Monday, October 22, 2007

Pilling the Cat

It has not been the best weekend, kitty-wise, though they are, today, six months old! Perhaps I should have a party for them but as I get closer to finding homes for three of them, I feel a mixture of pending relief that things might be more manageable in the nearer future but also that sadness knowing I will miss them even when I won’t miss the cyclone of energy all five of them can at times create.

It was Max’s turn to go to the vets this time: his eyes were again running and now he had started sniffling and sneezing, the equivalent of a cat cold. He’d had something like this when I first brought him in almost six years ago when he was probably seven or eight months old. In fact, his eyes were so watery, the goop draining from his eyes looking like bad mascara, one of his name options at first had been Tammy-Faye before I realized this was a male cat.

So now I am to give him eye-drops 3x/Day and two different pills 2x/Day each. He was not keen on this regimen when he was confined to my apartment’s bathroom, pending his release among my other cats (which then included a 12-year-old diabetic cat and an 18-or-19-year-old cat I had inherited from my neighbors after they had both passed away). And now he is nearly twice the size and weight he was then, making the wrestling match not as well balanced as it had been. He was now a seasoned six-year-old with an attitude that could easily defy a mere middle-aged human.

It took me nearly two hours to get the first pill in him on Saturday. The one, just a half-pill, kept falling out of the “pill-popper” I need because, being only one person, it is otherwise impossible to hold him still, pry the mouth open and insert the pill all the while retaining the normal set of appendages I had been born with. He has also become an expert squirmer: coiling him with copper wire and placing a magnet beside him, pilling him could become an alternate energy source for my house. Clenched tightly in the equivalent of a full nelson between my knees, he can still turn his head from side to side with such speed, I managed to get the half-pill in his right ear which he then shook out onto the floor. After placing that back up on the desk, I decided perhaps the capsule would be easier. But it became too exhausting, so I would sit back and wait, taking ten minute breaks hoping that perhaps he would finally give in to the inevitable. While I was resting, he was storing up more energy and probably could have kept this up all day. Finally, somehow, I managed to get one capsule down his throat. He went and sat in the corner to preen himself for the rest of the morning, hoping to restore his image before the other cats.

After a busy day, I was too bushed to wrestle him for the evening’s pilling so I chose to wait till morning. At 9:30, I succeeded with the eye-drops. By 10:15, I had managed to stop the flow of blood.

He had chomped down hard on the tip of my left index finger and though I do not, normally, play the piano with any regularity to warrant dreams of being a pianist per se, I still like the idea of keeping my finger. It took a good 15 minutes to staunch the wound, leaving me with a sink full of blood spatterings and a mound of cotton balls damp with hydrogen peroxide. Fortunately, when I’d brought in Frieda, the feral cat and mother of the kittens-to-be, I had stopped on the way home to replenish the first aid kit, considering she had given me two healthy bites in the process of catching her (practically the last time I was able to touch her).

And of course I lost my temper. So now I and the cat are both traumatized at the idea of a twice-daily pilling.

Oh, and when I placed the errant half-pill on my desk after the first attempt at pilling? I opened the door to the room where all this was happening to find all five kittens waiting curiously for the outcome, wondering if, like their bout with the diarrhea medication they’d been subjected to a couple of weeks earlier, they were now going to be next. When I failed to come after any of them, they resumed their normal kittenish curiosities which, in Charlie’s case, involved checking out my desk. Before I could grab the half-pill to put it away, he had sniffed at it and swallowed it down! Just like that!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Kitten Pictures I Have Missed...

When they were born, I began taking pictures of the kittens every day. As they got older and reached a plateau where they appear to have stopped growing, I have practically stopped taking pictures, though they tend to stand still less for the ritual than they had even three months ago when they realized these legs were meant for flying.

And as I’ve said, my camera is slow on the re-set with a three-second delay between pushing the button and activating the flash that can be a C-Change for a Grade-B Camera with its AA-Batteries. Since I do not have it slung on my hip the way some people carry their cell-phones and key-chains, I usually find myself and the photographic subject in a room distant from the location of the camera. By the time I would retrieve it, the cats have moved on to some other pose not nearly as interesting.

The other day, I was in the master bedroom which for the first several months of their lives had been theirs, when I heard a thump behind me. Turning to see what they’d gotten into, now, it turns out they had “up-dumped” the little two-hole cat condo on its side. Blanche was peering out of the one hole wondering how that could possibly have happened when one of the four blondes hopped into the other hole and quickly assumed the same position. They were now, apparently, waiting for the other cats to come and roll the condo around as they do on occasion. I had seen them do this, as I stood cameraless in the doorway, with Blanche inside. In a flash it had been over and she sauntered out a bit dazed but looking like “let’s do that again.” Of course they never did. Nor did they this time, either. Before I could even move much less retrieve the camera, they had hopped out and the condo was now empty.

A few nights ago, sitting at my computer, I happened to turn around to catch Charlie peering out from under the chair by my bed. As most of my chairs are covered with old throws and blankets in an attempt at protecting what is left of their upholstery, the space beneath this particular chair becomes a much sought-after cave, draped off from the rest of the world by a maroon blanket and a wheat-colored chenille throw with fringed tassels on the ends. There sat Charlie, between the two throws, looking up at me, his head between the tassels, a few knots hanging loosely over his forehead and others draped around his shoulders like a wig gone askew that reminded me of Janis Joplin if she had been a blonde. My camera was only two feet away but of course the move to reach for it became a new curiosity and before I could touch the camera, Charlie was on the desk checking it out, his wig hanging limply off the chair like, well... like an old throw with tassels on the end.

Walking into the kitchen the other morning, pre-coffee, I had this eerie feeling I was being watched. Turning to get something out of the refrigerator, there on the top were Abel and Guy, their chins both resting over the edge, peering down at me. Then Guy looked up toward the ceiling which reminded me of the famous painting of the two presumably innocent cherubs. Blanche sometimes also likes to perch on top of the fridge, leering over the edge like Snoopy’s impression of a vulture.

There are times I simply do not want to imagine what is going through their minds.

-- Dr. Dick

Monday, October 15, 2007

Earth & Home

Today is a blog-action day for “environmental-oriented” posts, though at the moment I should probably be writing about the new composition I’m working on, the novel I want to get started if I weren’t working on a new composition or about the kittens who continually keep interrupting me from concentrating on either.

In all honesty, I’m concerned about environmental issues but often feel there’s not much I can do by myself, at the same time admitting that if everybody felt that way, nothing will be accomplished. Even to change a little bit is a huge improvement and once even that little is accomplished, it gives me a little bit of incentive to go on and try something more. Sorting recyclables has been probably the first major inconvenience to learn, rather than just throwing it all in the trash: it gets annoying when you’re trying to figure out what “number” of plastic a thing is and whether that recycling bin at work or at home accepts that or not. I can fill up my trash-can-sized recycling container with cat food cans and plastic cat litter jugs in no time!

When I buy cat food, for instance, it bothers me that the kind they prefer to eat, 9-Lives, is packaged in an un-environmentally-friendly wrapping of thick plastic sheeting which usually has a couple of “holes” in it that can prove traps just like the plastic rings you find on soda bottles. Ever since I’d seen pictures of sea-birds with their heads stuck in these (or the character Lovelace in “Happy Feet”...), I’ve taken the scissors to things like this and chopped them up into small hole-free units, but that’s still a lot of plastic to dispose of. It’s not just that that’s often the cheaper brand the stores offer, it’s only one of two main brands of canned cat food on the shelves at all, anymore, so why spend more money on food the kittens won’t eat which I’m going to be throwing away (at least the food is biodegradable)? A lot of the cheaper “house brands” were among those in the earlier recalls from Menu Foods, responsible for causing pet deaths through poisonous chemicals that had been put into the food accidentally or just to cut corners on costs. So I’m a little cautious about just picking up something because of one issue or another: it’s cheaper, it’s better for the environment, maybe it won’t kill my pet.

A long time ago, I stopped using shaving cream and other aerosol sprays, probably from the time in 1978 when I sleepily mistook the shaving cream can for my under-arm spray-on deodorant. While room “infusers” are probably adding something undesirable into the immediate atmosphere as it is, I started buying Febreze because it says on the canister it contains no CFCs which deplete the ozone layer, but what else is it doing to the environment at large? One hopes it’s not just an advertising ploy that doesn’t contain something else that could be as dangerous or worse.

Since I’ve become a “home-owner” now rather than an “apartment renter,” my sense that I ought to be doing something more is much stronger. When I was a kid back in the days LBJ was going around the White House shutting lights off in rooms that weren’t being used, the first time anybody talked about the idea of conserving electricity seemed silly – and people would tell me when I’d shut off a light after leaving a room, it was a waste of electricity shutting the lights off and on all the time, creating wear and tear on the bulbs, therefore wasting money by needing to buy more bulbs.

Now they tell us we should unplug all our appliances when not in use, especially the ones with remotes because they’re always drawing on some minuscule amount of power that quickly adds up. But who wants to crawl around to get to those discreetly hidden-by-design outlets every time you want to turn on your TV set?

For every convenience there seems to be an equal and opposite inconvenience.

For every idea there also always seems to be a negating counter-idea. One person’s scientific data is another person’s junk science. Both sides can claim the other side’s science is motivated by a political agenda. It’s enough spin to make your head do more than spin...

So I don’t drive a big gas-guzzling vehicle with a mezzanine in the back (one big enough to carry a full live orchestra in it, not just a CD-player), but I’ve owned nothing but Japanese-made cars since my Corvair fell apart in 1976, just like Ralph Nader said it would, earning me no points with people saying I was not doing my part for the U.S. economy. Of course today, I guess most American made cars are no longer made completely in the USA, but it hasn’t changed my attitude about the American car.

During the warmer weather, I do my best to buy gas after sundown, when it’s supposed to be better for the atmosphere. Unfortunately, I find I need the air-conditioner on in my car more often than I used to because (a) I bought a used car not thinking it was painted black and had black-leather interior, a veritable microwave-on-wheels, (b) the windows fog up in matter of seconds on humid nights which, I’m told, means the car is so wonderfully air-tight which is a good thing but I hate turning a corner and suddenly not being able to see through the fog on my windshield, and (c) global warming or not, I’m getting older and just can’t take the heat as much as I could a decade ago.

Suffering through five interminable summers in my most recent first-floor city apartment where I couldn’t keep the windows open even when I was home for fear of what street-creature was going to break in, I swore my next place would have central air. And so it does. Fortunately, I didn’t have to run it as much as I thought I might this summer, but I also have windows I can leave open that are not accessible to street crime. I can also hear my neighbors’ air-conditioner units running a lot more frequently than mine. I’m very happy my electric bills this summer were less than I would have expected. And considering my previous apartment (with its one valiant window unit keeping the study habitable when I needed to write) may be one third the space of the house, my present utility bills are nowhere near three times the size they’d been in the apartment! Go figure.

One of the first things I did was replace a lot of light bulbs with those “energy smart” twirly-looking compact fluorescent bulbs. Now, my previous landlord had gotten one to put in the building’s hallways and they were horrible, way too bright. But the Giant had a buy-one/get-one-free special one week so I figured I’d try it. I’ve never been a fan of fluorescent lights, normally, but putting these two bulbs into reading lamps in my house, I felt much better about the whole idea. They’re not as bright as the old-fashioned bulbs which I always felt were too bright for what I needed anyway. And these new much-touted bulbs don’t look or “feel” like old-fashioned fluorescent bulbs, either. So I went out and bought a bunch more, and now have ten different lights in my house with these energy-saving bulbs.

Of course, the down-side is they contain mercury and need to be disposed of carefully: soon, I guess, someone will be complaining about the high levels of mercury entering the landfills from people throwing away their compact fluorescent bulbs. But they last longer – five years, if the advertising is to be believed – so it might take a while before that hue-and-cry is heard.

This, however, is kind of scary: what to do if one of these bulbs break! Hmmm... I remember putting one of the first ones in a hard-to-get-at lamp and having it fall on the side of the table, shattering over the carpet and the foyer. Not even thinking about the “danger of mercury,” I just swept it up with a dust-pan and put it in the trash can! It wasn’t till later that I noticed the warning on the back about containing mercury and disposing of it “in accord with disposal laws.”

Well, with every advance in technology comes another issue that requires more care and potential risk. But if that kept us from dealing with changes, we’d still be living in caves watching TV by moonlight.

I hadn’t built up a utility history in this house yet, so I don’t know how my normal usage of electricity or heat would compare to my newly enlightened (no pun intended) usage, just to compare it to what my mother’s had been in past years; so far, light bulbs and air-conditioner usage has resulted in substantially lower bills, both in terms of use and costs. I feel good about that: at least it’s a start. Of course, now the heating season is upon us. But the house is currently registering 66 and is still comfortable. When it got that chilly in my previous apartment (where I didn’t control or pay for the heat), I felt I needed to get out the parka. Perhaps it’s the different kind of heat, who knows?

Then there’s the yard.

When I first moved in town, one of my crazier neighbors passed on a book called “The No-Dig No-Weed Garden” which sounded like a perfect fit for me, though I was convinced the author probably owned a scythe-making factory somewhere. I’m not one to do yard-work and was always happy it was the landlord’s responsibility to mow the postage-stamp of a yard, except for my last landlord who would break down and mow it maybe twice a year. I don’t see the need for neatly kept acres of grass, especially with all the time spent mowing it and all the problems trying to keep it green and pristine during summer droughts. At this stage in my life, I’m very happy having a guy come and mow the yard every 2 weeks or so. It’s mostly green because it’s mostly weeds, but still greener than some of my neighbors who planted some kind of designer grass that maybe thrives lushly only in the tropics. When I was living in this house with my parents, I joked about planting lots of trees so it would kill all the grass, concrete not being a viable option, but then there was the avalanche of leaves to contend with in the fall: it’s bad enough with just eight or so.

My garden did not prove to be much of a success this first summer: what the rabbits didn’t mow down themselves just never managed to take off on their own. I planted morning glories and moon glories in planter boxes along the back porch and under the kitchen windows, but they only started doing well late in the season: the moon glories, good flowers for a night person like me, didn’t even start blooming until a week ago. It was always enjoyable to sit on the porch at night, unwinding after work, but this year I missed their huge white blossoms – usually 6" across – which I used to enjoy from late-July till frost.

Something I’d often thought of doing was finding a spot in the yard where I could plant some milkweed. I’ve always been fascinated by Monarch butterflies, ever since I was in grade school. I’ve noticed several Monarchs flitting around in the yard this summer, so I might try that next spring. At least a few plants along the back of the house.

My father always loved watching the birds that would come to the back porch feeders, especially early in the morning when he would wake up before everybody else. It was normally just the run-of-the-mill sparrows, but the cardinals were favorites along with the occasional evening grosbeak or rufus-sided towhee. There’s only one feeder left, now, but this year it’s attracting, aside from the usual seed-swilling squirrels, a bevy of tufted titmice – is that the correct plural for titmouse? Titmouses just seems silly – and scores of chickadees which are a delight to watch. I always put part of the scoopful down on the porch floor for the chipmunks who scurry out to fill their cheek-pouches: if nothing else, it keeps the kittens occupied for a few minutes and that’s a good thing...

There are the occasional downy woodpeckers in the Japanese maple, and the wrens are more often heard than seen. Out front, a family of bluebirds flies in from somewhere to swing back and forth between the trees and the phone-lines, often swooping up onto the eave of the roof right at the kitchen window where I stand and watch them. At times, I can count six or seven of them. I wonder about putting a nesting box out in the middle of the yard somewhere for them next year.

Ah well, always more to learn and think about.

-- Dr. Dick

Monday, October 01, 2007

How Many Kittens Can Dance on the Top of a Desk?

Someone who once raised a kitten told me they could not imagine what it would be like dealing with “five times the energy of one kitten.” It’s not really 1 kitten’s energy x 5... it’s more like 1 kitten’s energy to the 5th power...

At times, it’s like living with the Flying Wallendas when they get into their “gymkhana” mode. A few weeks ago, they discovered if you land just right on the seat of the rocker-recliner and leap up onto the back at just the right moment, clinging for dear life, and then the next kitten jumps up on the seat which sets the rocking into even more violent motion, it can fling the top kitten off well across the middle of the living room. Style, of course, is everything, with paws outstretched much like a flying squirrel, sort of like this:

Three or four of the kittens tried this in fairly quick relay, one making a rather messy landing like a kid doing a cannonball though most of them sailed through the air with great and obvious delight. Fortunately the Catapult Event was not one they have tried perfecting, at least while I’ve been home.

Unfortunately, last week all five of the kittens were having bowel issues. I’ll spare you the comparisons to cheap mustard, but it was necessary to get this straightened out. It didn’t seem to affect their energy or appetite but it did make the rounds of cleaning the litter box not only more of a challenge but clearly more urgent. The vet said, since they all have it, just bring one of them in for a diagnosis.

And so, Abel took one for the team.

At least, I think it was Abel. Both he and Baker have been becoming a little more alike in coloration. Before, if they were side by side, Abel was the yellower of the two, Baker more reddish. Now, even in the best light, it’s impossible to tell for sure.

So now, part of the routine, if I can catch them when they’re in that relatively rare state of dormancy, I have to give all five kittens 1.5cc of liquid medication that is like a runny vanilla pudding and smells kind of sweet. Whether that makes them like it or not, I don’t know, but they all have varying reactions to it.

Charlie is the easiest: he may actually like it. Blanche is the biggest challenge and she normally manages to spit up a good deal of it – the first time, all over her, all over me, some on the rug, on the side of the piano and, somehow, on a picture a few feet above us. Guy usually develops a stiffness in his hind-legs which makes it difficult to get him into the requisite half-nelson crouch: he’s sort of like greased lightening without the grease or the pig. When I do Abel and Baker, I catch one then shut him in the bathroom till I’ve done the other one, to make sure I don’t give one of them two doses and the other one gets skipped...

The first time, it took about 35 minutes to juice up all five. This morning, it took about 15, so we’re making progress. And someone is doing much better, checking the litter boxes: at this stage of my life, one out of five isn’t so bad...

And then, for about 20 minutes, it’s like I’ve just given them a can of Jolt. This is the point of the day where the other cats go and hide. I try to stay out of their way.

Once, when trying to nap on the couch, one of them leaped down onto my stomach from the back of the couch before charging off across the living room. They only weigh about 5 pounds but if all four feet hit the right spot, this maneuver has quite a bit of kick to it, though I’m sure whoever the kitten was was disappointed that my trampoline proved less effective than the rocking recliner’s catapult.

Abel has become the champion drape-climber. Fortunately, they are of sturdy material, though when the sun shines through them, I am reminded of Romeo & Juliet – “cut him out in little stars and he will make the face of heaven so fine...” – because it’s something that could come in handy at a planetarium, little pinpoints of lights that might well be creating constellations of their very own.

Most of my photos of the cats are not taken in motion. Well, yes, I have numerous photos of floors and desks, devoid of cats, because they move faster than my camera’s shutter-speed. So the ones that are worth posting are uncharacteristically of cats at rest. Like Guy Noir, here, helping to edit my blog-post.

Caught in motion, however, were Abel & Guy Noir (see top photo), wrestling in a large tote-bag which I hadn’t completely emptied yet. A moment after I took the picture of Charlie & Abel (below) stretched out between my monitor and the keyboard, they had rolled around and changed positions before tearing off down the hall. (Incidentally, the desktop on my monitor is a photo of them plus Baker taken half their lives ago.)

The space around the computer so far is their biggest contention. First of all, this has been Max’s space since he joined the family almost six years ago, if not in front of the monitor, then stretched out across the wrist-rest and preferably over one or both wrists, often laying his chin on my mouse-hand. So he’s not keen on sharing this space with a bunch of annoying half-pint over-achieving fuzz-mites.

Curiously, Charlie will settle in, purring constantly, with his head nestled tight against Max’s flank which just annoys the hell out of him. It’s hard enough getting anything done as it is between the purring, the whining and then the imminent attack, the swipe of a paw, a hiss, a growl before contentment resumes if only for a few brief seconds.

Only once have I tried to deal with all five kittens on this small computer table (which is, for the record, an old gate-leg table I picked up at a Connecticut flea-market for $5, fleas not included).

With so much energy on the cusp of critical mass, the center could not hold and in short order they all went off, not slouching, to the living room. The fact that three of them – and Max – stayed on the desk long enough for me to snap this picture runs contrary to the laws of kitten-physics where the primary law states “a body at rest tends not to stay at rest long enough.”

Speaking of rest, I feel a cat-nap coming on...

-- Dr. Dick