My nephew, Gino, found the abandoned waif when she was only a few weeks old. She was utterly helpless and had to be fed by a dropper.
When I saw her picture on his Facebook page I was smitten. My heart leapt out of my chest as I exclaimed "Oh my God, I wish you were mine!”
But I couldn't afford the fees and higher rent for having a cat at my apartment, so, as always, I quickly dismissed the thought.
I'm a cat person. All my peeps know that I'm cat-crazy, so they send me cat videos and cat gifs and cat cards.
But I wasn't always a cat person.
Growing up, all I ever wanted was a dog. I latched onto every stray dog that crossed my path, and pleaded with my parents to let me keep them. But dogs are "dirty", said my mom, so we were a pet-less family.. until one extraordinary Christmas Eve, when they said Dad was "going to see a man about a dog"... only this time he really was going to see a man about a dog!
Her name was Suzy Bridgette. I added the Bridgette part because I loved the name — a name of beauty, obviously, because.. French! She was my heart and soul! I often curled up next to her in her messy bed — a blanket in a hard plastic wading pool — and hugged her fluffy neck, and told her all my secrets.
We only had Suzy for 6 months.
The "dirty dog” lived in the dirty basement, not in the house, and she wasn't toilet trained. I considered her “my” dog, and the family considered her the “family dog”, but NOBODY wanted to clean up after her.
So one day, at Mom's insistence, dad went "to see a man about a farm". Yep, that age old story about giving the dog to a family who lived out in the country where it would have lots of land to roam and have such a free and happy life. And I bought it, that is, until many years later when I watched the episode of Friends where Ross recalls the time their parents sent the dog to live a better life in the country, and Monica rolled her eyeballs, and I was horrified to learn that sending a dog to “a farm in the country" was a common euphemism parents use to assuage their kids' pain when they're really dumping the dog who-knows-where!
Suzy Bridgette — My One and Only Dog
I cried my heart out that day. (June 18th, 1964). Is that when I stopped being a dog person?
My sisters still shake their heads in disbelief. “If ever there was a person we thought would grow up to have dogs — it would be you!”
I don't dislike dogs. I'm just not into them. I can appreciate certain breeds of dogs, like Huskies (drop-dead gorgeous with those crystal blue eyes!) and German Shepherds (e.g., Suzy), but I really don't have any desire to own a dog. I abhor being licked and slobbered on. I don't want to get out of bed on frigid mornings and take a dog out to potty (let alone have to scoop it up! Plus, I have seen dogs eat things that makes me want to puke … things like, um… puke! (I'll stick with cats, thank you!)
Cats are soft. Cats are quiet. (Okay, maybe not my cat, who cries constantly, but most are quiet). Cats are easy; they just lie around and lick themselves. (Okay, maybe not my cat, who tears through the house like a rabid bat, but most cats). Cats are laid back. (Okay, maybe not my cat, who attacks me several times a day, but most cats are chill).
The folks at the pet store where I work most days as a volunteer for a local cat shelter, have long been brainstorming about how to get me a cat. I kept reminding them that I can’t possibly afford a cat.
“We’ll pay the cat fee and help you out with food and litter”, they insisted.
Even the staff at my apartment complex pushed for me to have a cat. “I can’t afford the $250 fee and the extra $25 a month rent”, I said.
“I’ll pay for it myself if I have to”, the awesome young dude in the rental office told me. “I’ll even give you a cat — my wife has eight!” (Ultimately, his wife wasn't willing to part with any of them)
I still wasn’t going to risk having a cat here; security is everything to me. I would not last one day as a bag lady! And while people mean well, I know human nature. People are rife with good intentions, but they rarely come through on them.
Nobody is going to pay my pet premium forever, nor are they going to supply my cat with food, litter, or healthcare.
But when my niece asked me if I would watch little Zulu for a month while they look for a home for her, I heard myself blurt out “YES!!”, without thinking about all that that little 3-letter word entailed.
Something about the office and maintenance staff assuring me that I “don’t have to spend one moment worrying” about the property manager (who is a by-the-book hard ass, from what I have heard) evicting me and/or my kitten, got me to let down my guard. "Just enjoy your kitty.. you have nothing to worry about!", they said. I don’t know if they secretly made arrangements, paid the fee, or what. I DO know that the property manager jacked up my rent right after I got the cat! I am paying approximately one hundred and forty dollars more per month than I was 4 years ago!
Anyway, with firm assurance that I am safe to have a cat now, I agreed to "watch" the waif for a month. But even as I agreed to do this, I think on some level I knew that I was never going to give her up!
There is power in a name. Why, oh why, did he have to name her after an African Warrior tribe?! Compound that with the name beginning with the letter “Z”, which means “sword”, “sharp weapon”, and “armed” — I mean, we never even had a chance!
My niece and her boyfriend forewarned me that Zu likes to bite. I smiled. “No problem!” I had a stray named Benny that used to bite when I first brought him in, but instead of giving him the reaction he expected, I simply cooed and petted him when his teeth and claws (which didn't hurt) were in my arm.. Fortunately, he outgrew the phase very quickly.
Zulu, on the other hand, never tired of it — she only got worse! She began to launch all-out attacks on my hands and feet every time she didn’t get her way, which was often. Food not coming fast enough? Attack! Food not to her liking? Attack! Playtime not long enough? Attack! Remove her from the kitchen counters? Attack!
Zulu was attacking me a couple dozen times a day. And this was not kitten nips — this was vicious!
Teary-eyed and at the end of my rope, I finally decided to find her a new home. Maybe she was unhappy with me because I’m a boring human and can’t devote a lot of time to play, and she would be happier with someone else.. perhaps a family with kids and other cats, and a house with a big window facing a fenced-in yard and a big oak tree full of birds and squirrels.
My sister hooked me up with a member of her cleaning crew — a young mother who already has a biter cat, which her family finds charming. They call him "Chewy". Zulu would fit right in, they said. So I packed up Zu in her carrier and went to check out the situation.
My first "Ah-no!" moment was the lackluster neighborhood, which consisted of cookie-cutter townhouses on an impoverished street devoid of vegetation. So much for my hopes of a sprawling house with a deck and lush backyard! But the inside was even more dismal.
I could smell the yucky Marlboro smog even before I stepped through the front door into the sunless living room. This townhouse was even smaller than my apartment, and there was clearly no perch in front of a sunny window for a cat to look out of. Of course, even if there was a big window, there was certainly no flora or fauna for a kitty to view .. nothing but bricks and dirt and cement. I let Zu out of the carrier and she made a beeline upstairs, where she took refuge behind a dresser.
My little princess would have been miserable there.. and worse, they would have been unhappy with her as well. I don’t care how many times the young woman assured me that they like feisty cats — Zu would have torn her 3-year old to ribbons! I am an adult used to handling all manner of cats, and I am covered in bloody scratches and bites — some of which will probably scar. Also, Zulu doesn't limit her attacks to the hands and feet, she once nipped my face. There is no doubt in my mind that this fierce little ball of fur would have caused serious damage to the toddler!
I thanked the tot’s mom for her time, told her I would think about it, and retrieved my frightened kitty from her hiding place. On the drive home I assured Zulu that I have made up my mind to keep her. I was relieved. In my heart of hearts I really didn't want to give her up!
One Headless Peruvian
On Sunday morning ("morning" being a relative term), I woke up to a heartwarming sight: A gift of 2 toy mice that my little angel dropped in front of my bedroom door. Aww, what a sweet, thoughtful kitty!
I scooped her up in my arms, hugged and kissed her, and told her over and over again what a "good little girl" she was. My sweet little ball of fur!
Gift from Zulu
Then I walked into the kitchen and nearly tripped over the severed head of one of my ceramic Peruvian Musician figurines! Grrr!!
I don't even know how she managed to break it. It was way up high on a cabinet over the stove — in a recessed area that is lined with a rubber shelf mat. The statue was still standing. What the ... Did she bite the head off?!
Decapitated Peruvian Musician
And Then There Were Three . . .
Now it's Thursday. I haven't received any more gifts from Zu, but I have been attacked so many times I've lost count. The most recent attack occurred because I wouldn't play ball with her.
If I were able to speak Cat I would explain to her that the reason I can't throw the ball is due to the fact that she lost it. It's one of those cage-like plastic balls with a jingle bell inside — the kind that no other cat will play with. We have a bag full of them at the shelter, but none of the cats I've spent time with has shown any interest in them. Zulu, on the other hand, loves them!
I throw it from one end of the apartment to the other, and she chases after it like it's prey. Not being a dog, she doesn't fetch. I, her human slave, do all the fetching. But I don't mind. At least it's something we can do together that doesn't involve teeth and claws.
When I threw the ball the other day, it detoured into the bathroom and got swallowed up by a creature in another dimension. There's no other explanation for it; I have looked in every conceivable nook and cranny... it has simply ceased to be! That's not my fault. But if you ask Zulu, she'll beg to differ.
I have been around a lot of cats, and thought I knew all the ins & outs. For example, I consider them autistic. They either don't like to be touched, or they will allow a limited amount of touching before letting you know that you have crossed the line. Also, you can call them until you're blue in the face, but unless they need something from you (for example, food) they will continue to look off into space as if you don't exist. They are super sensitive to sound, so I keep sound to a minimum around them. As a cat person, and cat shelter volunteer, I have become quite familiar with felines' idiosyncrasies and body language. But I have never known a cat to express their feelings with spontaneous, no-holds-barred attacks, such as mine does!
A very specific image comes to mind every time Zulu goes on the rampage. Have you ever seen the Trilogy of Terror: Amelia, starring Karen Black? The one where this woman gets a package in the mail.. a gift that is an African Zuni doll?
You would remember if you saw that film... it was a short, black and white tale that had everyone who ever watched it nervously checking their closets and looking under their beds for months afterwards.
That possessed little doll was the scariest thing ever, with it's razor sharp teeth, psychotic grin, and shrieking war cry — chasing Karen all over the house, stabbing her repeatedly with a carving knife!
Zuni Doll from Trilogy of Terror
I won't deny that it's unnerving, to say the least, when your adorable little Zulu turns into a cray-cray Zuni on you, and you have to put a door between you and her so's that you can tend to your wounds in peace while she winds down.
But it's not all bad.
During those times when the Zulu/Zuni Warrior personality sleeps, my sweet little Zu-Zu curls up in my arms like an infant, rests her little paw on my shoulder, and purrs like a kitten... Life doesn't get any better than that!
My Little Angel
Until... I shift slightly, in a way that evidently displeases her.. and the attack begins anew ...
Zulu's Little Trip to the Vet
So, I finally made the appointment for Zulu's spaying procedure. She was 8 months old.
I dreaded putting my fur-baby through the ordeal. She would be sore, weak, and probably need to wear a cone for a few days. My cat would not take to a cone lightly, this I knew!
It was a made-to-order perfect morning in May. I sat on the sunny sidewalk and chatted with several other pet parents while we waited for the clinic to open. Closest to my proximity sat a handsome retiree with his awesome beautiful German Shepherd, worried that he might not get his son's jeep back to him in time for the son to go to work; a spindly 40-something Bingo fanatic and her equally spindly Whippet; a silver-haired "cat lady" with 3 carriers full of cats; and several other cat and dog moms & dads in a growing line. My queue mates remarked on how beautiful Zu is, and I beamed, and told them how feisty she is. I proudly showed them my battle scars.
Inside, the tech — a tall young man in a long white lab coat — took Zulu and her paperwork into the back room, and I opened up the book I had brought along to make the time go faster.
I was only a few paragraphs into the book when the tech came back into the room and approached me with a smile.
"I have some news for you", he said... (drumroll)...
"Zulu is a boy!".
Um.. huh? Say, what?!
I was dumbstruck. Mouth agape, I struggled for words.
"Are you.. are you.. sure.. about that?!"
"Well... he has testicles", averred the grinning tech, to the amusement of the room.
"But.. but... I was told she was a girl! Everyone who ever took care of her was under the impression she was a girl!"
This was a real bombshell.. one which I couldn't wrap my brain around. I was told Zu was a girl. I thought of her as a girl. I bought her a pink blankie, called her my Princess, and couldn't wait for her to get spayed so that she wouldn't be in heat all the time and drive me crazy. ... A boy?... My little girl is a boy?!
Sooo... Zulu, who came to the clinic to be spayed — left the clinic neutered. Which, in itself, was kind of a blessing because it's a much simpler operation.
I expected Zu to sleep for a day or two, but to my surprise HE was even more energetic than usual. He was a little off-balance, but very active. He was also unusually affectionate, which was quite an unexpected bonus!
"Wow! Neutering a cat is a Godsend!", I thought. Instead of attacking me, he was climbing up on me as I lay on the couch, curling himself around my neck like an old fox stole, and purring. He hadn't let me hold him in months, and now here he was, just as sweet as a baby lamb. "Oh my gosh, this is heaven!", I sighed.
But alas, it wasn't the snipping of the balls or dearth of testosterone that tamed my wildcat... turns out it was just the side effects of the painkiller they gave him at the clinic. It lasted less than a day. Oh well.. At least I'll always have the memories!
"She's a What..?!"
Zulu Bambino, looking regal, at 8 months of age
Zu has a new roommate.
While my son is working out of state, his cat, Benny, has come to live with us.
Zulu is not taking it with grace. He is obsessed with showing Benny who's boss. Ironic, really, because when Benny, who used to be mine, came to live with my son (when my career was outsourced and I lost my home), he was obsessed with showing my son's first feline child, Gary, who's boss. Benny stalked Gary for several years until Gary made his transition across that "Rainbow Bridge" a couple of months ago.
Is there Cat Karma? I have to wonder as I watch Zulu stalk Benny. Now, Benny is the older cat .. the one who wouldn't have a moment's peace if his stalker had his way.
So, had to get a gate to divide the apartment in two. I wasn't in great shape to begin with, but after 2 hospital stays in the same week, for the kidney stones from Hell, I am even more loathe to lug litter boxes, food dishes, water, and cat beds back and forth from one part of the house to another, 3 times a day.
I just hope it contains him! I tried a slightly smaller gate but I couldn't keep Zu out — not with barricades, not with netting, not with pieces of particle board perched on top; he always found a way!
Zulu is so freaked out by the gate. He was like "WTF"? And then he just cried and rolled around on the floor, frustrated as hell. It was kind of sad actually. And.. funny!
Harness & Leash ...
You have indoor cats, but feel guilty because they can't go outside and smell the proverbial (and actual) roses. What to do.. what to do...
Have you ever tried putting them in a harness and leash? We have a really cool cloth hoodie halter at the Petco where I do my (Colony Cats) shelter volunteer gig. I like it because it has more coverage than a nylon strap halter. Plus, the part that wraps around the cat's tummy is real easy to get on and off by way of velcro!
I started putting cats in harnesses several years ago when I still had a condo and yard. My son bought a metal stake that easily sticks in the ground. He also bought a long tie-out cord. (You can probably buy all of these items at a pet store). You attach the leash to the harness and then loop the tie-out cord thru the leash handle. Attach the tie-out clip to the ring on the stake. (Or, you can just use a super long leash in lieu of a cord). Now your cat has something like a 12-20 foot radius around the stake in all directions!
While the cat roamed my yard, sniffed the natural world, and caught and ate bugs (eww!) — I was sitting at my patio table reading a book out in the sunshine. (Bliss!) Of course, there is always the little problem of cats wanting to go in and out, in and out, in and out.. so you do have that.
I can get a harness on just about every cat that comes into the shelter. Sometimes I just put the harness on for a little while, to get them used to it, before taking them out at a later date. (I highly recommend doing this before taking a cat outdoors on a leash). I take them for walks around the store, to give them a reprieve from their cages. It's amazing, considering that most shelter cats have been through hell before coming to the shelter, with many of them having spent some time as feral cats. But even though I have such a high success rate with the shelter cats, I am batting zero with Zulu! Zu will not rest until he gets the cursed thing off. I even put the harness and leash on a stuffed cat one day, and "walked" the toy outside the sliding glass doors where Zu was perched, to show Zu that "Harness = Outside". But alas, Zulu is determined not to cooperate. (I bet Jackson Galaxy could get Zulu into a harness and leash!)
Caleb, (Colony Cats' best walker), looking cool in skull & bones
Garibald, in regular, nylon harness — on long leash & stake.
(Sorry I don't have a pic of the stake)
Short clip of Caleb on leash
Simply put... Don't!!
If you absolutely can’t live with an intact cat, then either don’t get a cat, or if you already have one, find someone (that you know and trust — i.e., no "free to good home" classifieds (such as Craig’sList , for example) to adopt your cat. Your cat is better off in a loving home where he can keep his “fingers” and not live in perpetual pain.
A nephew and his cat lived with us for several months. Poor Allie! She was one nasty bitch who growled and hissed at everyone — including our cat. She was very messy, had a bowel problem, and often pooped outside the litter box. I didn't know very much about cats back then. I just thought she was a pain in the ass. Fact is, she was miserable on so many levels, and in constant pain. If only I'd known then about the ramifications of declawing, I would have shown her some love and compassion. Cats are not mean by nature. Frankly, I was busy with my own life and work, and never paid any attention to her.
People are not born knowing how to relate to, and care for cats. It's something we develop or learn (hopefully) by experience. Somewhere along the line I stopped thinking of cats as mildly conscious decorations, and learned to appreciate their intelligence, unique personalities, and capacity to love. Cats are wonderful beings with physical and spiritual qualities that are nothing short of amazing!
If you have pets — of any kind — it would behoove you, and make all the difference in the quality of their lives, to learn everything you can about them!
Removing a cat’s claws is more than removing their nails. It would be the equivalent of a person having their fingers hacked off just below the top knuckle! When the cat walks, it’s similar to like if you had shoes that were too small for your feet, that pinch and hurt like hell, but you can never take off the shoes!
*Some of the medical drawbacks of declawing:
• Pain in paws
• Tissue Necrosis (tissue death)
• Back Pain
It changes the way a cat’s foot meets the ground. There can also be a regrowth of improperly removed claws, nerve damage, and bone spurs.
• Many cats stop using the litter box because of the pain of walking on litter.
• Some cats become biters because they no longer have their claws for defense.
• They feel helpless, as you would if you didn’t have the ends of your fingers anymore.
• They can't defend themselves in the event that they get out, or their owners pass away or abandon them
People who are worried about being scratched, especially those with immunodeficiencies or bleeding disorders, may be told incorrectly that their health will be protected by declawing their cats. However, infectious disease specialists don’t recommend declawing. The risk from scratches for these people is less than those from bites, cat litter, or fleas.
Many countries, and even some States, have banned declawing. Many Veterinarians, such as Clays Mill Veterinary Clinic in Lexington, Kentucky, no longer offer declawing. From an article (How To Stop Your Cat From Destroying All Your Furniture) at the dodo:
"After careful consideration and much soul-searching, we have decided to stop declawing cats," the clinic wrote. "We know that even under the best of circumstances, a declaw is a major and painful surgery ... It is an amputation of the end of the cat's 'finger,' not just the removal of the claw itself. And even when performed perfectly, can have lifelong complications."
There are many websites with information on how to train cats to use a scratching post, how to choose the most cat-friendly furniture, how to protect your furniture, how to make scratching boards, and how to “Catify” your home.
Some catification ideas include providing stable scratching posts and boards around your home, and offering materials such as carpet, sisal, wood, and cardboard (vertical and horizontal styles). Wipe catnip on the scratching posts for enticement.
Attach certain tape, such as Sticky Paws®, to furniture.
Trim claws every 2-3 weeks
Consider Soft Paws® nail caps
Visit "How to Stop Your Cats From Scratching Furniture", from the cat master himself — Jackson Galaxy — at:
Soft Paws® nail caps
Of the three cats I raised, young Garibald decimated an old tweed couch that I had. It sucked to lose the most comfortable couch in the galaxy, but I wasn’t about to have the cat declawed. Oddly, he never scratched any other furniture. There was just something about that beat up old tweed that he couldn't resist. I think it was a combination of the nubby texture and the fact that the back of the couch was already partially torn and shredded. All Gary did was finish the job.
Benjamin, on the other hand, never scratched any of my furniture. I took him in when he was a 4 month old feral kitten, and whenever he got in the mood to claw something, I picked him up and set him down on a cardboard scratching pad, which worked like a charm!
Zulu mostly uses his scratching pads and posts, but occasionally scratches the sides and bottom front of the couch. My solution was to cover the seat of the couch with a large cloth (might actually be a fancy tablecloth) on the seat, with another fabric tucked into the underside of the seats to drape over the bottom. It is my intention to buy some sticky tape and try that remedy. But I dunno… I have tape (the clear, packing kind) on the holes on my screen door (compliments of Zulu) but it doesn’t stop him from pulling the tape off every time. Irregardless, the sofa is not worth giving my fur baby a life of agony, as he would have if he were declawed!
I knew when I adopted him that I was probably going to lose some of my stuff (same as when I had my human child) but it was either prepare to compromise — or keep my lovely home intact and lonely. I chose love!
(But if you can't do that, there's always fish and ant farms)
Sources for this post are linked in the body copy of the article
*Some content is sourced from: http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/cats/tips/declawing.html