The Cat with Nine Lives

IMG_0050 (2)I’ve always had dogs until I inherited my daughter’s cat and that cat got cancer so it was an obvious call when to end things.

Then there is BlackJack.  By my count, even at nineteen years old, he still has five or six lives left in him and  apparently he is determined to use as many as possible before going on to Kitty Heaven.

When he was a youngster, BlackJack was either abandoned or an abused runaway in Berkeley California.  A young couple figured out he was hungry and took him in.

They said the cat was so well behaved.  He never jumped on furniture, was polite to their two other cats and ate whatever they gave him.  But, they soon realized that three cats was one too many.

He came to me and it didn’t take long for the two of us to bond. BlackJack quickly abandoned all pretense of enjoying life on the floor and took up residence on beds, couches or laps.

From tangling with a large bobcat and surviving to getting locked in his nemesis Buster’s basement for a few days, BlackJack has had his share of adventures and used up a few of his nine lives.

A couple weeks ago, we began the new Adventure of Are We Dying or Are We Not?  It has been an emotional roller-coaster, not only for me but for my friends who have cried along with me over the losses of their cats and dogs.

This morning, at my wit’s end and not sure of which way to turn, I took him to a vet who had been recommended by a friend.

Both the vet and I had a list of questions, most of which were unanswerable.

Q:  I don’t know cats, other than BlackJack.  How old do cats live?

A:  oh, hard to tell….most live to 13.  The oldest I’ve seen in here, until today, was 18 and she was in really bad shape. Hello BlackJack, what a beautiful silky coat…

And, so it went, back and forth, with lots of guesswork and I don’t knows.  The only obvious concern was to get him re-hydrated and that was an easy fix. The vet and I finally opted to go over a list of tests, select the ones for which there were easy remedies, and then decide on a course of action once we had some information.  BlackJack was far more interested in checking out the nooks and crannies in the room.

The vet called a bit later.  The cat is perfectly healthy. He’s healthier than I am. 

So, for the time being, things are going to return to more or less normal.  The only Rx is to keep him hydrated and take him for a couple of car rides every week.




IMG_0732A dear friend asked me a while back if I had started saying Goodbye.  I am at the age where goodbyes are becoming more frequent, including a Goodbye last year for this blog.

For a while, all I wanted to do was write and vent about the new Era Orange and he who must not be named. But the truth is I couldn’t live in that constant state of frustration, except of course when making the daily call or email to my neanderthal congressman who treats women like…well, just watch The Handmaid’s Tale.

The rest of the time I couldn’t put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard.  It was far easier to hide behind quilting. Or bridge. Or bocci ball. Or golf…all of which means there are so many other fun things to write about.

Hello readers. 

I hope some of you will stick around and pick up the thread of this column.

I thought yesterday was going to be a major Goodbye day. My longtime companion and sidekick, BlackJack, is nineteen in cat years — that’s 90 in human years — so I have been preparing to lose him.  I know it’s coming.

In the past couple of weeks, including one week of a major heatwave, BlackJack quit eating.  And drinking.  And peeing and pooping. It was becoming all too apparent that his once muscular eighteen pound body had become shriveled and bony.  Very bony.

Sensing the end was near, and not wanting him to suffer, I made The Appointment with his vet and spent the day crying and petting and cuddling the cat who wanted nothing more than to peacefully sleep.

It was a long, tearful day of Goodbye.

I decided that his Last Ride would not be in the dreaded cat carrier, so I scooped up his frail body and put him on a towel next to me in the front seat of the car.

We were barely out of the driveway before the cat was sitting up, looking out the window and then looking back at me with a grin as if to say, Pretty darn cool. And why haven’t we gone on rides before?

By the time we reached the country hi-way to the vet, BlackJack was sitting up straight, looking up and over the dashboard, meowing loudly at passing motor cycles, and scolding me for taking curves a bit too sharply. He was now not only riding Shotgun, but had become a very vocal Backseat Driver.

I grew pretty confident this was not going to be The Day. 

When we arrived at the vet’s, I put him in the carrier and was immediately escorted into the exam room, where the scheduled “consultation” was to take place.  Everyone in the room was appropriately solemn as they greeted us.

Well, everyone but BlackJack. I opened the carrier door and he bounded out, meowing I’m here, where’s the party?

The vet laughed.  Before leaving, the cat did get an eighth of an appetite stimulant pill and a B-12/steroid shot in the hopes of kick-starting his appetite and getting his systems functioning again.

The pill and shot evidently worked. By the time we got home, BlackJack bolted out of the car, into the house and his food dish.  He inhaled every bit of available food, belched and meowed for more.

Today, as I write, all of his systems are functioning and a plumped up Blackjack is out back, lounging in his favorite chair while watching and kibitzing with the golfers passing by.

I know full well this isn’t the end of his life journey, or mine, or any of ours for that matter, but at this moment in time, given all that is happening here and not happening in Congress, all is right in the world.







A Woman and her Dog

Back before there were grandkids, cats and an ex, there were dogs, German Shepherds to be exact. On the cusp of the youngest kid going off to college, the last of the Shepherds went on to doggie heaven.  I was well past the puppy stage of life, but not quite ready to be animal-less, so I called a friend who was a police chief.

How can I get a retired K9?

Call Randy. 

FeroI called Randy, a well-regarded K9 trainer, who, as luck would have it, was looking for a home for a retiree.

Fortunately, she thought I sounded like a nice person, so the vetting process began with her checking us out with our local vet. As we had put our vet’s kids through college with the medical bills of a number of horses and dogs, that was not a problem. He loved having our pets as clients.

Then, the entire family, including the son at college, had to meet Randy and the retiring K9.  Fero was pretty intimidating, prancing around us and checking us out. He was a Schutzhund III (the masters level of training: obedience, tracking, protection) German Shepherd imported from Germany. 

Fero made up his mind as soon as he nuzzled me.  He jumped into my car and waited to go home. He was mine.

Randy handed me Fero’s teddy bear and a K9 vocabulary list in German with two commands — attack and track — circled and not to be used. He was still the top tracking K9 in the area, so, even retired, he had to be available should law enforcement need him.

She then loaded an enormous bag of imported German dog food into the trunk. He got that every morning and evening.  Dinner also included raw beef or, as Fero got older, a cooked chicken breast and a teaspoon of cod liver oil for his joints. Some days he had a better dinner than I did.

Fero was magnificent, massive and intelligent — he had a far better lineage than the kids and was certainly far better behaved. He was never on a lead and, being voice trained, would match me step for step unless told he didn’t have to heel.  It didn’t matter what or who ran in front of him; he stayed focus on matching our steps.

If he felt I needed protection, Fero could scare the Bejeezus out of both strangers and the soon-to-be ex, especially when he sometimes showed up in the middle of the night due to flight delays during our bi-coastal marriage cross county treks.

When we first got Fero, we lived on a couple acres in the country — no fences — and this was very new for a K9.  He had to learn how to be a normal dog after being kenneled all of his working life.  My neighbor, a family therapist, used to take her pooch out on walks every morning and all the neighborhood dogs would join in.  It was a motley group to say the least, but they all enjoyed the morning trek.

Fero wasn’t too sure, but she invited him so he trotted along.  She called me to say it was amazing to watch Fero — he observed the other dogs to see how he should behave.  He caught on very quickly. By that evening, when another neighbor and I took our evening walk, usually just with our two dogs, Fero had the routine down cold.

Almost too quickly, as it turned out.  Fero started disappearing for hours at a time.  Not good.  I went out looking for him and, almost a mile away, he found me.  He ran down a long driveway, barking excitedly for me to come and see what he had found.  There was a new canine friend, an old black Labrador, and the two old retirees were evidently spending hours lounging next to a pond, watching the swans and ducks.  Had they been old men, all that was needed were mugs of hot coffee, a shared newspaper and maybe a pipe or two to complete the Norman Rockwell painting.

It sadden me to tell Fero that he had to stay home, but he understood and never wandered again except for the approved morning and evening walks.

I occasionally wondered what life would have been like had our kids been so obedient.





Grumpy Old Men

I have an old man of a cat, BlackJack.  He took one look at our new home and immediately claimed it as his own, which is good because a happy cat is a happy home, or something like that.  He does love the outdoors, the deer, the space…he even occasionally enjoys watching the golfers trying to navigate the 6th green.

In short order, BlackJack realized that there is a cute grey tabby two houses away and fell head over paws for her.  It didn’t matter that BlackJack is somewhere around 17 — that’s in his 80’s in human years — he was smitten by Gracie’s siren meow and immediately turned into a teenage TomCat.

Things may or may not work out between the two of them, but BlackJack’s plans have now been placed on hold. Gracie has a housemate, Buster, who is orange and about the size of BlackJack — that is, they both weigh in around 18 lbs.  He’s not much younger, so we’re talking about two senior cats that are each very protective of the sweet young Gracie.

I first noticed there was a problem when BlackJack disappeared for three days.  The cat never disappears and has never missed a meal.  Three days was a very long time and I had all but called out the National Guard to find him. We, Gracie and Buster’s mom and I, finally discovered BlackJack hiding in their storage room off the garage.  As I carried BlackJack out of room, Buster leaned over from their second story deck, sporting a gigantic Cheshire Cat grin. BlackJack found enough strength to snarl back.

Two grumpy old men…funny if they weren’t in the process of trying to kill one another.  The two have gotten into a knockdown/drag out fights, complete with black and orange fur flying and high pitched yowls.  Buster’s male owner yelled at the two of them to no avail and finally turned the hose on full force.  The two were soaked to the skin before finally realizing they should stop fighting.  They both dripped their way home, looking a whole lot like drowned rats with tails tucked between their legs.

After a couple soakings, coupled with superficial injuries, the two cats have come to their senses.  At least we think they have. They still are territorial, they still yowl, growl and howl and they still face off but they now pretend there is an acrylic Berlin Wall between them so no actual fighting occurs. And, they make sure that one of their owners is nearby to call a halt should things get out of control. The grumpy old men have pretty much gotten the whole thing figured out.

Now, the two look for one another so another round of chicken can be played.  Gracie is all but forgotten. If BlackJack isn’t outside immediately in the morning or disappears inside for his naps, Buster climbs the stairs to our deck, first peering over the edge of the deck, then sitting with his nose against the sliding glass door, waiting for his nemesis to appear.  I understand BlackJack makes a similar trek to Buster’s deck and sliding glass door.

The other day I thought there might actually be hope for World Peace.  The two grumpy old men were sprawled on the same lawn below our deck, watching each other and the golfers. Every once in a while, one would growl and the other one would snarl, but it was as if they had just run out of steam, too tired to fight and finally willing to get along.

Detente only lasted one afternoon. By the next morning, they were at it again. So much for World Peace.

The Sea Cottage

When I retired, I decided to jump off a cliff.  Not literally, but one morning over coffee, I decided to sell my red-tiled roof cottage in the old neighborhood in a large city, become a renter and try on new landscapes.  I’ve been known to change homes like other women change shoes.

My 1930’s house needed major renovations. The kitchen was vintage, which is a nice way of saying it was nonfunctional. I was pretty sure the garage was still standing because the termites were holding hands and afraid to let go.

I thought the Pacific Coast would be perfect for launching retirement except that fog throws me into a funk.  Then, I remembered seeing a sign on the way over the hill to the ocean — Pasatiempo, Spanish for The Passing of Time. The residents call it Perpetual Spring with temperatures in the mid 70’s, no fog, views over the golf course through evergreen trees and oaks to the ocean.  I knew immediately that’s where I was going to move.

There was one minor detail. There were no homes to rent.

Regardless, I put my house on the market and it sold within the month.

I called my favorite movers and we set a date for The Move.

Where are you moving to this time?



Not sure, but I’ll have one.

uh huh.  They had worked with me before.

Movers were scheduled, boxes were packed, and except for a new address, I was ready.

The perfect Pasatiempo home found me three days before The Move.  The only glitch was the owners needed a few more weeks before I could move in.

The movers could store everything but the cat and me.  I called an agent over on the coast who took about 10 seconds to say I’ve got the perfect little cottage, furnished, on a bluff overlooking the sea, and they’ll take your cat. 

Whoo Hoo!  The stars were very aligned!

It was a little (littleIMG_2470 (1) being the operative word) windswept, white clapboard cottage perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It was perfect. It was very, very, very small.

The kitchen was about five feet square, including a small sink, frig and an old gas stove. A microwave teetered on a stool in one corner.

An old, very deep clawfoot tub painted bright maroon graced the tiny bath and became my retreat when the cat and I needed some breathing room from one another.

The cottage had a cozy bedroom that quickly became the storage area for All Those Things I Couldn’t Live Without, But Then Could Never Find When I Needed Something.

And, finally, there was also a small living room with a love seat and a large window overlooking the Pacific Ocean where we curled up on the love seat and watched sailboats framed against a setting sun, as they slowly meandered their way back to harbor and home. It could have been very romantic except the he in my life was a very large cat who was not enjoying his new life as an indoor cat and would hiss and bare his claws at me whenever he remembered he was stuck inside a very, very small cottage.

My daughter and grandsons visited one day.  They stood in the doorway as there was no room in the house.

oh, said my daughter.

I thought you were moving to a larger home, said a grandson.

Hiss, said the cat before diving under the love seat.

The cat and I watched dark storm clouds gather and, when the power failed, we huddled together under a blanket in the darkness, listening to the chilling rain and wind pound against our small cottage. The cat became increasingly unhappy. It seemed like there was storm after storm that February.

By the end of the very windy, very rainy month, the cat and I were facing off.  I was also becoming permanently waterlogged from my clawfoot tub retreats.

In hindsight, it seemed so very appropriate that, as the cat, our belongings and I make the final trek to our new oh-so-much-larger home in Pasatiempo, the sun came out from behind the clouds and the rain softened into a light sprinkle.  We had arrived at the place of Perpetual Spring and ready to begin a new adventure.

A Man and his Dog

I don’t pretend to know how or why it happens, but dogs (the four legged variety) want to be with me, especially the large working dogs. They love me. They look at me with adoring eyes. They follow me anywhere. I used to think that if I could attract men like I can attract dogs…but that is another story for another day.

I had a date with a man who had a Rottweiler that he was trying to train as a guard dog.  That was scary.  He had been the volunteer “bad guy” in the training of German Shepherds for a local police department, which meant he knew about as much as I did about K9s.

Maybe I knew a bit more.

When our two older German Shepherds went on to their just rewards in doggie heaven, I decided we were way past the puppy stage of life and called a friend who was a police chief.

How can I get a retired K9?

Call Randy. 

So I did, and Fero, a retired K9, came into our lives.  He was a Schutzhund III (the masters level of training: obedience, tracking, protection) German Shepherd from Germany.  He also had a teddy bear and a K9 Vocabulary List in German and English.

Date was impressed with my background, having had both a retired K9 and the Vocabulary List, and wanted me to meet his Dog, although he warned me that Rotts can be quite strong, dangerous and males are one-man animals. Date evidently missed the part of the training about K9s needing to also be family dogs.

Date warned Keep your distance and do not approach Dog. I didn’t have to as Dog had already bounded across the room, body wagging tail and looking at me with adoring eyes and a silly smile.

The three of us sat down, with me in the middle.

Date warned, Be careful; he’s a guard dog. Dog tried to sit on my lap before finally settling on leaning into me and begging for attention.

Date warned, Dog could turn on you at any moment. Dog started groaning, drooling and wiggling his entire body in ecstasy from the back and shoulder massage I was giving him.

Date wondered, Have I lost control of my dog? Dog promptly flopped down, rolled over on his back and began whining for a tummy rub.

Date advised, Be careful, he could bite your face and right on cue, Dog jumped up, turned, put his huge front paws on my lap, leaned his enormous head into mine, licked my face and looked at me with a big goofy grin.

At which point, I could see Date, not Dog, was in distress and growing more agitated, so I got up to leave.

I could hear Dog crying and howling as I left. Date, not so much, but then again, Dog and I had a much stronger connection.