I grew up with animals of every kind—ponies, donkeys, dogs, cats, a monkey, snakes, rats, skunks, opossums, raccoons, birds, mice, rats, fish, bugs. If it moved, it interested me.
I always considered myself a dog person, though, simply because my dogs would follow me around, roll over on command, sit, shake, and lie at my feet wherever I was. It was obvious that my dogs loved me. The other animals, no so much.
My first dog was a mutt named Bosco. I don’t have a picture of him. He was an alley dog, roaming wherever he wanted to go. One day he didn’t come home. I’m pretty sure he simply died; he was an old dog at that time.
I didn’t have another dog until I graduated from Texas A&M University and moved to Houston. I got two dogs, both purebred Beagles from the same litter. I named them “Union” and “Pacific” after the Union Pacific Railroad. Yes, I was weird even then. One day I came home from work and my apartment was open with fire, police, and apartment personnel rushing in an out. Union and Pacific had pooped in the bathtub (just like I had taught them to) but then had managed to turn the water on. The dog poop clogged the drain and the apartment flooded. I was upstairs, so water was leaking into the apartment below me and the roof in their unit collapsed. Fortunately everyone had insurance which covered us, but I either had to give up Union and Pacific, or move. I couldn’t afford to move at that point.
Finally, three years later, I did move. My Houston rent had gotten to a dollar a square foot, so I picked up and moved back to College Station where I was hoping to get a job with Texas A&M University so I could get that awesome state-supplied health insurance. I did. That was when I bought a duplex and got two dogs, Penney, a Long-haired Dachsund, and Sugar, a Chow Chow/Besenji mix. The only Chow Chow part of Sugar was her purple tongue.
One day when I was preparing to leave on my motorcycle, Sugar jumped up on the seat. I took a few minutes and left her on the back seat and drove around the neighborhood fully expecting her to jump off and run home. Nope. She stayed. Happiest dog in the world.
Since she was so happy, I took time out each day to take her for longer, and faster, motorcycle rides. Eventually she rode with me on the highway at 65 mph from College Station to Waco, a distance of about 90 miles. She was the best backseat rider ever, keeping her head pinned to my side and watching the road to determine which way she should lean into the upcoming curve.
On April 15, 1993, I left College Station on a suicide journey (see my unsuccessful suicide journey post here). I gave Sugar and Penney to a friend and never saw them again. I also lost contact with the friend, so I don’t know what happened to Sugar and Penney, or how long they lived.
From 1993 to 2007 I was too mobile and too into work to have a pet, although I did have several aquariums, even a 300-gallon aquarium full of African cichlids. Then, on Thanksgiving Day 2007, a black cat came to visit. Jim and I gave it food and water. It ate and drank, and left. Didn’t even bother saying “Thank you!” or “Goodbye!”
On Christmas Eve, it came back. Imagine that, a cat that knows human holidays!
Jim and I gave it food and water again, it ate and drank, and stayed. We named her Sophie.
We moved 8 months later and took her with us, all the while trying to make her into an indoor cat. Didn’t work. When darkness came, she would howl like a coyote until we let her out. She always came home, though, until the morning of September 20, 2007. No Sophie. A phone call at 7:30 a.m. No one calls me at 7:30 a.m. It was the worst phone call ever. A neighbor a couple of blocks over had found a black cat that had been hit and killed by a car. She had moved the cat out of the road, saw the collar tag, and called me. I went to retrieve the body and give it a proper burial, out near the house we had just sold, her old neighborhood.
I was so devastated with the loss of Sophie, and how she died, that Jim and I immediately went to the El Cajon Animal Shelter to get another cat. We wanted an older cat that was an indoor cat, but I also wanted a cat that would let me hold it and pet it. We found Zoey, but she wouldn’t be ready to adopt until the next day. We were there 10 minutes before they opened, signed the adoption papers and paid the adoption fee, and brought Zoey home. Three hours after she arrived in our home, I captured this picture:
That was when I renamed Zoey, adding “the Cool Cat” so that she became Zoey the Cool Cat.
At first, having a 100% indoor cat was difficult. One of the reasons why I never considered myself a cat person was because cats like to jump up on things, climb on things, climb up things, and study gravy by knocking anything and everything to the floor. About the same time that I was getting really frustrated, a new show made its debut on cable: “My Cat From Hell” featuring Jackson Galaxy. I will admit that I judged a book by its cover and as soon as I saw Jackson, I said, “No way!” Yes way.
I learned from Jackson that cats are vertical animals. They like to climb. Once I was able to accept that and help Zoey the Cool Cat (ZCC), she and I became much better friends. I catified my house so that ZCC has vertical places she can go with no questions asked. I even have a special cat shelf in front of a window in each room. She loves them.
I also found out through Jackson Galaxy and “Pets Rule” at SeaWorld San Diego that you can train cats. I had never believed that. ZCC can go anywhere she wants except the top of the railing on the balcony (don’t want her falling off), the grand piano (just no), the leather sofa (don’t want cat claw holes in the leather), the kitchen counters (that’s where I prepare food), and the top of the refrigerator. Actually, she can go to the top of the refrigerator if she can figure out how to get there without making an intermediate stop on the kitchen counters.
Cats will react to a loud clap and a loud NO, usually by jumping down and hiding. Jackson taught me to wait about a minute and then give them a treat to let them know that I still love them, but it’s far enough away from the clap/NO so they won’t connect being bad with getting a treat.
Also, when you find cats somewhere you don’t want them to be, pick them up and put them someplace where it is okay to be, along with some loving words, a soothing voice, some petting or head butts, and a treat. You can get them to go where you want them to go by leaving treats there. Just don’t leave too many; otherwise, they’ll think that’s their eating spot.
Make it easy to get up and down. It’s more easy for cats to go up and not so easy for them to come down. I have catified my home so that it’s just short jumps from here to there, both up and down. In the window shelf picture, it’s a short jump up to my desk and then another short jump to get to her window shelf. She comes down the same way because they are short jumps. ZCC prefers those spots where she has to make a short jump. So, floor or bed? Bed. Floor or chair? Chair. Chair seat or chair back?
One thing it took me a little while to discover is that ZCC, and most cats, prefer the old and smelly to the new, so I never have spent money on a cat tree or cat toys. If I want to spice up ZCC’s life, a box or sack from the store is all she needs, and her favorite cat toy are the red rings from the gallon milk jugs. She’s easy.
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