Category Archives: Stella

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!  
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On Human Separation Anxiety/Our European Adventure

Happy New Year, friends! We hope that 2013 is a happy and healthy year for all of you.

Things have been quiet on the blog and our Facebook page because K. and I went on our first European vacation together. When one of my dear friends from graduate school (who happens to be the momma of this precious girl) got engaged and decided to have her wedding in Germany (where she’s from), K. and I knew we couldn’t miss it! Given that K. and I haven’t been on a real vacation together since our short honeymoon nearly three years ago, we thought it was about time to take a trip.

When a bunch of our Chicago friends also decided to go to the wedding in Bonn, we, along with the wedding party, decided to spend New Years in Berlin. Since I had studied there for a summer two years ago, I was quite excited about the prospect! We also decided that since we would be in Europe anyway, we couldn’t miss visiting my host family in Strasbourg (I was an exchange student in high school and we’ve stayed in touch). And if we’d be in France, we decided to visit Paris too. So, our “little” vacation soon developed into a two-week long European excursion.

While I was super excited about the prospect of spending much-needed time away with K., I immediately became anxious about the idea of leaving the animals. Because K. used to be a cook,his combined unpredictable schedule and measly salary made travel for him impossible. So when I would have to leave for school-related events, he would be able to stay home with the animals. And even then, the longest I’d been away from Zoe was 4 days (that was hard for me!).

I am fortunate enough to have a younger brother who is a huge animal lover and agreed to stay at our place while K. and I were away. He is a senior in college, and would be on winter break, so the timing was perfect. (He is also waiting to hear back from veterinary schools right now, so keep your fingers crossed for him!!!!). I knew that he would be responsible, and I was happy that his girlfriend would be staying with him to help (she’s a fellow animal-lover with whom he started a student group that visits the local animal shelter to socialize the cats and dogs). I also enlisted the help of three wonderful SociaBulls friends to serve as back-ups (with house keys!) in the event that my brother needed help. I also had my parents nearby, and my extended family too. In short, Freddie, Stella, and Zoe would be in the best possible hands.

And yet, I couldn’t stop worrying. After reading Josh at That Touch of Pit’s post about his own anxieties about leaving Lucy, I knew he would be a good person to consult. He gave me some very sound suggestions: 1) first and foremost, make sure your completely trust your animals’ caretaker; 2) provide as much information as you can (veterinary info, emergency contacts, poison control, etc.); 3) notify your regular vet that you will be traveling and give them the name of the animals’ caretaker. I followed his advice and wrote a novel packet for my brother with all the information I could think of — and then some. I also left him our Care Credit Card in the event he needed to visit the vet, and also provided tons of emergency contacts (i.e., SociaBulls friends) who lived nearby and had our keys. I also spoke with my friends at Two Pitties in the City, Our Waldo Bungie, and Pittieful Love because I knew they had also traveled and left their pets at home. They all gave me great advice and support!

The day we left, the state where my brother lives got hit by a huge snow storm. While it was fine in Chicago, it was not safe for him to drive here. That meant that two of my fantastic “back-ups” sprung into action and agreed to stay here with the pets until my brother could arrive. Fortunately, the roads got cleared quickly, and my brother was able to come after all. While that was nerve-wracking for me, I was glad that I had taken the time to plan ahead and have friends “on call.”

I then tried to breathe and stop worrying. I basically emerged from the womb worrying, so this was not an easy thing to do.

But then, we arrived in Paris and I saw this:

And this:

Being surrounded by so much beauty made me pause and realize that I was in PARIS! And after that, I was able to relax. I skyped with my brother (and the animals) every few days, and my brother texted us daily updates. Having those reassurances made it possible for me sit back and enjoy the trip.

Back at home, Zoe had a great time with my family over the holidays.

Okay, here’s the point where I’m going to pretty much going to stop talking about animals (gasp!) and post tons of photos of my trip. Feel free to skip or peruse as you wish!

When we arrived in the morning, we had already been awake for 24 hours and were super jet lagged. We really wanted to go to sleep, but we forced ourselves to stay awake until ten that night. It was tough, but we managed by walking around and seeing all the sights:

We also ate lots of delicious food:

Double fisting ice cream cones from Maison Berthillon

Thank goodness K. is good with maps. If I was getting us around, we would always be lost.

Paris is magical at night. It’s a cliche to say that, but it’s so true.

More food (can you tell we like to eat?!).

Being a vegetarian in Paris = eating a lot of cheese. I was okay with that.

Only in Paris would it be necessary to have this sign in front of an ice cream and chocolate shop.

This was the best dinner we had in Paris:

We visited my favorite cemetery:

My expression: “Why are you taking a photo of me?” 
Père Lachaise Cemetery
We got to visit Proust:

And Jim Morrison:

We also saw everything from the whimsical to the beautiful:

So many bookstores.

Sacré Coeur of Montmartre

Obligatory Eiffel Tower shot.
It was just so nice to get to spend time together.
After Paris, we took the train to Strasbourg, which is a beautiful city with an entirely different feel:
Strasbourg is beautiful. It rained the whole time we were there though.

A mixture of German and French!
We were with my host family for Christmas. It was four hours of French deliciousness. It was so special to get to see them and to spend the holiday in France.

And here was Bonn, which is also lovely: 
Stieff Bears!

 My friend’s parents made us an incredible Bavarian breakfast:

Beer with breakfast = we love Germany.

Being the vegetarian I am, I took photos before the meat came out! Sorry sausage lovers. Trust me, there was a lot of wurst.

Here’s more Bonn:

A child playing on top of martyr statues

Mmm…Kölsch.

In the US, something is old if it’s 200 years old. This building dates back to the 13th century!

Beethoven was born in Bonn.
This is where Beethoven was born and lived until he was 22 (1792).

In Germany, it is socially acceptable for adults to drink Apfelschorle, which is basically carbonated apple juice. It. Is. Delicious.

I was very happy.

After celebrating at the wedding and eating/drinking our way through Bonn, we took the train to Berlin:  

We stayed in Mitte (formerly East Berlin) right near the Fernsehturm.
The Rotes Rathaus.

The world clock at Alexanderplatz.
Obligatory meat photo:

Wurst.

We saw all the sights along Unter den Linden:

Berliner Dom

I have no idea what is happening here: 
Brandenburger Tor: 
The rebuilt Hotel Adlon.

Berlin is filled Stolpersteine, which can literally be translated as “stumbling stones.”

“Here lived Irma Rosenthal. Born 1910. Deported 194?. Murdered in Auschwitz.”
“Here lived Karla Rosenthal. Born 1920. Deported 1943. Murdered in Auschwitz.”
“Here lived Ellen Rosenthal. Born 1933. Deported 1943. Murdered in Auschwitz.”

We also walked all over various other parts of Berlin:

Outside the Anne Frank Zentrum.

Berlin at night:

A building in the former East. “Capitalism murders, destroys, kills.”

“Men’s Fashion: XXL-XXXXXXXXL” 

And more sightseeing during the day:

Checkpoint Charlie.

They had a really interesting museum that we visited. It’s amazing what lengths people went to to try to escape East Germany.

Berlin has a big Turkish population = amazing food. This is the best Döner in Berlin.

In Berlin, New Years Eve is CRAZY. Picture the 4th of July in the United States, but way more fireworks in the streets.

The view from our apartment on New Year’s Eve.

We thought that the rumors of people shooting fireworks at other people in the street wasn’t true. It was.

A firework shot at an S-Bahn station that got stuck in a pipe.

Here are some other random highlights from the trip:

This is what happens when four Americans with a sweet tooth stay in one apartment in Berlin. 

The fancy department store in West Berlin. 

 They have a HUGE food section filled with culinary delights from all over the world:

Mmmmm. German mustard.

Most of the American food was gross and expensive!

Well, that’s it. When we got home, everything was perfect. My brother and his girlfriend did a wonderful job. Zoe and Freddie were very happy to see us. Stella is another story, but she’ll come around… 

Back to the usual.

P.S. Zoe’s surgery is on Monday, so I’ll be updating you on that soon! Please keep her in your thoughts!

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).

One Showdown After Another…

Lately K. and I have noticed that Zoe and Stella’s relationship seems to be improving.

When we first brought Zoe into the apartment, she and Stella got along really well. Zoe was still such a puppy that she tolerated everything, including this…

This move reminds me of a certain dog we know...

which often turned into this…

Everyone is a cushion in Stella’s world.

But as Zoe grew older and more confident, she stopped tolerating Stella’s brazen behavior.

And over time, Stella had to learn to respect Zoe’s space.

Zoe had to do the same (she often learned the hard way).
Do NOT mess with Stella.
Not withstanding the occasional skirmish, by and large, Zoe and Stella live in peace.

Unfortunately, Stella and Freddie have no such relationship. Despite our best efforts to properly introduce them, they despise each other. Every single day they have showdowns over “territory” in the apartment. Sometimes these standoffs end peacefully…but often not.

I may be adorable, but I will cut you.

Although Stella is the more temperamental of the two, Freddie is usually the instigator.

Tiny but fierce.

I used to have hope that their relationship would improve over time, but two years later, little has changed. Just today I had to break up a fight that was so intense there were tufts of fur flying into the air. Picture something like this:

Photo Credit: http://www.examiner.com/article/communication-part-2.

Do your animals get along? How have their relationships changed over time?

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.

Reason #29382 Why Cats are Weird

Anyone who has cats knows that they believe they own everything around them. This often leads to a penchant for strange places, such as the following:

1. Closets

2. Bags

“I’m a little cross-eyed.” 

3. Tables

4. Beer boxes

5. More boxes

6. Lampshades

7. Sinks

8. Laundry baskets

9. Underneath the covers

10. At the table

11. In a knee brace

And as anyone who’s seen our Facebook page or past posts can attest, Zoe has learned from her feline siblings.

We now have the dog in the cat bed…

Caught! 

And the cats in the dog bed!

Do your animals like to hang out in odd places?