2

A Cat’s Life

My name is Snooper Katt aka SuperSnooper and Snoops. My human thought it was a cute name after I spent the first few days in my new home exploring. What did he expect? I’m a cat. I had to make sure I could find all the important cat places: sun spots, hiding places, litter box, food, etc. I have heard that many humans are under the impression that all we cats do is sleep. I am writing a summary of a typical day to dispel that error. I have used Google Translate to make it intelligible to you. It would be a lot easier if you humans would just learn to speak our language.

2:30a – I hear my human’s mate (from this point forward human #2 due to the order of her appearance) coming down the stairs. I can hear her telling cat #2 to keep moving so she won’t get stepped on. That human is the clumsiest thing I’ve ever seen first thing in the morning. It’s OK though, she’s come to get our breakfast. I used to get up and go into the kitchen with her to make sure she picked out the right food. Now I can trust her, so I stay in my tree and let cat #2 make sure it gets done.

3:00a – Human #2 comes back all wet. I’ve been in the kitchen to try out breakfast. Not bad. I’m sitting on the table waiting for her. She reaches over to pet me. I let her scratch me, a couple of times. She sits down at the thing she calls a computer. I stand at the table behind her and watch. Then I jump on her table to check out Cat TV. Since it’s still dark out, sometimes there are some good moths on the screen.

3:30a – Human #2 leaves. I check out cat #2 to see if she got any treats I didn’t. Sometimes we clean each other or play or fight or ignore each other. Depends on the mood. I make a quick check of the perimeter on Mouse Patrol. If I hear anything, I stay on guard. Otherwise, I go upstairs and wait for my human. Sometimes on his bed, sometimes in the hall. Sometimes in human #3’s room.

Sometimes I see human #4 in this period. He used to get up for school, but now he’s “graduated”. I think that means he’s nocturnal. He eats and/or does laundry then disappears again.

5:00a – My human wakes up. I like to be there to make sure he’s up. First thing in the morning is the best time to get good skirchies from him. (Human #2’s father came up with that word to describe the kind of petting-cuddling-scratching attention we cats like when we want full attention from humans.) It’s best to get him before he’s fully awake. That way I can help him get dressed.

5:10a – We go downstairs. He does human stuff in the kitchen while I check out the food again. It’s always the same stuff. Guess I’ll get some kibble. And get some water.

5:15a – We go into the study. He turns on the big “computer” while I settle in his lap. I help him get his messages and type anything he needs. I really like it when he plays games – one hand for the mouse and one hand for me. Why do they call that thing a mouse? Humans are so silly sometimes.

5:30a – My human goes upstairs. Sometimes I go up ahead of him and lay on the bathroom floor. It’s the best place for tummy rubs. It’s the best place because he can shut the door and cat #2 can’t hog in.

5:40a – My human leaves. He usually closes Cat TV so I have to watch through the window and can’t hear anything out there. I use the facilities. I love my human, but sometimes he forgets to clean the litterbox at night. I bet he wouldn’t want to step in that.

5:45a – Perform a more thorough Mouse Patrol. The best place to find the little guys is in the pantry. We find quite a few in the dining room too. Cat #2 is a pain in the neck, always getting in the way with the humans and talking nonstop, but she is a pretty good mousing partner. We can watch for them from two places. Morning Mouse Patrols are rarely successful.

6:00a – Get another snack. Time for my morning nap. Should I go to the cat tree? The chair in the living room? My human’s bed? Human #3’s bed? If it’s chilly, there’s no question about going to sleep with human #3. I think she “graduated” too, but she’s only part nocturnal.

Noon – Get up and wander around the house. Cat #2 is asleep in her chair (it’s pretty funny how human #2 thinks it’s her chair). Do a perimeter scan. Sit in the tree.

1:00p – Human #2 comes home. I like her new car. It’s a lot quieter than the old one. I go to meet her at the door. She bends down to pet me. I let her scratch behind my ears. I try to lead her into the house, but she almost trips on me. See what I mean?

1:15p – Human #3 comes downstairs. She and cat #2 are both trying to talk to human #2. Human #2 eats something that looks unappetizing, but I check it out anyway. Cat #2 talks her into taking a nap. I stay down with human #3. She has a “computer” too so I only get minimal attention. It helps if I walk on the “computer”. Eventually I go to sleep.

3:30p – My human comes home. They all eat. Most of the time it is pretty unappetizing. But everyone once in awhile, she makes good meat. Regardless, I have to make sure I don’t like it. How would I know if I don’t get close enough to smell it completely?  The best is when I sit in front of human #4 and stare at him. They all say he really likes cats, but he is bad about sharing. But he does talk to me and pets me.

4:30p – My human and I spend a few minutes on the “computer” then go watch TV. The only thing he ever watches is people so I get bored pretty easily and either go on Mouse Patrol or take a nap. This is the best time to track down a mouse, although sometimes it takes cat #2 and me quite a while to actually make the kill and deliver the gift.

Cat TV usually gets opened up again somewhere around now.

10:00p – Human #2 gets the rodent out of his cage. He’s big and smelly and covered with quills. She tries to cuddle with him. Sometimes he’ll sleep; other times he just makes a lot of noise. I try to stay as far away as possible unless I’m bored. Then I try to stare him down. He’s really boring.

11:00p – My human and human #2 go to bed. Cat #2 goes with them. Sometimes I go up and let them pet me. If it’s cold, I ‘ll sleep up there. Otherwise I go back to sleep downstairs. The rodent is on his wheel. He walks on that thing for hours.

So that is a typical day for me. Is your life any more interesting?

3

How Do You Vacuum a Cat?

I really hate what aging is doing to my body. Particularly my sinuses. Probably not the part you were expecting, but I don’t know you well enough to be any more intimate.

When I was in high school, my best friend had allergies. It seemed like she was miserable all the time. Mainly it was the usual suspects: ragweed, pollen, goldenrod. She was also allergic to dogs and cats. One of her concerns was that she really wanted an Old English Sheepdog, but she couldn’t breathe around them. I think the breathing finally won out. Just as well. I read that those dogs have to be brushed daily, preferably at least twice a day. If they’re talking about using a utensil, that’s as much as I brush mine.

I tried to be sympathetic, but it was useless. I had no idea what it was like to be that miserable just because the weather changed. So I did the typical teenage thing. I congratulated myself on not needing to carry what seemed like a whole box of tissues in my purse. And finding somewhere to dispose of them.

A few years after college, I got severe headaches, and the doctors couldn’t figure out why. If I were a doctor, I’d want to be a dermatologist – no emergencies and the problem is right there, sitting on the skin.

I finally went to an allergist. She did that obnoxious test were they turn your back into a chess board and use a tiny needle to inject certain allergens. Turns out there were no major problems, but I did react to some trees, grasses, mold – and cats.

That day, when I got home, my husband had a surprise for me. The cutest little (4 weeks old) kitten. She lived with us for twenty-two years with no problems. Hah! Shows what that test was worth.

As the years went by, I had more and more trouble breathing around mold. We have an old house and the basement has leaked around the foundation off and on. Seems to be some grumpy gremlin around the base of the house. At first, I only noticed the problem when I used the treadmill. Now I can feel it just going down there. Is that a great excuse for not using the treadmill or what?

Then it was cut grass. Then other things growing around me. I am still no where near my friend’s level of discomfort. Lucky for you – otherwise, you would have heard me whining about it a long time ago.

But it was still pretty obnoxious a couple of years ago when they started putting cut flowers in the cheese cooler before big flower holidays (Easter, Mother’s Day). When I opened the cooler this week and saw them (they had slunk in the night before), I groaned. Sure enough, my eyes watered and got swollen and my nose ran for hours. They’d been storing up their nasty little histamines all night to get me.

But the absolute worst happened a few weeks ago. I was wearing a fleece jacket and it was getting more and more uncomfortable to breathe. I looked down and it was covered with cat hair. That can’t be it – I’m not allergic to cats. I took off the jacket and could breathe again. Oh no, I thought, not the kitties.

It was shedding season. Kommando Kitty (who has adopted me as her main human) is a cross between a Siamese and something Siberian, I’m sure. She has medium short hair that molds against her body. And more of it than I have seen on any cat except my parents’ Norwegian Forest cat. She even has fur between her toes. And it’s really fine fur – sticks to everything.

I would brush her whenever we sat together. Did wonders for her coat; not so much for my sinuses. As you might imagine, I was distraught. It was the first time I had a problem around any animal and it was mine! She cuddles in my arms every night before she goes to the foot of the bed. She watches TV on my lap.

My family laughed at me because it was “my” cat who was giving me problems. The calico seemed to be hypo-allergenic. Until I brushed her and got the fur all over me.

All you cat people probably know that cats are at their friendliest during shedding season. The loose fur itches and they want to get rid of it, preferably all over you. You skirtch them and get handfuls of fur. You brush them and empty the brush multiple times before it comes back fur-free.

We had a cat that I would brush downstairs before going to bed. We’d go upstairs and when I scratched her back, I still got handfuls of fur. This would go on for days. Then magically stop. The biggest problem was the amount of fur in the trash. It looked like we were trying to grow a new cat.

I was still totally traumatized by my new affliction when I realized it had stopped. Kommando continues to rub her face against me, but my sinuses are clear. That’s weird – everyone knows that allergies to cats are caused by their dander, not the furs themselves.

But as you know, I’m a little unique. Apparently the allergy is not very severe. It only activates when I look like a yeti in cat fur. I’ll wait until fall to test my theory. The cats shed the summer fur in the fall to get in their winter furs, so it’s not as severe. If I’m OK between now and then but start to react, I’ll know I’m right.

If that’s the problem, I have a choice between shaving them and vacuuming them during shedding season. Obviously, cleaning my clothes after brushing is not an option. That is a lot of work. Bathing isn’t an option. I’d have to do it daily for two weeks. I need my blood.

Same issue with shaving. Both the cat and I would need a transfusion at the end. Me from her teeth and claws. Her from me trying to shave her. Besides, it took Kommando several months to grow back her fur after she was fixed. Guess it’s hard to get all those furs through the skin at the same time. She’d just get furry in time to get shaved again. And she’d look funny.

So vacuuming it is. It may be a little tricky. They both hate the vacuum cleaner. Maybe I can use the little ones they have  for computers. Probably not, I think those blow air not suck it in.

Hmmmm. Think I’ll stick with the theory that they just spent too much time in the basement with the mold this spring.

4

Catitude

A guide to the tao of the cat as described by resident experts, Super Snooper and Kommando Kitty. (They are available for private consultation if you desire. Fees are determined on a sliding scale based on how much they like you.

Cats are by nature sweet, loving creatures. If we are treated otherwise by humans, we will respond accordingly. Particularly if our every wish is not fulfilled by our personal human.

Humans have two non-negotiable duties. They must feed us and make sure that our litter-boxes are clean.

If your human does not feed you in a timely manner, you are permitted to remind them of their responsibility. If they feed you at 4a on workdays, they should understand that they must feed you at 4a on non-work days.

Permissible ways to remind your human of feeding time include, but are not limited to pouncing, talking to them, and lying on their faces.

It is not permissible to use the potted plants for a litter box unless your human has been derelict in cleaning the proper one. The litter box is your private space. You are responsible for determining when it is too dirty to use.

Humans are also useful as warm-blooded furniture. If you need a comfortable place to sleep, laps may be used. Do not let your human tell you that you are in the way of the newspaper, book, sewing or anything else.

If you feel your human is ignoring you, you are entitled to attract their attention. More specifically, you may sit on a book, newspaper or keyboard.

Cat beds should always be positioned in the place with the most likely to have a sunbeam most of the day. It is not appropriate to have one in the human’s bedroom. The large one the human sleeps on is yours as well.

If your human feeds you food including “greens” (for some reason they think they are healthy) you may take it as permission to eat greens on your own. Ferns and spider-plants are especially tasty. Some cats like the taste of flowers.

If your human feeds you food with eggs and/or cheese, you may assume that you are also welcome to those foods when your human indulges.

Cats are carnivores. Your human may need to be taught that we recognize meat even if it is being consumed by the human. Most of us are particularly fond of deli meats such as ham and turkey.

If your human is not feeding you a sufficient amount of meat, you are allowed to share theirs. However, ask for a separate plate. They have germs.

If your human pays sufficient attention to you, you should get enough exercise in the house. However, if your human feels he/she must take you for a walk, be certain they know the correct way to do it:

Cats who go outside are permitted to check the weather at both doors before determining that it is too cold/wet/snowy/windy to go out.

Cats have a sixth sense about humans who are not fond of them. However, it is rude to use this power unless the human invades your territory, (i.e., your house).

Humans do not seem to understand that they are teaching us hunting skills when they dangle those feathers on a string in front of us. They rarely appreciate the fruits of our improved hunting. You will probably never see them eat a gift you have provided. Do not be disappointed; it is just poor manners on their part.

Most humans are fully trainable and will become loved and treasured members of the family.

9

Horatio Hedgehog, Intrepid Explorer

A couple of days before Christmas, my husband came into the study with my present, a 2-month-old hedgehog. I had a hedgehog a couple of years ago, but Jean-Luc has passed on to the great hedge. So my family thought it was time for a successor.  Jean-Luc had been a sweetheart. He was very even-tempered and would sleep in my sweater or shirt on my arm. I could give him tummy rubs and pet his chin. I thought he was a typical hedgehog. Having been the human for several cats, I should have known that there is no such thing as typical.

The new guy’s name is Horatio, Lord Nelson, but I like to call him Sir Grumpy. The first few times I took him out of his cage, he got into extreme protective mode, and I could barely pick him up without gloves. He’d huff and chuff and do his very best to intimidate me. It was kind of amusing when you consider that he weighs about a pound (he’s an African pygmy hedgehog, not the larger variety you find in Europe). I would speak softly and try to get him to relax. No chance. He wasn’t happy, and I was not going to change his mind.

I don’t really see the point in having a pet that I can’t cuddle with, so I was not happy with Horatio. My husband said I wasn’t spending enough time with him. Who wants to spend time with something that spends all its time making threatening noises and pretending to be a hand grenade waiting to go off? But obviously, a new tactic was needed.

So I decided to try a few minutes every night rather than going for an hour or so. Progress! He actually let his quills soften to the point I could pet him. And he stopped pooping every time I had him on my lap. Major bonus.

But then I missed a couple of nights.  Apparently Horatio has a little clock or calendar in his cage. When I went to get him out, he was back to his old self, grouching around. So he was adapting to having a human! But he wanted a human on his terms – whatever those were.

Horatio does not like to be woken up. Hedgehogs are nocturnal, but we have to keep a blanket on his cage right now. It’s too cold for him without a heater and we need the blanket to keep the heat in. As far as I can tell, he has decided that nighttime is when the television turns off until he gets tired in the morning (sometime around 4a). Which is actually pretty good, except the only time I can get him out without waking him is before work. Since I start work at either 6a or 4a, depending on the day, it would mean I have to get up really early to play with him. Then I would be really grouchy.

A couple of days ago, I was home sick and got up early. I had an idea and put some pillows around to create a sort of “run” for him. He loved it. The first thing he tried to do was get out (of course). When that didn’t work, he spent quite a while happily wandering around, sniffing everything. The cats were fascinated, but smart enough to stay away from the quills.

Horatio finally figured out how to escape, so I put him back in his cage. He was not a happy hog. He huffed and he puffed and he scratched at the newspaper on the bottom of his cage. He’d get on his wheel for a couple of minutes then get off and stomp around some more.

I am trying to make him a more sturdy playground. He loves to climb, so I have to make sure there’s no way for him to climb out. He has sharp teeth, but a terrible overbite, so I don’t think that’s a major issue. I wonder if there is some sort of Architectural Digest for hedgehogs? Or maybe a hedgehog whisperer to tell me what he’s thinking?

For the moment, I’ve given up the hope of having another snuggly hedgehog. Right now, I’m just hoping to get him to the point that he doesn’t make me think of Cujo every time I pick him up. One thing at a time. Eventually he’ll discover what he was missing in turning down all those tummy rubs. In the meantime, I’m keeping the gloves handy.

0

Mice: They’re Not Just for Snacking

This morning my husband comes downstairs, says good morning followed by “Kommando has another mouse.”

When we moved to exurbia awhile back, I understood that in return for the extra space there would be some adjustments. At the time, the house had LP heating (at better than $400/month to heat the house), a well, and a septic tank. We still have the well and septic tank, but fortunately a natural gas line was put through. The neighbor on one side is close enough that we could hear when he played really awful music really loud. But the other three sides are pretty much open. But what we don’t have in humans, we make up for in critters.

Most of the critters are pretty cute. Although it is almost impossible to have a garden, I like looking out and seeing the deer and rabbits. The raccoons and woodchucks are cute, if somewhat destructive. Every once in awhile, there’s a possum, skunk, or coyote. We have some small, harmless snakes. And then we have the rodents. I realize that the more scientific of you will disagree, but I count the mice and bats as rodents. Why bats? Both my grandmother and husband have tried to get me to like them by telling me that they are just mice with wings. I don’t like having mice in my house and I don’t like having bats there either.

Looking back, I do feel a little bad about making my husband get the bat off our son’s ceiling the same day he had shoulder surgery. But a few years later, while he was on a fishing trip another bat got in, and I had to call a neighbor to remove it. Both of those were pretty embarrassing, but the worst came a couple of years later. I had the house to myself, with everyone else out of town.

One night, I heard scratching at the baseboard in my bedroom, but couldn’t see anything. I turned out the light and went to sleep. My head itched, and when I scratched there was something in it. I screamed and tossed it on the bed. Turned on the light and couldn’t find anything. In the morning, there was the bat. So don’t let anyone tell you that bats won’t come near you. That one was trying to cuddle with me. Needless to say, he quickly joined his friends outside.

From the day we moved in, there was scratching in the walls. My husband said it was natural, we had moved into an old farmhouse. Lovely. I figured as long as they stayed in the walls, we could coexist. The day before Thanksgiving the first year, I was alone cleaning when I saw the first one. He was sitting in the living room looking at me. I do not like mice, and I particularly don’t like mice who look at me rather than running. Our two “city” cats were nowhere to be found.

Eventually Rascal discovered that mice were great fun to play with and made excellent gifts when dead. She became a skilled hunter, extremely patient and quick to pounce. The other cat, Critter, became more skilled as well. The highlight was the night she brought one of her “toys” to bed and started to play with it. Needless to say, that was a one-time event. Critter was also the one who pounced on the bat in the hallway. Apparently she thought they were just mice with wings too.

Unfortunately, like the rest of us, the cats aged. Eventually they both lost their hearing. Until the end, Rascal would sit in the pantry, watching for mice. For awhile, the mice held the upper hand.

Last summer, we got another set of cats. SuperSnoops (she put her nose into everything when we brought her into the house) aka Snoops came from the shelter. Kommando Kitty was left as a kitten. A repairman found her in the window well. He got her out, and she proceeded to try to leap across the window well again to get in the window. Sweet cat; a little impulsive. Unfortunately neither cat showed any mousing skill. I could hear snickering behind the walls.

As you may know, fall and spring are moving seasons for mice. They go to and from their winter homes. Ours had gotten a little too complacent. Snoops discovered that they like to come out at the basesboards. Every evening she goes on “mouse patrol”. This week she was finally rewarded. Three one day, two the next, and so on. Kommando has no patience, but is learning from a master.

I’ve never been a fan of those “circle of life” wildlife programs. It’s a little disconcerting to see it in your own house. Particularly since our cats have the instinct to catch the prey, play with it, and kill it, but absolutely no inclination whatsoever to eat it (they seem to find the idea somewhat revolting). Sometimes, we don’t even get to the kill part. Kommando in particular, subscribes to the catch and release school of mousing.

Before you start to think of our house as akin to a Roman arena, I would like to clarify that the mice brought this on themselves. Once we had put all of our pantry foods in plastic tubs and other containers, I thought we had sent them a clear message. However, they also like dry cat food – a lot.

So the cats are simply protecting their food. And my food. And my furniture. And my sanity (such as it is).