A Cat Confession

Last week I was ranting to my husband about needing to know the statistics on death by cat tripping at the top of the stairs.

This morning I got fired up again when one of the cats left a poop beside the litter box, because apparently the first of their twice-daily litter box scoopings was a touch too late for their liking.

Fellow pet lovers, rest assured: I still love my cats, care for them, and they are not going anywhere. I certainly don’t hate them, but I have to confess that post-baby, I’m not always feeling the crazy cat lady affection like I used to.

Taking care of a baby is a giant, time-consuming, energy-funneling undertaking. And some days, the cats seem like pushy, needy, messy things on my to-do list, instead of the joyful companions they have always been. I know it sounds horrible. But an outside-the-litter-box poop when you’ve just gotten the baby fed, changed, burped, and down to nap is spirit crushing. A cat incessantly head-butting you when you sit down to shove 5 bites of food in your mouth before the baby’s “mom is trying to eat” radar goes off can feel like an unwelcome interruption of the highest order. When a cat swerves under your feet for the 70th time that day, causing you to stumble and startle the baby you are clutching, I dare you not to feel at least a fleeting moment of rage. And the cat hair. My god, the cat hair! It’s one thing to lint roller yourself 5 times a day, but a whole other thing when you are rolling the baby, blankets, beds, carpets etc.

A quick Google search (and lots of personal anecdotes) suggest that these ugly feelings of post-parental pet annoyance are shockingly common. There are literally dozens of articles with titles like, “I used to love my cat and dog, then I had a baby”, “I had a baby and now my dog is driving me nuts” or, “My Cats Were My World Before I Had Kids, Now I Forget They Exist”. A common thread running  through each one, is some variation on the assertion that – at one time – the author’s pet was their baby. Not even like their baby. Their actual baby.

Lately, I can’t push away the uneasy feeling that maybe this is part of the problem. Pets are an amazing part of the home and of a family, but they are not children – nor, I reckon, should they be. But when we welcome pets into our home years (or decades) before kids enter the picture, we throw ourselves into caring for them, and about them, with a zealous passion. We do this because we can – because we have the time, money, energy and space to do so. In and of itself, it isn’t a problem. If you have the skill and the inclination, knock yourself out knitting your cat booties and cooking for your dog. Hell, set him a place setting at the dining room table. But if and when things need to change – whether because of a human addition to the family, financial hardship, or maybe an illness or injury – it’s okay to take them off the pedestal they probably didn’t need to be on in the first place.

The thing is, it’s going to feel like it’s not okay, because it’s such a downshift in the dynamic. When your pet gets demoted from beloved “fur baby” (honestly, is there a worse term?) to barely tolerated bum, you’re gonna feel guilty – and we all know moms specialize in guilt. A big problem for shelters and animal welfare organizations is that at this point, some people begin to feel like they are better to give up their animal than to provide it with what they perceive as second-rate care. Rescue organizations point out that in most cases, this is misguided and the animal is just fine in its current home. We don’t need to surrender our pets just because we can’t keep them in the (spoiled?) lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed. We might if there is an allergy or aggression issue, but that is an entirely different scenario.

Now….I began writing this 2 months ago (so when I said “last night” and “this morning” at the top of the post, it was a bit of a fib). Sidebar: Did you know that Stephen King wrote all 200,000 or so words of The Shining in around 4 weeks? Yes, I feel sufficiently inadequate. WHATEVER, he also did a ton of cocaine at the time. ANYWAYS, the interesting thing is that my attitude has already started to come around. I feel less overwhelmed and irritated by them now and Sloane is starting to enjoy them as well, which totally helps. So if you’re in the thick of this situation now, I’d say give it some time. Like most things with a newborn, it won’t be this crazy forever.

We have to get some perspective and realize that it’s okay to let some things slide without feeling too bad about it. Especially when you have a helpless little human and your own mental health to worry about first and foremost. At the worst of it, our cats were still getting great food, good care, warm shelter, brushing and had treats and toys. They just weren’t getting unlimited attention and their picture uploaded daily to instagram. This is unquestionably better than the life they would have had on the street or in a shelter.

One day when your baby can’t stop giggling at your cat, you just might start to feel it again too, and the cat will have a whole new servant to recruit onto its staff.

PS – Kim, if you’re reading this, I’m not gonna keep posting in time for your morning coffee if you don’t text me gushing compliments every time. Just FYI.

The shit monster who didn’t shit enough

If you woke up this morning thinking, “man, I wish somebody would write extensively about cat’s asses and bowel movements,” boy, are you ever in luck. The squeamish should proceed at their own peril.

Rewind to a morning about 18 months ago when I stumble from bed into a scene from CSI: Felines — the hallway carpets smeared with blood. No weapon or body in sight. At which point I – wife of the year – think to myself, “I really hope my husband is bleeding.” My logic being that of all the bleedable creatures in the house, it’s not a lot of blood for a human but it sure as hell is a lot for a cat. And, you know, I can imagine scenarios in which a human could cut their foot or have a nosebleed in the  night, but I have no frame of reference for spontaneous indoor cat bleeding. This is when Twitchy saunters by and does a slow turn in front of me, revealing his horrifying ass-end. It is at this point that I start sending my boss texts like: I am going to be late today, my cat seems to be bleeding from his butt. Sorry.

I take a warm, wet washcloth and start trying to clean up the area to see what is really going on, and it begins to look less awful. He is oozy, but no longer actively bleeding and the source doesn’t seem to be his actual butthole, but sort of off to the side. Nonetheless, it’s not pretty. I bundle T off to the vet at opening time and find out that his anal glands had become impacted and ultimately ruptured.  This can happen to cats or dogs and isn’t all that uncommon, but it can be dangerous. As gross (and messy) as it is, it’s actually better when they rupture externally rather than internally, as an internal rupture can quickly cause a serious systemic infection that can kill them. He needs surgery to clean out the infection and close up the wound, plus antibiotics and painkillers. A few hours later I have a very stoned, very stumbly cat on my hands with shaved hindquarters, stitches and a soft rubber drainage tube.

Due to his size it took a lot of drugs to knock him out and extra time for him to come to after the surgery. We are given instructions to apply warm compresses a couple times a day to keep the tube clean and draining well. And to keep the little drunken sailor away from stairs for a few hours. Not to be deterred, Twitchy pinballs off the walls and beelines for the top tier of his cat tree where I then have to stand and make sure he doesn’t fall off until he decides to stumble (with help) down. He takes it all like the champ he is, and heals up nicely. The most upsetting part for him seems to be the two car rides to the vet.

All is well and then last Saturday night, Andrew has his diaper party – which is a Newfoundland thing (do they do this anywhere else?) and basically the male equivalent of a baby shower where guys bring the expectant father packages of diapers and then go get drunk. I think the boys may win on this tradition.

Sunday morning, we let Mr T into the bedroom for “special kitty  morning snuggle time” since he has recently been banned from sleeping with us to set the stage for when baby will be in her bassinet in our room and cats won’t be allowed in overnight. Lo and behold, his poor sore butt is at it again. Definitely not as bad as last time, but again – not awesome. Especially on a hungover Sunday when our vet is closed. Luckily, Andrew is in remarkably good shape and able to help me wrangle him into his carrier (no small feat) and get him to the emergency clinic. This time he just needs the wounds flushed out and an antibiotic injection – no surgery or stitches. But it also came with a complimentary lecture on his weight, which is kind of funny because Andrew had, to everyone’s amusement, informed the tech at the desk that T is sensitive about his weight issues. I guess she didn’t note that on his chart.

Now, I know he is overweight – but it’s so tough. He has always been a big cat and when this vet says he weighs twice as much as he should, I think she is delusional and obviously not taking into account his notoriously broad shoulders. I also didn’t mention that at 19 lbs he is actually already down 3 lbs from his weight 18 months ago. He has been on various low-cal diets over the years and owns several dis-used harnesses from my attempts at cat walking. He will actively play with a toy or a wand for a few minutes a day, but then loses interest and takes a nap. His same-litter sister Molly never had weight issues and received the same food and care…is it us, or is it just how he is?

Besides that, it turns out that although Andrew (who coined the shit monster term) would never have guessed it, Mr. T needs more fibre in his diet in the form of Metamucil, Benefibre and/or canned pumpkin. So he can take larger, softer poops that will help his anal glands express themselves and stay clear. It should also help him with weight loss, apparently, which also lowers his chances of another butt gland explosion.

So here we are, sprinking Benefiber on his kibble and warm compressing his butt again. Digging out the wand toys and kibble ball dispensers to coax him into a little extra activity and researching new ways to help him lose a few pounds. Because even though I think he’s perfect just the way he is, I also want him to be healthy for as long as possible. He’s about to be a big brother and I’d really like the little Ranger (this is Perry’s new nickname – reasoning will be revealed at a later date) to have a few years with this very special guy.

Gemma the big ol’ baby

Ours is a two cat household, but one of them is new(ish) on the scene. In the beginning, there was Twitchy and Molly–a brother and sister from the same litter way back in 2002. I met them the day they were born and knew their mommy well. They came to live with me when they were just tiny kitties (as soon as they were old enough to leave mom). As you know, Twitchy is black, white and grey and Molly was a pale ginger. They were besties who loved to snuggle each other.


Molly & Twitchy, 2011

But in October of 2013, Molly started drinking (and peeing) a ridiculous amount (like, gallons) and I just knew it was diabetes. Unfortunately, I was right. But we learned how to give her twice-daily insulin shots and started her on a grain-free, low-carb wet food diet. She improved for a while, but then even though the diabetes was being well-controlled, one thing after another started to go wrong. She had bouts of pancreatitis, arthritis, and eventually kidney problems. Towards the end, she was becoming so bedraggled, she didn’t even look like herself and she was clearly not enjoying herself either. She started to have trouble jumping up on the couch, she peed in my bed a couple of times and she was living with her head in her water bowl. It was heartbreaking.

In late June, 2014, we booked a Vets To Go appointment to have a vet come to our house and put her to sleep. We made salmon, fettucine alfredo and shrimp cocktail for her last supper. We watched The Aristocats and I slept downstairs on the couch with both cats, because I am crazy and oh my god, this is turning into a long, sad tale. The next day at noon I held her while the vet gave her two shots and she drifted off with Twitchy and Andrew next to her. Okay there, the worst part is over.

I didn’t lose my cool until afterwards when the vet gave us some time alone with her before the “Pet Heaven” person came to take her away. In all seriousness, I count this among my proudest accomplishments. I didn’t want to let her go, but I really didn’t want her in any more pain. And then I read something a vet had written about deciding when it’s time to let go that really hit home, it was something like, “even weeks too early is far better than an hour too late.” I really didn’t want to leave it so long that she’d suffer and I’d be cornered into a panicky decision and horrible final memories…so I made the decision to put her down. I wanted to be there for her when she went…but I knew I couldn’t do that if I was upset and, in turn, making her upset, so I stayed strong for her. And if you stay with me, I promise I’m getting to the point of this post…

It was hard on all of us, including Twitchy who was especially sad and lost without his lifelong buddy. We all needed time to get used to life without Molly, but Twitchy never really seemed to adjust to being a single cat. He sad-meowed us to death and was really insecure. So in March, 2015, we decided to adopt him a new friend. We wanted to give a good home to a slightly older cat who was probably less desirable on the adoption scale, but still young enough to bring some friskiness to the household. We went in to look at a cat who was supposed to be a good match, but ended up not being terribly interested in us, and then they mentioned a new arrival that we could also meet. A little orange girl they called Gems. They had me at orange. She was super sweet and very nicely asked to come home with us.

She was very nervous at first and hid under the couch a lot. She was hesitant to explore her surroundings and there was a bit of hissing and swatting on both parts, but nothing major. Mostly, she was just timid and reserved. She liked attention, but on her own terms, in small doses and with no sudden movements or loud noises. She’d been through the system..and she was jaded.

8 months later, she’s gone totally soft. Constant head-butts, climbing all over us, glued to my side, flopping onto her back demanding unending belly rubs. Sometimes she flops so hard you can hear it: floomp, LOVE ME! And in the last couple of months especially, it’s been absolutely unreal what a big sucky baby she has turned into.

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Love me.

I wonder if it’s just that she’s finally totally comfortable and secure in her new forever home, or if the pregnancy hormones have anything to do with it. Maybe all that extra estrogen is permeating our whole home ? Lucky Andrew.

After all, the shit monsters’ behaviour was actually one of the reasons I peed on a stick in the first place. Twitchy, in particular, became infatuated with my belly very early on. I hope they’ll forgive me for saying this, but it wouldn’t have surprised me from a dog, but I wasn’t sure cats would sense anything. Yet, there was Mr. T, lying horizontally across my stomach and kneading…and licking…and kneading…and rubbing his face on it like I was filled with catnip. Gemma wasn’t quite as enthusiastic early on, but now I wonder…has she realized she’s about to be a middle child and is milking her last days as the baby of the house for all they’re worth?

A no-show

So many punny title options for this one, my head nearly exploded. It took a lot of restraint to scale it back to this one. I suppose it’s the rare woman who is totally happy with her body at any given point—but I’d venture to say that having too small of a belly rarely makes it to the top 10 complaints list. Unless of course you’re 16 weeks pregnant with next to nothing to show for it.

I’ll be the first to admit that this falls into the “good problem to have” category. I haven’t had to change a single thing in terms of wardrobe yet, and having done some preliminary browsing, I’m not all that eager to start shopping the maternity sections. Plus, it’s nice not walking around like a billboard for procreation, inviting all the borderline offensive commentary, labour horror stories and unsolicited advice that I’ve heard is (eventually) coming my way.

But I can’t really feel anything either, and therein lies the problem. When you can’t feel the baby and you can’t see the baby, it’s really easy to let your head get away from you. I’m also midway between prenatal appointments right now, so it’s standard practice for me to start doubting that all is still well in there. I’ve found that the reassurance of a Doppler stethoscope or ultrasound only lasts a couple of weeks before it wears off. For that reason, I’m anxious to start having some tangible proof of life.

For the last 2 weeks or so I’ve occasionally felt some weird flutterings, almost like vibrations, inside and down low. So far, it only happens if I’m lying on my back at night, being very still—but it doesn’t happen every time I do this. Sometimes Twitchy tries to help by stepping on the baby and kneading his paws on top of it, so if the kid has a phobia of being crushed by sturdy cats, it won’t be without good reason. From what I gather, these flutterings can be the start of being able to really feel the baby move – which apparently happens somewhere between 15 and 25 weeks for a first pregnancy.

Mostly I’ve just felt bloated for months, and I’m juuust starting to get to the point where I’d rather leave the buttons undone on certain pairs of jeans. Needing to do something – to take action of some concrete nature – I ordered 2 of these:

I have decided that this is the way forward—as online shopping so often is. The training wheels I need before I will be ready (physically and mentally) to dive into the full-on, over the belly, stretchy, high-waisted maternity jeans that haunt the corners of my dreams. These and leggings, which I can see a lot of in my future. By the way, wtf are maternity leggings? Aren’t those just called bigger leggings? I feel that maternity is a marketing word much like “bridal” in that using it to preface anything can make the product seem like a necessity and allow you to charge 30% more for it.

Baby brain freeze

My husband likes to remind me that baby brain is not a scientifically proven fact. He does so as he blows out candles and turns off burners I’ve forgotten about, reminds me of appointments and gently corrects my ass-backwards logic on simple topics. He is right though, there is not enough evidence to conclusively say baby brain is a real thing – and yet so many of us preggos report a variety of problems, particularly forgetfulness.

Some research has shown that pregnancy and motherhood have no negative cognitive impacts. Other studies have shown the presence of impaired memory during pregnancy and shortly afterward. Is it down to hormones? Sleep deprivation? Stress? A newish study suggested that during pregnancy, women use the right side of their brain more as they prepare to bond with, and care for, their newborn babies. But if there is no “real” cause, a likely explanation seems to be that baby-related shit just occupies an inordinate amount of brain-space and basically, something’s gotta give.

And give it did. Yesterday, I reached a new low. Actually, it was weeks in the making but shit finally got real. Let me put it this way: a lot of things happened in the first trimester, but paying my gas bill was not one of them. So with an overdue account of $212, I came home to a bright pink disconnection notice on my door. Here we huddle, bundled under the duvet in flannel pajamas with two cold, judgmental cats and only the white-hot heat of my embarrassment to keep us warm until morning.

Andrew was super cool about this whole debacle. No pun intended. I know I would not have cut him as much slack if this was his fuck-up. His understanding knows no bounds. Of course, while I was on the phone with the gas company arranging for reconnection, he casually mentioned that he dropped a four-digit sum at a charity auction the night before on a pair* of signed Muhammed Ali boxing gloves. Stings like a bee that one. Well played, sir.

*I stand corrected, it was A SINGLE GLOVE.

Nemo & Neglect

The other day Andrew said something like, “I’m kind of impressed that you haven’t been crazier than you have. You know, mentally.”

Instead of being offended I was like, I know, right? Because I’m well aware that I lean towards crazy at the best of times, and I too figured that a hormonal hurricane wouldn’t do me any favours.

Yet, for the most part, the ol’ mental keel has been pretty even.

But…there have been a couple of things that make me think I may not be 100% together. You know, mentally. Like, I can’t watch heartwarming animal rescue videos at work any more because we have an open concept office – which is just a fancy way of saying everybody sees you when you ugly cry at your desk. If my husband were reading this over my shoulder he’d urge me to talk about the lizard meltdown. But you know what? I won’t. Because that lizard was adorable and I didn’t mean to step on it, and I would sob over that any old time. ANY. TIME. That little guy had a family that loved him, you know?

I’m losing focus. What I want to talk about is Nemo. Gemma (our girly cat) loooves these two stuffed toys – Nemo and Bunny – and she brings them to us every night, because she loves us. Are you getting this? She wants so badly to make us happy that she hunts her favourite stuffies and delivers them to the foot of our bed, meowing to wake the dead. She’s so proud. It’s become a bit of a routine, hiding Nemo and Bunny somewhere downstairs and waiting for her to bring them up, so I can gush and praise her. But Andrew never reacts. Never praises. He just lays there, reading Sports Illustrated online or listening to a podcast.

Why does this matter? It doesn’t. I know that some people don’t believe in the vital importance of stroking their cat’s ego. I also know that this doesn’t necessarily mean he will ignore Perry’s efforts to please us. But in the twisted funhouse that is my brain, I can’t help but picture him slouched in an armchair, smoking a cigar, reading the paper and ignoring our daughter as she tugs on the sleeve of his sports jacket trying to show him her report card. Because it’s also 1952 in the brain funhouse.

Unable to get his attention and praise, her self-esteem chips away until junior high blow jobs lead to dropping out of high school, which leads to a stripper pole and smoking meth in a dingy basement apartment with her abusive welder boyfriend, Blade.

I’m not overreacting; this is just how life works. It’s like, science. Have you ever known a hot mess who didn’t have daddy issues? Exactly. Really Andrew, would it be so hard to just give our poor kitty the fatherly approval she desperately craves from you?

Sometimes I feel really sorry for my husband.

Fuck you, BabyC@$#er!

If you’ve had a baby and have a computer, you probably signed up for one of the many sites that provide week-by-week updates on your “pregnancy journey”. If you’re like me, you will then relay unsolicited updates to a lucky friend every Saturday morning at an ungodly hour when she is trying to sleep and you are eating saltines in bed. I highly recommend this step. Anyways…

It’s super fun to learn about what’s happening to your body and your baby and follow along as it grows from poppy seed to pumpkin-sized. (Jesus. Christ.)

It’s not so fun to be scared shitless by the daily tips and warnings about the gazillion and one things you are – and are not – supposed to be doing if you don’t want to lose the baby or have it come out with a host of debilitating mental and physical defects.

I am (already) a horrible mother who takes all of these recommendations with a giant grain of salt. I’ve eaten sushi, lunch meat and soft cheese. I pet strange cats. I’ve had the (very) odd glass of wine or sip of a delicious cocktail. And as my pregnancy progresses, I look forward to continuing to do so. Because when you look at the actual facts and studies – not just the overzealous public health policy propaganda – none of this stuff is as scary as the pregnancy police would have you believe. And if you’re willing to make the extra effort to read the current research and understand the real risks behind the blanket recommendations, you can make your own pregnancy-related decisions for yourself. Some things are totally worth this effort. Like Guinness and salmon sashimi. Amen.

Even if my approach is too wild for you (hey, you do you) I think we can all agree that these sites tend to err on the side of ridiculous precaution. Take this gem:  “We can’t say for certain that cell phones are safe to use while pregnant. Cell phones have only been widely used since the 1990s, so it’s impossible to be sure about the long-term effects yet.” Like, what-the-fuck-ever.

I think I get what’s really going on here. I’m a copywriter and I’ve written enough content for enough sites to know that sometimes you are literally just pulling stuff out of your ass to fill a space that happens to need 50 words so the designer doesn’t have an aneurysm. Copywriting. It’s truly a craft.

I digress. The stupidest tidbits on these pregnancy sites are the ones like this:  “Start a daily ritual to connect with your baby. Set aside two, five-minute periods every day to think about your baby.”

I will straight up tell you that if you are not thinking about your baby for at least 10 minutes a day, you are not pregnant. It’s that simple. But thanks for the tip.