Herding Cats

For weeks, Amanda had seen that large, gray cat hanging out near her house. Gray cats are exceedingly good at hiding, but this one slowly got brave enough to come up and watch Amanda garden. One of them would be picking big rocks out of a potato bed, and the other one would be looking on with an aloof curiosity. In time, Amanda would refer to the cat as Ghostie, and Ghostie would have Amanda all figured out. 

This is why Ghostie would decide to have her kittens in the crawlspace of Amanda’s house. “We all know how this is going to go down, but I’m going to put up a good fight just so nothing looks suspicious.” Cat pride is strong.
When I arrived at Amanda’s house around 6:00, there were four kittens in the crawlspace, one angry mama cat in the cinder block-sized opening, two kittens snuggled up in the shade of a large bush and two humans crouching close by, wielding a laundry basket. The idea is that we have to get all of the kittens into the shed without causing mama cat to desert them. We have to do this before the sun goes down. Also, it’s going to rain soon. No pressure.
Snagging the two kittens cuddled in the bush is easy because three of their four total eyes are glued shut with eye goo. They are nabbed and their eyes are wiped clean with a warm wash cloth before they are put in the laundry basket to get back the important business of not particularly caring. 
“So, what’s the plan?”
“Use the two kittens to lure mama cat and hope that the other four kittens follow her out.”
“Kittens as bait. Got it.”
One more kitten gets curious and leaves the crawlspace enough for Amanda to snag it. The score is tied. Humans:3. Mama cat:3. 
Amanda starts to play with the foot of one of the kittens, in hopes of making it meow enough to lure out Ghostie. It works a little, but the tiny black cat is still pretty heavily invested in the business of not particularly caring. What to do?
Amanda’s husband, Travis, has pulled up a video on YouTube. The little white cat on his iPhone screen makes a decent stand-in for the little black cat in the laundry basket. Ghostie shows interest and disappears back into the crawl space several times before venturing out. Kitten #4 follows and is snagged. Amanda crouches next to the crawl space while the two remaining kittens taunt her from just beyond her reach. Ghostie creeps up into the bushes to voice her displeasure with the entire situation. 
I pause to wonder if using the term “Mexican standoff” is racist, because I feel like I may need it here. I decide that it is and resolve to not use it. Oops.
Through the magic of YouTube, iPhone and hiding, the last two kittens are lured out and put, with a bit of fight, into a second laundry basket. Ghostie watches from the front lawn as we slowly carry the laundry baskets toward the shed. Slowly. So she will follow us. Slowly. So very, very slo-
Amanda and Travis take the kittens to the shed and I, improperly clad in Converse that do not at all enjoy the rain, go to watch the rest of the story from the dry side of the bathroom window. 
Travis and Amanda walk around in the rain, searching for Ghostie, who is nowhere to be found. Without her, Travis and Amanda are looking at bottle feeding six kittens every three hours or so. This may explain why they walk around the yard YouTubing and iPhoning their butts off until the rain subsides and Amanda comes in to get food and water to leave in the shed. 
Amanda takes the food outside and Travis and I wait for her return. 
“You know, I bottle fed kittens once,” he says.
“Never again, man.”
We step out onto the back porch and look across the yard to see Ghostie standing in the shed doorway. The door is swung open and Amanda is inside, holding kittens out toward Ghostie while other kittens climb out of the laundry basket to greet their mom. She is literally herding cats. Frankly, we’re not sure what to do. Do we try to help and risk scaring Ghostie away or just stay put?
“How’s Amanda going to get out if she can get mama cat to go in there?”
“Uh…I don’t know. Carefully?”
“We should just run up and shut the door. She’s collateral damage, man.”
“Well, the shed has a window. She could climb out.”
We pause, and I look at him with a look that says, “bro, it’s time to trap your wife in the shed.”
He starts edging toward the shed and I follow. I run up and bolt the shed door. 
All cats and kittens are safe, two humans are soaked, and one of those humans is helping the other climb out a window. Pretty much everybody involved needs a glass of wine.
The kittens agree to settle for mama cat’s milk. 

A Tale of Two Kitties

I am not one of those people who take in animals willy-nilly. For me, pet adoption is a huge decision, taken deeply seriously, but also made largely on gut feeling. It’s basically like marrying someone you’ve only known for an hour, with no information beyond “does well with cats” and “likes to snuggle.” (Incidentally, those are things I look for in both cats and men.)

But is the new cat going to get along with Puss? Will there be some kind of bizarre urine war? Am I really ready to double the litter box, double the hair, double the food and vet bills? (Double the snuggles! Double the play time! Double the purring!) What if the new cat ends up having some super-expensive chronic health problem? What if the new cat just doesn’t take to me? What if…

Oh, stop.

The bottom line is that Herr Puss had been showing me that he was lonely as hell now that I don’t work from home anymore. I’m gone for 12-16 hours of every day, and I feel guilty about it, but not guilty enough to resign myself to quitting everything I do so I can be home with my cat. I try to stay around the house on the weekends, but still. Puss seemed miserable, like he was looking at me saying, “you were ALWAYS here. How come you don’t want to be with me anymore?” I looked in those big blue eyes and saw a feeling that once built a 100-acre farm in mine. Maybe I was projecting, but maybe he really was feeling cast aside.

“What if I get you a buddy? Would that help? Then all 3 of us could pile in bed at night, like the grandparents in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Wouldn’t that be lovely? You can be Grandpa Joe!”

He’s a 12 year old perpetual only child with a ton of personality, a loud voice and sharp claws. I kind of wished I could give him a vote before I opened myself up to having everything in my house peed on in protest. Alas, all I could do is try to find another cat that won’t challenge Herr Puss’s “authoritah.”

As it turns out, Herr Puss apparently DID want a playmate. I introduced his brother, Sterling, with very little drama. There was nary a hiss, in fact. On day 3, I gave them free access to each other and, by day 7, Puss was actually giving Sterling a moment’s peace. He was so excited to have someone else around that he seriously wouldn’t leave Sterling alone. Sterling’s reaction to this was basically “WTF? I’m going to go hide behind the couch.”

So, here we are mid-way through week 2 and everybody seems to be getting along famously, with the one bone of contention being who gets to nestle in my left arm while I watch TV (Puss has put his paw down on this and has won consistently). Sterling is eating everything on Earth and badgering me for head scratching and a bite of whatever I’m eating. Puss seems monumentally better-adjusted, and I am no longer being greeted at night with the signature (and really pitiful) Siamese wail. It’s still early, but I’m willing to chalk this one up as a good life choice. The kitties are happy and mama has stopped feeling guilty all the time. Now, if I could just keep Sterling from eating me out of house and home…

Feline Confessions (Usher Not Included)

This whole thing started the same way a lot of my stories start: I have a shitty work day, call my friend to talk me down and end up going over to her house to drink wine.

The problem on that particular day began with trouble with a certain piece of software, which snowballed into “I can’t do this, and I can’t do this career for the rest of my life.” Hyperbole? I have no idea what you’re talking about.

To make a long story short and to avoid telling a story that’s not mine to tell, that night ended in the morning after we’d spent hours at the emergency vet’s office. We’d come back home one cat short.

All of this makes me feel sort of guilty.

I’ve been really busy the last few months, what with teaching classes, taking classes, hanging out with a dude and trying to keep my head above water career-wise. A lot of that has been stressful or frustrating. It has been a lot of change, most of it good…all of it stressful.

In all the madness, my relationship with my cat has suffered. He’s there yelling at me while I’m trying to work and I’m responding with “shut up!” because I’m just sick of hearing it. He spends the whole day looking out the front window and the whole night doing God knows what while I run all over town. On the nights I’m home, I’m usually busy with a human. The two of us call him Douche Cat.

The yelling.
The endless yelling of a Siamese cat will drive you crazy.

“What do you want? You have food. You have water. Your box is clean. WHAT do you want?”

“I want YOU. I want you to explain why, after 11 years, you are acting as though you have no use for me. I want you to snuggle with me like you used to. I want you to stop telling me to shut up. I want you to pet me and, if it’s not too much trouble, maybe you could bother to notice that I’ve lost weight. WHO was there through bad times, bad dates, long nights and lazy Sundays? ME, you asshole. That was me. Douche Human.”

As I sat in an emergency vet office, watching my friend say goodbye to her cat, I felt like a Douche Human. The time we get with them is so short, and I’ve spent the last 6 months treating mine like he’s a roommate I don’t like very much. No wonder he’d taken to peeing on my dirty laundry. As with children, if your pets are being horrible, it’s probably ultimately your fault.

One day, I will be the one with a cat on a towel in my lap. One day, my cat will purr while I watch milky white fluid be pushed through a syringe. One day, those big blue eyes will stare blankly back at me, and I will know that I caused it because it was the kindest thing I could do.

This morning when he heard me stir and jumped onto the bed, I didn’t move him aside and get up and make coffee. We had thirty minutes of snuggle time and then I kissed him on the head and said, “I gotta get up, babe.”

There was no endless Siamese yelling today.

We are Siamese if You Don’t Please

Every so often, I have a thought that seems perfectly rational to me for about a minute or so before I realize that it’s kind of insane. I will admit that the thought is insane, but there’s still some little part of me that thinks, “but you never know…”

See, The Wingman* and I have taken to referring to Herr Puss as Douche Cat. He earned this title by doing such things as meowing loudly throughout the night, putting his butt in people’s faces, attempting to eat people’s food and drink people’s water (a behavior that has now extended to Crystal Light), and generally being up in everybody’s business. In other words, HP is referred to as Douche Cat (and sometimes Troll Cat) simply for being a cat. At the ripe old age of “twelveish,” Herr Puss may be starting to look a bit threadbare, but shows no signs of slowing down or being any less ornery. He’s Siamese. Evil keeps him young.

Once we started calling him Douche Cat, the yelling seemed to get worse. Then, the insane thought came.

“He’s been around for 12 years. Maybe he’s learned to understand English.”

If he were a human, he’d have understood probably 8 years ago. He’s not human, but he is a pretty smart cat, having figured out how to escape from cat jail (aka the laundry room) AND how to get non “cat people” to pay attention to him (aka “rub my belly” aka “the a game”). So maybe learning English just took him a bit longer than it would a toddler?

Does this mean that he knows we’re mocking him? Can he understand me when I’m talking about him on the phone? He doesn’t know what a douche is, but maybe he understands that, whatever it is, it’s not nice? Are we being terrible bullies, like the cool kids in the cafeteria?

No, Amy. This is insane.
He cannot understand you.

In truth, the thing that most convinced me that he can’t understand English is the fact that, if he could understand me, he probably would have peed on something of mine by now. Or he just doesn’t want me to know he can understand me because then I’d be onto him. I’d try to make him get a job.


* I realize that calling someone who is officially my boyfriend The Wingman is kind of silly, but using the word boyfriend is still a little jarring, and calling him The Wingman allows me to picture us as pilots from Top Gun. No official word on who’s who in that equation, but I suspect I may be Goose. Obviously, Herr Puss is Iceman.

Ghost of Tom (Cat) Joad

I admit it. I’m a crazy cat lady. Thus far, I have avoided receiving such a label from total strangers because I only have one cat, but my friends know the truth. If Herr Puss played well with others, I’d already have two cats. Since Herr Puss has agreed to never die (he and I have discussed this), I have agreed to not being him a sibling.

There’s a loophole in the contract I have with Herr Puss. It says nothing of harboring the odd stray in the sunroom until such time that said stray can be taken to a no-kill shelter.

Saturday morning, I thought I was going to have to make use of the loophole. I was at the Drake Inn, a motel that is “sketchy” at best, yet still has “where the stars stay!” on its neon sign. No, I was not picking up some work as a freelance crackwhore. I was there acting as a costumer for a film for the 48 Hour Film Fest. No word on what the hell the director was thinking putting me in charge of costuming, but at least the movie had a hooker in it, making my clothes unexpectedly useful.

Hanging around the Drake was a scrawny, fur-matted, hard-ridden orange tabby cat who came running up to me while I was standing outside. I have mad cat mojo. I’m little, I speak fluent cat, and probably reek of “spoiled Siamese.” The cat came up to me, letting me scratch it behind its ears, then rolling over onto its back for belly rubs. Bony and threadbare, the cat still looked up at me with big gold eyes, wanting to be loved.

It always seems so unfair to me, how some cats get taken in and spoiled rotten and others are left to consider drinking out of a swimming pool just to get something to drink. I know, the same comparison applies to humans. Most Americans are spoiled rotten, and there are kids in Africa being forced to participate in genocide at age 10. That sucks, but that wasn’t what was right in front of me on Saturday. On Saturday, I was planning to take that orange cat home, put him in my sunroom, and take him to Happy Tails for a good meal and a mat-removing shave. I can’t fix Africa, but I DO have a bag of cat food in my house.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have anything with me that would be suitable for boxing up a cat who, while totally down for petting, wasn’t particularly interested in being picked up. I had to leave him/her there, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still thinking about it. I’m still wondering if my odds would be better if I returned to the Drake armed with food and a proper carrier. After coming home and sleeping off all of the hours I’d spent awake at the Drake, I woke up with a ghost of failure flying around my house. Granted, that ghost was in good company; I have failure ghosts all OVER my house these days. Failure at my day job, failure at painting rooms in my house, failure with men, failure at working out, failure at weeding the lawn…

But still, the “Failure at Saving a Cat” ghost is gnawing at me. It stared at me with big, gold eyes, and I left it there. It’s one too many failure ghosts. Start your stopwatches. I’m guessing I’ll be back there before the week is over. If they find my body at a sketchy motel, you guys know why I was there.

A Nice, Soft Place to Die

There are some neighborhoods where, if one lets one’s lawn get a little out of control, a neighborhood association of some sort comes to put down the proverbial smack. In other neighborhoods, people just wait for Metro to write you a citation (this has happened to a friend). In my neighborhood, one knows that one’s lawn is getting out of control when the neighborhood crackheads start knocking on the door to offer their services. Trust me, you don’t want to hire a crackhead. They’re unreliable and they neglect the trim.

In truth, it had been time for me to mow the yard for a few weeks, but the weeds that had sprung up had the most lovely purple flowers. My yard looked like a field from the opening credits of Little House on the Prairie. But the crackheads had begun to arrive and the lawn really was getting to a length that may have seemed like an invite to mice, so I broke out the mower yesterday.

I had mowed about eight feet, looking about a foot in front of the mower, when I came about two feet from mowing into a dead cat. It was at the very edge of the yard, hiding in the 10-inch-high flowers. I let out a loud gasp, regrouped, then immediately Twittered about it. Priorities. I think this was The Cat Formerly Known As Cat I’d See In My Back Yard. Oh well, buddy. Those cars really DO come flying around that curve, don’t they?

I realized later that Murphy has a perfect view of The Body from his perch at the big picture window in the living room. I wonder if he is now aware of his own mortality, or if he thinks The Body is just asleep, or if he notices The Body at all. Then again, when The Body was The Cat, it would come up to the office window and yowl to taunt Murphy. Maybe he knows more about how The Cat became The Body than he’d like to let on. If there is a way to kill another cat without actually leaving the house, I’m pretty sure Murphy would have mastered it. Note to self: do not piss Murphy off.