The Cat Who Gave No F**ks

My post-op mileage was up to about two and a half, which is ridiculous because I’m usually good for about four or six, and then the heat hit. Apparently having big chunks of meat scooped out of you screws up your temperature regulation more than I would have thought, because the heat index seems to be the critical difference between being able to knock out the mileage and me calling the Engineer for a rescue because I’m starting to get a big head and a sense that I’m radiating heat, like a two-bar electric fire.

It’s just frigging HOT out.

I know I’ll make it home without a bailout if I can get the home of the Cat Who Gives No Fucks. He or she (a grey tabby, so gender indeterminate) hangs out in the yard most afternoons, more rarely in the mornings. A couple of hysterical dogs, probably littermates, who look as if there’s some Jack Russell in there, live at the same address and can be heard raising the rafters anytime anyone passes the yard, even if they’re inside the glassed-in porch. They have a dog bed which has been strategically elevated to the level of the window sill and  patrol the yard in all directions, losing their shit in the key of C sharp anytime anyone passes the corner of the chain-link fence. If they’re outdoors, they fling themselves against the wire as if they think they’re Dobermans in a movie and Chuck Norris is about to vault over into the secure installation. It would be cute if it weren’t so noisy.

The cat gives zero fucks.

Seriously, this cat, who typically flops on the walk leading up to the house but has sometimes been seen in a decrepit lawn chair under the one shade tree, has absolutely no reaction to all this canine commotion. The dogs are yelping, the dogs are slamming the fence, the dogs are launching themselves like sugared-up toddlers in a Moon Bounce.

The cat does not move.

My eyes are bad enough now that I sometimes can’t see the cat at first, motionless grey cat in dim shade, and sometimes the Engineer has to point it out. Most times I’m by myself, and I lean on the corner post of the chain fence, enraging the dogs, and take off my mask for a moment like someone who’s just got to stop and breathe, but I’m really only looking for the cat. There is something about that cat’s preternatural calm that I envy and wish to be granted. Maybe it can share.

I probably will never find out its name. In my mind the cat is Zerofux, after a great Merovingian war leader.

Last week I actually spotted the cat outside the yard — it looks like it has a few years on it — slinking under the porch next door, the only shade worth mentioning on the block at the hour. Cats are famously indifferent to extreme heat (I’ve had to pull two back from the brink of heatstroke), but even Zerofux had had it.

It’s not just me. It’s hotter than Hell’s boiler room out there. And I still have a few fucks to give, but they’re going fast.

The Missing Man Formation

or, The Paragon Of Cats

1. October, 2007:

“You’ve got a bush full of Fergie!” the Engineer exclaimed as he bounded up the staircase at something like seven AM, full of manly energy and the exhilaration of biking from his old place to mine. This is not as rude as it sounds. The bush in question was the enormous American Holly (the girl one) that occupies the southeast corner of my house, close to the cellar stairwell and dining room window. In recent months, it had become popular with the stray white-and-ginger cat who had taken to loitering on the property, contesting a dish of outdoor kibble with a wholly Satanic-looking yellow-eyed black longhair visitor and, so far as I could tell, usually coming off the worst of the dispute. Fergie, as I dubbed the ginger, was not the alpha-est cat on the boardwalk, but did persist — one of many feline virtues I would be privileged to observe.

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I had been trying to lure the cat closer since July, not long after the quiet and lethal tuxie Patricia Twinkle had left us. Without her, considerations of sentiment aside, I had only the slightly doddering Apricat Beezler in residence, and every winter there was an influx of mice, which she had neutralized with extreme prejudice and no remorse — strutting the house, after incidents like the Saturday Night Mouseacre (the extermination of an entire nest that without my knowledge had been established behind the stove) like a four-legged Emma Peel. Apricat was losing his eyesight, arthritic, and had never been able to catch a cold on his best day. “Oh, God of Cats,” I had cried to the heavens, “send me a mouser.”

And there was Fergie. I couldn’t get close enough to guess the sex, but figured an iconic redhead like Sarah Ferguson was a good namesake, and if not, our local candidate for Clerk of the Court, one Paul Ferguson, would do nicely.

Long-legged, personable, and a bit of a ladies’ man in his day, or so I was told. It turned out I was right on the money.

The infestation of my holly bush inaugurated a dance of circling ever closer to the house until, one December afternoon — Pearl Harbor Day, as it happened — I looked out into an eerie, snow-coated landscape saturated with sunset light angling orangely through a cloud cover, and saw the cat leaping from limb to limb.

I took a dish of food, waved it under his nose, and backed toward the porch door, then ever so slowly inside, until I could slam the door shut, causing the cat to do a one-eighty — exposing an impressive set of nads — go airborne in a straight line, his thought balloon reading “OH SHIT!” and  scarper under the porch furniture.

I came down later attired in a puff jacket and a pair of oven mitts to take him to the spare room. But he was a perfect gentleman and the defensive gear was superfluous. He went right under the guest bed and stayed there.

The next night he came out, took an epic dump in the provided box, leapt up on the quilt next to me and proceeded to roll and plaster himself upon me as if trying to perform a Mobius-strip application of all his surface to all of mine at one time. I was to learn that he would never give up this attempt.

Within a couple of weeks he had displayed his audition mouse at the foot of the stairs, for my examination and approval. “Allow me,” he seemed to be saying, “to present a representative sample of my work.”

Not a mark on the poor little bugger. Never knew what hit him.

Honestly, I’ve been meaning to tell this story for years.

2. May, 2008 and Onward:

I suppose the next development was inevitable. My vet at the time, after castrating him — a pressing necessity, since he had sprayed all the long gowns and skirts in my closet — remarked that it really seemed sort of a shame to do it, however requisite. “If it’s not weird of me to ask,” I said, “how large are feline testicles anyway?” “Oh, sort of like frozen peas,” she said, “at least mostly. But these were like small grapes.”

His name was finalized when I made the appointment. The desk lady at the vet’s asked for it and I hesitated a bit before saying “Mister Ferguson.” “That’s very formal,” she said. “Well,” I replied, “I figure you’re about to do something like this to a guy, you at least address him with respect.”

The good news is that the intervention left him shooting only blanks, though he still went through the motions of spraying. The other good news is that when I took in Nickel Catmium, the Rechargeable Feline Battery and resident Crazy Bengal, he let her chase him until he caught her — at one point performing a seven-foot parallel leap between two tall shelves that inaugurated the expression “Air Fergie.”

It was a match made in heaven. Apricat, grandfatherly and sedate, wanted nothing to do with Fergie’s invitations to a good invigorating rassle, and they eventually worked out a sharing of their snoozy hours.

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But he needed a playmate. And, well, apparently, a mate. And not in the British sense of the term.

They worked it out… so much that there is still an album on my hard drive titled the Catma Sutra.

He was almost as affectionate with my clients, though not in such a testosterone-driven way. Apparently you can separate the cat from his nuts, but you can’t really take the nuts out of the cat.

A decade later, they were still humping on top of me at one in the morning, directly over my surgical staples from having both hips replaced. Apparently the uncomfortable position this forced me to lie in made an especially attractive theater for their disports. Cats are no respecters of personal space.

3. Supervision:

As an exemplar of all the catly virtues, Fergie managed my business office with elan, gravity testing everything on the desk and observing and directing all projects:

Elevations became a specialty.

His star turn was giving me (and the Engineer, after he moved in) a heart attack prancing along the upstairs banister over a ten-foot drop, with his always smartly curled tail conspicuously not balancing him in the way that cats’ tails are meant to do. Somehow, he never fell.

He told every cat in the house how to behave. He schooled his little wife in proper litter box etiquette, refereed her quarrels with every cat who was not her beloved husband, and explained to Mystery, the Engineer’s tubby yellow moire tabby, that “I bite you head!” “No, I bite you head!” is a game for ruffians. While Apricat was still alive, and increasingly prone to widdle on the bathroom rug, Fergie was always there to huff indignantly, slap him on the flank, chase him from the scene of the crime and yell “Mom! He’s doin’ it again!”

We referred to him as the Paragon Of Cats.

4. July, 2019 — He Fell

“He doesn’t want stair food the last night or two,” said the Engineer, referring to our practice of placing dishes of canned food on successive steps to reduce competitive eating, especially after we had to start slipping a nightly medication into Fergie’s food for a malabsorptive syndrome that left him skinny but nonetheless vigorous. Suddenly, he didn’t want any, going straight to the strong tasting kibble offered in the kitchen.

The next night he would only eat the soft treats the Engineer uses to give his cat Lilly Bast her thyroid pill — I never met a cat who wouldn’t eat a whole bag if he could get them.

The next morning he wouldn’t eat those.

I took him to Dr. Cohn, who’s looked after my cats for ten years, and when he called back with the test results I could hear his tone pleading with me to not, not put my cat through treatment for what was apparently one of the most aggressive kinds of feline cancer. “Use the appetite stimulant we gave you,” he said, “and his other meds if he’ll take them, but not if he hates it.”

He ate for three more days.

He jumped up on the platform on the porch to watch birds and rabbits, until he didn’t.

He went in the closet.

He didn’t want to come out.

When I fished him out his head nodded with every breath. I petted him for a long time, then called Dr. Cohn’s practice. There’s always someone there.

I don’t know what to tell the Widow Catmium-Ferguson. At least, not in language she would understand.

This evening we put out food on the stairs, and Mystery, who always stands looms over other cats waiting for them to finish so he can eat the rest of their food, ran to the dishes, and took up a spot on the step above the topmost dish, as if Mr. Ferguson were still there to eat from it.

“It’s the feline equivalent of the Missing Man Formation,” said the Engineer.

He brought out a bottle of French brandy.

“The Paragon Of Cats,” he said.

Awesome Bed 2

His last morning

 

 

 

Gold Star

I guess I have to admit I said it a lot. Actually I’ve been saying it for years. When I did a six-butt day in the massage room, or blew away the gym and set a PR, or even back when my late and ex husband was dying, however comfortably, in the hospital and I was like a bug on a windshield zooming to the other side of DC in my spare time to make sure things were right and he had what he needed.

More lately it’s just been finishing a work day with the pain from what turned out to be freak localized joint destruction, and then getting through the hip surgery, and after that hitting the PT like a pre-war housewife whaling a 9 x 12 Axminster with a carpet beater.

Last night we got tickets to the third How To Train Your Dragon movie, a series which is at least 50% squee porn for people who love cats

[a longish clip, but if you don’t see a rescuer luring a feral cat in the first minute or so, there is no hope for you]

and I ditched the goddam Zimmer frame, which has been giving me palmaris longus tendinitis anyway, and strode into the theater with just my Alpine poles. Which, part of the time, I didn’t use. I’d already covered over a mile with them earlier in the day. It felt good. So did seeing an actual film in an actual theater without tottering and clutching the railings up to my seat, pulling myself along like a rope climber. And given how much I still get depressed about having to be repaired like an old beater, it was pretty exhilarating to be reminded that Hiccup, the young dragon trainer, also has had a metal gizmo standing in for part of his leg since the first film.

We had soup waiting for us at home, and after clearing off the Engineer disappeared upstairs and came down with one of those small, understated boxes embossed with a firm’s proprietary name in gold leaf: the kind of small box that means business.

“You’ve been asking all this time whether you’d earned one,” he said, “and I know you don’t usually wear things on little chains, but this still seems like the way to say you did.”

Gold Star

All the way through, not plated. Okay, I’m wearing it with a Star Trek “Deep Space Nine” T-shirt. Sue me.

 

The Mark Of Zorro

Mr. Ferguson is the mostly gentlemanly, the most debonair, the most delicate and polite of the current cat population. He uses his toes as actual digits — you should see him reach into the bag and pick up a piece of popcorn — and he offers gallantries to his wife on a regular basis, but, well, genteely. He even carries his tail in a dashing curl.

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And then there’s what happens when it’s time for a checkup at the vet.

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That’s my front delt. I didn’t notice until I got back from the gym, owing to the digging of his rear claws into my thigh when we commenced stuffing him into the carrier. It kind of captured my attention.

You’ll be glad to know he checked out A-OK.

 

Viking’s Funeral

There’s no gentle way to lead into it. Torvald Einar Magnussen, the magnificent FloofViking, the most lovable complete dick ever to inhabit a feline body, has been welcomed into Valhalla.

I had been wanting to post something lately about the Miracle Kitty, as Dr. Cohn called him, a survivor who lived two and a half years past the rough life expectancy of cats who’ve been diagnosed with his kind of heart condition. He just was not having it. We were sure he was a goner twice, the right medication combination took shape, he accepted it every morning and evening with a stoic mien and a thought balloon that said “fuck you with extreme prejudice,” and kept on keeping on.

 

Torvald On Platform

2009 (probably) – 2018

Last night was no different. He took his pills, let me kiss his nose (a fairly reckless thing for me to do considering that he once nearly took my face off), ambled out to dig the night noises on the porch, and eventually allowed himself to be herded off to bedtime in the basement with his buddy Agatha, the only cat who can be around him without getting relentlessly chased, rassled, body-slammed, and in various ways battered in the style of a Klingon wedding night. He’d been jumping up in my lap nightly — kind of a new thing, so far as frequency — dicking Aggie out of the heatybed, scooting up and down stairs at a clip with his big, fuzzy, jodhpur-like caboose double-clocking, demanding kibble every few hours, obstructing the hall when my clients entered and demanding pettings, which usually led to the most pronounced elevator-butt reaction I’ve ever seen in a cat. Some of my clients I’ve had to block in a little extra time for so they could pet Torvald.

The Engineer went down to put out food in the morning as he always does — he’s the breakfast chef, I handle lunch — and, just when I was clambering out of bed, he bellowed my name.

The Engineer never bellows. He had found Torvald at the foot of his favorite cat tree, right next to the food dishes and water pan, lying on his side, already cold and stiff.

They told me, when his heart failure was detected, that he could die of pulmonary congestion, which he declined into and came back from twice; or that his kidneys could fail because of the medications that kept his heart going (which almost happened); or that I ought to be prepared for the possibility he would just keel over suddenly from an arrhythmia. I think he chose door number three.

We gave Aggie some food in the next room, by the little water fountain that we’d added to the menu when he had to start Lasix and needed to drink plenty. I had to look for a box big enough. He was about eleven pounds, not heavy for a Maine mix, but longer than you would think stretched out.

I called the place I’ve used before to arrange a Viking funeral. Cremation is Nordic, after all, though the burning ships are more of a Hollywood thing.  He may not have died with his sword in his hand, or whatever the feline equivalent might be, but he spent every day of his life in joyous battle with a world full of trees that needed to be shown who was boss (before I snookered him inside for good) and birds on a stick and catnip veterinarian toys (yes, they make those) and every other cat he ever encountered who wasn’t Aggie. Ragnar Lodbrok (which means Hairy Britches), at least as played by Borgnine here, would have saluted him as a brother.

I picture him walking into Valhalla with that rolling lope that somehow took up all the center of a room or a whole door from side to side, as the drinking song becomes ragged and pauses, giving the don’t-try-it stare to the dogs under the tables, and demanding chow and a good fight, in whatever order.

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First Visit To The House

New Year Pose

I Now Own The House

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Also, Fuck Your Guitar, This Is Mine Now

Every cat you ever own, I always say, is the best cat in the world.

Torvald Einar Magnussen, he who can vanquish Thor, the first, the son of greatness, forgive my Latin: Ave atque vale.

 

 

Critter Crises

Just before we start, no one was ever anything but fine. Except me. I think I had my last heart palpitations this morning, just thinking about it.

What happened was, about a week ago I asked the Engineer if he would make me just a giant bowl of braised mushrooms for supper, as I frequently do. Normally he does these bad boys (shiitakes and baby portabellas) with a whack of shallots, along with thyme from the front yard and dry vermouth and some garlic, only we were scandalously out of shallots, so he doubled up on the garlic and the whole house smelled like Lucy Westenra’s bedroom. In the end there were more mushrooms than I could eat and I left my bowl on the table while I did the washing-up. And forgot about it.

In the cold dawn I awakened and remembered with horror that garlic (like onions and all their relatives, including lilies) is toxic to cats. And that four of our six had had the run of the first floor all night. And that my dearly beloved Mr. Ferguson is the one who likes to get up on the table.

The Engineer was off to work early so he wasn’t around for me to cling to as I approached the table and saw the mushrooms, with their visible festoon of garlic chunks, nosed about and looking nibbled-on in the ceramic bowl. We had sprinkled them with cheese. The cats love cheese.

Everyone looked okay. I called the vet and asked. They punted and told me to call the Animal Poison Control Center.  Veterinarians who know their toxicology are standing by, they said.

I have dealt with “toxic to cats” before, at least in a mild way. Once, back in my old house when I was married to my Late and Ex, Apricat of blessed memory ate some azalea blossoms. I found him chomping away and seized my veterinary manual, which advised me that azaleas caused nausea and irritation and that I should cause the cat to vomit them up by placing a quarter teaspoon of salt at the back of his tongue. I am a good cat wrangler and had the salt in there faster than Mr. Zip can spit; Apricat, released, took a couple of steps away from me, turned his head back with an expression that clearly said “You swine!”, put his head down and urked a wad of melon-colored blossoms onto the beige carpet.

Here, however, I faced the possibility that the garlic had gone down the hatch anything up to eight hours ago. I tried to add up the number of cloves the Engineer had minced and divide by the poundage of mushrooms corrected for the water they had released.You get the idea. The best the Poison Control people could say is that there was a low risk of a toxic dose and that I should watch all the cats for the next five days for signs of weakness, nausea and locomotor ataxia. (They said wobbly gait, but I was busily looking it up online and reverting to the medical terminology that I find exact.) Garlic damages the red blood cells, so that the liver and spleen can be slammed with busted erythrocytes that overwhelm the normal clearing functions of both organs. It sounded perfectly horrid.

Everyone was okay all that day.

And the next. And the day after that.

And, well, everyone was okay. Either someone pushed the shrooms around and said “Blargh,” or ate some and went off and barfed in a corner which I have yet to find, or it just wasn’t enough garlic to do damage. Back in the day, some people would tell you to worm your cats with garlic. Never tried it, happily.

Anyway, don’t leave garlicky things out where your cats might eat them. And for god’s sake never let them near lilies, which pack enough of the critical chemicals that a little pollen can kill a cat. They smell like rotting ragout anyway.

The Poison Control Center wanted my Visa for more than I would charge for a half hour appointment. The workman is worthy of his hire and I paid it, but some people don’t have that to pay. I wonder what they do.

In other news, hawthorn extract  alleviates heart palpitations. Verb. sap.

 

 

 

Heatyvent And The Despised Marshmallow Bed

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Torvald has discovered a new love and its name is heatyvent.

All the cats, unsurprisingly, like heatyvent but he is the biggest customer, no doubt because he is usually in the living room when the furnace is ginning up for the day. That vent’s right above the heat exchanger and right behind my chair — in a perfect world there would be no furniture near a vent, but I’m not sure where we’d all sit. It makes a nice little sauna.

Most days he’s come out after a half hour or so. Then, a couple of days ago, I was tossing the living room and murdering clutter, and my eyes fell on Marshmallow Bed, which was a big hit when it arrived a couple of years ago but which all have spurned since about the time Torvald got up out of it one afternoon and immediately collapsed from the heart condition for which he now receives five drugs a day. I’ve wondered idly if some whiff of panic adheres to the thing, but it’s been sitting on the floor under the stereo, forlorn, finally used to stash a couple of lumbar pillows that the Engineer doesn’t like.

I looked at this useless heap, threw the pillows back in the Engineer’s chair, and stuck the white fuzzy bed next to the vent. The next time Torvald ambled into the room he disappeared into it almost instantly. About four hours later he emerged.

Heatyvent == well, Heatybed — has become the lodestar of his existence. Where, previously, we dared not open the nearby door to the upstairs because he would be up there like a shot in search of ALL THE BUDDIES that he knew wanted to play with him, now he barely lifts his head when he hears the doorknob turn and says blearily “Huh?” before subsiding again.

I was a little worried, given his dicky heart, but when the furnace heat isn’t going, he’s still the same cranky, unsocialized dick he’s always been, trotting into the kitchen for kibble and down the stairs to harass Agatha. He just loves Heatybed. He always has been quite vocal about telling us that despite clear Maine Coon antecedents he is not suited to withstand frigid temperatures, that his breed is actually Virginia Goon, and he is not having the porch in winter, thank you.

Mr. Ferguson gets it overnight. He’s becoming hard to find, too.

I guess this will go on till around April.

All Hail Fancy Feast

Not the stripper (and yes, there is a badass plus-size burlesque performer by that name), but the canned cat food. I never thought I’d be saying this, but this comminuted slaughterhouse-sweeping gravy-suspended meat collation is my current Gratefulness Object. See, a client who nursed an old cat through the terminal kidney disease of old age brought me the book she came to depend on, and I frantically opened it to the chapter about CAT WON’T EAT ANYTHING. “Cats who reject everything else,” said the oracle, “will sometimes eat Fancy Feast.”

If you are not a cat person, understand that this is pretty much Burger King or Popeye’s for cats, pulverized and pressed-looking fragments of vaguely animal flesh swimming in gluey sauce. The Engineer ran right out to Shoppers Food Whorehouse on his lunch hour. We put the dish in front of Torvald, who was sitting rather glumly on the bath mat in front of the first floor commode — somehow, that was the new favorite place, a bit inconvenient for clients. He looked at it and looked up at us. The Engineer hugged me. I was sad. The Engineer patted me on the back. The Engineer dug his blunt chunky fingertips into my deltoids and forcibly turned me around, a wildly out-of-character act, and there was Torvald ear deep in the dish of soupy crap.

He’s been eating it ever since, at the rate of about three little cans every day. Another client had a case shipped to him from Amazon; he’s got fans, that one. No more turkey baster. The vertebrae have stopped sticking out like nailheads and he trots and leaps and butts me with his head.

No idea why the vet didn’t know about this.

A day may come when his appetite for everything fails. But it is not this day.

His Majesty

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Torvald has been having a difficult week, which is one reason I’ve not posted in ages; that, and the heat, which melts your brain.

I fuss over him a good deal, my fluffy Viking. His appetite flagged again about eight days ago, something which was going to happen, given that his kidneys were never going to completely recover from the heart medications that have kept him alive since May of 2015. He is thinner, and spends less time bounding and more time just chilling (though he can still show a clean pair of heels off the sofa back), but he is still every inch a king.

He does not really want to eat, but he’ll let me, without a fight, give him cream in a dropper and cat food by hand, and it perks him up at the cost of two thirty-second indignities every day. The vet said there might be ups and downs. I’ll take what I get, so long as his life is still about catting, not just surviving.

In the evenings he jumps onto a platform on the porch, or stakes out the fascinating Buddy Door (which leads to the upstairs where the senior cats are secured when Torvald is up and about). Occasionally there is a conversation through the cellar door, which is almost all glass, and a white tippy paw thrust under it to try to get at Nickel or Fergie.

As long as he holds like this, tired but seemingly happy, there will be no trips to the vet.

I carve out moments to contemplate his unquenchable majesty.