Unhappy Campers

We have five pets, which is probably more than a sensible person would allow. When TFoMC and I separated, the children and I acquired two cats, Nicky and Puss Puss, now 13 and 10. Nicky is a dignified grey gentleman with a white front, the cat who kept me going as I recovered from a serious post-partum depression. Puss Puss is our wild cat, the one who prefers outdoors over indoors, unless the snow is deeper than her head.

Over the next few years other cats came and went in our lives: Pepper, who was abandoned by the road as a tiny kitten and who met his death in the road, too (the best cat ever); Julie, picked up off the street by our young babysitter, a kitty with obvious breathing problems that made us wonder if she had been choked as a kitten, and who left one day probably to go off and meet her end alone and quietly; Beau, an adorable buff-colored, long-haired adventurer who broke our hearts by going out to hunt one summer night and never reappearing.

And then there’s Baby. She’s 10 years old. We adopted her from the animal shelter in 1998, just after we moved into this house. She was an owner surrender, a petite cat with a winsome expression and double paws. We were wandering around there in our grief over Pepper, not planning to get a cat and certainly not another adult. Pepper was about 10 months old when he ran out the front door and right in front of a car, and we were all shaken up by his loss. Baby looked up at me when I read the name on her card, and I made an impulsive decision and brought her home. We quickly realized that she was a throw-up kitty. Over the years we have tried every remedy imaginable, but the problem seems to be that she eats too fast and vomits. I’ve cleaned vomit off more things in more places than I can count over the years.

Years went by. The two younger children began to ask for a dog. I told them we could consider it when I finished seminary and wasn’t commuting anymore. When Pure Luck came into our lives and rhapsodized about Angel, the Border Collie mix of his childhood, it seemed the time was right. Molly joined our family in April of 2002, just before my graduation. And just about a year later we added Sam. One of the reasons we chose Bernese Mountain Dogs is that they do well with other pets.

Now I won’t kid you. The cats, they do not love the dogs. The dogs would love to know the cats, but the cats want no part of it. Molly thinks they are fascinating and exciting; Sam largely leaves them alone. Nicky avoids the downstairs until about 8 p.m., when he knows the dogs turn into sleeping mounds of fur; then he joins me on the sofa. Puss Puss was never much of a housecat anyway, and she will stand them down, but she certainly doesn’t think of them as friends.

Baby is the one who shows the fewest signs of fear or dislike when interacting with the dogs. But she is the one telling us almost daily how angry she is that dogs live in the house. Ever since Sam came into the family, she has been peeing (and occasionally pooping) in inappropriate locations: the wall-to-wall in #2 Son’s attic bedroom, oriental rugs all over the house, in baskets of dirty laundry, on baskets of clean laundry. When I first caught her doing it shortly after Sam arrived, I took her to the vet, thinking she must be sick. No. The vet said, “She’s pissed off.” Great. As time goes by, it gets more flagrant, and each time something worse happens, we talk about what to do with Baby. For the first year, I said, “I adopted her. She’s my responsibility. I will take care of her.”

(Can you hear the echoes of my insecurity about being adopted myself?)

This morning, she came into our room about 5:30 a.m. and hopped up near my face. She’s allowed on the bed, but I have a reactive airway and especially in a reclining position I don’t breathe well with fur so close to my face. I gently nudged her off my head.

A little later I got up and went to the chair where I had laid out the clothes to put on if I got a call to the hospital last night (it was my turn as on-call chaplain). I put my hand on the pants and realized immediately that she had peed all over my clothes.

This is an unhappy cat. And now I am an unhappy woman.

She just had her physical a week ago and is in good health. We’ve fed her carefully, gotten all her shots, let her sleep wherever she wants and petted her faithfully. But she is unhappy here.

This morning Pure Luck, #2 Son and I discussed taking her back to the shelter. I can’t imagine finding her a home myself. How do you give references to a cat who pees and poops and vomits on everything? At the shelter she would have a chance, at least, at finding another home. Perhaps she could be happy if there were no other pets around.

Please, tell me she could be happy if there were no other pets around.

I can’t imagine being a person who gives away a pet; I’m really feeling badly about this. But my sense of my self is starting to seem less important when weighed against her unhappiness.

We’re two unhappy campers today.

11 thoughts on “Unhappy Campers”

  1. Oh, Songbird, this is such a difficult situation. We adopted a dog in Rhode Island the summer before last who turned out to be very aggressive; apparently he was abused, but we don’t know for sure. We ended up deciding after much angst to take him to the local shelter, where they took excellent care of him, never judged us and were completely willing to take my phone calls when I’d ask how he was doing. I know that they would do the same with Baby, and it’s my bet that she would be much happier in a house where she could be an only pet.
    I, too, never wanted to be someone who gave up an animal, but in retrospect it was entirely the right thing to do. (The poor dog ended up attacking a shelter worker, completely unprovoked, and they had to put him down.) I found that making as large a donation to the shelter as we could afford went a long way toward assuaging my guilt.
    I hope this works out for you and your family; it is never easy to make these decisions.

  2. I second the hurrah for Pure Luck’s return. But this is hard — a p/o’d kitty who seems to be escalating with the threats.
    I’ve never been one to take an animal to a shelter, either — but I think I would, in this situation. I know that I couldn’t afford continually dealing with cat pee. And she still sounds like a nice kitty — just one who belongs in a different environment.

  3. I’m so sorry. We rescued a kitten a couple of years ago who never could learn to use the litter box. She peed all over brand new furniture several times, and I can still smell it when I sit on the couch.
    We finally gave in and took her to the Humane Society. I don’t know about the HS in your area, but here they are so overcrowded that they frequently have to euthanize animals that won’t be easy adoptions. If you can find a no-kill shelter, you’ll feel better about the whole thing — I wish I had, but I didn’t know about them at the time.
    I hope your baby finds a happy home as an only cat.

  4. I echo Kathy. People deserve to be happy. So do cats. I would share your anxiety at returning an animal to a shelter. (And yes, I assume for me it is my own adoption anxiety–what if my parents had decided to return me?)
    Last night OEH and I had dinner at the home of some parishioners (“Harold and Maude” from my blog.) They have a very frisky Springer Spaniel that kept jumping on me and licking in most inappropriate places. I kept saying to myself, “This must be what it is like to have a dog.” It was then that I realized that Tanner was no more a dog, but a member of my family. It must be heartbreaking to say goodbye to a member of your family. You are in my prayers.

  5. I don’t know if this helps or not, but this recent Slate article brought back a time over 10 years ago when I went through the same thing. It’s painful and even the ‘right’ answers aren’t easy, but if it’s any comfort, you’re not alone.

  6. I’m so sorry that you have to go through this. Baby sounds like a good cat for someone with no other pets. I hope you can find a good no-kill shelter in your area if you decide that it’s time for Baby to move on.
    I’ll be praying for all of you.

  7. oh songbird 🙁 and there I was whinging about Mindy and possible puppies. This must be a tough call
    glad pureluck is back home :)ENJOY

  8. Thank you so much, all of you, for your supportive thoughts and suggestions. We’re going to mull this over until the shelter is open again on Monday. It’s a no-kill shelter, for those who wondered. They have a great record for placing dogs, but I’m not sure how easy it is to place an adult cat. But we also can’t go on this way.

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