What I Learned from Cats

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From the What I Learned Series

This is a companion piece to What I Learned from Dogs. As anyone knows dogs and cats are different. Each deserves their own story. Dogs usually crave attention and want to please; cats do what they want. I love both cats and dogs. I’d never choose a favorite, but I’d say I’m much more cat like.

The first pet that was really mine was my Kitka. She appeared one day in my yard. She was a little lady with a calico face and white feet. I didn’t know that I needed her, but she was so lovely; I couldn’t resist. This was the summer after my mom and brother’s deaths. I was feeling very alone in the world. And this little creature had a way of making me feel less lonely.

Not to say that Kitka was a sweetheart. She had an attitude. She was fearless. Most cats scurry when someone new comes along. Not Kitka. She wanted to know who you were and if possible to rummage through your handbag.

As a Maine Coon, she was a big girl. All her fur made her look bigger. More than once, I heard comments on her size. With a lot of fur, she needed to be brushed. She was not fond of this. It wasn’t unusual to return with a bloody finger. Once her fur got so matted, it required she be shaved. She was not a happy girl. Luckily, the fur grew back quickly.

Her Maine Coon traits also made her love water. She loved to sit in or drink from the sink. She was very social and chatty. And always up to something. After a move, I was home unpacking. She was nowhere to be found. I was calling her, offering treats. I was a wreck thinking she had gotten outside. I slumped down to the floor, tired and worried. And she just sauntered in and brushed up against me.

Kitka was an only kitty for a while. Eventually she had some siblings. She was, however, always the boss. The companionship and joy Kitka gave me are things I will never forget. She even welcomed Honey into our family.

Kitka taught me that not everything or everyone fit a stereotype. She wasn’t a typical cat. Her personality made her unique. Kitka also showed me the unconditional love that animals can give. She was in tune with my feelings and always glad to be by my side.

Losing her was beyond difficult. She got sick, and it happened quickly. I still think about her all the time and what a blessing she was.

My current cat Ellie is a tiny smoke gray sweetie. She isn’t as fearless as her sister, but she is certainly sweeter. Ellie never tries to bite or scratch. Well, there have been a few scratches in attempts to move her or place her in a cat carrier. Her chattiness is unrivaled. She expects her can food in the morning and has no notion of weekends or sleeping in.

The dogs don’t leave her alone all the time. She gladly pops them in the face with her little q-tip paw. Then they look at me, and I just say, “You’re in her personal space.” She is very graceful, hopping around on her cat tree or leaping onto shelves, which are not cat friendly. If there was ever a runway walker, it would be my Ellie.

Ellie has taught me about patience and kindness. She had been through a lot before she came to live with me. I rescued her when she was about a year old. I tend to try to adopt older animals, as everyone wants puppies and kittens. She was tiny but mighty. Her chirps and instant liking of me let me know she was the one.

Since then Ellie has been a loyal and loving cat. But I almost lost her. I was in Austin for the weekend. Justin was home, working on our first kitchen renovation. There was a lot of sanding. He left a window cracked. The next morning, there were little paw prints in the dust leading out the window. Justin and I had been together for less than a year, and to say I was upset is an understatement. Apparently, I may have said some things that weren’t nice. I really only remember using the word disappointed. I arrived home that afternoon.  It was rainy and cold. We searched the neighborhood and put up signs. We didn’t find her that day or the next. On Tuesday, we found her, outside on the back porch. She was cold but unscathed. Haven’t seen her try to make a run for it since.

But I learned a lot from that experience. Even though it was stressful and scary, I learned that Ellie would never really leave me. It’s hard to find anyone in the world who won’t leave you. It also taught me that even though I’ll never have human children, I am a mom. All the worry and fear I had in that moment was just as real as if I’d lost a child in a store.

All my cats have been unique and brought a lot of happiness into my life. Happiness was once hard to come by for me. Animals so many times made the difference. Even when the world has been inhospitable and screamed no at every turn, I have always been able to come home to a gentle purr and a fluffy friend.

What I Learned from Dogs

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From the What I Learned series

I’m slightly obsessed with dogs. If given the choice to pet a dog or hold a baby, I’m choosing the dog. I do not really consider my dogs pets; they are my children. But they are a lot of work and responsibility. No one should go into dog ownership thinking it will be all wet kisses and cuddles. But it’s all worth it. My life has been forever touched and changed by my sweet girls.

I’ve always loved animals, but growing up, we only had outside pets. Except for my mom’s collie that she had before kids came along. I was young when he passed so I don’t remember him too much. I knew one day I’d have the chance to have my own animals. It took me a while to be prepared for a dog. I had cats, but they aren’t as needy as dogs.

I started considering it more a little over six years ago. Even though it didn’t seem ideal at the time because I lived in an apartment downtown and had three cats, I was longing for companionship and somebody who needed me. Then I saw her. Her picture was on FaceBook, posted by North Mecklenburg Animal Rescue (NMAR), which is an amazing nonprofit, no kill rescue. She was in need of a forever home. Those kind eyes and perfectly pointed ears made me fall completely in love. Her name was Honey, and she was 10 months old. I just knew when I saw her in that picture that she was for me and that it would work out.

A few weeks later, Honey came home with me. Although not all of her background was known, I knew she had been adopted once before and returned and that at some point she had been abused. She was very timid and shy. She was fine with the cats, more afraid of them than they were of her. She became my instant companion. She went everywhere with me including work!

For the first three months, she didn’t even bark. We had some challenges. She had to be potty trained again and suffered from anxiety mostly from storms or loud noises. We were a team, and she was a big part of how I survived the death of my eldest cat.

Being Honey’s mom taught me a lot about being selfless. Her needs really came first, and I was focused on letting her grow into a wonderful dog. It’s amazing how her love helped me grow and vice versa.

Eventually, she found her voice. And as she aged, her anxiety showed signs of getting worse. She was so protective of me; too much so at times. She didn’t like for people to talk to us when we were out on walks. Even though she was very popular because of her beauty. And oddly, people asked me all the time if she was a dingo! I also followed her intuition on men I dated. If she didn’t like them then it wasn’t  going to work.

I can say she never wavered once on her acceptance of Justin. True she did know him from going to work with me, but when he became a part of our lives, she was all in. At this point, I had changed jobs so her routine was now staying at home all day. She seemed depressed and more withdrawn. We tried different activities, but she was starting to react badly to other dogs and people.

Our solution was to get her a sister. Justin and I went into it a little rose-colored. I wanted to adopt an older dog again; not a puppy. I like the dog that needs a second chance. Enter Fawn, who I found through PetFinder. She had been saved by the Australian Cattle Dog Rescue (ACDR). ACDR is a volunteer run association that saves dogs that would have otherwise been euthanized. She was beautiful with her red brown coat and funky patterns. She was a little over a year when we got her. We were her last shot. It was rough the first few weeks. We didn’t get much sleep. But Fawn and Honey got along pretty good from the start. Their differences complimented one another.

Fawn came with her own assortment of challenges. She wasn’t scared of much. She was full of energy. Cattle dogs are herders and that’s what she often tried to do to us. Nipping on heels is her go to. And don’t even let her see the Swiffer. Brooms are okay, but the Swiffer is like her arch nemesis. Fawn also has incontinence. It wasn’t that she couldn’t be potty trained. A lot of female dogs have this issue; it’s connected to when she was spayed. But there’s a solution. She takes an estrogen supplement, and it works!

Although Fawn’s still a bit wild even though she’s three now, she has really helped Honey overcome some of her fears. Because Fawn is not scared, it makes Honey braver. On the other side is they react off each other. Instead of one bark, we’ve got two.

We talk all the time about how different they are. Fawn watches TV and reacts to dogs and other animals. Honey could care less. Fawn is affection-aggressive (yes, that’s a new word I made up), meaning she doesn’t take no for an answer. Honey wants attention on her terms. She’s a bit of a loner. I have to force affection on her!

I’ve learned a lot from my dogs. They’ve helped me heal a lot. The unconditional love and sheer joy they share every time I come home is pretty amazing. Hard to hate the world when doggies love you.

I’ve also learned that it’s better to take a chance on a dog that may need some rehabilitation. They’ll love you more for it. After all, someone took a chance on me.

I still get frustrated and wish they’d stop reacting to other dogs so much. I wish they’d both calm down a bit and chill out. Not every noise needs to be investigated. I also wish they’d be less interested in the cat. They, like me, are still a work in progress (and after over a thousand dollars in training, I’m guessing that this is just who they are). I know that when we move, they will be happier. They’ll have their own little space to run around.

It’s hard work. We don’t just think we have pets. They are our family. And we totally realize that the majority of our lives revolves around their bathroom needs, which seems ridiculous but will ring true for any dog owner. But we wouldn’t have it any other way. And please remember adopt don’t shop.