Cat Tales

One Big Happy Family

posted October 15th, 2009 by
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SO OFTEN WE HEAR THE REFRAIN, “I’m going to have a baby, so I have to get rid of the cat!” Call it an “old wives’ tale” or urban legend, cats do not suck the breath out of babies! Perhaps this myth originated before much was known about SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), but there is no excuse for it today. The story of this family illustrates clearly the compatibility of pets and children.

Both Matt and Ashley had always loved animals, so when they married it was only natural that their first “babies” would be pets. Thus, within a short period of time, they adopted two dogs and two cats. They knew, too, that pets are a lifetime commitment, for these pets would live 14 – 20 years, and be in their home for nearly as long as a human child. They gave them all the love in the world, but also trained and disciplined them. (Good practice for parenting, eh?)

So when Ashley became pregnant, their “family” would grow to seven. Aware of the danger of toxoplasmosis to a pregnant woman and her unborn child, a disease contracted from exposure to cat feces, Matt volunteered to clean the litter box for nine months. (Hey, dads, could this become a habit?) When he was away on business, Ashley took the necessary precautions of mask and meticulous handwashing and hygiene.

As they prepared the baby’s room, they let the cats investigate, so when baby Dolce arrived, the cats’ curiosity about the room had been sated. And, why would any cat want to go near this new squirming and squealing creature? When the baby was asleep in the room, Ashley simply closed the door and used a baby monitor. (Another young couple was even more creative. They installed a screen door on baby’s room so that they could hear him and the cat could see what was happening. The screen door, in Victorian style, became a nice decorative feature.)

How did other new moms introduce cat to baby? One volunteered that it was no problem, since the cat always lay on her tummy while she was pregnant. Hmm, what better lullaby than the purr of a cat? When mom was holding baby, the cats were naturally curious, so they were allowed to look at the baby and smell her. Cats, mom and baby could all cuddle together, but baby was never alone with the animals. And, while baby was napping, the cats had their special time and attention, so that they were not jealous.

It was pointed out that having multiple cats actually makes the transition easier, because the cats have each other, and are not so fixated on baby. Cats can also aid in the sensory development of a child, showing the difference between soft and hard, rough and smooth. And the giggles come when whiskers tickle! One baby, Lauren, actually learned her first words from the cats: “Meow, Meow!”

Back to Dolce. When she started crawling, life became more interesting. Fortunately, cats are very quick, and generally run from babies. Children can learn at any early age to touch gently. Hint: petting mom’s hair is good practice. They like to pull that even more than kitty fur! Children learn best by mimicking. When they see parents being gentle and kind toward animals, they will do the same. If they see parents yelling and hitting the animal, they will do likewise. Sharing the love of a pet can teach so much: compassion, respect, and patience, to name a few virtues.

As soon as she could walk, Dolce was helping to feed the animals, already getting a lesson in responsibility. In this way, she also learned the difference between kitty food and human food, so she wasn’t tempted to eat from kitty’s bowl. One last issue: what about the litter box? Simple: most people already keep litter boxes in a separate room, and that’s what baby gates are for. Just like learning to touch gently, kids can also learn that some things are “yucky.”

Dolce is two now, and what are her favorite toys? Animals, both stuffed and plastic. And her favorite outing? To the zoo, of course.

Stress No More

posted April 15th, 2009 by
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Story by Camille Hulen

The family had other cats, but this kitten would be all his!  Mom said OK when he brought it home: a beautiful little ball of fluff.  The kitten looked just like a little bear, so he named him Cubby.  The boy was twelve when he found Cubby, and they grew up together.  In good times and bad, Cubby was always there to listen and love.

Then when the boy was a senior in high school, the unthinkable happened.  He had only one semester left to graduate, and his parents were moving some 40 miles away.  If he wanted to graduate with his classmates, he would have to stay with friends because the commute would be impossible for him. He had a tight schedule of school, a part-time job, and sports.  The parents said that they would not keep the cat, although they had two others.  It was his cat, and it would just need to be “put down” if the son could not find a place for it!

This was how I met the young man.  He called, almost in tears.  He was desperate.  He needed a foster home for his cat Cubby.  Speaking with Jerry, it became clear that this was a very responsible young man.  He was getting good grades in school and even taking college courses.  After graduation, he planned to move to California to attend college and play hockey where his dad lived, and take Cubby with him.  Thus I agreed to foster Cubby at Camille’s Cathouse for the spring semester.

When Jerry brought Cubby to me, I was impressed.  Jerry was well-spoken, without the typical slang jargon of teenagers.  Cubby appeared healthy, although a little thin, with sparse hair on his hind quarters, perhaps reflecting his stressful home situation.  The love between boy and his cat was obvious.  He held him close to his face, hugged him, and promised to visit him. Cubby purred goodbye.

Throughout the semester, Jerry called to check on his cat, and visited when he could.  Cubby was always happy to see him and both enjoyed their playtime together.  Cubby enjoyed the company of other cats and started to put on some weight and his coat thickened.  He used the litter boxfaithfully.  He appeared to dislike only one kind of cat, the fluffy Persians.  Were they too much competition for his beauty, or was it just fun to chase them because they ran and squealed?   

At last, graduation day came, but there was a complication.  As Jerry was making plans to move to California, his dad informed him that his apartment complex did not allow pets!  We discussed putting Cubby up for adoption, but Jerry loved his cat so much he wanted to try to keep him so that they could be reunited someday.  At that point, a friend of his agreed to foster him.  The friend had a cat of his own, so that should be no problem.

Not so.  After about a month, Cubby started urinating outside the litter box.  He was taken to the vet, and Jerry’s Mom reluctantly paid the bill.  The diagnosis was chronic cystitis.  Cubby would need medication and special prescription food.  Mom thought long term care was totally unreasonable, and again was ready to put Cubby down!

Cubby went home with the friend but continued to urinate outside the litter box, so back he came to Camille’s Cathouse.  Once there, he was a happy boy, purring and playing and using the litter box.  Had his condition been stress-induced?  In the friend’s home he had not been the dominant cat.  He had been there because of a sense of obligation, not of love, and was clearly unhappy.

It so happened that another young man had observed Cubby for all of these months.  This second young man, Josh, had had a cat die recently, after a long battle with diabetes.  The remarkable thing was that whenever he saw Cubby, he held him to his face and hugged him in the same way that Jerry had.  The match was obvious: love at first sight.  It took a while for Josh to overcome his mourning for his old cat, but then the happy day came: he was ready to adopt Cubby!  Josh was aware of Cubby’s past behavioral problems, but was willing to give him a chance. 

Cubby now lives a wonderful life, very much loved, a life without stress.  There have been no recurrences of his “stress-induced” urinary problem. He even has a new playmate, a kitten named Tamagochi.  Cubby has become the dominant cat and has been renamed appropriately.  He is now called Mr. Miyagi, after the teacher in the movie “Karate Kid.”  He is teaching the kitten to enjoy the good life.

The Cat Who Talks

posted October 15th, 2008 by
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Story by Camille Hulen

The story is a familiar one.  Stray cat shows up in backyard, family agrees not to feed it, hoping that it will go home.  The following is the story of Bob, a lucky cat who lives with Mom Janet, Dad Jeff and two kids, Jolee (13) and Kyle (10), as told to me by Janet.

The white furry creature with apricot markings had made himself contentedly at home on our front porch bench. When I put on my meanest face and made my best growl sounds, he simply looked up at me as if to say “Lady, you are totally nuts.  Don’t you know you’re going to love me?”  He didn’t budge.  He didn’t even flinch.  He just kept right on purring like he was entertained.  So I gave in and secretly fed him.  

Shortly thereafter, Jeff was recovering at home from a knee injury, when he accidentally left our garage door open.  The curious kitty found his way inside the house and calmly walked behind a computer desk.  Thinking he’d never get the cat back outside, Jeff started talking to him.  “Kitty, you’ll have to go back outside.”  Much to Jeff’s surprise, the cat immediately stepped out from behind the desk, looked up at Jeff and slowly walked out the way he walked in. This cat could understand English!  

Next, a friend visited, and excitedly told Jeff that this was no ordinary cat.  Jeff called me at work to tell me that “our new kitty is a flame-point Siamese, and he’s special.  This breed is smart, vocal, and has personality.” Vocal is something we were quickly finding out, and it’s probably the attribute that won this cat a permanent home.  

Our other cat, Osu (pronounced Oh-Sue), was strictly an indoor cat.  On several supervised visits indoors, the stray kitty had met Osu, who had been our only pet for 18 years.  Jeff called me at work again.  “You’re never going to believe what our new cat can do.” 


“He can talk.” 

“No way.”  After I stopped laughing and started to wonder if Jeff had hurt more than just his knee in his accident, I asked, “Well….exactly what did he say?”

“He was outside the den glass door.  Osu was inside looking out.  The new cat ‘said’ her name perfectly, over and over.  ‘Oh-Sue.  Ohhhhh-Sue.’  At first I didn’t believe it.  And I don’t think Osu believed it either.”

“No way could he be that smart.  It’s just a coincidence.”

Sure enough, it wasn’t long until I heard it.  The new kitty took great delight in pushing Osu’s buttons, and they played this game often.  We also heard other “words” like “Momma,” “Hello” and “I want in.”  The talking kitty, now called “Bob,” had found a home.    

When we went on vacation, Bob went to board at Camille’s Cathouse.  Camille observed that Bob had a “drinking problem,” consuming large amounts of water.  I hadn’t notice that before, because Bob preferred to drink out of our swimming pool.  A visit to the vet confirmed that Bob indeed had a kidney problem. 

Due to all the medication, Bob’s eyesight has declined and he is almost blind.  But that hasn’t affected his attitude or his style.  He can still find all his favorite chairs and hang-outs in the yard.  He enjoys boxes and kitty beds, and even toys that make noise.  He seems to navigate well using his hearing, stopping to carefully smell the air and adjust his path accordingly.

Bob continues to keep us well entertained as the most laid-back cat we’ve ever had.  He has happily socialized during a wedding reception in our yard, purrs all the way to the vet’s office, is king of the kennel at Camille’s, has been Kyle’s show and tell, and takes in stride the visits to the pet store filled with dogs.  He doesn’t even mind being dressed up as Cowboy Bob for Halloween to make the neighborhood trick or treat rounds!  

Osu has since passed away of old age, and we have adopted a new young cat named Midge.  No, Bob hasn’t learned to say her name yet, but his vocalizing does change when we talk about her.  One day Jeff and I were telling him what a good kitty he was.  He was so content, taking it all in, purring and “answering” us in mellow meows.  I then asked him, “Is Midge a good kitty?”  Bob stood up and his vocalization tone immediately changed from contentment to frustration as if to say “No!  The only good one here is ME!”  

We’ve occasionally questioned ourselves whether we should continue Bob’s medicine or just let nature take its course.  Our vet has worked with us to keep costs as low as we can, and Bob pays his part by ridding our backyard of moles. Although Bob seems happy and he’s holding his own, he is in the polyuric phase of kidney failure, and that won’t last forever.  Once he enters the next phase, the end can come rather quickly.  Our family dreads that day, but we know we’ve given extra years to one of the best pets we’ve ever had.  

In choosing us as his family, Bob has taught us many things:  1) Seek out those who love.  2)  Make the most of the hand you are dealt.  3) Love everyone.  4)  When you sign on for a responsibility, you can’t just quit when there’s a problem.  5)  Never stop purring.

The Lucky Ones

posted July 15th, 2008 by
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Story by Camille Hulen

When the floods came to Coffeyville last year, a lady had a pregnant cat named Pantera.   

It is unfortunate that the cat had not been spayed, but, at least, she was loved.  Although homeless herself, the woman found shelter for her cat.  Pantera was a Lucky One.

  Two weeks after she was given shelter, Pantera gave birth to five lucky kittens. The birth occurred within one hour early on a Saturday morning.  Pantera knew just what to do: cleaning all of the kittens and herself to be presentable to the world in less than four hours.  For the first two days, she rarely left their side, nursing and cleaning constantly.

By Tuesday, Pantera would leave the kittens briefly, only to feed herself and use the litter box.  Although a litter box was in the cage with her, she chose not to use it, but to wait until she could go to one further away.  Perhaps this is instinctive behavior to protect kittens from predators who might detect the scent.

On Wednesday, one eye of one kitten peaked open!  This was sooner than I ever imagined.

By Thursday, mama cat had become a little restless, and moved the kittens within the cage.  I would move them back to their soft nest, and she would move them again.  Once more, this is probably instinct, to keep them safe from predators.  Pantera never considered me a predator, but kept a watchful eye if one of the kittens squealed as I held it.

Kittens certainly grow quickly!  At the age of one week, they had doubled in size.  They were no longer little wieners: they were big fat sausages!  At one week, they were no longer constantly at mom’s nipples and began to feed individually and mill about more.  Most had their eyes squinting open.

By the following Wednesday (ten days from birth), they began to get curious and tumble about, almost playing with one another.  A couple of days later, they were wrestling, vying for position to feed.  One would even hiss when startled. They continued to gain strength and by the age of two weeks, they were attempting to climb from their nest.  A clumsy attempt it was, for they could still not focus their eyes.

Then, at three weeks, the world was theirs!  They began to focus their eyes, and displayed their baby teeth.  They wanted to investigate everything.  Pantera would leave them, but be back at the slightest whimper.

At one month, they began to eat solid kitten food occasionally and use the litter box.  Both of these behaviors they learned from imitating mama cat.  At that point, although they did not physically need mom, they purred contently whenever she was near.    The experience of witnessing a mother cat’s love and care was truly remarkable.  

How does one duplicate this care as a foster mom?  What do you do when you find kittens in a dumpster, thrown away like yesterday’s trash?  This was the case of the four beautiful orphans in this picture. 

They came to me flea-ridden from their dumpster environment.  Since they were too young for chemical flea  products, the only remedy was bathing, lots of bathing. Two of these kittens came to be known as Duncan, (because we dunked him so often), and Dipsy, as we dipped her equally frequently.  

The orphans were hungry, very hungry.  One thing you appreciate quickly is that mama cat can feed all of her babies at once, continually, but as a human you must feed them one at a time, while the others clamor for their share.  You haven’t lived until you have had 80 little claws, sharp as needles, climbing your legs!  As a foster mom to tiny babies, one does not get much sleep, for they must be fed every four hours, night and day.  If they are newborn, it is every two hours. The reward is little purrs, for bottle-fed babies purr in response to their human “mom,” just as normal kittens purr contentedly next to mama cat.  And, believe it or not, the little ones also need to be burped, just like a human baby.  

On the other end, Mama licks kittens to stimulate them to urinate and defecate, then keeps them clean all in one action, so what does the human do?  Rub their little bottoms with warm wash cloths to stimulate them and then use lots of tissue.  When old enough, kittens follow mom to the litter box.  Fortunately, orphans, too, will use the litter box quite naturally, when they are old enough to stumble into it. It takes a while, though, for them to learn to clean themselves, so foster mom must bathe them.

Although they still enjoy the comfort of nursing, curiosity causes kittens to follow mama cat to food and water. However, bottle-fed kittens do not learn so quickly.  It takes a lot of coaxing to convince them to drink from a saucer or to even try moist food.  A messy process it is, so that means more baths!   Guess what?  Kittens like this learn to love water, which carries into adulthood, when they try to take a bath with you.  No spray bottles for discipline with these guys either: water is fun.

So it was, with patience and love, and a lot of fun, over the course of three weeks, the “dumpster babies” grew and flourished.  They were ready for their permanent homes, and, like Pantera’s kittens, they were the Lucky Ones.

Now in the heart of “kitten season” again, we can only ask, “What will happen to the many kittens abandoned in a park or thrown from a car on a country road?  Will they be among the Lucky Ones?”



The Comfort of Cats

posted April 15th, 2008 by
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Story by Camille Hulen

Pat was a single lady whose cats were her children.  

There was Morris, the oldest, a big orange Tabby every bit as handsome as his namesake in the cat food commercials.  Morris was now nine. Next there was Lucky, age six, a grey Tabby so named because he was lucky to survive when injured and lost his tail.  Then a friend had asked her to come see Sarah when she was a little kitten, and Pat couldn’t resist, adopting both Sarah and brother Sammy.  So now there were four cats living a happy life together.

When the war in Iraq began, an opportunity presented itself for Pat to serve her country, not as military, but as a civilian government employee in Iraq.  It was difficult, but Pat left her cats with a caretaker, promising to return in one year.  Email made life bearable, as she learned of their adjustment and their regular antics, along with the latest pictures.  Strangely enough, Lucky and Sarah had now become buddies, replacing the sibling relationship of Sammy and Sarah.  She made a visit home for Christmas, and saw that they were happy.

Then misfortune struck, when one day Pat detected a lump in her breast.  She was given a leave of absence to seek medical care, and the diagnosis was not good.  Her cancer from years past had returned.  Her foreign service curtailed, she returned to work in Tulsa.  As she underwent surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, the cats were there for her.  How many cats can fit in one recliner?  The answer is at least four, because the cats were always by her side.

As her illness progressed, Pat became concerned about the long-term welfare of her cats, and made arrangements for their adoptions, because she knew she would not always be there for them.  However, it was most important that they stay with her in this troubling time.  We have all heard the story of the nursing home cat who comforted patients in their last days.  Animals know when they are needed.

Only when Pat left Tulsa to receive final care with relatives, were the cats removed from her.  Still, she received regular phone calls to learn how adoption was proceeding.  She was most concerned about Morris, for some thought he might be “too old” for adoption.  Guess what?  He was first to find a home, displaying his gentle loving ways.  Then Sammy, who was a “talker,” found a home.  But what about Lucky and Sarah?  They had become fast friends while “mom” was overseas, always grooming each other and sleeping together.  They needed to go together, and it is not always easy to find a home for two cats.

As Pat grew weaker, she talked less and less during the phone calls, but she always asked about her cats.  Finally, the good news came!  Sarah and Lucky had been adopted together!  She could no longer speak, but her nurse said she was smiling.  The next day, Pat died.

Choosing the Right Person

posted January 15th, 2008 by
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Story by Camille Hulen

The cat chooses the person, the person does not choose the cat, as these two stories illustrate.
Case #1 – laila

Why would anyone want to give up such a beautiful cat?  She was a full-blooded Siberian for whom they had probably paid $700.  “She bit one of the kids and she doesn’t like my husband much either,” the lady said.  So Laila was put up for adoption.

A young couple took her home.  They loved her dearly, but, it seemed, she developed this bad habit of urinating on their bed.  They tried different kinds of litter, they took her to the vet to have her checked for a urinary infection, and sought all sorts of advice, but the problem continued, so they brought her back to the shelter.  They cried when they left her.

Laila was checked once more for physical problems and none was found, so she was placed in foster care at a kennel for observation. There she always used the litter box, and never had an accident.  She was very loving and sweet, and even got along with other cats.  However, she did demand a lot of attention. She seemed to prefer women over men, and liked quiet time devoted to her alone.  Perhaps that is why she didn’t do well in a family setting, and, perhaps she was jealous of the couple’s relationship with each other.  She wanted a person all to herself!  Based on this information, it was suggested that she would do best in a home with a single woman.

Sure enough, the right person came along quickly!  She did have another cat, but felt that she had ample time to devote to two cats.  So Laila went to Home Number Three.

The following is quoted directly from the new “mom.”  “She is such a loving wonderful girl and gets sweeter every day as our bond grows closer and she continues to become more trusting…I am so happy with her and I love her and can’t imagine how anybody could have given her up.”  Need I say more? 

Case #2 – harley

Harley was the victim of a divorce.  When she came to the shelter, the man said that she was a sweet girl, but all she did was hiss, growl, and bite the volunteers.  Everyone was afraid of her, so she went to foster care.

At first, she stayed in her cage and growled.  If a human tried to pet her, she struck back.  This cat required a lot of patience, so she was left undisturbed, but allowed to observe other cats.  Hmm, this wasn’t such a bad place: those other cats seemed to be having fun.  They were relaxed and liked to play and be petted.  “Maybe I should try that,” Harley thought.  (Yes, cats do learn from observing other cats.)  So she ventured from her cage, but then quickly darted back when a human came near.  It turns out that Harley wasn’t mean: she was just afraid.  Two humans had previously adored her, but now she had no one.

Eventually, she allowed one person to pet and brush her, just a little at first, but then more and more.  The real breakthrough came when she relaxed enough to play.  She actually lay on her back and batted at toys.  This was a new found trust.

Then one day, the “right person” came to see her, interested in adopting her.  Harley immediately trusted this lady, for she was quiet and kind: she let her brush her and play with her.  This looked like an ideal match!  However, after giving it much thought, the lady decided that her current living situation was just too uncertain to assure Harley a good home, for she might be moving soon.

At the adoption center, Harley stayed to herself, and mostly hid in the storeroom.  But, guess what?  That nice “right person” could not get her out of her mind and came to visit her often.

Then, after a long time, it finally happened!  The lady decided that she was ready to take Harley home.  The adoption was approved immediately, since everyone had seen the bond between cat and person.  It had previously been a struggle to get Harley in a carrier, but this time she went right in, and when she reached her new home, she came out eagerly.  She stretched out on the floor and rolled around.  That first night she slept in the lady’s bed, and every night thereafter.  Home at last! 

Clearly, Laila and Harley chose the right people. 

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