Goodbye Ling

Last week we said goodbye to Ling, who survived far longer than expected on an emergency diet supplemented by baby food. When we first got her, in the late 1990s, we were living in a townhouse. She was our third cat, and she loved Toupee (1st) and feared Austen (2nd).

It took me a long time to accept her, probably because loving her would force me to confront Austen’s bullying behavior. In fact, when Austen died I actually resented Ling for suddenly thriving.

I’m a horrible person.

Ling was always weird, even by cat standards. She liked to drink from the bathtub while we were preparing to shower, and she would constantly prowl the kitchen counters and sink for scraps of food. She once stole a sandwich from one our friends. She’s our only cat who managed to eat from the fish tank. She would come down my shoulder from the back of my chair, stick her rear end in my face, then loop around to do it again.

Grace was not Ling’s strong suit. She would hurl herself bodily at ledges, always nailing herself in the chest, then scramble up.

She was never afraid of company. While the others would hide upstairs, Ling would happily move from lap to lap soaking up warmth and attention.

When she was young, she dashed through a slightly open door to chase a stray. Then she freaked out and wedged herself into a car engine.

Last look at a loving friend.

Last look at a loving friend.

On Monday night she took the final step in her long decline. She would be on her way somewhere and just stop to lie down. We tried to make her comfortable and hoped she’d rebound yet again, but by morning it was clear that she was not going to come out of it.

We decided that we couldn’t leave her alone. It was time to let her rest. Wendi stayed home with her and made the appointment. I failed her for the final time and went to work (only because of a meeting). Never one to do the expected, Ling died a few hours before she could go to the vet’s. I got the news right before that damned meeting. It was everything I could manage to get through that meeting without lashing out in grief.

My final memory of Ling is petting her before I left. She had crouched on a mat in the kitchen, unable to complete whatever cat mission she’d been on. Just inches away, Dmitri and Fischer wrestled. Barely two months old, they had just gained command of all their limbs and spent every waking moment in energetic play.

I could wrap this up with any number of pithy observations on that moment, but I really don’t want to spoil it. I’m just glad that for the next few decades we’ll have cats who knew Ling, however briefly.



The rescue cats have continued to dominate our lives. Their second trip to the vet went fairly smoothly. Wendi took them back to the exam room one at a time (in individual carriers) while I kept the others company in the waiting room. The kittens got their first round of shots, and their mother… The vet says that we can expect more kittens in a few weeks.

She's made of tinier cats.

She’s made of tinier cats.

In the meantime, the cats having tested clean for nasty diseases, we’ve started leaving the porch door open while we’re home. Mother cat — now dubbed Bacall, as she resembles our Bogart — immediately took over the house. Largely indifferent to the hissing and growling directed her way, she’s used the inside litter and generally crossed every line so far as our boys are concerned. Ling does not appear to care overmuch, as long as she gets fed.

The extent of feline retribution for this intrusion has been one piddle, defiantly beside the litter box.

Bacall’s kittens largely keep to the porch. The girl, Sadie, comes out every now and then to try to get to our betta in the lower aquarium. She can’t quite figure out how to get through the glass, but she appears to have fun in the attempt. The boy — named Taz in honor of the carnage he wrought at his first vet appointment (I still have a small scar) — pokes his head inside but retreats whenever he’s noticed.

Our concern now is how to provide a warm and comfortable nest on the porch for Bacall and her next wave of tiny furballs.

One cat. We set out to save one cat…

Toxic Environment

When we came back from the disastrous vet appointment, the rescue cats were quarantined in our enclosed porch. We had scheduled a second try at blood work and shots and had only four weeks to convert the kittens to a semblance of domestication. Wendi announced that it was time to put them through Kitten Boot Camp.

Assuming the mantle of drill sergeant, she started to put them through their paces. Within a week, she had them literally eating out of her hand, and she could pet them a little while they ate. It seemed as though every day brought new progress.

My efforts as emergency back-up substitute sergeant were not as effective. The mother cat was fine with me, but the kittens have identified me as a gigantic, lumbering threat. I did stick my finger (covered in chicken baby food) in their hidey-hole and got the girl kitten to show her head. Now she runs away from me but is sure to stay within sight — you know, because chicken.

(What is it about chicken that cats crave so much? Did their ancestors hunt wild chickens along the banks of the Nile? Now that I think about it, where did chickens even come from? I bet Erich von Daniken never thought about that angle.)

The weirdest part of the whole process was that our own cats all started to climb into bed with us at night. At first we thought they were just feeling jealous and needy. After all, Wendi was spending a lot of time with the rescue cats. Then we noticed that they were spending their weekdays upstairs as well. Were they that offended by the newcomers that they didn’t even want to be downstairs?

That didn’t seem right. They had no hesitation about joining us in the living room; they just wanted nothing to do with the first floor unless we were there. We just had no idea why.

After a while, Wendi decided that the rescue cats had gotten used to human voices. We had set a clock radio by the door — set to NPR — and had been turning it on when we went to bed or left for work. Now we felt that it was okay to stop doing that.

The day after we stopped turning on the radio, our cats were back to their normal routine of lounging around downstairs.

Apparently, they had really hated talk radio.

Perhaps the authorities should start using “Morning Edition” to break stand-off situations.

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.

Spider Attack in the Fish Store

Okay. So there weren’t spiders, and they didn’t attack, but that’s what my brain thinks happened. It may as well be true. At least the part about what didn’t actually happen taking place in a fish store — that is undeniably true.

Wendi wanted to get some plants for a new tank she’s setting up, so we went to a fish store in Ypsilanti after work. While she picked out plants, I wandered the store looking at the fish and other underwater critters.

I wound up at staying at one tank for a few minutes, watching an electric blue crayfish drag and shovel gravel out of its nest. At one point, while it was dragging a particularly large piece, it lost its grip and the stone slid back down into its nest.

The crayfish stared at the escaped gravel, and I swear to you it sighed!

Feeling embarrassed for the crayfish, I moved on into the salt water tanks. Here’s where the neat stuff is: corals, urchins, anemones, and other bizarre life forms.

The paths through that section of the store are narrow, so I was almost touching the tanks as I peered into them. That’s where the spiders attacked. Rather, that’s where I was not in any danger from things that were not spiders.

I looked into the tank at the level of my upper chest and saw a spider. An underwater spider with a tiny body and spindly legs about 4-5 inches long. Immediately panic set in, and although my eyes calmly pointed out that the label identified this as an arrow crab, the portion of my brain responsible for spider identification mustered all available wiggens units.

Desperate to avert an outright panic, my eyes veered to the tank on the right, where they had previously noticed a nice, safe sea urchin. What could be scary about a ball? “Spider!” shrieked my brain, and the troops of wiggens coursing through my body echoed “spiders!”

Not only was there an arrow crab sharing space with the sea cucumber, but there was another one in the next tank after that. I’d have to squeeze past all three crabs (spiders) to get out!

By then there wasn’t any choice. My eyes had thrown in with my faulty spider-detector and the wiggens were rapidly seizing control of my limbs. They guided me swiftly to the cash register, where Wendi had just bought plants, tank goodies, and a few more platies.

She handed me the bag to carry to the car. I didn’t look inside. If there spiders in there, I didn’t want to know about it.

Pet Service

Bogart didn’t want us to go to work today. He rubbed against my legs and flopped on the ground. I rubbed his belly and reminded him that someone had to earn the kibble money.

“No problem,” he said. “Humans will pay to rub my belly.”

His eyes glinted playfully, and I extracted my hand from his pincer attack.

“They’re not going to want to pay to get clawed,” I advised him.

Bogart displayed his belly to best effect, but that feral look was still in his eyes.

“Clawing is free with purchase,” he decided.

Cats have no business acumen whatsoever.