Evacuation, Cats, and Fire, Pt. 2

For those of you who don’t know Palo Alto, it’s very white, upper middle-class, and wealthy. The Airbnb was not as advertised. Yes, it was 3 bedrooms, 3 baths, but it was an apartment, not a house, and both the plumber and the electrician should have lost their licenses. However, I will say the manager was very nice, did not flinch at the number of cats, and gave us absolutely no trouble even when we pointed out one of the toilets sprayed water on the floor when flushed. I ended up with my three cats in the biggest bedroom and Kay had the smaller bedroom, and the kitchen/living room for hers. Mike had taken her barn cat home with him, since the barn cat hates all other cats and fights to the death. He’s fine with people. So with my three and Kay’s remaining five, we were all crammed in with eight disoriented cats. Of Kay’s cats (keep up, there may be a test), two were purebred Maine Coons, two were elderly litter mates with medical issues, and one was a perfectly lovely large rescue male tabby called Kittyboy.

The third and smallest bedroom ended up being Mingo’s because he marched out into the living room and was confronted by the two Coons, both of whom were bigger than he was, what a shock for him, and Kittyboy, who was roughly the same size. So he took refuge under the third bed, came out for food and occasional territorial disputes. I will say, during this entire time, no one bit anyone else. Not even me and Kay. There was, however, a certain amount of howling in the night. Squeaky, to my surprise, had no problem with strange cats. He wandered everywhere and no one attacked him. Sophie the Tiny Cat spent most of her time either under my bed or on it, but she was fascinated with Tommy, the male Maine Coon, who was attracted by the window in my bedroom. No idea why, but he’d jump up on the windowsill and Sophie would attempt to copy him. Tommy is about three times her size so she had to do creative scrambling to get up there.

We’d shop for supplies during the day and meet Mike for dinner at night. Because of Covid, the main drag of University Avenue was closed to cars and restaurants had their tables in the street. We’d have lovely exotic food served by attentive waitstaff, while the air was smoky from the two huge fires to the east and west and helicopters droned overhead. Welcome to the end of the world, would you like another glass of wine? Then we’d walk back to the Airbnb and clean up the puddle of territorial urine in front of Ming’s bedroom. We suspected Kittyboy but we never caught him in the act.

Every day at 3 pm CalFire would put out a summary form on fire containment, evacuation zones, and eventually “repopulation”, i.e., when they let people back in. At 7 am and 6 pm there would be a video news conference. We structured our day around these, hoping for good news. Mercifully, although both Kay and I broke down in tears and despair several times, we managed to stagger these so that one of us could comfort the other. God  knows what would have happened if we’d both broken down simultaneously.

I’m not sure when I heard that my house had survived, but it was either the first or the second day of the Airbnb. Several of my neighbors had defied the evacuation order and stayed to fight the fire on the street. And a good thing they did, since the fire crews at the beginning were overwhelmed and severely understaffed and under-resourced. I found out weeks later a combination of local fire fighters, volunteers, and neighbors made a stand in front of my house, managing to save it, the two houses behind it, and one house on the cross street. The house across the street from me burned to the ground and the fire came within twenty feet of my driveway. Fourteen houses on the cross street burned down.

Let me say right now (and I have been saying for weeks), I have no idea why I was lucky. It’s certainly not due to my saintly character or reservoir of good Karma, nor do I feel I “deserve” this. It happened. I was incredibly fortunate. Other people weren’t.

Kay’s house, although in a mandatory evacuation zone, was outside the fire perimeter. By about half a mile. Which was important and so was all the acreage of defensible space she’d created by compulsive grass mowing and brush removal. Which I had teased her about and did I feel like an idiot? She also had a friendly relationship with a local property manager who’d stayed behind to protect his client’s houses, leading to this exchange via text:

PM: I have some extra fire retardant. Do you want me to spray your house?

Kay: Yes PLEASE.

PM: It may alter the paint color.

Kay: SPRAY THE GODDAMN HOUSE!

He sent her a legal liability release to sign. Obviously, the basic elements of the world are earth, air, water, fire, and lawyers.

We’d contracted for a week at the Airbnb. After about four days it was clear we’d be refugees longer, so we added another five days. On the eighth day, Kay checked her phone for the 3 pm CalFire notice and let out a shriek: “Pescadero’s open! We can go back!”

Never have two women packed so fast. We were out of there in under two hours, which included packing cats into carriers, stuffing all the food and extra supplies into cartons, loading it all into the truck, Mike’s SUV (including barn cat), and my car. We also cleaned the Airbnb and we must have done a good job: they refunded the money for the unused days.

So we caravanned north, west, and south around the still burning fire to Pescadero and Kay and her cats were home. I was not.

Evacuation, Cats, and Fire, Pt. 1

In theory, if I was a dedicated writer,  I’d have been doing day-to-day posts on the experience of mandatory emergency evacuation, dragging the cats from pillar to post to friends to airbnbs and my deteriorating emotional state. Obviously I’m not a dedicated writer. So it goes.

This fire was started by multiple lightening strikes. I saw the storm from my deck; it had been incredibly hot and airless for days, so when the power went out at 3 am I went on the deck to enjoy the wind and the light show. It was exhilarating. The next day the reports of fires in Big Basin Park and Butano were confusing: they were extinguished, they were spreading, there was one up on China Grade Road. Rumor of evacuation started to spread and I made a very tentative list of what to take with me.

It was very detailed as to cat supplies, then it sort of tailed off into ‘clothes, meds, computer…’. I’d have been mad not to have thought about this before, so I knew what I had to take. It was the other stuff that flummoxed me. Which books, photos, art, memorabilia to take with me? I couldn’t decide, so I hoped for a false alarm.

My next door neighbors were tenants; people who’d never lived in the mountains before. They texted me they were on their way to San Francisco and would be back that evening. If anything unlikely happened could I rescue their two cats? Camille and Henry, if you’re reading this, sorry, but I was annoyed when you couldn’t tell me where the second carrier was — I’d never met your cats and I hoped I wouldn’t have to chase two frightened cats all over your house to stuff them into a single carrier while a wall of flame was bearing down on my house.

As it turned out, they were the ones who passed me the evacuation order via text from their phone. They were rushing back and they did make it in time to load their own cats. I still had no phone or text alerts from CalFire or any authority, but I decided to take the newer and better car over the elderly rickety station wagon and I started to pack.

Sophie the Tiny Cat flees from being picked up, so I snuck up on her and stuffed her into her carrier first. The other two were no problem. I packed the cats in the back seat and loaded cat supplies, my suitcase, and miscellaneous stuff into the trunk. Last in was my new desktop Mac mini, which I’d bought instead of a laptop because I never travel, and believe me I appreciated the irony. I took all the records from a genealogy project but no insurance papers or house title stuff because all that’s online now. And I took two sentimental photos because I knew they weren’t digitized anywhere. When I packed my suitcase I flashed back to fifty years ago, when I packed for a weekend and ended up (long sad story I will never tell) living out it for five months. And that memory stayed with me.

By then it was dark. I drove down the access highway into town, one of a long line of fleeing residents. Central Boulder Creek hadn’t been ordered to evacuate yet — they would be soon — so all the lights were on and the streets were busy. My area was shunted south to Santa Cruz; the northern part of the valley was evacuated to Santa Clara County.

I did have an emergency evacuation bolthole. My friend Kay has a large house in Pescadero, on the Pacific Coast. I’d called her, but she told me she was being ordered to evacuate also, and I had visions of spending a night in my car with three very unhappy cats. I realized I’d forgotten my sleeping bag. Somewhere in there I got a call from my friend Lisa, who is Kevin-the-contractor’s partner, and who said, simply, “Come here. Kevin’s already building a temporary catio out in the yard.”

I cannot tell you the kindness I received from friends, casual acquaintances, and total strangers during what turned out to be a long, long saga. I was constantly stunned by offers of shelter, money, and help. My hairdresser offered me and the cats shelter, and she wasn’t the only one.

That first night I dumped the cats on Kevin and Lisa, putting the poor frightened animals in a large secure pen outside. Kevin and Lisa have a tiny house with four cats of their own, and Kevin found me a miraculous hotel room in a town crammed with refugees. I could have stayed with them but Kevin insisted he’d sleep in his toolshed, so I grabbed the hotel room. I had to take Xanax to sleep and when I checked my car in the hotel lot in the morning it was covered with an inch of black crumbly ash. By then I’d thought to go further south to the evacuation center at the Watsonville Fairgrounds even though I didn’t want, absolutely didn’t want, to put the cats in any sort of shelter. I called Kay, to see how she and her seven cats were doing, and to my surprise she’d gone back home. “Come here. It’s fine.”

I had to drive around four sides of what was an enormous fire. I found out much later the fire had grown to 44,000 acres overnight. So I drove north-east, north, west to the coast, and south down the coast to Pescadero. Kay and her friend Mike had spent the night in her truck with all cats in carriers, parked in the evacuation center parking lot in Pescadero. The evacuation center wasn’t organized yet and nor were the sheriff’s officers, because when Kay woke up after a miserable night she was able to drive her truck back to her property without passing through a roadblock. As was I.

We had an unhappy day, because one of Kay’s elderly cats was terminally ill, her vet was out of town, and poor Graybar had to be put to sleep. Kay was miserable and exhausted, so she went to sleep early. I sat on the deck in the dark and looked toward the mountain ridge.

I could see the fire. There were two large tongues of flame cresting the ridge, within five miles of where I was sitting. You know that part of The Lord of the Rings where Frodo sees the Eye of Sauron glaring red on the ridge of the valley of Rivendell? Exactly like that. I felt I could have lived without this in real life.

The next day emergency vehicles were blaring loudspeakers on the road, warning residents to prepare to leave. Kay was determined not to spend another night in her truck; I had no idea where to go if she left, perhaps to an evacuation center? We were all miserable and indecisive, but Kay said to me, in the beginning of a long series of charitable acts, that I would stay with her, we’d take care of all our cats together, and we’d find some place to go. If we went. The first problem was Where, and after we buried poor Graybar, Kay contacted a friend who dealt with Airbnb reservations all the time. In fifteen minutes, in a moneyed miracle, Kay had booked a three bedroom, three bath place in Palo Alto for a week. They took cats. (I’m not sure we mentioned how many. I didn’t ask.)

So I packed my frightened, disoriented cats again and Kay attempted to pack hers. This turned into a long, drawn out chase sequence since one cat refused to be caught for about three hours, and we were all stressed even more when we finally convoyed back north, east, and south again to Palo Alto. This time we passed through a police roadblock. We were out.

Sophie the Tiny Cat, Or, Mingo Has a Girl Friend

Sophie wouldn’t be in this house if Mingo hadn’t disappeared. He vanished in June of 2018 and it was a dreadful summer. The house was quiet, far too quiet, and even though I had two cats remaining both of them were old. I could see all three of us decaying and dying and would the last one left please close the coffin?

Several friends urged me to get another Maine Coon, but there were several problems. One, it felt like disloyalty. Two, Maine Coon cats are extremely expensive if you go the breeder route, almost as expensive as the damn catio I had been too cheap to build. Guilt, much? There’s a Maine Coon rescue society not very far away, but they were…unhelpful. I lived outside their 50 mile adoption radius, they didn’t like that I’d recently lost a cat, their cats went to inside-only homes, and even if I built a catio they would consider that ‘outside’.  One horrible woman at a rescue in Los Angeles kept sending me picture of cats needing homes and then denying my application. She was happy, however, to request donations. (Oh ha ha)

I’d plastered Ming’s picture all over the local and regional cat lost-and-found rescue websites. This meant I was inundated with pictures of other people’s lost cats, found cats that were not Ming, and lots of cats needing homes.

Sophie was in Wyoming, at a rescue called Small Town Community Cats. She’d been in a feral colony and had been trapped-neutered-released, but the colony had to be relocated. She was supposed to be a barn cat but they’d discovered she had no adult teeth (it’s related to a genetic condition called agenesis or anodontia) so could not hunt and had to be an inside cat. She also was the only cat in the colony friendly enough to be picked up and put in a carrier. She’d been at the rescue for some months and really needed to get out of that cage.

Well, I ask you. Look at that face. She was advertised as good with other cats, which would make a lovely change, she had to be indoors, which since I was now hyper-paranoid about letting cats outside was a good thing, and she was young and healthy except for missing a few fangs. Exactly how old she was remains a mystery: she was neutered in October of 2017, so she probably was born in the spring of 2017. She was taken in by the rescue in May of 2018. I have no idea how the hell she survived a Wyoming winter outside. She might be as much as a year older, which would mean two winters of survival and possibly a litter, but my vet doesn’t think so. Of course, with no adult teeth to gauge age…anyway, based on baby tooth wear and what we know, I think we settled on a birthdate of April 2017. The lack of proper adult teeth don’t bother her; she eats dry kibble and wet food, no problem.

There’s a non-profit called the Catz Meow Transport Service (currently inactive), and relays of volunteers move cats from state to state for military families relocating, adoptions, and special shelters. Sophie arrived on Oct. 7, 2018, after a two day car trip.

While I was waiting for Sophie to arrive (and second guessing myself) I finally thought to ask her weight. She weighed 7 lbs. Now, several friends have told me they have had smaller adult cats, but I was taken aback. Ming was about 12 lbs. when he disappeared and he wasn’t even a year old, Rainy my lovely Siamese (no finer cat) was 10 lbs. and Squeaky was 12 lbs. Ming was well on track to be bigger, way, way bigger, so I had to recalibrate my head. But I thought it might help the remaining cats adjust to her if she was smaller and not a threat.

She was a total mass of fear on arrival. She would throw an impressive hissy fit if anyone tried to touch her (Vet: “Well, her heart is healthy.”) so I isolated her in the back room until she calmed down. This, although the approved first step for integrating a new cat, turned out to be the worst thing for her. She’d been born and raised in a cat colony and then spent months at a crowded rescue and now she was alone. After about a week of no progress in getting her to respond to me, I was reading in the living room. Squeaky was singing the song of his people. He stopped to inhale and I heard Sophie calling from the back room. So I opened the door and sat back down.

Sophie took one look at Squeaky and started following him. He moved. She moved. She finally cornered him on the chair and perched next to him. Squeaky had this bewildered expression on his face (Mom! She’s following me! Make her stop!). She wasn’t aggressive. She just loved him. I found out she’d cuddled a bit with a black cat at the rescue — she obviously associated other cats, especially black ones, with safety. The first month she was here I don’t think she was ever more than three feet away from Squeaky. Another plus, she was excellent with Rainy. She left her respectfully alone and in return Rainy tolerated her.

I was the frightening thing. She ran if I approached her. She wouldn’t eat if I was nearby. Any sudden moves on my part terrified her. I was especially scary if I loomed over her. I’d been feeding the cats in the kitchen, because where else do you feed cats, but since Sophie would not approach the food bowl if I was in the room, I shifted to putting their bowls in the living room and making a special call when I put out the food. (I’m sorry to say it’s “Puss Puss”. Don’t judge.) Sophie seemed to be interested in doors and escape, remember she’d never been an inside cat, and if she ever got out I hoped a food call would help me retrieve her.

She was so paranoid and terrified she’d been scurrying around the house, tummy to the ground, for a week before I saw she had four little white feet. She’d kept them tucked under for safety. She did indeed weigh 7 lbs. and the few times I could touch her she was fluff and bird bones. And eyes. Huge golden eyes.

So we went on for a few months and I managed to get her weight up to 9 lbs. When I touched her she no longer felt like a little bird. On Dec. 17, when I’d had her for a bit over two months, she sat in my lap for the first time. I was overjoyed, but this turned out to be a proof-of-concept because it took another five months for this to be routine. I’d discovered that I was far less threatening when sitting or lying down. Long before she sat on my lap she was sleeping on the bed next to me. I put this down to my personal charisma.  More probably, the electric blanket.

Rainy died of kidney failure on Dec. 26, 2018. She was eighteen. It wasn’t unexpected, and it was fast. I’d always promised myself if she got so ill the meds and the fluid therapy wouldn’t help, I’d take no heroic measures. I didn’t want her to suffer just so I’d have a few more weeks with her. I kept my word. It was really tough, but I’ve found expected grief is bearable. Mingo’s loss was unexpected and the grief remained painful.

So I was down to two cats: Squeaky, who was pushing 16 in 2019, and Sophie, around 2. It wasn’t the ideal age split but they got along well, except when Sophie wanted to play and Squeaky wanted to nap. About four months after Rainy’s death, when I’d given away all the Ringer’s Solution and the sub-Q needles, Squeaky developed the beginnings of kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, and high blood pressure. And there was a lot of expensive drama about an almost-detached retina…trust me, when the cat’s eyeball is blood-red, run, do not walk, to the nearest vet. Anyway, with all the vet trips and the expense I was easily able to parry friends’ suggestions I get a third cat.

And in January of this year you all know what happened.

The universe apparently wants me to have three cats. Fine. FINE. Be like that.

Sophie had been sitting on my lap and I’d been overjoyed, because Squeaky was never a lap cat. He left all that to Rainy. After Ming’s re-arrival, Sophie hid out for a few days but the rescue’s GOOD WITH OTHER CATS apparently extended even to Ming. She resumed lap sitting (yea!) and she and Ming started to play.

Well, Ming’s idea of play. This includes chasing, neck biting, and jumping on top of. Ming was a scrawny 11 lbs. in January and he’s enthusiastically gotten his weight up to 16 lbs. 4 oz. as of last week. Yes, he’s gained over 5 lbs. in four months. Sophie is still around 9 lbs., so I was worried he was either hurting her or going to hurt her. But she seems capable of backing him off when he gets too rough and they spend a lot of time together out in the catio or running around the living room. So I have two younger cats, very close in age, who play together. Squeaky is left in peace to sleep on my bed, and Sophie still cuddles with him. Ming leaves him alone and does not cuddle. He’s such a boy.

Here’s Sophie the Tiny Cat, complete with floof and little white paws.

And here’s her boyfriend, Mingo the Massive, judging me for not feeding him an hour early.

And, finally, here’s a rare terrible shot of all three cats together. They aren’t really together: Squeaky was asleep in the sun when first Sophie and then Mingo arrived to push him out of it. He’s leaving. I include this so you can see the relative sizes.

 

 

Lose Some, Win Some, Or, Pee Wars

Things are going well. I’d better get that in right now, for several reasons. First, when you have multiple cats, something is frequently wrong with somebody. This one is barfing, or that one is limping, and it costs a lot of money to find out why and, hopefully, fix it. If you have older cats this goes from frequent to chronic as the best you can hope for is a vet report saying ‘not deteriorating’ or ‘stable’. But at this moment in time, we good.

It’s been about three weeks since I last posted, and I see I was optimistically attempting to change from an expensive cat litter to a cheap replacement. Also I was hoping Mingo and Sophie and Squeaky would start getting along.

Lose some, win some.

Wow, Squeaky did NOT like the new litter. He didn’t like it sneakily mixed in with his old litter; he didn’t like it here, there, anywhere. He escalated to what I can only call Pee Wars, where he sprayed the walls and left puddles on the floors, culminating in three episodes in 45 minutes. In three different rooms. At that point I wasn’t sure who was more deranged, me or the cat.

Squeaky ended up in the bathroom in a 24 hour timeout, with bedding, food, water, and a large clean box filled with the litter of his dreams. At that moment, I still wasn’t sure if this was a litter issue or he was refusing to accept Mingo. The break gave me time to clean the house, anoint everything including me with Nature’s Miracle, toss out the new litter, scrub the boxes, refill all of them with the old litter (checking account: CLANG), and drink wine. If it was the litter, I was defeated, but if it was Mingo I wasn’t sure what I would do except grit my teeth, buy lots of Nature’s Miracle, and wait Squeaky out.

I cautiously let Squeaky out the next day, and followed him around as, I swear, he patrolled. I was astonished to see him bonk heads with Ming (Buddy! Where you been?).  He finally climbed into one of the restored litter boxes and gave it his seal of approval. Somewhere in the rubble of the last three days the cats had accepted one another and were merely waiting for the stupid human to stop fucking with their god-given litter so they could get on with things.

Squeaky’s official name is Onyx. This was my attempt at originality, having rejected Blacky, Shadow, Spot, and Inky as over-used. We got him as a kitten from the Humane Society via a PetSmart adoption event. He was completely mute and terrified cat until he’d been around for a year and suddenly began to chirp and squeak at Bob. From day one, he’s had many nicknames (Bob called him Peanut) but Squeaky has outlasted all of them. He’s 16 and a bit now, and up to the last year he’s been quite healthy. Once my lovely Siamese, Rainy (No Finer Cat), died a year ago Squeaky began making up for lost time: he has an overactive thyroid, the beginning of kidney failure, hypertension, congestive heart issues, and he almost-not-quite had a detached retina. I get frequent-flyer miles at the vet.

We thought the nickname was cute, god help us.

This boy howls. He shrieks, calls, cries, and wails. He has a warble with a hacking groan on the end that sounds like he is being disemboweled. He loves to do this when I’m on the phone — it’s hard to pretend you’re not an elderly cat lady with the Vanguard rep going “OMG what is that?!” — but he can let go at any moment. He’s not in pain. He just likes to make noise.

With the litter situation resolved (i.e., I lost), and the catio finished, peace has descended and Mingo has settled in. He spends a lot of his nights in the catio since he’s the only one who has mastered the cat flap. This took him about three minutes. Sophie the Tiny Cat enjoys the catio during the day because the cat flap is obviously a CAT MINCER so I have to either hold it open for her or default to the human door. Squeaky has actually used the flap but he’s not that interested. He also prefers door service, but really, Ming in the catio simply means more nap time for him on the bed. I’m all for that.

Here’s Squeaky, in a rare moment of being both awake and silent.

 

Mingo, after a hard day of world domination:

I haven’t posted much about Sophie, the Tiny Cat. Next time!

 

 

 

Catio, Or, What Goes Out Eventually Comes In

Kevin-the-contractor finished the catio yesterday, perhaps because I met him on the driveway wringing my hands and wailing. Always effective. Well, it’s 99% done (nothing is ever DONE DONE in home improvement land). Everything is wired, the screen doors are on and latched, the roof panels are attached. And the hole in the house for the cat door was cut and the door installed. What’s left is some cosmetic stuff around the cat door and Kevin’s mysterious desire to do something or other with some miscellaneous boards. I have no idea what he’s talking about.

Pre-Mingo’s miraculous resurrection, I’d been planning a catio but I’d planned to paint the house and refinish the deck first. That can’t be done until the summer, so when the catio became urgent Kevin designed and built it to be modular and easy to take down and put back up. He asked me, suspiciously, how frequently I planned to do this. Probably because in reality he will be the one doing it. I assured him once, for the painting. The next time will probably be after I am dead, so once the deck is refinished he can weld it to the foundation for all I care.

The screen doors are very nice for human access to the front deck and to the side yard but I’m suspicious about those latches. Mingo doesn’t have opposable thumbs, or he’d be Master of the Universe, but I can see the latches wearing a bit over time, a strong wind, or human carelessness. I’m going to get sliding bolts. There’s no reason to make things easy for Ming.

Ming has already mastered the coming-in bit. He should have the going-out bit down soon. The cat door has a magnetic catch but since he’s learned to shove it in one direction he should be able to shove it in the other. Right now I have to open it for him. Maybe he simply likes servants. You think?

Squeaky is confused by the whole thing. He’s been going out on the deck for several years but now there’s all this new stuff and wire and doors and he can’t get down into the yard. You can see the cat door boggles his mind; he watched Ming go through it as if he were a rabbit vanishing into a hat. I’ll get a volunteer and we’ll pass him back and forth a few times. That might help.

Sophie ventured out today when I held the deck door open. She carefully smelled her way around and retreated back into the house. It was even more encouraging because she and Mingo were out there at the same time without hissing or chasing. Time. This will all take time. I can’t do the pass-the-cat routine with Sophie since I can’t pick her up. She’ll sit in my lap, she sleeps next to me, she enjoys being petted as long as I follow the rules, but No Picking Up Cat. So I’m hoping she’ll see Ming or Squeaky go through and get the idea. Otherwise I’m going to be holding the deck door open a lot.

I’m posting pictures of the completed catio below. Obviously, it needs furniture: at least one climbing post, some boxes and ramps, god knows what. Maybe I’ll get Mingo a trapeze.

Reintegration, Or, Some Of Us Are Not Happy

I knew, I KNEW, reintegrating Mingo back into the household would be difficult. Integrating him as a kitten was fraught and he’s not a kitten anymore. His personality is completely unchanged by almost two years growth and two years away: he’s dominant, stubborn, persistent, and he does not share.

After Ming disappeared from the yard I spent days beating myself up for letting him out of the house. I still think it was the wrong decision, obviously, but now I have a little more sympathy for past-me.

On the bright side, no one is actually bleeding.

Kevin-the-contractor is building the catio. It’s going to be lovely; unfortunately (there’s that word again) it is not finished. He didn’t show up yesterday but he’d better come today and finish the job or else he’s going to make history as the first Midnight Contractor of Boulder Creek. Because the pressure of too many cats in a very small house is overwhelming. I speak as The Overwhelmed.

Before I let Mingo out of quarantine I put pheromone collars on him and Squeaky. I thought if they smelled alike they’d be less inclined to kill each other. I did not put one on Sophie because I don’t have six arms. I also plugged in Feliway dispensers. It’s been years since I’ve had to use the dispensers. I mention this in my own defense because there’s no kind way to say this: I plugged them in upside down.

Yesterday I discovered a big bald patch on Squeaky’s neck under the collar. I instantly removed the collar, and I took off Ming’s for good measure. I cleaned up the oily mess from the Feliway dispensers, and removed those also. Have I mentioned I’ve changed the cat litter for another type entirely?

Cats hate change. So I’d removed the calming elements and made major changes. This would go well. WHAT WAS I THINKING?

This morning Squeaky woke me at 5 am. I fed Mingo and locked him in the back room, then fed Sophie and gave meds to Squeaky and fed him. I staggered back to bed and crawled out at 8 am. It was obvious I had to clean the litter boxes and while I doing Ming’s  Squeaky marched behind it and peed on the floor and against the wall. Right in front of me.

And they say cats can’t talk.

Okay, let’s back things up. I’ll get more Feliway and plug it in right side up. Duh. I’m not sure about the collar issue; I’ll talk to the vet. And I’ll do an old litter/new litter combo for a while.

Back, way back in the dim past when Kevin ripped out all the old carpet and put in the tile flooring, I had him seal the baseboards. He thought I was nuts, but ah ha ha I was right.

And that catio better get finished today, Kevin.

 

 

When A Door Opens, Or, Now I Remember

First thing up: Several readers who are not currently owned by cats have suggested I’m not really that fond of Ming. As it is possible to hold two conflicting ideas in your head at the same time, it is possible to love a cat to bits and simultaneously long to whack him over the head with a mallet. One feeling doesn’t drive out the other. Please note the adorable photo above; thirty seconds after it was taken Ming sank his teeth into my arm. I went from a puddle of awww to a shriek of owww just like that.

Anyway, after a very long week of quarantine, Ming got the all clear from the vet. I opened the bathroom door, expecting excitement and drama. Not so much: he strolled around the house like a prospective buyer, calmly inspecting each room. I thought he might say “I like the layout, can we talk about utility costs?” The climax, such as it was, came when he hopped on the bed and cautiously touched noses with Squeaky. Squeaky was around when Ming was a kitten — he’s the cat who famously barfed when he first saw him — and I’d put a pheromone collar back on him. No drama, no fireworks.

Then.

Sophie the Tiny Cat was also on the bed, but she’d crept under the blankets for a nap and she stayed there all day, obviously hoping whatever was walking on her would go away and not come back. Alas, poor Sophie.

My dear friend Kay, a self-professed cat lady, pointed out Ming had no scars from fights and that his ears were not tattered. This, according to her, meant he’d been inside or protected during his absence. After a week of Ming roaming the house, I have a different theory. I think the reason Ming doesn’t have any fight scars or wounds is because he won all his fights. Because he’s huge and he fights all the time.

I remember — now I remember — what it was like choreographing movements when you have three cats and one of them is Ming. I’m back feeling like the man who had to get the fox, the chicken, and the bag of grain over the river in a boat that only took one at a time, without any of them eating the other. It’s possible but you have to think it out.

Feeding time: I feed Mingo first, shut up in the back room. Then I give Squeaky his meds, and feed him and Sophie. Squeaky eats right away but Sophie is a nibbler. She’ll wait for Squeaky to finish and then nibble a bit. She walks away. Ten minutes later she returns and nibbles some more. I give her as long as I can before I let Mingo loose, because he immediately rushes over and polishes off whatever is left.

Squeaky weighs 11 lbs. Sophie weighs 9. Mingo weighed 11 lbs. at the vet’s, but he’s a third again Squeaky’s size and I’ve been feeding him at least 4 times a day. He eats everything I give him; he’s putting flesh on his huge bones. Maine Coons eat a lot.

Mingo has had at least one serious screaming roll-on-the-floor snarling fight with Squeaky. The fur literally flew. I separated them; neither was injured. I’m not sure whether there wasn’t time for serious biting, or it was all dominance display and relatively harmless. Sophie, being half Ming’s size, runs. Of course, he chases her. He chases her a lot. Every so often they are in the same room and we have relative peace, but not often. Sophie survived life in a feral colony; I’m hoping she can survive Ming. She is eating and she still has her nap times on my bed but she won’t sit in my lap anymore, because Ming, which is sad. I miss her.

Both Mingo and Squeaky have pheromone collars on. The collar seems to reduce Squeaky’s stress, because he’s acting normally except when he’s going north through a doorway and Ming is going south. And today they might (I say again might) have been playing, chasing each other around the hassock. His collar has no effect on Ming, except he smells like a bunch of flowers.

I think Ming is bored and easily over-stimulated into biting. According to about three cat “authorities” on the web, bottle-fed kittens frequently have biting problems because the human doing the bottle feeding didn’t teach them not to bite, as a mother cat would. Since I’m the one who bottle-fed this monster, clearly this is all my fault. Who the hell knew?

When he bites, I pull my hand/arm/limb away and disengage, ignoring him. It does seem to confuse him, although his response is to try to bite harder. He also gets timeouts, like a tantrum-throwing two year old.

In time, I hope we all get used to one another. I remind myself, with cats, it’s all about patience. It took 9 months for Sophie to sit in my lap. I’m not going to venture a guess on how long it will take Ming to stop tormenting the other cats, and for them to adjust to him.

In the meantime, I’m pinning my hopes on getting the catio built. It might cure Ming’s boredom and give him a socially acceptable outlet for all that energy. Fingers crossed.

Durance Vile, Or, POOP

Mingo returned home last Wednesday. I stuffed him in my back room because the vet asked me to isolate him from the other cats until his stool test results came back. There he received human visitors from his local fan club, graciously accepting homage from the top of the bookcase. I had to put him in the backroom because, karma being what it is, Kevin-the-contractor was reattaching my shower door and replacing a baseboard in the bathroom that very day.

The vet called the next day: Ming had VURRMS, sorry, worms, and he also tested positive for giardia exposure. So he had to be separate from the cats for a week, plus he might be contagious to humans. Fan Club: Wash Your Hands

I moved him back to the bathroom. He’d now come full circle because this was where he lived when he was a tiny kitten, when I bottle-fed him. In the interval, the bathroom has been renovated. He didn’t comment on the tile selection or the new tub which I thought was a bit churlish of him.

For the last week he’s been getting worm medicine and flagyl for the giardia, both liquids squirted down his throat, twice a day. I’ve been very good about clean litter every day, washing MY hands, and keeping everything separate. The vet suggested I bathe him, but I pointed out that the vet + vet assistants had been unable to bathe him and punting this over to me was unfair.

However, because he’d spent time in the back room I had to micro-vacuum the rug (the vet told me to wash it, this woman is far too anal-retentive if you ask me) and wash the floor with ammonia, plus scrubbing the litter boxes with ammonia ditto and refilling them.

I was totally unsurprised that Mingo’s return was labor-intensive and completely disruptive. It’s Ming. This is how he rolls.

He was extremely subdued for 24 hours after he arrived, probably because he’d gotten at least three injections and some pills. Once he recovered, he started eating. And eating.

I’m feeding him six time a day, that’s wet food not counting bowls of dry food. He eats it all. He weighed in at 11 lbs at the vet, and it’s been a week. His coat is looking better and his hip bones aren’t as prominent.

Have I mentioned he’s a big cat? Maine Coons continue to grow for longer than other breeds; Ming’s only two, so he could get quite large and solid before he’s done. I don’t think he’s a purebred, not exactly, but he is more Maine Coon than he is anything else.

Having him in the bathroom was inconvenient, particularly after the first few days, because he kept trying to escape. I developed a technique of sticking the full food bowl through the doorway first, followed by the rest of me, and this would deflect him enough so I could shut the door behind me. Of course, entering to use the bathroom for other purposes was a bit of a scrum.

(Years ago, someone instructed me I should keep cats in my spare bathroom, out of the way. This only works if you have a spare bathroom, and it’s casual comments like this which give middle-class white women such a bad rep.)

Long before I finished the five days of medication plus the worm test and the wait for the results I was ready for Mingo to get out of that bathroom and begin living with the rest of us. My other two cats felt he should either stay in the bathroom permanently or simply disapparate.

Here’s a few shots of Ming in durance vile, with empty food bowl. It is not possible to take a picture of Ming next to a full food bowl.

Next Post: Release the Kraken!

 

 

Mingo’s Back, Or, Miracles Are Exhausting

Boulder Creek Veterinary Hospital called at 10:20 this morning. A stray cat had been found (I thought they were looking to place it) and then she said, “We scanned him and found a chip. It’s Mingo.”

I cried. I had hysterics. The worst thing, the absolute worse thing, about Mingo disappearing was the uncertainty. Was he dead, hurt, in pain, trapped, hungry? Was he lost and frightened? Closure is such an overused word, but that’s what I was missing and I couldn’t move on. I’d drive into town and look for him by the side of the road. Somewhere.

He disappeared on June 27, 2018. One year and seven months ago. Surely he was dead, no matter what had happened it was over. And then they called. I found out later they’d recognized him, with disbelief (“Oh, it can’t be. It’s been too long.”), and then there was a bit of competition over who got to call me.

He’d showed up a week ago at a house no more than two miles away, hungry. The nice lady (whose name I didn’t get, sorry, I was in shock), had fed him and enticed him into her garage. When she had a few hours she took him to the vet in case he had a chip.

There he was, skinny, full of fleas and ticks, fur matted, and he’d pooped in the carrier so he smelled horrible. Did he recognized me? I’d have to say No, there wasn’t a Disney moment. But he was calm, with all these strange people, and he accepted being petted, having the worst mats removed, de-ticked, and combed. They’d wanted to bathe him but he tried to go out the window, so we settled for chem wipes and combing.

He got all his shots, wormed, flea med, and there was an awful wait for the feline leukemia test result, which thanks be was negative. Then I took him home.

All I thought, all this morning and through the afternoon, was: This isn’t real. This doesn’t happen. I’d fantasized about just such a call and then it happened. In my experience, it doesn’t. Hollywood moments don’t.

Apparently, they do. I’m incredibly grateful to the nice lady, to the vet’s, to the universe whose mysterious dice roll came up double sixes, and to whoever fed and cared for him for the last nineteen months. He’s in too good condition to have been outside all this time, but we may never know who or where.

He’s still Mingo. He’s in my back bedroom asleep after eating three bowls of cat food and my entire house smells of Male Cat Spray. Who could have done that? (Rhetorical) Squeaky, my elderly black cat, smelled my hand, gave me a horrified look, and hid under the bed all afternoon. Sophie the Tiny Cat has been either under my bedspread or in the closet — she’s not eating. Adjustments are in order all around; the next few days are going to be interesting.

And no, I’m not letting him outside. I’ve already talked to the contractor about building a large catio. This may take a week or more, so I expect a mighty battle with Ming the Merciless for dominance, space, and whatever I happen to have in my hand at any time. Remember, this is a cat who tried to climb into a hot oven.

I’m exhausted. Who knew miracles are so tiring? Where does it say the disciples watched a man walk on water and passed out drunk after talking about it for six hours? After the Buddha reached enlightenment, did he get to take a nap?

I, Generator

We moved up to Boulder Creek in 1992. Both of us, my husband Bob and I, had lived all over the Santa Cruz Mountains for years. So we knew what we were getting in to and were able to reassure our anxious real estate agent that, yes, we knew about bad roads, extended commute times, difficulty getting services, and most importantly, power outages. Now, this house is not really remote by BC standards. The access roads are paved and mostly flat, we have garbage pickup, mail delivery, and (eventually) broadband access. Although I do treasure the AT&T response to my query about DSL: “Oh, we’re never going to have it out there. Why bother?” So when, lo and behold, they did have it and the sales person pestered me, I was able to rip a strip off them. By then I had broadband through Comcast, which is a whole other blog post and probably libelous, never mind.

I had learned, from all those years in La Honda, the first thing to do when the power goes out is take a shower. Because if your landlord has installed a cheap electric hot water heater and the power is out for several days, you want to start clean. After that, you whine at friends or shower at work. So I double-checked that this house had a propane hot water heater. For those of you not living in the mountains in California, we don’t have ‘gas’, or more properly natural gas lines. That goes right along with sewer lines which we don’t have either. Instead we have septic tanks and propane tanks. So the hot water problem was solved.

Under protest, Bob bought a generator. I have no idea why he fought this so hard, unless he had some visionary ideal of candles and wood stoves. You would think he would know better. Anyway, the wood stove in the house promptly disintegrated, a complete non-starter. I was adamant, so he bought a cheap little rebuilt generator. Which we used frequently. It sat in the garage, we ran extension cords through the kitchen door and laced all over the floors, it rattled and pounded, we had to unplug that lamp to plug in that coffee pot. So we sold it and bought a bigger one. And a bigger one. And so on. At one point we were out of power for over two weeks and the damn thing ran from early morning until ten at night. Life with it was so much better than unpowered life without it. And it powered the (propane) furnace electric fan.

About the third generator upgrade, we cleaned out the storage shed behind the house and put the generator in there. We also experimented with wiring the generator directly into the power box and found a tame electrician to help us out. This was, the first time out, amazing. No more extension cords and so much quieter. Also, Bob had made the unpleasant discovery that pull-starting a generator was getting more and more difficult for him, so our next upgrade (and boy did we debate this) was to a key-start unit. Which was again, bigger. By now, we had a pretty good system in place. Power goes out, flip the main switch off, fill the generator with gasoline, start it, and switch over. Problem solved. Sort of.

All of these generators were gasoline-powered. This meant we had a collection of gas cans, most of them five gallons, stored in the garage and the generator shed. Bob was particularly proud of the twenty-gallon tank he had installed in the generator shed, with a gravity feed stopcock. As power outages became fewer, this gasoline would age, so Bob would dump in stabilizer and do this elaborate rotation, ending with pouring the unused gas into the cars. We didn’t need the generator as often but when we needed it, we really needed it.

Until the day the power went out and Bob insisted on starting the generator. He was having difficulty with balance and walking and he didn’t have much strength. But he did get it started and returned to the couch. Suddenly he got up and moved as fast as I had seen him move in years. He made it out the back door to the generator shed and turned the thing off. The carburetor had stuck open and was spewing hot gasoline all over the floor of the shed. Which had at least 30 gallons of gasoline stored in it. Which was ten feet from the house.

So, after much debate, we bought a propane generator. We had to have a gas line dug from the tank to the shed but we did get it all installed and working. We could have gotten a gas/propane unit and on reflection I’m not sure that wasn’t a mistake. But right then I was terrified of all that gasoline and the fire danger. There was no way Bob could lift heavy gas cans anymore and I wasn’t too thrilled about that myself. With a direct propane line, you don’t have to refuel.

The day after Bob died, the power went out. And I couldn’t get the generator started, or rather I could get the generator started but there wasn’t enough power to open the garage door. That’s when I made the unpleasant discovery that no one, repeat no one, services propane generators. Luckily that outage was the last in a while, because it took me three months to call the right person (the propane company) and have a technician check the lines. We had a leak, which lowered the pressure, so the generator wasn’t getting enough fuel. Leak fixed. Bob had insisted on installing his own cut-off valve on the line and that’s where the leak was. Unfortunately when someone is dead it’s hard to yell at them.

Now it is perfectly possible to get an automatic start generator, wired into the house. It’s just not cheap. But if this one dies on me, that’s the way I’d have to go. So far, fingers crossed, it’s been great. It doesn’t get that much use and therein lies a problem.

Because I’m frightened of the thing. It’s a large engine with an explosive propellant. You have to stand next to it to turn it on. Generally, you have to do this in the dark with a flashlight clenched in your teeth. So I tend to ignore it and that’s not good, because it has a battery for the starter and (Bad Mary) the last time I needed it the battery was dead. I’d accidentally disconnected the battery charger. So I swore I’d check the thing every month, no matter what.

Well, and there is a point to this post assuming you’ve read this far, we have a storm coming in tonight and it is supposed to snow. Coastal California is one of the most unprepared-for-snow places in the world, aside from Fiji, and I expect the power to go out. So today I gritted my teeth and marched over to start the generator just in case.

Dead battery. And I had the charger plugged in. I overcame my self-flagellation of incompetence and actually traced the charger wires and checked the circuit was live. I’d simply plugged the charger into the wrong place. So I’d checked the generator before the storm (Good), discovered I’d totally fucked up (Bad), and hopefully fixed the problem (Good?). If the power goes out and the battery doesn’t have enough charge to start it I do know how to use the jumper unit. Which is fully charged.

I want to stay in this house. I love it and I love the area. To stay here I have to be as self-supporting as possible, and if that means checking the bloody generator every month, by god that’s what I will do. I so swear.

 

Little Boxes Full of Me

First off: I’m fine. As of today, as far as I know, I’m perfectly healthy, if you don’t count that mosquito bite on my ass and a distressing tendency to break into tears whenever anyone mentions Mingo.

But a few weeks ago someone asked me about the Neptune Society and “pre-need” cremation and I remembered that, while Bob and I had done this for him, we’d never done it for me. It worked well after Bob died: the hospice guy notified them and a few hours later two strong young men showed up in a van and hauled the body away.

It was around 10 pm when they arrived and one of them said to me, eyes rolling nervously, “Sure a lot of TREES around here.”

I said, “Dude. You’re driving around with a dead body in the back and you’re worried about trees?”

The ashes were returned to me in a plastic bag (with a cheap urn mandated by state law) and I scattered them. The urn went in the recycle because, really, what was I going to do with an empty plastic urn? None of my friends were dying to get in.

We’d signed the contract lo those many years before, something like 1995, and we’d misplaced the paperwork but they had everything on file in 2016. Straightforward and simple. So I decided to get this done for me because either I am a very considerate person and I want to make things easy for my executor or I have a passionate need to control everything even from beyond the grave. You decide.

The Neptune Society rep came out to the house and I signed a great many multiform papers and received the yellow copy and a temporary card to carry in my wallet in case I died in the next ten days and they wanted to know where to toss me. She explained I’d only receive the pink copy and the permanent plastic card after payment was received. Bureaucracy, even surreal bureaucracy, is always the same. I also got a bunch of extra paperwork explaining everything, including four sheets of A4 paper with the California Code regarding funerals and cremation in 4 pt. type. I have not read this but if anyone wants it, I have it. I assumed the next thing would be the envelope with pinks and plastic which I would file and forget. I checked all this crap off my to-do list.

Today I found this carton outside my gate. Not a box or an envelope. A carton. Inside was:

PRE-NEED KIT CONTENTS (people, there is an inventory list and here it is word for word)

  • Protective Foam Sheet
  • Removable Foam Tray Insert
  • Velvet Memento Tray
    • Glass tea light holder and candle
    • “Forever Loved” keepsake for family (cremated remains compartment is located on the bottom)
    • Closure plug, bag and twist tie
    • Box of thank you cards for memorial follow up
  • Cremation Planning and Information Book
  • Urn
  • Memory Chest (with photo frame holder)

Obviously, in the twenty or so years since Bob and I had done this there has been a certain amount of feature creep, as in when you have a nice piece of functional software and they keep adding ‘improvements’ until the thing is unworkable and unusable. Thank god I didn’t pre-order a rosewood casket with brass handles and a pink lining is all I can say. John Donne may have kept his shroud in the corner of his office but, frankly, I have enough to dust around here already.

I returned to the stack of paperwork and discovered I’d paid $1,338.00 for this tosh and,yes indeed, it said I’d get it pre-death (as it were). So I called the sales rep who explained it was part of the package and if I paid piece by piece it would actually cost more to just pick up my dead body, transport it to the crematory, burn it, and return the ashes to my executor in a plastic bag. I told her I planned to toss the entire thing in the recycle. She suggested I donate it to the VFW or the Salvation Army and take the entire amount off my taxes.

Well. Ahem. Not what I was planning but okay. The alternate was to cancel the entire contract and let my poor executor battle it out. It’s possible to get a cheaper cremation going with a funeral parlor directly but there’s those pesky transport fees which, as I know from my own past experience as an executor for a friend, can be a nightmare. So I’m keeping the contract, donating the crapola, and returning to my original strategy of file-and-forget.

Mingo — Guilt, Grief, and The End

This will be a short post. I’ve put it off for six weeks, because I couldn’t bear to write it. But it’s not getting any easier, so I might as well do it and get it over with.

As most of you already know, Mingo’s gone. I let him out into the yard in the early evening on June 27th and he never came back. I don’t know whether he managed to get under the fence or climbed over — I think he left voluntarily, but something happened and he never came back.

I’ve been torturing myself daily, hourly, with horrible scenarios of him being lost, starving, trapped, tortured, dying. It’s not getting easier.

Almost worse than all that is the guilt: I should have put up a cat-proof fence. I didn’t. I’m not really sorry I let him out, because he was so happy to be outside. He loved it. He stopped tormenting the other cats. But I should have found the money and put up the fence. It’s my fault he’s gone.

Ming’s the first cat I’ve lost in 20 years. My actual outside cat, Goldie, lived in the garage and yard (and all over the neighborhood) for seventeen years and died in the yard of a heart attack. My other two stay within the fence and my Siamese is 18 years old. But Mingo was, as you all know, independent and aggressive and self-willed and ballsy. It took him over the fence and away.

I miss him. The house is so empty, despite the other two cats. I miss him so much.

Do Not Read This If You Are Fond Of Mice

Yes indeedy, Mingo is now the Great Hunter. Mercifully he is not bringing his prey back to the lair, i.e. my living room or worse, my closet. He passed me on the deck at a fast trot with a tiny foot and a bit of tail hanging from his mouth. It was either a mouse or a lizard but I did not investigate.

Unfortunately, Squeaky DID try to bring the prey back to the lair and I stopped him just in time, took it away from him, and gave it a funeral. The corpse was long dead and (sorry) eviscerated, and I suspect it was Ming’s leavings. Squeaky was extremely bereft and howled for his mousie for half an hour. I hardened my heart.

Mice are only cute to people who have never had an infestation of mice in the house, so I’m not too fussed. Nor do I worry about the lizards. Part of me wishes the damn banana slugs would move fast enough to interest Ming, but the saner part of me thinks about a slime-covered Ming and shudders. Getting bits of twig, seeds, and weeds out of his fur is hard enough. I’m not sure how I’d handle slime.

Everyone says “What a beautiful cat!” but getting repeat volunteers to restrain him while I comb the trash and mats out of his fur is another thing entirely. Once is generally more than enough, because his fur is very thick, his skin is loose, and he’s extremely strong. He’s able to twist around and bite hard, all the while making the pitiful chirps and tiny mewps of a tortured kitten. Nerves of steel and good gloves required. Actually, nerves of steel and gloves of steel would be best.

Pre-Mingo, I was toying with the idea of a bird feeder on the deck. I’m so happy I never followed through. With all the cat activity the local birds have declared the yard a plague zone which is sad but safe. A crow or two stop by to make rude comments from upper branches — Ming hasn’t take to tree climbing, probably because the redwoods and firs are so damn big and vertical and the branches don’t start until twenty feet off the ground. Or at least, he hasn’t taken to tree climbing YET.

I keep Ming in the house after dark. I get him inside by running the can opener. He’s nice and exhausted from a hard day of patrolling the yard. I feed him, he naps, and when he wakes he’s reasonably civilized and hardly bites anyone at all. When he wants something he leaps on my chest (whether or not it is occupied by another cat) and gazes deeply into my eyes. The photo below is not enlarged or cropped. I wedged the iPhone between my chin and Ming and pressed the button.

 

Mingo and the Decline In My Living Standards

Mingo’s 9 months old and he weighs 12 lbs. He’s the same weight as Squeaky, but a completely different silhouette. Squeaky is rounded and, well, cat-shaped. Ming is rectangular, like a furry shoebox. With an 18 inch tail.

Since he’s been spending most of his days outside, at his own request, life for me and Rainy has calmed down. We can take a nap without being harassed by a bored Ming trying to dig us out from under the quilt. (He doesn’t want to join us, he wants us to entertain him. I’m relatively polite; Rainy snarls.)

Life for Squeaky has changed too, or rather Squeaky has changed. Ming goes out, so Squeaky — for the first time in 15 years — demands to go outside too. Of course, once he is out he has no idea what to do once he’s there, so he howls to get back in. Then he realizes he’s in and Mingo is out, so he howls to go back out. This gets old, and the old person in charge of the door yells at him.

I don’t have a cat door currently. I’m still trying to keep track of who’s in and who’s out. Plus I’m attempting to cat-proof the yard so Mingo and Squeaky stay inside the fence. This is a joke. The fence is 5 feet high. Ming is a climber and eventually it will occur to him to simply go over it. As several people have pointed out, they make cat-proof fencing, but as I am still in the swamp of house remodeling and I spent far too much money last year on boring fence repair, I’m resisting paying for this.

Besides, after yesterday I’m fairly sure it wouldn’t work. Ming found a hole in the old section of wire fencing and was bouncing around the driveway. I corralled him and devoted an hour to patching the hole with chicken wire. When I let him out again he bee-lined back to the hole and ran smack into the chicken wire. I expected him to turn away. Instead, he tried to get through again. When he couldn’t, he stared at it in outrage. Then he tried to BITE HIS WAY THROUGH THE CHICKEN WIRE. This cat is awe-inspiring, and that’s not a compliment. He’s awe-inspiring in same way other catastrophes of nature inspire awe: tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes.

My living standards have dropped. Ming sheds hair in drifts, sort of instant dust bunnies (cat bunnies?)  and I refuse to vacuum this house every day. I’ve become accustomed to batting Ming’s tail away from my toothbrush, the sinks, and any food I try to prepare. He loves brussels sprouts and sticks his nose under the knife when I’m using the cutting board, so I give him a bit to chew on. Sometime this past year I lost the rule of “no cats on the countertop or the table”, also, “no giving cats human food”. It’s now second nature to check on his whereabouts before turning my back on a plate of food, and he’s really fast.

I keep all the cats in at night because of predators. After he eats, Ming has this habit of jumping on my chest, staring into my eyes, and pressing his paws against my throat. It would be endearing, except I suspect he’s checking the location of my jugular vein in case he feels peckish.

It’s Deja Kitten, All Over Again (Part 2)

Have I mentioned that I do not do well on sleep deprivation? Well, I’m mentioning it now.

Last night was a horrid combo of alternating insomnia and nightmares, punctuated by sporadic bathroom visits to feed the kitten. Apparently my subconscious, that sneaky thing, decided the alarm wasn’t going to go off and so I would lie there for an hour staring at nothing and then be jolted awake by bad dreams. I’d check the clock and realize I’d slept for twenty minutes. And repeat.

At 5:30 am, after a 4 am kitten feed, Squeaky and Mingo decided to have a battle in the living room. Many yowls, punctuated by a heavy body hitting the floor. Repeatedly. I didn’t go look. The human brain can only take so much. I decided either they were both fine (win) or one of them was dead and I’d have fewer vet bills (win) or one of them was gravely injured. In that case I already had a vet appointment in a few hours and I’d just tack one more on. (win) They were both in perfect heath when I crawled out of bed.

By the time the vet appoint was nigh, I’d decided my kitten fostering days — and probably my kitten days — were over. The vet greeted me cheerily with “Hello, Sucker!” Score a point for her.

Anyway, the kitten is male, about 4 weeks old, and healthy. He does not have feline leukemia: I paid for the test even though we were discussing fostering possibilities because some foster programs aren’t funded for it.

The vet called the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter and determined that they had a kitten fosterer available. I had absolutely no idea they had this program, nor that young healthy kittens are in great demand. Mingo never mentioned this during his younger or bottle-feeding days. Clearly, he knew a good thing when he saw it. Also, so did the vet. (Hello, Sucker!) And of course he’s gotten his claws so deeply into the household — he has his own blog for fuck’s sake — I’ll never get rid of him now.

So I filled out the paperwork and kitten (who remained deliberately nameless because I may be sleep-deprived but I’m not idiotic enough to give a name to a kitten I’m abandoning) was carried off by a cooing crowd of shelter workers. (“How cute! How sweet! Look at his eyes!”)

Now I know what to do the next time a stray kitten crosses my path, or is dumped on my doorstep, or even mews in my general direction.

I’m sure all my loyal readers are disappointed not to have Mingo vs. Kitten posts for the next six months. Since I didn’t have a thundering line of you volunteering to bottle-feed and squeeze out kitten poop every four hours, I say the hell with all of you. I’m going back to bed.

 

 

It’s Deja Kitten, All Over Again (Part 1)

Okay. Deep breath.

Last night I received a series of texts from my yard person, the same yard person who gave me Mingo. I was confused, because she was texting photos of Ming as a kitten.

Except of course she wasn’t. She’d found ANOTHER too-young feral kitten by her house. This woman, who reads this blog by the way, appears to be a kitten magnet. Stray cats attach themselves to her bod. And she detaches them and give them to me. More thoughts on this process flow later, but here’s a hint: I’m against this as a life plan.

So we determined, via text, that the kitten was a bit bigger than Mingo had been, probably older, and seemed in better condition. Also, it was drinking goat’s milk and nibbling tuna, so no massive urgency. It was, by the way, past midnight. I told her to keep the kitten warm and feed it in the night. Like Lord Voldemort in Goblet of Fire and it’s a shame she hasn’t read those books. Because that makes her Wormtail.

Bright and on time this morning, she shows up with kitten, who is by my best guess about 3 weeks old. Eyes open and walking. But still very young. I called my wonderful veterinary practice, the Boulder Creek Veterinary Clinic, and my vet the great Dr. Kathy Gerrity won’t be in until tomorrow Saturday. So I made an appointment for the kitten, and the practice assistants gave me some donated kitten formula.

Back at the house I bathed the kitten, who seemed to enjoy warm water with a little Dawn dish soap, blew it dry with my hairdryer, and combed it for fleas. No fleas? So far, no fleas. Also no maggots and its tongue is pink, so it has blood. If you remember, Mingo had a plethora of the first two and none of the last. Then I fed it formula via bottle, and set it up with a hot pad covered by towels in a cat carrier in the bathroom.

(Annoyed aside: why the fuck would you manufacture and sell a hot pad that shuts off automatically after an hour? It’s useless. I dumped it and resurrected my old hot pad, which has worked reliably for the past twenty years.)

Of course, the Big Question: Am I planning to keep this kitten? NO NO NO NO I plan to find it a good home, assuming it survives my bathroom, doesn’t have kitty leukemia, and doesn’t drop dead from mysterious kitten ailments. This is a small house, I already have three cats, or two normal cats and Mingo, who should count as two. My cat care budget is already extreme, so NO.

NO I SAY.

Obviously, I made a mistake assuming Mingo was a one off. What I should have in place is a list of people and agencies to call, in the event this continues to happen. I will start on that tomorrow.

What I don’t know about the kitten includes age, sex, medical conditions, etc. Tomorrow I should know a bit more, so that will the exciting Part 2 of this post.

PS: I am on the wine.

Oh, and by the way: Does anyone want a kitten?

 

Mingo: Corrupting Older Cats Since 2017

I haven’t posted much about my two other cats so far. This is The Chronicles of Mingo after all, not the Chronicles of Mary’s Cats.

However, as Dumbledore would say, ‘Recent events must be taken into account.’

Ming’s overwhelming thrust to go outside has inspired my sixteen-year-old black cat to do the same. Mingo went out and Squeaky followed him like the little sycophant he is. Never mind that Mingo is barely 9 months old. He’s a leader and Squeaky is a doormat.  Squeaky has always been a talker, but he’s previously confined it to general remarks upon entering a room, leaving a room, walking around aimlessly in a room, and howling at the top of his lungs when it’s time for his pill. I can’t explain this last bit; I’m merely reporting. Now he howls to go out, and once he is out, howls and howls in general. I let him in; he howls at the door to go out again. Luckily my closest neighbor has this obnoxious barking dog so he can’t complain, or if he does complain I can laugh at him. Besides the howling cat there’s me shrieking SHUT UP! at the top of my lungs. And grabbing the water pistol. It’s a thrill a minute around here.

To say that Squeaky is chicken-hearted is a libel on chickens, who I am sure are very brave. For the first thirteen years of his life he was effectively invisible to everyone except Bob and me. Other people were clearly Cat Murderers. Now, with contractors and friends in and out of the house, Squeaky has accepted that some strangers, a selected few, may not be real Cat Murderers. Perhaps. And even more strange, he’s sitting in my lap for brief periods. I do feel sad that my husband isn’t around to see this, because he spent years coaxing this cat to sit in his lap. Squeaky made it plain that laps were full of Cat Mincers and he was having none of it.

We put him outside once. Our previous cats had all gone outside as a matter of course, but Squeaky panicked. He literally beat on the door with his fists to get back inside and hid in the closet for hours. So we let him be an inside cat and he was perfectly happy. He wouldn’t even peek outside the door. But whatever Ming said to him (probably something like “Dude! You gotta go outside!”) has changed his personality completely. Now I have to figure out a way to have Mingo tell him to shut up.

Rainy, my soon-to-be eighteen year old Siamese has always gone out in a civilized and sedate manner: 15 minutes on the deck, a fast patrol of the garage, a brief trip under the deck for biological reasons, and she’s ready to come in and nap. Mingo hasn’t changed that at all, although she was a bit pissed off the first few times she encountered him out there. (“Is nothing sacred around here?”) No, the behavior mod from Rainy is different. She was on my lap, I was petting her. The tv was on and I stopped petting her.

She bit me.

I pill Rainy twice a day. I stick a needle in her three time a week. I cut her nails. She doesn’t care for any of these things but over the years she’s never bitten me. She mutters under her breath, she yowls that Siamese tone of Very Annoyed, but bite? Nope.

She didn’t break the skin; it was more like “Hey! Pay attention to me!” I have become extremely familiar with this sort of bite, because Guess Who does it all the time. And I suppose he’s done it to her, so she did it to me.

Thanks, Ming. Thanks a bunch.

Please Don’t Eat The Chihuahua

Mingo’s had an interesting week.

One of my neighbors brought over his chihuahua. This dog has been raised with cats, but he only weighs about 6 lbs. and he wasn’t thrilled to meet this huge, furry, aggressive monster. Add to this his heartless, cruel, sadistic** owner dropping his leash and you have the situation below. Poor Pepe kept making little whimpering sounds.

**Adjectives can be altered after proper payment is received.

My stress level, and the stress level of my other cats, has been greatly reduced since Ming started going outside. He’s attacking them less, so they are able to catch up on their nap schedules and he’s bugging me less so I can catch up on MY nap schedule. My friend Kay, a superior cat person, gifted Mingo with a tracking device on a collar. I turn it on, it beeps and points at him. He’s astonishingly hard to locate without this especially since he likes to lurk under the deck.

However, I’m not letting him go out after dark because our neighborhood hosts a local mountain lion, or several mountain lions depending on whom you talk to, and they are more active at night. We’ve also seen coyotes, ditto, and even with a fenced yard pets have been known to vanish.

Unfortunately, (and why do I frequently begin sentences with that word? I can’t imagine) Ming is very fast. I rarely go to bed before 1 am and I opened the door to go to the garage and WHAM he was past me and out into the yard. So I cursed and turned on all the outside lights and gave him some time. But at 2 am I really wanted to go to sleep, so I armed myself with the tracker, a flashlight, and a bit of chicken to entice the damned beast back into the house.

The tracker found him, no problem. But I couldn’t get within grabbing distance, even with the chicken, and he had a fine time letting me get close and FLIT he was off down the yard, under the deck, around and around. Please visualize: it is 2 am, I’m wearing my nightie, my bathrobe, and my fuzzy slippers, stumbling up and down the yard stairs, and waving chicken. Not to mention calling “Ming! Ming!” and probably waking up the neighborhood. Thank god I didn’t name him ‘Karma’ or ‘Horny’.

I gave up, went inside, and shut all the lights off. Then I went to bed.

Pre-dawn, roughly 5:30 am, I got up. I stumbled to the door and turned on the outside lights.

Mingo trotted up the yard stairs, along the sidewalk, and into the house. He wasn’t running — he made that perfectly clear — but he certainly wasn’t sauntering either. He looked a bit…subdued. I ignored suggestions from the other cats that I serve early breakfast, locked the bedroom door, and went back to sleep.

The following night Ming showed absolutely no interest in nocturnal travel. You’d have thought the doors were solid bits of wall.

Of course, this didn’t last. He made a serious escape effort last night, but I thwarted him. ‘Thwarting’ is done by grabbing his scruff with two hands and pulling hard backwards. And it’s going to get harder as he gets bigger.

Bad News: His feet are growing again.

 

Watch Out, World, Mingo’s Out

I let Mingo go outside from pure self-defense. He’s pushing 12 lbs. in weight, he has an endless supply of energy, curiosity, and limited common sense. He’s like a four-year-old. (This might be a libel on four-year-olds. If so, my apologies.)

In the last few days, he’s climbed inside the dishwasher twice, attempted to climb inside a hot oven, and persists in trying to crawl into plastic bags. Back in the fall, I’d had to ask the contractors not to leave plastic drop cloths around since he would roll up in them like a furry burrito and I was worried he’d smother. All those old dry cleaner bags with dire warns of Death By Suffocation— I used to think they were funny. I emptied a plastic bag of broccoli, turned away for one minute, turned back, and the empty bag was full of Ming. He’s all over the countertop when I’m in the kitchen so either I keep an eye on him every bloody goddamn minute or lock him away in the back room. He really wants to stick his nose into a lit burner (what is that funny blue flame?), plus he doesn’t have any awareness of where his tail is and drapes it negligently over the stove, the chopping board, and plates. I’m now accustomed to washing dishes with Ming head-down in the sink. He simply sticks his head under the water faucet, no problem, although he’s not fond of being squirted with the water pistol and hides when he sees it. (Watching him attempt to hide behind the coffee pot is very funny, because in common with Rainy he thinks if he can’t see me I can’t see him. So the coffee pot is surrounded by fur, but he’s invisible.)

What really tipped the scales was his constant harassment of the other cats. They are trying to nap, because old, and Ming is pushing them out of their beds. I know he’s trying to play, or play/fight, and they do cooperate a bit, but it was turning into constant battles and now Mingo is using his increasing weight to push them around.

So I let him outside and I have to tell you: this is one happy cat. So far he’s sticking around the deck and smelling every bush, leaf, and twig. Under the deck is Rainy’s favorite hangout when she’s out, and Ming loves it under there. Lots of dark nooks to explore.

I live in a very remote area; there is little traffic, and my entire yard is fenced. I’m sure if Ming decides to go outside the yard he can achieve this — there’s no way I can make the yard into a total cat enclosure. And I don’t have a cat door because I don’t let any cat roam at night. But I let him out for a few hours yesterday, checking on him frequently, and again this morning. He appears when I call his name; he doesn’t exactly come to me because that’s demeaning for a cat. I dragged him inside after lunch (Nooooooo, put me DOWN!) and he’s passed out at the top of the cat scratching post. He’s actually tired out. I didn’t think that was possible.

 

How Much To Feed A Maine Coon Kitten?

When you Google “How much to feed a Maine Coon kitten?” you don’t get answers. What you get is miscellaneous posts of plaintive owners asking the same question. Because the short and accurate answer is “Lots”. Or, as we say in the Coon Verse, a fuck-ton.

As of today, Mingo weighs 11.2 lbs. I bought a cat scale for several reasons. One, because weight loss is an important early warning sign of trouble in my two NORMAL cats, and two, because I’m fascinated with how fast he’s growing. And how big he’s getting. Maybe a more accurate word would be ‘terrified’.

Less than a week ago, he weighed 10.2 lbs. My Siamese cat weighed 10.6. He’s not even eight months old. He’s gained a pound in less than a week. Maine Coons can continue to grow until two years old.

I feed my cats canned tuna and dry kibble. The adults get fed tuna morning and evening; the dry kibble, with lots of water back, is out all day. Back in the calm peaceful days Before Kitten, I was going through much less than a 5 oz. can a day — Rainy the Siamese is a picky eater and sometimes ignores the tuna completely. Keeping it unspoiled was a problem, because they don’t like it cold, but leaving it out of the refrigerator once opened is a bad idea.

This is no longer a problem.

Mingo is going through 2.5 oz of tuna each morning and evening, plus he gets another full meal at midnight because still growing. I add in dry kitten kibble on the vet’s recommendation. Plus he scarfs up whatever Squeaky leaves in his bowl and he’s transitioning to eating the adults’ dry kibble. It’s disappearing at a much faster rate and I don’t think it’s elves. So that’s two plus cans a day for all three cats, plus dry kibble.

I’ve always bought tuna in 10-packs. Now I’m ordering the 10-packs four at a time via Amazon. Yes, I know I can get cases of tuna, but not so far in the brand and variety Rainy will eat. When I say ‘picky’ I mean picky. I’m working on it.

So that’s how much a Maine Coon kitten eats. Now you know.