Vanishing act


Two things managed to disappear Thanksgiving eve: a portion of my bed’s new quilt and my cat Cora.

The night wound down like it would after any successful holiday feast. I was grateful to be wearing plus-size yoga pants, which were extremely forgiving after a smoked turkey dinner and all the fixin’s. Cora hopped up on the kitchen counter, and I scooped her up, waltzing into the dining room.

I wouldn’t see her again for 24 hours.

The house was full. Matt and I were eager to entertain, our first major holiday in our new house. Guests included Matt’s uncle, his cousin and her husband, along with their adorable two pups Tippy and Coochie. In addition to our dogs Charlie and recent addition Max, this brought the total dog number up to four for the weekend.

max

Max is the newest member of our family. He has a taste for quilts.

The activity was unusual for our normally quiet household. Especially with us smoking the turkey in the yard, there was a lot of traffic in and out of the house. It’s hard to know when it happened, but sometime that night, Cora quietly slipped out into the darkness.

We consider Cora an indoor cat, but always joked that she would know how to hold her own since she has 23 legendary toes. Meaning 23 claws. The rescue we found her at said she spent considerable time on the streets before we adopted her, so we think of her as a tough cookie.

Under covers

Sometime well past midnight, I dragged myself to bed and conked out. Both of my dogs, Charlie and Max, curled up into me, a Jenga-like puzzle of paws, legs and fur. I fell into a deep slumber.

Until I heard something like fabric ripping.

I was sure it was a dream. But then I heard it again. I sat up, and turned on the lamp next to my bed. Max was down by my feet, with our brand-new quilt in his mouth. I pulled it away, only to find, not one, but two huge holes. Like the size of pancakes. All he needed was syrup. He literally ate the two holes, leaving no fabric evidence behind.

quilt

The evidence. Max was caught with the quilt in his mouth. No more late-night snacks allowed!

Having no idea of what to do, I took him outside for a potty, hoping he would barf up the fabric. I fell asleep on the recliner waiting for him to finish his business in the dark.

We felt our way back up the stairs, and I climbed into bed, carefully pushing the holes to the side of my feet. Max slept in his dog bed on the floor.

Search party

In the morning, I took note that Cora still was not around. But I soon busied myself with making two quiches for breakfast. After Matt’s cousin, her husband and their pups left, my mind returned to Cora. I figured she must be hiding because of all the activity.

I also kept a close eye on Max. I’m happy to report that he pooped throughout the day, and he ate both breakfast and dinner. My anxiety about a possible blockage from the quilt started to dissipate.

Matt jostled me out of my daydream.

“Have you seen Cora?”

cora

Cora took herself on a 24-hour adventure. She’s no worse for the wear.

I hadn’t. I checked her cat food. Not touched since the day before. Highly unusual since this cat does not miss a meal. Also, her litter box was not used in what appeared to be a day.

Matt and I split up, checking closets, the basement, under the couch, beneath the beds. “Kitty-kitty Cora!!!” we cried out, hearing nothing in reply.

“She’s got to be here somewhere,” Matt said.

As we left for dinner, I saw the weather would drop to 30 degrees this night. When she got out the day before, it was still an unseasonable 58 degrees. I imagined Cora huddling under a wet bush, shivering in the cold.

“Don’t worry, I’ll find her,” I said.

Warm welcome

When we returned from dinner, I grabbed a strong flashlight and went in the front yard.

“Kitty-kitty Cora! Mew mew mew-mew!!!”

I flashed the light in the front bushes, and up an enormous oak tree. I called out her name once more, and waited.

Then I heard something. I thought it might be a meow, but I also thought I could have imagined it. So I called out her name again. Then I heard it loud and clear: “MEOW!” She sounded about 10 feet away, and I found her on the other side of my fence in a dog run out back.

I ran into the house, and told Matt to grab a towel. “I found her!” I blurted out.

Once I walked into the dog run, I called out her name. I couldn’t see very well, even with the flash light. I pointed the light in the far corner, where I keep the temporary chicken coop from when we first moved into the house. I stood still, and gasped as Cora walked out the front door of the coop. It had rained for the last 24 hours, and she was bone dry. The coop, still filled with straw bedding from the chickens, kept her dry and warm. I scooped her up, and put her into the towel Matt held out in front of him.

tempcoop

The unused chicken coop Cora took refuge in during her extraordinary odyssey.

Once in the house, both Charlie and Max sniffed her and offered a warm welcome.

To celebrate, Matt placed her on top of the cat tree and gave her a handful of treats. She quickly gobbled them up, then casually licked at her fur, totally nonplussed by her vanishing act.

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 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.

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