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November 07, 2004

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 November 7, 2004 02:56 AM


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