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Newt on the Lam

My father grew up on a farm in Israel and it would seem that when he moved to suburban New Jersey, he tried to recreate that experience.  Growing up we didn’t just have pets, we had a menagerie. Our household critters represented nearly every link in the food chain: fish, newts, parakeets, a parrot, 2 cats and 2 big dogs. Every animal was a natural enemy of the other. If left to their own devices, I’m sure there would have been problems, but regular feedings, attention and love were enough to maintain the delicate balance required to avoid a massacre.

Every once in a while we had a close call. On one memorable occasion, a parakeet flew the coop when we were cleaning his cage. Thrilled with his newfound freedom, he took off flying through the house. The cats chased the bird; the dogs chased the cats; two hysterical children chased the dogs; while the zookeeper, my mother, frantically followed behind hoping to prevent a tragedy. As birds are known to do, the parakeet eventually flew into the kitchen window, knocked himself unconscious and hit the floor with a thud. Before any of the humans could intervene, the nearest cat picked him up and ran under a bed. With some coaxing, the cat released the bird which came flying out from under the bed. My mom recaptured the parakeet from a curtain rod and put him back in his cage. Order was once again restored.

After that incident, I was very aware of the fragile nature of the ecosystem we had created in our home. Sometimes it was necessary to segregate the animals while we were playing with them. This was always the case when I wanted to play with my newts: Peanut and Dottie. Peanut was black with red marks on his or her belly. (I never did know the gender of my newts.) Dottie was green with three little red dots in a line on her back. Newts are not the cuddliest creatures in the animal kingdom, but they are amusing to play with. I would borrow my mom’s biggest Pyrex bowl, fill it with water then set it down on the floor. After shooing the cats and dogs from the room, I would remove Peanut and Dottie from their tank and put them in the bowl of water where they would swim and frolic. As I watched television, I would lift each of them out of the bowl and let them crawl around on my hands and legs. When I thought they might be drying out, I’d dunk them back in the bowl and let them swim around some more.

black newt photo

I don’t actually have a photo of Peanut, but this is what he looked like. Who wouldn’t love that face?

Peanut and Dottie lived luxuriously by salamander standards. They had a large tank with all the creature comforts a newt could want. I made a styrofoam raft for them to laze around on when they weren’t busy swimming in the water or crawling around on the rocks. They had regular meals and their tank was always clean. It was an ideal life for a newt, but Peanut had an adventurous spirit. One day when I woke up, Dottie was relaxing on the raft, but Peanut was missing. I got very upset and called for my parents. A search party was organized and we began looking for Peanut. In a two story house with wall to wall carpet, it was like looking for a needle in a shag covered haystack. Peanut couldn’t survive too long without being back in the water. Add to that the other animals that would have been happy to “play” with him and his chances of survival were grim.  After a few hours, we abandoned our search and held a memorial service for my beloved newt. I tried not to think about how Peanut might have died. It was just too upsetting.


Dottie was the less adventurous of my 2 newts. 

Several months later I was with a friend in our playroom downstairs. We were setting up a farm. I was making a corral while my friend sorted through a bucket of plastic animals separating farm animals from zoo animals. She pulled one out of the container and said, “This one is really cool! It looks like an alligator.”

I looked up from the work of setting up the farm and saw my friend holding what indeed did look like a small, black alligator. My eyes opened really wide and I grabbed the animal from her hands. I flipped it over onto its back and saw red spots on its belly. “That’s Peanut!” I shouted.

Clutching the dessicated, shriveled salamander, I ran to my parents to show them. “Look! We found Peanut!” I said thrusting my hand towards them. They took Peanut from me and did a cursory autopsy looking for bite marks or other obvious signs of trauma. There were none.

“Where did you find him?” they asked completely shocked and just a bit disgusted.

“He was in the toy box in a bucket of plastic animals. Maybe he thought those were his friends,” I said by way of an explanation.

“How on Earth did he evade the dogs and cats, make it down the stairs then scale the side of your toy box?” they wondered.

“If we put him back in the water, will that bring him back to life?” I asked hopefully, but I already knew the answer.

We solemnly walked to the bathroom to put Peanut back in the water and give him the proper burial at sea that he deserved.

Orange is the New Cat

Orange is the New Cat

Going into the pet store on a Saturday is always a risky endeavor. Rescue groups and their charges crowd the area just inside the entrance. There is no way to get to the food and supplies in the back of the store without walking past scores of adorable cats with hard luck stories and sad faces. Other than steering clear of pet stores on weekends, the only other strategy I have at my disposal is to walk quickly and avert my eyes. Sure, I’ve bumped into a few people and displays, but I’ve managed to avoid the woeful stares of the homeless pets.  As long as I don’t stop to pet anything, I can get in and out of the store without coming home with a furry family member or a guilt trip.

Oregano and I needed some pet supplies. Since it was late Saturday afternoon, the rescue groups were gone and we were able to safely maneuver through the store without having our heartstrings tugged. I grabbed cans of cat food and Oregano hoisted the 42 pound bag of litter into the cart.

“Is there anything else we need for the boys?” I asked surveying all the cat accoutrements in the aisle.

“Nope; just litter and cans of wet food. We’ve got everything else already,” he replied as he started navigating the cart to the cashier.

Our feet were not yet across the threshold of our home when Oregano exclaimed, “Crap! I forgot we needed dry food, too.”

After a brief discussion on the merits of remembering things like that prior to leaving the pet store and a calculation of how many days’ worth of dry food we had left, we decided we’d have to go back to the store the next day.

“Maybe we can get there early to avoid the rescue groups,” I suggested.

“You’ve made it through the pet store on weekends before. You can do it again,” he reminded me.

He was right. I’d been in the pet store lots of times on the weekends and I’d never come home with a cat. Maybe I had more willpower and common sense than I was giving myself credit for.

The next day we walked into a different pet store. There, in the center aisle, unavoidably placed, was a long row of crates filled with cats. A sad faced orange tabby caught my eye. I wandered over to him, scratched his forehead and read the bio taped to his crate. He was just a year old. It said he was very shy and needed a home with patient parents.

Keebler close up

Within a few minutes, a volunteer from the rescue group wandered over with a huge smile on her face. “Would you like me to open the cage so you can pet Keebler? His fur is very soft,” she said.

“Oh, no. That’s OK,” I said. “I was just reading his bio. I’m not looking to adopt a cat. We already have two cats at home. I noticed that it says he’s shy. Three years ago, we adopted one that was very shy. We named him Linus because he used to hide under blankets all the time.”

“Linus is a cute name. Is he still really shy?” she asked.

“Not anymore. He’s a total scam artist. He was just looking for the right suckers to lift up his blanket in the shelter. He looked sad and terrified, but after a few months with us, he became a lap cat who constantly craves our attention.”

“You sound like just the kind of parents Keebler needs,” she said.

Oregano saw me talking to the volunteer and walked over. “He’s another fraidy cat like Linus,” I said.

The volunteer opened the door to the crate. Without even realizing what I was doing, I reached in and began scratching Keebler’s back. He started to purr and arched his back into the air giving us the “elevator butt” salute.

The volunteer looked surprised. “He has never had that reaction with anyone else during these adoption days. He usually just cowers in his crate.”

“I’m sure you say that to all the prospective parents.”

She smiled, “I’m serious. He’s never reacted like this to anyone else.” She glanced at the other volunteer. “We believe the cats choose their parents.”

“I agree with you about that, but I’ve already been chosen twice. I’m not currently on the market,” I replied while still petting Keebler’s arched back.

Oregano chimed in, “He is an orange tabby. You’ve always wanted an orange tabby.” He wasn’t helping the situation.

“Really?!” said the volunteer sensing that she had two suckers on the hook.

“Today is Mother’s Day. He needs a mom.” She was really working this sales pitch.

“Wow! What do you do when you aren’t volunteering with the rescue group, sell used cars?” I asked.

She laughed, “No. I’ve made it my mission to find him a home. He’s been at the shelter for 8 months. Because he isn’t outgoing, he gets overlooked. He needs just the right home with patient parents who will give him time to come out of his shell. You two sound like you’d be the perfect family for him.”

“He’s cute, but we already have two cats. We don’t want to upset them by bringing in another cat,” I said, shutting the door to Keebler’s crate. “I have a rule that the cats shouldn’t outnumber the humans in a home. If they had thumbs and our credit cards, they’d stage a coup and lock us out of the house.”

Oregano had started petting Keebler through the crate. I saw the look on his face. The volunteer saw the look on his face. Then he spoke, “There’s really no reason why we couldn’t have three though. We have enough room. We helped Linus come out of his shell. We know what to do for Keebler.”

I glanced to my right, I think I saw the volunteer jumping up and down, but maybe that was my imagination.

I glared at Oregano. “Just because we helped Linus, doesn’t mean the same things will work for Keebler. We are not cat whisperers. We can talk about this while we get the dry food you forgot about yesterday.”

We thanked the volunteer, said goodbye to Keebler and walked away.

“We could totally do this,” said Oregano trying to convince me.

“No we can’t!” I said emphatically.“I’ve never had three cats. I don’t even know what the dynamic would be like. Who knows if they’ll even all get along? It’s always risky introducing a new cat,”

My resolve was weakening. I could feel logic, common sense and reasoning evaporate. Why did I stop and pet him? I know the rules. I looked at Oregano, “Let me text my friends who have three cats and see what they say about the logistics and dynamics when they brought their third cat home.”

My friends replied quickly. After reading their responses, I realized these were the wrong people to ask for guidance. When I looked up from my phone, Oregano was gone. I found him in the next aisle looking at litter boxes.

“What are you doing? We already have two perfectly good litter boxes.” I asked.

“We do, but we’re going to have three cats. We’ll need one more while Keebler gets adjusted to his new home,” he said sheepishly.

I stared at him in disbelief.

“What advice did your friends have?” he asked.

“They were not the least bit helpful. They wanted me to text them a picture and asked when they could come over to meet him,” I replied.

That did it. Oregano picked up the new litter box and started walking back to Keebler’s cage. “We haven’t made a decision yet. Where are you going?” I called after him.

“Yes, we have,” he responded over his shoulder as he kept walking. “I’ve wanted a third cat for years, but you’ve always said no. This is the first time you are even considering it, so I’m jumping on this opportunity before you change your mind.”

When we reached Keebler’s cage the volunteer we had spoken to earlier was jumping up and down and clapping. “I was really hoping you’d come back,” she practically squealed.

“We’re seriously thinking about it. Can I pet him again?” I asked.

She opened his crate and once again Keebler let me pet him and arched his back. I glanced across the top of the crate and saw the look on Oregano’s face.

“OK.” I conceded quietly. “It looks like he’s adopting us.”

At this point, both volunteers were ecstatic. They scurried around gathering applications, medical records and other papers. I sat down to fill out the application fully expecting that they would need to contact our vet and references. I was asking what day during the week we’d be able to come back and pick him up. The volunteers stopped moving around and looked at me. “You can take him home with you today,” they practically said in unison.

“Today?! We don’t have a carrier with us and he’s too big to fit in my purse. We can’t take him home today! We need to prepare the room for him.” I was starting to panic. I am not an impulsive shopper and definitely not when it comes to something that is a 15 year commitment.

“You don’t take credit cards. I don’t think we have enough cash for the adoption fee.” I was grabbing at straws.

Oregano stood there amused by my panicking as he reached into his pocket. “Actually, I happen to have enough cash with me, so that’s not an issue,” he said gleefully.

Holy crap! Were we really going to leave this pet store with a new family member? How did this happen? My heart was racing and I felt like I was going to throw up.

“You can borrow the carrier we brought him in today. Just bring it back to us. We’re here every weekend,” offered the volunteer.

“Oh, I see how you people operate,” I said. “Next week I bring back the empty carrier, fall in love with another furry orphan and wind up with a fourth cat. It’s a vicious circle.”

Oregano and the volunteers were laughing at me. “If you’re that worried about your newly developed lack of self-control, I’ll bring the carrier back next weekend without you.”

I pulled him aside, “Are we really doing this? We’re going home with a new cat?! Don’t you think we need to go home and beat this idea to death, overanalyze it for a few months, you know, like we usually do?”

“Yes. We’re really doing this.” He kissed my cheek and walked off to pay for the cat food and the new litter box.

When he returned we posed for a commemorative photo for the rescue group’s website then walked out to the car carrying Keebler in his borrowed traveling crate. On the drive home I glanced in the mirror and saw him curled up looking terrified. I’m pretty sure I looked terrified, too.

playing with my big brother

Linus immediately recognized a fellow fraidy cat and  welcomed his new, nervous brother.

A few days later, we took Keebler to the vet for a wellness exam. When our vet walked into the exam room and saw a cat that looked nothing like our other cats, she laughed, “What did you do?”

“Well, we went into the pet store to buy cat food and came home with a cat,” I explained.

She smiled, “That happens a lot more than you’d think.”

I looked over at Oregano and said, “Just to be on the safe side, we’d better order our cat food online from now on.”

Keebler seems happy and relaxed in his new home.

Keebler seems happy and relaxed in his new home.






He Who Shall Not Be Named

Choosing a name for another living creature is a challenge. While the thought of naming a child is daunting, there are at least some parameters to guide the choice. Perhaps there is a traditional family name handed down through generations. Maybe you’ll be naming the child after a cherished family member or friend. In any event, unless you are a celebrity trying to be trendy, you’ll be choosing a human name for your child. Naming a pet is an entirely different situation. Sure, you can use human names, but you don’t have to. You can choose any word you want without fear that the other pets in the neighborhood will tease your furry child about a strange name.

On the ride to Tabby’s Place, a cat sanctuary, to meet a cat named Oolong, Oregano and I began discussing potential names for the soon to be newest member of our family.

“Oolong is kind of cute,” I said, “but, I think it would be a better name for a Siamese cat, not a tabby. He’s only been Oolong since he arrived at Tabby’s Place six weeks ago. I doubt he’s attached to the name.”

Oregano agreed with me and suggested Earl Grey.

“I like the idea that we’re sticking with the tea theme, but that’s not going to work. We’ll wind up calling him Earl which makes me think of a moonshine sipping, banjo strumming man sitting on his porch somewhere deep in the Appalachians.” I said.

“That was pretty specific. Do you know someone named Earl?” he asked laughing at my reasoning. “We’ll wait until he decides if he wants to adopt us. If he does, we’ll see what his personality is like and then we’ll be able to figure out a name.” He sounded confident that we’d come up with the right name.

Oolong interviewing Oregano

Oolong begins the rigorous interviewing process with Oregano

When we entered the suite where Oolong was living, he came right over to us and immediately began the interviewing process by rubbing our legs. Once we were comfortably seated on the floor, he made sure to investigate both of us thoroughly by climbing into our laps. He tested our reactions by playing with toys. When he started purring, we knew we had been adopted.

On the ride home, Oolong sat quietly in the back seat while we resumed our naming discussion.

“We already have a cat named Linus. It might be fun to use another Peanuts character and name him Schroeder, Linus’s piano playing friend,” I suggested.

“I doubt he can play the piano,” Oregano said.

“Me, too, but it’s a cute idea to have Linus and Schroeder,” I said. “Let’s give it a day and see how we like it.”

Whatever name we choose, it must be a name we won’t mind saying a hundred times a day. I like to try it out in sample sentences I’m destined to say, “Schroeder, don’t drink out of the toilet.” “Get down from the top of the refrigerator, Schroeder.” “Schroeder just had a hairball. Whose turn is it to clean it up?

It was a weird name for a cat and didn’t even last for the full 24 hours. Back to the drawing board we went. We scrolled through lists and lists of baby names on-line. That wasn’t working. His markings and charm had an undefinable quality, so undefinable in fact that we weren’t able to name him.

Oregano noticed that the cat looked like he was wearing glasses. “Maybe we can think of a literary name for him,” he suggested.

And so we began searching on-line for famous literary cats. You’d be surprised how many cats are in literature, but their names were horrible!

When friends asked for the name of our new furry family member, I didn’t have an answer for them and kept referring to him as, “He who shall not be named.” This was how the characters in the Harry Potter books referred to the evil Voldemort, but our little tabby was definitely not evil. I tried to think of a way to make the name less threatening.

I approached Oregano with a new name suggestion, “How about Mortie?” I explained how I arrived at this name. “It’s literary and sounds cute.”

Does he look like a Mortie?

Does he look like a Mortie?

“Mortie? Hmm… sounds like some old Jewish guy in Florida with white shoes and a white belt. I’m not sure I like it,” he said crinkling his nose at the name, “but, we can try it out for 24 hours and see if it suits him.”

During the 24 hours of Mortie, Oregano brainstormed names that meant calm, peaceful and easy-going to match our new kitty’s personality. He compiled an eight page list as a Word document and presented it to me.

“Manfred?! Alastair?! Paxton?! Are you serious? They’re a bit pretentious for a tabby, don’t you think?  Those are names for a butler, not a cat,” I said in disgust as I continued flipping through the sheaf of papers he had handed me.

“Finn, Brodie and Zen?  Sounds like he is destined to become a professional surfer,” I said putting the kibosh on those names.

He's definitely not a Manfred, Alastair, Brodie or Calum!

He’s definitely not a Manfred, Alastair, Brodie or Calum!

“Yeah, some of those names don’t really work for a cat. I was just brainstorming and listing all the names I came across hoping one would work,” he admitted.

“Calum?! Wasn’t that Superman’s real name?” I asked.

“No. That was Kal-El,” he shook his head and continued, “Calum means dove – a symbol of peace. He’s a calm, peaceful cat. I thought it might work.”

I didn’t agree. The brainstorming continued and we began referring to our nameless cat as new guy.

Helpful friends called each day to ask the nombre du jour and offer suggestions. After four days and three different names, we were worried our little guy was going to develop an identity crisis. Oregano suggested using a funny old man name. Back to the baby name websites we went only this time we were searching for names that were popular 100 years ago.

Oregano looked up from the screen, “What about Otis?”

“Otis? You thought Mortie was bad, but you like Otis? Are we naming him after the elevator company, the singer or the Greek word for one who hears well?” I asked.

“Greek word? What? No. None of the above,” he just looks like an Otis.

“Exactly what makes him is Otis-esque?” I asked.

“Otis-esque. That’s not even a word.” He rolled his eyes at me.

“It’s not, but you know what I mean.” I needed to be convinced about the name Otis.

Just then, the cats came tearing through the room chasing each other at full speed. We both yelled, “Otis, stop chasing Linus.”

We looked at each other, “Yep, that works. Otis it is!”

Enough with the pictures already. I'm an Otis. Now let me get some sleep.

Enough with the pictures already. I’m an Otis. Now let me get some sleep.


Good Grief

Humor is the most effective coping method I have developed to deal with stressful situations. When that situation is sad, morbid humor is sometimes all that is left at my disposal. Anyone who has lost a pet knows that there is nothing funny about it. George Carlin said it best, “When you purchase a pet, you are buying a small tragedy.” We all know this going into the relationship, but we do it anyway.

When Oregano and I rushed our beloved 15-year-old cat, Sam, to the veterinary ER in the wee hours of the morning, we knew he wouldn’t be coming back home with us. The vet prepared the injections and said, “This first syringe has a sedative.”

I looked up at her, “Do you have any extra for the humans? Sam’s really calm right now, but we could both do with a little sedation.” I was trying to lighten the somber mood. Within seconds, Sam slipped away peacefully. Well, as peacefully as he could, what with our wracking sobs disturbing every creature with ears.

Sam trying to help us pack for a trip.

Sam trying to help us pack for a trip.

As we drove home from the animal hospital, it occurred to me that veterinary emergency rooms should also staff a medical doctor. It really makes perfect sense. Most humans who find themselves in the ER with their pets are consumed with worry or fear and would certainly benefit from some pharmaceutically assisted coping methods. There are probably all sorts of legal and medical complications that prevent this from actually happening. At a bare minimum, if prescription drugs aren’t available to the humans, the veterinary ERs can apply for a liquor license and employ a 24/7 bartender. Of course, driving home from the ER distraught and tipsy is a bad idea, so they would also need to run a taxi service.

I always wonder what is going through the mind of the surviving cat when we arrive home with an empty carrier. Is he thinking, “Holy shit! What happened to the other guy that lived here? They seemed to like him. What could he have done to be banished? I better crank up the cuteness factor or I may disappear next.”  Cats are intuitive. Linus realized we could benefit from some extra attention which he was more than happy to supply in exchange for some back scratches and brushing.

Not long after we arrived home, our friends and family began using all manner of electronic and human contact to offer their sympathies. There is no more empathetic group of people than other pet owners because we all know we’re going to be in the same position one day.

Later that afternoon, Oregano was checking emails and I was trying to distract myself with the voluminous weeds in my garden. When I came in to cool off and have a glass of iced tea, I walked past Oregano at the computer and noticed he was on the Petfinder website.

Stunned, I turned to him and said, “You’re already looking at other cats? There are still tissues wet with tears in the garbage can and you’re shopping for a new pet?!”

“Why not? We know we’re going to rescue another cat. I thought it would make me feel better to look and see which kitties are available for us to love,” he said trying to convince me. “You’re going to miss Sam and be sad no matter what. You can still do all of that while we give another kitty a loving home.”

Despite how awful I felt, I knew he was right. We’d be stupid enough to sign up for this kind of heartbreak again. I just wasn’t planning on shopping online the same day.

As he scrolled through pages and pages of adorable cats with sad, hard-luck stories I asked, “We haven’t finalized our wills yet have we?”

“Huh? Where did that question come from?” he asked me looking away from the screen with a quizzical look on his face.

“Well, I know we discussed do not resuscitate provisions in our wills, but I think I’m going to have to ask the lawyer to add a clause to that section,” I replied.

“What are you talking about?” He seemed really confused.

“I think you shouldn’t be allowed to have a smartphone or any internet access if I am on life support,” I said.

“What does this have to do with Sam’s death?” he asked.

“Sam just died. If you are already on Petfinder, I’m worried you’ll apply the same philosophy when I’m dying. I fear you’ll be sitting by my death-bed with one hand on the plug while the other hand is on the computer keyboard searching JDate or eHarmony for your next beloved wife. Call me crazy, but I think it would be tacky if you showed up at my funeral with a date.”

“I would never do that to you. I’d wait at least until after you were buried to start dating again,” he said sweetly.

“Jews are supposed to be buried the next day,” I said.

“Exactly. I’m willing to wait a day or two before I start dating.”

“Isn’t that a generous, thoughtful concession to make? You could combine my obituary with a personal ad for yourself and turn sitting shivah into a new type of speed dating. I’m such a sport; I’ll even help you write the obituary/personal ad.”

Paprika died leaving behind a cute husband with a great sense of humor who is now available for dating women between the ages of 30 and 60. In lieu of flowers, please send photographs and a brief description of yourself. All prospective dates must love cats.

We both laughed out loud for the first time all day. Like I said, sometimes morbid humor is all that is left, but it’s still humor.


Here’s a clip from George Carlin who applied the same philosophy when it comes to losing a beloved pet.

Much Ado about Poo

One of the many benefits of having cats is not having to walk behind them carrying a parcel of their poop. During snowstorms and rainstorms I can sit comfortably on my couch with my cat snuggled on my lap watching dog owners pass by holding their goody bags. Most people in my neighborhood are considerate about picking up their dog’s leftovers. But, when pet parents are irresponsible and don’t clean up after their dogs, what recourse does the public have?

In Madrid, citizens grew tired of the piles piling up on the sidewalks and in parks. At first, authorities tried a subtle approach as a gentle reminder to the dog owning public. They sent a motorized, plastic replica of dog poop roaming the area to remind people to clean up. The poop mobile only had marginal success so authorities went back to the drawing board to formulate a more effective plan.

I can only imagine what the conversations were like as they brainstormed a new plan. What the city finally settled on was hiring agents to act as poo police. It is their job to wander around the city in areas that are most affected and try to catch people brown-handed. These agents collect the abandoned poo, follow the owner of the creator of that poo then engage them in friendly conversation. During that chat, these defecation detectives casually find out the dog’s name and breed then use a city registry to locate the home of that dog. The poo is then packaged up and mailed back to the dog and its owner courtesy of the lost and found department. Included with the biological bounty is a note reminding the owner to be responsible lest they incur a fine the next time shit happens.

While I admire their creativity in solving this poo problem, I’m curious about a few things. What skills and previous job experience are required to land such a prestigious job as a poop collector? I’m imagining the interview for this position and can’t seem to think of a serious way to discuss this topic. How are the agents paid? By the pile? By weight? Is there an incentive program and bonus for the employee of the month? They managed to find 20 agents willing to do this dirty work, but once the poop is collected that brings to mind other questions regarding the second phase of this tough love dog owner re-education program – the mailing of the package. Do these agents hand deliver the care packages or are they mailed through the postal service? I know it gets hot in Madrid in the summer; hopefully they use some type of expedited delivery service given the perishable nature of the material being mailed. Exactly what type of packaging does one use to mail poop? A box? A bubble envelope? Sure, we can laugh about this, but according to the people keeping track of these things, inappropriate dog elimination has decreased dramatically since they began this program.

Here in the U.S., a community in northern Virginia has a more high tech method for those who poop and run. In addition to having dog licenses, this community has asked for a “sample” from each dog so that they can keep a DNA registry.  I’m sure this raises issues of privacy and infringement of the dog’s civil rights, but I’ll leave those for more scholarly legal minds to ponder. This community does not have authorized poop collecting agents like they do in Spain. Everyone is deputized to collect an offending pile which is then sent to a lab for DNA analysis. Once the analysis comes back, it is cross-referenced with the DNA database they created and the dog and owner are identified. According to my source, the offenders are fined and the board for the home owners’ association keeps those names on a list to be read aloud at meetings. I wonder if they refer to it as the shit list. As a teenager, when I was in trouble, my parents often told me I was on the shit list.  I thought they were kidding. I didn’t know that one really existed.

I’m all for public shaming of repeat offenders. Rather than being fined, these individuals should have to do community service cleaning up errant dog poop. It wouldn’t cost any money and it would solve the problem. As a taxpaying cat owner, I wonder how much money is being spent trying to rehabilitate these dog owners. While I don’t want to see, smell or step in these canine land mines, I don’t think it is fair for my tax dollars to be spent mailing poop back to irresponsible dog owners. We’re used to the government wasting our money on useless shit, but this is ridiculous.

Getting the Runaround

Adjusting to a new roommate is always tricky business. It doesn’t matter whether that roommate is human, feline or some other species. Every creature in the home has to learn each other’s habits and quirky behavior. Some take longer than others to adjust to new surroundings. When we brought home our cat, Sam, he marched out of his carrier and went straight for the basket of toys. He inspected them and looked back at us with a “this will do,” expression and settled in. When we adopted our cat, Linus, he dove under the nearest blanket the moment he was free from his carrier. We knew that his adjustment period would take a bit longer than Sam’s. With patience and love, Linus has learned that the world on the other side of the blankets isn’t as scary as it had been before he moved in with us.

After a long afternoon of playing, Linus likes to kick back and relax.

After a long afternoon of playing, Linus likes to kick back and relax.

When Linus first emerged from his hiding place, he kept a watchful eye on us from a safe distance. We wanted to hug and comfort this frightened kitty, but we let Linus dictate how much interaction he could tolerate. As each day passed, he learned that he was safe and got a bit braver. Within a month of his arrival, he was hopping into our laps for on-demand snuggles. It was then that we noticed a problem. Linus had breath that could peel wallpaper.

It was like his breath was an entity all to itself and it usually entered the room just ahead of him.We were thrilled that he was approaching us and didn’t want to discourage his friendly advances, but now that we were getting up close and personal, there was no way to avoid his horrendous halitosis.To compound the problem, Linus is a talker. He loves to sit in our laps and meow, giving us an earful and a noseful. It is difficult to fully express your love while holding your nose.

We tried to explain away his malodorous breath.  Perhaps his body was adjusting to his new food. Perhaps he needed a date with a dentist. I checked his scant medical records and saw that he had seen a veterinary dentist and had a teeth cleaning shortly before he came to live with us. Breath that bad could be an indicator of a serious health condition. Rather than trying to force feed Tic Tacs to our cat, Oregano and I decided that Linus needed to visit the vet. That’s when our troubles began.

In order to take the cat to the vet, we would need to pick up said cat. While Linus had gotten braver, all of our interactions were on his terms. Whenever we moved towards him, he would run in the opposite direction. Everyone knows the jokes about giving a cat a pill, but little is said about having to catch the cat to go to the vet to get those pills.  We tried using Linus’s favorite toy to lure him into the bathroom and into his waiting carrier. Very quickly, he became suspicious of our behavior and hid from us. Since he was completely unreachable and because we didn’t want to terrorize him, we canceled our vet appointment and rescheduled for another day. Oregano and I formulated a plan and after much meowing and scrambling, we got Linus to the vet.

The vet examined him and said the bad breath and a few other health issues were caused either by allergies or a virus that he was probably exposed to while living in a shelter with 200 other cats. She recommended giving him allergy medication for a week to see if the symptoms cleared up. In addition to the allergy medication, the vet gave us teeny, tiny tranquilizers to give to Linus before we attempted to bring him back for his next visit.

How on Earth were we going to give this cat medication when we couldn’t hold him?  Even under the best circumstances, giving a cat a pill is an exercise in patience, endurance and agility, but a prerequisite to accomplishing that task is actually holding onto the cat. If our experience getting Linus to the vet was any indication, this was not going to be an easy process for any of the participants. A blow dart with a tip laced in medication seemed like the best choice, but that option wasn’t available to us. We tried all sorts of tricks, but nothing was working. After numerous failed attempts, we called the vet for advice. She found us a pharmacy half way across the country that could make the medication into a tuna-flavored treat. Of course, Linus wouldn’t eat the very expensive medicinal treats. When we crushed up the treat and disguised it in the smelliest cat food money could buy, he finally ate it. After a month, we had managed to get a week’s worth of medication into Linus. Now, we just had to catch him to take him back to the vet for his recheck.

Armed with pharmaceutical assistance, Oregano and I were optimistic about our chances of successfully making it to the next vet appointment. As directed by the doctor, 45 minutes before our appointment we crushed up the tranquilizer and hid it in Linus’s favorite stinky food. He was leery of a mid day snack, so he avoided our offering. We walked away thinking that he might come back and eat without us hovering over him. As I left the kitchen, I asked Oregano to keep an eye on the food bowl. When I emerged from the laundry room five minutes later, I saw Sam walking away from the empty bowl licking his lips. Not only did we fail to slow Linus down so that we’d be able to catch him, the wrong cat had eaten the tranquilizer!

As the time for our appointment neared, we talked about our plan for wrangling an untranquilized Linus. Oregano thought he’d be able to sneak up on Linus and take him into the bathroom where he would eventually walk happily into his carrier. Oregano was sure this would work. I didn’t share his confidence, but I didn’t want to interfere with his game plan. As a furry gray and white blur streaked past me and dove behind the TV, Oregano asked for my assistance.  He thought that if we each surrounded the TV, Linus would run out and one of us would be able to catch him. Let me just say this; it is not a good combination to have a cat that is smart and athletic. Smart and slow-moving is fine. Not too bright and agile also works in our favor, but a cat that is smart and athletic is a recipe for failure on our part. Linus launched himself over me and the chase was on.

Linus ran from room to room with us following in hot pursuit. I ran in one direction. Oregano ran in a different direction. Linus used evasive maneuvers to avoid us. At one point, I’m not sure who was chasing who. It quickly became obvious that two middle-aged humans did not have the speed or reflexes required to capture a very determined four-year old cat. Realizing we’d never be able to catch him on our own, we shifted our strategy. Since lunging and diving wasn’t working, we decided our best option was to continue running around the downstairs with him. Hopefully, we could wear him out so that he would slow down enough for us to get him into his carrier.

Oregano and I were laughing at how ridiculous we must have looked trotting in circles through our house. All that laughing made running even more difficult. Linus would run several laps then dive under the couch. Oregano and I would lift it up and Linus would shoot out from underneath. He ran a few more laps with us on his tail then hid under the couch again. We followed this pattern for 15 minutes. It was quite a thorough workout; cardio and weight lifting.  Eventually, Linus changed the path he was running. I think he was secretly hoping that Oregano and I would crash into each other, but Linus made a tactical error; he jumped onto the kitchen counter and cornered himself behind the mixer. Oregano put the carrier in front of him and he reluctantly surrendered. The house looked like a tornado had blown through it. All the while, Sam slept his peaceful, drug-induced sleep completely undisturbed by our antics.

The three of us were panting and covered in fur, but we made it to the appointment on time.  The allergy medication had not caused a noticeable change in his symptoms. Linus stood still while the vet examined his mouth and recommended that we brush his teeth twice a day every day. I turned and looked at Oregano wondering how we were going to accomplish that feat on a daily basis. As the blood drained from our faces, the vet began to laugh, “Just kidding!” she said then handed us an additive to put in the cats’ drinking water.

Thankfully, now the only thing that announces Linus’s arrival in a room is the jangle of his favorite toy and his sweet meow. Recently, we’ve discovered a new problem. What do you do when you have two lap cats and only one lap?

Sam and Linus sleeping

Social Insecurity – A Cat’s Tale

We knew we were living on borrowed time. We’d known it for years. Our cat, Scooter, had used up most of his nine lives and on December 1, 2012, he used up his last one. We had to say our final goodbye to our beloved cat after nearly 17 years of snuggles and companionship. We were grateful to have shared our lives with Scooter for so long, but anyone who has ever loved a pet knows that it’s never long enough. Trying to lighten our mood, Oregano turned to mathematical calculations for comfort. He determined that we had been lucky enough to have nearly 6,000 wonderful days with Scooter and only 1 really bad day. That one bad day was a doozy though.

The loss left us with an empty space in our hearts and a lot less cat hair on our furniture. Having never been an only cat, Sam seemed to miss Scooter, too. After a week of all three of us moping around the house, Oregano and I visited Tabby’s Place, a cat sanctuary where he has been volunteering for the past 3 years. We weren’t ready to bring home a new feline family member, but we needed to reassure ourselves that, while we couldn’t replace Scooter, we’d be able to fall in love again.

When we arrived at Tabby’s Place, one of the staff members greeted us. We explained that we were looking for an easy-going, adult cat, preferably one that would live forever. Discounting our immortality requirement, she gave it some thought. The first cat she had in mind was a very shy, gray and white, middle-aged gentleman named Bolaris. The name seemed odd for a cat and the surprise must have been obvious on our faces. The staff member explained that this cat came to Tabby’s Place during the week of Hurricane Sandy, so they named him Bolaris after the TV weatherman from Philadelphia.

After she explained the origin behind his unusual name, the staff member pointed to a crate that appeared to be empty. When we peered inside, we saw one white paw sticking out from under a blanket. Oregano reached in to find the rest of the owner of that paw as the staff member explained that Bolaris is painfully shy and prefers to pretend he is invisible by hiding under a blanket.  He purred and flopped from side to side letting us pet him until the blanket fell off and he bolted across the room. We visited a few other kitties and then we went home to think it over. We weren’t ready yet.

Even though he was the first cat we saw that day, Bolaris stuck in our hearts and we talked about him over the next few weeks. He was the definition of a scaredy cat. Everything and everyone spooked him.  We prefer our cats to be on our laps not under our bedding so we were hesitant to adopt Bolaris. Still undecided, we went back to visit him again, but he was even more skittish than before. We tried to rationalize his behavior. He came from a shelter in New York that had closed and he had only been living at Tabby’s Place for 6 weeks. He was in the largest suite and one of his roommates camped out beside his crate waiting to pounce on him. Each of those reasons by itself was enough cause for blanket-burrowing anxiety.

This was a tough decision that only a consultation with a crystal ball would have made easier. I was unsure of taking a risk on such a timid cat, but Oregano wasn’t. Because Bolaris would be buried under a blanket, he would literally be overlooked by many potential adopters. Oregano convinced me that a younger, more outgoing cat would be able to charm his way into a forever home, but Bolaris wouldn’t. We hoped that once he was in a quiet, loving environment he’d come out of his blanket-wrapped shell. It was a gamble, but his golden eyes, sweet face and little gray soul patch convinced us that he was worth taking a chance on.

Now that he had a new home, he definitely needed a new name. Since he had only been Bolaris for a few weeks, we figured he wasn’t attached to his name. We brainstormed our options and even considered giving him a spice name, but none of those seemed right. We thought about his personality and realized that he reminded us of a smart, blanket-loving character from the Peanuts comic strip; Linus. It was a perfect fit!  We had a new name for our sweet, shy boy.

Knowing how shy he is we wanted to give him time to adapt to the sounds and smells in his new home. We set up our guest room for him and in addition to the usual necessities and deluxe model scratching post, we sprinkled blankets everywhere. During those first few days we frequently went into the room, saw the Linus-shaped lump under the comforter and talked to him so that he would get used to hearing our voices.

There are really two cats in this picture.

There are really two cats in this picture.

We are patient, but we never had such a shy cat before and had no idea when, if ever, he’d feel comfortable enough to venture out from under his blanket. Much to our surprise, it wasn’t long before he would slide out of his hiding place when he heard us enter the room. We sat nearly motionless on the floor since even a slight movement would send him diving back under the nearest blanket. He tentatively started making wide circles around us. With each lap he got closer. Eventually, he began purring loudly and was close enough to head-butt us for pets. It was fun to watch him learn to trust us.

When we were home to supervise, we left the door to Linus’s room open so that he could begin to explore the house, if he dared.  By the end of the first week, he was brave enough to come all the way downstairs. He wandered slowly through the house, his loud, squeaky meow acting as a tracking device for us. Once he began making regular forays through the house, we started to notice some signs that made us think that he has not been in a home for a while. The sound of the toilet flushing or the heat coming on makes him freeze in his tracks. Windows and televisions fascinate him. He climbs into an open dishwasher or refrigerator thinking it is just one more, much smaller, room to explore. He also hasn’t yet learned that the other gray and white cat he is afraid of is just his reflection in the mirror.

Each day he is gaining confidence. Now he loves to be in the room with us and has realized that he has an unlimited, lifetime supply of snuggles at his disposal. He loves to chase the red dot from the laser pointer and anything with a feather on it. When he is in the mood to play, he will drag his toy throughout the house until he finds us.

Sam didn’t exactly roll out the welcome mat for Linus, but as a rescue cat himself, he gave Linus the space he needed to adjust to his new family. Of course, there was some half-hearted hissing on Sam’s part during their first few encounters, but Linus got Sam’s message loud and clear and walked away. Sam, being the gentleman that he is, didn’t chase after Linus. Now they have started eating and playing together. They have each claimed a couch cushion and nap there regularly. They are well on their way to becoming good buddies and Oregano and I are well on our way to accepting the fact that it is only a matter of time before we’ll be banished to the floor while the two of them are comfortably napping on our couch.

The comedian George Carlin used to say that when you get a pet you know it is going to end badly. It is inevitable; every pet is a small tragedy waiting to happen. I suppose on some level he is right, but hopefully it will be many years until that day. In the meantime, it is so worth it.

Linus is making himself comfortable in his new home.

Linus is making himself comfortable in his new home.

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