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January 06, 2005

As I feared would happen ...

I've slacked on doing this as often as I intended. I guess, though, when you have a house full of adult animals and it's winter, there's less 'news' than there would be if, say, we had a new animal, or a problem with the existing fur factories, or the weather was warmer and they were able to go out in the run.

Other than letting them out into the snow for entertainment purposes, we haven't much. Two days after it snowed, the temps rose into the forties, and it's been between forty and sixty for the past week; the run is a huge chocolate pudding. When they go out, they return with wet feet and leave little kitty footprints on everything just inside the window, including the leather sofa.

The point was to write about the everyday stuff, and especially the stuff people don't think about when they start acquiring enough animals to put a basketball team on the floor.

But it has, in fact, not been too 'hairy' lately. Doodle went in for her dental a few weeks back, right before Xmas. She didn't lose any teeth, but the vet who cleaned her teeth did point out that her gingivitis appeared to have kicked up.

We've been applying an antimicrobial gel to them all periodically -- we try for once a week, but we're among the most notorious procrastinators ever born (if not, I'd post here a hell of a lot more). The vet's advice was to apply the dental gel to Doodle every day for a week or two and see what happened, in hopes that it would settle down the gingivitis. We've been doing that -- well, such as we can with her -- by smearing a gob of it on one of her front paws every evening.

You see, Doodle is just one of those cats who reufses to tolerate having her head messed with. Tink will put up with a good twenty or thirty seconds' worth of handling out of us before she even gets grumpy about it, we could probably do just about anything to her she needed that we could do at home, and we might not even have to tag-team her -- we've both given her pills without any help.

Same goes for Gord, except one of us would probably have to hold and the other work, since he's strong and has no hesitation to dig in his claws if he doesn't want you to do something (I used to have to give him antibiotics when he was still at SICSA, so I know what that's about); if we tag-team him, the job gets done without too much fuss.

Squeek is small, and she's reasonably trusting, so though she'd squirm and probably holler, we could do anything we had to if we were careful and did it quickly if it didn't hurt her. Most things require two of us, though, just because she's squirmy and it's less likely one of us will hurt her trying to hold her and perform some quasi-medical function at the same time (though we've both done the dental gel on her solo, she doesn't seem to mind it too much).

Doodle will attempt to remove whatever body part is between her and running off to hide under something within the first five seconds. She flails, hollers, attempts to bite ... you name it. Anything ten pounds of fur and muscle can accomplish, she will at least attempt. Tag-teaming her isn't all that effective, because even when you grab the scruff of her neck out of desperation to just get something done, she still jerks her head back and forth.

We've tried bagging her in a pillow case, wrapping her in a towel -- nothing really works very well, though for pills I can kneel on the floor and back her up between my legs, then Tony can usually get a pill into her from the front. Liquid antibiotics are even easier, though she sometimes will flap her head and spit them out all over one of us, and it still takes two. It is easier to get them in her mouth, now that she's missing most of her back teeth, which is a mixed blessing.

Every time we take her to the vet, we go with our fingers crossed that there's nothing wrong with her that will require pilling her. We tried a pill injector with her, at one point, but we discovered it intimidates her even more than having us try to shove a pill down her throat and she won't even open her mouth for that. It would require three people to do it with a device (one to hold her still, one to open her mouth, one to inject the pill), where we usually can get them down her if we use the method above, if it takes a couple of tries sometimes.

Max is good about almost anything that isn't painful. All you have to do is call him and, even if he knows he's going to get a bath or be brushed, he'll come. It's the cookies we give him at the end, and the fact that he frankly adores both of us, of course. He's good, at least about those things, and he'll sit and let Tony smear dental gel all over his teeth without complaint. The only thing he hates is having his dewclaws clipped, and even that isn't a major production. One of us does have to hold and the other clip, but that's no worse than clipping any of the cats -- we always tag-team them for that, too, though I think I could do Tink and Gord by myself, and Tony probably could, too. Max actually begs for his heartworm pills (they're flavored, he thinks they're treats), and anything else can be molded into a gob of canned dog food and disappear in one swallow.

The temptation to think that Doodle's paranoia about having things done to her stems from some abuse before we took her in is very strong, but I really can't say I'm convinced it's all there is to it. Gord was on the street for who knows how long before we got him, possibly from kittenhood, I don't know. He wasn't neutered and he had an umbilical hernia when he got into the program at SICSA, so I'm guessing he never got any medical care before then or a vet would at least have fixed the hernia. If any of the cats is as likely as Doodle to have suffered abuse at human hands, it's him. He does struggle when you try to do some things, but not other things. If you get a pill into him quick he's not too bad, and he never fights about having his claws clipped; he doesn't always run off after we apply the dental gel, and Tony's given that to him before without my help.

I think Doodle's just one of those cats. Like Tink, who's not very affectionate even though she's been with us since she was barely weaned. If being handled at an early age were the only qualification on a cat's ultimate development she'd be a total lap wart, but she isn't -- she's actually quite stingy with her affection. She's not scared of people, particularly. If someone new comes to the house, she will at least come into the room and check them out; if they have food, she'll even be nice to them. She's not scared, she's just aloof and a bit cranky at times; she prefers us, but she will whore for food.

Doodle's an outright nut case. She'll sit on the divider between the kitchen and the dining room, if we're in one room or the other, and growl if she hears voices outside in the summer. Kids' voices, especially, but anybody gives her 'the goo.' She can even sense when we want to do something to her, as soon as one of us stands up she'll haul ass out of the room and disappear somewhere upstairs (usually under the old red chair in the second bedroom), remaining there until she forgets. Of course, the best part about that is Doodle doesn't remember very long, so usually she's back after a half-hour or so. The fact Tony telegraphs that stuff rather obviously doesn't help, she's more adept at reading us (and especially him) than anybody around here but the dog.

I've theorized Doodle may have a wee soupcon of brain damage, possibly related to poor in vitro and early diet. The other problems she's had kind of feed into that theory, too -- the weird eye stuff, the probably immune-mediated skin trouble, the lousy teeth -- all the stuff could be the result of poor development due to malnutrition, I'd think.

Gord's clearly pretty healthy, though his teeth also are borderline -- he gets gingivitis occasionally, and has had to have his teeth cleaned at the vet's every year or so since we've had him. Tink and Squeek have not, and Tink is seven years old -- she's never had to have her teeth completely cleaned, though they did scrape the tartar off during one of her annual checkups. That's how Tink is with people -- they actually just took her back, set her on a table and scaled her teeth without any anesthesia of any kind. She weighs fifteen pounds and has claws like leather needles; if she ever did decide to fight back, she could easily rip a hole in a human big enough to jump through. Never has.

All the cats around here have their 'kitten moments' -- flinging themselves at toys or each other, running through the house at top speed, that sort of thing -- but Doodle is five years old and never acts like a grown cat. She always acts like the same half-feral kitten she was when we brought her up here. If, as some animal activists accuse, neutering and homing animals with us turns them into 'eternal kittens,' they'd all be that way, but they're not. Even Squeek, who's the youngest in the house and lowest on the totem pole of cats here, acts like a 'big cat' much of the time. Less than Tink and Gord, especially Tink, but I really think with the three of them their behavior relies more heavily on the hierarchy between them than their physical development.

Doodle, though technically second in line, is always sort of kittenish. Having dealt with half-wild kittens all my life, growing up in a small town where there always were plenty of them around, I can say with some certainty she acts like she's still about six months old most of the time. In many ways, she may be exactly that -- which is fine for her, since she's safe here, but it does make it difficult to do anything to her she doesn't want you to do.

So we smear the dental gel on her feet. It's not the worst alternative -- if you can't get in the cat's mouth to put the gel on its gums, the second best thing is to get the cat to get the gel into its mouth and smear it around quasi-voluntarily, and grooming it off her paws accomplishes that. I've heard lots of people say it was the only way they could get cats to take hairball remedies or nutritional paste, so it's not uncommon. Anything that gets it into her mouth is a better solution for her than not at all.

Only problem is, it's damned near impossible to get her to let you look at her gums to see if they're less pink than they were. She was intimidated enough at the vet to let the vet do it, but in her own territory she goes into wolverine mode as soon as one of us touches her head. So, I don't know if she's any better or not.

The post-snow, rainy, unseasonably warm weather has made it a pain in the ass to walk the dog, too. We live in an older 'burb, built in the fifties, and many of the properties haven't had sidewalks replaced in over fifty years. Most of them are below ground level, so they become huge troughs for rainwater when it's damp; especially when, as now, the ground is partly frozen underneath and totally saturated, so the water that can't make it to the storm sewers in the street just stands there on the sidewalk. Add to that the fact that many of my anal-retentive neighbors seem to feel that having a lawn like a photo in a Scott's ad in a magazine is not just something but the only thing, and they edge their grass (which means they cut a big mud ribbon along the edge of the sidewalk) at the end of the season, most of those puddles are full of the topsoil that's washing out of their 'lawns.'

So Max winds up a damp, muddy mess when we get in the door. He loves it -- I've never seen a dog with that much coat who liked to be wet as much as Max does. My mother had a Yorkshire terrier (come on -- a British breed!) who wouldn't go off the front porch if it was raining because it meant he'd have to get his feet wet. He'd pee on the porch posts and squat to poop in the yard just off the porch, cringing all the while. Max just doesn't care -- we've walked him in pouring rain before, so that when he came into the house he was as wet as if he'd been bathed, it doesn't faze him. Drying him off with the towel is a 'fun game,' not an annoyance.

He has as sunny a disposition as I've ever seen -- even when there's a stranger at the door, and he's barking to tell us about it, he's usually wagging his tail. The only time the tail goes down is when he's feeling neglected or when one of us hollers at him for something. Most of the time, if one of us looks directly at him (before we even say anything) he wags his tail.

One of his favorite things to do, especially when I've just come in from work (I work later than Tony does, so I'm usually the last one in), is to have me crouch on the floor so he can ... I don't know what you'd call it. He sort of butts his head into my stomach, shoves up against me and snorts around for five minutes. I know it's some kind of display of submission, but I don't know that I've ever seen a dog do it to a human, before. They do it to each other, bending down and shoving at each other. I guess since he considers me the 'alpha dog' around here, that's my job, to reinforce the hierarchy.

I don't know, I suppose that's like what the cats are doing when they come and thrust their heads at us to be petted, though unlike Max I think they do it more because they know we like it than because it reinforces any imaginary hierarchy between the cats and the people in the household. I don't think cats make the mistake of thinking we're cats, in other words; I think Max does, in some sense, feel we're dogs.

Dominance and submission among the cats don't seem to require constant reinforcement like they do with the dog. All the cats but Squeek come to Tink to have her groom them, and I do think that's about the hierarchy, but with four of them around I think it's more a badge of acceptance than an affirmation. She doesn't seem to have to constantly establish herself as the 'boss cat,' in other words. The rest seem to accept that she's the alpha, and they don't fight much over the other levels. Cats aren't as big on that stuff as dogs, anyway, I don't think -- I think the hierarchy seldom applies with them, when they're living in a household. Cats are too much different from each other, perhaps, so unlike a group of dogs -- all of whom want many of the same things, like food, attention from the humans and the best places to sleep -- they're not constantly fighting over who'll get certain things. This, in our household, is a good thing.

I've had this conversation with people with more than one cat, before: "Oh, you have three females? I feel so sorry for you -- I bet they fight all the time! I've heard you can't have more than one female in the same household or they'll always fight all the time."

Uh ... wow. Funny -- it really isn't like that, around here. Mostly, the only 'fighting' that goes on consists of Gord picking on Squeek or Doodle, or Squeek stalking somebody to play (and that is more likely to result in them chasing each other back and forth through the house with little physical contact, not even play fighting). So, no -- that isn't necessarily so.

I always find this "you can never" thing among cat people to be laugh-out-loud funny. You'd think somebody who liked unpredictability enough to take a cat in, in the first place, would resist the temptation to let anybody else tell them anything about cats that was an 'always/never' equation, since there is no such thing as always or never with cats. Any two of the cats in this household are more different from each other than Gord and Max are different.

But I know people hesitate to question so-called 'conventional wisdom.' Some of them actually believe that a long-lasting relationship can only work if two people are very different from each other. That sounds like grounds for physical violence, to me, so there's what I think of conventional wisdom. Not that it's any surprise, I guess -- I resent the word 'conventional' to begin with, and to call anything a large number of people believe 'wisdom' is a pretty chancy affair.

Ah, well -- no secret I'm atavistic. I think there's probably a gene for that, somewhere.

Posted by Melinda at January 6, 2005 09:51 AM


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