What the Cat Dragged In
When the kitty-cat first came to stay with us, in the fall of 2007, both John and I — wary of kitty cooties — vacuumed all the time, wore rubber gloves at the litter box, and immediately washed our hands after each time we patted her.
Not to say that was very often. She was my mother’s cat, and we were taking care of her while Mom was ill. She had been rescued from a house in Harpswell filled with 50 other felines and then did some time at the Coastal Humane Society in Brunswick. By the time she came to us, her nerves were pretty much shot, and we didn’t see much of her.
Mom had adopted her from the shelter two days after her giant, orange Maine Coon Cat was killed by a neighbor’s German Shepard. “I want to go to the Humane Society — today,” she told me over the phone. “If I don’t go today, I’ll never get another cat.” That was my mom: Get back on the horse, even if the horse has issues.
Mom initially gravitated toward the orange cats at the shelter, but then we spotted, in the corner of a cage, a curled, furry ball with dark gray-and-brown Coon markings and butterscotch highlights. Mom lifted the cat by what I can only describe as her “armpits” and lugged her, facing forward, to a chair. The kitty unfurled down my mother’s petite body, almost to her knees, and dangled there serenely. She did not so much as blink when Mom sat down, just sprawled, belly-up, on my mother’s lap. This is fine with me, she seemed to be thinking. Perfectly comfortable. I could stay this way all day. Now, can we just get out of here, lady?
The cat’s forbearance paid off. There would be no shopping around or return visit. My mother was determined to leave with a new cat that day, and this was the one. There was just one small thing we were told as we filled out the paperwork: the kitty had ear mites that needed to be treated.
I did not consider that a problem — at the time. I’d seen my mother tend to stray and sick critters, feral and tame, all my life. How hard could it be to administer a few ear drops?
Flash forward two years, to this past February. After a year back at home with Mom, the cat’s living with us again. The mite problem has persisted. John and I have cornered and captured the creature in our bedroom. All three of us are on the floor. I have her wrapped in a towel, wedged between my legs. John has her by the scruff of the neck, trying to squirt a shot of foaming flush into her ear canal. When he finally succeeds, she shakes her head and dots of foam speckle my glasses. I am convinced some has also flown into my mouth. Released, the cat gives us a long look and slinks off. I taste ear flush and feel sick. “I can’t do this,” I announce. “I can’t care for her.”
I have to confess that I sometimes felt the same way about caring for my mom over the past few years. The 2 a.m. phone calls and drives to the emergency room; the days spent in the ICU; the weeks in rehab; the returns home and their hopefulness; the endless confabbing with social workers, doctors and therapists; the repeat hospitalizations; the move to assisted living shortly before she left us. I can’t do this anymore, I would think, staring at the bedroom ceiling. And I would allow myself that one moment, and almost believe it before telling myself, Yes, you can; and yes, you will. Then I’d get up to face the day.
So we have tended to this kitty who, in the past seven months, has been treated for those ear mites, as well as giardia. (OK, I say “we,” but John is the hero here. He performs almost all the animal husbandry, while I cower in the corner.) In June, she started peeing beside her litter box, which prompted a visit to the vet, who, after addressing that, said she also needed six teeth extracted, bringing her total tab with us to almost $1,000. “Good thing you’re cute,” I tell her when I’m “panning for gold” (cleaning the litter box) or clipping a mat from her hindquarters.
I was standing at the sink the other day. I’d just finished scraping all the groady, caked-on wet-food from the rim of her dish, which requires nothing short of sandblasting. The stench was magnificent. Earlier, I’d discovered, on my side of the bed, a smear of kitty poo on the sheets, now in the washer. I pulled a long cat hair from my mouth and watched it slither down the drain.
“We live with cat hair now, don’t we?” I said to John, eyeing the kitty. She just gave me that sideways, half Elvis sneer, half gummy Moms Mabley smile, and I knocked a couple bucks off her tab.
Elizabeth Peavey produces a fresh hairball here each month.