Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Things You Should Know About Pet Ownership: Don't Let Nature Take Its Course

Photo Credit: MorgueFile by Mary K. Baird

Today's post is by my mother. When I had the idea for this series, which is sort of a tongue-in-cheek expose of the worst moments of pet ownership, I emailed her and told her forcefully that she was going to need to cough up the goods about her time as a crazy cat lady. And, because she is a good mother, she reluctantly agreed. My mother also has her own blog, "B" Stings, where she writes on topics that nobody has emotionally blackmailed her into using. You should check her out. Tell her that her daughter sent you and that she needs her to bring over some eggs and milk.

Let it be.

Go with the flow.

Let nature do its thing.

These were the mottos, the newly-minted clichés (if you’ll forgive the oxymoron) of the late sixties. And they are probably most of the reason why Rick and I ended up with thirteen (or was it seventeen?) cats.

When we moved from Berkeley, California to Vashon Island (which is in the Puget Sound and accessible by ferry from Seattle), we had only two cats. They were Pandora aka Pandy, an elegant female silver tabby, and Bear-Bear, a small black female cat with a voice that never registered above a hoarse stage whisper and who resembled, both in action and in appearance, a comically awkward cartoon bear cub.

Vashon was one of many bucolic communities subject to a hippie invasion, and the local newspaper’s opinion page invariably included several snide remarks regarding the hairy, unwashed intruders. Rick and I were probably hybrid hippies in that I had a job and he was attending graduate school–i.e. we may have turned on and tuned in but we hadn’t quite gotten around to dropping out.

To continue…

We hadn’t lived for more than a week or two in our cozy rental cabin on Vashon Island when a scruffy, feral-looking tom cat appeared on the scene. Rick and I named him Pop but, otherwise, didn’t give the animal much thought...until Bear-Bear got pregnant.

Geez – didn’t you guys get your cats spayed?

Well, of course not because interfering with Nature’s intentions was uptight and unhip. Maybe even fascist.

So, Bear-Bear’s tiny feline frame swelled with pregnancy. In those days I was her adored person and so it wasn’t all that surprising when, upon going into labor, she attempted to give birth on my lap.

I wasn’t having it though. Hip or unhip, I placed her in an old suitcase I had prepared with towels and blankets in preparation for the great event. I was obliged to restrain her from jumping back onto my lap until the first kitten arrived, after which she got busy with various post-partum duties, including ingesting the afterbirth.

Bear-Bear had five kittens….then Pandy got pregnant and I freaked out. Despite Rick’s politically-correct protests, I insisted that Pandy be spayed if it could be done safely. Apparently it could.

Well, Pandy arrived back from the vet lactating and proceeded to successfully nurse three of Bear-Bear’s five kittens. The kittens thrived and romped playfully inserting their tiny claws into the Naugahyde couch which, of course, didn’t belong to us. Pretty soon the couch was covered with tiny pinprick holes like a dot-to-dot game designed by an inebriated pointillist. Rick and I postponed worrying about the wrath of our landlords and the fate of our deposit by lighting up a joint.

Since we were newcomers to the Seattle area, we didn’t know a lot of people. Consequently it became difficult to find homes for Bear-Bear’s kittens. We succeeded in giving away three–a male and two females. That left us with two whom we named Sindhi and Moojic, two female tabbies who took after their feral father.

So, let me try and explain… When you’re busy working, commuting and smoking pot, you tend to kind of let certain things go. Also, around this time, I developed a kidney infection, spiking a fever of 105 and experiencing horrific febrile nightmares in which I was being pursued by a giant manicotti noodle. (The circumstance that provided the content for these dreams is the subject of another story)

Anyhow, I recovered from this illness to discover that Sindhi and Moojic had gotten pregnant. Not only that but Bear-Bear was pregnant again.

So, we moved from Vashon Island to a funky neighborhood in Seattle in order to make room for our expanded family. The house was an old two-story divided into four apartments. Our half of the two main floors included the kitchen, dining room and one of the upstairs bedrooms.

By then we were too indoctrinated by hippie dogma, and also too poor, to arrange for any more feline abortions.

So that’s how Rick and I came to have thirteen kittens. If you add the four adult cats, that totals seventeen household felines. At least according to my calculations. However, I’m weak in math and even weaker in memory, so maybe the total was three less or a couple more. The result is the same regardless.

“Didn’t your landlord object?” you are no doubt wondering. Well, not really because Juneau Jack was busy in his basement cave underneath the house, thinking up clever ways to save money and stewing an endless succession of elderly hens which he’d no doubt obtained at some going-out-of-business grocery store for a penny a pound. “Always a bargain, honey” – that was Juneau Jack’s motto. He didn’t care about feline infestations and, anyway, the few pieces of furniture he’d loaned us were already Goodwill rejects. Jack’s other pastime was playing the electric piano at three, four and five o’clock in the morning, sometimes performing as an accompanist for a whisky-voiced contralto. Consequently he couldn’t reasonably object to excessive cat-engendered noises.

When the kittens were barely old enough to toddle, Nature, in the form of the Grim Reaper, intervened–i.e., Moojic’s and Sindhi’s kittens came down with distemper and perished one by one. Had I been more cold-hearted and practical, I might have sighed and conceded that this was for the best. Instead, I cried copiously over every tiny corpse each of which I buried ceremoniously in the back yard.

Only one of Sindhi and Moojic’s kittens survived–a tabby we named Taka-Taka. This kitten was brain-damaged, though. The only way she could maintain her balance while upright was to adopt a gait similar to that of a Tennessee walking horse. Even then, she tended to topple over.

All three of the kittens from Bear-Bear’s second pregnancy survived. This is probably because Bear-Bear hid her progeny behind the kitchen stove and nursed them in stealth. They were all black and when they emerged, trailing greasy cobwebs and smelling of spices, we named them Snake, Stripe and Garam Masala. Eventually we found homes for all of them and for Mother Sindhi as well. I can’t remember what we did with Moojic but I’m sure it was nothing cruel or pathological. Anyhow, that left us with Bear-Bear, Pandy and our special needs kitty, Taka-Taka.

From here on, the sequence of events in our lives becomes murky with time and distance. For a brief period we lived in a tipi snuggled against the Western side of the Cascade Mountains. I don’t remember Taka-Taka being there, although she must have been. What I do remember is Bear-Bear sitting so close to the fire pit that the tips of her long fur were singed. I also remember her swatting at any animal, canine or feline, who dared to enter through the door flap. Pandy, on the other hand, became a serious hunter bringing home various species and varieties of rodents and even the occasional lagomorph.

Well, the Summer of Love and its aftershocks ended (to quote T.S. Eliot) not with a bang but a whimper. Rick and I sort of grew up and made our compromises with the grim necessities of the material world. Eventually we drifted apart. He retains more of the trappings of hippiedom than I do, I think. This conclusion is proven, at least in part, by the fact that I presently live in Los Alamos, New Mexico (home of the National Laboratory) while he makes his home in Bolinas, California (home of an apparent worm hole to 1967).

As for the remaining cats: Taka-Taka had what was either a seizure or a stroke and died as a result. After we moved to Marin County, Pandora developed a severe allergic reaction to fleas and, Marin being the flea capital of the world, we decided to euthanize her rather than ply her with drugs the vet said would compromise her organ functions.

Bear-Bear lived to a ripe old age and died peacefully. Rick and I are hoping to do the same.


Send your ridiculous pet story for this series to tara [at] faithinambiguity [dot] com. So far, I have three posts (one still in the cue) and they are all wonderful, but they are all about cats.  I know that cats are, in reality, the top candidates for proving that pet ownership is a warped proposal, but doesn't anyone have a harrowing gerbil story? Donkey? Anyone?

If you missed it, here is last week's installment: Bathing Cats Sucks. It is much, much worse than you can possibly imagine. The events, not the writing. The writing is excellent.


  1. "When you’re busy working, commuting and smoking pot, you tend to kind of let certain things go."


    I'm off to read about cat baths now.

    1. It's really embarrassing, on reflection, to realize how clueless Rick and I were.

  2. Oh goodness!

    I'm trying really hard to coherently write down a pet story. I hope I get it down before the next Ice Age.

  3. This is fantastic. We lived in an old Victorian when we were first married and our upstairs neighbor who was allergic to cats fed all of the feral cats in the neighborhood, so they would all congregate on our back porch and do their nasty, incestuous deeds. The big Tom would impregnate all of the female kittens as soon as he was able and there were cats everywhere. We had to clean up miscarried cat fetus more than once. (I say "we", but I hid in the house and retched while my husband did it. Feminist, I know.) Finally we collected as many kittens as we could and gave them to a cat farm. That was when the raccoons moved in.

    I love the way you write. I can see where Tara gets a lot of things...

    1. Thanks! Is there really such a thing as a cat farm? If I had to choose between burying dead kittens and mopping up a cat fetus, I think I'd opt for the former. I don't blame you for retching indoors while your husband did the honors, feminism be damned.

      Nature endowed Tara and me with a modicum of writing skills so we could public display our sick senses of humor.

  4. Brava! You write just as well as your daughter. :-)

  5. I loved your mother's post. It reminds me of my won mother who is very fond of cats. At one point in time, she owned over twenty cats.

    1. It turns out this is true of lots of people's mothers. Who knew?

  6. Such a heart moving story. Your love for pets is way awesome. Though the ending was a bit sad but they live meaningful lives thanks to you and your husband.

  7. Aww, see?! Being the Crazy Cat Lady isn't terrible!! :-) There is a Momma with 3 tiny babies (4 weeks old, maybe?) living in the campground where we're staying in Rome. I have spent hours feeding Momma, and watching all 4 of them romp around. I keep asking Hubs if we can have kittens when we get home and he keeps saying no. Probably for the best, as my 3 boys (12, 12.5, and almost 7 years old) are likely pissed enough that we've been gone for this long. They would likely freak the eff out if we were to bring home kittens.


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