Saturday, September 6, 2014

Reasons To Be Thankful

The good news is that Snowcone does not have cancer. A biopsy of his mouth showed a return of the condition he has that can inflame his gums, and possibly some precancerous cells, but no cancer. He'll have to undergo steroid treatments to reduce that inflammation. But, fortunately, he's got some of his nine lives left. Cats have a natural stoicism and, while that's a quality that I greatly admire, it's not one that I share. During this time of uncertainty about Snowcone's health, I have leaned on some animal-loving friends for comfort. And it strikes me that I've been so fortunate to know people who are true champions of these vulnerable animals. One of them is my friend Kristi, who was really Snow's first friend. She took me to the cat shelter where he lived and for a time we both volunteered there. I've been thinking about the first time I went with her to the shelter. I just sat on the couch and played with the cats, while she worked around us. As she took care of their needs, you could see them relaxing and becoming less afraid. She always looked out for Snowcone, who was sickly and picked on by the other cats. She's a kind soul and sadly, her beloved cat Abby passed away last week after a long life filled with love and adventure. I've also been thinking about my friend Linda, who died of leukemia a year ago. She found good homes for so many dogs in need and was such a loving companion to her own pets. This is such a dangerous time in the world at large and it's good to be reminded that in the midst of all this craziness there are local heros, people who work in their own quiet way to bring comfort and joy to innocent beings.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Stockholm Syndrome?

All three of my cats--the late great ZsaSu and Floyd, and Snowcone--have mightily resisted my efforts to get them into the carrier for a visit to the vet. ZsaSu would launch a verbal tirade that lasted for the entire trip to the vet and all the way home; Floyd would plant his impressive paws on either side of the carrier opening, making it a daunting task to get him in there; and Snowcone leads me on a spirited chase through the house that often requires moving furniture and upending mattresses. But each of them exhibited the same strange behavior on returning to the house. The carrier, cushioned with a bath towel for their journey, became their new napping place of choice for a few days and I'd wait to put it away until they returned to their old haunts. This proved true once again this weekend when I returned from the vet with Snow. He's been sleeping in the carrier ever since. Cats are indeed curious creatures. I'm worried about Snowcone because there's been a recurrence of the irritation in his mouth that made him vulnerable to the squamous cell carcinoma that was removed four years ago. Dr. Clarke, our veterinarian, does not think it's a recurrence of the cancer but I bring him back in two weeks to see if the injection of antibiotics cleared up the inflammation. Because the cancer he had is so deadly in cats, I bring him for a checkup every six months. So far all has been well, except for some weight loss. This time he gained a little weight and everything else looks good. So I'm hopeful that it's just an inflammation. I'm counting on him living a long, long time. It's Sunday afternoon and he's curled up in the carrier, sound asleep, oblivious to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Working at Home 

I'm not a big fan of working from home, mainly because I'm too easily distracted. I am often overcome by the need for a nap or a snack, resisting the former but not the latter. I start wondering what Oprah is up to, and now that she has her own network, she's always up to something. I love Oprah. Also, I live on a busy street and become interested in the activities of passers-by. I have a small house without an office. So I usually do my work from the dining room table or in an armchair in the corner of my living room. None of these things is particularly conducive to concentration and focus. One thing I do like about working from home, though, is seeing the lengths Snowcone will go to in order to ensure that he's within arm's reach. This photo shows what I mean (in more ways than one - note empty snack package upper left). There are beds, a couch, chairs - all sorts of comfortable perches - but he's spending the afternoon on an end-table that's too small for him. But it is right next to my chair. Pretty cute. Although it could be that he is also wondering what Oprah is up to, and I'm the one with the remote.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Cat Naps

The writer known as James Herriot once said that cats are connoisseurs of comfort. I'm grateful for that today. It's been a stressful time and I needed a day to just be at home. It's Sunday, so I slept, ate, watched bad TV, did laundry, paid bills and just generally did what I felt like doing. It's almost 11 p.m. and I'm still in my pajamas, watching Tom Selleck play Jesse Stone on the Hallmark Channel. This doesn't fall into the bad TV category. I love Tom Selleck. Snowcone is camped out next to me on an afghan my mother made for me years ago. My pets have always enjoyed my mom's knitting. My dog Jimmy used to drag a small afghan she made for him from room to room, like Linus in Peanuts. Snow has been good company, sleeping next to me either in bed, on my bills or on the laundry. He didn't have an easy time of it for the first seven years of his life, so it gives me a lot of pleasure to see him be comfortable and safe. There are a lot of things I wish I had done differently in my life, but giving him a port in the storm is not one of them. We're sharing the same port in the storm, sitting on the couch, watching Tom Selleck, waiting for the white wash to dry.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Are You a Dog or a Cat Person?
I was part of a conversation recently in which a woman was talking about issues involving the care of her dog. Another woman in the group prefaced her reply with, "I'm a cat person but I think....." Earlier, a friend gave the opposite answer in a conversation about pets: "I'm not a cat person." It's odd that people define themselves this way, kind of like identifying with one member of The Odd Couple ("I'm a Felix", "I'm an Oscar") My opinion is that if you don't like cats, you don't know cats. Same thing with dogs. I've had one dog, two cats and one dog in a cat suit. (That would be Floyd, who had many of the qualities normally attributed to dogs, including being loyal and unabashedly devoted to me, but somewhat less so to personal hygiene.) I was reading an article in Psychology Today about the difference between dog and cat lovers, and there was one sentence that brought me up short: Single women are more likely to be cat lovers. Nothing like being a stereotype. But I take solace in the fact that some of my favorite writers were cat lovers and, notably, not single women. One of them was Raymond Chandler (shown above looking writerly), who once said, "A cat never behaves as if you were the only bright spot in an otherwise clouded existence. This is another way of saying that a cat is not a sentimentalist, which does not mean that it has no affection." Another favorite writer, Mark Twain, was famously a cat lover but clearly had a soft spot for dogs, judging by this quote from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: "Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in."

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Company and comfort 

I'd like to devote this entry to Banjo, who has made me think recently about the unique kind of empathy shown by our companion animals. Banjo lives with my friends Bucky and Billy. She is a ball of energy. When you walk into their home, she wags her tail so hard that she literally forms a "u" with her body. Life is a full-contact sport for this dog, whether she's encountering friends, passers-by, squirrels or birds. But when Billy was in the hospital, she showed that other side. When Bucky would come home from the hospital at night, Banjo didn't throw herself at him or climb all over him, as is her custom. She curled up with him in a quiet kind of solidarity. Likewise, when Billy came home, she stayed by his side. I've seen this with my cats too. When my father was ill some years back, I would be away from home for days at a time. ZsaSu's standard behavior when I returned from an absence would be to position herself about four feet in front of me and then turn her back. She would follow me from room to room, for several days, to repeat this snub. Floyd would commence the Floyd Lovefest, which involved draping his 20-pound self around my neck or shoulders. This was endearing, if somewhat uncomfortable. But when my Dad was sick, they were different when I came home. They would position themselves at each side of me, nuzzling my arm or offering gentle head butts. I felt comforted and I believe that real comfort was being offered. When Floyd died, Snowcone became a lap cat, something he hadn't done before or has since. A lot has been written about the relationship between people and their pets, and about how much we humanize the behavior of these animals. But I believe that when you make a dog or cat part of your life, while they can never understand the realities of your world, they do know the essence of you. And when you're hurt, they feel that pain and offer their own kind of solace. My friend Linda used this quote, from an unknown source, as part of her e-mail signature. Linda was a great dog lover, but I believe this holds true for cats as well: It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them. And every new dog who comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough, all the components of my heart will be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Back From the Brink

Snowcone had been with us long enough for Floyd to have become resigned to his presence and to have discovered his value as a pillow. I had taken Snow to the vet for a checkup and even though most of his teeth, except for the ones in front, had been removed, the doctor found some inflammation and recommended that the remaining teeth come out. A couple of days later the veterinary surgeon called to say that they had taken a sample of the inflamed areas in the back of his mouth and found the presence of a deadly form of cancer, one that usually kills animals before their families even know about it. He said that Snowcone had about two weeks to live. It seemed so unfair that he'd been through so much and had finally found a home, only to get this diagnosis. But I also felt that if these were going to be his last days, I'd make them as great for him as possible. That's always the challenge, when you know that a time is ending, to make the most of what's left. Floyd was none too pleased by this development as it distracted me from my clearly established obligations to him and distracted Snow from his role as aide-de-camp and cushion. But obviously there's a happy ending because you know Snowcone has newly emerged is the star of this blog. When I took him back to get his stitches out, the inflammation had receded enough for the vets to see the cancer as a distinct spot. A different surgeon was able to remove that spot. When he called to say the operation was a success, he kept calling me "Mommy," which I found disconcerting. Nonetheless, it was wonderful news and Snow has been fine ever since. The vet has proclaimed this a miracle since this cancer is so often fatal. It may be a miracle. It may have been some force in the Great Beyond deciding that this cat deserved a break.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Early Days

Snowcone spent his first few months with me under the bed in the guest room. This was in no small part due to Floyd's reaction. My tuxedo cat-in-residence was outraged at this new addition to our home, not pleased - to my surprise - to have company. This may betray a fundamental lack of understanding on my part of the feline spirit. Floyd was too portly to wedge himself under the bed in the guest room, so Snow retreated there. After the first few weeks, the vet suggested leaving the guest room door open during the day so that they could eventually make their peace. When I got home at night, I'd close the door and sit on the bed and Snow would come out to be petted. He was very cautious and would immediately retreat at a sudden movement or - God forbid - a sneeze. This was a reaction he shared with Floyd. In the 15 years I had that cat, he never failed to react to my sneezes as if they were precursors to another, potentially dangerous, eruption. What that was, exactly, I never knew. They also shared a fear of ceiling fans. But I digress. I eventually got into the habit of lying down on the floor next to the bed in the guest room at the end of the day and filling Snowcone in on the hills and valleys of my work day. I had done something similar when there was an injured bird in my yard some years ago. After putting out water and bread crumbs, I would sit by the window during his recovery and fill him (or her) in on my day. I suspect that in both cases, the realization that I was not going to stop talking stirred them to leave their hiding places. Perhaps they found my accounts too mundane. In any event, my new bird friend recovered enough to take flight. And Snowcone eventually emerged from under the bed, able to elude Floyd until they reached some kind of truce.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Snowcone and Me

This is the story of Snowcone, a 12-year-old white cat with a gray smudge on the top of his head. As for me, my story will come out in the telling of his. In July 2001, someone dropped off a white kitten on the doorstep of a suburban Virginia home in which the owner operated a shelter for cats in her basement. This kitten, named Snowcone for obvious reasons, would spend more than seven years there. He had a disorder in which his immune system attacked the bacteria in the cavities of his teeth. His gums and throat were inflamed, as were his eyes from a blocked tear duct. The only cure was to remove his teeth, which the shelter owner was reluctant to do. In the way of living things, the other cats would pick on him because he was sickly. I started to volunteer at the shelter with my friend Kristi, who had a soft spot for Snowcone, but we both already had cats at home. Time passed and Kristi moved to Seattle. My older cat ZsaSu, who was Supreme Ruler at our house, died of cancer and I decided to adopt Snowcone, in part to keep my giant tuxedo cat, Floyd, company. In February 2009, Snow came to live with us. I did have his teeth removed and his health returned. It took more than a year for Floyd to accept him, although I suspect this may have been a performance staged for my benefit. One day I returned home early to find them eating from the same bowl and looking faintly embarrassed to see me. Cats are complicated creatures. My beloved Floyd passed away in July 2011 and now it's just me and Snow. He's a remarkable cat in many ways and has an expression that indicates he's giving careful consideration to the issue at hand. Considering that he spent all those years in a shelter, he's a gentleman and a gentle soul. At the risk of sounding like a crazy cat lady, I think there's a lot to be learned from cats. ZsaSu taught me about setting boundaries, which she did quite well. Floyd showed me that there is no way of showing love that's too goofy. And this white cat personifies courage and the ability to survive.