Monday, July 27, 2015

COPY CAT 2 -- Blue

Guest post by Jean Lorrah

Blue started out life as a feral kitten, one of three born to a mother cat who risked bringing them to my friend Lois Ruiz' house to eat the food she put out for them. Lois tried to catch the kittens, but they were too frightened and too fast for her, so all she could do was put food out. Eventually two of the kittens were hit by cars, but Mama Cat continued to bring the third for food.

Then one day Lois saw neighborhood kids dragging something down the street--the surviving kitten! They had a wire twisted around her neck and tied to a rope, and would have killed the poor little thing if Lois had not grabbed them, threatened them with a report of animal cruelty, and taken the kitten away from them. So the one remaining kitten, now named Blue, was finally safe, and Mama Cat disappeared back into the wild.

Blue had cuts on her neck, but otherwise was not injured. However, the experience did nothing to increase her trust in human beings. Lois tended to her wounds and turned her loose in her house, where there were four other highly domesticated and friendly cats.

Blue grew up skittish and distrustful, but slowly accepted Lois as her person and would even sometimes come to me and let me pet her if I didn't visit with a dog in tow. If Lois had not died, Blue would have been set for life. Sadly, though, Lois unexpectedly suffered a stroke while in the hospital for a broken pelvis. I already had her dog, Fancy, at my house. Lois' oldest cat, Elmer, died within days of her death; her daughter Kay took the larger cats, and I took poor little Blue.

I put Blue in my bedroom, where she hid under the bed during the day. At that time (two years ago) I was crating my dogs at night anyway, so nothing changed for them except that the bedroom door was closed at night. Dudley and Splotch, though, were baffled at being shut out. But Blue needed attention: during the night she came up on the bed and slept with me.
Blue is a small gray cat, only seven pounds, long and lean when she stretches out. She has gold eyes, and a rather long nose that gives her face a distinct triangular shape. She and I spent the nights together for two years, with the dogs, Fancy and Bianca, joining us when I felt it was no longer necessary to crate them. Blue already knew Fancy, and soon made friends with Bianca. For weeks Blue never left the bedroom, even during the day when the door was open. The main reason for her reticence was Splotch, the only one of my menagerie who did not welcome her. He was not happy at no longer being the youngest cat, and I could not keep him from bullying Blue, who is half his size. So Dudley took it upon himself to teach Blue cat martial arts, which gave her confidence just as such training does for many people. She began venturing out of the bedroom, at least into the spare bedroom or across the hall into the bathroom. As time passed she would stay in the hall, and even occasionally stray into the kitchen. That was how things stood until Dudley died last month. Like all cats, Dudley had particular places he liked to sit or lie. I told you last week about Splotch taking his place on the TV table. Well, Blue chose one of his other favorite places, the bottom shelf of one of the living room bookcases, where he would sit for hours like a knickknack. Within days, I began to see Blue sitting in that spot. Also, Blue began to play. Dudley and Splotch were both playful cats, separately and together, but Blue was solemn, cautious, quiet, sitting under the rocking chair and watching the others play. But now she began chasing sunbeams and imaginary mice! Then one day I was at my desk in the office, concentrating on something on the computer. Slowly I realized that a gray cat was on my lap, having quietly invaded while I was not paying attention, just the way Dudley used to do. Sure enough it was Blue, on her first visit to my office--but not her last. She now follows me in as Dudley did. As I write this she is sitting between the keyboard and the screen, another of Dudley's favorite places, telling me I've been at this too long, and the animals need some attention. One of Dudley's annoying traits (yes, he had some) was to knock things off the table when he wanted my attention. This morning I was putting allergy medicine in Fancy's eyes when Blue jumped up on the table and meowed for attention. I didn't stop what I was doing to pet her, as I usually do to encourage her to assert herself--and, BOP! She very deliberately knocked a box of tissues onto the floor! I'm not sure exactly what is happening, except that Blue is coming into her own in ways that suggest she is using what she learned from Dudley. She now prowls the whole house, and demands more and more cuddling. She still hasn't forgiven Splotch, but this morning I saw something that just might get him into her good graces if he keeps it up. Splotch approached Blue again, and she held her ground and growled at him as usual. And then Splotch began to go through the cat martial arts opening ceremony. Blue stared at him and stopped growling. No, she didn't accept the invitation--but she simply walked away. I hope Splotch has realized that the techniques Dudley taught both younger cats could be the means of bringing them together. Perhaps one day soon Blue will accept Splotch's invitation to engage safely under the rules of cat martial arts, and they will find their way to friendship. Whatever happens, Dudley's legacy lingers in this house in the actions of the two younger cats he raised. As for Blue, it's almost as if what he taught her is now giving her the courage to come out of her shell and have a more meaningful life.

Monday, July 20, 2015

COPY CAT 1 -- Splotch

Guest post by Jean Lorrah

It's only a month since my Zen cat, Dudley, died, but in that time the behavior of my other two cats has changed. 

The cat that Dudley adopted, Splotch, is still somewhat bewildered. At eight years old, Splotch is a big, strong, beautiful animal, sweet to people but a bully to dogs and other cats. He is quite vocal, with an unusual gravelly meow. 

He is a certified therapy cat, but doesn't have the patience Dudley had. Every time he meets a new dog in the program, he is not satisfied until he boxes that dog's ears. No claws come out, but he has to show each dog that he's the boss. After that he's happy to be friends. 

Splotch came to us as a half-grown kitten, so he probably can hardly remember life without Dudley--and of course Dudley was his parent figure, mentor, and tutor all his life. He was used to Dudley going away with me and not coming home for days at a time when we traveled, and later when he had to stay overnight or longer at the animal hospital. Splotch was secure--Dudley always came home to him. 

But when this time Dudley didn't come home from the vet's within a few days, Splotch started looking for him, quickly realizing that he was not hiding inside the house. It was out in the garage that Dudley taught Splotch to hunt mice and crickets. 

One of Dudley's favorite parts of the garage was the loft, which is low enough for a cat to jump into from the top of the car. Splotch always preferred staying on the car roof while Dudley napped in the loft. There were occasions through the years when either Dudley fell so sound asleep up there that he didn't hear me calling, or else he just didn't want to come down and come inside when Splotch did. So in his hunt for Dudley, Splotch insisted on going out to the garage. 

It was a busy day, and I had to open the garage door a couple of times to get at tools and gardening equipment. Around dinner time I realized I hadn't seen Splotch for hours, and wondered if he had gotten out sometime during the day. 

Normally when he gets outside, Splotch goes to the south side of the house and huddles under the bushes either until I come looking for him or until twilight, when he comes up on the porch and cries to be let in. However, twice over the years Splotch has disappeared completely, only to return drunk as the proverbial skunk. He loves and responds to catnip, so I've never been sure whether there is a patch of catnip back in the woods, or if perhaps someone is growing some wacky weed. 

The last time Splotch got into whatever it is was last summer, when he didn't come home at twilight, or when I gave the dogs their bedtime walk. Worried about him, I didn't sleep well, so when the dogs alerted me after midnight I went outside--and sure enough I heard Splotch calling from two houses down the street. 

I keep a light on my driveway, and my neighbors light their front yard, so I could see Splotch approaching. He strolled in a devil-may-care way under their trees--but every few steps he would LEAP into the air, four or five feet high. Then he would stroll a few more feet and LEAP again. Oh, my, but he was intoxicated! But he finally made his way home, and slept off his hangover. 

So when I couldn't find him the day he went looking for Dudley, I wondered if he had decided to go off and find something to make him feel better. If he had, I knew he would come home, but at bedtime I decided to check the garage once again. This time when I called him he answered--from Dudley's hiding place in the loft. 

He came down, came inside, and wanted lap time. At 14 pounds, Splotch is quite a lapful! It was clear Splotch had finally accepted that Dudley was gone, and he both needed comforting and wanted to comfort me. Since then he has been trying to figure out his new place in the house. 

Dudley was a floor cat, and now I frequently find Splotch sleeping in Dudley's favorite spots on the floor instead of his own favorites on the couch, the back of my chair, and the top of the bookcase. One evening I was watching television when Splotch did something he had never done before: he jumped up on top of the cable box and began attacking the TV screen, trying to catch some horses running through the picture! 

That was an argument I had had with Dudley a hundred times, especially during the Olympics when he always tried to catch divers or figure skaters. Then he would sit on the cable box with his tail hanging in front of the electric eye, so I couldn't change the channel--which Splotch now proceeded to do. And finally Dudley would settle down among the wires between the cable box and DVR and the wall, where Splotch finished off that evening. He had never, ever been up on the TV table before. 

 Splotch apparently decided the TV table was no fun, as he has not gone back there since. He has also repented refusing to make friends with Blue, and keeps approaching her to no avail. I hope she will make up with him as he works out that he is now senior cat in our house, and it's time to grow up.

Monday, July 13, 2015


Guest post by Jean Lorrah

My cat Dudley came to me early in 2002, after my Siamese cat Soolin died. Dudley was a rather ordinary looking gray tabby, but he had personality to spare. He loved everybody, including the dogs, and quickly settled in as family.

Dudley soon figured out that if he joined the dogs when I got them together to come, sit, down, and wave, he would also get treats if he did what the dogs did. I put a harness on him, and he quickly learned to walk on a leash simply because he was a laid-back cat who went with the flow. I often took him to school with me, and my students were delighted to have him wander about the classroom, sitting on laps and taking naps on backpacks.

Soon my friend Lois Ruiz urged me to join the newly reorganized Pet Therapy program through our Humane Society. Dogs had to pass obedience training, but my remaining dog Kadi ended up with a certificate of attendance. She was a rescue who had been abused as a puppy, leaving her with brain damage, a sweet personality, all the instincts of a herding dog, and very little sense. So we just loved her, and let Dudley take on pet therapy duties. Cats only have to behave well on ten supervised visits (as well as passing the same health tests as dogs) to be certified,

As the first and for a long time only cat in the program, Dudley quickly became very popular. Children loved him, as did the cat lovers in nursing homes. He quickly became the most photographed cat in town, riding in Homecoming and Christmas parades, and participating in fundraising activities. International students in particular seemed to love him, so I'll never know how many of their selfies with him are circulating online.

Dudley had an active social life, and for the first five years he lived with me seemed perfectly content as an only cat. But then, Dudley was always content. Twice during that time I fostered kittens until homes could be found for them, and he paid them no mind. But then a friend brought me a half-grown tabby/tuxedo kitten to find a home for--and Dudley decided to adopt this one! He took over training, cleaning, and disciplining the kitty I named Splotch for the strange configuration of his coat pattern.

I watched Dudley go into sensei mode, teaching Splotch the cat form of martial arts, complete with formal addresses before each match. He also taught him how to interact with dogs, and how to catch mice and crickets in the garage. Eventually Splotch grew to be larger than Dudley, but Dudley could always beat him, even when he became old and frail. Splotch followed in his master's pawprints in becoming our second therapy cat.

As he grew older, Dudley grew fat. I told him I shouldn't have nicknamed him my little Buddha, but he didn't care. He just went on living in the moment and enjoying life.

But life changed around him. Lois lost her therapy dog Tessa to old age, and for a while took Splotch on our pet therapy excursions. Then she adopted a little chihuahua/terrier mix, and named her Fancy.

Kadi's brain damage was finally too much for her medication, and she passed over the rainbow bridge. I adopted Bianca, a dear little Maltese, and Lois and I signed up for obedience class, planning to train our dogs together for pet therapy. But then Lois suffered a fall and a broken pelvis. While she was in the hospital, Fancy stayed with me. But Lois never came home: in the hospital she suffered a massive stroke and died.

I kept Fancy, and also took in Lois' smallest cat, Blue, while Lois' daughter took her other cats. Through all of this, Dudley remained a calm center who had many tears shed into his soft gray fur. He became Blue's protector, as Splotch was reluctant to give up the position of youngest cat. Lois had rescued Blue from some children who wrapped a wire around her neck and dragged her down the street. She was afraid of everyone and everything, except Dudley and Fancy. Dudley taught her the same moves he had taught Splotch, and she learned to stand up to the would-be bully.

Then in 2013 Dudley had his first brush with mortality, when he developed bladder stones. Never one to complain, he didn't know how to tell me he was in pain--but he knew he needed help. So one day when I was putting on my makeup in the bathroom, he came in, ignored the litterbox, jumped up on the toilet and peed in the bowl.

Peed blood into the toilet.

I went from, "Oh, Dudley, you're so clever," to "Oh, my God!" in a split second, and rushed him to the vet. He had to have surgery, and then a special diet for the rest of his life to make sure the stones didn't come back. He recovered well, without complaint, and went back to his usual routine, including keeping Splotch in line.

For two more years I had my lovely zen cat--but this spring he began losing weight. I hoped he was just losing the excess, for he continued to be his sweet self until one morning in May he staggered into my bedroom and fell over. Thinking he had had a stoke, I once again rushed him to the vet. The diagnosis was vestibular disease, which affects the inner ear. With steroids and antibiotics, Dudley recovered, but the weight loss continued. I noticed that while he still came when I put food out, he ate only a few mouthfuls while I was watching, and then quit.

I took him back to the vet to discuss how to coax him to eat more, and she discovered a mass in his abdomen that had not been palpable only three weeks earlier. It was an aggressive cancer, and although I had it removed to give him the best chance to live, he survived only a few hours and died in his sleep.

It was very hard for me when the vet called to tell me Dudley had died alone in the night. Since I have been an adult all the pets I have been responsible for have died in my arms.

But that was my Dudley. He didn't want to suffer, and he didn't want me to suffer. I've tried to see it his way: better to go quickly, without the pain that recurring cancer would have caused. He had lived a good life, touching many lives both animal and human. My tribute to him online drew over a hundred comments and emails. He will be remembered.

Friday, July 3, 2015

48 years

My husband and I just celebrated 48 years of marriage.  I feel incredibly lucky. Lucky that I met him. Lucky that he has been my friend this long. Lucky that we still enjoy the same things, and doing things together.  Lucky that we are still both alive and healthy.  But knowing that we have taken care of each other, and can do so again if necessary.  We have managed to survive when we both lost our jobs and had to survive on food stamps and unemployment.

That marriage vow about for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health,  wasn’t written for people of typical marriage age.  It was clearly written with hindsight, on a marriage that worked.

People ask me for advice on marriage.  I don’t know how to convey luck.