Tuesday, September 28, 2010


My cats are always surprising me in the things they do. Sometimes, it's an instructive surprise, telling me something new about one's character. Sometimes, it's an annoying surprise. Sometimes, it's even a pleasant surprise. No, really, that happens. Sometimes.

I was asked recently if cats will use a litter-box even if they are shown it just once. They do. It's instinctive for them, as it is for a dog to ask in his own way to go out when he needs to use his litter-box, which is nature. I've seen a cat outside relieve himself and scrape dead leaves over the spot. My foster cat, Devon, uses two litter-boxes. Since he sleeps in the library, he will use the box that is kept there for his convenience. Other times, he likes to use the litter-box in the store-room, the one all the other cats use. I think it makes him feel part of the group. He will, in fact, go a whole night without relief, then use the common litter-box as soon as he is released in the morning. But it's good to know that he will also use the box in the library, if need be.

When a cat relieves himself outside the litter-box, there is generally a reason for it, one that can be corrected with a little deduction. Perhaps the cat is in physical difficulty and needs medical attention. Perhaps he is suffering from stress, and this is a symptom. Once in a while, it's as simple as being repulsed by the litter with which the box is filled. But they are compelled by their natures to use the litter-box. This brings me to the surprise. I was emptying the store-room litter-box the other day. Ren went into the store-room and started crying. He cries and sings and yowls once in a while, but rarely while stationary. I hurried in my task and replaced the litter-box, which he promptly used. He was waiting for it to be returned.

Ren also likes lying on my slippers. He seems to do it only while waiting for my return from work. He greets me at the door, as do the other cats, and there are my slippers, flattened and covered with long, fine hair.

Tungsten has taken to waking me by licking my face. If this were at the time I had to get up, it wouldn't be so bad. She'll do it, however, in the middle of the night. Not every night, though, and she will often do it when I am just on the verge of sleep, not quite there but not awake, either. One may ask what she wants, why she is doing it. I don't. She purrs while doing it. I push her away and she purrs more. She does it because she thinks it's funny.

Then there is the reaction to the comb. I have tried brushing my cats, but each and every one hated it. It was a struggle to get them to sit still. Tungsten would yowl as if I were murdering her and Josie would throw all her weight into the fight for freedom - and with her, that's quite a weapon. Then she developed a mat in her hair, and another was coming. So I was given a comb to use on her. What a difference her reaction was from the brush. My Chubs lie down on her side, purred, stood, roamed about bumping her head against things, came over for more combing. Now her hair is smoother and she's happier. Devon, Ren and Tungsten all enjoy being combed. Perhaps the brush's tines were too fine; perhaps they grated; who can say? But this was a good surprise.

And finally, a startling surprise. I was preparing dinner one day last week, standing at a counter in the kitchen. Suddenly, a clattering bang resounded, so loud I thought someone had dumped pots and pans at my apartment door. Then I saw, from the corner of my eye, Devon literally bounce off the window. He had jumped onto the stove, rattling across the burners (thank goodness they were not on) and against the window (thank goodness (again) it was closed; the force of his propulsion would have carried him through a mere screen), hit the floor and ran off, hiding under a chair with a puffed up tail. What had startled him so? I'd heard nothing unusual; the other cats were alert and startled but it was obvious that they were reacting to Devon, and not to what he'd heard - well, that applied to Josie and Ren. Tungsten of course snoozed through it all. A few minutes later, Devon was fine, roaming about and bothering my Chubs, as if nothing had happened.

All together, a week of surprises with my cats. As usual.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Spirit of Morris

I have at last devised a formula for getting my cats to eat a decent amount of soft food. This is perhaps the fifth or sixth winning formula with which I’ve come up in the three short years in which I have had cats living with me.

As cat-owners know, Morris, from the 9Lives brand commercials, is not that much of an exaggeration. It’s true that most real cats don’t give voice-over narrations to their lives, but otherwise, real cats are as finicky as Morris, who won’t eat anything but 9Lives. One may wonder why his television owners bother having him try anything else. I don’t. I’ve been attempting to get just the right mix for a long time.

All four of the cats living with me like Fancy Feast, to varying degrees. Tungsten doesn’t eat much as it is, but she seems to enjoy that brand. Why don’t I simply buy a pantry-full of that, then? Well, I don’t have a pantry; beyond that, I don’t think Fancy Feast is the best soft food to feed cats. The ingredients list a great many chemicals and dyes which, not good for humans in the food we eat, aren’t any better for cats. And just as humans find that the best tasting food isn’t always the healthiest, so it is with pets.

I have tested numerous kinds of food on my animals, and in numerous combinations. I don’t care to do that, because a constant change of diet can’t be good for them. I have found a brand called Wellness, the turkey and salmon flavour of which seems to appeal to the majority of them the most.

One of the problems is that, being fussy, like the fictional Morris, few of them will eat Wellness after the tin has been opened and the contents refrigerated. I’m uncomfortable with simply leaving the remains of an opened tin in a cupboard, uncooled, until the next meal-time. The others would be unaffected by any mild spoliation that occurred, but Josie has a very sensitive stomach. In case one thinks I’m being too considerate, one must remember that a vomiting cat has a practical affect on its owner’s time and activities. And his carpet.

Fancy Feast is a favourite even in an open tin and out of the fridge, though the best scenario is a new tin of that brand at room temperature.

It is, strange to relate, the fact that I am now caring for four cats that has resulted in the best solution to the food problem so far. A tin of Wellness, which is a denser food than others, will suffice for four feline dinners. Even Josie will cry for her plate of newly opened Wellness, and Tungsten, my tiny-eater, does a good job with her portion. Having Ren and Devon present and hungry will help empty a complete tin. That solves the refrigeration dilemma. For the cats' evening snack, provided at about eight-thirty or nine, I serve out a portion of Fancy Feast which, as I mentioned, is enjoyed even from an older tin, and therefore I needn’t give it all out at once, and can refrigerate the remains for the next day.

One may wonder what all the fuss is about. After all, I also serve hard food, California Natural, which is reputedly a very good brand. All the cats crunch away at that, and, indeed, they get most of their nutrition from it, I imagine. But cats never seem to get enough moisture, which of course is vital. My cats are no different: they don’t drink enough water - they want less than they need - so obtaining it through soft food is important. In turn, finding the right incentive and/or combination to get them to eat that soft food is also important, even if one must resort to less than the best brands.

Besides, if one saw Josie hurrying in front of an approaching dish of soft food, squeaking with delight at the prospect of her imminent dinner, one would know why I like to give my cats something they enjoy.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Devon, the Fourth of My Three Cats

No, my arithmetical skills aren’t suffering. I still have three cats, but, for the moment, I have a fourth. His name is Devon.

Devon arrived on the last Friday of August. I had been contacted by the PAW Society a couple of days before that, asking if I could take a cat in as he had no where else to go. Devon had been living in a foster-home with a woman who had taken excellent and affectionate care of him, but who was moving to a new home which didn’t allow pets. This was very short notice. I considered the situation at my apartment to be still in transition, with Ren, also a foster-cat, having come to me exactly three months previously. He was still getting used to his new home, and certainly my two permanent cats were still getting used to him. However, Devon was an emergency, so I agreed to take him in.

What a wealth of personalities cats have – if, as a friend wondered, ‘person’ality is the right word. I suspect that as one advances in the evolutionary chain of species, the more character each species has. Dogs and cats are the most easily observed by humans, for obvious reasons, but horses and other farm animals have, I’ve been assured, distinct traits that could be described as personalities. Devon has demonstrated to me yet another in a cat.

He was shy at first, and I made him the usual hiding spot behind the bookcase in the library. He used it once. Then he made it clear that he was an explorer; true, a timid one, cautious, and ready to run back to the base camp at the first sign of trouble. But his expeditions became longer, and if he was driven back to his safe spot, he left it again a minute later. He wanted to see this new environment. First, of course, he examined the library – and me. He didn’t find them stupendous, but neither were they completely without interest.

Since every cat is different, so too is their method and speed of integration into a household. I had a feeling that Devon wouldn’t benefit from being cooped up. As early as Saturday, I let him out into the wider apartment. The three cats already here spent the majority of the day staring at him. No doubt intimidating for the newcomer. But I was most worried about Ren. He is new himself, and I was anxious that he would feel threatened. Tungsten was simply getting fed up with these new cats coming and going, so one more was just another to growl and hiss at for a while. Josie was intrigued but, as she does, wanted to keep her personal space inviolate.

But things have proceeded more smoothly than I had anticipated. By the next day, all three cats already resident were returning to their routines. True, Devon upset them whenever he appeared. After all, one can’t relax completely when one must swat at a new cat and threaten his life. After initially respecting the hierarchy, Devon then tried to get the others to play. He would chase the girls and jump on Ren when he wasn’t looking. This was not appreciated, and even the gentle Josie grew annoyed, growling in a particularly cranky manner.

That phase passed and, though it’s still early days, Devon is taking a more measured approach, settling for sniffing noses, or slowly approaching one his new roommates rather than charging in. So far, the situation is reminiscent of Ren’s progress. And, except for a short period when Tungsten hissed at Ren as much as at Devon (“I hate you, new cat,” she seemed to say, “and I don’t yet care much for you, either, Ren, while I’m at it.”), the apartment is remarkably peaceful. As cat-owners know, however, that may change tomorrow.

To humans, Devon is friendly and gentle. It didn’t take him long to roll over (a la Ren) to get a chest-rub. Unlike my big boy, though, Devon likes to play Nibble the Finger. Tungsten will do that as well sometimes, but, eight years older than Devon, she has fewer teeth, and those she has are duller. But Devon means no harm and never breaks the skin. He does indent it somewhat. What’s important is that, like Ren, he appears to want to be friends with people, and that makes a great pet. He likes to play, whether by himself or with others. He especially loves his squeezable ball with which he rolls about.

Devon is a strange-looking fellow, with the most uncat-like face I’ve seen on a feline. He’s obviously part-Siamese. The colouring of his fur and much of his wide countenance resembles that breed. But one of his parents was just as obviously from a bulkier sort. Devon isn’t heavy, though: a compact and strong little body. He’s energetic, running as much as walking, and throwing himself into play-time with enthusiasm. I realised today that only Tungsten of my cats makes a sound that approaches a meow. Devon issues squeaks and squeals closer to a dolphin’s ‘ack’ than a cat’s sound – but he’s the quietest guest you’ll ever have in your home. His tail is short and bent, and may have been broken at some point, though it’s still full of life, and his eyes, which show a tinge of red in the pupils in certain light (and in every photograph – when he doesn’t close them all together) are crossed.

Devon has now been released from his incarceration in the library, put there every night to sleep and let out when I go to work. Until then, he had spent his day, no doubt bored to tears, isolated, but safe. I counted the cats before I left that first morning of freedom; I hoped to have the same number – and in the same condition – when I returned. So far so good.