Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cats in the Crawl Space

Guest blog by Jean Lorrah, .

As I get older, I need the luxury of soaking in a tub of hot water to ease my aches and pains. Unfortunately, when I need to soak the most, my joints are at their most painful and I have trouble getting in and out of a regular bathtub. So I decided to install a walk-in bathtub, and as long as I'm doing that, take the excuse to remodel my 1950's bathroom, get rid of the ugly green fixtures, and add storage. So for the past three days I have had carpenters, electricians, and plumbers in and out of my house all day long. 

Living with me in the house are two cats, Dudley and Splotch. Dudley, the gray, is seven years old, and is my ninja cat. He can disappear in plain sight, blend into any background. He is a zen cat, calm and unafraid. I very occasionally foster stray kittens and find homes for them. Previous to Splotch, Dudley never paid much attention to them. When Splotch arrived, though, Dudley made it very clear that Splotch was his, and not to be given to anyone else--that's how I ended up with two cats.

Splotch, now three, is named for his splotchy coloring--he is obviously supposed to be a tuxedo cat, but instead of solid black or gray, his "jacket" is tiger striped. He has dark patches on his white "shirt," and a white patch in the middle of his back. All of this is topped off by a "chocolate milk mustache" on his white face. 

Splotch will follow Dudley anywhere, even if it's scary. The two cats have learned to work together, especially when it comes to stealing food. When they tore holes in bags of cat food, I put their food in a plastic snap-lid container. It took them no time at all to figure out how to work together to get the lid off, so I have to keep it in the pantry with the door firmly shut. I have to keep the treat container where they can't reach it, too--otherwise Splotch holds it while Dudley pries the lid off, and they serve themselves treats whenever they please!

Dudley and Splotch are indoor cats who only think they want to go outdoors--until they get there. Dudley stays close to the house, eating grass, and Splotch wanders along the foundation until a car passes, whereupon he dashes back onto the porch and pounds on the door to be let in. 

With all the strangers in the house, Splotch is spending most of his time under my desk in the office. Dudley, though, is inspector-general of all the work being done. I have no place to isolate the cats, as the workers keep the garage open, and have to go through the bedroom closet to reach the plumbing for the bathtub.

And there is where the problem occurred. I warned everyone to close the access hatch or closet door when they were not actually working on the plumbing. Stupidly, I assumed they heard me. 

Yesterday the workers finished removing the old plumbing fixtures, cleaned up, and left for the day. I then left for a round of errands. When I got home, Splotch met me at the door. I didn't think anything about it, and went about putting groceries away and making dinner. My mind elsewhere, I didn't think about the cats until I was half-way through dinner--when I suddenly realized they were not in their usual places at my feet. In fact, they were nowhere to be found, and did not come running when I shook the treat can.

No cats to be found, anywhere. The bathroom was securely closed and empty. I checked the bedroom--door open, closet door open, access hatch open. *sigh*

Calling and shaking the treat can at the access hatch had no effect. A neighbor came to help me, and we went all around the house, calling at every opening in the foundation. None of the covers were loose--there was no sign of any place the cats could have gotten out. So we went to the access hatch under the kitchen window--the only one big enough for a human to get through, and opened that. Out came Dudley!

But no Splotch, nor could we hear him anywhere--and he is usually a very vocal cat. I began to second-guess myself. Could he have gotten outside while I was unloading groceries from the car? The fact that he had not followed Dudley out was not a good sign. So we scoured the neighborhood, calling for Splotch, with no luck. No matter whether he was outside or under the house, I was afraid he had gotten into real trouble.

It got dark, and I gave up the search, determined to send one of the workers under the house in the morning. Still, I put food and water beside the hole in the bathroom floor, and left the light on. I watched Dudley, who was completely unconcerned. Obviously he didn't think Splotch was in any trouble--and he loves his young apprentice in mischief. So I tried to take a leaf from Dudley's book and relax for the evening. But after an hour I went to look in the stripped-out bathroom--and there was Splotch!

He must have been lost and scared under the house, for he has shown no interest in going back.

Dudley, on the other hand ....

Today two plumbers came to install the new bathtub. I warned them about the cats, then went with the contractor to buy the new fixtures and cabinets. When I got back, they were just jockeying the tub into place. Splotch greeted me at the door as usual--but again there was no Dudley to be seen. I asked the men if they had seen a gray cat. One said no, no cats at all ... but even as I was going into the bedroom to check the access panel, the other man said, "You mean that cat looking at us out of the hole?"

Sure enough, my ninja cat had gone through the hole in the floor again, and was now poking his head up to watch the proceedings. He clearly liked his observation post, for he didn't want me to pull him out. I eventually managed to grab his harness, though, and keep him out of the way while they closed up the hole in the floor by installing the tub over it.

So--no more cats in the crawlspace! But who knows what my ninja cat will get himself and his apprentice into next?

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