Wednesday, June 22, 2011

no internet, only quality time, first with children and now with Al

Last week was our annual week up at Camp Mather, the rustic retreat run by SF Rec & Parks. For one week we have no internet and no cellphone, and we spend our days swimming, playing board games, waiting in lines for meals, reading in hammocks, and interacting with one another.

Afterwards we have a passionate reunion with the internet and our pets. Henry and Frowst were especially glad to see us, but Al, my weird skinny freaky cat who normally spends his whole live sitting on my chest and shedding, was standoffish for a couple of days. Al has a special relationship with Rhonda the professional petsitter, while I think Frowst doesn't let her touch him at all. After a few days of not going near me, pining for Rhonda, Al is now back to spending every possible minute sitting right on top of me.

Rhonda falls into that small category of people, people who are not repulsed by poor dimwitted, literally drooling Al and who imagine that if he were their cat, they would transform him into a sleek orange beauty. (The Sober Husband has suggested that I pawn Al off on the next person I meet in that tiny category, saying to them, "Why don't you give it a try?"). Al was found covered with oil in a commercial garage as a kitten, and his only sibling didn't survive. He has never weighed more than five pounds and usually weighs in around four, a skeleton covered in cheerful orange fur.

Many of his problems come from one underlying issue: Al is allergic to plaque, the bacteria that form on teeth, and as a result, he has a sensitive mouth and drools. This may be why, unlike most cats, he does not groom himself, but he did manage to clean himself for the first year or two of life before giving it up as a bad job. I have to cut the mats off him, brush him, and clip off soiled fur, which he hates (once he bit me on the arm when I was grooming him). His health is a lot better since we paid a huge sum of money to have almost all of his teeth removed (keeping only the front teeth so he can defend himself if necessary). Before that, he regularly became very ill and had low energy, but he's been perky ever since he recovered from that surgery.

There are other weirdnesses about him, though. For instance, he can't wear a collar because, unlike every other cat in the world, a plain, non-flea collar will cause his fur to fall out. Due to his extreme skinniness, I used to fear people would mistake him for a stray, and so I kept a loose collar on him. Even though this was a very loose collar, he lost the fur on his neck, and although it's been over a year since I gave up the collar, he still has a wide naked ring of pink flesh around his neck where no fur will grow.

He also has oddly waxy ears. I used to mistake this peculiar condition for ear mites and haul him down to the vet, but it never is ear mites, even though it looks just like it. Often I have both children pin the poor orange freak down so I can clean out his ears (it's especially important to do that before anyone comes by who will think I neglect him and don't take care of ear mites).

Al is also like sugar to fleas. Even though he virtually never goes outside (he only ventures out on the few truly hot days a year; he's too thin to be comfortable outdoors), he all-too-regularly gets fleas. The other cats almost never get a flea, but Al is infested every few weeks. How? How? How? I put those once-a-month flea death drops on him regularly, but they don't last an entire month on poor Al. I worry about the dosage given how thin he is, but we can't have fleas. I tried rolling him like a biscuit in nontoxic diatomaceous earth for a while, but it's such a nuisance.

Despite his skinniness, he's the worst moocher. He often manages to steal food from the children (you'd think he'd put on some weight), as no one wants to eat anything which has been touched by the drooling orange skeleton.

He also is the only one of our cats who pees out of the litterbox. When we have extra cats here, I put up extra litterboxes, and Al seems to believe that this means that wherever a litterbox has been, he is authorized to pee for life. There are two spots upstairs where he routinely pees, though even an idiot cat should be able to see there's no box there. (So why don't I just permanently keep boxes there? I would, but the Sober Husband strongly objects. He wants as few litterboxes as possible in the house, in as few rooms as possible).

So what does Al have to offer? He loves people, far too much. As I write this, he's purring on my chest. He spends as much time as he can sitting directly on me or a child or a favored visitor. His affection is so vast that it's annoying. I get so tired of having him on me, and I'll try to pawn him off on a child, but they never want him sitting on them due to the drooling and spattering (Al often whips his head around to clear up his drool, and this results in some spraying of whoever he's sitting on).

Sometimes, though, Al takes a strong dislike to someone. One year we had a housesitter, a friend-of-a-friend, whom Al disliked so much that he moved into the backyard and lived out there like a stray for a few months, refusing to enter the house for weeks after a sensible cat would have realized that the feared housesitter was long gone. After I finally lured him back into the house, he followed me around like a skinny shadow.

Even though the children don't want Al touching them, they profess a huge love for him. Recently there was some thought by the grownups about whether we should get rid of this poor dumb animal due to the peeing-where-once-a-litterbox-stood problem, and the children were appalled. "We love Albert! You can't get rid of Albert! We don't care if he pees in our room." Their protests were so strong that we gave up any thought of rehoming Al (and honestly I can't imagine who would realistically want to take him on).

The children's love has limits, though. Iris has taken to talking about how when she is old enough to move out, "I will take Frowst, and Henry, and Pigwidgeon." I protested: "But then I won't have any pets!" "I'll leave you the evil green bird and Al."


Claire M. Johnson said...

We had a cat like that, but, um, without the hair issues. She was so affectionate, but clueless about personal grooming. She used to dive into her food and there would be crusts of wet food all over her nose all the time. Every now and when we'd take a warm washcloth and try to free her of most of the crusties, but it was a hopeless business.

I wonder if it's a reflection of them being taken away from their mothers too soon. It leaves them needy and without the "teaching" that I think that mothers impart on their young. Of course, you'd know with your fostering of kittens. Do the ones who are taken away from their mothers at a too young age miss and who miss "cat 101" from their mothers tends to be cluesless about being, well, cats?

Anonymous said...

Welcome back-
Your cat reminds me a bit of my husband who throws his dirty laundry in "the place where the hamper once stood" 3 years ago. Repeated interventions have failed to address the problem. Rather than focus on this annoyance, I should be grateful that human toilets typically remain stationary which prevents a much bigger (and smellier) problem from occurring.

the Drunken Housewife said...

Claire, I'm constantly amazed by how much cat behavior is instinctual and not learned. For example, I was taught as a child that a cat learns to hunt from its mother and won't hunt if taken away too early, but that is demonstrably false. No one taught Frowst or Henry how to hunt, but there are birds, newts, mice, and rats who can all attest that they figured it out on their own.

Even kittens I bottlefed showed hunting, grooming, litterbox-using, etc... normal behaviors.

Al is truly a freak.

the Drunken Housewife said...

Anon, never move the wastebaskets!

Phoenix said...

Al sounds like my lovely, chubby Bella. She loves people *so* much. She's always in her basket next to me, or on my husband's chest. She drools when happy, and refuses to poop in the litterbox. We have two litterboxes, but she does not care.

Anonymous said...

It's diatomaceous, not diotomaceous, earth -- it contains fossilized diatoms.

the Drunken Housewife said...

I fixed that, Anon. I did know about the diatoms--- just didn't proofread adequately. cheers! -dh

Anonymous said...

We've become foster parents to an ancient old feline with severe allergies and possibly asthma who literally sneezes on you withing ten seconds of petting her. And the sneezes aren't cute and dainty, they are robust and productive. Also she misses the litter box, she tries, but misses. I wish there was a home where all these old problematic cats could go live happily.

the Drunken Housewife said...

Anonymous, you're a saint.

Our Al sneezes productively, also. He also whips his head around to get rid of snot & drool, and that is highly productive as well. Sigh.