Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Back Home

I am back home from my Easter journey to the mid-west.  I had a great time visiting with the family; I only get to see them, on average, once a year.

Jeff's time alone with the animals went well, as far as I can tell, anyway!  I know that they kept him busy.  I have been the person left behind a couple of times, and I do know that when there's just one of us here, the animals can really keep you hopping!

Everyone seemed glad to see me.  As usual, Bit avoided me and essentially gave me the silent treatment until the next morning.  THEN she was super-affectionate and clingy, and wouldn't let me out of her sight.

Charlotte and Annie, surprisingly enough, always seem to forgive immediately, and just want attention.

The fosters were excited to see me, even though they've only known me for a few weeks now.

Romeo probably could have cared less.  He's becoming more affectionate, but I don't think he's bonded with us quite like the rest of them have.  My suspicions... and they're only that, because I'll never know for sure, is that he was bonded to the lady in his previous home.  She had the baby and kicked him out the door, and Romeo is still trying to make sense of life without her.  I don't know why I think this.  Maybe because there are days that he still seems glum.  There are days that he brightens up when he first sees me, then looks disappointed, as if he initially thought that I was someone else.  Poor Romeo.  I can't give him his "person" back, but I do hope that I'm doing enough to make him as content as possible.

Argos was ecstatic, and over the moon to see me.  He raced down the stairs and kept circling around me and sniffing my clothes, wagging his tail, and whimpering.  With Argos, there was nothing to be forgiven - he was just thrilled to see me.

Here is Charlotte, preventing me from leaving again.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Foster Fun

I write this with my feet propped up on my darling Argos, who has decided to do his part in keeping the chill off of my feet by lying on top of them.  So...  an eighty pound foot warmer.  I'll take it!

It's been a quiet week, though I'm going to leave to go to the airport in a couple of hours to fly away for the Easter weekend.   I'm always a little nervous when I do this - even though the animals are being left in excellent hands - my husband is staying home to manage the chaos.  It doesn't mean that I don't worry about them - human and animal - and that I won't miss them.

The foster "boys" are providing so much entertainment!  There are so many things in the house that mystify them, and it's fun to watch them explore when we're able to let them roam.   Here is an example, which happened just the other night while I was taking a bath.

THUMP!  The door flies open, and Mitchell enters, wide-eyed, looking around at the bathroom.  Patches is on his heels.

Patches makes a beeline for the bathtub, and rears up on his hind legs to look over.  He looks back up at me, wide-eyed.  "DO YOU KNOW THAT YOU'RE SITTING IN WATER?"

Mitchell joins him, and I have two kitties staring over the edge of the tub.  Mitchell starts talking, as he does about everything.  "Wow, water sure is deep."  (Splash splash splash with the paw)  "And WET too!"

He darts across the room and jumps up onto the radiator cover to stare out the window.  "Wow, there's a way outside here!  Oh... it has a screen!"

Jumps down, and jumps on top of the thankfully closed toilet.  "Look, a perch!"

Jumps down, then jumps up into the basin of the pedestal sink.  "Wow, this is just the right size for me to lie down in!"  (He does lie down, experimentally, for about five seconds, before leaping to his feet again.)

He rears up on his hindlegs to look at the medicine cabinet, and startles when he sees his reflection.  Then starts methodically trying to open the medicine cabinet with his paw.

Meanwhile, Patches has dropped over onto his side on top of my bath towel, and is watching Mitchell with a somewhat amused, resigned tolerance.

Mitchell flips out of the sink, comes over to explore the edge of the tub again, talking all the while, then darts out of the room and tears up the stairs leading towards the attic.  I hear boxes (empty ones, thankfully) avalanching all over the place, and feet pitter pattering over my head.  Moments later, the sounds of a cat tearing back down the stairs.

I love both of them - they are going to make someone such good pets.

Patches is the quieter of the two, and is a little shy at first, but is a real cuddle-bug when he is given a chance.  (And by a chance, I mean, stay quiet and still in the same room as he is for I dunno...  45 minutes.)  He gives face kisses, and loves to sleep curled up beside you on the bed.  He also fancies himself to be quite the hunter - he relentlessly stalks the moths that seem to be getting into the house so much lately, and loves playing with the feather toy.   He has a quiet, sad sounding mew that he makes when he wants to be let out of their bedroom.  He is not as willing for rough and tumble play as Mitchell is, but I have seen him get involved in some elaborate games of chase, and I've also seen him patiently grooming the top of Mitchell's head.  Especially the first few days, when they were still very uncertain about their surroundings, I saw them snuggled together most of the times that I went in to check on them.

Mitchell is a talker - he has meows for everything that he sees.  He is a total lover, though - he will bump your face with his over and over again, purring, and nuzzle your hands for attention.  He also will curl up on top of you and purr himself to sleep.  He is a bright, happy, cheerful cat, who adores people and other cats.  He's rarely bored, and if he does get bored, he WILL find something to do to entertain himself.  Whether that's attacking Patches' tail, or making an improvised toy out of your shoe laces.  I know that black cats tend to take a long time to get adopted, but I will be personally offended if someone does not see the value in this little guy.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Life in the House

It's been an interesting first week with the two foster cats in the house!  We're planning on keeping them isolated from our other cats for the duration of their stay with us, but both sets of cats are wildly curious about one another, and are going to make that somewhat challenging.

And here is an update on the status of the House:

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Foray Into Fostering

It was almost certainly inevitable, though I fought it for a long time.  My reason for not wanting to foster was mostly because I didn't feel that I could handle giving them up when the time came.  I think that's a truly valid concern - it WILL be hard.  But it's for a good cause.  Reading some of your blogs has helped me realize that I will survive turning "my" cats over to someone else, and it will free my home up to be used for another needy foster.

I've been circling the idea of fostering cats, in some way or another, for a few months now.  I had accepted that it was a matter of WHEN, not IF.  I had originally thought that our first foster experience would be kittens, to help with kitten season.

I was wrong.

Friday night, I learned that there were six cats in need of a foster home.

No, I did not take all six.  But after a long discussion on how we can make it work, we decided that we could pull it off.   After a couple of emails and a phone call yesterday, I agreed to go in around lunch time today to take two of them.


They're both great cats, and are already making good progress in adjusting to their new temporary home.    Granted, I have made it really easy for them...  they each have their own litter box, their own sets of food and water dishes, a brand new scratching post and one of those cardboard scratcher things, new toys, and several choices for soft places to sleep.  Yeah, I was overly excited about it this morning.  It may have been overkill to clean and air out a room to please two cats, or perhaps to go to the store and buy them all of that stuff, but it made me happy to feel like I was prepared for them.

It seems that Mitchell, so far, has staked his claim on the bed, and Patches likes the soft fuzzy blanket stretched across the radiator cover in front of the window.  Both purr and make kneading motions with their paws when one or both of us go in to see how they're doing.   Patches keeps bumping his nose against mine, and Mitchell has already snuggled up against me, using my arm as a pillow, purring like a madman.

OK, Patches does spend some time on the bed too.

It's going to be an interesting and fun summer, boys!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Animals and Emotion

Recently, a fellow blogger made a post called "What do Cats Want?" http://catself.wordpress.com/2011/04/03/what-do-cats-want/.  In it, she mentioned that a cognitive scientist in a podcast had stated that all cats wanted was food.    (There are many good things about her post - you should definitely read it if you have not yet.  I'm only going to address the issue of the cognitive scientist here!)

She, like me, like the other responders on her blog, and no doubt like the readers of THIS blog, took exception to that theory.  This might be a teensy bit unfair to that cognitive scientist, since I did not actually listen to his podcast, but I am guessing that he falls firmly into the camp believes that "animals are just animals and are incapable of emotion."  (Makes it much easier to eat them if you believe that, doesn't it?  It certainly would make it easier to turn a blind eye to other things too - dog fighting, disposable race track dogs and horses, neglect...)

So the hapless scientist has served as a springboard into my topic.  Do animals feel emotion?

And I fall into the camp that says "Hell yes."

My own animals give me a wide array of examples - Argos does not cavort about in joy, tail "helicoptering" in pleasure when I come home, just because I give him food.  As previously mentioned a few posts back,  he doesn't really care that much for food.  He would rather spend the day with me, or with my husband. He will starve himself for the privilege of being with us.  Multiple meals.  He gets terribly depressed when we leave him at home.  Not because he doesn't have any food, because he usually has at least something in his food bowl when we walk out the door.  No, he's genuinely sad that we're leaving him.

The cats don't start purring as soon as we walk into the room because they're hungry - they free feed for the most part.  No, they're happy to see us.  They greet us as they would another cat.  Well, as they would greet another member of the pride.

They get angry with us too - if we take one of our rare overnight trips somewhere, we leave the cats at home.  When we get back, sometimes they're not speaking to us for awhile.  We have to patiently wait it out until the cats have decided that we have been punished enough, and deign to let us pet them again.  It's not because of food, because they had food given to them while we were gone.

The empathy that Argos is capable of would put many humans to shame.  He knows when one of us is sad, and sticks to our side like glue.  He curled up around me and watched me worriedly the other night, when I was grieving for Guido. He made it clear that he knew that I was sad and that made him sad too, but that he was going to stick by my side.  Even though there was food in the other room.

But we don't even need to look at the animals in my household to know, if we let ourselves, that animals feel emotion.

One experience that left a big impact on me was a day trip that my husband and I took when we still lived in Massachusetts - to a place called Wolf Hollow.  The public could come here and observe a living wolf pack in as natural of a setting as possible.  You could watch the way that the wolf pack interacted with one another, and it was fascinating to me.  At the time that we were there, the alpha male of the pack had recently died, so just consisted of the alpha female and her adult offspring - there were no pups at the time.  The wolves were just coming out of a mourning period and were resuming a more normal life again.  But the volunteers explained to us that immediately after the alpha male's death, the wolves mourned.  They lay in the grass and didn't play or run like they usually did.  I think they said that the period of mourning lasted a week.

I know that many of you could give me examples of how your animal friends express emotion as well.  I don't need a scientist to tell me whether or not animals care about anything except for food - I have the evidence that I have seen with my own eyes, and you could never convince me otherwise.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Tribute

Last night, we sadly had to lay to rest my mother-in-law's cat, Guido.  He was once our cat, so it was a time of grieving for us, especially for my husband.  He asked to write the following guest-post as a tribute to Guido, and I gladly consented.


It was Boston, 1996.  I'm not sure which of the kittens Sicily had first, but whichever one it was, she tried to have it on top of my roommate's belly as he slept on the couch.  Half asleep, he set her down on the ground before he heard the squeak of protest and realized that the first of the kittens had been born in the middle of the living room.  When my roommate told Sicily "you can't have those here!" she picked up her first offspring and ran off to have the rest on top of his dress pants.  There were five in all.  He was a little black puffball with a tiny shock of white on his chest.

He and his litter mates would sit in a semicircle watching my roommate and I play with a yoyo until the pressure became too much, and one of them would launch themselves forward to attack. The first time he tried, he misjudged the timing and clobbered himself on the yoyo as it came down.

He had a habit of hitting the water with his paw before he would drink. Sometimes he would stick his face in the bowl afterwards and get a noseful of water. Every time, he looked surprised.   The ever-present puddles on the kitchen floor quickly became known as Lake Guido.

We never expected him to be a hunter.  He was a big cat, like all his siblings save one, and you could actually hear him thump his way across the floor.  But M saw him race across the back yard at top speed, and parade proudly past a moment later with a bird in his mouth.

Thanksgiving, 1998.  Our landlord informed us he no longer wanted us to have cats.  Guido went to live with my parents in Pittsburgh: 12 hours of traumatic car travel away.  He spent most of the trip cramming himself under the passenger seat and refusing to come out.

He loved to ramble in the woods behind my parents' house.  He would climb up a tree to the second floor and jump in through a window they left open for him. He chased a deer across the front lawn. Early in the mornings, he would keep my dad company before anyone else was up, and my dad would pet him and feed him treats when he thought nobody was looking. My dad's favorite trick was to line up pieces of cheese on the edge of the table.  Guido would stretch himself up, hook each piece delicately with a claw, and pop it into his mouth.

2001. When we moved back to Pittsburgh, our lease didn't allow pets, but our landlords let us cat-sit him any time my mom was out of town. He would vanish under the bed, only emerging to eat and use the litterbox. For months after each time, he would eye us distrustfully every time we visited, wondering if we were going to take him somewhere in a car again.

Mom sold the house and moved to an apartment, and Guido became an indoor cat exclusively. Occasionally he would venture into the hall to investigate the smells under the neighbors' doors, but any noise would send him scuttling back to safety.  As time went by, he got older and rounder.  His tongue was almost smooth with age.  He had trouble jumping up onto the bed, but he would climb onto the back of the sofa and comb my mom's hair with his claws. He began to forgive us for all the car rides, and even came out to greet us when we arrived.

Mom took him to the vet just the other week for constipation - they cleared out some impacted stool and gave him a gentle laxative. After that, he was more alert and active than he had been in a long time - almost like a kitten, she said.

Tonight, we went to pick him up and bring him back to stay with us while my mother was out of town.  We found him half inside his cat bed, eyes almost closed, unmoving. We gathered his things, brought him back to the house, made the necessary calls, and laid him to rest.

In his fifteen years, he saw most of my adult life.  He was there as I struggled to find my feet in a strange city.  He was there when I met my wife, and when I lost my father. Now he's gone, and I'm lying awake trying to hold on to as many memories as I can.

Goodbye, Guido. I will miss you.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Feeding the Dog

It's been quite a food odyssey with Argos since we got him a little over a year ago.  He has a very sensitive stomach...  AND he's picky about what he eats, which makes it twice as difficult to find a food that works for him.

So first off, I'll make my disclaimers.  I do not cook his meals for him, nor do I do the raw diet.  I know that several people who sometimes read my blog do - and I really admire your dedication and effort.  I...  would probably implode if I added one more chore to my "to-do" list these days.   I don't even cook for myself or my husband many days.  I do my best for Argos, and get him nutritionally balanced kibble, without corn or wheat or any of that annoying filler stuff.

When Argos doesn't want to eat something..he just doesn't.  I know that the common wisdom is to not give them anything else, ever, until they eat what is given to them.  I started out intending to do this...  but I kid you not, he will skip meal after meal after meal.  He is a very stubborn dog.  I know that this must have worked at least once -  he was starting to get finicky last May, right before we left town last May for a long weekend at my parents' and left him at a pet resort.  I worried about him that entire weekend, but when we got him back, his food issues were gone.  He practically inhaled his food through the nose every meal for about a month after returning to us.

But going back in time a bit, his first month with us, he had diarrhea.  We were told to expect this for a week or so, but I started to get worried about him after it kept up for longer than that.  I frantically called the person who counseled us through the adoption, who soothed my fears.  She told us that the kibble that we were feeding him, Eukanuba, might not be agreeing with him.  And told me to boil beef and rice for his meals for a little while until his diarrhea went away.  And to slowly start introducing a mild kibble into the meat/rice mixture.

And that is what we did.  A month of boiling ground beef and rice.  I found the time, spurred on by his anxious brown eyes staring me down, but it wasn't easy.   And we started mixing in Iams Lamb and Rice, for sensitive stomachs.  He liked it, a lot.  And enthusiastically ate it every day for the next three months.  And then one day, decided that he didn't like it.

When he stopped eating, it terrified me.  I was convinced that he had a twisted gut, or was somehow sick.  Except that I noticed every time I gave him a "treat" to see if he would eat something, anything, he gobbled it right up and came looking for more.  I talked with a friend at work, who also has greyhounds, who laughed and told me that he was having a little joke on me, and that hers sometimes did that to her as well.  He was just testing me, and going through a time when all he wanted to eat was cookies.  I stuck to my guns, but he never completely went for the Iams again.  He would reluctantly eat enough to prevent himself from starving, but no more.

Enter Nutro.  I know that Nutro isn't as popular amongst dog owners as it once was, but it never gave us anything to complain about.  They had a Venison and Brown Rice formula that was limited ingredient, and good for sensitive stomachs.  And he LOVED it.  His coat got shinier and softer, and it was clear that he was doing well on it.  Problem solved.  At least for the next 8 months.

Last month, he decided that he didn't want to eat this kibble any more.  Since he was still willing to eat his treats, I figured it was the same thing as last time.  We got a small bag of Blue Buffalo to mix in with the Nutro, to see if that would make him eat.  He really likes the Blue Buffalo, and would eat around the Nutro.  We tried a different FLAVOR of Nutro, Herring. Nope.  He doesn't like fish, apparently.  Nor does he like venison any longer.

So now we have a big bag of Blue Buffalo Lamb and Rice, which he seems to like.  I also have cans of their canned food product, Blue's Stew, which he LOVES.  If he's a little reluctant to eat, all I have to do is mix about half of a can in with his kibble.

His dietary habits drive me completely insane.  There are several people who probably think I should have waited him out and forced him to eat the stuff that he didn't want...  and part of me agrees with them, because he's clearly imposing his will on me here.  But the other part of me kind of feels bad for him.  It would be BORING to eat the same things every day.  So I think we're going to try to shake it up a little bit.  I think we're going to stick with the Blue Buffalo brand for awhile, but maybe switch flavors on him after every bag.

Do any of you have trouble getting your dog to eat?  I just can't wrap my head around it.  My childhood dogs (a Pekingese and a Basset mix) never EVER turned down kibble, and we weren't exactly feeding them high quality stuff.  It probably never occurred to us to change the flavor on them back then...  it just wasn't the way things were done.  So nothing prepared me for a finicky dog.

Divas come in all shapes and sizes.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Rescue Inspiration

Sometimes, I can let the seemingly BOTTOMLESS need in for rescue of all kinds of animals get me down - there are just so many animals that need help - mostly because some human has screwed them over.  And yet there are only so many rescuers, so many homes available, so few resources.  It can really make a person despair.

But I think it's all a matter of perspective.  There is, and will be for some time to come, great need, and I think that anyone in animal rescue needs to keep that in mind lest we slip into apathy.  But there are also such inspiring stories out there, of people who have really made a difference.

Like this one:  http://www.phillyburbs.com/news/local/the_intelligencer_news/a-cat-s-best-friend/article_f4c97d75-3d09-511a-bca6-da84ee0a381b.html.  This lady seems to know absolutely no fear when it comes to rescuing cats, whether it's out of crackhouses or facing down deadbeat owners.

And there's plenty of other people out there that go to such lengths to care for the animals that cross their paths.  I can think of several that I've met in person or discovered online.

The board and volunteers of Steel City Greyhounds, of Pittsburgh, has made the difference in the lives of hundreds of ex-racing greyhounds, ensuring that they wind up in homes, with people who love them.  I will be forever grateful to them for rescuing my boy, Argos.

The writer of the Castaway Cats blog fosters adult cats and kittens for the Western Pennsylvania Animal Rescue League (the shelter from which we adopted all of our cats) and writes descriptions of several of the kitties up for adoption through the organization.  There is a certain selflessness involved with the willingness to be a temporary foster parent for an animal, and I greatly admire her for doing it.  I know that many of you do it as well, and I salute all of you.

I can never think of fostering cats without thinking of House of the Discarded, a blog written by a wonderful woman who runs a cat rescue.  This blog keeps it very real, and I never know what to expect from it each day - is it going to give me the warm fuzzies, make me angry at dead-beat owners, or is it going to make me sob?  She tells it like it is, and I think it's so important to remember the realities and the need for rescue.

Yet another, Daily Dose of Dogs (aka Cats with Your Coffee) is a private rescuer, who takes in the animals that cross her path - whether it's a litter of puppies trying to survive in the woods after being dumped, or a mama cat with kittens that has taken up residence in someone's garage.  She takes them in, cleans them up and gets food into their bellies, and gives them a safe, stable environment in which to live while she tries to find them permanent homes.  She does this with her own money and resources.

The folks at Rembier Farms, to which I gave a shout-out a few posts ago, take in animals that are possibly even more frequently overlooked than dogs and cats (though they have plenty of those too.)  Pot-bellied pigs that grew up and ceased to be cutesy, alpacas that were a lot more work than former owners thought, horses, goats, sheep, cows, you name it, they take it in and treat them with kindness, dignity, and of course feed them and take good care of them for as long as it takes until they are adopted, even if that is for life

There are tons more of you, and not enough time or space to write it all in.  Do know that so many of you provide hope and inspiration to me.  And many others have helped out with animal rescue by doing the absolute most important thing - you opened your hearts and your homes to one, two, six, eight, etc. homeless animals.  I love reading and sharing the stories of our pets, and seeing  how so many animals have been given a chance at life and are flourishing:  some rescued, some from other circumstances, but the most important thing is that these animals have been given happy homes.  I can't even begin to list them all, but I so look forward to reading the tales of Bugs, Reilly, Winnie, Bunny, Blueberry, Lilac, & Morgan, Brut & Silver & pups, the kitty horde over at Kat's Kats, Penelope, and so, so many more.  Which I could list all night.

But I think instead,  it is time for some much-needed sleep at the end of a busy workweek.

Charlotte couldn't agree more.  It's not easy being the queen, after all.