ACW Episode 212 – Beware of Cat

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The cat nearly killed me a couple weeks ago by jumping on me in the middle of storytime. Then he tried to smoother me to death last week.

Thankfully, he is not nearly as heavy as his brother.

(And no, I did not let the cat drink my wine.)

I will be at Balticon this coming weekend! Among other things, I will be doing a panel on creating webcomics using the iPad. I'll also have an artist table with fun stuff to sell! So come see me!


Beetlejuice, 1991-2009

It has taken me two weeks to get around to writing this. I can’t say if it’s because I have grown to hate writing these eulogies for my pets or if it’s because I’m so damned tired and worn out these days. Maybe both.

Beetlejuice, the oldest of the three cats who lived with me during the last 17 years, passed away two weeks ago in the beginning of March. I knew his time was coming soon. He was old, older than any other cat I can recall hearing of, and he had begun to slow down so much the last few weeks. This time wasn’t like it was with Lydia or Fritti. There didn’t seem to be any suffering until the very end, and even that seemed more like fatigue than actual pain or misery.

I was actually there when BJ was born. He’s from the first litter of my mother’s cat, Bonnie. Bonnie is a registered Himalayan, still prowling around my folk’s place at the grand age of 18 or 19. Mom had her breed when she was around a year and a half old, and BJ was one of the results of that. He was born with five other kittens on a day I’ll never forget. I was attending Officer Basic Course at Fort Eustis that year, and staying with my parents rather than staying on post. I had been out all night working as staff duty officer. I was beat and ready to collapse in bed when I walked through the door and saw Bonnie walking around the den meowing and dragging something behind her. That something turned out to be a new born kitten still connected to her by the umbilical cord. I woke up my mom and she and I delivered the next couple of kitten. Then my dad came home to help out. He and mom pulled out the last two kittens because they were breech and Bonnie was too exhausted to push any more while I toweled off the others, thinking to myself, “God these things look ugly!”

They did look ugly, like little yellow rats, but that phase only lasted a few days and pretty soon they were fluffy blind moles squeaking and scuffling to get at their mother’s milk. It became my job to rotate the kittens, making sure each tiny ball of fluff got a chance at the back nipples where the milk was better. We had a couple of nipple hogs in that group who actively fought my attempts to move them away from the prime feeding spots, but somehow I managed to keep all the babies fed.

I stayed a few more months at my folk’s, rotating kittens and finishing up OBC. We made one trip over the Christmas holidays to my grandmother and took the kittens and my then-fiance Michael with us. The kittens adored Michael and turned him into a giant jungle gym, climbing all over him and pouncing on him. He seemed to adore them as well, which was good since I knew eventually one of the little fuzz butts was going to be mine. I didn’t know which one though until my mother gave him to me. He was a male blue point Himalayan with the biggest blue eyes I’d ever seen. I was addicted to the cartoon ‘Beetlejuice’ then, so I named him Beetlejuice, and even had him registered as ‘Beetlejuice, Prince of Neitherworld.’

BJ came to live with me in Blacksburg when he was old enough, first in the Terrace View apartment I shared with two roommates, and then in the apartment on Washington Street that I had to myself. I didn’t want him to be alone all day while I was at classes, so I adopted a scrawny orange tabby to keep him company. That crazy critter was Fritti, who grew up to be a big lug of orange not-quite-tom-cat (I had all my cats fixed as soon as they were old enough). And then of course a few weeks later, someone asked me if I would adopt a third cat that they couldn’t keep themselves and that’s how I got a cuddly black and brown tabby I named Lydia.

Life with three cats was always an adventure. BJ was probably the calmest of the three, although you couldn’t tell it from the picture above. He liked to play, but tended to let the other two cats take the lead. He would sometimes chase Lydia around the house, forcing her to vault to the top of the china cabinet in our dining room where she would then puke up a bunch of cat treats and leave them there for me to discover weeks later. But I think the strangest behavior BJ ever exhibited was his interest in human sexual relations. Michael and I could not have sex without him watching, unless we shut him out of the room. In fact, BJ liked to sit on our feet when we were making love, and would complain a bit if he got shoved about. When we were done with our activities, he liked to walk all over us, sniffing. Michael called him ‘the Sex Inspector,’ saying BJ obviously had to check and see if we had done things right, and of course we were never done with sex unless we had his seal of approval.

BJ acquired a lot of nicknames over the years. There was BJ, of course, and Beej. Also BeeGee, Boojoo, Booper, Mr. Booper, Mr. Buddy, Mr. Bloomers (because of the way his rear end looked with all that fluffy fur), and Fuzz Butt. He adored Michael and could not stand to be locked out of the office when Michael was working. In fact, if I opened the door to the office while Michael was working, BJ would take the opportunity to dart up the stairs and launch himself into Michael’s lap, where he would demand to be petted.

There were other cute/odd behaviors. He liked to walk around the house in the middle of the night yowling at the top of his lungs, always waking me up. This happened more and more after Fritti died. Fritti was our original opera cat, who loved to yodel at all hours. BJ also loved to lie in the tub during the summer, to cool off. I took him to the vet some summers to have him groomed, and the other cats always stared and snickered whenever BJ came back. I have to admit, he did look funny with all his fur clipped, though they never shaved his tail. That was always full, grey and gorgeous.

I always thought that BJ would be the first to pass away, because we’d had more health problems with him than the other two. He nearly died while I was pregnant with Sam. In fact, all three cats were hit with some sort of illness that year that involved me spending lots of time nursing them and giving them subcutaneous fluids until they got well enough to fight me off. But Fritti went first, and then Lydia a year later. I knew with BJ it was only a matter of time.

After Fritti died, BJ seemed to enter a sort of renaissance, suddenly strutting around the house, playing like he hadn’t in years, and acting like the cock of the walk. Though I know he and Fritti loved each other (they constantly groomed each other and acted like lovers), I always thought that BJ was a bit intimidated by Fritti. Without the alpha cat in the house, I guess BJ felt he was now large and in charge. It was nice to see him act so lively and healthy. His slow down at the end was so gradual, I really didn’t notice what was going on until the last month.

His eating tapered off first. He was always a picky eater, most likely to snub his meals in favor of treats, and likely to suddenly snub them too when the mood hit. But we reached a point where neither treats nor any sort of wet food would do. Then he stopped drinking water. I was able to coax him to take a few sips if I refilled the bowl in his site, but after a while even that stopped. Eventually we reached a point where all BJ would do was stare at his food and water bowls and then meander off somewhere to sleep.

During the last month, he came to see me while I was taking a bath. I don’t know what inspired him to do this, but he jumped up onto the side of the tub and then tried to leap across. He missed and landed in the water and on top of me. He didn’t fly into a full blown panic like I would have expected, but he did scratch up my foot pretty good. I still have a mark there. But that was the first indication to me that he was starting to go. If he couldn’t leap from one side of the tub to the other, his days were numbered. Eventually, I began to hear occasional thumps and thuds and crashes throughout the house – all attempted and failed leaps that BJ was making. On the last day, these sounds were the worst. He wanted into the bath tubs, so he could lie on a cool surface, but he couldn’t seem to get into the tubs without falling over the side and landing in a heap. He hurt his leg trying, and limped through the last day of his life, but he wouldn’t let me help him get into or out of any place. He limped from one spot to another – my tub, the kids’ tub, the floor in front of my bathroom sink, a spot behind the toilet. I did managed to get him onto my bed at one point, and I thought he would die there. He fell asleep, and his breathing grew so slow. But then every now and then he’d wake up and yowl. Eventually, he tried to leave the bed when I wasn’t looking, and there was another crash and a thump. I ran into the room to see him limp away to another spot.

All that day, it snowed. The kids played outside with Michael, making a snowman, while I folded laundry and tried to pack for my trip to Vegas. I called the vet around 2PM, determined to see BJ taken care of before I left. I was not going to let him linger and suffer while I flew off to a conference, and I was not going to shift that responsibility onto Michael. However, around 9PM, after the kids had gone to bed, taking care of BJ became a moot point. He tottered into the girls’ bathroom one last time and slumped on the floor. His breathing was so labored at that point, each intake was a gasp followed by a lengthy silence. I knew he was in his final hour, and yet once again, I found myself torn between trying to tend to him and prepare for the conference I was attending in two days. I decided to leave BJ alone. He had wandered away from all my other attempts to take care of him, and I think he just didn’t want to be bothered anymore. Sometime while I was putting the finishing touches on some notes and sending out e-mails in the bedroom down the hall, he passed away. Michael and I had to spend several minutes to make sure he was gone; it was so hard to tell toward the end. But he had finally passed away, and I’m not even sure if I heard his last gasp as I left to finish my packing or if he had lasted a few minutes longer.

We took BJ in to be cremated the next day. Cassie hadn’t quite understood the day before what was going on. She knew BJ was dying, but to her that meant we’d be getting a new cat soon, and that was all she could think of. It wasn’t until I tried to explain to her, and then blew up when she refused to stop talking about a new cat, that she finally realized BJ was not going to be around any more. I don’t make any excuses for losing my temper, nor do I offer any regrets. I tried my best to explain that a cat I loved was dying but it took a time out and some yelling to get the point to sink into the Princess’ brain. As for Pixie, she only knows that BJ died, but not what that means. I think it confused her that we took his body into the vet’s the next day, but when we came back the next week, we only walked out with a small white box. I tried to explain that BJ’s ashes were in the box, but it made no sense to her.

So my three cats are now all gone. They were good, loving, loyal companions for many years. Now they all share the same shelf in my bed room, three little white boxes lined up in front of my favorite books. At times it feels so horrifically unfair, but what other end did I expect? They were old. This is what happens. And life goes on.

We will not be getting another cat any time soon. Michael and I plan to try for a third baby this summer, and as Michael points out, a new cat presents certain health concerns for a pregnant mother. And even after the baby is born, we’ll still wait a few months. It wouldn’t be fair to any animal to come into a house with an infant. I’d be so sleep deprived and cranky, I know I wouldn’t be in any shape to care for two new additions to the family.

Until the times comes for a new cat, I will have my memories of these three – Fritti, Lydia and BJ. Good cats all, crazy as hell, and the best companions I could ever have asked for. You guys will be sorely missed.

Fritti – 1992-2007

Lydia – 1992-2008

Beetlejuice, 1991-2009


Lydia, 1992-2008

Lydia did not last the night after my last post. Sometime around midnight, she got up and tottered about a foot or so to lay outside her kitty tent which I had brought up for her, and then maybe an hour later she crawled inside it. I got up with her the first time and brought her a wet washcloth, trying to squeeze a few drops of water into her mouth. The second time I think I heard her, but by then I was too caught up in a nightmare that I can’t remember now. I vaguely recall hearing her get sick again. That was probably the last thing she did before she died.

When I woke up at 5:30 the next morning, Lydia was long gone. I let her lay where she was and went about my usual morning routine, crying the whole time. In fact, that pretty much describes this whole past week. I keep going on, doing what I would normally be doing, and then something catches me – I find her collar, I clean out the kids’ rooms and find someplace where she got sick ages ago and puked up a mess of dry food, I go looking for photos for this blog entry – and then I cry for a bit but I keep going. I can’t stop. I’m the mom and I’ve got two kids and a house to take care of. If a person had died, a human family member, I would have been expected to take time off and nobody would have questioned that, but for a beloved pet? I cry when I have the time.

When Michael woke up, I had him help me get Lydia out of her tent and into a box. She had stiffened up and wouldn’t fit into her cat carrier. I was relieved that I hadn’t had to make that final trip to the vet after all. She did go to the vet that morning, but to be cremated, not put to sleep, and I feel slightly better knowing that she died at home in some comfort with her people.

Cassie woke up next and I told her that Lydia was gone. Cass is finally old enough to cry over these things. She’ll miss Lydia. She still remembers Fritti, but Sam will probably not remember either cat. After Michael left with Cassie for preschool, I gathered up Sam. Lydia was already in the back of the car, and we drove to the vet for the final arrangements. Again, I spent the rest of the day doing my usual routine – laundry, cleaning the kitchen, heading out for a run. I managed to lock myself and Sam out of the house and had to call Michael to let us in. A sign of how upset and disoriented I was over Lydia, I guess.

You know, I never planned to have three cats. When I graduated from college, I spent a short time at home with my folks while attending OBC at Ft. Eustis. Bonnie, my mother’s Himalayan, was pregnant then and Mom promised me one of the kittens. That turned out to be Beetlejuice. When I moved back to Blacksburg and got my own apartment, I decided to get a second cat to keep BJ company while I was away during the day. I had intended to get a grey/black female kitten and name her Lydia. I was hooked on the cartoon “Beetlejuice” back then (derived from the movie of the same name) and thought it would be cute to have a Beetlejuice and Lydia running around in the apartment. However, this orange tabby charmer won my heart and I ended up coming home with Fritti.

Two cats was going to be the limit for me. My then-fiancé Michael was mildly allergic to cats. His sinuses could handle two cats, but three would be too much, so I set aside my ideas of a Lydia cat and contented myself with the two I already had. Then a friend of mine, JJ, approached me one evening and asked if I could take in a young female black and tan tabby. JJ had adopted the cat shortly after one of her own had died, but it wasn’t working out. The cat was being bullied by her other cat, and besides looked too much like the cat who had died. She needed a good home and JJ had heard I was in the market. Michael had this firm, serious “No way” look on his face, but it didn’t stand a chance against my hopeful happy face. This was my Lydia cat, I knew it. And so JJ gave me this skinny, curious black and brown tabby cat and that was that. Three was definitely the limit, Michael told me and I never argued with him.

Of the three cats, Lydia was the shyest. I think being bullied by JJ’s cat in those early days left a mark on her. She was always on the losing end of a scuffle with Fritti, who chased her from one end of the house to the other. Fortunately, she was very spry and could leap to any height to get away from him. I have fond memories of Lydia leaping to the top of the china cabinet in our dining room and roosting there, looking very much like Snoopy when he played vulture to Charlie Brown. Fritti and BJ could never get up there, but Lydia spent a lot of time in that spot. She had a tendency to vomit up her food, and quite frequently I’d find piles of dried kitty vomit up there, a gift from Lydia.

That was just the start of Lydia’s acrobatics. When we lived in our condo, she liked to walk along the top of the sliding shower door, a feline tight rope walker who kept me wondering if she would fall into the shower with me and then claw me to shreds to get out (water was pure evil to Lydia). She loved doing that so much that when we moved to our house, which had no sliding shower door, she became extremely distraught and spent over a week walking around the house crying. She got over it though and learned to balance on other narrow ledges. She also discovered the joys of a walk-in closet with top shelves. On more than I few occasions, I’d go into the closet to get dressed and see Lydia take a flying leap overhead from one side of the closet to the other. It was quite a sight, sort of like Super Kitty zooming through the air.

Of course, being a small cat she also liked to hide in small places. I frequently found her tucked away in closets and boxes, content to be boxed in by sheets and blankets and towels. She got locked into the linen closet on more than a few occasions and I would spend half an hour trying to figure out where in the world all that meowing was coming from. Then one day we discovered a leak in the jets to the tub in the master bath. One of the pipes had come undone and was letting water soak through to the floor beneath, which also just happened to be the ceiling for the foyer on the first floor. Michael opened up the panel to the air jet motor to let the floor/ceiling dry out and shut the bathroom to keep the cats out. But then sometime in the night, he used the bathroom and forgot to close the door. Lydia snuck into our master bathroom and found the open panel, which led to a small dark place. Naturally, she couldn’t resist exploring that.

I woke up late the next morning to the sound of meowing, and spent the next hour trying to figure out where Lydia was. When the sound seemed to be coming from the vents, I realized what must have happened. Lydia had crawled behind the tub and gotten trapped in the walls. But I couldn’t pinpoint exactly where she was. Michael and I spent another half hour looking around when I finally spotted one tiny kitty eye glaring at me from the slot of the downstairs bathroom sliding door. We had to take a sledge hammer to the wall to get her out, poor thing.

Other fond memories of Lydia… she had a favorite toy, a boot lace tied to a small plastic Halloween pumpkin. This was something I put together back when I lived in the apartment in Blacksburg. The idea was that I would drag the pumpkin around and the cats would chase it, but nobody liked that idea so I held onto the pumpkin and they chased the bootlace end instead. Lydia was especially fond of this game and would drag that pumpkin to me constantly, meowing around the bootlace in her mouth. Problem was, she wanted me to wiggle the string, but she never wanted to pounce on it, just watch it. Michael could get her to run in circles with it, but me? She just liked to watch me wiggle it in front of her. There were times when I had to hide that damn boot lace just so I could get stuff done. We put it away on a shelf when Cassie started walking. I was afraid she’d strangle herself on it. I do recall pulling it down a few times to play with Lydia, even as recently as a month ago. I’m glad I did that.

Lydia was the most patient of the three cats. Back when we lived in the condo, we would watch the X-Files on Friday nights. Michael and I loved the X-Files, and whenever the show came on, I’d hold Lydia up beneath her front legs and make her do the ‘X-Files dance,’ which mainly consisted of me flopping her around a bit on her hind legs. She was very, very patient about that, let me tell you.

Lydia was also the cuddliest of the three cats. She was the one who always crawled into my lap whenever I cried. I could hold her and rock her like a baby, which I did a lot when I was going through the infertility treatments. She liked to curl up on my bed beside me, and when I was pregnant with Cassie, her weight alone was enough to pin me in the bed. My back was so bad during that last trimester, I couldn’t move a nine-pound cat to get out of the bed! We had to lock her and the others out of the bedroom after Cassie was born. They found other places to sleep, and Lydia never really did come back to my bed after that, even after we quit shutting the door. In the last few months, I don’t think she could have gotten into the bed. She was having problems with her back legs and my spry little kitten couldn’t get around so well any more.

Lydia drooled. A lot. Any time she got excited, she’d drool, which made petting her a messy ordeal. I’d scratch behind her ears and she’d just get to purring and then suddenly we’d have a flooding problem on our hands. I also discovered that she’d meow if I blew at her. Just puff up my cheeks and blow, real quick. I don’t know why she did that, but she did. Crazy cat.

I went looking for photos of Lydia yesterday, something to add to this entry. I found a series of pics that a friend, Mark, had taken one Halloween night of all three cats waiting at the window for Trick-or-Treaters. I’m sure I have other photos of Lydia and Frittie and BJ, but I remember this night so clearly, even though it must have been ten years ago. I went out for a run through the neighborhood that evening and came back just as the kids were ringing our doorbell. It was cool, not too cold, and we left the window up so the cats could see all the kids in their costumes. They were fascinated, and the kids were equally fascinated with them. I look at these pictures now and think, my god, how young my cats look! And look at how young I was!

But now Lydia and Fritti are gone. I picked up Lydia’s ashes today from the vet. I cried when the vet assistant handed them to me. I’m crying now. I can’t help it. My darling cat has been replaced by an acrylic box with a label on it. I can’t hug her anymore or scratch her behind the ears and watch her drool. She won’t be sitting at the fridge tomorrow morning when I get up, waiting for her morning treats. She’s gone, and my life with all its tasks and demands keeps driving me onward with no time to stop.

I miss my cat.

Lydia Is Sick

Well, I had hoped to come back from my vacation with funny stories about how miserable it is to chase two kids with princess fantasies through the Magic Kingdom. I mean, I really did have some funny stories and it really was miserable at points. But then I came home to a sick cat.

This is like what happened with Fritti all over again, only compressed into a few days. Lydia, my baby and my darling, was okay when we left. The neighbor’s oldest daughter came by all week to take care of her and BJ while we were gone. But some time over the week, Lydia stopped eating and then stopped drinking. We found out when we came home. She was just as bone thin as Fritti was, and just as shaky. Poor thing has spent most of the weekend tucked away in her little kitty tent, just laying there, except for when I drag her out to squirt water or runny baby food down her throat with a syringe.

Now she’s even worse. I last fed her around 6PM, and I left her on the couch lying on a towel. She was so listless, and she had vomited up some of the food I gave her, so I didn’t want to move her. Then when Michael and I weren’t looking, Sam grabbed the towel Lydia was lying on and dragged the whole thing onto the floor, with Lydia still on it. Lydia didn’t even move, apparently just hit the floor and stayed there.

Right now, she’s in my bedroom. She found enough strength to wander over to a corner and is lying with her head atop an air vent. Here eyes are open and she’s just staring off at nothing. I don’t even want to try to feed her anymore. I’m afraid it will just upset her or make her vomit again.

Lydia is sixteen years old. I’ve been thinking that some time this year or next she would die. But it’s so hard to watch her go like this. If she’s still alive tomorrow, I’m taking her to the vet. He probably can’t do anything for her at this point, except put her to sleep. I did it for Fritti, so I’ll do it for her, but it tears me up just thinking about it. And everything is so hectic right now, I can’t even find the time to stop and just cry. I’m swamped with work and unanswered e-mails, one novel just published and a short story collection just accepted for contract, plus house work, unpacking from the so-called vacation, and on and on, all this work just waiting to fall on me and crush me beneath its weight.

Lydia, Fritti and BJ were with me when I first moved out on my own. Those three cats kept me company when I was all alone in Blacksburg, in that single bedroom apartment, going to graduate school while Michael went off to work. They kept me company, kept me warm, snuggled with me in bed. Lydia was my baby doll, the cat that comforted me when I was suffering through all the garbage of infertility treatments and tests. My smallest, my softest, my baby. And tomorrow, she’ll probably be gone. I simply can’t bear it.

Eulogy for Fritti

Portrait of Fritti Madden

After weeks of feeling sad about his passing, I wanted to take some time to remember the happier moments (and some of the stranger moments) in Fritti’s life. I remember the day I first brought Fritti home. I was 23 back then, just moved into my first (and only) apartment with Beetlejuice, my Himalayan cat. BJ was only a few months old and I wanted a second cat to keep him company, since I knew I’d be busy with grad school. Michael and I went to the Montgomery County Humane Society and that’s where I found Fritti. He was a scrawny orange tabby who yowled like a banshee the moment he saw me. I don’t know what had happened to him prior to arriving at the Humane Society, but his whiskers looked liked someone had clipped them short, making him look a bit like a walrus around the nose. It was a cruel thing to do to a cat. Still, he seemed eager for a human touch and when I put my fingers to the cage, he cuddled right up and started schmoozing.

“Hey baby,” he purred. “You know you want to take me home. You look so fiiiiine. I bet you got tuna in your pantry, don’t you? You wanna feed me some tuna and I’ll purr in your lap?”

Yep, he was a charmer. I remember reading somewhere that when you go to pick out a cat, pick the friendliest one you can find because they make the best pets. Well, they didn’t come much friendlier than Fritti and once he glommed on to me, there was no letting go.

I filled out the paperwork and took Fritti home. That’s when I found out Fritti hated cars. He howled so loudly on the drive home that three other cars pulled over, thinking we were the police. When we arrived at my apartment, there was a delivery man waiting to unload my new furniture. He said he heard us coming from a mile off and wondered if the building was on fire. I rushed Fritti into the apartment and locked him into the bathroom, not ready to introduce him to BJ while there was heavy furniture being hauled around the place. I had this vision of two cats fighting and screeching and clawing the delivery man to death, causing him to drop my new couch down two flights of stairs where it would crash and become a pile of really expensive splinters. Well, Fritti apparently liked the bathroom about as much as he liked the car and he began to yowl even louder, so much that he almost did scare the delivery guy into dropping my couch. Meanwhile BJ sat outside the bathroom door, sniffing at the crack and going, “What the hell do you have in there, Mama?”

Once I opened the bathroom door and let Fritti out, it became obvious I had worried over nothing. Fritti and BJ did not fight at all. Instead, they became the fastest of friend, even, dare I say it, lovers. Yep, my two boy cats took suck a shine to each other that they would tussle over who got to groom whom. Fritti usually won, bullying BJ into lying still while Fritti licked his head and face. It was way too cute the way they would cuddle up on my brand new couch (which shortly became their new scratching post).

Fritti as a kitten

Fritti as a kitten, and the couch that became his scratching post

Four hours after his arrival to my apartment, we discovered that Fritti had a little digestive tract problem. We called it “the Hershey Squits.” He kept leaving small stinky piles in one corner of the apartment, right next to the TV, forcing me to put a litter box there to keep him from permanently staining the carpet. After a few weeks, Fritti’s bowels reverted to a more normal state of activity and I was able to move the box, which did not look very pretty sitting in the middle of my living room. However, Fritti was stuck with the name “Shitty Kitty” for the rest of his life.

About that time, a friend gave me my third cat, Lydia. Lydia was another striped tabby, this time black and brown. She was extremely shy and had been bullied horribly by another cat. Naturally, she and Fritti did not get on at all. They hissed and spit at each other, and Lydia hissed and spit even more at BJ who did not look at all like a cat to her (too fluffy – I think she thought he looked more like a walking toilet toupee). But somehow these three cats managed to come to an accord without destroying each other or my one bedroom apartment and we all lived together quite cozily for the next fifteen years.

Lydia, BJ, and Fritti enjoy the fine dining of Chez Madden…

…followed by a breath of fresh air.

I got married a year after getting my three cats, and moved in with Michael. We rented a townhouse that was so much bigger than my apartment it scared all three cats. Fritti was the first to come to grips with his new environment, and soon discovered the joys of running head long down the stairs. His favorite game was to rush into the office at the head of the steps and drop a plastic ring from a milk jug at the doorway. Then he’d prance around while I dangled the milk ring over his head, making these excited chirruping noises (the cat made the noises, not me). Finally, I’d toss the ring down the steps and Fritti would go bounding after it, ten pounds of orange tabby hurtling down the steps like a race horse at the Kentucky Derby. The bit of floor at the foot of the steps was polished wood, and very short. Every time Fritti hit the floor he skidded across it and slammed right into the front door. Whammo! Then he’d stagger to his feet, grab his milk ring and run right back up to do it all over again.

I suspect that it was Fritti who lost Michael’s first wedding ring, probably by batting it off the night stand. And I suspect it was Fritti who snapped off the head of the groom on the Lladro wedding statue we had when Michael swore at the cats for losing his ring. I also suspect it was Fritti who killed a small snake and left it lying at the foot of the steps inside our condo, causing me to have a near heart attack. He was the great big hunter after all.

The third year we were married, Michael and I bought a house. The house was even huger than the condo, and it really terrified the cats. It took them a while to get used to having so much space. But they were brave little kitties and pretty soon they were owning the place and letting us live in a small corner of it. Fritti had an allergic reaction to the new carpeting that made him go partially bald. I think it was during this time that he developed his absolute loathing of vets. I took him in for so many appointments, trying to figure out what was going on. Finally, a specialist told me that Fritti was allergic to five hundred different substances and he would have to be given a shot every day for as long as he lived. The vet then demonstrated how to give the shot. It involved wrestling Fritti to the ground, sitting on him, getting a vet assistant to sit on him as well, and then jabbing Fritti in the neck with a long, sharp needle. During this demo, Fritti took a swipe at the vet assistant and nearly severed her thumb from her hand. Afterward, I clearly recall the vet saying to me, “See? That wasn’t hard at all. Now you get to give him his shots at home.”

Ha. Ha ha. Ha.

But we did. For several weeks, Michael and I took turns sitting on Fritti and giving him shots until one day Michael accidentally gave me the shot instead of Fritti and we decided that enough was of that, because we were tired of fighting with this damned cat.

Fritti eventually re-grew his fur, just in time for his mid-life crisis. Not having enough manly things to do around the house, he took up fighting plastic bags. And lost. I remember late one night hearing this horrendous bashing and smashing going on down in the kitchen. Crash! Bang! Bam! Smash! Then there was a moment of silence followed by the world’s most pathetic meow. I dragged myself out of bed and found Fritti standing in the kitchen with a plastic bag wrapped around his waist. He’d managed to kick out the bottom of it, but still couldn’t get out of it. The mess in the kitchen was terrible… groceries that Michael had yet to put away laying all over the place… suspicious wet spots on the floor that turned out to be cat pee… cat food bowls upended and Lil’ Friskies all over the place. But what really caught my eye were the bloody footprints that ran all over the kitchen and stopped at Fritti. Yep, he’d torn out a claw. It was after midnight, so I bundled him into the car and headed for the nearest emergency vet. On the way there, we came to a traffic jam. In the middle of Poquoson. At midnight. One by one, the cars ahead of me turned off the road until I found myself driving behind a Cesna airplane. Somebody was driving the plane down the highway in the middle of the night, with people running back and forth behind it to let the driver know whether or not he was in danger of hitting the trees on the shoulder with one of the wings.

I would never have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself. I just sat in my car and stared. Even Fritti popped his head up in back and meowed as if to say, “What the hell is this?” Eventually I too turned my car down another road and took the very long way around to the emergency vet. To this day, I have no idea what the hell was going on with that plane.

Fritti survived his torn claw, and went on to live a happy life, although we made sure he never got into a fight with another plastic bag. He took up playing with his catnip toys instead, and occasionally chasing Lydia through the house whenever he was really bored. He kept me company on the nights when Michael was out of town and came to be what I called my boyfriend cat. He was just so manly and so proud; a big old orange faux tom that loved to swagger through the house and stretch out on any surface long enough to accommodate his length. I also often referred to him as the hotdog cat, because of the way he would stretch out and roll around on the floor, proving that he was indeed a slim cat, but a very long one and that was why he weighed a ton.

See, his claws worked just fine after the tragic plastic bag incident.

Fritti, Lydia and BJ were all the great loves of my life, and were a huge comfort to me when I began my struggle with infertility. I know some people joke that infertile women will turn their pets into children, but cats can be so loving and so caring. They know when their owners are hurt and grieving. Fritti always knew when I was down, and would climb into my lap and purr to remind me that he was there to love me. If there is one thing I regret, it’s that once I did have children, I didn’t have as much time for him any more. Kids have a way of changing things between people and pets. I still loved Fritti and the others for all they were worth, but found my days and nights dominated by a screaming infant. And then another. It wasn’t until these last few months that I finally had the time to slow down and appreciate my cats. And those were the hardest months of Fritti’s life.

He was still affectionate to the end, although I know he was hurting. I spent as much time as I could with him toward the end, staying with him as he ate, brushing him whenever I had a few free moments. He loved the brushing more than anything else, and would purr just like old times as I groomed him.

Fritti is survived by his fellow house cats, Beetle Juice (aka BJ) and Lydia, as well as his owners, Helen, Michael, Cassie and Sam. He truly left his mark on his family, as well as on the scratching post, the couch, the carpet, the wooden banisters, and several other spots around the house. Helen plans to gather up all the cat fur he left behind and use it to knit an afghan. A very large afghan. Meanwhile, the family continues to remember Fritti fondly by all his many nicknames – Fritz, Fritti-tata, Fritata, Bean Head, Shitty Cat, that Damn Cat, and the Orange Lothario of Luv.

Fritti, you were one of the best boyfriend cats a girl could ever have. Wherever you are now, I hope you’re back to your old, suave, handsome self, hot-dogging on the floor and chasing milk rings for all you’re worth. I love you and I miss you.

Goodbye Fritti (1992-2007)

I know I’ve been offline for a while. Three weeks to be exact. Ironic sort of, considering the last line of my last post was “We’ll have to see what the next two weeks brings.”

My cat, Fritti, did not survive long after that last post. Michael and I took the kids to Maryland that weekend, leaving Fritti at the vet’s. They took very good care of him, and when I picked him up on Monday, he seemed fine. Skinny as hell but no worse than when I dropped him off, and actually a little bit better. He’d just been bathed, and though he’s not partial to baths, it did improve his appearance some.

However, within a few hours of bringing Fritti home, I noticed that the problem he’d been having with his back left leg had now spread to his back right leg. I called the vet, who said the problem might have been caused by Fritti staying in an enclosed area during the weekend, as opposed to having an entire garage or house to roam around in like he was used to. I decided to give Fritti a day to recover. Perhaps some time to move around would improve the problem. It did not. An hour later when I went to feed him again, he was having problems controlling all four legs. He had to sit to eat, and even then he had trouble keeping his front legs from sliding out from under him.

I did not want to admit it, but it was painfully obvious that the time had come to make a decision. I called the vet again and asked if there was anything else we could do, or if I should just accept that it was time to put Fritti down. The vet’s response was that he would be ready to take care of Fritti as soon as I made my decision. Neither a yes or a no. The decision had to be mine. So I went back to the garage and spent a few moments watching Fritti rest in one of his hiding spots. Normally, he would come out of hiding any time I entered the garage. Not this time. I don’t think his legs would let him. I went back into the house and called the vet to make the appointment for the next morning.

As soon as I made the call, I returned to the garage and coaxed Fritti out of hiding. No matter what kind of mess he made, my cat was not spending his last night alone in the garage. I put him up in my bedroom with some fresh food and water and a cushy towel to rest on. Then I headed back downstairs. I had made the appointment to have him put down for a time after Cassie left for preschool. At the age of four, I wasn’t sure if she would understand what was going on. It would be best, I thought, to simply explain that Fritti had been very ill and so he’d gone to sleep and had simply not woken up. I was going over what I would need to explain to Cassie and what I was going to do the next day before going to the vet when I snagged my foot coming down the steps and fell head over heels to the landing.

I fell a total of four steps and ended up curled around the scratching post we keep on the landing. My left foot was in agony, and I couldn’t stand. I had to crawl down the rest of the steps and into the living room to get to the nearest phone. Fortunately Sam was still asleep in her crib, but it was almost time for her to wake up so we could pick up Cassie at preschool. I tried calling Michael first but couldn’t get through. He was tied up in a teleconference. My next door neighbor wasn’t in either. So I called my best friend Mary, who just happens to be a nurse. She had just walked in the door when the phone rang. And she walked out the moment she understood I was incapacitated.

Mary made it to my house in fifteen minutes. She got me bandaged up and put plenty of ice on my foot, then fetched the crutches from the garage. By that point I had finally managed to get a hold of Michael and explain to him that I had probably broken my foot. Would he please pick up Cassie and bring her home? Yes. While Michael headed off to the preschool, Mary helped me upstairs to take care of Sam. As soon as Michael and Cassie arrived home, we all piled into our cars and headed over to Mary’s house, leaving poor Fritti hiding under my bed. Mary took care of the kids while Michael and I headed out to the nearest urgent care center.

Fortunately, I did not break anything, although I had managed to badly sprain my foot. The doctor at the urgent care center was quite surprised that I hadn’t wiped out a hip, knee, or ankle in the process. He gave me a prescription for an anti-inflammatory and sent me on my way. We spent an hour at the pharmacy waiting for my prescription, another hour at Mary’s eating dinner, and then we all headed home.

I slept fitfully through the night. My foot hurt like hell and I had to keep it propped up to reduce the swelling. I could have taken a pain killer for it, but decided against it because painkillers usually to make me feel worse, not better. Throughout the night, I heard Fritti creep around the room. He would drag himself ten steps then lie down and rest. Another ten steps, another rest. He moved very slowly, and in the dark I couldn’t really tell if he was lying down or falling down at the end of each short walk. I wasn’t even sure why he was moving around at all, since he didn’t touch his food or water.

We woke up late the next morning. Michael got Cassie up and ready for preschool, then came back to help me with Sam and Fritti. Fritti spent the morning by the dining room table where we laid him. After breakfast Michael pulled out the camera and had me sit with Fritti on the couch for one last picture. I’m torn over that. Fritti was so ill, I didn’t want to remember him like that, but it was also the last time I would ever get to take his picture. After the photo, Michael brought out the cat carrier and put Fritti in. He fought a bit, but not as much as he would have when he was well. It was only a two minute drive to the vet, and then we waited in the examining room while Fritti lay on the floor.

By that point he was obviously miserable. He wouldn’t get up and hide like he normally would have for a vet visit. He just lay by the wall, panting. I lowered myself to the floor to spend a few more moments scratching him behind the ears. When the vet came in, Sam started to fuss so Michael took her out. I stayed behind and watched the vet very carefully put Fritti on the examining table. The assistant held Fritti steady while the vet pulled out a needle. Fritti didn’t fight it. He simply lay there. The needle went it and that was it. It all happened so quickly Fritti didn’t even have time to close his eyes. He just simply passed away.

The vet and the assistant left, giving me a last few minutes with Fritti. I couldn’t believe he was gone. His eyes were still so wide and clear. I scratched him behind his ears and kissed his head and I cried. I stayed in the examining room until I realized that Fritti’s eyes were finally starting to dim. Then I gave him one more kiss and left.

That was almost three weeks ago, and I still cry every time I think about it. We had Fritti cremated, and now his ashes sit in a white acrylic box on my bookshelf. It even has his name on it. It breaks my heart to look at it. All I can think of is how much I miss that bone-headed cat, and how frightfully ill he was at the end. I’m still working on a proper eulogy for Fritti, something that covers the happier moments of his life. I will post that when it’s done.

It’s A Dirty Job And Guess Who Gets To Do It

Yeah, I know. I suck. I haven’t been making regular posts like I ought to. There is a verra, verra good reason for that and that reason is…


Let me explain. No, that would take too much time. Let me sum up (sorry Inago, but that line’s too good to pass up).

I live in a HUGE house with one husband, two kids and three cats. I am apparently the only person in this ENTIRE house who knows how to clean. Fortunately, Michael is the only person in the house who knows how to do yard work, cause I ain’t doing both.

Michael isn’t too huge a mess to clean up after, but he has two problems that will probably send him to an early grave on the day I finally snap. These problems are: 1) he insists on throwing his socks into the hamper from the other side of the bedroom, even though we all know his aim sucks rocks; and 2) he has forgotten how to load his dishes into the dishwasher even though he used to be the responsible adult who did it every day. Perhaps this is payback for all those times I used to forget how to load the dishwasher. If it is, he better knock that shit off, because I am going to take revenge on his underwear very soon if I continue to find random forks, plates, glasses, etc., scattered through out the house (unless they’re my random forks, plates, glasses, etc., because even I am not that petty).

The kids are a slightly bigger mess. Cassie leaves her toys, clothes, books and shoes all over the place and can’t seem to understand that it’s her job to clean them up. And she can’t figure out how to clean stuff up unsupervised (read “with Mommy standing over her threatening to take away her Barbies and her movie privileges for all eternity if that stuff is not picked up right now!”) “I’m too tired,” she’ll whine, when I tell her to clean up the mess she left in the living room. “You have to help me!” Oh, I’ll help you all right. Give me a cardboard box and I’ll help you cart those toys to Good Will! No, just kidding. Really. But don’t tell Cassie that.

Sam is still too young to understand how to put toys away, although we’re working on that. But her biggest problem is that she thinks throwing food is the current big Olympic sport and she intends to get a gold medal someday real soon. I have scraped food off the high chair, off my chair, of the dining room table, floor, walls and ceiling, and off of one of our cats. I’m considering repainting the entire dining room and cat in a generic spotty beige so you can no longer spot the stains from Sam’s energetic eating techniques. Just as soon as I manage to wash today’s lunch out of my hair.

So the husband’s a bit messy and the kids are more messy, but really, the biggest mess is coming from the cats. Or rather, one of the cats in particular.


**Sigh.** This is hard. I’ve had Fritti for fifteen years. He’s a big orange and white striped tabby that has very little brain but looks absolutely gorgeous and he knows how to make a girl feel special, even though he was neutered at a very early age. At least, that was what he used to be like. Now he’s fifteen and he’s become crotchety-old-man cat with a serious case of diarrhea. He’s been ill for over six months now, and yet is still alive and getting around. But the diarrhea has gotten really, really bad. So bad that two weeks ago I had to banish him to the garage for the foreseeable future, and no, I don’t think he’s ever coming back out of there unless it’s in a shoe box.

Fritti has lost a LOT of weight. I can clearly count his ribs and vertebrae, and that’s not good. I feed him at least 15 oz. of wet food a day, and he gets all the dry food he wants (which is about zip, because he hates the stuff). He gets plenty of water, too. And all of this is just going straight through him and coming out the other end in a truly frightening fashion. This started being a problem back in April, and back then I figured he might only survive another month, but some how he has continued to hang on. He’s still getting around, is still bright eyed and obviously aware of what’s going on around him. He still likes to be brushed and petted, but he’s quit using the litter box and he’s turned the garage into his personal dumping ground. Although that’s better than when he turned the entire rest of the house into his personal dumping ground.

I put Fritti in the garage two weeks ago, mainly to keep him isolated from the other cats because I had to add medicine to his food every time I fed him. In the course of two weeks, he discovered that he likes to defecate all over the area where the garage door meets the floor. That is not exactly an easy place to clean. I have to open the door just enough to run a hose into the garage, then spray the garage door to wash away any poop that stuck too it before I can completely open the door to spray and scrub the floor. Add to this the fact that it’s summer, and diarrhea bakes into stone pretty quickly on a hot day, and you’ve got one really nasty mess to clean up.

Well, **I’ve** got one really nasty mess to clean up.

I spent all afternoon yesterday cleaning up the cumulative mess that still existed even after I spent an entire week scooping up poop and mopping the floor. I put Fritti in a bathroom so I could throw open the garage door, haul everything out, and scour the garage floor. Some messes were baked so hard I couldn’t get them up no matter what I tried. Because of where he’s making the messes, half the poop ends up on the smooth concrete floor of the garage up against the door (hard to clean, but not impossible) and the other half gets embedded in the concrete and stone mix of the driveway (thus impossible to clean without a sandblaster). I spent THREE HOURS scrubbing my garage floor! And parts of my driveway. And the place still stank when I was done, but by then I was exhausted and getting high on cat poop fumes so I had to quit.

I took Fritti to the vet this morning. We’ve upping the current level of meds he’s getting, plus adding a new one. A fourth medication is on order. He’s also getting hypo-allergenic food to eat. Michael and I are taking the kids out of town this weekend, so I’ve had to arrange to have Fritti boarded at the vet, because there is no way in hell I can justify asking my neighbor’s kid to clean up after that cat. It’s just too messy, and at this point, it would be cheaper to pay the vet to handle Fritti rather than pay a teenager to come clean up poop three times a day (although the teen in question is very responsible and has never complained about cleaning up after Fritti in the past, but I feel so guilty about asking her to do it that I pay her twice what I would normally pay).

Fritti is on the decline. I don’t know if anything I’m doing will help him or not. He’s now also having problems with one of his rear legs, probably because he’s got almost no muscle tissue left to support it. I do think that he’s gained a tiny bit of weight, but that’s probably because he no longer has to worry about contending with the other cats when he eats.

I wish there were something I could do for my poor cat, beyond having him put down (it’s the obvious answer, but one I’m not ready for yet as long as Fritti can still get around and he doesn’t seem unhappy). We’ll have to see what the next two weeks brings.

The Mad Month Of June In Review

Usually, when I don’t post much, it means there’s so much going on I don’t have time to sit down and breathe, let alone blog. This past month has been just such a case. So to quote Innago Montoya, “Let me explain… No, no that would take too long. Let me sum up…”

2 June – Sam’s first birthday.

9 June – Michael’s birthday (all I gave him was a CD because…)

9 June – the same day as Michael’s birthday is also the deadline for the Erotica Readers and Writers Association theme week this month. And the theme was speculative fiction erotica, and there’s no way in hell I’m missing that particular theme (they liked my story, by the way, and will be publishing it on their website next month. More details later). Of course, the writing came in the midst of…

24 April to present – picked up some actual paying work that is eating up all my free time!

15 June – Cassie’s first karate belt test. She was so cute! Hiya! Pictures later, I promise.

17 June – Father’s day. Michael got a picnic, my Dad got nothing, nadda, zip (see note above about having paying work which eats up all my free time).

19 June – our 14th wedding anniversary. I spent the evening at home feeding dinner to the kids. Michael spent the evening at the dojo getting ready for…

21 June – our 2nd degree black belt test! Which left us so exhausted that we barely made it to…

23 June – our next door neighbor’s wedding, which was followed by…

24 June – Sam and Cassie come down with a cold.

25 June – I come down with a cold. One of my cats is also very, very ill, so I take him to the vet. Now I have to keep him in the garage and feed him food with crushed up pills in it six times a day, which is a lot of work, but it beats cleaning up cat diarrhea six off the carpet six times a day.

27 June – my cold is now a sinus infection. I am so dead tired…

And that is a quick review of the month of June in the Madden household. Now you know everything, so go to bed!

My Lovely, Lovely Day

6AM – I clean two piles of Fritti’s cat diarrhea off the living room carpet. Joy.

7 AM – Fritti returns to the scene of the crime and turns himself inside out by vomiting. Verily, it is explosive and wet, and I dare you to find more impressive special effects in any horror movie known to mankind.

7:45 AM – Cassandra stages a pacifist protest against the current tyrannical parental regime by putting her toothbrush in her mouth, but then refusing to brush. Do I possibly have the next Ghandi on my hands, or is my child deliberately trying to make me strangle her?

10:30 AM – Sam has a poop to rival Fritti’s early AM offering. But since it’s contained in a diaper, it’s far easier to clean up.

2:30-4:30 PM – I bang my head against my laptop as it repeatedly locks up while trying to make a DVD. Tell me, what is the point of having a DVD drive if the frikkin’ thing will not burn DVDs?

6:15 PM – Once is never enough. Fritti wanders back into the living room, faces east, and then vomits. Then he faces south, west, and north, each time leaving more vomit. I swear, he pukes more than his own body weight. Has he somehow become a receptacle for other cats’ vomit? Is he puking for Lydia and BJ as well? I ponder the metaphysical possibilities as I yet again get down on my hands and knees to scrub the carpet.

7:30 PM – Sam rams her head into a dining room chair and leaves a big red mark on her forehead. Ouch!

7:45 PM – Anything Sam can do, Cassie can do better. While getting a horsie back ride on her daddy, Cass throws up both her arms and legs, balances her pointy little butt for two seconds on Michael’s spine, and then topples head first into the exercise bike in the living room, smacking her head on one of the pedals. After the screaming is over, I see she now has a huge goose egg between her eyebrows and a small cut on her left cheek. It’s a miracle she still has her left eye.

7:55 PM – As a grace note to the evening, Fritti wanders into the dining room and attempts to turn himself inside out again, this time by crapping next to my chair. Oh joy of joys.

I am now going to bed so I can look forward to yet another day in the life of Helen Madden. If I do not show up for the playdate tomorrow, it is because either Social Services or the ASPCA has shown up to take me away. God knows I could use the vacation.

Its Blow Off Day Again, I Think.

I can’t quite decide if today is Blow Off Day or not. Both Sam and I have been sick for the past few days, nothing serious like the flu, but I’ve got this nagging cold with hideous sinus pressure that’s been beating away at my skull, and it just refuses to let up. It’s not a nasty beating some like having your butt kicked by Bruce Lee. It’s more like having a three-year-old pound at your head with a whiffle bat for about five or six hours on end. It’s annoying and it’s frustrating and you really can’t get it to stop no matter how many times you try to take away the bat. Plus I’ve got a back ache, sharp needle-like pain digging into my spine every time I bend over or straighten up, and sometimes they shoot all the way up into my neck. I know it’s my lymph nodes all swollen from fighting this minor measly infection. It’s just enough to make me feel miserable and sap all my motivation to do anything. I haven’t sat at the computer the last two days because I just don’t feel like it. I’ve been nursing Sam lying down in bed. If I’m lucky, she’ll settle down, latch on and just suck the rest of my life out of me. If I’m not, she’ll curl up next to me, latch on and then beat me to death with her tiny little fists and feet, all while chewing on my nipple. Every now and then she’ll break off and give me this big gummy grin as if to say, “Gee Mommy. Isn’t this fun?” Of course she’s got a trail of slime coming out of both nostrils. I’ve never seen anything look so disgusting and so cute at the same time. Maybe this is where the term disgustingly cute comes from.

It’s Thursday, which means at 11:30 I should be heading out the door to karate class, but honestly, I really don’t feel like it. I can’t decide if this is because I feel bad or if it’s because I just plain feel lazy. I felt that way when I woke up this morning I got up at 5:15. I woke up not to the sound of my alarm clock but by the sound of a cat taking a dump in my hallway. Fritti is still dying, four weeks after I predicted he would be gone. I swear I have never seen a cat take so long to kick the bucket. And if he passes away with in the next week, it may not be because of any illness, but because I finally got fed up with him taking a dump all over the house and I’d throttled his scrawny little neck. Don’t get me wrong. I love my cat. He’s been my constant companion for 15 years and I used to refer to him as my boyfriend any time Michael was out of town. For a cat, he has that boyfriend kind of look – the orange tiger striped randy tom – but man is he killing me. So far today, I’ve cleaned up four piles of diarrhea, not poop but diarrhea, and it smells so bad you’d think the apocalypse is coming.

After thinking about all this suddenly I’m not surprised that I’m tired. So far this morning I’ve nursed Sam twice, gotten Cassie up and dressed, fed both children breakfast (which is a feat in and of itself), cleaned up after Fritti, made my bed, folded a load of laundry, started another load, and now I’m in my dining room with a bucket of water and wood soap getting ready to scrub down my dining room table, which has recently been painted in apples and blueberries thanks to Sam. She thinks it’s fun to smear her food all over herself and then leave her impression all over the dining room. I’m not kidding when I say I can see her lip prints on the finish. Again, disgustingly cute.

Sam’s asleep right now. If she wakes up before 11:30, I guess I’ll throw on my gi and go to karate. If she doesn’t, I will take it as a sign that I was meant to stay home today. Honestly, the only reason I even care about getting the karate is because I know in about two months I’m going to have to test for second degree black belt. If it weren’t for that, it would be Blow Off Day for sure. Anyway, I’ve got to clean apples and blueberries off my dining room table now. Have fun today. I know I won’t.