Archives for posts with tag: Cats

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I grew up in a semi-rural area, which was really the suburbs. But my parents had acreage and our neighbors had horses, goats, cows, and of course there was Louie who had 200 pigeons. Ourselves, we had a lot of animals, too. I remember when we got our first kittens, Tom, George, and Fred. Tom was an orange tabby who grew up to be a true alpha tom cat. He got into fights and was often bruised. Bumping into one of Tom’s sores was the shortest way to getting assaulted by his razor sharp claws. I’m not exaggerating, either. He once drew blood when he scratched my arm while I was wearing a winter coat. George was a cute gray cat and that’s all I remember.

Fred, as I recall was a black and white cat. One of the early discoveries about Fred was that she was female. Kitties, even litter mates, live a soap opera existence. And our cats were not spayed or neutered. To make a long story short, before long our tribe of three cats expanded to a family tree with may inbred branches. My mom may deny this in the comments’ section but at the highest number, we had 21 cats. You might ask how this could happen but these were outdoor cats and we lived in the woods. Cats go back to being feral really fast.

I remember one of our feral females who had litters and litters of kittens. We called her appropriately enough, “Mama Cat”. Mama Cat would have her kittens in the woods or behind the wood pile. If she had them behind the wood pile, we had a chance. A kitten behind the wood pile might be tamed. We used yarn hanging from the end of a stick. We would throw the yarn to the back of the pile and then pull it out gently as the kitten snagged it with his/her claws. Repeat 150 times and we had ourselves a pet! If not tamed while a kitten, the cat would just be a feral creature who could only be lured into close proximity with the sound of a bag of Little Friskies cat food being hauled from the front door to the feeding trough (a metal baking pan) next to our barn. But even so, those cats would eat but would not socialize with us. They were truly wild animals.

When our daughter was three, we found a sweet little stray adolescent tabby kitten. We tried but were unable to find the owner. Given that he was a stray in eastern Washington, he was probably abandoned there. Ollie became part of our family. And then when he was three years old, he went kind of nutty and paranoid. For whatever reason, his whole world view changed. He was  like a cat returning from a tour of duty in the middle east who had PTSD. Ollie was aggressive to visitors and responded to the many cats who roamed our neighborhood by marking our house. And he did this for years, despite the behavioral interventions and his medication. (He took fluoxetine, the generic form of Prozac, for the record. I joked at home that I was going to write an autobiography, And Even the Cat Took Prozac.)

Ollie got really nervous at times and he was unpredictable. The only thing we knew is that if anyone outside of the immediate family was visiting, he might have one of his paranoid anxiety attacks with hissing, biting, and scratching. He could be scary. Ollie was also an alpha tom, or would have been, had we let him be an outdoor cat. He was enormous. There were a couple of folks who fancied themselves “cat whisperers” and tried to get in his face, despite our warnings not to do so. They got hissed at and scratched. When Ollie was panicked like this, even we couldn’t touch him.

After he had settled down a little, I could help him calm down more by placing my nose on his. This is a calming behavior for cats as long as they are not freaking out. They can be soothed by this very close contact if they are just a bit on edge. It is important to know the signs of cat anxiety and arousal before going nose to nose with a cat, especially an unfortunately mentally ill one like our Ollie. (And by the way, the veterinarians still talk about him, even the ones who never saw him as a patient. His legend lives on at the Lien Animal Clinic.)

It occurred to me the other day that dealing with negative emotions the ones that roil and churn in our guts and our hearts is a tricky business. Sometimes we can’t go nose to nose with then until we calm the Hell down a little. Focusing on them can become a rumination, a hopeless, helpless funk, or a tirade. At those times, we need a little distance. But if we distance ourselves from our painful emotions for too long, they take on a life of their own. They become feral and seemingly impossible to tame. And they are truly painful, especially at first, to confront after a long absence of distraction and denial.

Cats give signals when they need space. Their tails twitch. They climb onto high surfaces to make themselves bigger. If you miss those cues, they will up the volume by sending a low hiss and standing their fur on end. And they will flatten their ears. Do not go nose to nose with a cat with these signals! Give them some time.

We all have our own signals and as for myself, I have used life experience and more recently, mindfulness to identify times when I am too raw to go nose to nose with my thoughts and feelings and need to do something to get myself back into control like deep breathing, walking, or getting myself into the woods. Then I can start going nose to nose with myself. And I can stand myself and my feelings at these times.

I may never be a cat whisperer but I have gone many years without getting scratched going nose to nose with a kitty. Maybe I can keep learning how to do the same getting up close and personal with myself.

Ollie, sunning himself on the deck. He was pretty sick and weak by this time, but still finding enjoyment.

Ollie, sunning himself on the deck. He was pretty sick and weak by this time, but still finding enjoyment. He died a few weeks after this photo was taken. He was a beautiful boy and we loved him.

I was looking through the photos on my phone when I ran across this one:

Ollie, enjoying a sunny spring day, out on the deck.

Ollie, enjoying a sunny spring day, out on the deck.

 

This photo was taken just a couple of weeks before he became very obviously ill. He was greatly enjoying the new deck. He his tail does look narrower toward the base. Ollie had been pulling out his own fur, something he’d never done before. I don’t know if this was related to the metastatic cancer or whether it was coincidental.

Ollie was an indoor cat up until last April. We live near a major street and I was afraid that he would be run over by a car. The rest of my family felt differently. We loved him but he had a lot of anxiety problems, which resulted in his spraying all over our house for years. And no, our house does not smell like cat pee but it has taken a lot of work  to keep it from getting that way. He was also aggressive to visitors though the sweetest cat to us. Ollie had a lot of personality but I know that other families may have taken him on a long drive to the country or euthanized him. I am not a person who always wants to have a pet. I had held off for years before meeting Ollie in Eastern Washington. He was a stray, adorable, and I didn’t want him to be coyote food. My stance is that once we committed to having a pet, we committed all of the way. When someone rather pointedly asked why we didn’t get rid of him, I said, “We don’t kick members of our family out for mental illness.” Little did the person who made the comment know that this policy was also working in his/her favor.

While I was home from TRAM surgery, I must admit that the first time Ollie pooped on our bed, it was less than charming. He did it again only a few days later. I remember letting go of the fear of trying to protect him from everything at all costs. I relented, “Okay, we can let Ollie go outside,” I told my husband. Being an old cat, Ollie stayed pretty close to home. He mostly stayed on the deck or sat on the stair railing on the front of the house.

Miraculously, as my husband had predicted all of these years, Ollie stopped spraying. He acted much less anxious. My husband was right. I was wrong. (I figured that once he got a whiff of all of those other cat smells out there, he would get even more paranoid.)

However, as I described in a recent post, Ollie was killed by a car. And this was only two months after I’d agreed that he could start going outside of the house. So I was right, too.

But when I look at this picture of our beloved pet sunning himself, I can help but think we did the right thing. We didn’t know it at the time, but his body was full of cancer and he would soon stop eating and fall over every time he tried to jump up onto a table, because he no longer had the strength that he had had only a couple of weeks before.

We were both right. Yes, that can actually happen in a marriage.

After yesterday, John was needing a laugh. So I showed him this hilarious youtube video, Sad Cat Diary. He loved it and it was another way to celebrate the life of our cat because there are so many truths about their unique behavior described in the video. The video was all over Facebook so you may have already viewed it. If you haven’t, check it out. It’s well worth viewing.

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