Category Archives: Cats

DIY Catifying the Apartment: Accommodating our Tree Dweller

Well, I can’t say I ever thought I’d write a blog post about catification, but here I am, approaching yet another level of crazy cat lady. But you know what, I’m okay with it.

As I wrote in my last post, it was extraordinarily difficult for me to leave the animals for two whole weeks. I managed to temper my anxieties with proper planning and support, and everything ended up working out perfectly. Thanks to my brother and his girlfriend, the animals remained happy and healthy. And as it turns out, their presence had an added and unexpected benefit: the value of a new perspective on old problems. 
I know I’ve written in the past about how Freddie and Stella despise each other. After I wrote that post, I got so many helpful suggestions from all of you that did help diffuse some of the tension. (Thank you!) Freddie and Stella have come a long way (no bloodshed in a while!), but the sheer hatred they feel toward one another remains. To make things worse, I’ve been so distracted by Zoe’s problems that I and started to accept the fighting as the norm and stopped trying to figure out the root of the problem. I would merely break them up when they would fight, and try to spend separate time with each of them in the meantime. 
Stella sitting with her “I’ll cut you paw” ready to spring into action.
After having my brother and his girlfriend stay here, they (gently) approached me with a great suggestion. Influenced by the cat daddy himself, Mr. Jackson Galaxy of My Cat From Hell tv fame, they made a seemingly obvious observation: Freddie likes to be up high. Why not make it possible for him to perch above, leaving the ground free for Zoe and Stella to roam. As Jackson (I’d like to think we’re on a first name basis) explains on his show, cats are either “tree dwellers”who like to be up high, or “bush dwellers,” who prefer the safety of the ground. By making more space available to cats up high, you can double the size of his territory. And in our small city apartment, this sounded like the perfect solution.
While I’ve always been fine with the idea of a simple cat tree, K. vehemently resists. Our apartment, he believes, is already “animal-centric” enough without yet another piece of animal furniture taking up room. Creating shelves for Freddie seemed like the ideal compromise.
On the second day we came home, K. launched into the DIY project to “catify” the apartment. Here’s how he did it: 
1. He measured Freddie to determine how long and wide he is (and what would be a comfortable sized perch for him). Freddie did not enjoy this part. 🙂
2. He went to Home Depot and found wood that matched our black bookshelves, and had them cut to the preferred size (We ended up going with four shelves, two of which are two feet long and 8 inches wide. The two smaller shelves were 1 foot square). 
He purchased a material resembling an outdoor mat that you’d wipe your feet on, and cut it to match the same size of the wood. This way, Freddie would not slip when hopping from perch to perch. 
He bought screws, finishing washers, and then screwed the carpet into the shelves. 
He purchased two braces for each shelf, which he attached to the wood. He drilled anchors into the wall, and then attached the shelves accordingly.
The supplies.
K. at work! 
3. K. and I worked together to ensure the shelves were placed at heights and distances that would work well for Freddie to be able to get on and off them. 
Et voilá!
Can you find Freddie?!
It took a little coaxing to get Freddie to feel comfortable on the shelves, but now he loves them! 
Freddie in his bed on top of the bookshelf.
Now that Freddie has all this new territory, he and Stella haven’t been fighting as much. Okay, it’s just been a day. But I do see a difference! Hopefully it will continue to stay that way! 
P.S. As I’ve mentioned, Zoe’s surgery is today. Please keep her in your thoughts!  

Coming Clean: When Animals Stink

I always told K. that we’d never become those people whose apartment smells like cat pee. Ever.

Even though we rent a very small place (less than 800 square feet), we’ve always worked hard to keep our apartment clean. We vacuum 1-2 times a week (thank goodness for the Dyson), scoop the litter daily, brush the cats regularly (well, at least try to brush Stella), wipe Zoe’s paws when we come inside, and give her weekly baths.

While I’m extremely diligent about cleaning, our furniture has taken a beating and it’s my own fault. Zoe is allowed on everything and the cats are everywhere.

Okay well maybe she isn’t allowed on that

While Zoe is remarkably non-destructive (the only thing she’s ever ruined were a pair of my shoes that resembled the material of a chew toy), the cats are another story. Freddie ruthlessly murders all our plants, and Stella has single-handedly destroyed two duvet covers, an office chair, and a bed box spring.

The office chair is in such poor shape I am too embarrassed to enlarge this photo.

Though this is frustrating, I understand that to a certain degree, it’s part of owning pets. And with the exception of our couch, all of our furniture are either hand-me-downs or bought super cheap from Target/Ikea/Craigslist. I have never put too much thought into how my living spaces looked beyond a certain degree of decoration because they’ve never felt like they were completely mine. It’s not that I don’t care, but that I’ve moved regularly since I was 18 and haven’t felt settled anywhere long enough to fully invest in it. The good news is that I am slowly learning from my brilliant, home-owning, do-it-yourselfer friends (yes, that means you, Yellow Brick Home, Two Pitties in the City, and Our Waldo Bungie!) and I know we will have a nice place of our own one day. While our apartment may not be perfect, it’s nice and clean. Or at least it was.

Duh duh duh! Enter prime suspect #1.

Yes, it’s true. Not only will Stella cut you (that’s her slogan), she will also covertly pee on your furniture. Indeed, over the past few weeks, we’ve noticed a distinct malodorous scent wafting from the corner of our living room. This is especially problematic because our living room doubles as our foyer (ha), which means that it’s the first impression anyone gets of our place. And as things stand now, I wouldn’t want to let anyone come over. At first, we were in denial about the problem. Could it be? we asked ourselves. Nah, K. and I protested, Stella hasn’t had any issues since we started her on the medication for her pancreatitis and behavioral problems. Just to assuage our fears, we went into a cleaning frenzy, but to no avail.

I won’t give you the humiliating details about how we figured this out, but we think that Stella’s been secretly peeing on the couch. This creates several problems: First, there’s the issue of figuring out why Stella is urinating on things in the first place. In the past, this has been a behavioral response to change. When something happened that she disliked (read: Freddie, Zoe), she would make her displeasure known by urinating on my bed. But as of late, there haven’t been any changes in her life, which makes me worry a little bit. I’m reassured by the fact that she’s eating and drinking water normally; and as you all know, her weight hasn’t changed. The only reason I haven’t called the vet is because I believe she only peed on the couch once or twice at the most. It’s just that cat urine smells so awful that we can’t hide the scent. And believe me, we’ve tried!

So what are we to do? Find a miracle deodorizer? Try to buy a replacement cushion? Throw away our two year old couch? Never have friends over again?!

How do you manage having animals in your homes without sacrificing sanitation and sanity? Have any of you had similar issues and how have you dealt with them? Any help would be most gratefully appreciated!

Stella doesn’t find this embarrassing, but we sure do!

Freddie and Stella’s New Favorite Dog

No, silly, we didn’t get another animal! (K. is breathing a sigh of relief as he reads this. He often cautiously opens the door when he comes home from work, peering inside in anxious anticipation of another furry friend sitting with me on the couch. Truly, this is the only time K. is ever nervous). Freddie and Stella did, however, have the opportunity to meet their new favorite dog this week.

As I’ve said in the past, one of the best parts about being in Chicago SociaBulls is the wonderful friends I’ve made. They read this blog (thank you!) and are also happy to spend hours discussing all things animal-related. So when one of them needed to cat-test her foster dog, I volunteered Freddie and Stella for the task.

Meet Sooni, whose name means “gentle” in Korean. Picture the opposite of Zoe: calm, gentle (obviously), easy to walk, respectful of personal space — complete with the cutest teddy bear face I’ve ever seen. She’s pretty much perfect.

(Photo by C).

When my Jindo-loving friend saw Sooni’s photo online, she immediately requested to foster her through Project Rescue Chicago. (You can read about C.’s shy dog, Nabi, here. You can also hear how she and her husband manage to walk with Nabi and her brother, Willie, at the same time here).

(Photo by C.)

We decided it would be best for Zoe to be out of the apartment when we introduced the kitties to Sooni, so K. took her on a walk. I wasn’t sure how Freddie and Stella would react to a different dog. I expected Stella to hide underneath the bed, and Freddie to be curious from a distance. I was wrong.

When Freddie first saw Sooni, he was a little nervous (see his puffed tale).

But as you can see from the photo, Sooni was way more interested in Zoe’s water bowl than in Freddie. Freddie, on the other hand, got closer…

Again, Sooni is interested in anything but Freddie.

and closer…

(This is by far one of my favorite Freddie photos ever!).

And Sooni didn’t mind at all. Then, Stella emerged from her lair and wanted to get in on the action.

Because the cats were so used to Zoe’s zoomies, they weren’t afraid of sweet Sooni. With the exception of one corrective swat when Sooni got closer than Freddie would’ve liked, the test was a rousing success. 
I think the cats were disappointed when Sooni left, and Miss Zoe returned. 
Zoe can’t imagine why.

If you are interested in Sooni, you can check out her Petfinder profile here.

She will also be at a Project Rescue Chicago adoption event this Saturday, July 14th from 12-3 pm at Animal Sense (1407 N. Wells St).

Confession: I’m Allergic to Cats

I do not manage pain well. As K. and I joke, I’m the opposite of Zoe. (She is the most stoic creature I’ve ever met). While I like to think I possess a degree of intellectual endurance, I can’t say the same about my physical abilities. I was the kid in gym class who used to duck when someone threw a ball at me, and would let the other team score (floor) hockey goals because I simply couldn’t understand why I should risk injury to block a silly puck. If something hurts, I complain. And if it really hurts, I faint. (All this does not bode well for K.’s plan for our future football star children). I recognize these limitations. For better or worse, they are part of who I am. That’s why it’s so funny that I live with two cats, despite the fact that I am allergic to them.

Photo Credit: A. of Two Pitties
It’s true. When I was a kid, I used to have reactions with varying degrees of severity:  hives, swollen eyes, and even difficulty breathing. I’d only lived with dogs, and had no desire to own cats. So, I assumed that my life would be feline-free.
That is until my mom married someone who owned one. 
Ellie the cat, and Hugo the dog.
I wasn’t sure what to make of this furry creature who suddenly inhabited my home. But I was only living there intermittently, and I just tried to avoid the cat when I was around. But here’s the problem: she was cute. Before I knew it, my natural predilection for all things fluffy reasserted itself, and I was spending more and more time with Ellie. Sure, I’d get hives and itchy eyes, but they were a small price to pay for a new friend. Soon, an amazing thing happened — my formerly acute allergies slowly lessened over time. 
When I graduated college, I decided that I was going to “overcome” my cat allergy for good. How does one do that? Well you can’t. But systematic desensitization helps.
Photo Credit: A. of Two Pitties

This is certainly not something I am recommending for everyone. But for me, it worked. I was encouraged enough by my progress with Ellie that I felt I could live with a cat (or two) of my own. 
So, I began spending time at the local animal shelter to hang out with cats. (Yes, my friends thought I was nuts). But I ignored them, and when I felt I was ready, I adopted Stella. After a few uncomfortable weeks (Stella had a wicked case of ringworm, so both of us were itchy!), my allergies virtually disappeared. 
Photo Credit: A. of Two Pitties
And when Freddie came on the scene, I had no reaction to him at all. 
Photo Credit: A. of Two Pitties
This isn’t to say that this was a magic cure. When I went to Berlin for six weeks, I came home allergic to my cats again. But within a week or two, I was back to normal. Some cats bother me more than others, and I always wash my hands after petting them — even my own. I also try to Furminate Freddie and Stella as often as possible, and vacuum multiple times a week. 
Photo Credit: A. of Two Pitties.
Call me crazy, but for me, it’s worth it.