Tuesday, August 4, 2015

In the mood to talk about cat ownership: Intro to Kittens

So a friend of mine just got her first cat, (Hi Danielle!), and had some questions about first time cat ownership.  Since Brian and I have five (yes, five) cats, and we've become total experts on the subject, I thought I'd put together a series of posts on first time cat ownership.

First off, the Quirks of Cat Ownership:
They puke everywhere.  They shed everywhere.  They destroy everything that you love.  And yet, when they snuggle up to you, purring and sweet, all of that just doesn't matter.  It probably should, but it doesn't.  And why?

BECAUSE THEY'RE SO CUTE.



Gaahhhhhh!  So cute!!!!!


I've already told the story of how Brian and I went from having zero cats to having five cats.  I didn't grow up with cats, because I was allergic as a kid.  (I'm mildly allergic now, but I get allergy shots and that seems to have helped.)  We were a dog family.  We had a standard poodle named Max and a tiny chihuahua named Madeline.  In 2003, after I moved back home from college, this adolescent grey tabby showed up at my parents' house and decided to move in.  We really had very little say in the matter.  He caught the mice that were terrorizing us, and we named him Oliver.  He's a sweet, if slightly neurotic, boy and we love him.

When Brian and I adopted the triplets, I had no idea we would be adopting cats.  We'd gone to a cat show because my mom wanted to get a Siamese, and there was supposed to be a good breeder at the show.  We never found the breeder, but we dropped by the SPCA booth and ended up adopting three tiny kittens.


I remember asking my friend, who had grown up with cats, what I was supposed to do with these kittens once I got them home.  Nothing, she said.  Just let them go.  Make sure there's a litter box, and that they know where it is, give them food and water, and let them go.  So that's what we did.



There's a great debate raging, that has likely raged from the beginning of time and will not likely be resolved as long as we roam this earth: which is cuter, a puppy or a kitten?  I really can't take a side.  I'm only human.  Besides, cats and dogs are just different.  Dogs are incredibly social creatures, as social as humans, if not more so.  They crave acceptance.  Puppies look to their humans for approval, they're human-focused, which makes an owner feel very loved indeed.  Cats?  No so much.  Cats are not very social creatures as a rule.  They're loners.  Consequently, they really couldn't care less whether what they're doing makes you happy or not.



Puppies like eye contact, and can even take direction by following a human's eyes.  Kittens do not.  (Fun fact: cats actually consider direct eye contact a threat.  If you want to show your cat that you're not threatening them, blink your eyes slowly.  The cat will likely blink back to show that they understand that you're not threatening them.)  I think that this is a pretty good metaphor for puppies vs. kittens: puppies need reassurance, eye contact, a structured day, a kennel until they're house-broken.  Kittens don't.  You just let them go.  They'll find their way.



Come back for more tricks, tips, and observations of cat ownership!

Monday, August 3, 2015

In the mood to talk about cats

I should really title this "In the mood to talk about cat pee," but is anyone really ever in the mood to talk about cat pee?


Who me?  Pee?  I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about.


So, we have five cats.  I know.  We started out with three littermates.  Well, actually, Brian only wanted to adopt two littermates from the SPCA.  There was a tiny orange boy, a grey tabby girl, and a tuxedo girl.  There were so many other kittens in cages surrounding us that I assumed that once we adopted the other two, they'd just put the tuxedo girl in with another kitten family.  Not so.  Apparently kittens must be separated by litter?  Because they might have tiny kitten diseases or something?  No idea.  So, our foray into kitten parenthood went quickly from two (reasonable) to three (eh... not that bad?) because I just couldn't leave that tiny black and white kitten in a cage all by herself.  We named her Matilda, and we're so glad that we decided to keep her, as well as Darling (the grey tabby) and Simon (the orange boy).





   

Once you have three cats, it's really easy to creep up to five.  When the triplets were about three years old, we kept seeing these two adorable black twin boy kittens that the vet's office was trying to adopt out.  We didn't want to take them (really.) but after they hadn't been adopted in about a month, and after trying to talk everyone I knew into adopting these babies, Brian and I stepped up.  Or rather, I begged and pleaded (and maybe cried a little?) and Brian stepped up.  Because he's a good man.  We named them Jasper and Julian.  And then we had five cats.



With cats comes cat pee.  It's as unglamorous as it gets, but it's reality.  Sorry.

So, cat pee is one of the grossest substances on earth.  It smells horrendous, it's extremely hard to clean, it has... unique physical properties (I'll address that in a bit), and because like attracts like,  once a cat pees somewhere, it will likely continue peeing there forever after.

In terms of its unique physical properties, what I mean is that it isn't just like human or dog pee, which, when it dries it simply evaporates, leaving behind a smelly but relatively harmless residue.  No.  As cat pee dries, it solidifies from a liquid into a gel, and when it's finally dry, it almost crystallizes.  (Brian and I can estimate how long pee has been sitting by how gelatinous it has become.  Our lives are RIVETING, I mean DISGUSTING.)  I'm guessing that this tendency towards gelification has something to do with the molecular structure of the cat pee molecule, but I'm no scientist.  I've read that it's ammoniac, but I'm not sure if ammonia does the same thing when it dries.  I'm guessing not, since people, like, use ammonia to clean with.  Which leads me to wonder, if cat pee is ammoniac, and ammonia is used to clean, WHY.  Just why?

So how does one clean such an unpleasant substance?  Well, because cat pee is ammoniac, you can't use ammonia or bleach to clean it.  Like attracts like, remember?  Ammonia smells like cat pee, so not only will it not get rid of the smell (it'll actually make it worse - yay!) but that spot is just going to keep attracting your cat to pee on it more.

So what do you use?!  (And why do people even keep cats?!)  Well, you use vinegar.  (And I don't know.)  Plain old distilled white vinegar.  We buy it by the gallon and use it for most of our cleaning needs.  This really increased in the winter of 2011 when I realized that my sweet Julian was peeing all over the damn house.  Actually, as it turned out,he wasn't peeing so much as he was spraying.  Yes, despite being neutered, my boy learned to spray.  I blame the vet.  I blame their mother.  I blame his rough life on the streets before we adopted him.  I blame the media!  But blaming doesn't really clean up cat pee, and it certainly doesn't stop a grown cat from spraying up the inside of my home.  We had only one choice: he would henceforth be an Outdoor Cat.

Now, fortunately for us, our neighborhood is super safe, we have an extremely private back yard, and generally I feel great about my cats being outside.  In fact, Julian had been dying to get outside all the time before I realized he was the culprit of Peegate 2011.  Julian, you see, is a bit of a wildling.  In fact, since becoming an outdoor cat (and since I started watching Game of Thrones) I refer to him as The King Beyond the Wall.  (What makes it even funnier is that we actually have a wall at the front of our house - super private, like I said - and he loves to hang out beyond the wall.  It works on so many levels.)  So, fine, Julian gets to be the King of the Wildlings, and everyone is happy.  For a time.


I'm a wildling.  Deal with it.


As it turns out, Julian wasn't entirely to blame.  We had a respite from the foul stench and odor for a while.  But it seems that, much as happened when King Robert Baratheon died, when Julian got kicked out, there was a bit of a power vacuum...  and my sweet Jasper rushed in to fill it.  With cat pee.

So we had to make Jasper an Outside Cat, too.  It broke my heart because Jasper is my baby.  I now call him The King of the North, because he's as handsome as Rob Stark.

  

Don't worry, I won't be attending any weddings this year, Red or otherwise.

This really has just turned into a post about my cats, though, hasn't it?  Should I get back to how to clean up cat pee?

Okay, if you're sure.

When cleaning up cat pee, it really depends on the surface.  In our house, we have tile and wood laminate.  We use a spray bottle of vinegar and paper towels.  Soak up the pee with paper towels, spray down the spot (making sure to get the whole radius) with vinegar, and wipe up the vinegar.  Repeat, just to be safe.  If you have a rug or carpet, you're going to need to pour about a half a cup or more of vinegar on the spot, blot it up, pour more, blot it up, and repeat until the smell is gone.  Once it's dry, if there's still a lingering smell, dump some baking soda on the spot, rub it in, let it sit until dry (for anywhere from a few hours to a few days), and vacuum it up.

I will warn you, though: another one of the unique physical properties of cat pee is that it can eat through fabric, and maybe even wood and metal.  One of our many cats peed on our old sofa when we moved (because cats hate moving), and even though I cleaned it up, the pee actually ate away the fabric as though it were acid.  True, it was vintage fabric, and true, it took me a few days to locate the pee, (see below), but still.  The cat pee dissolved fabric as though it were acid.  That's scary.  There's also a spot on a window that the cats have sprayed, and while the metal window frame isn't melting or dissolving, it does appear to be rusting in that one spot.  So it's important to work quickly.

And although the eating-away-at-fabric nature of cat pee is probably it's most frightening, and the drying-as-a-gel quality is probably its most revolting, I have to say that it's most annoying characteristic is the haunting, ghost-like quality of the smell.  Cat owners will get this, but those of you who have never owned cats might not.  Cat pee, as I've said above, is the worst smelling thing ever.  But.  It's not like a garbage can or a burned dinner or cigarette smoke, where you know where the smell is coming from.  You can point to the rotting refuse in the can, or you can smell that your shirt is smoky because you were hanging out at the bar the last time you wore it.  Not cat pee.  Now, if you can see it, you're (probably) in good shape.  But cats are sneaky little shits, and you can't always see where they've defouled your home, you can just smell it.  Everywhere.  So you start looking and you start sniffing.  But cat pee refuses to be pinned down.  The smell is everywhere and yet nowhere.  If you can't visually spot the, er, spot, then you're going to drive yourself out of your damn mind.  That was not an option for us.  We may be cat owners, but I refuse to be those people whose towels are covered in cat hair and who can't tell that their house reeks of cat urine.  Not on my watch!

Know what we did?  We bought a UV light.  It looks exactly like this, although now there are smaller, more compact lights.  It's totally ridiculous, but it worked.  It saved my sanity, I kid you not.  The key to the UV light is that you have to make sure that all of the lights are out, and you have to get the light really close to the surface that you're searching.  That means floors and walls, for the most part.  The pee shines purple in the UV light, although it's pretty faint.  It helps you to locate the whole stain, rather than just part of it, so you can get rid of all the smell, rather than just part of it.

So let's sum it up, shall we?

Kat's Tips for Cleaning Up Cat Pee:

1.  Use vinegar.  If it's fabric, such as carpet, follow up with baking soda.

2.  Do not use any of those scented cleaners because they don't work.  They merely mask the smell to you the human, but not to your cat.  Your cat won't be fooled by that nonsense!  He or she will strike again in the same spot.  For a while we tried Anti-Icky Poo, which, aside from having the stupidest name in history, is supposed to be an enzyme cleaner that gets rid of the smell from its source by breaking it down?  Like with enzymes?  I can't say that it really works, but I also can't say that it doesn't work.  We stopped using it because vinegar seemed more effective and was way cheaper.

3.  If you have male cats, they may be spraying rather than peeing.  Therefore, if you're having trouble locating a spot, look at about cat-butt-level on vertical surfaces (walls, bookcases, plants).  Pro tip: check cat-butt-level for all the places where your cat stands, such as the wall behind the couch (or in our case, our curtains.  WHY DO THEY HATE US?).

4.  Get a UV light.

5.  If they're male, and they're spraying, sorry.  You're going to have to either learn to live with the smell of cat pee everywhere or kick the damn cats out.  Cats are not logical creatures and they don't take direction well.  If anyone has ever had any success in training a cat not to spray indoors, I am all ears.  I just don't think it's possible.

6.  Pray.

7.  Resolve never to get cats ever again after these die.  Well, maybe just one.  Two, TOPS.

The happy end to this story is that our outside boys are doing well.  They've adapted.  When it gets really cold, or rainy, or when they seem sick of being outside, I bring them in and put them in a cat carrier in the bathroom.  I call it "nap time," or with Jasper "nappy-noo."  They are only allowed in the carrier, because as handsome as he is, Jasper can escape from my line of sight and spray up my curtains quicker than you'd think possible.  Fortunately they're Ikea and machine-washable.  The curtains, not the cats.  If only.