Putting Out the Home Fires

We came home tonight and immediately smelled something strange. It was a chemical smell, and it was strong. Within minutes we discovered that the bulb of a portable light was pressed into a plush chair, and the light had been on for a long time. The plastic surface had melted, and the underlying foam was hot and crunchy.

There’s a hole in the chair, but we seem to have avoided a fire.

The thing is, neither of us remembers having left that light on. But both of us have witnessed the cats performing hijinks on that chair. It seems likely that one of them tripped the switch at some point during the day’s shenanigans.

I always suspected that they were trying to kill us, but I had no idea that the cats wanted to burn the house down.

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Cat Spotting

Ling is an old cat, and she’s been developing old cat problems. She sleeps harder than she used to, she’s skinny, and — while she was never a particularly graceful creature — she misses even simple jumps with surprising regularity.

Last night Ling slept in my lap while I read comics on my tablet. My thigh went from warm to hot, and I dimly thought that this six pound cat was really kicking out the heat. A few minutes later she woke up, struggled to her feet and headed off somewhere.

My leg still felt too hot.

I finally set the tablet aside and looked down. There was a small wet spot where Ling’s butt had been. She’d leaked on my in her sleep, then woken up to finish the job properly.

As this sunk in, she came back and struggled back into my lap. She noticed the wet spot on my jeans and sniffed at it. Then she looked at me with wide eyes as though to say “Holy crap, dude! Someone peed on you!”

I put her on the floor and left to change my pants. Just a leaky old cat…

Hoisting Petards

The association between cats and yarn is not a myth. There appears to be something about string that plugs directly into the play center of their furry little minds, and if it’s a ball of string — let’s just say that their brains are no longer engaged. But sometimes I think there’s a hint of cunning in their maniacal playing.

Our cats have been filching yarn for years, constructing elaborate monkey traps in the stairway as part of their ongoing efforts to disable us. They’ve learned that broken monkeys stay home and make good chaise lounges, so most of their efforts go toward turning us into furniture. Cats are jerks. Cute jerks.

Monday night, Bogart got into some yarn just as we were getting ready for bed. I’d already gone upstairs for my usual pre-sleep reading of comics, so Wendi was the one who discovered him sitting on the lower landing inside of several loops of yarn. When she laughed at him, Bogie ran upstairs, perhaps embarrassed at having been caught laying a monkey trap. But when he ran away, some of the loops of yarn knotted around one of his back feet. He tried to shake it off, and when that didn’t work he ran again. That only tightened the snare.

Wendi called me in to assist, and somehow I got the task of trying to pick the knot loose as Bogie kicked frantically. There’s nothing quite like having claws flailing an inch from my nose to make me focus. I managed only a few quick tugs at the yarn, but maybe that helped. Wendi picked up our little saboteur to get better control of him, and the yarn fell off.

Within seconds the furry fool had resumed his frolicking in the yarn, as though nothing had happened. Maybe they aren’t that cunning after all.

Feline Nocturnal Activity

You don’t need ghosts or demons to wish you had video of what happens in your home while you’re asleep. Cats turn out to excel at generating a sense that unexplainable forces are at work.
Oh sure, for the most part their nocturnal doings are limited to the strategic planting of hairballs or a rambunctious game of poop hockey. Once in a great while there’s a mysterious odor that’s eventually traced to a grisly trophy stash. Every now and then though, the furry devils really put themselves out in order to sow human confusion and uneasiness.
One morning last winter we came downstairs to discover that the fish had weathered an eventful night. The end of their water filter had fallen to the bottom of the tank, exposing any passing fish to the full force of the filter’s suction. Sure enough, Wendi found one of them dead in the filter. We were two fish low though. Weird.
Then another fish vanished.
We thought of the cats, of course. We know they’re not trustworthy; they’re bored, overfed predators. There just didn’t seem to be any way for them to manage it. There were no convenient perches at the fishing hole, and no tell-tale splashes of water. If they had tiny fishing poles they were kept well concealed. It was a mystery.
Then the weekend came, and Wendi saw Ling curled up asleep on top of the fish tank. Suddenly everything made horrible sense. Ling must have climbed onto the tank because it was warm. Being all of about 6 pounds tops, she could sit on the lid with no problems. The choose-your-own sushi bar was a bonus.
Bad Kitty!

Ling’s defense was that she was thrown out of her home at an early age.

All access to the tank was barricaded, and our two remaining fish continued to remain. We returned to the usual nighttime protocols: poop and puke.
Until a few weeks ago.
I’ve written about my weekday morning routine. I staggered into the kitchen as usual, Ling yelling at me for not feeding her quickly enough. Waving at her to quiet down, I went to get a fresh cat dish… and stopped.
It took a few moments to process what my bleary eyes were reporting. There was a plastic container on the floor, on its side, and there were things nearby spilling out of it. Little brown things. The kibble bin had fallen. The kibble was wet. There was water on the floor. Probably from the broken glass.
My puzzled gaze tracked up to the counter directly above the mess. Coffee maker. Pill bottle on its side. Fish tank.
“MAOOOW!”
Ling sat in the middle of the mess, impatiently reminding me of my duties. Everything came together, and I realized that Ling had tried to climb onto the food bin in order to do some night fishing.
“Bad kitty,” I told her.
“MAOOW!” she insisted.
So I fed her.

Dignity, Always Dignity

My typical weekday begins with Ling yelling at me as I stumble blearily into the kitchen. She’s currently our oldest cat, and she’s on a special diet to fatten her up. I scoop some food out of a can, mix it with a splash of hot water, and try to set it down before she knocks it out of my hands. As soon as she’s done eating she trots after me and attempts to crawl into my cereal bowl.

I’m used to this, and if I fail to accept it with good grace I at least refrain from throwing her out. Her previous family tossed her into the snow and moved away, and while I would do anything to avoid having her butt in my face while I’m eating — well, like Meatloaf, I won’t do that. Besides, I’m not packing all my crap just to avoid a cat.

It helps that the other cats are usually still too groggy to join in the ritual begging. Wyeth tends to stay in bed after making sure Wendi gets up, and Bogart likes to savor his final moments of owning Wendi’s chair before she reclaims it for the morning. This leaves me with only one furry adversary taking advantage of my pre-caffeinated stupor. Once in a great while one of the boys breaks routine, and I have to balance cereal or coffee while playing a dangerous game of “Guess Where The Large One Will Step”. Even more rarely, and never with any warning,  I’m treated to a brand new game.

This week’s novel entertainment was brought to me by Bogart and the letters ‘P’ and ‘J’.

Bogart decided to get up while I was making my toast, and he checked on the dry food bowls. The bottom of one was visible through the kibble, which always sends him into a panic. He followed me to the refrigerator for butter and jam, winding around my legs. He tried again on my way back to the toaster, incredulous that I still wasn’t feeding him. As I pulled out the toast, he lost all patience and reached up to poke me.

When the nail trimmers come out Bogart turns into a free-roaming Cuisinart. We’ve come to a truce with him; in exchange for leaving the furniture unscathed, we make no attempt on his claws. The other cats aren’t happy with this special arrangement, but they don’t have Bogart’s strong bargaining position.

Bogart reached up and poked me in the seat of my pajamas. A claw stuck in the fabric, and he tried to pull it free. Having learned never to use my own hands to help free a claw, I lowered myself to give him a better angle to release himself. He responded by flopping on his side. My pajamas went with him, and the little bastard lay there purring in my pants. I buttered my toast in shame, defeated by a critter 1/20th of my size.

At least Wyeth wasn’t up.

It’s Good to be Lucky

We’re told that a good goal is one that is achievable. My dog had a single goal, and he achieved it at a fairly young age.

Lucky was an excitable yellow and white mutt who may have had some Collie in his heritage, particularly in his nose. His snout was about five or six inches long, which gave him a much more impressive jaw than that of our sour old miniature poodle.

I used to play “jaws” with him. He’d lie on his back, for reasons he never explained, and his upper lip would hang slightly to reveal his front teeth. The objective of jaws was to tap his teeth and pull my finger away before he bit it off. I always won, and his mouth would snap shut with a clapping noise that delighted me. Not a very good game perhaps, but it entertained us well enough.

His favorite game though was “git ‘im”. This was played during the brief period that we lived on the “less good” end of the street. Our back yard was fenced, and the door to it was in an odd room that only seemed to exist to join the garage to the house. There was a large tree about 20 feet straight out from the back door, just near the picket fence. The most crucial element of the game was “‘im”, the squirrel. I think of it as the same squirrel, waiting for the door to open to try its luck for one more day.

Certainly the sameness of the game play bordered on ritual. Lucky would fidget at the door; I would rev him up, asking “Ready? Ready?”; when I deemed him to be at maximum throttle, I’d fling open the door and urge “Git ‘im”; and within a few seconds he’d be barking and dancing at the base of the tree as the squirrel raced upward to safety. This was a good game that left Lucky well satisfied, and occasionally muddy.

Well satisfied, but not completely satisfied. Lucky lived for one objective: to fill his mouth with squirrel. If he could close his teeth on that squirrel just once, he could die fulfilled. Maybe on the spot.

It came to pass, one fine afternoon when he was about three years old, that Lucky met his goal. Everything began as usual, following established procedure. I wound him up, opened the door, and snarled “Get ‘im!” Lucky tore outside, shredding the turf between the house and the tree. The squirrel shat itself (presumably) and wound its way up the trunk… and then improbability teamed up with inevitability, and Lucky got, well, lucky.

The squirrel slipped. It slipped and fell — directly into Lucky’s mouth.

This is a dog that chewed shoes with the feet still in them. He shook his toys until their hypothetical necks were broken in all of the breakable places. The life expectancy of the squirrel was now a span of time that approached 0 seconds but did not reach it. To be honest, I was shocked. As were the squirrel and, surprisingly, the dog.

None of us moved. For a few protracted seconds, potentials worked out which would triumph.

The squirrel was first to react. Realizing that the jaws of death had not yet closed, it carefully slipped to the ground. It looked up at Lucky, still frozen in confusion, then bolted up the tree again.

With events returned to a familiar course, Lucky came alive. He barked and danced around the tree, tearing up the sod; then he trotted off contentedly to do his business.

He never had a better day.

Would Lucky have been happier if he’d killed the squirrel? Maybe. Certainly not the next day, or the day after that, continuing until a new squirrel moved in to the yard. His goal was simple: catch the squirrel.

End of story, it was a good goal.