Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Things You Should Know About Pet Ownership: Do Not Pet Sit Other People's Cats

Today's post is by my husband, Mike Adams. Mike, when not being pressed into servitude toward various animals that I select, writes his own blog called All Things Reasonable...except the ones I forgot. Imagine a Hellfire and damnation sermon preached from the pages of The Nation and you have a vague approximation of Mike's blog. Except that he also writes on his personal life. And, now on cats. 

The tale of Gui and Gubal begins with my animal loving wife. In fact any traumatic animal story from my adult life probably begins with Tara. She is one of those people who would do anything for an animal. She has sacrificed my sleep so that our cat could be indoors at night. She has scheduled my Saturday to build a duck house for feathered pets. She has given up my free time on Tuesday nights for dog training classes. There is no sacrifice too great for the betterment of an animal’s situation, that she won’t volunteer me for.

She can’t help it. Tara has an abundance of compassion for animals. She loves them and feels it is her duty to ensure they are cared for. My middle son, Devin, has inherited both my wife’s compassion for animals and her skill with delegating animal care to the rest of us who lack that same level of compassion. Between the two of them, I have become an IT technician by day and Farmer Mike by night.

A few years ago, Tara and I had gone on a home improvement expedition to Lowe’s in Espa├▒ola. After we finished shopping, while we were loading construction supplies into our minivan, a kid duo approached and asked if we wanted a free puppy or two. My eldest son had been asking for a dog and, though he was away at summer camp, I knew Tara was sympathetic, so I had to act quickly.

I said “Ohhh, they are so cute, but we really can’t take care of a dog right now. Thanks, though.”

Tara, though, looked at the puppies and her face lit up.

“Oh how cute. Can I hold one?”

I was completely unaware of the danger that was present at this point, so when she picked up a puppy, I opened the door to our van and started the air conditioning.

I said, “You pet the dog and I’ll finish loading the van.”

A few minutes later, I sat down in the driver’s seat and looked at Tara, who returned my gaze with wide, beautiful and searching eyes.

“You really don’t want a dog right?,” she asked.

I hardened myself and said “RIGHT!”

This is where Tara began to cry and my mind began to race, “Oh no, she’s crying. I have to be tough. I can’t give in. I don’t want a dog. I’ll be the one to walk and feed him. No way!” 

Tara looked at me, wiped a tear from her eye and said, “OK, lets go.”

On the way home, I drove in a subtly stolid mood as we discussed names for our new puppy. Finally, we settled on “Xavier” in honor of Professor Xavier of the X-Men.

That dog has been great though. Not perfect. He can be an asshole, getting into the kitchen or bathroom garbage when no one is looking and then spreading it about the house in the same manner as my eleven year-old scatters his dirty socks. But Xavier has also been the companion and protector for my two younger kids when they were too afraid to venture upstairs at bedtime or on bathroom breaks.

So, when Tara came to me and explained how our friend Petra would be out of the country for a year and that she needed someone to care for her two family cats, I knew there was no escaping the 365 days of additional hairballs. I reassured myself, “Cats are kind of cool, you’ve had them your whole life, Mike. This won’t be bad. However, they had better not pee in the house, because if that happens, I’m having feline stew!”

So we welcomed Gui and Gubal into our home (or petting zoo, as I prefer to think of it). And to my delight, they were great–funny, cute and friendly. Gubal was a huge 18 or 19 pound cat, who would find the oddest places to nap. One morning, my eldest son called to us “Mike, Mom, come look.” Upstairs, Rowan was standing in the bathroom, with a giant smile crossing his face. He pointed at the bathroom sink, where Gubal had curled up in the bowl of the sink for a nap.

“Oh I like these cats,” I thought.

The other cat, Gui was a tiny little Calico creature, who possessed the mentality of a master predator. She would fly across the room and dive under our throw rug, then reach out and bat whatever came near. Their personalities were great and they provided hours of free entertainment. This cat sitting was going to be a treat.

But I hadn’t figured on the neuroses of our cat, Marmalade Lion, who did not share our enthusiasm or affinity for these interlopers. He growled at them or frequently walked right up to either of these guests and stared into their eyes for a few seconds, before letting out a long, tortured holler, which resembled the hybrid sound of a screaming baby, and a strangled goat.

This is when everything went wrong. The cats could not get along, and as the conflict and stress escalated, so did the problems. Gui turned from a fun loving playful cat into a scrapping and aggressive creature, whose size and attitude reminded me of none other than Napoleon Bonaparte.

For months, we ushered abscessed cats to the vet, and looked dolefully at the ground as we assured the staff that we were doing all we could to manage the conflict. The cats it seems, had us bent over a barrel. Then, one day, Tara sent Petra an email, explaining how her cat was being treated for yet another abscess and this time, the vet suggested that our Napoleonic friend Gui might benefit from taking antidepressant medications. Good grief, where is the Cat Whisperer when you need her? Petra agreed and so began the chapter in Gui's life of treatment for her mental health disorder.

Dutifully, we administered the medication and waited for the delayed effect to calm the angry feline. A week passed, then two and finally, we concluded that this course of action wasn’t effective. We had to isolate Gui in our eldest son's room, where she stared angrily out the window. Then once, while allowing Gui outside in our front yard, while the other cats were in, she got in a fight with our neighbor's cat. And got an abscess.

Stress and anxiety gripped me and Tara as we tried to imagine how we might survive the remaining months that we were responsible for these cats. Fortunately, Petra and family had reason to return early and soon, they took possession of their cats.

I worried that Gui and Gubal might have received permanent mental damage, but it soon became apparent that protected from the onslaught of Marmalade's demented yowl, Gui and Gubal had returned to normal. Petra’s cats were happy and safe, and meanwhile, our lives rebounded to the standard insanity to which we were accustomed. We steam cleaned the carpets and located all the remaining cat turds hidden among the kids' costumes.

The moral of my tale is: beware the friendly gesture of cat-sitting. It can ruin your life and cost the person you are trying to help more than you can imagine. In the end, the cats are OK and I have a good story to tell, but would I do it again? NO WAY!

Do you have a story of pet ownership travail? I want you to submit it for this series. Send me what you have!


  1. Nah. Nope. No Thank you. I don't plan on ever ever every cat sitting.


  2. Aw, I can't let our neighbors read this. They are our cat (and house) sitters when we travel. It's super easy if the cats stay in their own home! (one year? Really? Suckas! ;-)

    1. Yes! cat sitting in someone's own home would be fine. Taking them into my home again...not such a good idea! LOL

  3. Now I understand why Mike told me to "Stay Strong Megan just say "NO!" lest it all spiral out of control." Excellent post!

    1. Ha, I forgot I said that to you! LOL. This is exactly why. Along with having four ducks, a dog and a cat. We have also had two mice and two additional cats within the past few years.

  4. I've never cared for anyone else's pets. Even before reading this post, I knew the responsibility would be too great. I have five cats of my own. I don't know how or why, but I do. They can barely tolerate each other. I can't even imagine the hell my cats would put strange cats through.

    1. I once had six. And then, of course, there are my mother and father who had sixteen or was it seventeen in their youth...It is easy to accomplish this. I just bet you have some bizarre pet stories of your own, Nellie.

    2. yes...our one cat, Marmalade Lion is like that. He inflicts himself on others.


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