Life at Our Furever Family


Charlie chills on the couch with his favorite bone.

Charlie chills on the couch with his favorite bone.

There’s so much to catch up on!

In many ways, the last year has been a blur. I had a hysterectomy and somewhere in my recovery I decided I wanted chickens. Our new cat Cora has settled in, and has taken to pooping in the bathtub. Charlie learned how to snag Scooby snacks off the counter when we aren’t looking.

Jilli in front of the recently completed chicken coop.

Jilli in front of the recently completed chicken coop.

A good portion of the last year has been dedicated to researching chickens and building the coop. I write about our experience in the blog Chicken Scratch Fever. With absolutely no building experience, Matt and I constructed what I consider the most beautiful chicken coop I’ve ever seen.

We will pick up three chicks March 17 from a hatchery in Ohio. They will live in a brooder in our basement until May. I am so excited, and can’t wait for people to start calling me The Chicken Lady.

Cora visits the loo, I mean bathtub.

Cora visits the loo, I mean bathtub.

Out of nowhere, Cora decided to start pooping in the bathtub. I keep a pretty clean litter box, so I was stumped about why she chose to switch it up. I tried cleaning the box every day. I put in all new litter. I added a second box.

I found only one approach 100 percent successful: Closing the bathroom door. Laugh all you will, but in a house with two busy people, it’s hard to remember to close it every time. Somehow during the Christmas season, we managed to keep it closed for several weeks. We were vigilant. Then we accidentally left the door open once, and she ran in to relieve herself.

Sigh.

The evidence.

The evidence.

Charlie has never been one to beg. Well, maybe a little bit. He might gently place his snout on my lap while I’m eating dinner, looking up with his sweet feed-me eyes. But he’s never grabbed at food or barked.

Until we had pizza one night. He skipped begging all together, and waited for us to zone out in a post stuff-our-faces haze. We heard a loud noise from the kitchen, like something falling. I chalked it up to the cat knocking something over. A few minutes later I walked into the kitchen to discover Charlie had managed to grab a couple slices and had a pizza party for one.

Bad Dog. But Charlie got a slice, so I’m sure he would argue Good Dog.

Charlie and Jilli all snuggled in bed.

Charlie and Jilli all snuggled in bed.

I just found this photo on my phone tonight. No doubt Matt saw a moment of cuteness and snapped it. There were three photos in all, but I will spare you the others. Pictures of me sleeping are not for the faint of heart.

All in all, the last year was a huge success. Charlie and Cora continue to surprise me every day, and we can’t wait to expand Our Furever Family in the spring. I know great challenges and victories are just around the corner, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

FurFamHORZNTL

 

A new trick


A box of Christmas gifts from my mom arrived in the mail yesterday. When I opened the box, Charlie quickly shoved his nose in the box and surfaced with a wrapped bag of Iams biscuits.

Right then, I decided Christmas would come early to Charlie … if he would learn a new trick.

He already knows sit, down, off, back up and my favorite: gimme kissy. I thought of what was left. Of course the choices are infinite, but my mind went to the obvious: roll over, bang-dead (how morbid!) and shake.

In the end, shake won out. I grabbed a biscuit, broke off a small piece and put my hand in front of him.

“Shake!” I said firmly.

Charlie wiggled then went into a “down.” I tried again. This time he went back on his hind legs into begging position.

It was clear he didn’t know what was going on, and was pulling out all the other tricks that usually produce a biscuit.

So over and over, I said “shake” then grabbed his paw. Soon, the problem became evident.

Charlie is a south paw.

So I tried one more time, reaching out to his left paw, and he magically reached out to me.

When Matt got home, Charlie was eager to show off his new trick. As soon as Matt said shake, Charlie lifted his left paw in the air, then excitedly jumped up for some loving.

Good boy!!!

Even better news: Charlie has two more baggies of biscuits with his name on them!

Dreaming


Lexie and me on Dog Beach in Muskegon, Mich. Photo by Bryan Bogater.

Lexie and me on Dog Beach in Muskegon, Mich. Photo by Bryan Bogater.

Lexie and I are on a deserted island. Her black fur shines in the bright sun, and for a moment I am fooled into believing this mirage. Normally my dreams are dark, full of squeamish things. But Lexie’s eyes are bright. It’s been such a long time since she’s looked so aware, and I am eating up every moment.

I grab a small piece of driftwood and toss it into the ocean. Lex bounds through the waves and pushes her snout under to grab the knotty wood. I’m surprised to see her swim, and wonder aloud if this is her first time swimming.

Instead of coming right back, Lex swims circles and plays in the waves. I call her over, and she trots up to me, magically dry.

I bend down to touch her soft ears, but she turns and runs back to the water. She’s swimming farther and farther out. I call for her to come back in, but she won’t listen. She’s relaxed, buoyant.

I call again. My heart beats harder. She won’t come to me.

Then I see she is surrounded by four dolphins. Lex is in the middle. The dolphins dance.

“Lex! LEX!”

I blink once. Twice. My heart drops. I can’t see her anywhere.

The dolphins drift below the surface one at a time. Lex is gone.

I wake up in a panic. Charlie is circled behind my legs, under the covers for the first time since we’ve had him. Smart boy.

I force myself out of bed, and silently walk downstairs. I see Matt, and tell him about the dream. My voice cracks.

Somehow I walk into the kitchen before the tears fall.

My dear Lexie. It was so good to see you again. If only in a dream.

FurFamHORZNTL

The biggest cat tree in the world!!!


Frolicking feline.

Frolicking feline.

Tonight we decided to surprise Cat Cora with what appears to be the largest cat tree on Earth!

At 6 feet tall, and with three perches, it towers in the front room. Matt sprinkled some catnip on each landing, and moments later Cora appeared. He placed her on top, and she rollicked in her newfound carpeted getaway.

Cat tree: For The Win!

(Found at Costco for $67.)

How do I get to the top?

How do I get to the top?

Hey, I could get used to this!

Hey, I could get used to this!

I really like my new tree, but please let me keep my cardboard scratch box. This thing rocks!!!

I really like my new tree, but please let me keep my cardboard scratch box. This thing rocks!!!

The mysterious pooper


The scene of the crime.

The scene of the crime.

The first time it happened, I almost didn’t notice.

I had come into the bathroom to gather towels, and was leaving when something caught my eye.

It couldn’t be. Was that a cat poop in the bathtub?

I ran out into the front room, searching for Cora. I was ready for an interrogation. She looked up at me from her interrupted nap, and meowed.

“Well???” I demanded. “Is it yours?”

My pup Charlie dug his nose under a pillow and tried not to move.

Cora lifted a leg and began preening herself.

My line of questioning was going nowhere.

So I pulled out my computer and promptly Googled “cat poops in bathtub.”

I was somewhat relieved to see I was not the first cat owner to experience a cat refusing to go in the kitty loo.

I found many theories, ranging from a dirty litter box to a urinary tract infection. One person even suggested that cats sometimes like to crap in the tub because it’s considered one of the cleanest places in a house. Seriously.

After more reading, I decided to add a second litter box in the library and see what happens.

About a day later, Cora pooped in the new box. I rejoiced, and wished I had confetti to toss about. Instead, I rubbed Cora’s ears and told her how she made her mama proud.

But then the mysterious pooper returned.

Even worse, the poo placement seemed aggressive. Cora started leaving pretty impressive pyramids right on top of the drain.

Quickly I took inventory. Both of her litter boxes are clean and have fresh litter. She has easy access to both. Could Charlie be interrupting her privacy? Does she feel less exposed in the tub?

Seeing that my best sleuthing would not solve this pooper scooper mystery, I decided to make an appointment with the vet. Cora is due for her shots this month, anyway, so we’ll be killing two proverbial birds with one stone.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep my fingers crossed and the bathroom door closed.

FurFamHORZNTL

A normal cat? Delightful.


Yep. That's a cat in a bag.

Yep. That’s a cat in a bag.

Cora has exceeded our expectations by simply doing what she does best: acting like a normal cat.

She hides in a paper bag. What cat does that?

Cora saunters into a room and makes her presence known with a loud “MEOW!” Really? She’s interactive?

And don’t even get me started on the red laser dot.

After five years with my last cat, Pink, I’m realizing I had a skewed idea of how cats act.

At best, I could describe Pink as a loner cat, who slowly learned to warm up to her humans. So much of her personality really was not her fault at all. I rescued her from a hoarding house. Her former owners had abandoned the home, leaving Pink behind, hiding in piles of boxes.

Three weeks later, my friend spotted Pink in a window, and grabbed her. Within days, I decided that in spite of my allergies I would bring her home and become a kitty mama.

At the time, I had two dogs, Lili and Lexie. While they welcomed the new addition, Pink was unsure of her new housemates. So she spent about three years hiding in the rafters of my basement.

I bought her feathery toys, but they made her scurry away in terror. She would let me hold her, but only for a few minutes. She’d rather be on her own. After a while, I just started to think that’s how cats are. Anti-social. Scared of people and toys.

So imagine our surprise when Cora confidently strutted into our house, chirping along the way. I had heard rumors that cats like boxes, so I placed on on the floor of the front room. Within minutes Cora was inside, calmly peering at us from her new perch.

windowAt least once a day Matt and I find ourselves marveling at our cat. Forget that she has 23 toes. What really makes her special is that she likes to sit in window sills.

Seriously.

While we certainly loved Pink, it’s been fun discovering this new kind of cat. The best part is that she and our dog Charlie are best buddies. They chase each other up and down the stairs, and gently nuzzle each other. Especially since Lexie now is gone, it’s been reassuring to see Cora and Charlie take such good care of each other.

After all, that’s what family does.

FurFamHORZNTL

Losing Lexie


Sweet Lexie exploring at the base of a waterfall in North Carolina. What really made the camping trip memorable were the ticks.

After a long, tear-filled week, this afternoon I said a final goodbye to my almost-15-year-old dog Lexie.

Writing this elegy is easy and heartbreaking. Lexie lifted me on days I could not move; she loved me fiercely, and taught me how to properly cuddle. Telling our lovestory is like spinning a campfire tale. Her spirit leads me, like fireflies blinking into the night.

If Lex was anything, she was nearly human. As evidenced by her dew claws, the pup practically had two thumbs, and got into all sorts of trouble because of it. Right away, it was clear she was a master at stealing food. It was stealth skill I learned of in her first week with me after she ate an entire container of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. I found her afterward, licking the Tupperware lid. Amazingly, she didn’t leave a crumb behind.

Lex could unscrew the lids of jars of candy or peanuts. She made an art of emptying the garbage can. She also knew how to magically remove full loaves of bread from the top of the stove. I often joked that she knew how to operate the step-stool, and honestly believe it’s a serious possibility.

Colorful journey

Lex was so loved that she even was dognapped once. I retrieved her a week later, and rarely let her out of my sight after that.

She loved being at home so much that she ran away just one time. I had woken up early, and somehow the wind had blown open our front door in the middle of the night. Lex simply walked out of the house. It was trash day, and Matt hopped on a bicycle at  6 a.m. to scour the streets. He found her about three blocks to the east casually sniffing a bush.

Lexie, showing her gray.

Lexie, showing her gray.

More than anything, Lex loved negotiating space on the couch with Matt. They always ended up in some contorted pile of pillows and fur, both of them snoring away.

Lex deeply loved her little brother, Charlie. She enthusiastically welcomed him into our family, and showed him the ropes to Big Dog World.

She didn’t like playing dress up, although when she was younger she did allow me to suit up her paws in doggie muttluks for our winter walks. Lex never quite forgave me for that.

Lex took part in a colorful journey, and was quite possibly more traveled than some people I know. Over the years, she accompanied me on numerous camping trips, morel mushroom hunting and a two-month odyssey driving from Detroit to Miami and back again. She demanded the front passenger seat when it was just us girls driving. Her eyes remained alert as we passed farms and skyscrapers. She didn’t want to miss a thing.

Saying goodbye

If anything, Lexie was a fighter. She came close to death last year, and unbelieveably fought her way through kidney failure. But she was no match for dementia and old age. She no longer knew who I was, and frequently got lost in the house. Her hind legs betrayed her, refusing to hold her weight. She frequently fell off her favorite chair, and recently got stuck behind our couch.

More than that, our vet  told us that Lex lived in constant anxiety, and that medication was not an option. We had simply come to the end of the road. It was time to say goodbye.

I learned early in my newspapering career, that not everyone equally values the death of a loved dog.

Once I was written up by an editor after I expressed despair upon learning the death of my dog, Barkley. I didn’t think my tears were out of line, but a coworker was upset and complained because she thought I had lost a child.

In many ways I had.

In many ways I have, in losing Lexie.

As a 43-year-old, never-been-married spinster, I know Lexie was a close proxy. The reality is that I may never have children, and she, indeed, was my baby.

Sleep well, darling. Mama loves you.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Losing focus


Lexie rests after pacing through the house all afternoon.

Lexie rests after pacing through the house all afternoon.

It’s been almost a year since Lexie recognized her own name.

Slowly, her eyes lost focus.

Then she simply forgot who I am.

Each day when we meet, it’s as if for the first time. She opens her mouth wide, and gently nibbles my hands for a clue to who I could be. Some days she will lower her head onto my lap. Other days she simply walks away, to start her endless circling path around the coffee table.

Dementia has stolen our baby Lex. She hardly barks any more. A dog treat barely registers more than a mouthy snap.

For 15 years she has been my constant companion. So when symptoms of her dementia reared up this month —including her getting stuck behind our couch — I knew it was time to get her evaluated.

The vet was shocked at her appearance. Lex had lost 3 pounds since our last visit. Her eyes seemed distant. She was not friendly or open to meeting the vet tech.

During the physical exam, Lexie snapped at the vet. Before I could process the situation, the tech placed a muzzle on Lexie’s snout. She writhed and shed what seemed to be at least half of her coat. I put my hand on Lexie’s chest, and did my best to calm her. As her eyes rolled around the room, I could see the terror rise up.

The vet didn’t mince words. She said Lexie lives in a world of fear and anxiety. Sadly, anti-anxiety/depression medications would only lift her inhibitions, possibly leading to more dog bites. If Lex was her dog, she didn’t think it would be fair to keep her in this emotionally painful space.

The tears were falling into my lap before she passed me a tissue.

She offered to put Lexie down right then if I wished. I wondered if this was some sort of bad dream.

I told her Matt and I would have to talk, and that we’d get back to her with our decision.

My heart aches. I can’t imagine my world without my Lexie Doodle.

But I know the vet’s right. At this point in the game, it’s not a matter of if … but when.

FurFamHORZNTL

Hide and seek


Lex takes a nap after a rough night.

Lex takes a nap after a rough night.

Some days it’s hard to believe Lexie is almost 15 years old.

Other days, I can’t deny it. She struggles.

I’ve especially noticed her doggy dementia has progressed. Recently when a friend stopped by, Lexie growled and the hair went up on her back. This was surprising, and new behavior for her.

As we were setting up the spare bedroom for our new cat Cora, Lex had wandered in. Moments later, I found her stuck in the corner, unable to simply turn herself around.

Then something truly shocking happened.

A few days ago, we started watching Matt’s mom’s dog. The house felt like a zoo (three dogs and a cat, oh my!!!) but everyone seemed to settle in. Lex seemed nonplussed by the visitor, and chose to slumber most hours of the day.

In the bustle of activity, I must confess to not keeping tabs on each animal every second of the day. But sometime last night Matt and I discovered something awry.

“Did you hear that?” Matt said. I did. It sounded like three thumps coming from the side of the couch. I looked behind my recliner into the little corner cave where the dogs love to hide out. Charlie was stretched out on a dog pillow, twitching to a good dream.

“I think Charlie kicked in his sleep,” I offered.

Matt peered over the end of the couch, down at Charlie. “Hmm.”

We went back to watching TV.

About five or 10 minutes later, we heard some muffled dog noises.

“Is Lexie stuck behind the couch???” we both cried out at the same time.

Matt jumped up, and we both took an end of the couch, frantically pulling it from the wall. Lex stood there, somewhat bewildered and blinking in the sudden shift of light.

We guessed she had only been back there about 10 minutes, but that was enough to scare us and, no doubt, our confused pup.

When Lex initially was diagnosed with dementia, the vet told us there’s a medication that might be helpful. I put it off at the time because it all seemed so quick; I hardly believed the diagnosis to be correct.

But now I think I’m changing my mind.

This morning, I found Lex sleeping on her throne, with her paws tightly pressed against her eyes … as if playing a game of hide and seek.

My sweetheart is slowing down. I reached down to rub her ears then softly ran my fingers down her back.

She needs her sleep.

Cat Cora: Battle Homecoming


Cora studies the front room from the comfort of her box.

Cora studies the front room from the comfort of her box.

I worried about finding Cora the right toy to comfort her as she settled into our home.

But in the end, it was something simple that brought her the most pleasure: a cardboard box.

Of course, I’ve seen the “cat trap” memes showing cats shoving themselves into shoeboxes, but it never occurred to me that Cora might enjoy one herself. Pink was never into boxes at all. So after I heard her plaintive mews from the spare bedroom, I put a small box on the bed.

She didn’t even give a second thought before walking right in and curling up.

Cora greets a curious Charlie from the safety of a box.

Cora greets a curious Charlie from the safety of a box.

We let her stay in the box as we introduced her to our dogs, Charlie and Lexie. (The dogs were eager to see what the hubbub was all about, until they realized: “Oh, it’s just a cat? Huh.” Their nonresponse was a great, unexpected victory.)

Once Cora acclimated to the spare bedroom, we brought her out in the box, and introduced her to the front room. After a while she hopped up on the couch with Matt, and watched the traffic fly by on Nine Mile.

Then she climbed on my lap, just long enough for me to count six toes on her front left paw, and seven toes on her right. I also discovered her sweet spot: right at the base of her tail. A couple scratches there started the purr machine.

At this point the dogs are operating like everything’s normal, and Cora is holding court in her box, along with a handmade blanket and toy provided by Shelter to Home, the cat-focused rescue where we found her.

Miss Cat Cora has arrived, and she’s the cat’s meow. Especially with her many, many toes.

Cora settles on on top of my sewing table.

Cora settles on top of my sewing table.

Earlier in the day, as we wrapped up our adoption, the volunteers at Shelter to Home lined up to say goodbye to Cora. She had been with them almost a year, and it was clear she would be deeply missed.

Shelley, who personally fostered Cora and her four kittens, told us about how Cora also mothered orphaned kittens once her own babies were adopted. It was a bittersweet day to see Cora leave the shelter, she said.

But just as Cora has been so generous with her love, we hope to return the favor.

FurFamHORZNTL