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A Tale of Two Kitties

In which I try living with a pair of cats.

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My two cats, Buddy and Monty, resting up for a hard day's resting up.

I often find myself in search of what I call “The Next Big Thing,” multi-year ventures which consume my very being. Notables have been recording, golf, martial arts, and most recently, joining a church. But even that was now years ago. It was time for the next Next Big Thing. It was time for cats. I told myself I needed something to create a presence in my house. Just a gut feel.

I’d always enjoyed playing with Kira, the cat living with my brother’s family up in Arcata. A few months back, I had spent several days there to look after things while Linda and Alice (daughter and wife of my bro’ respectively) left to attend a crafts convention in Petaluma. Kira was easy. The biggest problem was doing laundry. She wasn’t supposed to leave the house, but the washer-dryer was in a detached garage. I generally lost our games of cat-hockey in which I was the goalie trying to guard the door while Kira would attempt to exit. Fortunately, she never went more than a few feet from the house, hiding under the steps. In my more lucid moments, I would first find the wily critter and herd her into another room, closing the door with her on the appropriate side, and only then take the laundry to the garage. Overall, Kira was no problem.

Community Cat Advocates is a wonderful outfit that handles cats rescued from the streets. Every Saturday and Sunday from 12:00 to 4:00 at the PetCo in El Cerrito, they show off a large number of their adoptable cats. It was there that I saw a pair of one-year-olds, Buddy and Monty. They were unrelated, but were snuggled peacefully together. They were already trained to use a litter box. Totally healthy. They’d been raised together so they’d gladly keep each other company in my absence. I convinced myself that these cats would be easy. Just feed ‘em and deal with the litter box. Two would probably not take more effort than one. More expense surely, but I could handle that. Most any other issue I had, I had the same answer, which became my mantra. “Other people do this. I’m smart. I’ll figure it out.”

I filled out an application and emailed it in on Monday, giving me a week for second thoughts which never surfaced. After hearing that my application had been approved, I went online and ordered two cat-sized pet carriers and a large litter box. I also ordered one of those cat towers with built-in scratching posts and padded boxes they could sleep in. I was all in with both feet. Saturday, I picked up the new additions to my household.

The instructions were pretty clear about introducing my cats to the house. Put them in one room for a week so they wouldn’t be overwhelmed. My spare bedroom would be ideal. It was then that I found the first flaw in my plan. The bedroom door didn’t latch shut. To keep them in their room, I took a towel and placed a heavy file drawer on it. I placed the file drawer against the door inside the room. The rest of the towel came under the door such that I could pull on it to shut the door. I told you I was smart. (I would soon replicate this design on the laundry room door which didn’t latch either. I really need some carpentry work done.) This wasn’t the only modification I made to the cat room. I moved a much-used paper tray to the kitchen, not a good location, but the kitchen counter was surely too high for a cat to reach in a single bound. Not wanting paws that had just left the litter box on my kitchen counter anyway, I’d have to move anything near the counter they could use as a step, to a new location. Easy enough.

Buddy and Monty mostly hid Saturday and Sunday, quickly locating the darker niches of their room, but they used their litter box faithfully, and ate well. Both acclimated quickly, and soon were eager to explore. I found my cat hockey games resurrected as they tried to leave their room, and I found them worthy competitors. Also resurrected was my greatest fear: my intended-to-be indoor cats might breach one of the two doors to the outside, an outside full of unthinking cars and thinking coyotes. Neither a pleasant thought. But I was smart. I’d figure it out.

As I gradually opened the house to my new kitties, I quickly had to rethink my strategy concerning the kitchen countertop. Monty was up in what turned out to be an easy hop. My backup plan was a loud “off!” and a firm shove off the counter. I think Buddy was more intimidated by this than Monty, as I never saw him on the countertop. I caught Monty there two more times, which I treated the same way as the first. I think he was learning, but now I was rethinking my living room design.

If one easy hop got Monty to the kitchen countertop, the mantle over the fireplace would likely be in reach. From there, it would be an easy hop to any of several nearby shelves on which sat many fragile objects I liked to display, including a set of six hand-painted Royal Doulton dinner plates, a family heirloom dating back 100 years. I took these down immediately, and other objects were placed so as to deny any leaping feline access. Sadly, they were not nearly as viewable to human eyes. Landing points were eliminated and towels were placed on tabletops which would no doubt be desired destinations in the learning phase. I rearranged the furniture to give me a fighting chance if (when) the cats decided to explore the great outdoors. I was smart, but was I kidding myself about figuring all this stuff out? My stress level was rising. And in the middle of all this, I went through two power outages and my irregular heartbeat returned. As for my heart, I’m okay, but it did necessitate a neighbor driving me to the ER, and none of this improved my disposition.

I was finding that I needed chunks of alone time. For instance, I didn’t want cat company as I was eating, since the two seemed to be vying for the job of being my royal food taster. Complicating things was that the living room was becoming their room of choice. It has only two exits: one to the kitchen, the other to the great outdoors. My front door paranoia grew each time I wanted to leave the house with them a mere bound or two from what they might perceive as freedom, but which I feared would be their certain death. Thankfully, neither showed any interest in the outside world beyond what they could see from a window. At least until Monty tried to follow me out one day. I shut the door before the damage could be done, but was this to be my new lifestyle? My walking had already been modified to a shuffle to avoid stepping on them as they affectionately followed me around. I was spending more and more time sweeping the floors to keep up with the litter being tracked through the house. Life had changed.

Objectively, both Buddy and Monty were behaving better than I had anticipated. Neither clawed me nearly as much as Kira up north, even when I stroked their paws, preparation for them having their nails trimmed. Nail trimming is supposed to be done frequently, and I had yet to do it. It’s considered by most to be a two-person job, and there’s only me here, but I was smart yada yada. The few bites they administered were light, affectionate, and diminishing in frequency. They were less destructive than I had anticipated, and soon I simply gave them access to the entire house with no ill effects. I could do this cat thing.

So why did I not keep them? The old Star Trek adage “Having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting” rang true. I looked around my house and found it almost unrecognizable. I found my new responsibilities extending far beyond feeding and freshening a litter box. I was worrying about a completely new set of things that go bump in the night. I’m smart, and perhaps I’d figure it all out. Or not. And tugging in the other direction, I’m seventy-two and for better or worse, pretty damned set in my ways. More than anything else, though, and like the idea to get them in the first place, parting ways was a gut feel.

Community Cat Advocates was very understanding. They were appreciative that I’d made the effort and let me know that I was hardly the first to return their newfound critters. And so, the deed was done; my Next Big Thing turned out to be but a three-week experiment. The coating of litter the cats had spread through my house has mostly been eliminated. My living room is now back as it was, plates and all. My paper tray is again in the spare bedroom where it belongs and all the towels that covered various tables have been washed and returned to storage. Monty managed to free himself from his flea-and-tic collar and I still haven’t found it, but I’m smart. I’ll figure it out.

And my search for the Next Big Thing has resumed.

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