignoring the RNC talking points, I'm sure they don't even hear the bullshit flying around the room anymore.

While I don't regret it, I suppose in a larger sense it's somewhat regrettable that I don't do this well, having grown up around well-meaning people of progressive values, so even when it doesn't happen, I sit there for a few hours expecting it to happen. I'd almost rather be at work.

Max likes to ride in the car, if I haven't mentioned this before. He goes into a frenzy of dancing and barking when the word 'ride' is spoken in the right tone of voice. If it's combined with moving his water bowl and packing his bag (dry food, canned food, Greenies, poop bags, a towel if the weather is the least bit wet), you'll be lucky if he doesn't completely explode before you're ready to leave.

Max has that inconvenient intestinal stuff I know I've mentioned before, so we have to be extra-careful what he gets to eat outside his pre-packaged diet. Holidays are especially difficult, because even though Max is not a child substitute for us, he is a sort of child substitute for our mothers, especially mine. Mom feels guilty if she doesn't get to give Max at least some food in the course of the day. I know she would prefer to have additional grandchildren, but I'm forty already -- I really don't know if I have what it takes. If I don't know, I think it's a fair cop it's probably not something I should take on. That's just me, though -- Mom disagrees, and she has a right to her opinion.

Anyway, this results in Max getting small pieces of meat while he's there, and usually not eating dog food. And having the shits the next day, unfortunately. Sometimes -- actually, it doesn't happen every time, so it may have nothing to do with the food. Since we don't know, and that's one variable we can control, we try to control it as well as we can.

Tony's family includes one hyperactive child who fixates on anything novel in the environment and then proceeds to chase it around until it dissolves, more or less. This time, it was Max, who behaved amazingly well. Mostly, he either sat on my lap or kept moving just ahead of the kid.

To be fair, I imagine most kids probably are like this, especially around a dog like Max -- he's polite to strangers, not bad with kids, and he's cute. I very much doubt any other kid that age would have behaved any differently, the way people raise kids these days. I probably would have been just as bad when I was a kid, except my folks wouldn't have let me bother somebody else's pet until there was a danger of it losing its patience, both because it's rude to allow a kid to do that and because there's the danger of the animal getting annoyed and hurting the kid.

And there's always other stuff, none of which has to do with having the dog around on holidays, which made everybody such pleasant company the second half of the day (most of it not their faults). Bast, I hate holidays. I want snow for Christmas, just because it means we'll be allowed to stay home, eat whatever the hell we please, feed the animals their usual food, and if we want to have a couple of drinks, we can have those any time after dinner that we please without having to worry about driving fifty miles up wack central highway (I-75 between Cincinnati and Dayton), where there's a cop for every exit and at least five loonies per mile trying to exit from the speed lane, talking on the cell phone, or just glancing smugly at their 'W04' stickers on their back windows.

They'll feel differently in those 8 mpg vehicles if gasoline shoots up to four bucks a gallon. I'll do what I already do -- stand and smile at them smugly at the gas pumps in my baby ute that gets 25 mpg, knowing I didn't vote for the Naked Emperor.

I am, ultimately, thankful that I didn't have to drop any 'f-bombs' in response to anybody's ignorant, Fox-News-driven blathering about politics, and that Max didn't bite anybody's obnoxious progeny.

I guess that's better than nothing.

Posted by Melinda at 12:54 AM | Comments (0)

November 20, 2004

I washed a dog today.

Well, Tony and I did. You see, there's this thing that happens to dogs, even if they're not outside dogs. Their heads begin to smell like a cache of mildewed gym socks you didn't realize you'd left in your waterproof sport bag for six months. Or else, like stinky-foot cheese.

And Max is definitely no exception to this occurrence. Since the weather's unseasonably warm yet again this year all the way up to Thanksgiving (or the entire ecology's going over the edge into global warming, take your pick), Max has required additional baths to make him presentable to ... well, anybody, really. Because he'll install that stinky-foot-cheese smellin' head right under my nose several times a day, and eventually it gets to be way too much for me.

Max is a small dog, and he's well-behaved, but he does hate to have to get a bath.

As is clear from his expression in the photo above, having a bath is tantamount to having burning bamboo rammed up under his claws. Not sure why, since it makes him the center of attention, gets him treats (both when he's done in the tub and afterward, a few hours later, when he gets brushed out), we both get involved, I sit in the tub with him, and the whole procedure (if he doesn't have too many dingleberries) takes about fifteen minutes, tops.

Doesn't he look like there's a guillotine off frame, though?

Yeah, it's a real trial for him. Fifteen minutes standing in the tub. At least he's small enough we can keep him in there without a major fight.

It's all part of having a dog, of course, and we don't mind it nearly as much as he does -- especially since it makes him much more pleasant to be around when he smells like some bizarre tropical schnapps coconut-banana-mango drink than liquefied old sweat socks. I'll take 'sex on the beach' over 'stinky foot cheese' any day, whether he likes it or not.

Clearly, once it's all over he's gunning for the door. Of course, it's partly because he knows he'll get cookies (dog biscuits, of course), and partly because once he gets out of the bathroom he can go roll around on everything and 'get his stink back on.' In a limited sense, of course -- it's not really his stink, and it takes several days before he's stopped sniffing himself suspiciously and trying to lick the smell of 'sex on the beach' off his feet.

But he looks so damn good once he's dry, and we've brushed him out again, we put up with the abbatoir look, the licking, the 'sex on the beach' and the stinkeye. The moment you know it's all been worth it is the first time he goes out, after all the tribulations, and you watch the skirting under the ass fountain sway back and forth in the breeze like a beaded curtain. I know Max doesn't get to enjoy that -- he can't see his own ass -- and it wouldn't matter to him anyway, but it's always nice to have tangible reminders of why we put both him and ourselves through all that.

He actually has quite the enormous pad of undercoat and fruff on his butt, between the fountainous tail, the skirting underneath, and the butt-pads. Half that dog's fur is on his butt, I swear it is -- and that's saying something, as fruffy as he is everywhere else.

I've read that Pomeranians* were bred as watchdogs. They were sent to the corners of the property to sit on the midden heap (trash pile) to keep an eye on intruders. Hence the pealing, earsplitting bark most Poms have, including Max. They were bred as lookouts, though clearly the breed -- especially here in America, where they're practically crippled from being bred down for size -- has devolved far from that noble career. The U.S. breed standard for a male Pomeranian is 7-10 pounds; people will pay through the ass to get one smaller at full growth.

I could rant about this for a long time, about genetic patellar luxation that's become incredibly common, and the fact that they've bred the same misfit skull genetic trait to the point some purebred Poms' eyeballs actually pop out if they suffer minor head traumas ... but what's the point, really? I never wanted a purebred dog anyway, and I don't know if Max is. Even if he is a genetic-standard Pomeranian, he's big enough and out of physical standard enough to be healthy, which is all that really matters around here.

Yeah, they do it to cats, too. I've seen at least three dumped Persians at the shelter whose faces were so malformed they could only drink water out of a guinea-pig sized bottle with a ball bearing tube; if they leaned down into a bowl to drink water, they aspirated it through their sunken, misshapen noses.

Because people breed for appearance and public demand, not for the health of the breed, that's why. Not all, mind you -- there are serious breeders out there who make an effort to improve the dog or cat itself; to make it healthier, more congenial and attractive all at the same time. They don't, however, live in double-wide trailers in southern Missouri (or on Amish farms in central Pennsylvania, or on decrepit former farms in southwestern Ohio) and sell their 'product' at flea markets and shopping mall pet stores. You wait in line for years to buy their dogs or cats, and you pay what I paid for my last vehicle.

In other words, I'm not strictly against the deliberate breeding of animals, it's just that the whole breed animal economy seems to reward backyard breeders and puppy/kitten mills to the point most affordably available, papered purebred animals -- and these people can actually get these genetic failures registered through the American Kennel Club -- are little, furry cauldrons of genetic mishaps just waiting for the right time in the dog or cat's life cycle to unfurl into an expensive, painful dilemma for both pet and owner. Who wants a dog or cat that's puny all its life, and decrepit at seven years old when most other non-purebred dogs or cats of otherwise similar characteristics live to be fifteen or twenty? People for whom appearances matter more than anything else, of course, and as much money as puppy mills and backyard breeders seem to make, they must be legion.

But that's America -- profit trumps good sense, and consumer demand trumps the good of the public and the integrity of the product. Has for decades, I guess. It's bad enough when it's cars or computers -- it's really cruel and sickening when it's companion animals.

No, really.

And we like the way Max looks better than a 'breed standard' Pom anyway. Hell, we have more fun with him that we would a seven-pound dog -- you can't pretend to do a 'pile driver' with a seven-pound dog, and make it squeal like a wolverine, like we do with Max.

Its eyes would probably fall out.


* Just FYI, Pomeranians -- named after the geographic area in Germany -- originally were about Max's size. One was presented to Queen Victoria that was about his size, ages back, and for a long time the breed was called the Victorian Pomeranian. But as with all things, people couldn't leave a perfectly good dog breed alone and began breeding them down in size. In Europe, however, the Victorian Pomeranian still exists. It's called a German Mittelspitz (middle-sized Spitz) in Europe, Australia and Canada, and is considered a separate breed from the smaller Pomeranian (called a Kleinspitz in Germany), though the middle-sized Spitz breed isn't recognized here in the States yet. If Max is any indication of what the whole breed is like -- robust, good tempered, loving and healthy -- American dog breeders are missing the boat, and should embrace the Mittelspitz. Well, except for the fact that public demand would probably ultimately require some bizarre trait -- shorter nose, longer tail -- that would result in the American version of the Mittelspitz being yet another cauldron of bizarre genetic mishaps like the Pomeranian is now. On second thought, America, ignore the Mittelspitz!

Posted by Melinda at 01:44 PM | Comments (0)

November 18, 2004

Popcorn feet and other tidbits.

When you just go around reading animal groups on the Internets, sometimes you get some really weird stuff. Not long after we acquired Max, I was reading some posts on some site or other geared toward people who have Pomeranians, and this woman posted the rather embarrassing revelation that her dog's feet smelled like popcorn.

I laughed my ass half off over that, and I never thought any more about it.

Then, one night, I was lying on the sofa and Max jumped up there with me. So I smelled his foot. You know what? The sucker's feet do, in fact, smell like popcorn. I suppose it has to do with the sweat glands in a dog's foot, and it's likely most dogs' feet smell like that. And here I was laughing at that poor woman when she was absolutely right.

Here's a question -- and I admit I've seen it before, on the 'cat groups' -- why does the diameter of a cat's nether eye have no apparent connection with the size of what's extruded through it? Tink's anus is the size of an asterisk, but her turds are nearly as big around as the dog's. Doodle poops bird droppings, and hers is the size of a nickel.

And where are they trying to dig to, when they dig around in a perfectly clean litter box? They know the litter box is finite, and yet Gord and Squeek, especially, will root around in there as if they were digging for gold.

I wondered about Doodle, but I know why she does it -- when we first got her, we were having a battle with Poop Spiders. If I recall correctly, they were wolf spiders -- the brown ones with the little black lozenges on their backs, the ones that start out small but can get to be the size of a tarantula if they find a good hideout and plenty of food. All's I know is, they were darned persistent about hanging around in the litter boxes, and Doodle was on the case. She'd spend hours sitting in the bathroom waiting for one, then she'd hop in the litter box and beat it all around until its legs were gone.

I think, to be honest, the Poop Spiders were waiting around for ants or woodlice, both of which we see in the downstairs bathroom on occasion, but even woodlice and ants are smart enough to stay out of the litter boxes. Even if not for the cats, ants don't eat cat poop.

Every now and then, when she has access to the run, Doodle will still bring us in a wolf spider. They're usually partially dismembered and the legs they have left are ratted up into a knot. Wolf spiders are relatively harmless, as spiders go -- she doesn't seem much inclined to bring in any other kind, so either she knows that or wolf spiders are the only ones stupid enough not to get the hell out of the way when they see a cat coming.

What am I saying -- they were living in the litter box. Of course they're stupid.

Tink never brings us anything. She doesn't know how to hunt, she was too young when we brought her home. She'll play with an ant on the floor for hours, but never kill it -- just maim it so badly it drags its flattened abdomen around in a shallow, wobbly arc, with the two or three legs she's left it, until one of us crushes it and flushes it, or until another of the cats eats it.

Squeek, for her part, probably kills things -- but she doesn't bring them to us. Doodle, more than the others, brings her kills in and announces them to us. She used to kill the little rope from the monk-shaped Frangelico bottle and bring it to us, until we got the dog. Now, if she finds one, we're lucky if she can make it across the room before the dog has snatched it away from her to devour. We actually quit drinking Frangelico as much because Doodle couldn't kill the belt anymore as because we don't like Frangelico.

Posted by Melinda at 11:16 PM | Comments (0)

November 12, 2004

In case you hadn't noticed ...

Our domestic hair factories might be the slightest bit ... well, shall we say ... spoiled?

Okay -- yeah, they're spoiled, at least to the extent any animal who's one of five can possibly be spoiled. They eat pretty much what they want, if not always as much as they want; we've gone out of our way to make the house cat- and/or dog-proof and safe.

And then, there's the run.

Yeah, we have a run out back for the cats and the dog, when he'll go out there. He's kind of clingy, though, so most of the time he won't stay unless we're out there. The cats, I probably need not tell you, have no such reservations.

Actually, we had discussed putting a run in long before the dog ever became an issue, when it was just Tink, Gord and Doodle (what kind of house do you live in, when you 'just' have three cats ... oh, well, never mind). Doodle, especially, always liked to go outside -- she learned to walk on a lead and harness so she could go, that's how much she liked it.

These images are of the back yard before we built the run. The blue tape around the window was from the measurements we made when we applied for the municipality permit to install it:



Our house is a 'true tri-level' -- there are three floors, all roughly equivalent in size, one half underground with a second floor above, and a front part that's halfway between the others vertically. There is no back door on the house, if we want to access the back yard, we have to go out either the front door or the garage door. This is the one real pain in the ass about the house -- we like just about everything else about it.

Anyway, we'd discussed and researched installing a protected outdoor space for the cats before we even had the dog or Squeek. Perennial procrastinators that we are, though, we didn't get around to doing it until the summer of '04. The rate we do some other unnecessary but desirable things, it's a wonder we got it done at all.

The best way for us to ensure we'll finish something is to go out and spend the money on the materials to do the job. Once the money's spent, we'll do it.

Here's 'Phase I' -- there aren't any pictures of the fun Saturday we spent (okay -- Tony spent) with the rental gas-powered post-hole digger, digging two-foot cores in the root-bound, rock-shot clay that comprises the entirety of the soil in this part of Ohio from about four inches down. It wasn't pretty, let's just leave it at that. This was after we'd installed many of the four-by-four outer support posts:



And some more from this part of the job:



We -- two fortyish desk-jockeys, mind you -- did all this ourselves. Tony did most of the heaviest lifting, and took over anything my hands eventually refused to do (I'm lucky I don't have carpal tunnel so bad, from all the typing I've done over the years, that I can't move half my fingers; I also have inherited osteoarthritis in my hands from both sides of my family).

Among other things, we used two-by-eight boards all around the perimeter, burying them about four inches below ground level (so the cats couldn't just dig under them and take off), and the four-by-four posts are buried two feet below ground level. We used coated two-by-three fencing to put a "skin" around the outside, and fiberglass netting for the "roof."

It's all fastened on with galvanized staples. And yeah, that was a royal pain in the ass, tedious and difficult. We wore out the first stapler to the point it wouldn't drive a staple straight into a block of American cheese, and probably went a long way toward destroying the second one, too. Really, though, it was a relatively inexpensive and relatively easy way of closing the thing in -- the city didn't want us to use anything that would qualify as "chicken wire," not that I'd have thought four healthy, reasonably young cats couldn't have figured out a way to get through chicken wire.

This is the only shot of the finished run that shows anything, and it doesn't really show a whole lot -- we'll probably take some pictures in the spring, once the grass has recovered.


Also, I've planted some tulips near the door, around the corner from it, that I hope will come up in the spring. They're outside, so the cats shouldn't be able to get at them, but at the same time, I can always shove one of them out there to scare off any rabbits who might decide they look like good eating, once they start to sprout in the spring.

Needless to say, the cats love the thing. We put in a canopied swing, which we did sit in a few times before the weather got cold, and a PVC shelving unit the cats like to sit on. There's also a self-filling watering bowl, intended for the dog, but I doubt very much he'll want to spend much time out there unless we're there.

More later about the 'adventures of small critters inadvertently finding themselves in the cat run.' There are a few already, and they've only had access to the thing for just over three months.

Posted by Melinda at 11:28 PM | Comments (0)

November 11, 2004

Just a few things about the beasts.

It's probably not obvious from the pictures, but all the cats are neutered/spayed, and none of them are declawed. To each his own, but I just can't justify remodeling an animal that comes with claws -- you kind of know that about cats, going in. Personally, if I hadn't wanted cats, I'd have gotten a hamster or a ball python instead.

I'm pretty much of the 'if it works, don't fix it' school with all the critters, and we really haven't had any problem with them being fully-equipped (or, if you're of that particular persuasion, 'as God made 'em'). This crew hasn't managed to destroy anything that wasn't bought with cat destruction in mind, i.e. cat furniture. We've done far more damage to the carpet ourselves, moving furniture and rolling office chairs around on it for five years.

They go to the vet for their annual checkups, they get whatever injections are deemed necessary, and that's about it. Our vet has given us something to use that's supposed to help keep their teeth in better shape, and the food they get (a weight-control hairball food, for obvious reasons) is supposed to have a tartar preventive in it, too. Dental problems are one of the most expensive non-accident vet visits you get with an otherwise healthy cat. It's worth it, I'm not griping, and we only have two who have any kind of problem so far -- Gord has gingivitis and needs to have his teeth completely cleaned, periodically; Doodle has whatever it is she has that will eventually lose her all her teeth. Tink is seven years old and has never had to have her teeth cleaned; Squeek is well on the way to three and appears to be in equally good shape, dental-wise.

From years of observation, both of the cats here and at the shelter, the greatest insult to a cat's body would seem to come from excess weight. It doesn't take much extra to render a cat unable to reach all the parts of its body it should be able to reach to groom. When they can't groom all over, they get itchy -- that makes them cranky, in many cases. Tink's never an angel, mind you, but when she's too dumpy she's a real piece of work.

And of course, there are all the usual things that issue from chronic weight problems -- it puts cats a a higher risk of diabetes, as it does humans, though in cats diabetes is somewhat more difficult to control than it is in humans. It can be handled with insulin injections, but when you're dealing with an animal a tenth the size of a human, getting the insulin right is a magnitude more difficult. You don't get much 'wiggle room,' in other words. In addition, cats sometimes have an overnight reversal of diabetes -- but it's difficult to know this has happened until they've gone into insulin shock. Having some experience with diabetes in humans, I know this can be a real insult to the system.

Also, in an older cat, especially an otherwise active one, the extra weight can cause repetitive damage to the joints -- yes, cats also get arthritis. In a declawed cat, set permanently off-balance by the removal of the terminal digit of their amputated toes, I would think that would be an even greater risk, especially if they were overweight. Older declawed cats certainly walk like they hurt, that much I can say is true, though I don't know if they do or not. You seldom know if a cat hurts, they're pretty stoic. We didn't know Doodle's teeth were shot until the smell from her mouth -- like the back alley behind a tuna cannery -- was pretty bad.

Many of these diseases and chronic conditions are things that people didn't deal with in the years when cats were outside mostly, and didn't live as long. The outside cat, speaking generally, lives about six or seven years. On average, the indoor cat lives twelve or so. I know for every rule there are exceptions -- my aunt and uncle who lived next door to us when I was a kid had an old tuxedo Tom cat named Boo Boo, never neutered, only inside when the weather was bad, who must have been twelve or thirteen years old; cats can keel over from unseen heart problems and hidden diseases, like cardiomyopathy, when they're only a couple of years old. Very few outdoor cats outlive Norman Bates, who was eighteen years old when he shuffled off this mortal coil -- and he had cardiomyopathy and thyroid problems for the last five years of his life. He always lived inside. The ex took the best possible care of him, so he got a good run. We expect at least that long out of Tink, and probably Squeek as well; Doodle won't make it to fifteen, I don't imagine, and I am skeptical that Gord will, either.

I don't know as much about dogs and their conditions, but we don't have nearly as big a problem with Max as far as weight goes. When we took him to the vet the first time, we asked what he should weigh for his size and were told anything between twenty and twenty-five pounds probably was okay. He shot up, in the first three months, from fourteen and a half to twenty pounds, and has hovered around twenty-two ever since. Strangely, he seems to know how much to eat and when to quit, unlike Tink and Gord. The only time he ever topped twenty-five pounds was during his first big bout with colitis, or whatever gets into his innards occasionally, and we were feeding him a plain white rice diet for a week or so. Now, we buy Science Diet ID from the vet when we get his pills (they give him a short series of Sulfasalazine if it goes on more than a week) and we don't have that problem. Max spends a little more time than the average dog crated, because we don't leave him alone in the house with the cats (Tink picks on him, and he picks back; we end up with Tink having cystitis and peeing blood everywhere). Besides the social dynamics, he always seems to find something to chew up -- he especially likes corks, which the cats like to knock off the counter to play with, and which give him the shits.

Yeah, Max's weak point would appear to be his innards. We haven't quite figured out what the deal is, either. When we first brought him home, he had chronic diarrhea for the first week and a half he was here. We changed his food over to Iams, hoping it would straighten him out, but it didn't; turned out he had giardia, an intestinal parasite animals usually contract from drinking tainted water, though cats also can give it to each other via the litterbox. A series of Flagyl seemed to take care of that, and for a long time we had no other problems. A year ago last spring, though, we had another battle with diarrhea; after a couple of weeks of going back and forth, and repeatedly having to wash his butt in the shower, we took him to the vet, ran him through the white rice diet and a run of Sulfasalazine, and he straightened out. This spring, we ran into it again, and it took all summer, pretty much, to get it completely straight. We're guessing it's something stress-related, though it also could be an allergy -- we were feeding him a little canned Iams every day, which seemed to be okay until six months ago. Now, he's on the Iams kibble and canned regular Science Diet. For now, things are okay. It's a mystery, really. He gets no 'people food' now; not that he ever got a whole lot of it, but occasionally we'd give him a chip or a few pieces of popcorn. Tink loves plain potato chips and popcorn, she's the only cat who does, so the dog has a fit when she gets it and he doesn't.

In fact, Tink is the only cat around here who likes most people food. Doodle will only eat plain chicken, whether it's chicken we've cooked to eat ourselves or lunch meat, and occasionally turkey. At that, she won't eat anything that's been cured or cooked with black pepper. Since she's lost so many teeth, we don't even give her that -- she can't chew it. A little tuna or salmon water, on the rare occasion I have tuna or salmon (Tony doesn't like either one, especially), is about it because she'd probably choke on anything else, lacking molars to chew it. Gord likes people food, but we've had problems with him throwing up processed lunchmeat and cheese, and milk makes him yak instantly. Squeek just plain doesn't like anything but the Iams kibble -- she won't even eat the canned food.

Tink is another story. Of course, Tink is another story anyway, since we brought her home just after she was weaned and she's lived with humans ever since. It's funny how she is about food -- she always begs for a piece of anything you're eating. Even if she doesn't care for it, she'll usually eat the first piece, then if she doesn't want more, she goes away. This is how we found out she'd eat, among other things I'm sure I'll forget:

Pears, apples, black eye peas, cheese doodles, potato chips, Doritos (only ranch or cheese-flavored ones), bacon, sausage, any meat that's not too highly-spiced, any cheese, raisins (almost forgot -- Gord likes those, too, though I think he thinks they're flies), Life cereal (only a square or two, she doesn't like sugar much), melted vanilla ice cream (Doodle also likes this, as does Gord, but we don't give Gord milky stuff anymore), bread/toast, asparagus (she doesn't seem to like it as much now as she did as a kitten), ranch dip, any vegetable dipped in ranch dip (she even ate a piece of broccoli once because it had ranch dip on it) ...

I'm sure I've forgotten some things. I never give her much of most of these things, since cats aren't designed to digest lot of carbohydrates, but she'll take my arm off for small pieces of apples or pears. I think it's more the cachet of eating with the humans than it is that she actually likes some of this stuff, though she really does have a fit if I don't give her apples or pears.

There is one strange thing Gord has will eat that not even Tink likes -- dried apricots. I don't give them raisins anymore because, apparently, it's been discovered that some significant percentage of dogs have a bad reaction to raisins and grapes that can cause kidney damage in unimaginably small amounts. If I give them to the cats, there's a chance Max will get hold of them, and I don't want to take chances. The cats won't eat grapes anyway, though they like to play with them on the floor, and I don't know at this point if they're bad for cats, too. Better safe than sorry, and Gord doesn't need the extra calories anyway.

Other things that small domestic mammals aren't supposed to have that can damage their systems include onions and sweet peppers, which can cause anemia. Chocolate is right out -- neither dogs' nor cats' livers can handle chocolate, and even though small amounts probably wouldn't kill them, I don't know if there's cumulative damage or not. None of the beasts here has ever had chocolate, at least on purpose; baker's chocolate is the worst, apparently, and dogs the biggest risk (cats don't generally crave sweets, especially refined sugar sweets). There's a compound in chocolate that dogs and cats can't digest; it just runs through their systems over and over, until it's finally excreted through their livers. It damages the liver on its way through. I've never known anybody to lose an animal directly because of feeding it chocolate, but I certainly don't want to be the first. Again, better safe than sorry.

Recently, I've started reading that some vets think cats should be fed a canned diet all their lives, since there's so much insoluble fiber in kibble, and it's overbalanced with carbohydrates for the simple reason that it's easier to extrude from a machine if it's made that way. As much as I'd like to do this, if it's the best thing for them, I'd run into problems. Squeek won't eat canned food; Doodle wouldn't eat enough of it to maintain her weight. Gord and Tink would eat so much of it, and beat up the other cats to get theirs too, they'd both weigh twenty pounds. I can't let them free-feed anyway, so for now it's kibble with a dose of canned while we eat dinner, to keep them away from us while we're eating. It's worked quite well, so far, and again -- if it works, I ain't gonna fix it.

Posted by Melinda at 06:26 PM | Comments (0)

November 10, 2004

About the humans in the household.

Or, at least, about us and animals, and that sort of thing. Seems like those on the left side of the political spectrum tend to be the most cat-fascinated, though some conservatives somehow manage to have cats, even though cats don't give a fat biscuit if you're happy with them or not and won't follow directions. I used to kid Tony that it was that one of the cruelest jokes to play on someone who was somewhat obsessive/compulsive, to bring a cat into their household, since cats seldom mind anything but their stomachs. I guess having four cats, we qualify as cat-fascinated, though sometimes it feels more like cat-burdened, or cat-possessed.

I was married before, Tony was not. No really nasty stories -- it was a decade ago, now, and I still correspond with him occasionally. Most of the hard feelings are over, I guess. Mine are, anyway -- I never venture to speak for anyone else.

First hubby and I had a cat, Norman Bates, who earned his name by jumping into the shower the first day he was in our apartment and refusing to be removed until the shower was turned off. He was never that fascinated by water again, but it earned him a hell of a nickname!

He was one of the great house cats, was Bates. Very sweet tempered except, for some reason, with dark-haired men. Unfortunately for one of our roommates, who happened to be a tall, dark-haired man. Bates used to stalk him just so he could crouch and hiss. Fortunately, he generally restrained himself from doing anything else. Unfortunately, the roommate liked cats, and I imagine having a cat in the household who couldn't stand him drove him bonkers.

When I lived alone, I was financially tight enough I chose not to get a pet, though I could have had one in the apartment I lived in. It didn't seem right to take chances on having a pet whose care I couldn't afford, so I simply waited. I suppose if things hadn't worked out the way they did, and Tony come along at the time he did, I might have gone ahead and gotten a cat. I was tired of catching sight of Bates out of the corner of my eye when I knew damned well he wasn't there.

Tony and I had met, years before my first marriage ended, actually. Way, way back in the fog of time, when there was a club called Shipley's on the Corryville strip in Clifton, down by the University of Cincinnati, there was a local band called The Raisins. They did a sort of angry pogo dance pop that drew a fairly reliable wall-squeezing crowd for many years in the area and region. Somewhere along the line, the first hubby and I started going to see them play on the weekends. Fairly religiously, after the first few times, in fact, for a couple of years.

Tony picked up on them around that time, and started going to see them. The first hubby shortly thereafter went into the Air Force, and he and I left southern Ohio for a few years. A couple of months before that, I remember seeing Tony at a few shows -- mostly, I remember that he wore tie-dyes a lot, which I later found out he made himself. The Air Force gig started in late '84, and was over due to military outsourcing by early '88.

So we returned to Cincinnati, got an apartment a county over, and made our peace with the fact that, while we'd been out of town, The Raisins had split up. We made friends with a guy who worked at a used record store (I'll call him Bongo), who told us a few months later some of the former members of The Raisins were getting together again, under another name -- psychodots.

We hung around with Bongo, who -- along with his job in the used record store -- had a community radio show (Bongo was the pseudonym he used on the radio show, where he played obscure old and new power pop and Shel Silverstein tracks, among other things, both sublime and absurd, sometimes both), and occasionally went out and did things with him and his significant others. One of the things we did was go bowling, and Tony was at those bowling outings. He and Bongo had shared an apartment at some point in time, and he also had lived in the other half of the bottom floor of the subdivided old house near UC. By the time he and I started dating, several years later, he was back on the same side of the building and Bongo was living in Manhattan, then Brooklyn, playing in a band called Fake Brain.

Life does funny things. I (voluntarily) found myself on my own, about ten years ago. I seldom had the guts to go out by myself to see a band play, however much I enjoyed it -- but I didn't really know anybody who wasn't a 'friend of the marriage,' and most of them were musicians who, by virtue of one of the first hubby's methods of making cash (live sound engineer) he inherited by default. Wouldn't have been much fun anyway -- they were all working musicians, usually playing out on the weekends, and being 'some local guitarist's chick' wasn't something I was hot to do in my early thirties. I'd dealt with enough musicians' lives by virtue of being 'some local sound guy's wife' to know I probably wouldn't be able to hack hanging around bars most weekends drinking cheap bear or bar-brand whiskey.

The band that had formed when The Raisins had broken up announced, after I'd been on my own a while, that it was also splitting up. I had seen Tony's name at the bottom of their e-newsletter for all the months I'd been reading it, and finally thought, 'eh -- what do I have to lose? Maybe if nothing else, I can go hang out and see bands with the guy, if he's single.' So I e-mailed him and asked him if he was single.

He was. And with a little prodding, we started going out to see bands together.

And then we started doing more than that.

And then we moved in together, got Tink, and got married. Yes, in that order. Sue me -- I was over thirty, I was determined I wasn't marrying anybody I couldn't live with.

I didn't.

Not a great picture of me, in all honesty -- I've returned to that great river in Egypt that has me dyeing my hair brown again, this photo was taken during a self-flagellating phase about my premature grayness that I definitely got over shortly thereafter. There are few decent pictures of me, simply because I usually have the camera and I avoid having 'candid' shots taken of me like the plague. I always look either pissed off or half in the bag.

Tony and a little box-o-Squeek. Like Doodle, she likes to get in things, like empty soda cartons, paper bags, boxes and Tony's suitcase, which he discovered last time he carried it upstairs to empty the clothes and thought it was 'just a wee bit heavy.' It contained Squeek, of course, and I'm sure she was heartbroken to have yet another keen hiding place removed from her universe for the nonce.

Posted by Melinda at 11:52 PM | Comments (2)

Boy, there's nothing like trying to read a book ...

When there are five animals in the house. So far, I've had a good half-hour all night, with the book in my hands, where I didn't want to lock at least one of the animals around here in a small, dark room.

Okay, actually, my exact words were "I could gas at least three of these animals!" but I didn't want that on the 'teaser' page for the entry. Once you've clicked the 'read more' link, I know you'll hang on through the rest of it and realize what got me there.

I'm taking a night class, right now -- modern social problems, which already was really 'interesting' (as in that faux 'Chinese proverb' I always hear about 'interesting times,' that's actually something Robert Kennedy made up for a speech back in the sixties, according to the best research I could dredge up on these Internets), but should become even more interesting now that we have the 'Blame The Victim Society' backstage getting all pancaked up for its second act.

You see, the whole circus started when I picked up my textbook, just after eight o'clock last night. I'd barely cracked the book when the dog spent five solid minutes attempting to bury his cold, wet nose under the hand that was holding the book. At the same time, Gord came in over the back side, the 'feed table' for the torties, to grunt and squirm around on the narrow strip of one leg that the book didn't cover. He wiggled around for a few, then got up and went to flop on the sofa, at which point the dog returned to stand up with his feet on the chair.

And Squeek hit me from behind, but she actually only wanted food, this time. Doodle did, too. To be fair, she and Tink haven't been bad. Squeek did do one seven minute stand next to my chair, glaring at me balefully, but she didn't actually try to do rotator cuff surgery on my left shoulder -- that's her usual modus operandi. Small favors.

I finally went upstairs with my textbook and flopped down on my stomach on the bed. I can only do that for so long at a time before my lower back starts bothering me, so I figured I'd give it hell as long as I could. The dog crawled under the bed, so all I really got out of him was some disdainful snorting and sighing. I can ignore that. Tink crawled up on the bed, walked around on my ass for a couple of minutes, then stretched out with her paws in the middle of my back and her feet on either side of my leg. And that's all she did -- she just lay there purring while I read my book.

There are those times I wonder if I'll regret not having had children -- I'm over forty, now, and though it's not yet an impossibility, it's unlikely -- but then Republicans win elections, and the animals around here just add to my conviction that I probably am just as well off I don't have them and never had them.

Because I swear, I'd have had to gas them all, tonight. Tink and Doodle would have wound up all on their own again. Tink might actually have liked it, now that you mention it.

What I don't understand about it is, my four or five hours of working on the computer every day doesn't seem to disturb any of them. They do the usual -- sleep, annoy each other, eat -- and ignore me. As soon as I pick up the book, I become the most desirable human being ever, ever, ever. Tony doesn't exist, and neither do blankie, any of the dozen or so furry mice, any of the chew toys ... the only thing in their already fairly limited universe becomes the one human in the house who has something else to do.

It's not that I don't understand an animal's compulsion to be the center of attention. I just don't understand why a book is more provocative to them than the computer. It can't look that much different, really -- it's usually a white screen with black letters on it, and I'm usually reading it. Maybe they think the book is some kind of additional pet, since it's on my lap? It's suddenly a rival in a way the computer can't be, I guess. I don't know -- I only know it's annoying as hell. I'd hoped to get more reading done than I did, tonight, but you take what you can get, I guess.

Posted by Melinda at 12:11 AM | Comments (0)

November 07, 2004

A dog is an entirely different thing.

When you've lived the majority of the past twenty years with one or more cats, as I had when we brought Max home, you generally have to cop to the fact that until you have more than five or six, three cats are about as much trouble as any number up to ... well, five or six. The trouble doesn't, in other words, increase as a ratio to the number of cats. You still have to scoop a litterbox and put food down, no matter how many cats you have; you still have to take them to the vet and mediate fights, if there are more than two. Once you've found a good vet and have a good source of canned air, you're really good to go.

A dog, as noted above, is an entirely different thing.

And we were well aware of this, don't get me wrong. Tony had lived with dogs growing up, dogs for which he was expected to take responsibility at least some of the time. My folks had bought a dog for my younger brother, but he really wasn't mine and I was expected to take commensurately little responsibility for him. Because I was the one who was home the most, having a dog now would make him largely my responsibility.

Well, when we drove down to PetsMart that early Sunday afternoon, checkbook in hand, this is what was waiting for us. This picture is from the very first day we had Max at the house:

He was, at that point, a mess. He weighed about fifteen pounds (not much more than at least one of the resident cats, yes, we were aware of that), and clearly didn't have a great coat. He also had diarrhea -- with that fluff on his butt, he spent a lot of time having his butt rinsed off in the master bathroom. The vet's thought was that he probably had at least one intestinal parasite; a float test didn't produce anything, but when he still had the shits a week later, we took him back and they did a fecal smear test. He had giardia. Ten days of Flagyl later, no more diarrhea -- but now he was shedding tapeworms. The only animal of the five in this house who didn't come in with a tapeworm was Tink, though -- everybody else, including Gord, had one. I don't know if this is fact or not, but my purely anecdotal theory is that the vast majority of strays have tapeworms, it's just that the worms don't start shedding and hoping to increase their population until the animal is no longer starving. Gord, Doodle and Squeek all started shedding tapeworm segments at about the end of their second weeks here. Of course, we treat all the animals with Advantage during the seasons they spend any time outside, and we treat Max all year around; tapeworms rely on fleas as an intermediate mechanism, feeding on the tapeworm segments and digesting the protective coating from the tapeworm eggs; when an animal ingests the flea and digests its carapace, the egg for the tapeworm hatches and voila -- parasite.

One more trip to the vet for Droncit. Voila -- no more tapeworm.

We made a pretty pleasant discovery about Max, about a month after we brought him home -- he absolutely loves to ride in the car. We took him with us to Windsor, Ontario for a weekend at about that point. This shot is from the hotel room -- you can see he still hadn't put much weight on, and his coat still was pretty thin:

Since this time, we've elected to kennel Max if paying extra to have him with us costs more than the kenneling. Max doesn't get enough socialization time with other dogs, he needs it more than he needs to go to Chicago with us, and there's no point paying fifty dollars a day to have him with us if he enjoys his stays at the kennel and they're good for him.

But we do still take him with us when we go to visit our relatives down near Cincinnati. He really does love to go for rides -- sometimes we just throw him in the RAV and take him for a ride for the hell of it.

The only real problem we had, once Max's health problems were cleared up, were social clashes between him and Tink. Tink had never really had much experience with dogs, and Max is conceivably the most self-confident dog I've ever seen. He never seems intimidated by either humans or other animals -- he likes to be the boss in any situation. This caused some problems until we figured out that we were just going to have to crate Max overnight -- if we didn't he slept under our bed. Tink had such a problem with this, she developed stress-related cystitis -- bloody urine, incontinence, peeing on Tony's clean laundry. Crating Max overnight solved the problem. Would that all social problems could be solved so simply, and at such low cost to everyone involved -- Max likes his crate, and generally doesn't mind being in it. Besides, it gives him an opportunity to eat without worrying about the cats trying to steal his food. Becuase if he's not in the crate, Gord will eat his lunch.

Oddly enough, we have more photos of Max than any one of the cats. I guess it's mostly because he's so photogenic -- there aren't many bad shots of him.

Once we got the tapeworm thing and the giardia thing settled, as you can see, Max's coat improved immensely. He put on a heck of a coat that winter, and the next winter, too -- though he didn't shed down to anything like as thin as he was when we adopted him, he does thin out a bit in warm weather.

Though he's independent and pretty willful, Max has been able to learn a few things -- sit, dance, down, off, hold. I taught him hold (which he sometimes still forgets) after the day he ran out in front of a car just as it was slowing for the stop sign, at a four-way intersection, while I was picking up after his poop. I nearly threw up when I looked up and saw the front grille of a station wagon bearing down on him -- he did, too.

For the most part, Max is a really easy dog. He's confident and good-tempered, does well with anybody if you don't test his patience (he's okay with kids, but he can only take so much and will just walk away once he's had all the handling he wants; as long as he's allowed to do that, he's fine), isn't frightened of other dogs but also doesn't try to fight with them. He likes to be around, and though he's a bit of an attention-hog, most of the time he's happy for what he gets. Oh, don't get me wrong -- I call him names when he flings himself into my lap when I'm really 'into' something I'm working on, on the computer, but most of the time he's not that bad.

We bathe and groom him at home. His coat is elaborate, but relatively easy to deal with -- we bathe him about once a month in warm weather, and try to brush him at least every other week when he's not being bathed, during the winter. Bathing him too much in cold weather would cause him to shed the undercoat that he grows to keep him warm, so unless he's really stinky or gets dirty, we don't bathe him during the cold months. He's fine with that -- though Max loves to walk in the rain, and doesn't mind getting wet, you'd think he was on his way to the slaughterhouse from the expression on his face when we put him in the tub for a bath.

Some people shave dogs like Max in the summer, but I've read that's not good, since part of the work of the undercoat on a Spitz breed, however thin in warm weather, is to hold the top coat away from the skin so the dog can cool himself. Max spends a lot of time on his back on the sofa in the summer.

I love this picture, though it makes him look a little more 'fruffy' than he really is. He's sweet, but not this kind of bootlicking precious. It's a good picture, though.

Max will be the last addition to the household until somebody leaves here in a shoebox. Five animals is the limit according the the municipality where we live, and though we could probably have more cats and nobody would be the wiser, we've decided the city's number works for us, too. If not for Max, we might have had another cat or two instead.

The next two pictures are included just for the hell of it -- as I've noted before, Max is an incredibly photogenic dog, and he's cute besides. For a mutt, and for a dog we adopted with only half an hour's time with him, I think both he and we did okay:

Posted by Melinda at 07:03 PM | Comments (0)

While we were playing trivia on the patio ...

Trying to talk ourselves into being optimistic about the possibility of bringing a dog -- a total unknown quantity -- into a house already occupied by three cats; dominated by a big, somewhat neurotic female cat who tended to grouse if she didn't get her way (and who'd already developed a habit of crapping on the floor in the spare bathroom, inches from the litterbox, just as a general message of discontent we guessed), Tony turned in his chair and glanced at the edge of the parking lot.

"I think I saw something move out there, I'll be right back."

He got up from his chair and stepped out through the usually open gate with the big metal sign on it that said WARNING: DO NOT OPEN GATE, ALARM WILL SOUND! He disappeared up the fake-landscaped incline and returned with four pounds of skinny, knock-kneed kitten.

Of course. Because, you know -- no good deed ever goes unpunished, or however that old saw goes. The skinny kitten -- who looked perhaps five months old -- was another tortoiseshell, hence female. Though she was very thin -- the bones in her hips stuck out, and you could feel her spine under her coat -- the coat itself was shiny, her ears were clean, and she didn't have a flea on her. That was quite a feat for the end of August -- most outdoor cats are flea-infested at this time of year.

Tony went back in and got a plain grilled chicken sandwich, and while we continued to drink beer and play trivia, we let her wander around on the patio, feeding her small pieces of the chicken when she'd return to the table, and argued with ourselves over how much responsibility we really had for stray cats that turn up on the patios of restaurants the night before we go to probably adopt a dog that may throw the entire household into chaos. Of course, we had this argument with ourselves knowing damned good and well the kitten would go home with us that night, be installed in the spare room, and that we would continue to argue with ourselves over the coming days.

One thing was certain -- we were going to take her home, get her to the vet and have her neutered. The only uncertainty, when we carried her into the house wrapped in a sweat shirt so the rest of the cats didn't catch on, was whether we'd keep her or put her up for adoption through the shelter where we volunteered.

This is what she looked like when we brought her home:

We didn't name her, by agreement with each other -- if we named her, after all, it would color our thinking when the time came to decide whether she'd stay with us or be put up for adoption through the shelter. Funny, the name we evetually gave her, Squeek, is so appropriate it's hard to remember a time that cat didn't have a name. As is sometimes the case, with cats, she actually told us what her name was. We referred to her and the dog -- whom we took home with us when we went down to see him the next day, as well -- we called them 'Sam and Max.' Max's name came to us immediately -- he was, clearly, at least largely Pomeranian, and we thought a German name like Max would work quite well for him. He never, in the first four days before we decided on Max, even looked at either of us when we called him 'Leo' so we didn't feel bad about renaming him.

Unlike Gord, Squeek didn't seem to mind being cooped up in the small bedroom. She did seem to look forward to our coming to visit -- she'd curl up on the bed next to us and purr, or sit in the windows watching squirrels come and go in the sugar maple in the corner of the yard:

Her coloring made her look a little cross-eyed, and also made me think there might be a touch of Siamese in her -- her legs and tail are the darkest parts, though she's dark enough all over, her coloring makes her incredibly difficult to photograph well. Those who have black cats and have attempted to photograph them will know what I mean -- with a very dark cat, it's tough to get a good picture that's not a black blob with a pair of bright green or yellow eyes shining in the middle of it.

As is the responsible thing to do, even when you're pretty sure the animal you have has been deliberately dumped -- she was too clean to have been on the streets long, and there wasn't a flea on her -- we ran a lost and found ad in the local newspaper, checked all the convenience stores near the restaurant for 'lost cat' posters, asked the manager at the restaurant if anybody had come looking for a cat, and gave him our phone number in case anybody did. I also posted ads on several online lost animal directories, and entered her in the lost and found listings at the shelter. We told ourselves if we hadn't heard from anybody in two weeks, we'd assume she was ours to make decisions about. We also decided to make her spay/neuter appointment a few weeks out, in case she actually had someone who wanted her back and would be upset if we'd neutered her (with the grumbled caveat that any asshole who'd let a five-month-old kitten wander off deserved to have a good Samaritan neuter her against their will, but we're funny like that).

We finally came to a semi-firm decision about things with Squeek -- we'd bring Max home and work on integrating him into the household, take Squeek to the vet and have her tested for all the usual diseases and then, if she was healthy, work on integrating her, too. If things worked out reasonably well, without the other cats bullying her, she'd probably stay; if it didn't work out as well as it might, we'd put her in the fostering program at the shelter and go from there.

Of course, the dog was such a nuke to the cats, they barely noticed Squeek when we finally let her out into the house. It was, to be honest, rather anticlimactic -- Gord beat her up a few times, she stalked him regularly and tried to remove his head by main force, as if he were a pinata, to get at the candy inside. Tink ignored her. Doodle was mildly jealous, but really only manifested this by ignoring me more and paying more attention to Tony.

We waited for things to go to hell. And waited ... and waited. And other than Tink having a few episodes of the goo over the dog, they never really did as far as the 'social dynamics' of the animals here go.

Back to Squeek. We made an appointment a few weeks out to have her neutered, since she was going to be in the house and the only male cat here, Gord, was fixed (so unless she made a break for it, which she seemed disinclined to do, she was safe enough). She weighed just shy of five pounds when we took her to the vet for shots and to have her tested for feline leukemia and the rest; she weighed just over five pounds when we took her to have her neutered. She never did have a major growth spurt -- the following picture is about two months after we brought her home from the restaurant, and you can see she filled out a bit, but wasn't getting bigger very fast:

The more confident she became, and the more she matured, the less affectionate she was. When we'd first brought her home, as a scared, skinny half-grown kitten, she'd frequently crawled up onto me while I was sitting in front of the computer -- sometimes trying to get up on my shoulder, which resulted in my propping myself half on my back in the computer chair so she could hitch herself up there. For the longest time, after that, she didn't want much to do with us -- though we did set things up so she and Doodle could eat as they pleased, by putting a table near our computer desks and keeping a small bowl of kibble on my desk, and she had to come closer for that. Otherwise, like Tink, she grew to be pretty independent and has stayed that way.

Squeek with her ears pinned back. No, we didn't do this to her -- before she grew into her ears, she'd frequently turn them inside out while grooming herself, and sit or wander around the house with one or both of them turned back, looking like some freakish extra from 'ET.' This was the best picture of the phenomenon we were able to take, and as with many others, the quality of the picture is iffy because her coloring makes it difficult to get a good picture -- the flash glares off her shiny coat, but with no flash she just looks like a dark blob with a few light spots on her face.

This shot actually makes her look tubbier than she is -- the windowsill is only about four inches deep, she's kind of scrunched up in the corner, glaring at what's most likely a squirrel or chipmunk outside. She actually is an average-sized cat, for a domestic female, and is built much like a 3/4 scale version of Tink -- long legs, long tail, looks very graceful walking.

I don't know what it is about tortoiseshell cats, but man -- they're some of the most entertaining little clowns I've ever run into. The thing with Squeek is, though I know it's misguided anthropomorphizing on my part, she seems to get the joke when she does something we find funny. Even at full growth and ten pounds, she can still manage to cram herself under the entertainment center in our family room. Sometimes, she'll come flying in from the enclosure outside, through the cat door in the screen, and dive under the entertainment center as if the Huns were after her. They never are -- we don't know what alternate universe she lives in, but it seems to contain Huns.

The printer also, apparently, contains Huns. I've since replaced the desk that I had when this picture was taken, so the cats no longer can install themselves in the small gap between the printer and the edge of the top of the hutch, and the printer now sits on the desk, surrounded by detritus, and the cats can no longer attack it. Squeek used to attack the printer any time I sent a print job to it. Once, she managed to bring it and herself down in a massive crash on my lap. She disappeared under the entertainment center for the better part of two hours, that time.

Now, she has to content herself with launching herself off my keyboard tray and sending my wireless keyboard flying into the gap under my desk. I suspect after the first time it happened, she decided she liked the power so much she now does it on purpose.

Lately, when Tony and I go to bed at night, Squeek has been showing up to tread and prance about while the light is still on. For a few minutes she'll deign to let us pet her -- including, unlike the other cats in the house, having her belly rubbed -- while she drools on the down comforter in contentment. As soon as the light goes off, she usually bails out to leave the bed to Her Highness, Princess Tink, since Squeek knows we won't give Tink any stick about chasing the other cats off the bed. It maintains tranquility in the house when we stay out of the social posturing between the cats, unless one of them appears to be getting hurt -- and then, one of us usually will pick up a can of compressed air and hiss at them. Gord really hates that, and he's usually the one who's causing the problems. The girls really don't fight among themselves all that much, though Doodle will occasionally growl at Squeek if she thinks Squeek is trying to bug her. The two of them are a lot like my pre-adolescent brother and I must have been riding in the car on a long drive during vacation -- "Mom! He's on my side of the seat! Mom! She's touching me! Mom!"

Except, of course, there's always the possibility that a cat, unlike a kid, will shit on your pillow if you backhand it across the mouth.

Posted by Melinda at 03:48 PM | Comments (0)

This is when things got kinda' weird.

It was fairly clear we could get by with me working part-time, and part-time jobs are considerably more available for clerical workers here around Dayton than full-time (because it's cheaper to hire someone part time and provide a reduced level of bennies, or no bennies, of course), so the discussion turned to the possibility of acquiring a dog, after Gord had been with us a few months. had we both been working full time, we wouldn't have considered it -- dogs were, we knew, a bigger investment of time.

Tony and I never do anything that will directly affect the menagerie casually. Things generally seem to resolve themselves to a tolerable level, with little 'acting out' among the inahbitants here. It was fairly clear we could have kept adding cats until we reached the capacity of the house to provide territory. I've read various places that 300 square feet per cat can, with the right cats, be plenty of space for them to 'stretch out' and not battle constantly among themselves.

Of course, conventional wisdom also says that having a house full of female cats is 'asking for it' but for the most part, we've had little trouble in that regard. Maybe it's the fact that we have one male who was neutered late, and consequently never forgot he was male, I don't know. Maybe we just got lucky.

We kept an eye open at the shelter were we volunteer, since Tony walks dogs one night every week, to see if anything came in that we'd be interested in trying to bring home. We did research on general things about some breeds -- we knew we wanted a small dog, something under thirty pounds, because we didn't have a big yard and it wasn't enclosed. Not only that, but we worried that if we brought in a dog that would 'cop' the cats, a dog that was much bigger than the cats could hurt one of them. My research seemed to indicate that among the dogs in our 'size bracket' there were some breeds people seemed to have fair success keeping around cats. Corgis, Dachshunds, Shelties and Pomeranians all seemed to do okay; most mutts, too, though frustratingly, most of the really 'mutty' mutts we found were black lab mixes and much larger than we wanted.

The best resource I found was Petfinder -- a site that offered display space to a host of animal shelters and breed rescue organizations across the U.S. For a couple of weeks, I combed their listings in the area, sending interesting ones on to Tony. Finally, we found one -- a little yellow dog in a cage, an eager-to-please grin on his face, whose foster had named him Leo. I e-mailed his foster at the Franklin County Humane Society in Brookville, Indiana. She e-mailed me back a copy of their application form for adoption and said she'd be showing 'Leo' down near Cincinnati at one of the PetsMart stores the following Sunday, if we wanted to come down and have a gander at him.

We completed the application and faxed it back down, and she e-mailed me back to say it sounded like the shelter would approve it, if we wanted the dog -- or, if not this dog, another one 'to be named later' -- so we were welcome to come down on Sunday and meet him. This was Friday, and we agreed we'd go down and have a look.

The following links are for the shelter -- the first is for a fundraising effort, the second for FCHS listings on the PetFinder web site:

FCHS Fundraising Link
FCHS Brookville Available Animals on Petfinder

So with only minor trepidation, we headed out on Saturday to buy some of the things we knew we'd need for a dog -- a crate, since we knew there would be times we'd want to crate the dog, and many shelter-fostered dogs were trained to crates anyway and comfortable with them; additional food bowls; chew toys (more on that later) and dog food.

And we went to a local restaurant to discuss our fears that bringing in a dog would screw up the entire balance of the household, play electronic music trivia and drink a beer or two.

I'll stop this entry and start a new one, since this was the point at which things got pretty strange...

Posted by Melinda at 12:42 PM | Comments (0)

We volunteer at an animal shelter a few hours a week.

My guess is, you know where this is going. I work with the cats, Tony walks dogs. Naturally, a cat eventually came into the shelter that seemed like a good fit for the household. This was six months after we'd brought Doodle home, and by that point she and Tink got along reasonably well. Since Tink -- who had been our biggest concern all along -- seemed to be willing to adjust to additional animals, we decided to adopt Gord from the shelter.

This guy.

Since Doodle's transition into the household had been pretty rough -- we didn't give her any transition time, and Tink had spent almost two years as 'queen of the house,' so she resented the incursion. So I did some research, and asked around. Conventional wisdom was that when you brought a new cat into the house, you did things gradually. First, you quarantined the new cat in a room by itself for several days. The hardest part of this is, you try to keep things as normal for the existing cats as possible, not shorting them on time, or they'll become insecure and resent the new cat; at the same time, you want to spend at least some time with the new cat so it doesn't become paranoid and insecure in its new home.

Then, if possible -- and for us, it was -- you put a screen up on the door to the room where the cat was quarantined for a few days, so the other cats can get a look at the new cat and the new cat can get a look at them. You close the door when you're not supervising them, and again, you try not to spend too much time away from the existing cats. It was at this stage we discovered Doodle could be about as vicious and scary as any cat either of us had ever seen -- she raised a ridge on her back that made her look like a little orange and black circular saw, growled and hissed at Gord the first time she was able to see him.

The next step is to put the existing cats in the room where the new cat was, and let the new cat out to explore. This stage, again, lasts a few days. You let the new cat spend gradually more time out in the house.

Finally, you just let it go and see what happens. The vast majority of the time, you have a little hissing and smacking, but things will settle down within a week or two. Sometimes, people discover at this point that one of the involved cats will not accept the others. This happens most often when there are older cats being forced to accept kittens, or vice-versa -- in our case, Gord was somewhere between the ages of Tink (2 1/2) and Doodle (presumably a little over a year old). He was estimated at two years old, and when he went for his rabies shot the vet said this seemed likely from looking at his teeth. To our great fortune, things went about as well as they do for anybody -- there was the nominal amount of 'territorial pissing' (only figurative), but that was about it.

We did have one incident, when Gord was out and the other cats were in the quarantine room, when someone rang the doorbell and Gord had a fit. He ran through the house and launched himself from the top of the stairs near the room -- cleared a five-foot-tall duct-taped screen with only one foot touching the screen itself. We were, needless to say, impressed. He still freaks out any time he hears the doorbell.

Gord is a sorry and occasionally downright obscene excuse for a feline (doesn't the image above look like a scene from some low-budget porno movie?). He's not sleek or shiny, he's somewhat clumsy, and he looks like he was put together out of spare parts, his short tail, big feet and stubby legs a poor fit for the rest of him.

That being said, he's one of the most affectionate and easygoing cats -- other than the fact he constantly bugs us to be fed, and he picks on Doodle from time to time -- I've ever been around. Few things rattle him -- the doorbell is one of them -- and he doesn't take very long to befriend new people who come in the house. Especially, as many people who have cats will attest, those who are allergic to cats.

I include this image primarily because it makes us laugh every time he does it. He looks like the Jeremy character from the animated film based on the Beatles' Yellow Submarine, doesn't he? No, no -- it's okay. We know he does.

Gord has gingivitis, which results in his having to have his teeth cleaned every couple of years at the vet. If one of our cats had to require a regular veterinary visit, I'd just as soon it was Gord -- he's not too bad about it. He often cries in the car coming and going, but they all do that. He's usually purring by the time the vet comes into the exam room to look at him, rubbing his spoor all over everything on the exam stand and flapping his stubby, mismatched tail at the wall in a subtle pantomime of spraying piss on things that don't belong to him. We haven't told him yet that even if he did that, nobody would know because even though he still has baggage, the suitcases have been empty for a few years now. I'm afraid it might break his stubby little heart.

As all the cats, Gord is curious. This photo is of Gord inspecting the new tile we installed in the kitchen and dining room a couple of years ago. He looks pretty intent, doesn't he? I don't know why. There wasn't any food on the floor at that point. It's about the only thing he really pays attention to with that kind of intensity, usually.

Both Tink and Gord bulked up, at one point, to seventeen or so pounds. When we first got Tink, she could be allowed to free-feed -- as a kitten, she hardly ever seemed to sleep, and burned off everything she ate immediately. Doodle didn't seem to have a problem, either -- but once we brought Doodle in, Tink seemed to feel compelled to eat more, as if having Doodle there somehow deprived her of food (I was still free-feeding them, at this point, so the bowl was never empty).

I guess I should have known better, really -- unlike Tink, Gord was a street cat who'd lived outside much of his life before he was fostered and brought into the shelter. He'd endured a great deal of hunger, doubtless. When we took him to the vet for an annual checkup and they told us he weighed nearly eighteen pounds, though, I had to admit defeat.

Now, he and Tink each get 3/8 cup of dry kibble a day (currently, Iams weight-control hairball preventive, though we've discussed finding others). Tink isn't enthralled with her rations, but she seldom complains other than to compulsively lick grocery bags if I push her too far past mealtime. Gord isn't nearly as patient -- he'll wander the house wailing as if he'd been abandoned. But both of them are under fifteen pounds, now, sometimes as low as twelve or thirteen (if we haven't traveled in a while -- if we go out of town for a few days, we usually fill a gravity feeder for the cats, which Gord will promptly jam his face into and try to eat every scrap of kibble in it).

Once we got the enclosure completed and started letting the cats out regularly, back in July, we discovered Gord had some special talents. Apparently, he's a pro mole hunter. I'm neither thrilled nor upset about this -- I don't like moles, and we went out of our way to try to reduce the gaps in the edges of the enclosure, going so far as to use concrete anchors to mount boards flush with the brick back wall of the house -- though somewhat less thrilled when he barrels into the house and straight upstairs with his quarries. Which he now does, since he discovered halting on the windowsill resulted in having his prizes taken away and flushed down the toilet.

The above picture was actually the second mole he'd brought in -- he's brought in three, altogether, and also a field mouse and one live chipmunk, which he didn't appear to have damaged, that we were able to corner in the downstairs bathroom and get out of the house. Doodle, for her own part, has brought in several medium-sized wolf spiders, usually mostly dead, and probably a half-dozen katydids, back when the weather was still warm.

One of the moles Gord brought in the house wasn't actually his, though -- I saw Squeek, our fourth cat, fling herself six feet horizontally through the air to take it out of the gravel we put between the window and the larger part of the enclosure. Gord just beat her up and took her lunch money.

We took the following picture -- which seemed so appropriate, we laughed and almost ran off the road when we saw it -- somewhere along the Lake Erie scenic/wine country route back in late August:

Gord's name, by the way, comes from the Ranger Gord character from the Red Green Show, a CBC show produced at the University of Western Ontario in London. Ranger Gord is a sort of non-sequitur character, even for that show -- a forest ranger who was released from the forestry service because his observation post was closed, who continues to live at the observation post and wear the uniform, regardless.

We also call Gord Schnickelfritz, or just Schnickel or Schnick. A woman once sent me an e-mail because she'd run a search on the name Schnickelfritz to see if there were other people out there calling their cats that. Strangely, her cat looked a great deal like Gord -- a big, orange tom cat with golden eyes. I lost her e-mail address when my hard drive crashed (I use Mozilla mail, and the one weakness it has compared to MS Outlook is that its mail archives are buried several layers deep in the file system, nearly impossible to find if you recover files from a bad hard drive using a bulk recovery program like I did). The only difference was that her cat's name was shortened to Fritz instead of Schnickel.

Schnick isn't a one in a million cat, but there aren't many who'd have fit into the household as well as he does, though he does have a tendency to pick on Doodle. Squeek and he get into it, as well, but Squeek is a reprobate who insists on stalking him and leaping at him without any warning, flinging her front legs around his neck and twisting as if she thought he was a big, furry orange jar full of cookies.

Gord is not full of cookies, but I think we'll keep him.

Posted by Melinda at 02:56 AM | Comments (0)

November 06, 2004

Cat number two ...

By Thanksgiving of 1999 we'd had Tink almost two years and hadn't really considered, let alone discussed, getting any more cats. Tink was okay -- she liked having the whole house to herself -- but she was, as she had been, aloof much of the time. She did have a game she liked to play with us, chasing a rabbit-fur mouse (which we called 'moosie' and which she recognized, because if one of us said 'moosie?' to her, she'd actually run upstairs and find one).

And as we all know, when things are stable and everybody's happy with them, something has to happen. Here's what happened:

We were at my mother's house, in a small declining agricultural town in Clermont County (southwestern Ohio) for Thanksgiving in '99. It was a warm day for late November, with a little greasy rain smearing everything. We'd just eaten dinner, and since nobody else in my family smokes, Tony and I had stepped out on the porch so I could have one. Mom had been talking, as we were eating dinner, about this little 'brown' cat she'd had to keep chasing away from her bird feeder. Mom's not cruel to cats, especially, but strays annoy her and she can't seem to stand the natural order -- that inattentive birds get eaten -- so she'd been spraying the little cat with a hose to chase it away. She said it wouldn't approach her (gee, what a surprise that is!) so she didn't know if it had a collar, or how old it was.

While we were standing on the porch, this little tortoiseshell cat, about half-grown, walked straight up to us. Tony crouched to pet her, and she flopped down on her back on the porch, between his shoes, and started purring.

We have since realized that we have some kind of beastmark on us, visible only to tortie cats, that says "SUCKA" -- you'll hear another story surprisingly like this one soon.

So we chose to take the kitten home with us. We had intended to drop by at Tony's family's Thanksgiving dinner, too, and leave her in the car for a half-hour or forty-five minutes, until we could head up to Dayton again. Doodle made short work of that -- she deposited, via her little pink anus, two days' worth of her haphazard diet all over my dress on the way there.

And when we got her home and attempted to wash her, partly to make her more acceptable to Tink (we knew nothing, at this point, of making introductions of a new cat to a household with existing cats), she bit a hole through my thumb that swelled up to the size of a golf ball within an hour. I was already on antibiotics in preparation to have a root canal the following week, and the swelling went down a lot overnight, but I called the doctor the next day and he switched me to a different antibiotic just for good measure.

We started out calling her 'Punk,' because she didn't seem to know how to integrate with Tink. Tink, for her part, pouted, stopped playing 'moosie' and retreated to the back of the sofa. The artist soon to be known as Doodle spent much of her time sitting in things -- in the image above, she's reading a bag of Mad Magazines with her butt. She also likes to read the discarded newspapers with her butt, where we stack them, next to the dining room table.

She's almost creepily fond of sitting inside things -- anything her butt will fit in, she'll sit in.

Unlike Tink, who was robust and healthy from the very start and has only had to go to the vet once for anything other than her neuter and regular annual exams, we should have known Doodle would be different. She had a tapeworm and diarrhea when we first brought her home; she also developed what some vets call a 'pouting cat' swelling on her chin. We've since resigned ourselves to a few possibilities, since we seem to be the only ones who mind (she doesn't) -- she has some kind of autoimmune stuff going on that occasionally gives her skin symptoms; she's overly sensitive to something we use in the house, or to something like PVC or plastic that it's nearly impossible to avoid having in a house, these days; she occasionally has a reaction to her food, but it's not serious enough to hang around all the time. It's probably an allergy, and may not even be to anything in the house -- it could be pollen or mold, since she seems to have the most trouble at the changes of seasons.

There have been other problems, too, though none of them seems to disturb her much. Doodle's crazy as a nun full of mice, but she's sweet. She's one of a kind, dumb as the bag of hammers this web site is named for (and yeah, Doodle's the one who inspired the parking of the domain, as a matter of fact). We call her 'chaos kitty' because she can jump six feet and land on a postage stamp, but also falls off things, knocks things over and just generally creates disorder about as often as she creates grace.

She likes to go outside. We've built an enclosure for the cats and, occasionally, the dog to use, off the family room window in the back yard. It's sheltered under a big sugar maple, always at least partially in shade, secure from other animals or casual human incursion. (I'll post some photos from the building of the enclosure later, after all the introductions.) Before we had the enclosure, though, she learned and quite liked to go out on a harness and lead:

We've called Tink the 'Ubercat' since she reached her full growth at about age two; as this picture shows, Doodle is more of an 'Untercat' -- she likes to get in and under things. In this shot, she helps us set up the Christmas tree:

And here, she protects our toilet paper from the evil Mr. Whipple (or perhaps the evil Crisco Johnny):

Finally, this is the most recent picture we have of Doodle. In the past year, she's lost several teeth to neck lesions -- a disorder both cats and humans get, not well understood (at least to the point of agreement, according to our family dentist, who says he and his veterinarian wife often argue over the disorder!), that causes the body to resorb teeth at the root. The root is weakened and the gums become abscessed; the teeth always fall out or have to be pulled. Doodle lost seven teeth, but she still seems to be able to eat the small kibble we feed her, and now that she's no longer in pain she's just fine. You can't tell by looking she's lost any teeth because she still has her fangs. The vet says she'll probably lose all of her teeth before she's ten years old, but I don't imagine she'll care much.

For a couple of years, Doodle was 'my cat' -- she followed me around, wanted me to follow her around, and didn't connect with Tony nearly as much. Since the dog and Squeek, the other tortie meat, came into the household she's started spending a lot more time with Tony, camping on the sofa with him in the mornings and sitting on his lap when he's at his computer. That's okay by me -- the dog has decided he's mine, and he takes up a great deal more space and effort than any two of the cats ever wanted.

Doodle gets along okay with everybody but Gord, cat number three, who'll be the next introduction. Even at that, she seldom seems unhappy -- largely because it requires memory to hold a grudge, and Doodle's brain is full of holes, like a little kittybrain Swiss cheese. Even for a cat, she's no nuclear physicist. It's a damned good thing for her we decided to take her in off the street -- I doubt she'd have lasted long if sombeody hadn't.

We expect a shortened lifespan out of Doodle, with all the weird stuff that's cropped up -- much of it would indicate in vitro and early life malnutrition, which likely will affect her longevity. But she's happy, and she's one of the funniest animals I've ever seen, one of the most interactive -- she talks, or at least gives the appearance of talking, for instance. The voices of children give her the goo, though. I still wonder what she may have gone through before we brought her home, she's pathologically scared of strangers, though she will warm up well enough to come into the room after an hour or so. Maybe nothing -- some cats are just like that.

Posted by Melinda at 01:37 PM | Comments (0)

November 05, 2004

Okay, let's see how long I keep at it this time ...

Which is to say, here I go again with an attempt to build a weblog about the five animals in the house who aren't bipeds (and pay exactly none of the bills around here). I've started this several times, but it hasn't really hooked me -- this time, though, I'm working with an actual weblog script that should make this as easy and painless as possible.

It all started back in 1997, when Tony and I were living together near Cincinnati, Ohio. I'd had a cat with my first husband, a very sweet-tempered brown tabby tomcat we'd named Norman Bates (he jumped in the shower with my first hubby and refused to get out), we'd gotten him on a 'free to good home' ad when he was around two months old. I'd raised a kitten, in other words. Tony, however, had not.

I figured it was an experience anybody who aspired to have animals in the house should have once in their lives, so we went to the nearest shelter the week after Christmas in 1997 looking (without much hope, that late in the year) for a kitten. There were two, both females, one long-haired and one short. Both well aware of our shared weakness for the finer points of housekeeping, we chose to take the short-haired cat. She was, as had Bates been, about two months old. She stank of pee, so we started calling her Tink that day, and ... well, we never stopped calling her Tink. It did make for an interesting explanation the first time Tony took her to the vet and I wasn't there, and the receptionist squealed, "oh! She's so cute! Is Tink short for Tinkerbell?"

She rendered Tony somewhat tongue-tied, to say the least. I don't know if he ever told her the truth or not.

Tink grew into a gangly adolescent cat with one of the ugliest coats I've ever seen on a short-haired cat -- woolly, spiky and not at all shiny. She was clearly going to be a big girl, though -- legs all over.

We had her neutered at around four months, before she'd been in heat the first time. It's my contention that she became the behemoth she is because of that -- a great ad for early spay/neuter, if you're fond of enormous cats. Tink is.

The first visit to any vet, she's always greeted with "Oh, what a pretty boy he is!" This is from professionals, who just know female non-breed cats aren't that big. I volunteer at a shelter and don't see many males much bigger than Tink, so I know why the vets always think she's male. She really is quite an impressive behemoth.

The ugly duckling stage didn't last long, with Tink. She shed a lot of the wiry fur when the weather warmed up, and her coat started to get shinier. By the time she'd been with us a year, she was a gigantic, furry machine.

I'd love to say she was a sweet cat, the light of our lives, all that crap -- but she isn't. Tink's a real mystery. She's really affectionate at the strangest times -- when we're in the bathroom in the mornings, for instance, and sometimes she'll climb up on the bed with one of us if we're taking a nap or reading and want attention. Most of the time, she's content just to be in the room and be left alone.

Tink was seven years old as of Halloween 2004. She looks little different than she did when she was three, except she'd been living with the second cat in the house for most of a year, by then, and she'd quit playing as much and started eating like a triple-crown racehorse. She's somewhat slimmer now, though she still carries a pouch under her belly (as do all the female cats in the house, and the male, too, when he's too fat).

There's something in Tink that definitely explains the fact that some of the first civilzations that domesticated cats revered them. I hesitate to say worship, since they buried cats with their 'humans' in the pyramids -- I suspect it was rather a similar relationship to the one modern Westerners have with their cats. They may have believed the cats were inhabited by spirits of their assorted gods or of the dead, I don't really know. I just know I can see, looking at Tink, how humans could have come to see something admirable in a four-legged animal that can't even speak in the sense humans speak.

Every night, she waits until the lights are out and she thinks we're asleep, and then that cold, aloof cat jumps up on the bed with us, comes up to sniff me and make sure I'm asleep (even if I'm not I don't react, because I've learned the game she's playing; if I reach out to pet her, I've broken the illusion she has that she's stealthy and invisible in the dark), then curl up with her back against the inside of one of my legs. She'll stay there much of the night, some nights; others, she's gone before I'm even asleep. It's her little bit of 'vig,' I guess -- it's the privilege of being the alpha cat in the household, that she gets to get on the bed with us, and we don't yell at her if she smacks the other cats off the bed.

If she feels like copping the other cats, she's welcome to the bed when we're in it, as far as I'm concerned. I've found it's more foolish to attempt to mold the dynamics among the cats in the house than to let them fix things themselves, as long as nobody gets hurt. Amazingly, nobody really does.

Posted by Melinda at 09:40 PM | Comments (0)