Archive for the 'Pets' Category

Cat Cafe

Sunday, August 16th, 2015

Our middle daughter Valerie loves cats; she gets teased by her siblings about turning into a crazy cat lady when she gets old. In the five years since she left to go away to college, we’ve never been sure who she misses more…us or the cats. Many, many photos of our obnoxious orange cat Nigel have been texted to her.

Since she can’t have a cat in the townhouse that she shares in Southern California, maximizing her facetime with cats when she visits is a top priority.

So prior to her arrival for a mini-vacation with us, Valerie sent us a link to a place that she had discovered in San Francisco called . It’s a cat lounge/tea house where you can pay to play with cats.

At first, I didn’t understand the concept. Cats sleep 18 hours a day so as much as I enjoy a trip into the city, I was wondering what made visiting the cats at KitTea so special that it required reservations plus a 50 mile drive when Valerie could pet our snoozing feline freeloaders – as well as a few random neighborhood cats – for free, any day at any time?

But it’s not just about petting cats, it’s the total experience, right? So I went online and made reservations for 30 minute sessions ($15 per person with unlimited tea) for Valerie and Jennifer Lynn in the cat lounge.  Like everything these days, liability is a consideration so there’s a waiver to sign in case a kitty goes rogue during your visit.

We arrived early (and were glad we did – more on that later) for our daughters’ 11:30 appointment at KitTea in Hayes Valley. The first impression when you walk in is how bright, clean, and sunny the space is. We were greeted and told the rules – place your tea order in the cat lounge and pick it up just outside the door; health restrictions permit serving it to you in the cat lounge.

I didn’t make reservations for Steve and me – I’m fine with only petting cats that I can pet for free – so we sipped our tea in a delightful café setting and watched the girls playing with the kitties from the other side of a big glass window.

And they really were kittens (not cats!) so at this time of the morning, they were playful and energetic instead of just being fuzzy slugs. The lounge is filled with cat toys that guests can use to entice the kittens to pounce and leap. We got our money’s worth in entertainment value; we might not have felt that way if our reservations had been for later in the day.  When we strolled past after having lunch, there were some very tired kitties; still cute but lacking on the interactive scale.

Providing entertainment for cat lovers is great but the best part about KitTea is that it is also an adoption center. Twenty-one cats have been adopted since it opened less than two months ago. As much as we would have loved to make it 22, Valerie did not get to bring home a kitten for a souvenir.

The experience exceeded expectations. A big round of ap-paws for KitTea!

Hot & Cold Cats

Sunday, January 20th, 2013

Ever since the weather turned cold, our orange tabby cat, Nigel, has spent the evenings curled up in a box that didn’t make it into the recycling after Christmas, in front of our faux (you know, the kind with molded concrete logs) fireplace. We keep joking that we should get a giant spatula and flip him over; he’s already a nice golden brown on one side.

This cat – he’s actually a free-loading bum wearing a furry striped suit whose tender paws haven’t ever touched anything rougher than freshly-vacuumed carpet – definitely landed in a good spot when the Rustad Family choose him over his siblings to bring into their house. We are constantly pondering why we have this useless creature that does nothing except consume expensive “ProActive Health Adult Indoor Weight & Hairball Care Food for Active Cats” – there’s an oxymoron – and then in turn, produces poop for us to scoop.

I guess a bazillion views of cat videos on the internet can’t be wrong; we have him because he entertains us even when he’s not doing anything but being a cat.

We never miss an opportunity to remind Nigel – as if he cares – that life could have turned out very differently for him. Every day on our way home we drive past by a field that is home to a group of at least eight cats. Life isn’t so easy for these kitties; while Nigel is literally warming his toes by the fireplace, these cats are freezing their little feline butts off in some cat-igloos that a sweet lady has put on the property. This nice lady, who has also made sure that they are neutered and spayed, also drives over to feed them every day. So now, if we stop in front of the field, they all run over to see if we’re the Kitty Meals on Wheels delivery for them.

Thinking about the life of the field cats versus Nigel’s can get pretty deep pretty quickly. Nigel was born into poverty – abandoned by his mother in a cold garage in Petaluma. Through some fortunate circumstances, when he was a kitten, he was plucked from what was certain to a hardscrabble life foraging for mice and scraps. He escaped his destiny of being like the cats in our neighboring field (or Kitties of the Corn as we have come to call them) to come live like a king in our house.

Stop me!! I’m talking about cats that given the chance would just as soon eat us as sit with us…not Jean Valjean. Cat philosophy; it’s a thin book.

Best Cat Ever

Sunday, December 11th, 2011

When we moved a little more than a month ago, we downsized our square footage. But sadly, we also downsized in the number of pets we have.

We don’t know if it was the move that was the tipping point for our old cat, named Charm, or just coincidence, but about two weeks after we moved, the kidney disease that we knew he had, got worse rapidly. He stopped eating and it was obvious that it was time to say goodbye to his fuzzy round face.

We never really knew how old Charm was because we adopted him from Forgotten Felines when he was an adult cat but we had him for 14 years. He was the first pet for our family and he opened the door for getting two more cats, a German Shepherd, a couple of rats, toad, and assorted fish that also joined our household in the subsequent years.

I really don’t remember how we happened to choose Charm that day at PetSmart. Perhaps all the cute little kittens had already been adopted. But our daughter, Valerie who was five at the time, had her heart set on getting a pet that day so the cat with the slightly crossed blue eyes and latte coloring came home with us.

The name on his cage at the adoption center was “Toro” which gives you a sense that he wasn’t a little fluff-ball but more of a plus-size cat. Valerie immediately renamed him Charm because of a Barbie computer game that she was obsessed with at the time.

Apparently Charm had led a tough life before coming into our house because when we got him, he was a very ratty looking cat. He had a big chunk of fur missing from his tail and feline acne on his chin – who knew cats could get zits?

But once Charm put his paw that was accustomed to prowling the tough streets of Sonoma County on our plush carpet, his little kitty brain was wiped of any desire to want to go outside. We could have left the door open for days and he never would have ventured outside. Although we’re not sure who was smarter…Charm or the toad…he had enough brain to know a good thing when he saw it.

Charm was a total lap cat. You only needed to be sitting for about a minute before this big ‘ol cat with four very small paws was upon you. I’ve never seen a creature that could get more relaxed. He would eventually end up sleeping on his back with his skinny cat arms raised over his head like he was doing the wave in his sleep.

But his favorite place was on Steve’s lap when Steve was at his computer. He loved soaking up the warmth that Steve’s massive tower put out. Every time Steve would touch the top of Charm’s back – which was every time he reached for the keyboard with his right hand – Charm would raise his butt so he was on his tippy-toes and then settle back down until Steve used his right arm again. Even though Steve had so much cat fur on his keyboard that the keys became felted, at least this constant up-and-down of his back end forced Charm to get some exercise.

As hard as it was to say goodbye to Charm, it would have been even harder to do it if we were still living in our old house because he was a presence in our lives 14 out of the 17 years that we lived there. He is one of the best memories I have of our old house.

Ship the Orange Cat off to Orange County?

Monday, September 5th, 2011

Of course, our whole family misses Valerie now that she has gone back to college in Southern California. However, some of us miss her more than others. Her younger sister isn’t all that sad about having the bathroom to herself again even if it does mean that she can’t blame its grody-ness on anyone but herself.

Steve and I miss Valerie’s artistic energy but the family member who is really acting out his grief over Valerie being gone is Nigel, our orange cat.

When Valerie came home for the summer, Nigel immediately resumed his routine of sleeping with her, sometimes with his face so close to hers I thought he was sucking the life out of her and sometimes plastered tightly against her legs so she was pinned down for the night. If cats are capable of expressing affection, Nigel certainly seemed smitten with her.

Valerie reciprocated Nigel’s attention by playing with him as if he was a puppy and she was a little kid rather than the adult cat and college student that they actually are. She would get him to chase her down the hall, play tug-of-war with a feather tied to a long piece of cord, and try to get him to fetch a little squishy ball, a trick that he used to perform as a younger cat. It amazed us that he would retrieve the ball and drop it at our feet until we threw it again.

Steve and I commented many times that we were dreading how Nigel would act after Valerie went back to college. Would he resume his bad behavior of plucking the carpet and 1:00, 2:30 and 4:00 am? We knew didn’t do it to get food – he had plenty in his dish – he just wanted to get some action going. Without Valerie here to romp and snuggle with him, we feared the worst.

Nigel didn’t disappoint. After a night of me shouting at Nigel every 15 minutes to “Stop It!” and waking Steve up every time I did, I decided some drastic action was called for.

Based on some advice we got from my blog readers (thank you very much), the only way to break him of this pattern was to sentence him to solitary confinement in a bathroom or padded cell for a night or two.

The only destruction proof room in our house that doesn’t have carpet on the other side of it that Nigel could shred by stretching his sharp little claws under the door is the gulag…I mean garage.

So desperate to get some sleep, at the sound of the first thwack, thwack, thwack that I heard shortly after midnight, I knew an intervention was needed. I scooped up Nigel and tossed him into the garage. His pink spongy pads that have touched only carpet felt the cold, hard surface of concrete. And so Nigel spent the night separated from us for the first time in the five years that we’ve had him.

It took about an hour for my heart to stop pounding so I could go back to sleep while I reminded myself he’s a cat, for goodness sake. Given a chance, he would shred helpless little mice just for the fun of it. And I’m worried about banishing him to a warm and safe garage?

I’m happy to report that our tough love approach has had good results and we have actually gotten some sleep. The only challenge now is that the little orange beast knows what’s coming and shoots under a bed to hide when I come after him in the dark. But like Wile E. Coyote in the Road Runner cartoons, I have a couple of tricks up my sleeve. Acme explosives, anyone?

It’s me or the cat…almost

Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

This is a plea for help from any cat whisperers out there.

How can we stop our orange cat, Nigel ““ the one of our feline trio with way too much brain and far too little to do ““ to stop plucking the carpet to get us to do his bidding?

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how Nigel was getting us up in the middle of the night to feed him. Steve or I would add a fresh scoop of cat food to the mound that was already in his dish, and usually after a few bites he would jump back on the bed and settle down to get cozy again ““ at least for a few hours before repeating the process.

However, for the last couple of nights, he’ll follow us out to the kitchen, maybe eat a few bites and then be back in the bedroom. The warmer weather means that he doesn’t care about getting back on the bed. Nigel has decided it’s time for the household to get up and so at 4:45 a.m. on a Sunday morning, we hear that distinctive thwap, thwap sound as his claws make contact with the carpet backing.

We tried putting his favorite kind of cardboard cat scratcher in the bedroom. But he has figured out that using his claws on the carpet gets results while using the cat scratcher doesn’t.

We tried squirting him with a spray bottle. By the third night, he was thoroughly accustomed to it and sauntered leisurely past us while we’re madly spritzing him with water.

Let me note here, that we are getting ready to put our house on the market so although our carpet already has 17 years of wear from three kids, three cats and a dog, another threadbare patch isn’t going to help our short sale measure up.

It’s pretty bad when you start thinking that you have to go to bed early to make sure you’ll get enough sleep in case Nigel insists one of us gets up to enjoy the sunrise with him.

We can’t be the only people who have a rocket surgeon cat. So I’m looking for suggestions ““ besides opening the front door and letting him find his own nightlife outside. He may be smart, but he’s not street smart. His spongy pink pads have never touched anything rougher than tile.

A Cat with Too Much Brain

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

Steve and I thought that middle-of-the-night feedings were a thing of the distant past for us. After all, our youngest child is 14.

They were, until we got our orange cat, Nigel.

Let me tell you about last night as an example: at about 1:00 a.m., Nigel who almost always sleeps between Steve’s legs, jumps off the bed and starts plucking the carpet. “Nigel stop it!” He stops for about 30 seconds and then resumes working his claws until Steve gets out of bed and goes out to the kitchen to feed him. It doesn’t matter that there is already food in his dish, Nigel wants his Iams cat food freshly plated.

This scenario is repeated at 4:30 and 6:45 a.m. with Steve and I alternating who gets up to feed him until we are worn down to the point that regardless that it’s Sunday, and we could sleep in another half-an-hour, it’s just easier to submit to his will. We tried squirting him with a water bottle but he thought that me chasing him down a dark hall murmuring swear words under my breath was a really fun game. OMG. Thirteen pounds of orange fur is ruling our lives.

Based on the way Nigel acts compared to our other two cats, we are sure the problem is that Nigel has about one-and-a-half times more brain matter than most cats. Charm, our oldest cat who is probably 16, is so domesticated that his only interest is in finding the most readily available warm lap. Day after day, when Charm wanders into the bathroom, his slightly crossed eyes always have a look of bewilderment, “Have I been here before?”

Nigel was a feral cat who was rescued from abandonment by a loving family and hand-fed until we adopted him as a kitten four years ago. He was so cute as a kitten. And it was so charming when he learned to play fetch; we could throw a little squishy ball and he would actually chase it and bring it back and drop it for us to throw it again.

We thought his predatory instincts would mellow with age and he would become a furry, free-loading slug who sleeps 22 hours a day like most cats. But Nigel is the one cat who we wish would sleep more because when he is awake, he is constantly pestering us for attention. And because he is so smart, he has figured out the ways that are most annoying to us to make sure that we do his bidding.

If he isn’t attempting to shred the carpet, he is up on the desk using his teeth to put puncture holes in every piece of paper within his reach. Every manila folder on my desk looks like it was attacked by an angry rattlesnake when it was actually just Nigel trying to get Steve to stop working and go sit on the couch so he can settle into his usual spot between Steve’s legs.

But here is the biggest problem. We love him to pieces. If Nigel could learn how to push a button on the computer, Valerie would probably just Skype him and skip talking to us altogether because it is Nigel who she really misses. Every phone call with her, we have to find Nigel and hold him up to the video camera so she can see his fuzzy face.

I know this sounds ridiculous to anyone who hasn’t had a cat, but when he curls up and sleeps with his eyes shut very tightly, he looks almost angelic and all the bad deeds are forgiven. So despite the pulled threads in the carpet, chewed shoelaces and cords, and missed sleep, our lives would seem very empty without him. We sometimes wonder, what did we talk about before Nigel?

Leader of the Pack

Sunday, February 4th, 2007

I don’t think it’s true that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. For as long has we have had her, our eight year old German shepherd, Xena, has jumped at the sliding glass door when she wanted to be let in or out. But in a matter of a few days, she has learned to sit and wait before we give her the signal to move. No more gritty paw prints on the glass? That does the trick for me.

Xena’s new and improved behavior is a result of watching the “Dog Whisperer.” On the show, Cesar Millan helps dog owners understand their role as pack leader with his mantra of “rules, boundaries, limitations.” The part of the show that amazes me the most is that once he shows the owner how to project an attitude of confidence, the dogs instinctively follow.

I learned by watching Cesar that when I was unhappy with the way Xena behaved, I had the power to change it. All in all, there really weren’t a lot of bad habits that we needed to undo ““ we hoped the incident with the UPS guy was just an aberration. But she was always jumping at the door to be let in and pushing ahead of me to go out. I had gotten lax in asserting myself as leader of the pack. Something Steve reminds me I need to do with the kids too.

So after absorbing a few episodes of “Dog Whisperer”, I decided it was time to put Cesar’s approach into action in our house. The next morning, I reminded myself that she’s a dog and I’m not and I don’t have to put up with the same “like, whatever” attitude with Xena that I get from my teenage daughter. I thought to myself, “Xena, before I let you out of your crate, I want you to know, there’s a new sheriff in town, and I don’t got to show you no stinkin’ badges!”

Then instead of letting her launch out of her crate, I squared my shoulders, channeled Marshal Dillon and told her to sit and wait. I had to repeat myself to her a few times but eventually she did it. Then I calmly opened the door, waited a second until she became calm and submissive and then signaled that she could come out. She slinked out. It was obvious she knew that I was in charge because instead of her huge, pointy ears being straight up, she had them pinned so tight to her head that she looked bald. Once again, Cesar was right.

The best part about reclaiming my role as her master (or is it mistress?), is that it I enjoy Xena more. When I take her for a walk, I really feel proud to have her walking right by my side instead of being annoyed because she’s pulling on the leash. Like any relationship, good things happen when you put energy into it.

And when a new situation with Xena arises, like last week when she started barking to be let out at 5:30 in the morning, we continue to use Cesar as our guide for how to respond. In fact, I’m thinking of having bracelets made with “WWCD?” imprinted on them.


Orange Cat Attack

Sunday, January 21st, 2007

It’s amazing to me that a six pound ball of fur has become such a force in our household. Some days I wonder”¦ what did we talk about before we got Nigel, our orange tabby cat?

When we adopted him, we already had two cats and a German shepherd, all who have been part of our family for years. We loved them, but unless something happened that demanded my attention, such as a cat barfing up a hairball on our new couch or the dog biting the UPS guy, our interaction with the pets was routine and unremarkable.

When we decided to bring a kitten into our family, I knew that it would monopolize the attention of my daughters, at least for the week that the cat was still a kitten. However, I expected that once the cat became an adult, it would be like the other two cats ““ loved, fed, and cleaned up after ““ but really only commented on if one of them discovered a new place to get cozy for its requisite 22 hours of sleep.

What has surprised me is that even though Nigel is an adult cat now, he actually gets more attention ““ not just from the girls, but from all members of the family ““ than he did when he was a kitten. When our 18 year old son comes home from school, never mind saying hi to the rest of the family, it’s Nigel that he cheerily greets before he disappears into his room and computer for the next 12 hours. When Steve wants a break from fielding phone calls from clients, he plays fetch with Nigel. When our teenage daughter stumbled into the kitchen for breakfast this morning, her first words were, “Nigel did the cutest thing yesterday.” And throughout the day, our youngest daughter is giving us reports from the front, “Nigel just did the biggest kitty stretch.”

One reason we talk about him so much is because he is ubiquitous. Whenever there’s movement in the house, he’s right there. It’s a little startling to open the refrigerator door and find Nigel sitting vulture-like on top of it. Or when I’m brush my teeth and just as I lean down to spit, I realize that his orange face is about two inches from mine. And when Steve and Ethan use the bathroom, they tell me that avoiding Nigel requires really good aim.xena-and-nigel-web.jpg

Nigel’s stealthiness, athleticism, and fearlessness are because he is at heart a feral cat, unlike our other cats who are descended from a long line of “slug muffins” as our daughter calls them. But since he is an indoor cat who doesn’t have to face mental challenges just to survive, Nigel finds interesting ways to occupy his kitty brain, such as flipping the door stops. While we’re lying in bed at about 5:00 am, we start hearing “thwaang, thwaang.” And then there’s stealing and chewing iPod earphones and cell phone chargers. But probably his favorite game is “take down the German shepherd.” After Nigel has run the dog around the family room a few dozen times, she comes over to Steve with big puppy eyes, as if to say, “Make the bad kitty stop!”

And speaking of bad kitties, he loves spending time on the counter when I’m preparing dinner. We’ve tried squirting him, clapping our hands, pushing him off ““ all with very little change in his behavior. We need a “Cat Whisperer,” but I’m afraid we’ve given up on cat discipline. This will ensure that no one ever comes over to our house for dinner again, but I’ve looked over to find Nigel on the table licking his butt while Steve is eating.

Did adding that third cat put us over the edge and we’re now into crazy cat lady territory where all we talk about is our cats? Maybe, but only to each other”¦and in blogs.