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Amy F. Quincy Author/Freelance Writer

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cat story

Carlito

Sadness can be a palpable thing. It can fill up a whole house like dense fog. Days ago, it drifted around our apartment in thick curls of scentless cloud until it had permeated every inch of air and the only way to breathe was to get out of there. I felt sorry for my mom, who is mainly confined to the apartment since she left rehab, but then I realized, her sadness probably follows her around anyway. And will for awhile. You see, on Monday, we put her sweet cat, Carlito, to sleep.

Well, wait. If I’m going to do a proper remembrance, Carlito wasn’t exactly sweet. Not to anyone other than my mom anyway. He would just as soon hiss and take a swipe at you as look at you. I rarely even pet him. Except during his declining days. He grew mellow with age as even the grumpiest old men will. Or perhaps he just didn’t feel well. Being mean takes more energy.

Maybe he was just used to being alone, a cranky, forever-bachelor, when Bella and Frankie came along to pester him like rambunctious youngsters. Ugh. Maybe he could’ve gotten used to the girl. After all, she was his kind and a little more mature, but the boy? Always bouncing around the place like a happy idiot? Always sniffing butts, stealing food and trying to play? No, thank you.

My friend Matt and I used to joke that Carlito was out of sorts because he was in the minority. He was clearly a foreigner (being brown, with a name like Carlito) and stuck with a matched set. Matt said I needed to lecture Frankie and Bella on the importance of not bullying Carlito just because he was different. He laughingly warned them of the dangers of showing intolerance and feeling superior in their whiteness like white supremacists.

Kidding aside, I think Carlito preferred Frankie. I caught him grooming Frankie on several occasions. I’m not sure what Frankie thought was going on, but he tolerated Carlito’s sandpaper tongue raking over his ears with only the occasional twitch.

Bella and Carlito never groomed each other or slept together. The closest they came was eating out of the same bowl, but really that was probably just stealing each other’s food. It didn’t matter that they were eating the exact same thing, whatever was in the other cat’s bowl was better. Then Frankie would get in the mix because there is little he loves more than cat food (except, sorry to gross you out, umm … cat poo). Mealtimes would quickly dissolve into a game of musical bowls, with me rolling back and forth yelling at and trying to seperate everyone.

There was a problem sharing the water bowl, too. At first, I thought the reason there was water all over the floor instead of in the bowl was that I must have backed into it. Then, after this seemed to occur in several different locations, I decided the often bone dry bowl of water must be evaporating. Again, I tried repositioning the bowl away from all the air conditioning vents. Still empty. I was in the kitchen one day, when I heard all the splashing. Apparently, Carlito preferred to stir his water. He didn’t like to drink from a stagnant bowl. No, his water needed to be in constant swirling motion as he drank it. Of course, then he’d take his wet paws traipsing out on the porch, through kitty litter and what have you, all throughout the house.

The mess he made was only rivaled by the amount of noise he made. He would cry when he was hungry, which was pretty much all of the time. Therefore, being an early riser, I would try to be as quiet as possible getting up on the opposite side of the house. Not closing doors, not flushing the toilet, etc. It didn’t matter. I would inevitably run into something or need to turn the water on, and then there he was, suddenly appearing with a loud, demanding cry. Then it was just minutes before a sleepy-eyed Frankie and Bella would appear, the whole house then awake at five a.m. Only Mom slept through it. Or pretended to.

Sometimes I’d see the dark shape of him looming in the hallway and be able to get to him before he cried. I’d quickly set a bowl of dry kibbles down that I had left on the counter the night before. I called it hush money. Presented hurriedly to him like bankroll to a mafia boss.

In the end, it was determined the old man had diabetes, along with other unknown ailments. These days, I still awake and look down the hallway, expecting to see him there. I flush the toilet freely now, in the early morning hours. There are no litter paw prints tiptoeing throughout the house and the water bowls are always full. Life is a lot easier, cleaner, quieter. But we loved him. And we miss him.

 

All You Need is Love

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At Home on Air

We are all creatures of habit. People. Cats. Even dogs.

“Will you be sad? Lonely?” my friend Jill asked me as she blew up the air mattress in my empty bedroom. Everything in the apartment was gone. Packed up in boxes and moved to my mother’s. I’d even sold the bed. Truth is, I hadn’t expected to sell it so quickly. I still had a few more nights in the apartment — hence the air mattress.

“I don’t think so,” I said. But as I looked around at the bare walls, I wasn’t so sure. I watched her make the little mattress with my queen-sized sheets. At least the thing was high enough off the floor. I could make an easy transfer to and from the wheelchair instead of wondering how I’d get off the floor.

Later that night, I came from the bathroom, feeling exactly as Jill had anticipated. Sad and lonely. I tucked my toothbrush back in an overnight bag, a guest in my own apartment. Then I looked at the air mattress and smiled.

Frankie was sprawled out by the foot. Bella had taken over the top half, including my pillow. They both looked sound asleep and quite comfortable. I wondered how on earth there’d be room for all three of us. Frankie barely moved over when I launched myself onto the bed. Bella looked a good deal more concerned as the bed wiggled and wobbled about like a waterbed. She crept over the unstable surface, crouching low, eyes wide, ready to flee at the first sign of danger. She slowly repositioned herself, looking doubtful of the whole affair, yet not relinquishing her customary spot. I tried to make as little movement as possible, an impossible feat for me on a regular, much bigger bed. I marveled that we all stayed put. It felt like we’d roll over and topple off at any moment.

As I laid in the dark and listened to Bella’s purr and Frankie’s snore, I felt anything but lonely.

Belle of the Ball

Frankie has been getting entirely too much attention lately. But long before there was the constant barking, gnawed-on shoes and half-eaten garbage, there was the quiet, peaceful existence of a writer and her cat.

Bella found me (quite literally) in December of 2005. I had recently put down my cat of 14 years and I was outside raking leaves. Raking and crying. It had only been a couple of months since his passing and yard work had been our “special time.” Tears were streaming down my face when a white kitten with blue eyes jumped out of the bushes and started chasing the rake. I decided it was a sign.

We spent the better part of an afternoon getting to know each other. She dissolved into purrs beneath my hand. She was attention starved and oh-so loving. My next-door neighbor saw us outside. He didn’t know who she belonged to, but he’d seen her the night before on our street. I knew it had been close to freezing on recent nights. She had on a pink collar with rhinestones. I was falling in love with someone’s pet.

I left to run an errand. I knew she might be gone when I returned, but I secretly hoped she wouldn’t be. When I came home, there was no sign of her. I opened the door and looked up and down the street. Nothing. The third time I checked — there she was — across the street, in a driveway. She looked up at me and bounded across two yards to my front door. The same next-door neighbor laughed and hollered over to me, “She picks you!”

As it turned out, some college girls had adopted her before learning that their third roommate was allergic. They’d been keeping her outside and planned to return her to the Humane Society the next day. They’d been trying to find a home for her. At last attempt, she’d been shipped off with a boyfriend who owned two big Boxers. They were relieved to give her up to me. I’m sure she was relieved to get away from the Boxers.

She came with her name and her pink diamond collar. I took the collar off, but it was too late. Her personality was already infused with the entitled air of a princess. She’s clearly an indoor girl. She goes outside in my small yard only when I’m watching. She would never jump the fence. She doesn’t jump. Or climb. Or even relish high places. My mom says she’s the perfect cat for me cause I take so long at the door and she never runs out. My mother once accidentally left the door ajar and the wind blew it wide open. It was like that for half the day and I came home with Frankie in a panic to find her lounging on the bed.

Maybe her first few months served her well. Now she can really appreciate attention from someone who’s not allergic and treasure a warm bed on a cold night. And after holding her own against Boxers, she can certainly handle Frankie.

Frankie has made me love dogs in addition to cats and I’ll always be writing about him and his mischievous ways. But behind this adorable dog that hogs the spotlight is a sweet and unassuming kitty. When it comes to these two, it’s true what they say: you never forget your first love.

Harmony: Life Lessons From My Pets

Bella and Frankie have adjusted to living under the same roof. There’s still no love loss between them. They’re not exactly grooming each other or sleeping together. But they’ve learned how to be in a room simultaneously. We should all be so lucky. So, next time you’re tempted to ask, ‘why can’t we all just get along?’ — take a hint from a cat and dog who’ve mastered it.

Allow people to be themselves. Don’t expect everybody to be like you. It took Frankie a while to get this one. He just didn’t understand why Bella didn’t want to wrestle with him. He would bounce around all excited, doing the maneuver where he lowers down, front legs out straight, inviting her to play. Bella, in turn, would get all freaked out and run away. To Frankie, of course, this simply meant game on. As an outsider, it was so easy to see all the miscommunication going on. This leads to the next bit of advice.

Stand your ground — gently. Don’t run away or give chase. This was the worst thing Bella could do. She’d tear down the hall with Frankie close on her heels; terrified, while he had the time of his life. She has learned. Now I watch her crane her neck back, moving her head as far away from him as possible without moving her feet. She stays put. Clearly with distaste, but she never moves her body.

Be tolerant. Don’t overreact or yell. She used to hiss and make a big fuss whenever he came anywhere near her. Poor Frankie didn’t mean any harm. He just wanted to get to know her. Now she doesn’t make a big production of it, just lets him take a sniff or two. She’s realized that’s all he’s after. There’s no reason to growl and get all testy.

Give others plenty of space. As with any relationship, all parties can benefit from a good dose of “me time.” Since Bella is little Miss Independent, Frankie had to be the one to learn that sometimes a creature just wants to be left alone. Now he seems to know to act bored and aloof. It goes against his nature, but he’s a quick study. What’s true for winning over a man can also be true for winning over a cat.

Pet People

I’ve become one of those crazy animal ladies.  Notice I didn’t say crazy cat ladies, because, to be honest, Bella and I have never had a problem.  And Bella is just one cat.  I think you have to have four or more to be official.  Three is pushing it.  If you live with a significant other or kids, you’re safe.  Don’t ask me why.  I don’t make the rules.  No, the problem started when Frankie came to live with us.

I bought a cat condo last week so Bella would have someplace to get away from him.  I always thought they were kind of tacky.  But, like parents who say they’ll never leave toys strewn about the living room, it happens.  Out of necessity.  And for me, guilt.  Guilt for bringing a dog into the house.  So I bought what I considered to be a more tasteful one.  A ridiculous amount of money for carpet and sisal rope, it sits unused in the corner.  She hasn’t touched it.

Mealtime has become tricky too.  First, Frankie got a can of wet food because it successfully disguised medicine.  Now Bella happily munches the moist stuff too.  Again – guilt.   I couldn’t very well treat him and not her.  My apartment used to smell like eucalyptus and incense.  Now it smells like salmon and giblets.  And that’s just going in.  With the two of them lying around all day passing gas, I’ve decided the cans should come with warning labels.  Possible side effect: intense flatulence.

I’ve even found myself saying the very things I used to roll my eyes about.  Things like, “We need to set up a play date!” or “Frankie will be at doggy daycare that day.”  I used to think daycare was for spoiled little rich dogs.  Now I defend it.  “He needs to socialize with other dogs!”  I say.  I believe in the power of the pack.  I think Cesar Millan is a god.

A friend of mine has a theory about all this pet mania.  It affects those of us who’ve never had children.  Or empty-nesters.  I’ll leave this one to the mommies and daddies out there.  I’m in no position to object.  All I know is my once impeccable apartment is littered with squeaky toys and if you’re wearing black, I’d advise against sitting down.  But I make no apologies.  They’re part of the family.

Sleepovers

Whenever another relationship ended, I’d tell myself that at least I’d be getting back to my “single sleep.”  It was something, as half a couple, I’d sorely missed and could now look forward to.  There’s nothing like it.  You know what I mean if you’re like me, a healthy sleeper not plagued by insomnia.  If, undisturbed by another’s tossing and turning or snoring (or hey, oftentimes just breathing,) you fall asleep minutes after your head hits the pillow, not to awaken before your alarm sounds the start of a new day.

I’ve enjoyed eight blissful hours a night like this for several years now, but I’m sorry to say I think the party’s over.  You see, my mom’s dog, Frankie, has been staying for sleepovers.  Having recently moved out of my neighborhood, my mother and I are like divorced parents working out a schedule to share custody.

Going to the Beach, Photo by John Pemberton

I’ve come to look forward to walks around my block with Frankie.  We’ve met lots of other dogs and their owners, and we take in the sight and smell of the surf at least three days a week.  Not wanting to give this up, I suggested he stay over every weekend.  My mother was only too happy to get a break from the parenting, and immediately purchased a second dog crate for him to sleep in at my house.

Frankie’s a great sleeper, I’ll give him that.  He doesn’t bark.  He doesn’t whine.  He doesn’t have accidents.  He just sleeps.  His first night there, I crawled into bed shortly after putting him in his crate in the corner of my room.  My cat, Bella, joined me.  Ten minutes later, I heard it.  A soft snore coming from the crate.  Another ten minutes went by and on the other side of me, a second snore, only slightly higher in pitch and with a little nose whistle.  I listened to their harmony.  Their little lungs must be exactly the same size because one’s inhale came two beats after the other’s exhale.  They were perfectly synchronized.  An hour later, they were still at it.  My attempts to nudge Bella quiet had failed.  And Frankie only stopped briefly, when after one loud, human-sounding snort, he woke himself up.  I wonder if there’s such a thing as Dog Sleep Apnea.

Frankie’s snoring, I understood.  He’s a Pekingese and, as such, has a rather pushed in face.  But, Bella’s snores surprised me.  Not only does she have an aristocratic nose, like a Siamese, but I’d never heard her before.  Maybe, I’d never been awake for it, or maybe, she was particularly exhausted after being on high alert all day with a dog in the house.  Either way, six hours is my new average on the weekends.

The going rate for companionship.

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