Tag Archives: cats

Cat Thoughts

I get into a lot of trouble with cat people when I say this, but here goes. I try to allow my pets as natural an environment as possible. I have a cat door, so they can come and go as they please. I’m gone a lot because of my work, and my landlord checks on them every day, changing the litter box and putting out fresh food.

My cats have a rich, active life. Yes, they bring in moles, voles, mice and the occasional bird (not many, though. Apparently mice are more plentiful.) In the spring and summer, they keep my little home mouse and mole free. They have also extended their work to my landlord’s garden. We refer to it as “paying the rent.”

They are both neutered so there is little fighting with neighborhood cats other than the occasional territorial yowling. Max is an outdoor cat. Big and strong, he loves to spend his days outside, but comes in to check on me periodically when I’m home. Annie is perfectly content to stay inside. She does go outside, just not nearly as much as Max.

I get a lot of terrible feedback about how many birds my cats kill every year and I have to stress that birds are probably killed by strays more often than house pets. I think it’s more important that we work toward eliminating the number of strays. My cats are familiar with their home, inside and out. When they are outside they know what, and who, to watch out for. Cats that are never let outside are vulnerable when they accidentally get outside. Believe me, they will get out- it’s a matter of when, not if. I know too many people who have terrible stories about the cat that got out.

Mine are happy and have no weight problems. Max is big and loves to go outside, regardless of weather. The boy is all muscle! Annie is more petite but is active enough that she’s well within her weight ratio. And they are both very healthy.

I recommend allowing your cats lots and lots of activity as well as watching their weight. We have to increase our exercise routine when we want to lose weight; they are no different. If you live in an area where it really is dangerous (busy thoroughfare, for example) I understand your reluctance to allow them out. I used to have a cat tree when I lived in the city. Make room for it. They LOVE it and they can busy themselves all day.

These are Nature’s creatures. They need activity and healthy food just like everything else. They’re not pretty things to plop on the sofa. And they aren’t just there to make us feel better-we owe them an environment that allows an active, healthy life even when we’re not around.

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Connected

I’m reestablishing my life. Internet, TV, phone-all connected. My cats (especially Max) were initially alarmed at the TV-“who’s that? Where are they? What the hell is going on in the strange flat box thing?” After an hour or so of slinking and staring they settled down in my chair with me and napped. They accept what is, these two. And my Max seems to think if Mama’s OK with it, he should be too. So they wriggled in on either side of my legs in the easy chair and slept while I watched a movie and caught up on the news. Of course, once they settled down I couldn’t move, but that’s OK.

I am doing research for a couple of writing projects so I’m glad to have access to the world again. And I’m back to 60+ hour work weeks so my writing projects are going slowly. My thinking is to work as much I can until the really bad winter weather. I think last year was an anomaly, ice and snow are on the way again. If I can work a LOT and put a little money away, I can work on art and writing on the days I can’t get out to work. I’m also trying to make myself get up and write for a specific time every day. My weekly job at the nursing home puts me getting home after 11, and I read for a while before I can get to sleep. It’s tempting to sleep late, but I absolutely despise waking up with only an hour or two before work. I’m too tired to do much when I get home. I can read any time, but writing when I’m really tired hasn’t been working. I’ll try it again, but mainly I want to lose myself in an alternate reality after I’ve spent 8 hours at the nursing home. My feet have healed up and boy am I testing them! So far, the adjustment back to working in a nursing home has been painful. I said I’d never go back, but I’m trying to stay close to home and there isn’t a hospital in Mars Hill. I am wary of private duty, because you never know when it will end. Still, if I could find something close to home I would leave the nursing home. I haven’t done much that is more depressing and sad than working in a nursing home. It reaffirms my decision to NEVER do this. I won’t be dependent, I won’t live the last years of my life being wheeled around because I can’t walk, fed because I can’t hold a fork, diapered because I can’t get myself to the bathroom. It’s not life and I won’t live it.

Being injured also emphasized that my decision is right for me. I knew I would get better, I knew what the injury was and how to treat it. But getting there, from injured to healthy, was painfully slow and I was afraid every day I’d done something permanent. I could not live with that powerless feeling as a way of life. I won’t. I don’t want to be at the nursing home, and if I find something else I’ll leave, but in the meantime I’m using it to shine the light of gratitude on my life. I’m healthy, I’m sane, I’m independent, I’m as free as I can be as a human being.

What I owe

I’m healing, though more slowly than I’d like. When I’m active, I’m happy. Even when I’m reading or writing, my head is active. Not being able to do what I want is another kind of trapped for me, but at least I know the reason for it and can measure progress.

Yesterday I watched the sky and heard the birds and thought I would like to do a section hike as soon as I can trust my feet again. Only this time I will stop and be part of what’s going on instead of feeling the pressure to simply keep moving. And knowing I will be home after a few days should keep me from closing up like I did on the Trail. I hope.

I still don’t really understand what was happening to me out there. I know eating became harder and harder. Even when I was in town, I could only eat  a little at a time. My body wanted to reject everything. On the trail, eating became an ordeal, a fight that left me frightened and resigned at the same time.

Was this me letting go? I thought of everyone, everything, every unfinished conversation, project, relationship. I struggled with painful homesickness when I remembered my peaceful little house and Max and Annie. They moved restlessly through my thoughts. I wondered if Max was still checking the house for my return. I missed them horribly. I cried while I walked, thinking of all the things I’d done-or not done-to be where I was. I walked every day in pain, searching for something. The woods were no longer the sanctuary they had always been for me. I felt nothing but the pressure to walk and walk and walk. I struggled to interact with the people I met along the way, even though I did enjoy a few conversations, wantd to be part of the relationships I saw developing sometimes. I watched and listened and marveled at the conversations between strangers. People smiled at me and welcomed me into this trail family. Eventually oerwhelmed, I became less and less capable of socializing.

So many days I walked without seeing a soul until I neared the  shelter. I listened to conversations and realized lots of hikers walked alone, all day. Maybe that’s why they gravitated toward each other with such eagerness at campsites. I didn’t want to camp alone for safety reasons, but felt OK lying in my tent on the fringes, listening to people talking and laughing. It didn’t comfort me exactly, just assured me that there would be help if I needed it. Other hikers felt the same, I’m sure.

Closing off, shutting down, were not what I expected to experience on the trail. Just the opposite, in fact. I’d hoped the walking, the solitude, would help me open up, help me see things in a calmer way, help me understand myself and the people in my life. What I understood between the pain and the nausea, was that I was losing any purpose I might have. I felt no reason to keep walking, or anything else.

I decided that besides losing the joy I had always felt outdoors I was also losing the ability to feel anything. I told myself I owed my brother money and that  he deserved repayment of that money, as well as my gratitude for caring about me when I no longer did. One day I stopped walking, saying out loud “I hate this!” and decided to leave the trail.

I’ll pay Johnny back as soon as I can spend days on my feet again (I am meeting my next assignment tomorrow) and plan my next section hike as soon as I get my life on a schedule of sorts. Even though living in Mars Hill is a terrible struggle in the winter and gas is so expensive, I may go back to my little house because that’s where Max is. Being there with Max and Annie again is what I want right now, more than anything. Beyond that, I still don’t feel connected, just obliged. I need to pay Johnny back because he is generous and tender and feels more than I ever did. This makes me regard him with a kind of awe. And I want to deserve his caring.

It’s odd, this whole “why do it?” thing that goes through my head all the time. I watch and listen and wonder why do they bother? My romantic relationships are like old movies now. I can play them in my head and remember that I was in love, that I felt joy and excitement and anticipation and disappointment and pain. I laughed and cried and touched his face, smelled the scent of his skin after we made love and felt my heart jump when I heard his car in the drive. But they are memories washed clean now. Nothing moves inside me when I remember. It is not so hard to keep my life uncomplicated now.

LOVE ME LIKE A CAT

Annie, my rescue cat, is one of a long line of beloved pets that I’ve been appreciating more and more lately. April 1, I’ll take off for the Appalachian Trail, a lifelong dream that I’ve decided can no longer be ignored. In the meantime, I’m trading cooking and cleaning with a friend in exchange for rent so I can save money for my trip. Annie had no say so in that decision. When I decided to go, I started worrying about her. If I waited until she died, that might be another 15 years or more. Should I put off an opportunity that might never come again? It hurt, and I went through days of feeling guilty as I packed my belongings and gave them away.

A good friend, the one who offered to let me live rent-free in exchange for cooking and cleaning, was happy to take in Annie-and keep her when I leave.

The move has been hard. I’m used to being alone, doing things my way and having complete privacy when I get home from work. My niece called to see how I was doing and I ranted for several minutes about my sudden lack of privacy, wondering if the decision I’d made was going to backfire. Finally I apologized and she said, “Hey, it’s a big adjustment, you need to vent. So how’s Annie handling it?”

“Oh, she hid the first day but she’s been exploring the new territory, claiming the little deck in front, and last night she slept with my roommate!”

It dawned on me that Annie was handling things a lot better than I was. Everything in her world changed overnight. She just coped. Instead of whining about the way things used to be, or the way she thought things were going to be, she coped. She looks at every day as a new experience. Like other pets, she lives in the present. She shrugs her shoulders, holds up her little paws and says “hey, it is what it is. We got any more fish?”

Shamed, I started asking my friends about their own pet lessons and have been pleasantly surprised that they all have a story. My friend, Jill, works for Animal Control and volunteers for an animal rescue group. Her own home is filled with purring, barking and parakeet whistles most of the time.

“No matter how cruelly they’ve been treated, most of the time they forgive as soon as you offer them a kind word and a comforting touch. We had a case recently where two little puppies were abandoned. They were tied to a tree in 100 degree heat with no food or water. The owners tied them up while they moved out. Left them. A neighbor saw them, heard them whimpering, and called us. They just huddled together, scared to death, after they’d been fed and watered. All day we petted those little guys, scratched their ears, and by the next day they had the whole staff crooning over them. We didn’t even keep them in the cage; they were running around the offices, playing and tussling like nothing had happened. If that had been me, or you, we’d have hated all people. We’d have to be in therapy. They forgive, they don’t hold grudges. All they really want is love. And kibble.”

Lesson one, I thought. Be present. This is the best day. This is the best meal. This is the best activity. I made myself pay attention to every minute of laundry that day. I noticed every towel, every sock. I appreciated how clean they were. I folded them carefully as I took them out of the dryer, inhaling their fresh scent. Put away gently in their proper place, I realized how little time it actually took and how different the experience was when I wasn’t checking my watch and wishing I were doing something else. Annie, helped, of course. She pounced on wayward socks and took a short nap on the folded towels.

Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer, writes that our pets can teach us more about how to live our lives than we can ever teach them. His book “A Member of the Family” emphasizes how much our pets can teach us about living our lives with joy and purpose. By living in the present, not holding grudges, celebrating each day, giving and receiving love.

We need a purpose, a reason to get up and feel like we’ve accomplished something with each day. Like dogs want to work for their food, so do we. Making art, writing, working at whatever job will pay satisfies me, defines my purpose. I make sure Annie gets to go outside and explore, hunt, do things cats want to do. She needs that. And it’s not so much.

Animals don’t live for revenge or regret, they don’t hold grudges. They deal with an issue when it comes up and then move on. Show your pet kindness and compassion, affection and yes, food, and they will love you with complete abandon. It’s hard to describe the feeling you get when you open your front door after a discouraging day at work and someone jumps off the couch, purring and rubbing your legs, obviously happy that you exist. Annie and her predecessors always wanted to be petted before I fed them. Always.

And that’s the thing I keep coming back to, in all my research and reading. Love. Annie doesn’t care if my neck sags. She doesn’t care that I don’t make a lot of money, or that my car broke down again or that I’m not the prettiest, smartest, or richest. She loves me exactly the way I am. When I’ve been irritated or tired or depressed she has settled in my lap, purring and kneading. Sometimes she sits up and gently pats my face before she settles down. I love you, she’s saying. No matter what.

I’ve been in therapy-who hasn’t anymore? And it’s because I’ve held grudges, fretted that the past will strangle the future, felt frustrated because I wasn’t this or that. Annie says, you are who you are and that’s great with me. She thinks I’m swell, so maybe I should, too.

My neighbor, a vet, smiled when I asked him about his own menagerie, an assortment of animals left at his clinic.

“The only agenda our pets have is loving us,” he said. “Oh, sure, they want to be fed but even that’s greeted with cheerful enthusiasm.” He laughed and said, “Well, with the exception of some picky cats!”

Now, when I find myself irritated with someone’s careless behavior, or when I’m feeling sorry for myself because my life hasn’t been as successful as I wish it had been, I think of Annie. I think of the pets that loved me before her, of all the animals that share our lives without complaint. And I remind myself to be grateful.

I try to savor every bite of everything I eat. I lift my head during my daily walk and look closely at the colors of the leaves, of the patterns in the clouds. I work through my daily chores and appreciate that I can do them, that I have what I need to live, to work toward my goal of hiking the AT in the spring. Annie has given me unconditional love and that, somehow, frees me to love myself the same way.

It’s empowering, this love. It allows you to love others in a richer, more profound way. Try it. Love yourself the way your pets love you, and watch it keep flowing from your pets to you to those around you.

References:

http://www.cesarsway.com/shop/a-member-of-the-family-hardcover

http://www.helium.com/items/1746480-lessons-from-pets

http://www.helpguide.org/life/pets.htm