Fuzzy George came to the veterinary office I work at just about a year ago. It is hard to believe the changes I have seen in this cat over the past year.
Last weekend, July 23, Fuzzy George celebrated one year of being in his home. I was oblivious, due to the many other things going on in my life, and would have missed his anniversary completely, if it hadn’t been for a memory showing up in my Facebook timeline. Last year, on Saturday July 23, Fuzzy George left his temporary residence at the vet clinic, and came to set up camp in my basement. It was a trial to see how he did in a home and, eventually, with another cat. As a reminder, Fuzzy George came to me via work. The clinic I work at served as a halfway home for him while he was waiting for room at one of our local no-kill shelters, after he was sprung from a high kill animal control. I fell hard for this difficult cat, mostly because I knew he would never stand a chance of adoption at the shelter.
I remember the first night Fuzzy George came home, he was terrified. He hadn’t been in such a big space in a long time. At the vet’s office he had been living in offices and our large isolation ward (cage free). Neither were half as large as our basement. Plus, the basement had tv. A loud tv. Unfortunately for all, the transition coincided with a particularly nasty thunder storm. Fuzzy George spent his first night curling up in laps, demanding to be as close to people as he possibly could. I have never seen my cat so cuddly, sweet and affectionate. I was concerned, because I knew he was going to show his true face to my family very soon. He did. Not long after, but we will get there. I remember Sunday morning I had to dig him out of a hidey hole under our couch that we didn’t even know existed. I remember cuddling him and developing a horrible, horrible allergic reaction. I have never had such a bad response to anything. My face swelled, I developed itchy red blotches all over my face and arms. I had to resort to benedryl to finally stop the reaction. I had never had this response to him before, and I was terrified it meant he was going to have to go to the shelter. Thankfully, I just seem to have responded to something he got into, or to whatever extra chemicals he was stress shedding.
Fuzzy George soon learned that there was a door the humans went through when we left him. And he wanted to be on the other side of that door. Unfortunately, Sneakers was on the other side of the door and felt that HE wanted to be on the side Fuzzy George was on. Both were completely unaware of the other. They just weren’t happy with a closed door (still a thing. They are always on the wrong side of every door. And yes, I did just make a Cat’s the musical reference.)).
Properly introducing cats takes time. Separating them, letting them become aware of the other cat’s presence are key. So of course my cats ignored all the rules. Sneakers, living up to his name, slipped past me and down the stairs to the basement that first Sunday. He literally ran right past Fuzzy George, who was standing on the stairs. When Sneakers got downstairs and discovered the new cat standing behind him he literally jumped an inch up and backwards. They sniffed each other, were curious about each other, then did their own thing. Fuzzy George’s thing was to run upstairs. So my plans to slowly, very gradual introduce Fuzzy George to his new home and feline roommate, were crushed in less than 24 hours. Both cats paced through the house, the tips of their tails twitching frantically as Fuzzy George explored his new surroundings.
The first few weeks with these two was rough. I could never tell if Fuzzy George and Sneakers were fighting or playing, or both. Fuzzy George adapted decently, but he soon showed his naughty side. Stalking feet at night when we got up to go to the bathroom. Taking Sneaker’s favorite cat tree and NOT sharing. Suddenly becoming noise reactive and trying to bite faces off at the sound of high pitched noises. Yeah, he was trouble. There were more than a few times that I highly doubted Fuzzy George would be staying with his. Many a nights I was too stressed to sleep, too worried about these cats.
Over the past year Fuzzy George has made enormous strides. He loves people, especially men. He loves snuggling in blankets and soft things. He and Sneakers are BFFs. They sleep together on my bed at night, and can frequently be found tussling. While Sneakers can be a bit rough for Fuzzy George, he knows when to say “enough” (if only Sneakers would listen….) They can frequently be found sitting in their matching cat trees, staring out the front window of my bedroom.
More than anything though, Fuzzy George helped me. By showing this cat love and affection, giving him a chance at a happy home and a chance at life, I healed something inside me. Unconsciously I wanted to know that “broken” creatures can be loved and be happy. When he displayed serious behavior issues, I neeeded to know that I could fix them. I needed to know that I was as good with cats as I think. I also needed to know that just cause the going was tough that he wouldn’t be abandoned. I find working with and socializing cats to be theraputic, because I understand the fear and anxiety they are going though. I understand not feeling like you can trust anyone around you. And building the trust of a terrified animal is the most beautiful thing. So, by “fixing” Fuzzy George, I was also fixing a part of me.
These days Fuzzy George prefers my dad to me. He follows my dad around the house and sits in his face. They have conversations too, Fuzzy George emitting loud squaks in response to my dad. It’s adorable. I am totally jealous. Fuzzy George sleeps with me most nights, usually right in the middle of the bed. Last night he decided to pounce on my limps every time they moved. It’s hard to sleep when you have a tiny killer trying to kill your body limps. He still bites, just me though. And not nearly as much and not nearly as hard as he used to. He is still crazy. You can find him sitting on a chair with a distant gaze in his eyes and its instantly clear that no one is home. But he snuggles next to legs, and he purrs his giant motor of a purr that makes his whole body vibrate. He makes everyone laugh with his antics. He is a wonderful cat, with a few loose screws, who just needed a chance to see what a cozy, loving, safe home looks like.
Caring for feral cats can be super hard. It can be rewarding and fun, but it can be super hard. One of the hard parts that no one prepared me for, was coming to the end. I have been caring for Mama and Little Black for almost 9 years (Mama showed up fall of 2008). At the time I trapped them, started caring for them the common thought was that feral cats don’t live much longer than 3 years. Well, I can tell you that is not true in all cases. Yes, some of my colony has disappeared and most likely have crossed the Rainbow Bridge. But not all of them. I still have my two girls. Mama with her cautious ways and Little Black who is bold as brass. In their own separate ways, they have exemplified two ways of surviving “in the wild.”
Sadly, my girls are getting old now. As they get older they are facing new obstacles that their street smarts won’t help them with-declining health. Last year, after much struggle, I trapped Mama and took her to the vet. She had been vomiting something awful and was the most likely suspect for the pudding-like poop I was finding. She was sedated for a full exam and the vet determined she most likely has Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD). Without doing full labs, an ultrasound and possibly getting a sample of the tissue, we won’t know for sure. Thankfully (and somewhat miraculously) she tested negative for fleas and parasites.
I can’t get near Mama, so there would be no way to medicate her. She is feral and an accident could happen at any time, so a major work-up was not worth the stress (to either of us) nor the money. The vet and I discussed euthanasia, but I decided I wanted to give her some more time. I worried about the decision, was I sentencing her to suffer declining health? It’s been a year now since that visit and she is still kicking.Bless her heart, she is still going strong. Her fur is scraggly and she constantly gets mats the size of my hand. She is getting skinny too. The vomit and the poops never really cleared up either, despite some time getting B12 supplements. She is happy though. She is the first to greet me at mealtimes. She even got close enough to sniff my fingers the other day! She plays with catnip when I provide it.
Recently, Little Black has lost the majority of the fur on her legs and belly. I think she is over-grooming herself, possibly from fleas. Though, she goes catting around and gets into who-knows-what, not to mention all the mice she brings home, so it could be just about anything. She is getting super skinny too. Once things settle down at work (the vet’s office) and in my personal life, I will trap this little girl and get her in to the vet. Thankfully for me Little Black LOVES to go in the trap. I have caught her at least 5 times over the years, and there are many a cat who has gotten away because she set the trap off first. She is still her spunky, sassy self so I am not too concerned about comfort level. Still, I know she needs to get in. Hopefully it will be something as easy as a flea treatment to get her to stop over-grooming herself.
I was sitting outside one night last week watching my girls and thinking about all this. They are old. Their coats are looking rough. There is constant vomit and gross poop to clean up. And there is almost nothing I can do for them. More than anything I have gone through with these girls, this breaks my heart. I am great at medicating cats and I could easily slip drugs into their food. Unfortunately, I can’t trap them and get them in for regular vet care/re-checks. I can’t get them in for routine blood work, or for a yearly refill of their medications. And it kills a little part of my soul to not be able to do this.
I know that routine trips to the vet would be too stressful for them, particularly for Mama. And I know that I gave them a huge gift by providing them with regular meals, a safe space to live, shelter in the winter, and so much love. I gave them so much when I trapped them and got them spayed at a relatively young age. All those kittens they didn’t have to raise! It still breaks my heart that I can’t give them the best health possible in their golden years.
When I started out on the crazy journey of TNR 8 years ago, I never expected to still be caring for my girls. And I never, ever expected that the hardest part would be the end our of journey together. Of all the hard things in my life because of them– all the fights with my family and neighbors; all the hours of trapping; all the vacations and risks I never took–I never imagined the hardest thing would be saying good-bye. They have changed my life in ways I wasn’t prepared for. I am glad I wasn’t prepared for this though. If I had been, I may have never started out, and then where would we all be?
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I’ve been trying to decide on the best shot to use for Selfie Sunday for so long, that I keep not posting. Then I got this perfectly timed photo, and knew I had my shot.
Sneakers and I are enjoying the setting sun and some quiet time together. Life has been busy, which means we haven’t had nearly as much quality time as he would like. I feel bad that I can’t give him as much attention as ge would like. At the same time though, I’m excited that he does his flirty kitty routine with me again.
For months he has been quiet and less enthusiastic when I came home from work. I had been replaced by Fuzzy George. I missed my days of Sneakers tripping over himself to see me when I got home from work. I missed having him waiting for me when I came home. But worst of all, I felt guilty because I took it as a sign that I really had been letting Sneakers down all that time he was an only cat. While it was nice to know that Sneakers had a friend to keep him company during the day, and that he wasn’t lonely anymore, I did feel a pang of regret for the excited cat greetings after a long day of work. Though, it is hard to play with a cat who immediately runs under the couch when you try to play with him (he wants me to chase him. He’s an odd duck.)
Then I worried for a bit that I had replaced Sneakers with Fuzzy George. Fuzzy George was getting a large amount of my attention, being a high-maintenance cat after all. It took us months of work to get the biting to subside, to get him to calm down. Not to mention his constant runny eyes and his dirty, acne covered chin that needed cleaning. Maybe Sneakers hadn’t replaced me with Fuzzy George, maybe I had just replaced him. When introducing a new cat to the house, I know the inter-cat dynamic changes; I didn’t think of the cat-human dynamic changing.
Thankfully we seem to have come to a good place. Fuzzy George has his human buddy, Non-Fuzzy George. Sneakers has me. I have gotten better about balancing my time between the two of them. It is nice to know that Sneakers still values me, even if most of his flirting is only to ask for kibbles. It is good to know that the three of us, Fuzzy George, Sneakers and myself all have each other. The boys have settled into their daily routines now, they have their time with their favorite person. I make sure to balance attention out when I am home (which is never enough). And we all sleep in a big pile on my bed most nights. It is good to have a routine. It is good to feel needed and loved. My thoughts, but I am sure thoughts my boys echo.
Now if I can just get Sneakers to stop going under the couch.
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I have traveled very little in the last 5 years or so. Whenever I have traveled I have gone solo or with friends, and someone has always been home to care for the cats. Part of this has been out of necessity–Crash had too many special needs to be left alone. He was too sick, and required too many feeds and medications to not have someone home with him most of the time. Part of this was also my own anxiety- I was too nervous to leave Crash alone. Then I was too nervous to leave him alone with Sneakers since Sneakers was a little too rambunctious for the old man. After Crash died, I was too anxious about leaving Sneakers alone (this was before Fuzzy George came along) because he would be lonely. Plus there are the ferals to care for.
Well sometimes life happens. There has suddenly been a lot of travel in my life, which has made looking for a pet sitter a top priority for me. Given that I have a high maintenance bunch-Sneakers hides from strangers and Fuzzy George eats all the food–I started looking for a sitter almost immediately when I got home. Thankfully, it looks like I have found a wonderful sitter for my crew and she has no problem caring for the ferals either!
Over the years I have learned you can find a professional cat sitter, someone who, like any tradesman, is insured. You can hire someone who works with animals daily (such as at a veterinarian office or animal shelter) but does pet sitting on the side. Or you can go the route of having a family member or neighbor care for your cats. If you want, you can even have someone “house sit” and live at your house caring for your cats while you are gone. I had no idea there were so many different options!
Finding A Pet Sitter
- First, make sure you start looking for a pet sitter well in advance of when you need to travel.
- Figure out what type of pet sitter you want. Do you want someone who is insured? Someone who is familiar with your cat and/or medical care? Someone who makes pet sitting their living or who does it on the side?
- If you have low maintenance cats, it never hurts to check with good friends, family or neighbors. Someone you know may be willing to check in on your cat to feed and play with them. This can be a great “first job” for kids of a certain age. Plus, your cat may do better with someone she is familiar with already.
- When looking for a pet sitter for the first time, you can ask your veterinarian for references. If you recently got your cat from a shelter, you can try calling the shelter to see if they have any recommendations.
- If you are going the route of professional cat sitter, whom you are not familiar with, ask for references. Anyone can say they are a pet sitter. In the days of Yelp! and thousands of other online review platforms, it should be easy to get references from companies before you hire them.
- Meet your pet sitter before you leave. Several of my co-workers pet sit. They like to go over to their clients house before hand. This helps them get a feel for the cats, learn where all the cats essentials are. If it is a new pet sitter, this also helps you get a feel for them. Does your cat like them? Do they show up on time? Are they attentive? Do they ask questions? If you have an off feeling, listen to it. One of my pet-sitting friends says to always listen to your gut when choosing a pet sitter.
- Discuss your cat’s quirks with the pet sitter. When my sitter comes over in July, she will not see Sneakers. He is terrified of anyone who is not me. The sitter needs to know this, as well as his most common hiding spots. We have discussed different ways to make sure she can check that he is ok (and didn’t sneak out of the house) and to make sure he gets food. I recently did some pet sitting for a cat who gets medication in his food. He recently decided he no longer approves of this and now hides whenever wet food is served. This was really helpful, as it changed the way I did things and assured me I didn’t have to worry when he suddenly disappeared.
- Even if you are having a friend, family member or neighbor watch your cat, have them come over before you leave. Show them where the cat food is kept, where the litter is kept. Go over your feeding routine. Talk about your cat’s favorite toys. Show them your cat’s favorite hiding places. Where is the carrier kept in case of emergency? What do you do with the contents of the scooped litter box? (I cat sat for someone who put it all in one big bag on the back porch until the end of the week so she only had to make one trip to the garbage can)
Preparing For Your Trip
- First, and most obvious, make sure you have all the supplies you will need for your cat while you are gone. Stock up on his favorite foods, make sure there is plenty of litter and all his prescription medications are full.
- Leave detailed directions for your cat sitter. You should discuss this with your sitter before you leave, but it doesn’t hurt to have the key points written down. When does your cat eat? What medications does he get? How frequently?
- I would advise having a list made up ahead of time, so you can print it out for last minute travels. This can be especially helpful if you are working with a pet sitting company that may have multiple sitters.
- Put out your cats favorite foods, medications and treats (if your cat won’t attack them that is). Leave out the cat food lids, etc. too.
- Label everything as clearly as possible. Sure, medications have labels but they can become worn and faded. It is easy to grab the wrong bottle, especially if the bottles look alike. Plus, if you have multiple pets you can make sure the pet sitter knows who gets what medication (or food or treat). It may be helpful to label the medication with the name and the reason for the mead (i.e. Amlodipine-Blood Pressure, Gabapentin- Pain).
- Leave contact information. Leave your contact information and information who to contact in an emergency, should you not be available. This is especially important if you are going out of the country.
- Make sure you leave the information for your veterinarian as well. Give them the name and phone number of your clinic. If there is a particular doctor they see leave the name of the doctor too. You may want to leave the contact information for the kitty emergency room too, just in case something happens when your vet isn’t open.
- Contact your veterinarian. Let them know the dates you are gone and names of your pet sitter(s). Tell them who is authorized to make medical decisions while you are gone, and to what extent (can they authorize an emergency surgery? euthanasia? just treatment to stabilize? Just order medications?)
- You might not think this is necessary but I have seen this be an issue. In the three years I have been at my current clinic I have seen several of our patients come in as medical emergencies while their owners were on vacation. Some were worse off than others, but all required medical attention. We even had one lady bring a cat in to us because she didn’t know where the cats owners took him for regular care.
- You also want to discuss with your pet sitter how payment will work. Will you reimburse them for vet bills should it arise, or will you work out payment with your vets office later? Not all clinics are willing to bill later, even for established clients.
- Give the pet sitter the exact days and times you will be gone. Will they need to come for a visit on the day you return or not?
- Make sure to get their phone number and/or email address so you can reach them if your plans change. You never know when a flight may be delayed due to inclement weather.
- Discuss the important minutiae not related to your cat. Do you have a security alarm? Do any of your doors lock behind you? Does your pet sitter need to watch for a locking gate when taking out the trash? Are there different keys for different doors (especially in apartment buildings!)
- You also want to discuss things like payment with your pet sitter ahead of time. Make sure you are both clear on how many visits a day, and the cost of each visit. Is it $20 a day or $20 per visit?
- Do you need them to feed the fish too? What about water the plants or bring in the mail? Turn a light on at a certain time? Ask if they can do any other small tasks for you, and if it is included in the price.
- Do you want your pet sitter to spend a long time playing with your cat(s) while you are gone or are you more concerned with them just getting food? Be clear with your pet sitter how much time you expect them to spend. Some cats don’t care if there is a human in the house, as long as they get food and a clean litter box.
- If you want your pet sitter to play with the cat(s) or spend some time with them during the day, maybe you want to offer up your tv for them. Cable TV can be an extra bonus for a cat sitter on a tight budget. Show them how the tv works before you leave though!
- You may be able to find a pet sitter to stay at your house if you are gone, if this is preferred. Check with your sitter to see if this is an option. There are many people who do “house sitting” and will stay with your cat(s) at your house while you are gone.
- If you want updates on your cat while you are gone (cell phone cameras are amazing things!) or if you only want to be contacted in the case of an emergency. A co-worker went out of town and her pet sitter sent her a picture and an update every day, because that is what the pet sitter was most comfortable with. My co-worker said it drove her crazy because she was trying to forget about home for a while.