Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Different Kind of Cat

After Sammy Cat died, I didn't really know what to expect with this new little bundle of fur who had found his way into my apartment.  Part of me felt guilty:  I was still mourning Sammy and I knew that I would never love another cat the way I loved her.  Winston was adorable-- and lovable-- but he just wasn't Sammy.  Of course, as anyone who has lost a pet and adopted a subsequent one knows, it's true:  You never love two pets the same way.  This is why pets are good for us, because the prepare us for life with humans, too.  Winston was no Sammy, but I came to discover that Sammy was no Winston.  

Samantha was the Queen of All She Surveyed.  She was the epitome of royalty, a beautiful, elegant seal-point Siamese with hyacinth-blue eyes that looked like crackle glass.  She was stunning, and if you weren't sure, you only had to ask her.  SHE thought that she was gorgeous!

Winston was so different.  Yes, he was a male, obviously, and he was still a kitten (five months old, but still a kitten), but it was clear from the beginning that his personality was just... different.  

Whatever Samantha did, she looked like she meant to do it.  Fall off the furniture?  I meant to do that.  On one of his first days in my apartment, Winston was bathing himself on the ottoman and simply lost track of where he was and fell right off the edge-- boom!  He looked around, startled to find himself in a different place.  But rather than shrug it off with an "I meant to do that" attitude, I could almost see him shrug his shoulders and say, "Whoops!  I fell!"  then immediately he resumed his bath on the floor, where he had landed.  

If Samantha was a Queen, Winston was the Court Jester.  Not a regal bone in his body.

Similarly, while Samantha enjoyed being picked up and would frequently climb into my lap for cuddles, she would only allow herself to be held certain ways, and NEVER on her back (as my veterinarian discovered once to the amusement of me and the vet tech).  When I picked Winston up, he would go limp, the Amazing Jello Cat!  I could cradle him on his back like a baby and he would purr and put his paw on my cheek.  He would climb up on my chest and tuck his head under my chin, then give me upper-cut head butts.  But his greatest trick was his dismount.  He would lay in my arms on his back, stretching his front paws out over his head and looking down.  I would slightly tilt him and shift his weight, and he would pour out of my arms, backwards and head first, then land on the ground first with his front paws, then his back.  I called it Pouring Out the Kitty, and he did it his whole life, even when he weighed 18 lbs.

Kaos will sort of let me do that, too, but he's the only other cat I've met who tolerates being poured.

The other thing I had to adjust to was deliberate disobedience.

Whenever I caught Sammy getting ready to do something she wasn't supposed to do-- say, eat a plant-- all I had to do was say her name, "Sammy Cat..."  She would then begin an elaborate charade of carefully sniffing the plant, the pot, the rug under the plant, and would eventually look at me with a wounded expression, as if to say, "I was just admiring this beautiful plant.  How dare you accuse me of eating it!  I know I'm not supposed to do that!"  Then she would casually saunter away, biding her time until I wasn't looking.

Winston was completely different.  If I saw him getting ready to eat a plant, I could say, "Winston!" and he would look at me then go right back to eating the plant.  His expression was more, "Want me to stop?  Make me!"  No cat is totally obedient (hah! no kidding!), but Samantha at least had the decency to pretend to obey when I was LOOKING RIGHT AT HER and she KNEW it!  Not so with Winston.  He would look at me and push something off of a shelf, maintaining eye contact the whole time.  Little twerp.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Winston Comes Home

My first cat after I left home was a beautiful seal-point Siamese that I adopted in law school named Samantha (aka, Sammy Cat or Slammy Cat). One of her most notable eccentricities was that she HATED other cats. With a passion! She would sit on the balcony of my apartment and growl at other cats sitting on their balconies, and on the rare occasion she actually encountered another cat, she would react with the Banshee Scream From Hell and scare the bejeebers out of them. Truly obnoxious.

Sammy Cat died after a bout with a nasty form of cancer and I was devastated. A co-worker whom I knew bred and showed cats had been kindly following the saga (it was 8 months from her diagnosis 'til her death) and had offered support throughout. She saw me a week or so after Sammy's death and stopped me to express her condolences. I told her that as much as I missed Sammy, I was going to have to get another cat soon because my apartment was way too quiet, and coming home to an empty apartment was just worse.

Janet paused and looked thoughtful. Finally, she said, "I normally wouldn't offer a cat to someone who had just lost their beloved pet, but I have a unique situation." Janet was getting ready to get married, and she was marrying another cat breeder that she had met on the show circuit, so they were going to be combining catteries. Between them, including pets, kittens and everything they had almost 40 cats, so they were looking to thin the herd! They had agreed that they were not going to keep any more kittens that they couldn't sell-- they had to find homes for cats who were not already household pets.

She went on to explain that she had this one kitten... he was five months old and all of his littermates had been placed. The folks on her "kitten list" didn't really want him because his markings were very poor. She said that he was a very sweet boy, very social, and from a litter from one of her favorite cats, a melanistic (black-on-black) girl. I asked her what kind of cat he was and she said, "A Bengal. Specifically, he's a seal-lynx point, or snow leopard Bengal." My first thought was, "What's a Bengal?" I had to go back to my office and look them up on the Internet to see what she was talking about.

The next morning, Janet played a very dirty trick. She left two Polaroids of this adorable kitten on my desk! He looked for all the world like a lynx-point Siamese: A cream colored cat with tabby markings on his face, ears, feet and tail. As it turns out, that was the problem: He was supposed to have spots on his body, and he didn't. He looked like this:

Now, I ask you, was this fair?

Cut to a year or so later. Winston was driving me crazy. He was certainly fun and lovable and incredibly goofy, but he CRAVED attention! From the time I got home he was Velcro-Kitty: Every time I sat down he was in my lap. He wanted to play all of the time, and we would play fetch with his furry toys for half and hour at a time. Winston was always a Night Crawler, so after I went to bed, he'd be up and around, getting bored, and he'd start to bring me toys. I would wake up surrounded by cat toys-- mice, fur balls, pom-poms, even his fishing toys with the long sticks! When he really wanted to get my attention, he'd dunk the soft toys in his water dish first then drop them on my bed. There's nothing like reaching over and finding a cold, wet, slimy fur toy right next to your pillow... If I still insisted on sleeping, he'd jump up on one of my dressers and start knocking things off until I yelled at him.

I was getting pretty exasperated and asked Janet and my vet what to do. They both had the same conclusion: Get another cat. Why on earth would I want to do that when the one was driving me insane??!! Janet explained that Winston had been raised in a house full of cats and was very social. He was lonely, and I was his only playmate. Get him a playmate and some of the neurotic behavior would cease. What sealed the deal was that my sister went out of town for 2-3 weeks and I kept her cat Ivan for her. Winston and Ivan were already friends (they were the same age), and Winston's behavior improved dramatically as soon as Ivan was there. After he left, the antics started up again. I was convinced.

I asked Janet if she had any more cats available. As it turns out, she did. She and her husband also did Bengal rescue and they had brought in a mother and kittens shortly before. They had all been placed, but when they came in they brought feline herpes virus with them, and two of Janet's kittens had gotten infected. The kittens would outgrown the virus (it's like a bad cold, but it lasts for several weeks or months), but she couldn't sell them because they had snotty, crusty noses and teary eyes and just didn't look healthy. She brought me: Cinnamon, a tiny brown spotted Bengal with the cutest turned-up nose you've ever seen.

I think Winston thought that I had brought him a pet, but he quickly discovered that even though she was a fraction of his size, she was clearly in charge. They remained best buddies until his untimely death in 2007.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Moment Has Come

Thoughts on an amazing, historic day.

The weather in DC was beautiful-- cold as all get out, but clear and sunny. The crowds, which are IMMENSE, are good humored and well-behaved. I understand the pull. It’s one of those events that in years to come, it would be fun to say, “I was there!” But personally, I enjoyed watching CNN’s telecast on the flat screen TV in the Newly Redecorated Lunch Room at our office, sipping coffee and comfortably seated. Apparently a woman fell onto the Metro tracks, but her injuries are, and I quote, not life-threatening.

The views of the Mall were just unbelievable: Solid people from the Capitol building all the way back and around the Washington Monument. There were even people sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial!

Aretha Franklin's hat was... amazing.

The John Williams air on Simple Gifts was amazing (shout out to Karen D!). Of course, it's hard to go wrong with Itzhak Perlman and Yo Yo Ma.

How sad that the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court messed up the oath of office. I guess he didn’t want to split the infinitive, but, Mr. Strict Constructionist, one should not edit the Constitution, even for sound grammatical reasons. :-) Obama hesitated, and you could almost see his dilemma: Do I repeat what he just said, or do I say the oath the correct way? I actually feel sorry for Chief Justice Roberts: What a way to blow your moment in the spotlight!

Great speech, not surprisingly. I especially enjoyed when President Obama (love typing that!) got to the part in his speech about how we will not succeed by our power alone, and the cameras cut to Former President Shrub. If a camera cut can be pointed, that one was!

Malia and Sasha were adorable. Michelle's chartreuse outfit was fabulous, and I was amused to see Malia recording her dad's speech on her digital camera. It appeared to be a Flip!.

How much fun to watch!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Bengals Gone Wild

BikerDude and I were lounging around the living room the other night watching the playoffs on TV and watching our two Bengal Boys wrestling. Kaos tried to escape Razor by jumping onto the coffee table, but he only succeeded in clearing it of an empty plate, a stack of mail and a dish containing random change and small objects. A few minutes later, Razor abandoned his attempts to eviscerate his brother and jumped on top of the TV and tried to nonchalantly step over onto the mantle. I said his name, so he withdrew... and promptly fell off of the TV, taking our three NetFlix DVDs with him. BikerDude opined that of the many ways in which we are compatible, how many people would find our Bengals' antics funny and not immediately send the little buggers packing to the shelter?

For those who are not acquainted with the Bengal breed, they are a designer breed of cat that have become disturbingly popular in recent years. The original goal of the breed was to produce domestic cats who look like wild cats. This is accomplished by cross breeding a small wild cat-- Asian Leopard Cats, a small jungle cat found in Indonesia and Thailand and thereabouts-- with a domestic cat. Bengals have to be at least four generations removed from a wild ancestor to be considered a Bengal-- everything prior to that is considered a hybrid or foundation generation cat. They are domestic cats. They are not wild cats. But they do retain some traits from their wild ancestors, not only their striking looks but also their athleticism.

I am always amused when I read something about Bengals and run across euphemisms like, "This is a high energy breed." Ha! No kidding! They are the Jack Russell Terriers of cat breeds. Anyone looking for a cat that will sleep quietly on the couch needs to look elsewhere-- Bengals are into everything. The tend to be very people-oriented, so they will likely be wherever you are, and they raise curiosity to an art form.

We got our two guys from Bengal Rescue last May. They were both about a year old at the time and came from very different backgrounds, but they had been together in the same foster home and played well together, so we got them both. They look nothing alike even though they are both brown marbles, and their personalities are very different, but we have discovered that in addition to playing well together, they also conspire. Working together, they first figured out how to get into the cabinet where I kept their dry food, eventually breaking the toddler latch. Yes, they figured out how to work toddler latches, at least from the outside. They let themselves into the cabinets, but sometimes get stuck and one of us has to let them out.

Since they were making such a mess of the cabinet by spilling kitty crunchies all over it, I bought a food locker from PetSmart:

Razor quickly figured out how to pry the door open (even though it snaps shut--he has long, monkey fingers instead of toes), so we started to find a cat butt sticking out of the food locker while happy munching sounds echoed in the kitchen. I retaliated by putting a small screwdriver through the tab in the top of the door (it's made so that you can put in a lock or a latch). That took him about 24 hours to figure out. I've stopped bothering because he just walks up to the locker, smacks the screwdriver out of the hole, flips open the door and starts eating, even though these are the exact same crunchies that are in the bowl not three feet away. Apparently kitty crunchies taste better if you hunt and kill them yourself. Next step is a padlock, although I wouldn't be surprised to see Razor with a little set of lock picks.

Here's a photo of the little delinquents. They are, from left to right, Cinnamon, Razor and Kaos:

Friday, January 2, 2009


Well, we knew that this day would come, but it came quicker than we expected.  BikerDude and I took Patches to the vet this morning and had her put to sleep.  A sucky way to start the new year, to be sure, but without a doubt the right thing to do.

The night before last, after we went to bed and were watching TV, she started wandering around the room and crying like she didn't know where she was.  We took her into bed with us and she eventually settled down and started purring, enjoying all of the attention, but she still acted like she couldn't see, and she was very unsteady on her feet.  She slept all day yesterday, but last night BikerDude found her in the basement.  She had wandered into a tipped over (empty) trash can and couldn't figure out how to get out.  He brought her upstairs and she spent the entire evening in our laps.  At some point when I was holding her, she settled down like she was going to sleep, but I told BikerDude that I thought she had lost consciousness.  She never really regained it.

We put her in a carrier last night just to keep the other cats from pestering her and to keep her from wandering around (although that didn't seem likely, it was a horrifying idea).  This morning she was clearly unconscious, but still breathing.  Barely.  I had called the vet last night and told them we were bringing her in first thing when they opened at 8:00, so we just wrapped her in a towel and took her up there.  The vet didn't arrive until 8:30, which they apologized for, but once he did it was quick and peaceful.  He confirmed what we suspected:  That the cancer had gotten to her brain.  He said the symptoms were textbook.

Poor baby.  She didn't deserve that.  But she had a very good life right up until the end.  We are going to miss her horribly, though.

This is the part about having pets that just SUCKS!

I'm glad we've got the other circus monkeys to come home to.  Cuddling another warm, furry, purry body in these circumstances definitely helps.  

BikerDude got Patches in California when she was just a kitten.  A little girl outside of a Target had a box of kittens that she was giving away, and Patches was the smallest one with the brightest eyes and most inquisitive personality.  She and BikerDude immediately bonded, and even though he had ostensibly gotten her for MonkeyChild, who was four at the time, they both say that it was quickly apparent that she had adopted HIM.  Everyone else was second place, at best.  They already had a big black male cat named Honey, and she proceeded to harass Honey to within an inch of his life.  

She never got to be more than about six pounds.  For the first three years, they couldn't get her spayed because she never weighed enough.  They finally had to deliberately fatten her up to get her over the weight limit so that they could do the surgery.  You'd never know it from looking at her, though.  With her, it was never about size, it was all about attitude!

More than anything, she loved to be held.  And she was determined.  BikerDude used to mess with her by rolling over while she was laying on top of him.  No matter how he rolled, she would log-roll with him and stay on top.  Finally, she would get disgusted with him and give him a fussy little "Me-yowp!" that rather clearly translated into, "Knock that shit off!"

When BikerDude and I were planning our wedding, we moved his cats into my house a few months in advance so that (a) my two and his two could get used to each other and (b) we wouldn't have to deal with introducing cats at the same time that we were moving him and MonkeyChild in.  The day we brought her in, she got out of the carrier, began to sniff around, and clearly decided, "This will do nicely."  Despite the fact that one of my cats, Winston, was easily three times her size, she was in charge from the moment she came through the door.  For the most part, Winston deferred to her, but occasionally he would challenge her authority and she would, not to put too fine a point on it, kick his ass.  Finally, a trip to the vet to fix a scratched cornea (she never messed around in fights, but always went straight for the head shot) convinced him to maintain a respectful distance.  I think she secretly kind of liked the big goofball, though-- I would occasionally catch her grooming him when she didn't know anyone was looking.

By the time Tweak and then the two current Bengal Boys came into the picture, she was older, grumpier and, we now know, sicker, and she didn't have a lot of tolerance for their foolishness.  But she still ruled the roost and frequently beat the hell out of Tweak to make her Respect Her Authority.    Tweak was younger, bigger and stronger, but Patches was still in charge!  All six pounds of her.  Occasionally, we would come home to evidence of a hellacious battle-- tufts of fur everywhere, looking like they had finished off a good sized rat.  But we noticed that all of the scattered fur was always black and white, and Tweak was the one who kept  showing up with gashes on her face, a split ear, scabs on the top of her head, etc.  Patches never had a scratch on her.  One time in particular I watched a quick skirmish on the back of the blue chair.  It was loud and fast, but at the end, Tweak was huddled on the floor with her ears flattened and Patches was on the back of the chair.  While I watched, Patches went, "Phoo!" and spit out a chunk of black fur that floated to the ground.  Game, match, set.

We're going to miss you, Baby Girl.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

I love this time of year. I actually think I like New Year's more than I do Christmas in many ways. No stress, nothing to do, no expectations. I like taking down all of the Christmas decorations, packing them away, cleaning the house and generally getting a fresh start.

The weather has finally turned cold, but last week we had a couple of perfect winter days: Temperatures in the 50's, clear blue skies, light breezes. Everything looks so-- clean. The yard and gardens, the trees and plants all stripped bare of leaves... there's something about the light coming in at a low angle and making the shadows interesting and long. As much as I love the idea of the tropics, I would miss this if I were somewhere that never really got cold.

BikerDude has today off, too, so he's downstairs getting the woodstove going. We had a pretty tame New Year's-- a glass of champagne at midnight, watch the ball drop in Times Square and go to bed. He was going to shoot off some of his totally illegal fireworks, but with the high wind last night he decided that probably wasn't a great idea. Having to explain yourself to the police and the fire department is just not a good way to start things off.

It's going to be an interesting year. This is more than just a new administration. This feels different. I think we are at one of those Moments In History where the country shifts gears. The new leadership has come not a moment too soon-- after several years of false prosperity and eight years with an absolute vacuum of leadership, I think our country is ready to rethink a lot, and thank God we've had the wisdom to put someone into office who can lead us in a responsible way.

May you live in interesting times, indeed.