41 Days

At 9:30 last Saturday evening, I shut off the television and turned off lights before heading upstairs to bed. My husband Gary was already asleep. I heard a yowling outside that sounded familiar. It started at the sidewalk, gained momentum up the walkway, and came to a fevered pitch on the front porch. I looked out the door’s window and was convinced the nachos I’d eaten for dinner had been laced with peyote. Our cat Little Mister stood poised like a bullet ready for the door to open.

I yelled at Gary. “Little Mister’s home!”

“What?” he said in drowsy confusion.

Little Mister had been gone 41 days. I thought he was gone forever. Yet there he was howling at the door. I opened it and he ran halfway up the stairs before stopping. I stood, frozen, transported to an alternate universe where I was staring into the eyes of a pet that I’d given up for dead.

Water!

I ran to the kitchen, poured water into a bowl and raced upstairs. I lightly petted him as he took a few sips.

Food!

Store! Go to the store!

I wrestled a jacket over my pajamas. Wait! Marcia has a cat and it’ll take less time to get to her than to the store. I prayed she was still awake. She was, and met me outside her house with a sandwich bag full of cat food. I sped back home, filled a bowl with food and ran upstairs.

LMRECOVERY4I sat with Little Mister and petted him while he munched on the kibble. He looked at me and meowed. It was pathetic and weak. I picked him up and felt the literal interpretation of the phrase “bag of bones.” His eyes were bright, but his coat was disheveled and dull.

For weeks after he disappeared, I expected to hear his meow when I passed by the front door, to find him in the middle of my bed when I went upstairs. I missed him most at night, cuddling at my side.

I didn’t miss his 3:00am—every 3:00am—insistence upon being let outside. And I especially didn’t miss having to keep him and our dog Lucy separated because he hated her puppy energy.

LMRECOVERY3I got into bed, tried to relax and pretend everything was normal. Little Mister, as is his custom, sat on my chest, wedging himself between me and my book. For the first time in 41 days, I cried. “You poor, poor thing, I can’t imagine where you were and how you suffered. I’m so grateful you’re back.”

Weeks earlier, in the midst of the Christmas holidays, I’d resigned myself to his disappearance by thinking he’d been ill and wandered off to die. My tears were a mixture of compassion for his plight and guilt over having so easily dismissed him.

His return was a cosmic slap in the face, making me realize his is a life that matters. I took responsibility for nurturing that life when he came into our home eleven and a half years ago.

The next morning, I got up at six and Little Mister wanted to go outside. We had no litter box and I took this as a sign that he was well enough to return to his familiar routines. (I now realize that I was still in the throes of suspended reality.)

A few hours later, I called him, but he didn’t show up. I walked to the sidewalk and heard a faint meow coming from next door. I found him crouched behind a bush in the neighbor’s yard. It broke my heart to see him looking so helpless, unable to traverse the short distance home.

I picked him up and scolded myself for having let him outside. His ordeal had drained much of the life out of him. His eyes, bright at his return the night before, were dull. He ate a bit of food and I settled him on the bed.

Gary and I speculate what might have happened. On that rainy night of December 20, Little Mister must have sought shelter, perhaps in someone’s rarely used garage or shed, and got locked in. He must have had access to water and maybe some critters. His frantic yowls upon his return convinced me that after 41 days he’d gotten his first chance to escape.

LMRECOVERY2I’ve set up a litter box and will keep him inside. He’s been to the vet who discovered that he has the “reddest throat and biggest tonsils I’ve ever seen on a cat.” She gave him a little IV hydration boost, some antibiotics, and a shot of what she called “cat morphine” to ease the pain in his throat. “Cats tend to like opiates,” she said. Little Mister agrees.

I’m happy that Little Mister is back. I promise to do everything in my power to return him to his normal fatty, demanding, Lucy-hating self.

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Goodbye Little Mister

LilMrEleven and a half years ago, our son Harrison graduated from high school. That summer, he was left alone for a week while his sister, dad and I went out of town. We returned to a house wiped clean of any evidence of partying and a fluffy gray kitten to add to our menagerie of two dogs and three cats. (While we were gone, he’d encountered someone outside a restaurant with a box of kittens.)

We had more than enough cats. Harrison was, technically, the owner of one. As a child, he’d been given a short-haired, half feral kitten that he named Indiana Jones Riley. (Indiana turned out to be a girl.) He argued that Indiana was far from friendly and he’d always wanted a fluffy gray cat. We explained that he was going off to college in a couple months and we’d be stuck with it. In order to sway us, I think he finally said please or something nice. But I really don’t remember.

He named her Pancake. Laine called her Lily. I called her Harrison’s Parting Gift.

Lily was a feisty little thing that hated physical contact. In an effort to domesticate her, she was required to eat while sitting on someone’s lap and being petted. It didn’t take long before she begrudgingly relaxed. She lurked about with jaunty confidence, and tortured our two older females with surprise pounce attacks. Laine’s male cat Figaro would have none of that, whacking Lily with a paw whenever she got close. I nicknamed her Little Sister—the obnoxious baby of the pack.

When it came time for her to be spayed, the vet discovered that, under all that fluffy fur, Little Sister was actually a Little Mister.

Over the next few years, as the older cats died off, Little Mister reigned supreme. Our two large dogs gave him a wide berth whenever he strutted about the house. He was a talker and not shy about asking for what he wanted. “I need food!” “Let me in!” “Let me out!” “Pet me!” “Stop petting me!”

Two years ago, we were given a puppy and Little Mister’s dictatorship came to an end. All Lucy ever wanted was to establish a playful relationship with him. All he ever wanted was for her to go away. My efforts to integrate them failed. Relative peace was finally established by erecting a baby gate on the stairs. Little Mister spent his indoor time upstairs, safe from intolerable puppy energy.

***

On an early evening nearly four weeks ago, I put him out. He’d been sleeping all day and company was coming over. If he didn’t go out then, he’d insist upon it later and wake me in the middle of the night to get back in.

Before going to bed, I opened the front door, expecting him to rush in, scold me for leaving him out for three hours in the wet cold, and race upstairs with a chirp which translated, “I’ll never speak to you again!”

He wasn’t there. I called and called, but he didn’t show up. It wasn’t the first time he’d failed to come home. It was no longer raining. He’d probably show up howling in the middle of the night.

But he didn’t.

cat(7)It was the week of Christmas. We had a house full of people and activities. I was concerned about Little Mister, but consoled by the knowledge that he’d sometimes disappear for two to three days at a time. On our walks around the neighborhood, Lucy and I looked for him. Several times a day, I’d open the door and call his name.

As time went by, I wondered if he’d been ill. For the past few months, he slept a great deal. Unless it was three o’clock in the morning, he rarely demanded to go outside. I’d have to hunt him down in the afternoons to put him out where he’d usually spend less than an hour.

The day after Christmas, Laine suggested we check the Humane Society to see if someone found him. I agreed, but wasn’t surprised when he wasn’t there. Little Mister would never, ever let a stranger capture and transport him.

It’s an odd feeling to have a pet disappear. I’m sad, but not emotionally broken. Over the years, I’ve experienced the heart-wrenching grief of watching five dogs and three cats deteriorate to the point where they had to be taken to the vet to end their suffering. I suspect Little Mister wandered off to die, but carry the hope that he’ll return. A tad of wishful thinking allows me to fantasize that he found another home—one with a sweet little lady who doesn’t have a puppy and lets him lounge on her lap all day.

At times, I hear his chirp at the front door only to open it and find the porch empty. Whenever I go upstairs, I anticipate him nestled in the middle of the bed. I miss his insistence upon being petted as I read at night, wrestling his way onto my chest, between my face and book, purring and drooling.

I’ve finally washed his bowls, taken his remaining food to the Humane Society, and removed the baby gate from the stairs.

Four weeks ago, I watched his gray fluff scurry out the front door. If I’d known it was going to be the last time I’d see him, I would have at least said goodbye.LilM

Science Diet

thOver the years, I’ve owned five cats. Each lived long lives on a steady diet of Meow Mix. The only exception was when daughter Laine’s cat Figgy went into renal failure at age 13. He was put on a special food that cost a million dollars a day, which he enjoyed for two weeks before he died.

Indy—our son Harrison’s cat—lived to be 150 years old eating Meow Mix and whatever critters she would scavenge.

When Little Mister came into our lives eleven summers ago, I figured what was good for the others was good for him, too. However, for the past year, an increasing number of hairballs have been hacked about the house. Maybe it was time to upgrade his diet.

A month ago, I went to Fort Bragg Feed and Pet to buy Lucy her gourmet dog food. What about Little Mister? asked the voice of my conscience. Lucy’s nuclear Catahoula puppy energy has probably given him an ulcer.

science-diet-senior-age-defying-cat-food_1I wandered the cat food isle and found Science Diet Age Defying cat food for Senior 11+. The writing on the package claims: “Precisely balanced, easy-to-digest nutrition to fight 4 important signs of aging in 30 days.” Maybe my husband Gary and I should also eat it.

I bought the food, eager to help Little Mister defy aging. Returning home, I filled his bowl, and he started gobbling it. (I wish this could be a testimonial to Science Diet, but he also enjoys eating gophers and rats.)

What exactly are the “4 important signs of aging,” I wondered. The writing on the Science Diet Senior 11+ bag isn’t very clear. One bullet point states: “Defends the body and brain against aging.” What does that mean? Will my cat lose his flabby tummy? Will eating this food stop him from hallucinating that my legs are monsters that must be attacked?

LM3The bag also states: “Nutrition to improve skin & coat in 30 days*.” The * makes reference to “vs. previously fed U.S. grocery foods.” Does this mean that European grocery foods might be on par with Science Diet or even superior? Since Little Mister refuses to travel abroad, I won’t be able to contrive an experiment to measure this claim.

“Supports long-term heart & vital organ health.” At the age of 11+, is long-term considered 30 days? And how am I supposed to determine if Little Mister’s heart and vital organ health has improved when I’m not certain it was compromised in the first place?

I searched the back of the bag hoping to gain additional insight.

Under the banner of “The Precisely Balanced Benefits of Age Defying” there’s a claim that I found especially intriguing: “Precisely balanced nutrition…to fight litter box accidents….”

What, pray tell, is a litter box accident? I’ve never been fond of litter boxes, but now that I know they can cause accidents, I’m even less so. Little Mister has never had one. He’s exposed to enough danger fighting off cats who attempt to overthrow his hold on the vacant lot next door. He must also be highly vigilant to avoid Lucy’s attentions. I won’t add the potential of litter box accidents to his already hazardous life.

Thirty days have passed and I’ve discovered:

LilMr1Before starting this diet, Little Mister could barely do one crunch. He’s now up to almost five before viciously attacking me. His brain function also seems to have improved. When he sees me coming at exercise time, he turns and runs like a cheetah. This food has defended him well against his aging body and brain.

As for an improved coat, his fluffiness has always allowed him to be a good-looking, vain creature. (He just told me to say he’s even more gorgeous now.)LilM

The claim Science Diet makes that this food is made of “natural ingredients & high-quality proteins with no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives in a smaller kibble that is easy to chew & digest” appears to be true.

I’m happy to report that in the past month, I’ve only discovered two hairballs and not one pile of puke. (Those of you with elderly cats know this is a true miracle.)

Since I don’t own a stethoscope or MRI machine, I cannot prove the Science Diet claim that this food “Supports long-term heart & vital organ health.” After 30 days, Little Mister is still alive. We’ll consider that success.

Little Mister likes his Science Diet. If it does little more than lessen my guilt over bringing a puppy into his world, I’ll keep buying it.1441214_10152206094356844_1136025372_n

Us & Them

1924362_10103430412757143_4183416246044040538_nOur daughter Laine lives in Oakland; son Harrison in San Francisco. One of the ways we stay close is through frequent phone calls.

Laine: Nitro treated us to high tea at the Fairmont.
Me: What fun! Little Mister [the cat] got another abscess from fighting and I had to drain it.
Laine: That’s gross! I don’t want to hear about it.
Me: Then you shouldn’t have asked.
Laine: I didn’t.

1620594_10103430411918823_3624933991290096877_nMe: I pulled what I thought was one beet from the garden and it was actually three that had been planted too close together and grew into a monster three-headed beet!
Harrison: I can’t talk right now. Kasi and I are about to get on a boat. We’re taking a brunch cruise on the bay.
Me: (sigh) I should have taken a picture before cutting it up.

Laine: I’m at Coachella. What’s up?
Me: I was just wondering what you were doing.
Laine: I’m sorry, but I can’t hear you. The music’s too loud.
Me: That’s music? It sounds like a disaster preparedness test.
Laine: I’ve gotta go.

Harrison: Last night, I met up with some guys I used to work with and had dinner at Plouf. It’s a restaurant wedged between two buildings in the Financial District. The food is delicious. What’d you and Dad do last night?
Me: I don’t remember.
Harrison: Liar.
Me: Okay, we got takeout from Los Gallitos and watched three back-to-back episodes of Judge Judy.
Harrison: Isn’t that what you do every night?
Me: We don’t eat Los Gallitos food every night.

10850178_10152612650162478_7497662941202048975_nLaine: I just got back from the Keith Haring exhibit at the De Young. It was amazing.
Me: That’s wonderful, sweetie. Little Mister left us some guts on the back porch this morning. No carcass, just a little pile of what looked like a stomach and intestines.
Laine: Gross! Why do you always tell me disgusting stories about the cat?
Me: I thought you liked cats.

Harrison: I’m going to Cirque du Soleil tonight. What are you guys doing?
Me: “Same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to take over the world.”

Yelp!

For twenty-two years, we’ve lived next door to the Mendocino Coast’s only mortuary. We’re often asked, “Doesn’t it bother you?” No, it does not. (Read my guest blog post “Neighbors.”)

In addition to the mortuary business, there are two apartments on the property—the one directly above the main building is rented to a full-time tenant; the other, above the alley garage, is unoccupied.

In recent years, the owners allow friends to occasionally stay in the vacant apartment. If they rented it for money, it could get listed on Yelp and subject to reviews, which might pose a problem.

My husband Gary is in the habit of waking early. I know the term “early” is open to interpretation. To some people, 6:00 a.m. is early, to others eight. I think we can all agree that three or four o’clock in the morning is damned early. By the time I get going—usually five-thirty or six, Gary is in mid-morning mode and delighted to have company.

I enter the kitchen to, “Good morning! How are ya?”

I groan, stumble to the coffeemaker, pour a cup and search out the nearest dark space.

Our dog Lucy is a slow riser, but usually ready to go outside by six-thirty. Today, she announces to the world that she does not like the vehicle parked in the normally empty space across the alley. Gary yells at her to stop barking while he carries a container to the alley and dumps cans and glass into the large recycle bin.

I pour a second cup of coffee and sigh.

Overall, the apartment above the mortuary garage is a great place to stay. It’s within walking distance to downtown and a short drive to the beach. It’s quiet on the east side, but not so much on the west.

If it was subject to Yelp reviews, I imagine they would read like this:

yelpThis is a wonderful place except for the cat that clawed at the front door in an apparent effort to seek asylum. We believe he’s demonic. We will never stay here again. Laine R., Oakland CA

1601274_10152360261811844_1457279366_n

yelpWe were awakened at daybreak by what we thought was a homeless meth addict flinging things while hollering in the alley. Trembling with fear, we peeked around the curtains to find the man next door dumping cans and glass into the recycle bin and yelling at someone named Lucy. We will never stay here again. Kasi H., San Francisco CA

yelpWe found the apartment well-appointed and roomy. But as we moved our luggage from the car, an albino animal with a brown patch over one eye barked incessantly from the house across the alley. Efforts to ignore it only made the howling louder. As we approached the gate to get a better look, it let out a puddle of pee and rolled in it. Each time we went to or left our car, the creature yowled. We will never stay here again. Jenn H., Kirkland, WAcloseup

yelpWhen we arrived at nine o’clock at night, all was quiet and peaceful. Little did we know this was because the inhabitants across the alley were asleep. At the crack of dawn, we were startled awake by the baying of a Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog and a man yelling, “Leave Little Mister alone!” What kind of freaks are these people? We will never stay here again. H. Riley, San Francisco CA

yelp

Kris S. (who refused to disclose the identity of his city)

Grey Whale Inn

Grey Whale3

Photo from Grey Whale Inn website

On a recent visit to Fort Bragg, our son Harrison and his girlfriend Kasi recounted a television show called “The Haunting Of” which once featured the Grey Whale Inn. According to them, a psychic entered the inn and said she sensed that it had once been a hospital.

Wow. She probably hadn’t read the About page of the website which states, “The Grey Whale Inn started life in 1915 as the Fort Bragg Hospital.”

LM3The psychic also declared the resident cat to be possessed by a demonic spirit.

For a true encounter with the demonic, I invite the psychic to visit our house and meet our cat Little Mister.

Harrison, Kasi and I dropped by the inn to see what vibes we might pick up.

SweetPea

The local artist who makes these gets to keep the proceeds.

The cat’s name is Sweet Pea. As her name suggests, she is very sweet. Guests find her so appealing that many take home a ceramic magnet to commemorate the time spent with her.

GreyWhale4

Photo from Grey Whale Inn website

I had toured the inn before, but delighted in seeing it again. It has four stories (counting the basement and the Sunset Room set on top like a penthouse suite). Each room is decorated in an eclectic-country style. Though nicely appointed, the basement feels kind of spooky (but I’ve always been spooked by basements).

After we’d combed the place top to bottom, we ran into Mike, the proprietor.

GreyWhale2jpgMike has owned the Inn since 2000. During that time, he’s renovated the grounds by replacing the lawn with drought-resistant plants. A vegetable garden is harvested for use in the breakfasts he prepares for guests. He gave us a brief history of the hospital—how it was founded in 1915 by Dr. F. McLean Campbell, purchased by Dr. Paul J. Bowman in 1923, and sold to Dr. Mervyn Hamlin, another local physician, in 1966.

During the early 2000’s, I took my dogs Wilson and Tucker for runs in the nearby cemetery. We often encountered the retired Dr. Hamlin in the late afternoons. He always had a biscuit for the dogs and walked with us until he veered off to visit the graves of his wife and son.

He told stories of attending Stanford during the Depression. His tuition was $100 a quarter and he struggled to come up with it. Work in the food service department on campus helped support him. He made his way through medical school and to Fort Bragg where he practiced for many years.

Dr. Hamlin took this photo of the dogs & me.

Photo taken by Dr. Hamlin of the dogs & me.

The dogs and I missed him after he had a stroke and could no longer take walks. An online reaction to his death in 2009 states: “Medical practice in Fort Bragg has never been the same since this great man retired. One of my favorite memories of him was as he passed our house on McPherson St., he commented that we should not have our underclothing hanging out on our line to dry.”

NurseDorm

The original nurses’ dormitory across the street is now an apartment building.

Mike shrugged off the ghostly findings of “The Haunting Of.” He hasn’t had a supernatural encounter in the 14 years that he’s owned the place.

To hear what others might have to say about spirits rattling about the inn, I went to TripAdvisor.com. I discovered a review written on July 24, 2013 by a teenager named Carl S. from Toronto, Canada titled, “An Odd Experience.” By way of introduction, he states: “I like to think that my family and I are very rational people and we haven’t been able to explain these situations in any natural way.”

Carl describes a distressing night of television malfunction, midnight organ music, and a mysterious caress of his brother’s butt while going to the bathroom. (Click here to read the entire review.)

Haunted or not, the Grey Whale Inn is a charming place to stay when visiting Fort Bragg. It reflects the unique flavor of our town—a dear combination of funky and pretty.

Photo from Grey Whale Inn website.

Photo from Grey Whale Inn website

Poo Patrol

DSC03293During a recent cold snap, I notice what appears to be snow in the alley that runs behind our house. Upon closer inspection, I discover the snow is kitty litter loaded with poo. Judging by the sheer size of these deposits, a mighty big cat lives in that neighbor’s house.

The Control Freak part of me wants to confront the woman who tosses this poopy kitty litter behind her rented house and across the alley onto her neighbor’s property. I want to ask who the hell does she thinks she is? I’m going to call the cops. I will. I mean it.

I take a deep breath and remind Control Freak that since this is not happening on my property, it is not my concern. But a bit of Internet research might make it my concern.

A March 2012 article in The Atlantic catches my eye—How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy. Czech scientist Jaroslav Flegr describes how parasites from cat poo can permeate your brain and cause you to behave erratically.

He claims that the parasite Toxoplasma gondii found in this poo “contributes to car crashes, suicides, and mental disorders such as schizophrenia.” By the fifth paragraph, I am so freaked out that I have to stop reading.

DSC03291But kitty litter is safe, right? Wrong!

Most kitty litter brands contain sodium bentonite clay and silica gel. How dangerous can that concoction be?

Apparently it can cause bowel blockages, cancer and a whole list of other terrifying side effects that—trust me—you are better off not knowing.

It’s scary to think that whenever my dog Lucy and I walk past that woman’s toxic dump we risk constipation, cancer and a car crash. I don’t even want to think about what happens when the rains wash this cocktail of Toxoplasma gondii, sodium bentonite clay and silica gel down the street, into the storm drains for deposit into the Great Pacific Ocean.

DSC03301In the midst of the kitty poo scandal, a strange phenomenon emerges around town—tags that identify random dog poos as “Bad Dog Owner.”

Someone with a great deal of discretionary time made dozens of these tags and went in search of abandoned dog poo. I wonder if this might be a piece of performance art or if the inventor thinks that by marking these droppings, he will change dog owners’ behavior.

This got me wondering if the toxins in dog poo are as scary as those found in cat poo.

Just about. (Go to Dog Talk 101 if you insist upon torturing yourself with this knowledge.)

Perhaps the dog poo tagger thinks he’s doing a community service. But I’m not certain this is the best way to manage the problem.

DSC03305What will happen to the fabric tags and toothpicks after the rain disintegrates the dog poo? Like the kitty litter, they’ll end up in the storm drains and float into the Great Pacific Ocean a few blocks to the west.

I have a better idea.

Our city could institute a system similar to the creative management of CGI Residential, an apartment complex in Charlotte, North Carolina. All resident dog owners are required to take their dogs to the main office for a DNA swab. Whenever a public poo is discovered, it is collected, sent to a lab for testing, the dog identified and its owner fined $250.

This solution might be difficult to enforce in a large city, but in a town as small as Fort Bragg, it should be a cinch. Each swabbed dog will have a large neon-orange “D” (for DNA) sprayed on its side. Permanent barricades will be erected at the intersection of Highway One and Highway 20 to the south and Virgin Creek to the north to check incoming vehicles for canines. In this way, people who live outside the city limits and use our city’s amenities cannot sneak their unmarked dogs into town poo on the sidewalks.

All this research has been exhausting. It’s so much easier to make things up.