Monday, February 14, 2005

Feline Follies

One of the most amusing things about our move has been watching our three spoiled felines adapt to life in a new environment. All three lived sheltered lives in our Chicago condo before the Big Move. Two of them never knew much of anything else, since we owned them from kittenhood. The third was a former alley cat, adopted from the local shelter, but he quickly adapted to a pampered indoor life.

At the condo, they did occasionally get to go on a "field trip" out onto the balcony. Since it's up on the third floor, they had to be under close supervision to make sure they didn't try to prove (or disprove) the adage that cats always land on their feet. Stitch, the reformed alley cat, also enjoyed going on excursions into our front hallway. Tooncinator, the deranged son of a feral car, would poke his nose out sometimes too, but not for very long. Farquaad, the waif kitten rescued from a dumpster, had enough of the outside world in infancy, so he wouldn't even go near the front door. He did, however, check out the balcony on occasion.

Coming from such a sheltered background, I'm sure it was a major shock for the kitties to be shoved into a huge cage and driven 1200 miles to a totally different environment. Our home in Celebration is quite different in layout from the condo. Our condominium is mostly ranch style, although it does have a loft. But the main living areas are all on one level, so the cats rarely bothered to go upstairs. Conversely, Duloc Manor is two stories, with a formal room, family room, powder room, and kitchen/dinette on the main floor and two bedrooms, each with a bathroom, upstairs. Our time is divided pretty equally between both floors, especially since my husband's office is in the spare bedroom. This means that the pack of felines also divides its time, since our cats enjoy being underfoot.

I'm amazed at how quickly the cats learned to barrel up and down the stairs so fast that I'm surprised they don't leave tracks of fire. When they gallop headlong down the stairs, I'm often firmly convinced that they're going to slam right into the wall at the bottom. Somehow they must use their claws to brake themselves on the carpeting, or else they just have remarkable control, but they've never had a "wreck" yet.

Our home is a kitty paradise in many ways. Cats love to be as high as possible, looking down regally at the world from a superior perch. The house is loaded with lots of potential areas that could be considered "kitty jungle gyms." In the family room, we have an entertainment center with a bridge that was immediately claimed by two of the three cats. It's very tall, so they access it from the railing of the stairs. Both my husband and I were certain that they'd also be on top of the kitchen cabinets, but thankfully that hasn't happened (at least not within our view). That's only because they'd have to climb on the kitchen counter, then use the refrigerator as a springboard, and we do not allow them on the counters or table. Still, I've already caught them and the counter by peeking through the back door window when they didn't know I was there, so they've probably been on the cabinets too.

Upstairs, Farquaad (aptly named, since he believes that it's all about him; Kuzco would also have been an appropriate name) loves to sit on the railing that runs the length of the hallway and overlooks the staircase. My husband and I are firmly convinced we're going to have to rush him to the emergency vet one night when he loses his balance and lands badly on the stairs below. So far he's managed to keep his balance, and there's virtually no way to keep him off that railing, so we'll just keep our fingers crossed.

Quaad has also learned how to jump from the railing onto the top of our warbdrobe cabinets. The wardrobes are massive structures at the top of the stairs, and I never thought he'd figure out a way to get up there. It would be a challenge to the Flying Wallendas, but that cat was up there within minutes. He also likes to climb all over my husband's desk and hide in various cubby holes. I you try to catch him and drag him out, you'll soon feel like you're playing a rigged version of "Whack a Mole." When a cat doesn't want to be removed, they are very adroit at avoidance maneuvers. Then, every hour or so, he'll do the obligatory "Come out for petting and block the monitor/sit on the keyboard" routine.

Stitch, our "dog cat," has not been much of an exploratory climber. We brought their "cat tree" (a scratching post type of contraption with three perchs) from Chicago and put it in the master bedroom, overlooking one of the windows. That's good enough for Stitch; he luxurates on the top perch, watching the world below. Often, Farquaad joins him, but rather than claiming an unoccupied perch, he had to wedge himself on top of poor Stitich. I think that's a remnant of when he was a tiny kitten and "Uncle" Stitch adopted him. Back then, they both fit up there comfortably, but now Farquaad is a massive cat and Stitch is no lightweight himself. It's amusing to see how they contort themselves around each other and jockey for a better position.

Farquaad also managed to get himself onto the highest shelf of our bedroom closet through some supernatural means. Then he thought he was in trouble when both my husband and I crowded in, so he resisted all attempts to bring him back to earth. Like all cats, he has the uncanny knack of staying just out of reach. Eventually my husband managed to shag him down, knocking down my table top Christmas tree and various other items in the process. Hopefully the memory of the trauma will keep His Highness from climbing up there again.

Quaad has a knack for favoring places that I wish he wouldn't favor. I try not to be obsessed with material items; when you have kids and/or pets, it never pays to get too attached to anything breakable. I could handle the destruction of most of the items in my home, but there are a few irreplacable exceptions. One of them happens to be the bedspread in my master bedroom. It was carefully selected to fit in with the Disney Cruise Line theme, and it would be nearly impossible to replace. To protect it during the day, I spread a quilt over it. At night, I turn it down, figuring that the majority of uncovered bed area would have to be more attractive to felines than the tiny covered portion. Of course, Quaad never lies on the quilt, preferred my precious comforter. At night, he somehow manages to compress his bulk into something small enough to lie right on the turned down comforter, where he sheds in contentment. Sigh! I should have know it was a losing battle.

Tooncinator, the crazy cat, originally took up residence in the master closet (his hiding spot in the condo). However, we quickly got tired of the cat hair, and I arranged my shoes to artfully make it difficult for Toonce to wedge himself in. Now he has staking out a spot under the bed, which was also a condo "safe spot" for him. Occasionally he deigns to come out, but just for very short periods of time. He'll eat, drink, do his business, and then his agorophobia kicks in and it's back to his hidey-hole.

Occasionally he will feel extraordinarily social and venture onto the sofa to soak up some petting. He's more likely to do that with me than with my husband. It's not that he likes me better; it's more a matter of disliking me less. He likes to sleep curled up next to my face, which often makes me feel like Roy with Manticor the mauling tiger lying beside me. In his youth, Tooncinator sunk his fangs into me a couple of times when I moved and startled him in his sleep. Now that's he's getting older, he has calmed down somewhat, and he hasn't fanged me in the night for a few years (during the day is another story). Still, the possibility is always there.

Toonce also likes to drink out of a water bowl on the bathroom sink. I have no idea why; all I can figure is it's better than the main water dish, which he and Farquaad like to sully by spitting dry cat food into it. Then they proceed to fish it out like grizzlies in a salmon run until they get bored. Some always remains, and it bloats into a smelly, mushy mess.

We have designated certain areas of the house as "No-No Rooms," meaning that they are off-limits to felines. The formal room has that designation, and it's enforced by continual closure of the French doors. That is the only carpeted room on the first floor, which means it would be a cat-barf magnet. Somehow they have a talent for horking up hairballs only on carpeting. Since the formal room is closed off, they do it in the master bedroom, but at least that's not easily visible to company. The laundry nook is a no-no room when not in use, and the broom closet and furnance nook are also supposed to be feline-free zones.

Every now and then, we'll open one of those zones just to give the cats some excitement. It was hilarious to watch them the first time we opened the formal room. They had to roll all over the carpet and rub their faces on every stick of furniture to mark it with "their" smells, just in case some other errant animal might come along and think it's not already claimed. They were very put out when I removed them and locked the doors. Even Toonces had come downstairs for the "No-No Room Safari," and he clawed vainly at the window panels trying to get back in.

This morning's adventure was the furnace nook. The door is halfway up the wall, since it's actually a niche in the wall where our air conditioner/heat pump unit is housed. There's only enough space for the unit and a spare filter or three. Cat bodies are remarkably versatile, so all three managed to wedge themselves in at one time, although they were cheek to butt. Then, they started nipping each other's butts, starting a chain of offended hissing. Eventually we managed to pry them all out, and of course all three had to plop down and wash casually while processing their latest excitement. Perhaps they were wondering just how much additional uncharted territory remains in Duloc Manor; like Christopher Columbus, they are determined to map every inch of the New World.

Because of alligators, cars, and other dangers, I won't let the cats go outside by themselves. Yards are much different than balconies, so outdoor excursions are conducted on a leash. Thus far, the only cat who has shown much interest in going out is Stitch. Before he came to the animal shelter where we adopted him, he was living in a field. I guess the bad memories have faded, and now he's remembering the fun of the "wild." He quickly learned that when I pick up his leash, it means that I'll take him outside. We hang out on the porch and even go for walks around the block, much to the bemusement of my neighbors.

At the moment, Stitch's enthusiasm has been somewhat curbed due to the "wind chime incident." I have a little Mickey head windchime stuck in the dirt at the foot of my porch. A few days ago, Stitch decided to suddenly run along the base of the porch, catching me by surprise. His leash got tangled on the windchime, pulling it out of the ground and making quite a racket. This frightened him more than he already was, so he tried to take off at a run. When he reached the end of the leash...snap! He wasn't hurt, but I'm sure it wasn't pleasant. He changed direction and sprinted up the stairs, pawing frantically at the front door. Normally, he wants to go out whenever he sees a door open. Now, for a couple of days, he had no desire to go anywhere near the door. He's slowly but surely getting more gutsy, going out for short jaunts. But he still doesn't want to leave the porch, and he gives that wind chime the evil eye.

When his buddy Stitch is outside, Farquaad howls like a dog, and he pokes his head out the door when we come back in. He is a wimp cat, and I think that going outside would freak him out, but I'll probably give it a try someday.

Toonces hates the doors because he knows that the beep of the alarm system means that a stranger might be coming in. Both he and Farquaad immediately hide whenever we have a visitor. With Toonces, that's just as well, as I have no desire to see our home insurance premiums soar after someone gets savaged. With Farquaad, it's a shame, as he's a very friendly, loving cat with people he knows.

Stitch, on the other hand, is our Wal-Mart greeter who must be underfoot from the moment someone takes a step in. If they sit on the couch, he has to be right there next to them. He just knows that their sole purpose in visiting is to pet and admire the pretty black and white cat. If the visitor is a service person who has come to do some job or repair, Stitch is happy to supervise. Between his friendliness and love of walking on a leash, I suspect he may be a reincarnated dog. He got nose to nose with the neighbor's dog today and didn't even bat an eye.

When we piled the poor kitties into a cage and drove them through an ice storm, I wonder what was going through their little feline minds. I felt so sorry for them and wished that I could explain what was going on, but sadly I don't speak Meow-ese. It couldn't have been too traumatic, as they settled in almost immediately and act like they've lived in Duloc Manor all their lives. And as much as I enjoy watching "Animal Planet," nothing can compare with the Feline Follies that occur in our home live every day.

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