Finding Love Late in Life – A Cat Tale

… Or How to Make Two Cats Out of One

Tigger is our cat, sort of. He is really my parents’ cat, or used to be. He came to live with us when my parents went off to live in Arizona for the winter one year.

Mom and Dad had two cats back then, Tigger and Maxine. And they knew they couldn’t leave their poor babies alone in the house for a whole winter, even if I stopped by the house every other day to make sure there was plenty of food and water and that litter boxes were clean. We all knew this wouldn’t work so well because we’d tried it the first year. It wasn’t fun for the cats or for me.

So when my parents decided that they couldn’t keep their kitties any longer, you know what happened. No, they could not bear to surrender the cats to an animal rescue group. They wanted their babies where they might still visit them now and then. And then they appealed to their animal-loving children to “adopt” the cats.

There were two cat-adopting candidates among my parents’ four children. My brother, Jim was one of them. I was the other. I don’t remember that either of us was all that enthusiastic about this plan, but our sympathy for our parents and the cats was bigger than our resistance. Neither of us could say no to my parents’ request. I called Jim and said, “I’ll take Tigger if you’ll take Maxine.”

Maxine was a long-haired, arrogant cat and she ruled the roost when she lived in my parents’ home. And she had a bad habit of walking on the kitchen table and counter tops. I’m an animal lover, but I did not want any cat feet, cat butts or cat fur in any of the places where my food might be. I did not want Maxine.

Jim agreed to my proposal, I think because Tigger had no personality and he figured he and his family would at least get some entertainment out of this deal.

Tigger has always been skittish. He was very sickly as a kitten and my mom could not stand to see him suffer. She made countless visits to the vet and took every measure to bring Tigger back to health. The vet told her that Tigger was probably much younger than the pet shop had stated when he was purchased. He was probably too young to be taken from his mother. But my mom loved him up and gave him medications and finally, he began to thrive. But the damage was done. Tigger may have had a shy personality to begin with, but it was made worse by those days he was in poor health. He never really bonded much with people. He’d come out of hiding now and then for my parents and sometimes even sat on my dad’s lap. But if others came around, he was nowhere to be found. My nephew, Danny actually thought Tigger was a cat we’d all made up and told stories about. On the day Danny finally caught sight of Tigger, he exclaimed to my mom with utter surprise, “Nanna! You really do have a Tigger!”

So you can imagine how Tigger probably felt when he was adopted out to me and my family. Our cat, Holly was still alive back then and she was extremely curious about Tigger. But Tigger wanted nothing to do with her. Oh, how he howled and cried that first night he was here. For weeks, maybe even months, we might not have known that Tigger was in our house, except that we saw signs that he was eating and using the litter box. Eventually, he settled into a cautious level of comfort, learned to coexist with Holly, and spent most of his days hiding out under our beds, only prowling around at night when he was sure we were all asleep.

Tigger in his younger days

Tigger in his younger days

As the years went by, Tigger began to get a bit… naughty. He peed on any blanket or item of clothing left on the floor for any length of time. One time, he peed in my purse!  This went on for a while. We took him to the vet, but there was nothing physically wrong. We eventually realized that we were being punished, but for what reason, we could never figure out.  Holly was gone by then. Maybe he was protesting her departure. We talked to the vet and she offered some suggestions, but we never really found a solution. Tigger was getting pretty old by this point, so we considered it could just be an old age thing. And as angry and frustrated as we were by his behavior and our inability to change it, we didn’t have the heart to put him down either.

I don’t remember why I thought this was a good idea, but at one point, it occurred to me to lock Tigger into the laundry room in our lower level. I put a pet gate up across the doorway so he could see out, but he couldn’t get out. This was my temporary solution until we could figure out what to do. But as it turns out, Tigger loved being in his own place where people weren’t constantly coming and going and where the dog could not chase him. The gate was low enough that we could just step over it, and apparently it never occurred to Tigger to climb or jump over. This was working! Tigger seemed to feel safer. He did his business only in the litter box. He never liked being near windows or doors and going outside was always out of the question anyway. And no tough decisions had to be made.

It’s been a couple years now and Tigger continues to live in the laundry room. Sometimes I think it’s cruel to keep him there, but then I try to take him out and he panics, telling me he doesn’t want to be out. Why mess with a good thing?

Every morning when I wake up, Tigger comes out from his bed behind the furnace and meows at me for his treats. I give him a few and he even lets me pick him up and cuddle him a little bit. But never being one for too much attention, he always wanders back to one of his hiding spots pretty quickly.

Over the last winter, I noticed that Tigger’s fur was beginning to look and feel a little clumpy. He never let me investigate too much and the times I tried brushing him, the brush just passed over the clumps. I worried that there were cysts or something beneath the fur, but couldn’t seem to find anything of concern when he let me get close enough. We wondered about his health now and then, and quite honestly, figured he was probably in his final days. After all, he is something like 17 years old. Lately, Tigger’s been looking really bad. Last weekend, I thought I might try to sponge bathe him and get to the bottom of his mangy fur. I know. Strange idea. But for some reason, I was determined.

Much to my surprise, Tigger allowed me to sponge bathe him with warm water and a washcloth. It did nothing to alleviate the clumpy fur, but he seemed to be taking great pleasure in the warm water. I’m not sure how we managed it, but Kacey came to join me and kept Tigger distracted by scratching under his chin while I tried to figure out what was going on with his fur. I managed to pick apart a big clump and realized it was just a big, matted hard mass of fur.

The internet tells me this is common in some cats and the clumps are called mats. These occur when the undercoat loosens, but the outer “guard” fur keeps it from fully shedding. The mats can be uncomfortable, even painful and can sometimes get infected. I learned it was recommended to just cut these mats right off. In really bad cases, a vet will shave a cat in this condition. Tigger would never survive the panic of leaving this house, much less going outside and to the vet. Kacey and I took matters into our own hands.

Imagine how awful I felt as Tigger not only cooperated, but seemed to welcome me clipping, brushing and cutting his fur. I kept wishing I’d known sooner what was going on and that he needed help keeping groomed. I hadn’t realized he might have been in pain! I got the FurGoPet deshedder that we use on Lucy and I tried it on Tigger. It worked pretty well and mounds of fur came off of him, even though there still seemed to be more than enough attached to him. After we’d worked on him a long while, he seemed to breathe a huge sigh of relief. He needed more clean-up, but I figured he needed a break. Later on, I went to the pet store and bought the type of cat brush recommended for preventing mats. It was very wiry and I worried it would hurt Tigger, but the online information told me that most cats welcome these brushes, and even like to be brushed somewhat aggressively.

The next morning, I took the new brush to Tigger’s fur. Again, he welcomed my attention and just kept circling and purring as if to say, “Now get this spot. Now this one. Oh, yeah. Like that!”

20140602TiggerAnd the fur that came off of him! I could not believe how much fur just kept coming and coming and coming off of his body. As I brushed him and pulled the excess fur from the brush, I made a pile on the floor beside me. At one point, Tigger sniffed it curiously. It was a giant ball of cat fur. He probably thought it was another cat!

In the days since our marathon cat grooming session last weekend, Tigger now comes to greet anyone who comes near his space. He purrs and meows, asking anyone who’s willing to brush him more and more and more! And more fur keeps coming off of him. He actually looks and feels really good again, if you don’t mind a few patchy spots where I had to cut some really big mats.

He has gone from years of reclusiveness to finally welcoming the human touch. It’s kind of sad that it took him this long to accept our love, but better late than never, I guess. He purrs like never before and when you don’t brush and scratch fast enough, he butts his head against whatever body part he can reach. He still won’t sit on my lap. Probably never will. And I’m not sure he has much time left. He’s smaller than ever and really skinny. He seems a little arthritic – he walks like he has a stick up his butt. Actually, he’s always walked like that. He’s a weird cat.

But we love him. And we’re glad he’s finally accepting of our love!

A happy ending to a (literally) crappy week

Well, I don’t think I’ve ever been so obsessed with poop as I have been this week. But it was for the best, believe me.

Poor Lucy has had the Hershey’s Squirts since Monday. Of course, I was immediately concerned. The dog has a stomach of iron and eats everything that will fit in her mouth, usually without incident. I had Mark take a stool sample in for testing, but nothing was found. I was advised to cook some white rice and feed it to Lucy with her regular food for a couple of days. But it didn’t cure her loosey goosies.

Lucy Chatting

“Mom? My butt hurts!”

I watched Lucy in the yard last evening. After she did her business, I went to investigate, hoping to see some sign that things were returning to normal. But things were far from normal and I also saw blood, which made me feel a little panicky. Bella had bloody stools just as she got so incredibly sick. I couldn’t sleep last night. I worried that Lucy was getting incredibly sick too. I made Mark promise to take her to the vet today.

Mark called me at work this afternoon. He asked, “Do you want the good news? Or the good news?”

“Umm… the good news,” I said.

“They found a fungus in Lucy’s stool. She has some pills to take for a few days and her poop should get back to normal as soon as this evening.”

I was so relieved! When I got home and Lucy greeted me at the door like usual, I dropped to my knees and hugged and kissed her and told her how happy I was that she was going to be just fine. She put her paws up on my shoulders and gave me a big, sloppy, wet kiss! A happy ending to a crappy week!

On a side note, for anyone wondering, “Why don’t I know who Tigger is?” ….

Tigger

This is Tigger.

There’s not much to say about Tigger. Like some of our other pets, he found his way into our lives when we weren’t even looking. He used to belong to my parents until they couldn’t keep him anymore. It took him a while to get used to us. He never really did, I guess. He now resides behind the furnace for the most part and comes out for treats and a snuggle from me when I get up for work in the morning. Otherwise, he pretty much keeps to himself and prefers not to be looked at or touched.

I can’t say for sure, but I think Tigger is glad that Lucy isn’t feeling so crappy anymore too.

Stray

Lucy frequently barks at things she sees out the windows. School children walking to and from the bus stop. Runners. Dog walkers. Squirrels in the yard. Turkeys in the yard. (Yes, really. But just that one time.)

Last evening, Lucy was gazing out the window of the front door and began to bark and howl, whine, cry and dance like a dog possessed.

“What the heck,” I said, leaving my skillet of Sloppy Joes in the making to investigate. Jake came to the front window just as I did. There we saw Neighbor Bob out in his front yard with Jack, the German Shorthair. And in the middle of the front yard was a cat. The cat and Jack were running circles around each other, Jack trying to play with (or eat) the cat, the cat trying to fend off Jack. Each time Jack tried to approach the cat, Neighbor Bob pressed a button on a remote control which shocked poor Jack who howled profusely which sent Lucy into further fits.

I slipped on my jacket and walked across the street to see if I could help. While Neighbor Bob secured Jack in his back yard kennel, I approached the cat that was now sitting in the middle of the front yard, breathing heavily. Bob came back just as the cat was hissing at me, warning me not to come close.

“Do you know whose cat this might be,” I asked him?

“No idea,” he said. “Maybe nobody’s.”

There are a lot of feral cats in this area. They tend to stay closer to the many ponds and wooded areas, but sometimes one will run through the neighborhood. They tend to be small and skinny and extremely skittish. The cat in Neighbor Bob’s yard did not appear to be feral. He was too pretty and filled out. I was sure he was someone’s pet, but I couldn’t see a collar and he wouldn’t let me near without hissing. I wasn’t up for getting bit, and I told Bob so. He said he wasn’t either and thanked me for trying to help.

I went back in the house to finish dinner. Not long afterwards, I was looking out the front window and saw Neighbor Bob in his front yard with a broom, shooing away the stray cat. The cat alternately pitched and ran and made it as far as across the street. To my yard. Where he found refuge under the deck steps between the chain link fence and a sizable shrub. I went outside once again to check on the cat, now huddled underneath the steps. Neighbor Bob stood in my front yard with his broom, apologizing for sending the cat my way.

I didn’t want to mess with any more of Neighbor Bob’s crazy antics, so I said not to worry and to just leave the cat. The cat was outside of the fence that surrounds our back yard, but close enough to Lucy’s play area to make her crazy when she went outside. And something was clearly wrong with the cat. He wasn’t leaving in spite of all of the commotion. I decided to keep Lucy in the house long enough to let the cat wander off again. But since Lucy’s stomach was still bothering her, I knew I couldn’t keep her inside indefinitely.

I told myself not to think about the cat. I told myself not to worry about the cat. We’ve had enough pet issues recently. I couldn’t afford to take on another pet, especially one who wouldn’t let me near him anyway and one who might be sick or injured.

I checked after an hour. Cat was still hiding out under the steps.

I checked again sometime later, taking a closer look. Cat was still hiding out under the steps. In the rocks. In the cold. With icy snowflakes beginning to fall and a snowstorm on its way.

I told myself not to think about the cat again, but all I could think is how if he were my pet and out on his own, I’d want someone to care for him. I found a box and lined it with towels, hoping Cat would let me get it under the steps so he could get inside. He hissed when I came near, but I could see him shivering, so I knew he was cold. So I just placed the box as near as I could to Cat with the opening where he could see it.

I went back in the house and told myself not to think about Cat as I was getting him some of Tigger’s food. I brought the food out to the deck steps and Cat hissed at me again as I approached, but he allowed me to put the food in the box. I went back inside, then came out again a while later to peek at him and he was eating.

All I could think was that a snow storm was coming and Cat was going to be dead under my steps in the morning.

And I couldn’t let Lucy outside because she’d go nuts and anger the neighbors with babies on either side of our house. I decided I had to do something.

Not my stray cat, but he looked like this one

Not my stray cat, but he looked like this one

A series of phone calls led me to the county animal control agency who assured me that Cat could be picked up and taken to the Humane Society. I didn’t know if this was the best solution for him, but it would be better than letting him suffer and/or die in the cold overnight. Animal Control said they’d send someone out. It was not who I expected. Turns out we don’t have any type of Animal Control services after 7:00 pm in this city. Instead, I got a police officer who was not equipped to remove or transport Cat. Instead, he proceeded to lecture me about how I shouldn’t provide shelter and I shouldn’t provide food and water. He was not on board with my animal loving instincts. He said that I could probably get someone to remove Cat in the morning and for now, I should just leave Cat out there without the box, without the food and without the water.

“Okay,” I said. “But I think the cat is sick or hurt and I can’t let my dog out.”

He said that Cat didn’t look sick or injured to him. Again I was given the same spiel about help being available in the morning. “Just leave him there for now. Don’t feed him. Blah, blah, blah.”

“Yes, I know,” I sighed. “But I can’t let my dog out. But whatever. I’ll figure it out.”

He left, reminding me again. No shelter. No food. No water. I closed the front door behind him and muttered, “Asshole.”

Maybe he felt my disdain. Maybe he felt guilty. Whatever he felt, he was compelled to go the extra mile after he left. My phone rang and the officer informed me he was on his way back with a kennel and if he could get the cat, he would take him to the Humane Society. And true to his word, he arrived within minutes and came out of his truck with a kennel. He managed to get Cat on the first try. As I watched out the window, he gave me a thumbs up and put the kennel in the back seat of his vehicle. I poked my head out the door and shouted, “Thank you!”

I didn’t feel great about the whole thing. I know what happens to cats that go to the Humane Society and who don’t get claimed or adopted. But at least he didn’t suffer out in the cold overnight. I hope that if he has a family, they find him again. But really, I just have to try not to think too much about him.

He Wants Me

When the day winds down, I know he’ll be waiting there for me.

It’s late and I’m tired. I know I should go to bed. I do love our bed, with its heavy down comforter and soft fluffy pillows. I love to bury myself in a cocoon of blankets and fall asleep beneath. On really cold nights, I grab my fleece blanket and toss that on top too. He loves that blanket. If I use it, I know he’s going to snuggle up really close to me.

But sometimes I’m reluctant to go, especially after a really long day. Our schedules are so different and just when I’m ready to wind down for the day and drift off to sleep, he always seems so full of energy. The last thing he’s thinking is sleep!

I know he loves me and he just wants to be close to me, especially after we’ve been apart all day long. But sometimes I’m just not in the mood. So I hold off going to bed, knowing if I do, he’ll just climb on top of me and paw at me.

I know it sounds callous of me. After all, he practically worships the ground I walk on and follows me around the house when I’m home, just hoping for a little attention.

I shouldn’t be so selfish with my affections. After all, he’s never been anything but dedicated to me. He waits so patiently for me, night after night, just hoping… I think tonight, I’ll give him a little of what he’s been looking for.

 

Tigger

A nice belly rub.

Watching and Waiting

When I returned home from work yesterday, Jake informed me that Holly had been sick at least three times during the day. (Sick = throwing up icky stuff.) I went to find her and she was dry heaving and looking miserable. I let her be until the sick feeling seemed to pass and then picked her up. As I did, she squealed a little bit, as if she might have been in pain.

Jake then told me, “Dad said she probably won’t make it a week.”

The combination of that statement and what I had just witnessed caused me to have a little melt down. I was sure the vet’s assumption that she had another month or so was way off base.

Later, I gave Holly some bits of chicken and she ate it willingly. I don’t think she’s been eating her dry food. She threw up all of the chicken not long afterwards.

I woke up at 3:00 this morning, and had a little trouble going back to sleep because I kept thinking that somewhere in my house, my little Holly had passed on. But I was afraid to go look for her. I finally did go back to sleep and  got up just before 6:00.  After using the bathroom, I hesitantly opened the door, afraid I wouldn’t find her waiting there for me. Normally, when she hears the water running, she comes to the door and then jumps up on the vanity to get her drink, but I didn’t expect to see her there this morning. Much to my relief, she was. As soon as I opened the door, she started meowing over and over. I think she’s too weak already to even attempt the jump, so I lifted her up and turned on the trickle of water for her and she drank to her heart’s content.

Afterwards, she huddled up into the bread loaf position on the vanity and stayed there, sleeping, nose down, while I cleaned up for the day. When I was done, I carried her to the love-seat where I had spread out my favorite fleece blanket, which she just loves. She’s been sleeping there ever since.

She seems a little better today, but I’m seriously doubting she’ll make it another month. As soon as it’s clear she’s in pain, I’ll do the humane thing.

The hardest part of this is just knowing she’s dying and being reminded every time I look at her, yet not knowing when it’s going to happen. We’ll know when it’s time, I know. And I do remember that after we had Shelby-dog put down, it became immensely easier knowing she was no longer in pain.

The kids seem a little less scared about the prospect of losing another pet. It was extremely hard on them when we lost Shelby, but I think now they’ve learned that time goes on, and pets come and go. And since Dacotah entered his life, Brad has learned that it’s possible to fall in love with another pet again. (Talking on the phone with him today, he said she’s in heat for the first time. She’s wearing doggie diapers and hates it, so she sort of waddles when she walks and “it’s SO cute!” I think HE’S so cute.)

So, these are difficult, but valuable life lessons for all of us, I guess.

Sometimes I feel a little silly, thinking, “My gosh, she’s just a cat, and one that I never even intended on having. She just sort of fell into our lives.” But she’s been a part of this life for 15 years. She’s been a source of love, entertainment, amusement and frustration over those years. She grew up right alongside my own children. And they love her immensely. She has a very distinct and permanent place in all of our hearts. It’s sad to know that very soon, I won’t feel the soft, silky feel of her fur on my face and the sound of her purring when she cuddles on me.

Holly in her younger days

Okay… I’m going to try to stop with the bummer posts from here on out…

I’m hanging around the house waiting for the stove repair guy to show up today. It sucks that a brand new oven doesn’t work on the first try. (And since we were remodeling, it wasn’t installed upon delivery – our choice – so that’s why it didn’t get tested when we first got it.) Hopefully it’s no big deal and I’ll be able to cook in it soon!