Monday, March 27, 2006


Pass the nutcracker, please

This is my first blog, and I will confess that my only reason for having a blog is to get things off of my chest and maybe get a sympathetic hearing from some other lost soul out there that hopefully won't contact me.

The subject of this posting is cats. Cats are much on my mind these days because, at this very moment, a little rescue cat named "Ginger" has taken up residence in the guest bedroom next to my home office for the sole purpose of giving birth to a litter of kittens. If she has two kittens we will keep them to replace the two cats we lost six months ago. If she has four kittens, we will give two away. But if, according to a kind of logic that is not accessible to most fathers, she has three kittens, we will keep all of them.

I confess that I am partial to cats; but if you had predicted only a month ago that we would become a foster family for sex-crazed felines, I would have written you off as a nut. But here we are. Pass the nutcracker, please.

Well, I really only have myself to blame. This is merely the culmination of a decade-long connivance and contrivance on my part to avoid getting a dog. Now, don't get me wrong. I love dogs. I really do love dogs, EXCEPT when they are pooping on the yard, peeing on the camellias, barking in the middle of the night, chewing expensive swim goggles, chewing expensive replacement swim goggles, jumping on visitors, sniffing our guests' crotches, and most especially, licking their own crotches.

So, as you see, I really do love dogs. But if I have to have a pet -- and I realized as soon as we had our twin boys that this was inevitable -- I would be inclined towards having a cat. Whatever their shortcomings, cats are relatively low maintenance, and they never embarrass you in public. Of course, with twins, one cat would never do; so, naturally, we had to get two cats. But eventually those cats were deemed family cats, and for his 8th birthday Logan decided he wanted to have his own cat. (Cooper elected for a Nintendo Game Cube.) That's how Furball came into our lives. I lobbied hard to name him Hairball, but I was soundly defeated in a family plebiscite. I consider this one of the great missed opportunities in my life.

Like the others, Furball was a rescue kitty. He wasn't our first choice; but when, on their birthday, the Jena and the boys went to pick up kitty #1, he was ill. The Cat Lady said to wait a couple days, but then it wouldn't be a birthday present, so they came home with Furball.

Now, I'm a pretty good judge of cats, and I knew within 48 hours that Furball was not going to be the kind of cat that would be partial to human contact, much less jump into our laps for some heavy petting and purring. I, on the other hand, would be scooping his poop for the rest of his natural days. So I calmly suggested to my wife that we take Furball back to the Cat Lady and get kitty #1, who had probably recovered by then. My wife, who had quickly bonded with Furball, looked at me with an expression that I shall never forget. All at once I knew I was the most insensitive, stupid, and uncaring stupid man that had ever existed. Furball took his rightful place in our family.

Well, that gave us three cats, which is the maximum number of cats that a family can have and still be considered normal. It wasn't too long, however, before Logan began to feel -- and rightly so, I think -- that he had been gypped. After all, Cooper was having a blast with his Nintendo Game Cube, but the only time we saw Furball was when, in an uncharacteristic fit of generosity, he decided to bring a dead, half-eaten rat into our living room. So, Jena went on the lookout for a new kitty.

Her prayers were answered when a woman in her exercise class announced that a feral neighborhood cat had given birth to a litter. Jena and the boys went for a look-see. Then came one of the (many) phone calls that every dad dreads. "Honey, Logan has found a kitten that he really wants, but Cooper is just devastated that he can't have his own kitty. Would you mind too much if we were to get two kittens?" With visions of tears and trauma flashing through my head, I accepted the inevitable.

I suppose, deep down, I figured that if we loaded up on cats, it would be easier to beat back the inevitable demand for a dog. As you can probably guess, that was a flawed strategy. But that's a topic for another posting.

So that's how we came to have five cats, putting our family solidly into the eccentric category. Notwithstanding the crack in our social standing, for a time all was well with the new kittens. It turns out that when kittens are first born, they are much like human babies and need feeding every couple hours for several weeks. Additionally, they can't pee or poop, much less clean up, without assistance from their mother. So Jena, as their adoptive mother, had to play the role of the mother cat for that period or time. Much to her credit, she did so wonderfully well and without complaint. As a consequence, Golden and Houdini turned out to be exactly the kind of affectionate and cuddly cats we sought. Things settled into a comfortable routine, with the only disruption being the occasional gift of a dead bird, rat, snake, or rabbit.

Then, in the space of one month, after years of allowing our cats to roam our rural neighborhood without incident, Furball, Golden, and Houdini disappeared. We learned subsequently that one of the neighborhood ladies had started to feed the coyotes, presumably because they are cute. So, our neighborhood, which had been miraculously free of coyotes for years, had become a regular stopover for hungry coyotes on the prowl for a midnight snack.

For several months thereafter, the remaining cats, Bailey and Whiskers, were confined to quarters, and nobody had much appetite for expanding the family. But as you know, time heals all wounds, and about two months ago both boys were lobbying for another cat.

Our experience with cats is that the younger they are when you get them, the better. If they are handled and treated well by humans when they are very small, they will usually grow up to be affectionate and friendly. It turns out, however, that our experience in adopting Golden and Houdini was not the norm. The usual protocol for feral litters is that they be surrendered to a rescue facility where they will be cared for and not put up for adoption until they are several weeks old. That's generally OK, but if you want to increase your odds of having an affectionate cat, you might want to get them earlier.

After some investigation Jena discovered that the only official way to get kittens when they are very young is to become a foster family. If you had told me one month ago that we would become a foster family for cats, I would... oh well. Nuts. We are a foster family for cats. And that's how it comes about that there is a pregnant cat in the next room, and that's why cats are much on my mind. Well that, and my own foibles.

So I will tell you one last story, then leave you to ponder the futility of fatherhood…

Apparently, one of the benefits of being a foster family to a pregnant cat is that we will be able to witness the great event, perhaps even immortalize it with a video camera. I wouldn't have thought this was something that would be of much interest to 10-year-old boys, but I would have been wrong. It turns out that this is of interest not only to our boys, but to all of their friends, who have asked to be put on alert. One of their moms even called to warn us that Ginger had better not give birth on Wednesday because AJ was fully booked that day and she didn't want to have to deal with that.

So, to ensure that we wouldn't miss the great event when it happened, Jena rigged up the boys' old baby monitor in the guest bedroom, where Ginger resides, and put speakers in both the kitchen and our bedroom. I was instructed to keep the video camera fully charged and at hand. We then heard of another foster family that left their home for one hour, only to find upon their return that the cat had given birth, cleaned up, and left a mint on the pillow. (That last detail is poetic license.) So now we are all on shifts to ensure that we don't miss it.

Well, she came to us two weeks ago, and we are still waiting. We had a near miss list last week. Jena decided to see if Ginger could tell us when she was going to give birth. So she asked Ginger about each day of the week with no response from Ginger. But when she said "Thursday" Ginger responded by rubbing her legs and meowing. Then Jena found out that Thursday was National Cuddly Kitten Day, so that clinched it. We went on high alert.

National Cuddly Kitten Day came and went without incident. Things settled down again. Then one morning Jena decided that Ginger needed fresh air, but as the window in Ginger's bedroom lacked a screen, she couldn't open it for fear that Ginger might escape. So I was asked to move the screen from my office bedroom to her (Ginger's) bedroom so that she could get fresh air. OK, I'm a guy, so I don't need fresh air or care about having bugs buzz around my head while trying to make a living.

Later that morning, during a convenient moment, I went into Ginger's bedroom to attach the screen. Seconds later I heard a stampede of steps down the stairs and the door to the bedroom was flung wide open. There, crowding into the bedroom were my wife and an group of boys, all expecting to witness the Great Moment. They had heard the unusual noises on the baby monitors upstairs, and figured that the Great Moment had arrived. Much to their disappointment, the Great Moment turned out to be me, attaching the screen to the window.

That gave me an idea.

Knowing how much the boys love practical jokes, I waited a couple hours to give myself a little cover. Then, when my wife, the boys, their friends and I were gathered around the kitchen table for lunch, I mumbled that I had to get something from the fridge in the carport. I proceeded, unseen, to Ginger's bedroom and crept in taking care not to make any noise. Then, after practicing it for a moment in my mind, I proceeded to make what I imagined was the sound of a cat giving birth.

The expected stampede began immediately, and in moments the door was flung open by my expectant wife and a group of eager boys.

Well, I confess that I thought the sight of me pretending to be a pregnant cat would be greeted first by shock, but then, naturally, by waves of laughter. It would be a childhood memory that would last forever. At every reunion for years into the future, long after they had grown up and had families, someone would invariably say, "Do you remember the time when Cooper and Logan's dad tricked us into believing that he was a pregnant cat? Then they would all crack up.

Well, the look on my wife's face as she stood in the doorway and saw the source of the noise told me instantly that the next ice age had begun. The laughter from the boys was gratifying and gave me some hope, but only last night a couple of them told me I was way out of line, and they really knew it was me all along.

In retrospect, I can think of ways I could have done it better, like warning my wife in advance. I didn't of course, because she would have vetoed the idea. So dads, if you want my advice, let me tell you to learn from my experience and never, ever, pretend that you are a pregnant cat!

Copyright (c) Brett Walter

The coyote support alliance is going to come down on you so hard...You adduced not one shred of evidence before attacking their good name.

I'm sure you'll get used to the daily blogging grind in no time. 1500 words a day - piece of cake.
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