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January 28, 2005

Time for another entry...

Not that new or interesting things happen all that frequently around here. As I've noted before, with all the animals at the age of majority (with cats, I figure it's two years; with dogs, who knows?), new things don't happen very often.

I've been playing around, the past week or so, with lawn/landscape planning software. I've decided I'm seceding from the U.S. in my own small way, and screw the world. I don't like the way things are going, and the only control I have is over this little 90'x120' old-'burb lot on which we live, so I'm determined to control it in a big way this year. In other words, I plan to '0wnX0r t3h |_0t, |_0|_' bigtime.

We already cut down four trees (all silver maples that were full of bugs that would eventually have killed them, as little as I like to lose greenery), so I'll have to replace the 'visual interest' with something. So the home and garden planning software kills time before the mid-February seed starter date I gave myself last month, when I bought the starter packs and the seeds for the forget-me-nots, pinks and lobelias.

This is the software I've been using:

Oops -- was going to link to the page on the Broderbund site for the software (it's Broderbund 3D Home Architect Design Suite 6.0), but it's completely disappeared between two days before I purchased the software and now (a span of a whopping four days). I'm impressed they axed it that fast, and with so little warning -- I suppose the product support will be impressive, and the updates frequent. NOT.

Sigh. Oh, well -- at least the animals don't require upgrades. That's reassuring. Hope the seeds I bought to start early don't require any customer support -- I'm fooked if they do, because the original owners probably have left this plane of existence. Kali, I'm looking at you...

Anyway, enough about gardening -- this journal is intended primarily to be about the animals. Not much changes in big ways, but there are small changes, however transient they may prove to be.

For instance, this past week, Squeek has suddenly and firmly decided books that I want to read in bed at night are her enemies. If she wants to get up on the bed -- even after Tink is there, which doesn't seem to bother Tink, perhaps because she knows Squeek will leave voluntarily once the light goes off (or she can bully her off, if she doesn't) -- and have some attention at bedtime, well, screw my book. Squeek is more important, after all.

She gets right up in my face, on my pillow (I have to lie on my stomach and splay my legs to read, since Tink affixes herself to the bed for the night about ten minutes after I get into bed), between my eyes and the book, and walks back and forth until I give up on reading entirely and pet her.

This is unusual because Squeek usually doesn't ask for much, affection- or attention-wise, if she's not asking for food. She likes a minute or two at night from Tony, usually after I get in bed, and she'll let me run a hand over her head when I deliver food on the table by my desk, but that's about it most of the time.

But this time of year, I always enter the 'insomnia zone,' and no amount of melatonin, or antihistamines, or really much of anything not manufactured by Big Pharma and requiring embarrasingly candid admissions to my somewhat arrogant (however competent) primary care physician, seems to make much difference. So I try to read around the usual diversions that don't really matter much any other time of year -- Tony's snoring, Tink's camping between my knees and pinning me to the bed, the joy of wearing industrial-strength earplugs that almost but don't quite block out Tony's snoring (because they're designed to cut damaging high-frequency noise, not annoying low-frequency snoring), that sort of thing.

As has happened off and on for the past seven years, since we first brought her home in ninety-seven, Tink settles in between my knees early on; add to that the fact that Tony snores like an outboard motor; plus, this is the time of year my ears get tired of having mega-compression earplugs jammed in the canals and rebel by either developing ingrown hairs or just plain aching like a broken tooth when I jam the plugs in because to really block the sound I have to create a mild vacuum against my eardrums...

So to lull myself to sleep, I try to read something not too exciting for a while, when I first get in bed, since it has some return even if I'm not sleeping (which, quite frequently, I am not). Only the past few nights I haven't been able to, because it's pretty much impossible to read through ten pounds of tortie meat, however transparent the fact she's jealous of the book may be. Her jealousy, in other words, may be perfectly transparent; she is not.

Not that it matters to Squeek. Oh, no -- she doesn't seem to sleep much more than I do (cats generally spend about 60% of their day asleep, at Squeek's age, but there's no way she clocks more than half, when we're around), and I sleep somewhere in the vicinity of 25-33% of my time. No wonder she's a bloody psycho-freak -- for a cat, she's suffering sleep deprivation, most of the time.

Max is enjoying the snow, now that it's frozen fairly solid and, even when soft, not piled up above his ribcage. He actually loves to go out and run in the snow, and the cold seems to affect him not at all. Wish I could say the same -- when it's this cold, it takes me almost as long to wrap up to take him out for his late-morning walk as it does to do the walk itself, up and around the block.

Today, we walked the longer, Friday walk -- up two blocks, over one, down two and back -- and my kneecaps felt like frisbees by the time we got home. Max seemed unfazed, even though it was about ten degrees with a headwind for half of the walk. He's eating an ice cube, right now. I swear, this dog could live in Antarctica and never notice it was cold.

Not much other animal news. Tink and Gord are their usual food-begging, occasional lap-stealing selves. Gord steals a lap two or three times a day; Tink only does that on Fridays, if I'm sitting in my computer chair, just before Tony calls to say he's on his way home from work.

Some folks fool themselves their cats want to sit on their laps and petition for attention because they like them ... I'm convinced Tink does it because she's afraid if she doesn't, I'll somehow forget to give them their five o'clock/late afternoon (they don't get it until Tony gets home on the days I work) kibble. Because, you know, I forget it so often. Same thing as Schnickel walking on the bed, searching desperately for my bladder to put pressure on, first thing in the morning -- because I so frequently forget to feed them when I first stumble out of bed. They get their food before I get my coffee, and that tells you all you need to know about my priorities vis a vis the cats. It means one of two things -- I love them, or they're so freakin' annoying that if I didn't feed them before I poured my coffee, I'd kill them and stuff them in the freezer.

I refuse to answer that question on the grounds it may incriminate me.

They whine because they're on a permanent diet, of course, so they always think that if they're hungry I must have forgotten to give them food. Because there's nothing wrong with a normal (American) domestic shorthair housecat weighing 18 pounds, right? Except the possibility of them developing diabetes, and the fact that if something happened and one of them couldn't eat for a few days, they might develop fatty liver syndrome and croak. Other than that, there's nothing at all wrong with them being so overweight they're greasy, grumpy, itchy and covered with dandruff. Heh.

Which is to say, they can whine all they want, but they're getting what I say they're getting to eat, and that's it. The vets at the clinic give me the stinkeye if the cats get much over fifteen pounds, and I guess looking at them, I can kind of understand it (though Tink doesn't show her weight much because, unlike Gord, who actually gets a spare tire, she puts it on evenly all over her body and she's enormous), and they're better-tempered when they're not tubby and incapable of grooming themselves.

You gotta love winter, trapped in a small house with five domestic animals. It gets so, by this late in the season, the little shits own the place more than we do -- we lose the will to fight many of their quirks, and they generally decide many things. For instance, if you're not sitting at your computer right now, typing with a 22-pound Pomeranian mix draped across your arms, you have no idea what I'm talking about.


Posted by Melinda at 10:38 PM | Comments (0)

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 09:51 AM | Comments (0)