Saturday, July 26, 2008

A Squirrel Story

As so often happens, sadness has been followed by a day of pure farce. As I was quietly working in my upstairs office, with Vixen (the dog) and one of the cats dozing at my feet, I heard what sounded like something being knocked over downstairs. I looked down, and was startled to see Tenzing sleeping beside me. He was a climber as a kitten — thus the name — and since he’s lost quite a lot of weight in the last two years, he’s rediscovered his Sherpa habits. So normally if I hear strange noises in another part of the house, it’s just Tenzing exploring another route up the North Face of the icebox.

This time, though, it clearly wasn't him, so I decided to investigate. At the top of the stairs, I heard another, more ominous crash, and hurried into the living room to find — a squirrel. A big — nay, gigantic — gray squirrel, hanging from the valance over the main windows, twitching its tail and chirring at the other cat (Pretty Boy Floyd), who was sitting in the middle of the room, head tipped to one side, just… looking at him.

I must have made a noise, because the squirrel leaped into motion, scrambling around the upper edges of the room. It looked like a cartoon animal, legs pinwheeling, tail straight out and bottled — and Floyd lay down in the middle of the rug to watch the fun.

Needless to say, I was less than pleased with Floyd’s response. I picked him up, dumped him down the cellar stairs, and closed the door. I closed the door to the upstairs — which trapped me with the squirrel, but the rational part of my mind told me that I didn’t really want help from the other animals.

And then the fun began. I emptied a wastebasket, thinking I’d drop it over the squirrel. (This used to work with the flying squirrels that got into my folks’ house when I was a kid.) The squirrel threw a dish at me (OK, he just knocked it off the shelf) and raced higher. I grabbed the dog’s towel, thinking I’d throw it over him. He shoved a lamp in my path, and snarled at me. I retreated. I propped open the front door (which took a minute because I couldn’t find anything to prop it with except the snow shovel, and I thought that might discourage the squirrel from leaving if it fell on him) and went back to the living room — and the squirrel was gone.

I swept through the living room and dining room and kitchen, checked the bedroom (you can imagine how much fun that was, then grabbed the leash, went upstairs, put the dog on the leash and brought her back downstairs to see if she could find anything. She looked completely confused — willing to help, bless her sheltie genes, but not at all sure what I was after.

It was gone.

I cleaned up — bought a new lampshade, replaced the broken dish, hung the pictures back on the wall — and then stuffed rags into the hole where I suspected it had gotten in. (I’ve replaced them with copper wool since then.) But I can’t believe that, in a house with two cats and a squirrel-hating — indeed, squirrel-obsessed — dog, the damn thing would come in here in the first place.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Cat Memories

I had to have one of my cats put to sleep last Friday: a liver tumor which led to a steep and sudden decline. Trouble was her normal self on Tuesday — nearly took my fingers off when I gave her a treat, which was perfectly usual — and then by Friday morning was obviously sick. The vets were unable to get her stabilized, and it became clear that the kindest thing was to let her go.

Trouble was very much Lisa’s cat. We got her from a local animal shelter, where she had been returned for “acting like a kitten.” (The staff were pretty indignant about that excuse, as well as the one who had been returned because “his poop smells,” and were in the process of revamping their adoption procedures as a result.) The minute she saw Lisa, she walked straight up her chest and perched on her shoulder, chirping and purring; she slept on Lisa’s pillow, lay on Lisa’s feet while she worked at home, and was the only cat who would play with Lisa's dog. There’s nothing sillier than watching a 10-pound cat chase a 35-pound dog... unless maybe it’s watching them take turns chasing each other.

After Lisa died, Trouble and I continued to negotiate our sleeping habits. She condescended to sleep on my pillow; I refused to accept a face full of fur in the middle of the night. So every evening we had the ritual Circumambulation of the Human: Trouble leaped onto the bed at ankle level; I said, “good Trouble, stay there.” She proceeded to walk up the bed to the pillow; I pushed her across the pillow, over my head, and off again, and she walked down the bed to ankle level, tail twitching indignantly. And then we’d do it again. And again. Some nights she won, some nights I did: it was undecided up to the day of her death. And, while I may be breathing better in the mornings, I have to say I kind of miss the ritual.

Last summer, I lost Lisa's other cat, Grendel, apparently of old age. He was an apparent Siamese (ie., he looked exactly like one, but we had no real clue as to his breeding, or his age or history) who showed up in our back yard in September of 2001. He was a nasty cat at the beginning, hiding in the undergrowth and rushing out to hiss and swipe at your ankles, and Lisa complained vociferously that she couldn’t garden without the stupid cat attacking her. But then he disappeared for almost a week, and when he came back, he was clearly injured. He couldn’t put one hind foot to the ground, and so we decided to trap him and take him to the vet, which led to the episode I consider the Ultimate Cat Farce.

You see, we successfully lured Grendel (then known as “Mr. Grumpy,” a woefully inadequate name) into one of the dog’s crates, only to discover that it didn’t fit in the back seat of the new car. (It had fit into the old car quite easily.) It didn’t fit in the front seat, either, so we had somehow to transfer a cat who couldn’t be touched from the crate to something smaller and more portable.

We borrowed a Have-a-heart trap, put more tunafish into the back, and arranged things so that Grendel could go for it and nothing else. He sniffed the tuna, glared at us, crawled into the trap — and lay down short of the trigger, stretching himself as far as he could go in an attempt to reach the tuna without setting off the trap. And he lay there for nearly half an hour before we stopped laughing and realized that he wasn’t going anywhere. So I finally got a chopstick and lowered the trap onto him.

We took him to the vet in the trap (wearing my old fencing glove to carry it); the vet anesthetized him in the trap, treated the tire burn on his foot, returned him to the trap, and gave him back to us. We brought him back to the house and turned him loose in the yard: he was not, at the point, a candidate for house cat status. This was when we named him Grendel: he had a den by the back door, and he only came out to eat or attack people.

But he stuck around. Lisa fed him Rescue Remedy in the water she left out for him, and finally he because tame enough that she was able to bring him inside. He was still very shy with strangers (the friends who cat-sat for us got worried once, and finally tracked him down in the cellar, where he was visible only by the red glow of his eyes in the flashlight beam), but he became very affectionate with us, and particularly with Lisa, whom he allowed to pick him up and cuddle him. After she died, he liked to lie on the back of the sofa behind me — right in the light I needed for my knitting — and purr and nuzzle me if I showed any signs of wanting to move him.

I’m now down to the regulation two cats per lesbian (plus the dog, of course), and no longer qualify for crazy cat lady status. But I miss the pair of them.