Thursday, December 22, 2011

Merry Christmas To All

And so we come to Christmas once more. This will be my last article before the big day, and I want to wish everyone a happy Yuletide.

Last year, we were just a month into the new house. This year, things are much more settled, and there’s a greater permanence about the place. Tucker, my foster-cat, was heading for a dental operation at this time in 2010, and I guessed correctly that it would hit him hard, psychologically. He licked himself into an injury with stress and had to wear a cone until he healed.

But he did heal and the roly poly one is happy and fat this holiday season. My perma-cats are doing equally well. They could stand to lose some weight - well, at least Josie - but all are in good health and seem to be enjoying their lives. Nothing pleases me more than to see all four of the beasts snoozing away on a cold, snowy afternoon, oblivious to the discomfort and danger outside, and knowing that they are safe and warm inside.

Tungsten continued to be top-cat in the household this year, though she grew more tolerant of Renn, and they have even groomed each other to a small extent. Josie became friendlier and friendlier. Tucker became heavier and heavier.

The year is ending on a note of contentment among the cats, and that makes me feel good. I hope everyone reading this feels equally glad with the year that has been, and if it’s not been a happy one, then I hope the next will be the best yet. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 19, 2011

All's Well

Two of the cats went to the veterinarian this past week. Actually, Tungsten and Tucker went to veterinarians, plural. The latter is still a PAW Society cat whom I am fostering, so he goes to the doctor that PAW uses. Tungsten goes to another clinic which is closer to me. (Don't worry, the other two cats, Josie and Renn, went for their annual check-ups in the summer.)

All went well with the pair, with some cautions. Tucker is too heavy. He’s gained three pounds in eleven months. All the cats have gained weight; I took the opportunity to conduct their quarterly measurements. Tungsten piled on an extra 100 grams, which now means that she is heftier than three and a half feathers. But it’s disappointing that Josie has gained more. I hope that my new tactic of making the hard-food bowl available only at certain times has simply not had the chance to take effect.

But otherwise the roly poly one is doing well. His teeth are in ‘excellent’ shape – probably because all the eating he does keeps them sharp and polished. He was nervously quiet during the trip to the doctor, and anxious once there. But the verterinarian who examined him was ingratiating, and Tucker was actually purring and curling his feet after a while. Nonetheless, I think he was glad to get back home.

This is Tucker resting. He’s lying on a cat-tree platform but with his forepaws on the back of an armchair. His eyes are closed and he seems to be enjoying this position. Perhaps it was a psychological exam that he needed, rather than a physical.

Tungsten also did well at her appointment. She dislikes the vet’s office – not an uncommon characteristic for a cat – and exhibits fear that she otherwise disdains. She spent much of the time on the examining table pressed against me, curving her little body around me to try to get maximum protection.

I have been a little worried about her. She has been visiting the litter-box to leave, shall I say, softer deposits than usual. These have alternated with the usual harder business. She also experiences slight head tremors from time to time, a kind of nervous twitch. The doctor told me that these could be signs of hyperthyroidism, but that there seems to be no other symptoms of the condition, such as an apathy toward grooming, a ravenous appetite and agression. Well, maybe there’s some of the last trait, but she’s always been strict in demanding obedience from the other cats. The doctor stated that the characteristics that she has may simply be those of advancing age, especially the condition of her waste, as suggested to me by a PAW Society member before the vet-visit. No, there isn’t too much to worry about right now, but I will be vigilant with the orange one. Just today, she spent what must have been twenty minutes grooming herself while on my lap; a good sign.

Yes, both Tungsten and Tucker are active animals, the older one being, I think, the most energetic of all four at times. She is, as I wrote in an earlier article, getting into her later years, and she is definitely enjoying the heating-pad that I bought her. It’s good to observe, though, that she still enjoys other comfortable resting spots, so artificial heat is not indispensible to her just yet.

The veterinary visits were expensive, as anyone who owns a cat or dog would have guessed. Ten minutes’ poking and prodding is certainly profitable to the vets' profession. But it brings me peace of mind. And though the day may come when it will bring not peace of mind but disturbing news, regular check-ups may also alert me in a timely manner to conditions that can be arrested or reversed. So I don’t begrudge the cost – not too much, anyway. Watching my furry friends snooze away on a chilly winter afternoon, I know that they’re worth it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

One of Those Days

Yesterday, I came home to an interesting scene: the food mat was pushed into the middle of the kitchen, the water had been spilled, the towel was off the new heating pad and Tucker had a deep scratch on his nose. Later, he and Josie threw up their soft-food dinners, which they haven’t done in a long time. A stressful day, perhaps?

I’m not sure what went on while I was gone, but it seems to have been quite a hectic time. Tucker must have crept too close to Tungsten, who doesn’t like him, or scuffled with Renn, who likes to bully him a bit. Either way, it was tough for my roly poly one. All the cats seemed extra glad to see me when I returned. Hmm…

The Way Things Look

Lillian Jackson Braun, the late mystery writer, opined that ‘cats never strike a pose that isn’t photogenic’. I’m not sure about that. Take a look at this one.

I don’t think that it’s true even that all cats themselves are photogenic. After all, to be blunt, there are some odd-looking felines, to put it kindly. The four who live with me are beautiful, of course, so it’s difficult for me to judge peculiarity first-hand. What I believe, though, is that we, as pet-owners, see our animals as perfect. Except in my case, as I mentioned earlier: my cats are genuinely beautiful; it’s not my belief, it’s a simple fact. I can’t help it. There it is.

As wonderful as mine look, I admit that, physically, there are some irregularities about them. Tungsten has a damaged left eye. She’s had it for as long as I’ve known her. The pupil looks larger than the corresponding right one, but there is what seems to be a hole or tear in the iris, or perhaps some tissue lodged there. It has never bothered her. She has not pawed at that eye or blinked it so it appeared to be troubling her. She can see well, though I think certain qualities of vision such as close detail is sometimes difficult for her. And yet this imperfection does not detract from her attraction.

Josie is like a small iceberg. Does that mean she is less capable of affection? Not at all. She’ll drag her ponderous mass up to new visitors and welcome them as my official greeter. She is losing weight, quarter-ounce by quarter-ounce, but still looks like an ice cream cone walking point-end first. She also has a notch in her ear, perhaps from a fight very early in her life. And because of her shape, she sometimes needs help in, shall I say, cleanliness. Yet who wouldn’t want her company for a life-time?

Renn has a failing as delicate as Josie’s. His long hair once in a while picks up litter when he goes to the lavatory. I have to set my big boy down and perform some judicious trimming. I have to be careful because the hair disguises body parts which he still needs, however much the veterinarian has already cut back there. It’s a bothersome chore - more for him than me - which he endures better than he used to. For my part, I do it because it’s a small price to pay to keep him healthy and happy. But what would be too high a price?

Tucker has a bit of strabismus in one eye. His left one squints a bit, though the veterinary told me that there is nothing wrong with it. It makes him appear a bit shifty. But he is a sweet-natured sausage who wants only to have friends, play a bit and rest a lot. His horrific deformity - that little squishy eye - doesn’t make him less of a joy.

The truth is that we see our pets through rose coloured glasses. Or are we looking at them from an ivory tower? Either way, they don’t appear quite as they do to others. As well, we give them the compensation due to innocence. Cats, dogs, horses, hamsters, lizards, and every other animal that is loved as a pet, don’t care about looks. Perhaps they are snobs when it comes to smell, or something we can’t define. Perhaps they are as superficial as we are in their own way - though it doesn’t seem like it. We see that they will love a person based on how he behaves rather than how he looks. We take that into account. They love us regardless of our imperfections, and so we love them in the same way.

That’s the secret of their photogeniety. A cat could be as ugly as Medusa and as deformed as the Elephant Man, but he would be beautiful to us. Missing a leg, an eye, walking with a limp, deaf, needing help to use the litter-box; nothing seems to make them hideous to their owners. We see companions, friends, and in them is beauty, even though it may not look like it.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Art Critic

Renn became fascinated with a picture on the wall near the lower cat-tree in the sitting room. It may be that he sees his reflection in the glass. It may be that he likes the image in the frame. I’m not sure what his opinion of the print is, but he seems as much an art-lover as he is a scientist.

A Little About Josie

I haven’t written much about Josie lately. She’s my chubby white cat. She maintains a low profile, and keeps a great deal to herself. That’s mainly through her own choice, though I get the feeling she would be a much more social animal if there were no other cats in the household.

She’s a people-cat. She’s not like Renn. My big boy is a people-cat, too. In fact, I think he would be miserable without people. But he gets along well with other cats, to an extent. He likes Tungsten, bullies Tucker a little and enjoys trading blows with Josie when one or the other is in the nylon tunnel. But Josie doesn’t care for other cats. It may be that she doesn’t dislike them; she simply has no use for them. When they get too close - Tungsten sometimes sniff at her tail in passing - Josie lets out a squeak and hurries away.

She’s my pacifist, is Josie. She prefers to avoid fights and altercations. That doesn’t mean she won’t stand up for herself. The cat-trees, especially the taller one in the sitting room, are her favoured domain, and she likes to have her choice of where to sit on them. She likes the top platforms (the top of the lower tree for watching out the window and the top of the higher for snoozing) but can be found on the middle platform of the taller tree when she wants to peer out the window from the right-hand side. It’s quite interesting how complicated a cat’s habits can become… Anyway, the point of this digression is that my Chubs doesn’t care for other cats taking her places on the cat-trees, or trying to take another position close to hers when she’s already there. Renn seems to be the main culprit in these situations, and punches may be exchanged under certain circumstances. But these are extraordinary events, and for the most part, Josie thinks one should live and let live.

Josie came to live with me three years ago, on Christmas Eve, 2008. If you’ve read any of the articles I’ve published here, you’ve probably heard me mention that Tungsten did not take kindly to this big white interloper in her little kingdom. But that’s past now. In fact, just last week, I woke on a Sunday morning to find all four cats on the bed (one of the reasons I like Sunday mornings); a while later, Tungsten, who doesn’t like Josie’s proximity any more than Josie likes hers, was grooming the white one. And the latter stayed put - for twenty seconds or so. But that’s quite an improvement on past behaviour.

There has been quite a change in my Chubs over the last three years. She’s lost a little weight, for one thing. But it’s her personality that has altered. She’s certainly not a different animal now,  and I don’t think ‘friendlier’ is the correct word. She has become more open about showing her feelings, if you will. The time was when an ephemeral brush past against my leg was her principal sign of affection. She liked being petted, but not for long. And she didn’t like a person’s face close to hers.

Now, she ambles over relatively often for a rub on the head. She comes over for no other reason. It’s certainly not with the frequency with which Tucker comes to me for some attention; that’s thirty or forty times an hour, it seems. But Josie will see me in the kitchen and waddle up to me, say ‘hello’ and waddle away again. And she doesn’t even expect food out of it. She even comes to sit on a chair next to mine once in a while as I write at the table.

When I go to her, Josie usually rolls onto her side; when she’s on a cat-tree, she anchors herself with a paw, ready to receive some petting and stroking. She is eager to receive it and purrs audibly during it. Her purr used to be just a silent gurgle in her throat. She retains that, but now expresses herself more strongly. And once in a while, while I’m close to her, talking to her, she’ll sniff my face, which she never used to do.

She’s not a lap-cat, and never will be. But when I am on the couch, with Tungsten on my lap, Renn hard by on my right and Tucker on the couch’s arm to my left, I see Josie watching us. Is she envious? Some animals may be like some people, wanting to be close but not able to bring themselves to that point. I put her on my lap now and then. She purrs and kneads, but doesn’t stay long. She likes it, but it’s just not her thing. So I try to spend time with her on her own terms, which isn’t as easy as providing companionship to a cat who simply flops down beside you while you read a book.

Most nights will find her on the bed with the other cats. Her place is on the near side, against me. If I’m awake when she jumps up, she’ll normally stump up to me to say ‘good night’, have a two- or three-second head-rub, then settle down. She comes and goes during the night, not as settled as Tungsten and the boys.

Josie was about five years old when I adopted her. She’s now eight, probably eight and a half. She still likes to be alone sometimes, but rarely avoids attention when I find her, and comes to me for it more and more. She’ll always be inscrutable in some ways; I will always understand her less than the others, I think. But friendship doesn’t depend on understanding. It’s not born in the brain, or maintained by the mind. It’s an extension of the heart, and Josie’s keeps getting bigger.