small change toward a rich life

The Tale of One Bad Cat

This may seem like a post to the wrong blog, at first. I assure you, a personal finance lesson will eventually come out of this. But before we can go there, you must let me introduce you to our (with apologies to Beatrix Potter) One Bad Cat.

Sammy at the windowThis is Sammy. We brought him home five and a half years ago. We’d been catless for a couple of years at that point, but did have our dog Tessa, then about three years old.

Sammy was reportedly also about three years old; I selected him from among dozens and dozens of other adult cats at a home-based rescue. He was friendly and fearless and absolutely charming. We were told that he’d been around dogs and loved them, too. Perfect!

To be fair, the foster mom did warn us that he’d been returned to her once before because of indoor peeing problems. In hindsight, I perhaps did not give that information as much consideration as it warranted.

And Sammy did turn out to be a real loverboy, if more than a bit weird in spots. For example, he has an inexplicable thing about beard stubble — in the presence of any male human that is not perfectly clean-shaven, he has a crazy chin-licking compulsion. If Jak didn’t shove him off, his face would have been scraped raw years ago.

Sammy is kind of perfect for Jak, because Jak likes to manhandle him — something that most cats would strenuously object to, possibly with teeth and claws. But Sammy is a total rag doll — you can do pretty much anything with him and he just purrs. He’s not timid around strangers, either — he’ll walk right up to someone new and say hello.

And he adores Tessa. Sadly for him, Tessa doesn’t really return the affection; she is all about people, and cats don’t really make it onto her radar most of the time. (Probably because cats don’t have hands and can’t throw a ball.) Every once in a while Sammy will entice Tess to play with him, which basically means he lies on his back squirming with his paws in the air while Tessa bites at his belly. As far as we can tell, this is the highlight of Sammy’s day. Maybe even his week.

Sammy sneak-cuddling TessaTess is not really a cuddler, even with people — she’s more of a lick-your-face and drop-a-toy-in-your-lap sort. But Sammy has learned that if he moves v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y he can sometimes crawl into bed with her without disturbing her so much that she gets up and leaves. Seriously, like you need stop-motion photography to see him move. It will take between ten and twenty minutes for him to go from standing next to the dog bed to inside it. Often Tess will look up at us during this process like, ‘See what I put up with?’

Slowly, however, we began to figure out that underneath his seemingly easygoing exterior, Sammy was actually a quivering ball of extreme anxiety. That weird noise that he would make with his mouth, keeping us awake at night — that turned out to be teeth-grinding. In fact, a lot of his excessively lovey and endearing behavior was in truth a symptom of his anxiety and fear of abandonment.

So too was the peeing. Because we did, indeed, have to deal with inappropriate indoor urination. It took a long time to figure out the psychology of it — for example, why would he pee on the kids’ beds but not ours? Ah, because the kids live half-time with their mother, and so were constantly coming and going. First time Jak and I went away for a few days and left him with a pet sitter, he greeted us like long-lost best friends, and then urinated right in the middle of our bed a few hours later.

So we do everything we can to minimize the stress in his life. We keep the kids’ bedrooms closed off. We sneak Tessa outside for walks, lest Sammy break into inconsolable wailing over His Missing Dog. We keep his food dish at least one-third full of kibble at all times, because apparently Sammy has a deep-seated fear of starvation. We cuddle and hold and pet and reassure.

But sometimes, we have to go away for a while, even though we know that Sammy will freak the fuck out.

You might be able to guess why this is particularly on my mind at the moment. Because we were in Mexico for a month — much longer than we’ve ever been away from Sammy before. And then home for three weeks, then off for two more to Texas and Costa Rica. And then Jak was gone on a trip for four more days last week.

Sammy is not okay. Sammy, in fact, is so much more Not Okay than he’s ever been, that in desperation I went to our vet for anti-anxiety drugs. So now I’m pilling him twice a day (fun!) and hoping that kitty Prozac will kick in. And I’m spending a lot of time ripping up carpet all over our house. Even the subfloor is soaked in cat urine. We are living in a world of stink.

Sammy goes for Jak’s chinSometimes we both want to throttle our Bad Cat. I threaten to turn him into a small rug on a regular basis.

But we also love him, and though we joke about his Badness, his anxiety disorder is not really his fault. Giving him up would be effectively a death sentence — no one else would take him — and we couldn’t bear that. So we struggle onward.

(I’m getting to the personal finance part, I promise. Just setting the stage, first.)


11 responses

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  1. Cindy says

    ….”It will take between ten and twenty minutes for him to go from standing next to the dog bed to inside it. Often Tess will look up at us during this process like, ‘See what I put up with?’”

    that is sooo funny, you made my day jajaj. I look forward to the rest of the story =)

    • Karawynn says

      I am glad to have provided some humor. :) Sammy amuses us daily as well, when we’re not tearing our hair out over him …

  2. Neile says

    One anecdote: our anxious, fraidy female rescue cat started peeing outside the box when we adopted two kittens (slow introduction, etc.). We tried all the internet suggestions for curtailing this behaviour and finally got anti-anxiety drugs for her. Not only did she stop thinking outside the box when we got up to dose but when we tapered off after a few months, she was a much more affectionate cat and remains so five years later. Best thing we ever did for her (and ourselves!).

    • Karawynn says

      What a hopeful anecdote, Neile! Do you remember what medication she was on?

  3. Neile says

    Jim thinks it was buspirone. I can’t believe I didn’t note it down at the time. That was back in 2007.

    • Karawynn says

      Buspirone is what I’m trying him on now. The vet I talked to (not my usual vet, but a different one at the same clinic) said that they usually default to fluoxetine now, but they’ve used buspirone in the past. I had a stash of leftover buspirone on hand, so I thought I’d start there.

      So far, no change — still grinding, still peeing. If the buspar doesn’t help in a month or so, I’ll get the vet to write a prozac prescription.

      • Neile says

        I looked back at my journals, and she had started the drugs by August 12 and was still peeing. By October 7 she hadn’t peed anywhere in two weeks. So, it took at least six weeks and we bumped up her dosage at least once in there.

        So I guess my advice would be to hang in there a while if you can stand to.

        We started easing her off the drugs in February.

        • Karawynn says

          Thanks for the data point, Neile. We are gritting our teeth and hanging on. :}

          • Neile says

            If this helps at all, our tipping point (stopping trying the internet approaches) was when she deliberately and slowly backed up to me and started peeing right on my skirt.

            At least she was clear about how she’d tried to tell me and tell me and I just wasn’t listening and she knew I’d listen to that.

            I’m sure your bad boy hasn’t been *that* bad.

  4. Donna Fullerton says

    Hi Karawynn – I have 2 suggestions. Pill Pockets are squishy treats you put a pill inside and the cat eats it right up. Feliway diffuser – anxiety relieving pheromones. Look on amazon.com. Good luck with Bad Cat!

    • Karawynn says

      Thanks, Donna.

      I was using pill pockets at first, and they worked great for a few weeks … and then Sammy figured it out and started chewing them and spitting out the pill part. :/ So now I pop them down his throat and follow up with a treat. Unfortunately the dose is 1/4 of a pill, which means it’s all sharp corners. :(

      If the fluoxetine doesn’t work, I’ll talk with Jak about trying pheromones as a last-ditch effort (before making him an outdoor cat). So far, crazy cat is still crazy. /sigh

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