People Who Like Cats vs. Cat People

I used to have a cat named Richard. Richard was insane.

No, really, he was insane.

I had to leave him at the vet overnight for blood work. I warned the vet technician, “He’s a bit difficult to deal with.” She poo-poo’d me. Everyone thinks their cat is a special wild snowflake. Back up and let the professionals deal with your “wild” cat.

Ok then. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The next time I dropped him off for blood work the receptionist called out the alarm to the rest of the staff, “It’s Richard! Richard is here!” The vet technician appeared, face intent and focused, wearing heavy leather gloves that went up to her elbow. She stuck a piece of masking tape that read “DANGER!” on Richard’s carrying case.

Respect. That’s the word for it. They finally showed some Respect.

When we’d go away on vacation we tried to hire young adventurers to feed Richard: you know, people who juggle balls of fire or bungee jump. They all turned us down. Too risky. My mother-in-law was forced to feed him. She would arrive armed with a cookie baking sheet as a shield against the hissing, puffed up Richard. You’d think he’d be grateful for the food but if there was ever an animal to bite the hand that feeds it, it was Richard.

One day my dad visited and had let down his guard. Big mistake. He walked through our narrow hallway within cat-arm’s length of Richard’s claws. Richard was immediately affronted and quick as a viper, slapped my dad’s leg as he walked by. My dad was wearing jeans but Richard’s swipe was strong enough to draw blood through the jeans.

And let me tell you something. There are people who like cats and then there are Cat People. Here’s the difference between people who like cats and Cat People:

My dad immediately apologized to Richard for upsetting him and then rhapsodized about how strong Richard was. “That’s a strong cat! He managed to draw blood through my jeans! What an animal!”

Richard died a few years ago. Diabetic shock. We were all pretty upset.

But now we have Cat and just two days ago we got Myles. Cat came to us declawed, but Myles has his claws. After playing with Myles, Boy12 came up to me bleeding on the thumb and said, “Poor little Myles. I was playing with him and he scratched me.”

An hour or so later Boy9 comes up to me, a scratch on his hand, “I was playing with sweet little Myles. I’ll have to be more careful next time.”

Cat People adore the cats who torment them and take all the blame for any bloodshed. Cat People don’t hit cats or toss them outside if they get a little scratch. Cat people unconditionally love their terrible sweeties and recognize their awesome magnificence.

No, the relationship between cats and Cat People is not a healthy one, people, but one little purr and it’s all worth it.

Presents for the Boys in the Pet Department and Elephant “Elephant Gifts”

It’s that time of year again: shopping for Christmas presents for the boys in the pet department.

Why in the pet department?

Because Boy8 asked for teeny-tiny stuffed animals for Christmas this year.  See, for a few glorious years some brilliant toy maker sold teeny-tiny stuffed animals that could easily fit in the palm of your hand with room to spare.  Teeny-tiny lions and teeny-tiny dogs and teeny-tiny horses.  They were adorable and Boy11 and Boy8 loved them.

When Boy8 asked for another one this year for Christmas I had a bad feeling that teeny-tiny stuffed animals were a passed fad and I was right.  I’ve scoured 3 different stores with nary a teeny-tiny stuffed animal to be found, not even in the kryptonite pink girl aisles.   Yes, kryptonite.  They haven’t done it much lately, but whenever the boys used to pass the pink aisles of the toy store they would drop to the floor and crawl past clutching at their throats and gasping out, “It’s…pink…kryptonite!  Gaaa!”

So, with no teeny-tiny stuffed animals to be found in the toy department I was forced to head to the pet department and get those teeny-tiny mice filled with catnip.  Surely some Ritalin will counteract the hyper effects of the catnip and everything will even out…right?

Along with buying my sons’ presents from the pet department, I had to drum up an “elephant gift” for a cookie exchange I’m going to tomorrow.  The same thing happened last year.  I went to the cookie exchange and had to bring an “elephant gift.”  I wasn’t exactly sure what an “elephant gift” was, so I found a quite hideous elephant with a clock in its stomach lurking in a corner of my attic and took it to the exchange.  Turns out the woman who won it was delighted with it and keeps it proudly displayed on a shelf in her living room.  The other women breathed a sigh of relief that they dodged getting the elephant gift from me.

But what the other women don’t know is that I have an extensive elephant figurine collection in boxes in my attic.  No, I’m serious.  I really do.  My mother decided I needed to collect something so she started sending me lots and lots of elephants.  I used to fill the furniture of my house with them, but after a while I got bored with them and boxed them all up and stuffed them in the attic.

I just remembered about 20 minutes ago that I was supposed to bring another “elephant gift” for tomorrow.  Five minutes later I came down from the (freezing) attic with my offering for this year.  It’s brass and is a little tarnished, but it’ll do.  Obviously they secretly want me to bring elephants or they wouldn’t ask for more “elephant gifts.”

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Taken in the bathroom on the toilet. The elephant was on the toilet, not me. Why are bathrooms the only decently lit rooms in the house? Aren’t we all tired of pictures taken in bathrooms?

But just so I wasn’t totally lame, I also tossed in some very nice Christmas ornaments that I found in the (freezing) attic as well.

And now off to make a last batch of cookies for the cookie exchange and to wrap my elephant gift.  If you’re coming to the exchange and pick up a bag that feels heavy enough to hold a big brass elephant, pick another bag.  You’ve been warned.

Woman vs Ant

We have new pets: ants.

Usually our pet ants are feral ants that come in through cracks around the kitchen window.  This causes Darling Husband to launch into his yearly prepared speech entitled, “Don’t leave any food on the kitchen counters.”   Oh, and heaven help us if the ants are found in the playroom which is where Boy10 likes to eat yogurt in the morning.  If there are ants in the playroom the yearly prepared speech becomes the yearly prepared rant,  “No food in the play room! I mean it!”  (Anybody want a peanut?)

But our new ants are not feral ants.  There are pet mail order ants from Russia.  My friend, Pam, bought Boy10 an ant farm for Christmas but we had to wait for the weather to warm up to get our mail order ants.

Our ant farm is an Uncle Milton ant farm with NASA engineered green space gel.  Really—it has NASA engineered green space gel.  A number of years ago scientists wanted to study the effects of zero gravity on ants so they sent a regular sand ant farm up into space.  All of the astronauts were pretty excited about the ant farm and said they’d always wanted one when they were a kid, but their moms wouldn’t let them keep bugs in the house.  The astronauts promised and promised the scientists that they’d feed and walk the ants every day.  But, of course, they didn’t.

All the ants died, the astronauts had to come back down to earth, and the scientists had to figure out how to send ants into space without having to rely on unreliable astronauts.  So they invented green space gel for the next batch of space-bound ants.  The ants can both tunnel in this special NASA engineered green space gel as well as eat and drink it.

Only…they don’t.

It started off well enough.  The ants arrived in the mail and, as instructed, we put the tube of ants in the fridge (not freezer) for 15 minutes to slow them down.  They’re harvester ants and are easily excitable and will bite you if they feel threatened.  And they always feel threatened.  But if you put them in the fridge they get so depressed at the cold that they’ll just lie there like little lumps when you pour them into the ant farm.

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We dumped the depressed ants in the farm and after an hour or so, they thawed and began merrily digging tunnels.  All was going well.

But two days later, they stopped digging.  They clumped together in a creepy ant-ball and wouldn’t do anything.  I left them that way for a couple of days thinking they might be tired from all their work and were taking an extended nap, but it was starting to get pretty depressing, for me and the ants.  I’m thinking, “Why did they have to be mail order ants from Russia?  They’re always getting depressed.”

I thought they needed a pick-me-up, so I doused a cotton ball with some vodka and popped it into the ant farm.  Ok, ok.  It wasn’t really vodka.  It was water, because maybe they weren’t smart enough to eat their NASA engineered green space gel and were getting thirsty.  I also gave them a bit of an orange.

They ran to the orange and ate it and then they all clumped together on top of the wet cotton ball and refused to move.

I gave them more food and water.

Too much water.  Some of the water had dribbled into their tunnels and the floors of the tunnels had a little layer of water.  Just enough that the ants couldn’t go in there without getting their feet wet.  I considered boots, but not at 6 feet per ant.  But what was even worse, was that the wet gel became very soft.  If I tilted the ant farm, the gel would smoosh to the side.  There was no way the ants could tunnel in it.  It would be like trying to tunnel in pudding.  In fact, there was one smothered ant in a collapsed bit of the ruined NASA engineered green space gel.  The boys were a bit disturbed by the whole thing and so was I.

Something had to be done.  We headed to a store to buy a new ant farm.  But there were problems.  First, it couldn’t be a gel farm obviously.  It would have be a sand farm.  Second, how would we transfer the ants from one farm to the other?  See how the ant farm is big and round?  The opening at the top is as big and round as the entire farm.  You pop off the lid like a manhole cover.

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This picture was within half an hour of getting the ants while they were still thawing.

The sand ant farms had teeny-tiny skinny rectangular openings.  There was no way I could pick up 20 alarmed, snarling harvester ants and push them into a teeny-tiny skinny rectangular opening.  They’d just leap away and bite my arm.

In the end, we didn’t buy a new farm.  I decided to move the ants into some sort of big round-mouthed jar, clean out the gel, refill it with dirt, and then dump the ants back in.

It started off well enough.  I put the ant farm and an empty jar in the bathtub, to contain any escapees.  I used tweezers to pick up the cotton ball with the clump of ants on it and, bracing myself with horrified shrieking sounds, I quickly dropped the cotton ball into the jar.

Why the shrieking?  Because it was horrifying.  Holding a soggy cotton ball covered with a clump of angry red ants is creepy.  It just is.  One of them tried to run up the tweezers and fling itself onto me and rip out my throat.

And, much to my great dismay, I didn’t get all the ants.  As soon as I had opened the lid, the ants got all excited and started dashing around the farm.  So while I got a bunch of the slower ones who were still on the cotton ball, there were still a good half of them dashing about the farm.  And now they were fighting mad.

From their point of view, their brother ants had just been abducted, most likely by aliens.  I witnessed a few today-we-celebrate-our-independence-day speeches and determined come-back-with-your-shield-or-on-it instructions from the ants to each other as they prepared for death in their mighty battle against the alien.

Unbeknownst to the ants, I was most certainly more afraid of them than they were of me.  While I had absolutely no intention of biting them, they were sharpening their fangs in preparation to bite me.  Not a fair fight at all.

Darling Husband came in to see what all the hullabaloo was about and I told him I had no idea what to do with the ants that were running around inside the farm.

Without a lot of fanfare, Darling Husband picked up the ant farm and carefully, so as not to let the gel pour out, tapped the ant farm against the jar until all of the angry ants had been tumbled into the jar.

I scooped the gel out of the farm and put in some dirt.  We dumped all the ants back into the farm and they quite merrily set about making tunnels again.  It’s been about two weeks since then and the ants are still busily tunneling in their dirt farm.

Moral of the story:  take care of your pets.  If only those astronauts had fed and walked their ants no one would have had to invent that goofy NASA engineered green space gel that doesn’t work and I wouldn’t have had to wrangle with angry ants or write blogs about it.

Death by Potato Masher, Dust is Healthy, and Dogs Toot

So I was at Karen’s house today.

“Who is Karen?” you are wondering. “The Lizard has never talked about Karen.”

That’s because I don’t know Karen very well.  She goes to my church and we became Facebook friends, but other than a “Hi Karen,” “Hi Jackie” at church, we’ve not talked much.

But Karen is an amazing CVS shopper who buys $80,000 worth of stuff for a nickel.  She offered a class to teach how she gets the $80,000 worth of stuff for a nickel.  I decided to go.

Got directions to her house and pulled up beside it.  Well, pulled up beside the carriage house.  Carriage house?  Yup.  Carriage house.

And peered past the summer kitchen.  Summer kitchen?  Yup.  Summer kitchen.

Walked to the front of the house and peeked inside the glass door to see a hallway brimming with woodwork.  There was an old staircase with built in bookcases at the top and a hardwood hallway with rooms coming off the sides.   Oh, rapture.  It was a Gorgeous Old Home (GOH) and not one of those nasty UNHs.  (Ugly New House.)

Karen told me her GOH was built somewhere between 1875 and 1880.  Dreamy sigh.

This was going to be a problem.  See, I don’t know Karen very well and it would have been nice to give her some sort of eye contact.  But that was impossible under the circumstances.  I tried, I really tried, but in the end I succumbed to gawking at the house and wiping drool off my chin.

Take a look at her potato masher.

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That’s a great potato masher, isn’t it?  It has a right angle to it.  Perfect for nabbing things off of too-high shelves.  Unless you also nab your mugs which break in the fall.  See those green mugs?  They’re grieving the loss of their brother cups who didn’t make it.

Karen said, “We have some old cameras if you want to take their picture.”  Did they ever have old cameras.  Fifteen or so gorgeous old timey cameras. I love old timey stuff.  I could wander around in antique stores for days, sleeping on the rope beds at night and living off of the dust on the books.  Almost like in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

And speaking of dust, see this picture?

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Pretty boring, huh?  There’s nothing of interest for your eye to fall on, so it wanders around the picture and gets bored.

But if you crop and darken the darks a bit, your eye has something to look at.  And see how the dust on the camera really stands out.

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Isn’t that some awesome dust?  Doesn’t it just make the picture so much better?  It gives you a sense of age. Karen was a good sport that I took pictures of her dust.  Dust adds character to GOHs.  A little bit of dust is healthy.

And speaking of Basil, she has a little dog named Basil.  I wondered, “Basil Fawlty?”  Yup.

I’m not particularly a dog person, but her little dog was very sweet.  Let’s have fun with before and after pictures of Basil.

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Note the distracting paper on the couch across the room that looks like it’s coming out of Basil’s muzzle. And the coupons on the table.  And my knee.

Gone!  And colors made richer.

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Poor little guy is going bald.  I really like his holey sweater.  It adds lots of texture.

Unedited of a close up of Basil at a very slightly different angle:

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Edited–removed that thing by his muzzle again and again, made the colors richer.  When I made the darks dark, the pillow on the couch disappeared into the shadows.  Now Basil is the complete focus of the picture.  I like the pink of the blanket across the room from him, though.  Adds just a little bit of interest, but not enough to distract from Basil.

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Basil sat on my lap through the entire lesson and I do have to say, I wish they’d stop feeding that poor dog beans.

No More Pets

Today my heart hurts and I have found myself incapable of humor.

Yes, the mouse died, but why does it hurt this much?  It was just a mouse.  We rarely even held her because she always peed on us and it was stinky and we’d have to change our clothes.

Sarah Jane has been slowly declining, and today she took a swift turn for the worst.  I called the vet and made an appointment to have her put to sleep.  I couldn’t stand watching her misery for another day without doing something about it.  By this afternoon, her legs weren’t responding, and she kept trying to move, but couldn’t.  About an hour before the appointment, I could tell that it was time.

I picked her up and held her tiny little mouse self in my hand and she peed on me.  And then she went into convulsions and died.  It looked very painful.  Before all the convulsing started, I’d called to Boy10 to come say goodbye to her, and he called to Boy7.  I wish he hadn’t.  Boy7 had specifically said he didn’t want to go to the vet to see her die, and just as Boy7 arrived, the convulsing started.  It was terribly disturbing to watch.  Boy7 was very upset.  Frankly, so was I.

I don’t believe the weight of sadness that I’m feeling is from the one mouse.  I believe it’s the cumulative effect of watching 8 pets die in agony.  Why can’t they go gentle into that good night?  Why do they always have to go into diabetic shock, or have kidney failure, or heart attacks?  Their bodies get wasted, their fur gets thin and dirty, they spasm and they die with no dignity.

I loved each and every one of them, and watched each and every one of them die in misery.

I used to love having pets.  I grew up in a house with eight indoor cats and three hyper dogs and two cannibalistic gerbils and I loved them all.  And I loved being a person who loved pets.  It was a large part of my identity.

And now…no more pets.  I will not go through this a ninth time.

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Picture of the day.  The boys wanted a picture to remember Sarah Jane by.

Saying Good-Bye to Pets

This is the pet store.  We got some medicine from there today because the mice are sick.

They were sick a few months ago, but they got better with the medicine.  But about 2 weeks ago, they got sick again.  The pet store had a different medicine, and it didn’t help.  Now that they have the original medicine available, I’m hoping this cures them.

I’m a bit nervous about how sick they are.  I have had five pet cats and I’ve had to take all five of them to the vet to have them put to sleep.

For Catherine, there was an unfortunate miscommunication.  I intended on holding her while she died.  The vet didn’t understand.  He said he would take her back and get her ready, and did I want to hold her afterwards?  I said yes, meaning that after she was injected, I would hold her until she was dead.  I sat in the waiting room and heard Catherine give an angry yowl.  A bright-eyed, chatty woman was sitting there too, and piped up, “So, what’s your pet here for?”  Honestly, I didn’t want to crush the poor woman, but as soon as I answered, “To die,” I burst into noisy, blubbery, shoulder shaking tears.  That poor woman.  She must have felt like such a heel.

When I went back into the room and my sweet Catherine was already dead, all I could think about was her yowling as the poisons were injected into her and the fact that she was alone, wondering why I’d left her with the vet who was killing her.

I held her little body and it seemed to weigh more than normal.  Usually when I held her, she would press her little body against me and put her fuzzy arms around my neck.  But this time, she just dangled there.  Dead weight.  I felt so hollow.  It took months before I could walk into the apartment without bracing myself.  It was empty without her.

For the other four cats, I made sure to hold them as they died.  It is heart-wrenching and painful, but the pain of knowing Catherine’s last few minutes were alone and terrifying was worse.

They fight against the injections.  They are scared and don’t want to be at the vet.  You hold them and tell them it will be all right, but it won’t.  Because you know they have every reason to be scared.  This time, they really will die.  I couldn’t let them face that alone.

The moment of Peter’s death, his body gave a shudder, and he was gone.

Sophie and Clara got more and more still and I wasn’t sure of the exact moment when they were gone.

Richard went into a diabetic coma and never fully came out.  I found him at the bottom of the basement steps, lying on his side. I thought he was already dead, but when I said his name, he rolled his eyes at me.  It was all he could move on his own.  I don’t know how many hours he had been lying there, unable to move.  I carried him to the vet.  I didn’t know whether or not he was in pain.  His poor body was so far gone they wouldn’t have been able to fix him.  Instead of letting him linger any longer, unable to move, I let them end his life.

I can’t imagine holding a person while they die.  I’ve learned enough by now to know that there are some things that you think you can imagine, but when it actually happens, you realize the experience is unimaginable until you’ve lived it.  This is one of those things.  I know that I truly can’t imagine holding a person while they die.

All this to say; I hope the medicine works.  I wish I’d never gotten these mice.  Not because I don’t love them, but because I do.  Even though these are mice that we’ve only had a year and a half, and not the cats who I loved and cared for for 14 years, I still love them.   When we got them I fooled myself into believing that the mice would die peacefully in their sleep from old age and wouldn’t get sick.

Not everyone who reads this will understand.  I have a number of friends who never understood my love for my cats.  They certainly don’t understand my love for the mice.  They’re just mice after all.

They might not understand me, but I don’t understand them.  No, I don’t love the cats more than the people in my life, and I don’t love the mice as much as I loved the cats, but it’s still love.  And it still hurts to see the mice hunched over and having trouble breathing and knowing they’re in pain and that they could die.

It’s certainly not as all-encompassing as loving or  losing a human, and I would never even suggest that it is, but does every bit of love have to be ocean-deep in order to be called love?   And does every bit of sadness have to be soul-wrenching in order to be called sadness?