The It in losing my shit

I never know when it’s going to happen, but when it does? Look out.

What’s the It? The It is “losing my shit.”

It’s probably been building for a few weeks given the b.s. time of year. What time of year, winter? When the decreased sunlight depletes my Vitamin D resources and leaves me susceptible to Seasonal Affect Disorder?

No, I’m talking the time of year that seems to happen every damn January when I show up at the Y at my normal time and suddenly have to park 3 miles away because of everyone’s bullshit New Year’s resolutions;

The time of year when you have to show up a half hour early to Body Pump to be sure you get a bar and aren’t stuck in the front row six inches away from the instructor;

That time of year when Dan Marino, Marie Osmond and now fuckin’ Oprah Winfrey are peddling weight loss deals and I’m supposed to be cleansing, eating clean and counting my calories. Fuck that shit. Fuck all that shit. Hand me the Doritos.

But this is all normal, right? This certainly isn’t the IT that made me lose my shit, right? Right. My tipping point came cloaked in fur: cats and dogs, folks. Cats and dogs. Mainly dogs, but the cats played a role, too.

Without getting into the dirty deets, a couple weeks ago we volunteered to foster a female dachshund. She arrived in our care a little distressed, a little malnourished, a little wigged out. We’ve tried to keep our door open to animals in need, but I gotta be honest. At my core I am a cat person. Dogs are too needy. And this little weiner dog definitely needed love. Lots of love. (And let’s just say two of the three house cats are p-i-s-s-e-d over this entire situation.)

Sure there are the accidents one must attend to, but the shit started getting lost last night when my husband treated our refugee with some gnarly smelling herbal flea treatment that stunk up the house. Upon realizing the stench, he promptly gave her a bath, but once that smell got in my nose, she may as well have been sprayed by a skunk. The stench stuck. And it was bedtime. And she’s taken to sleeping in our bed.

Despite my husband’s attempt to lure her into our son’s bed, she knows where Menopausal Mom sleeps. And so, after my husband fell into an unconscious sleep, sure as shit “tap tap tap tap tap tap tap” go the wee little toe nails as our stinky refugee skips across the hall and into our bedroom. She scampered, “tap tap tap tap tap tap tap,” from one side of the bed to the other, whining for someone to pick her up so she can nose her way under the covers and snuggle down.

This still isn’t the It. The It would happen eight hours later after I’d finally fallen nose blind and asleep after an awful night of stink-induced insomnia. And I’d woken to the “tap tap tap tap tap tap tap” and whining of a cold refugee because my husband had taken her was downstairs when he woke and promptly forgot about her whilst enjoying his coffee and morning computer time.

This is the It: I storm downstairs only to find puddles of pee. Dog pee on the floor next to a clean pile of unfolded laundry and cat pee on the counter . . . right. next to. the fucking coffee pot.

*sigh* Happy Monday, folks.

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Pup sparks recall of baby’s 1st year


It was just a week ago when I first saw a picture of “Champ.” Two-toned black and white coat. Two tiny bottom teeth mere buds in his gum line. His pink nose and top lip split in two, the result of a common birth defect in Boxers and other dogs with “smushed” faces. Champ was born with a cleft lip and palate, and the memories flooded back.

Solo Champ 1Marty and my first child, daughter Moira, was born with a cleft lip and palate. I didn’t know it happened in other species. And yet, why wouldn’t it?

In the two weeks before Moira was born, we learned as much as we could about clefts: how they developed, how they’re corrected, what else was wrong, what we could do.

Whether human or puppy, the head grows in such a fascinating way. The face basically starts at the base of the skull with two mirror-like sections on each side growing up and forward. Each section reflecting the other as it grows, the flesh wraps around the top and sides of the skull before finally coming together at the nose and mouth.

Our septums and that indent in the middle of our top lips? They’re like biological seams, evidence in flesh of our fetal experience. This basic blueprint for the face, as explained to Marty and I, was usually in place before most people even learn they’re pregnant, about midway through the first trimester.

~But clefts can be startling and scary. Startling simply because they look unnatural, a wee little face unfinished. And that’s basically what they are, as cells divide and flesh meets and grows together, a cell gets dropped or lost, leaving the lip or the palate or both, open. All the material is there, but at the very end of the process, it just didn’t come together.

The scary part is in the survival. Kids (and puppies) with clefts have a terrible time eating. Robbed of the ability to suck, nursing is often unsuccessful. Moira was fed with a soft-side bottle that we’d squeeze to the rhythm of her gnawing. I had reams of yellow legal pads documenting her nourishment by the ounce, by the hour. We kept a hospital-grade baby scale handy, measuring her losses and gains.

~I don’t like thinking back on this. It was a heart wrenching time. All I wanted was to comfort and cuddle my child and yet every feeding was choked by the worried thought, “How much would she eat this time?”

At death’s door, Champ is given a chance

~When I met with Champ’s foster mom, Tara Hansen of Miles who is also a vet technician at DeWitt Veterinary Clinic, she exhibited many of the same emotions I did nearly 15 years ago. Almost steely, I could feel her push aside the fear that comes with caring for a child with a cleft and focus on the task at hand, Champ’s survival.

Champ was two days old when he arrived at the vet clinic. Tara has a friend who breeds German Boxers and when his latest litter was born Jan. 18, one had a severe cleft palate. Two days later, unable to nurse, the pup was brought to Tara at the clinic to be euthanized.

Tara is not your average animal lover. She and her family have fostered countless animals in the past, but it’s the Boxer breed of dogs that is her calling. She and her family have two at home, six-month-old Lola and six-year-old Lucy. Just last fall, her eight-year-old Boxer Layla died from cancer of the blood vessels. “Now that she’s gone, I feel like I have to carry on caring for the breed.”

That’s what drove her to ask Champ’s owner if she could try to save him. “I knew the survival rate was low,” she said, “but I had to give it a whirl.”

~A brief attempt was made at bottle feeding Champ, but the cleft in his palate is so wide, the risk of aspiration was too high. “He’s turned blue on me. Several times,” she said.

So began the process of tube feedings every two hours in which Tara passes a feeding tube down Champ’s throat and into his stomach . . . every two hours. That means where ever Tara goes, Champ goes, too.

But it’s not all bad, with a four-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter, Tara’s kids have relished the tiny baby. And the furry kids, how have they reacted? While the older Lucy doesn’t pay much attention, six-month-old Lucy may be a puppy herself, but has taken to mothering Champ like a pro. Even the family’s 15-year-old cat has proved vital, filling in on nap and cuddle duties when Lucy or the kids need a break.

~As she would with any other puppy, Tara started Champ on regular puppy formula, but after the first several days of slow, but steady gains he reached a point in which the formula wasn’t enough, “he was just stuck at 22 ounces. He wasn’t gaining and he wasn’t losing.”

After searching various website dedicated to the care of puppies with clefts, she learned goat’s milk could help boost a pup’s growth. And it has. For the past week, she’s been feeding Champ a half and half mix of puppy formula and goat’s milk. When I met him, Champ’s eyes had just opened and he was learning how to use his legs under that large, heavy head of his, bobbing all around.

While Tara loves to see him doing so well, she admits the feedings are growing increasingly more difficult: Champ can no see the tube coming and wants to fight it and chew on it.

~Monday Tara and Champ head to Ames and the veterinary college at Iowa State University for a surgery consultation in which she hopes a feeding port can be put in Champ’s stomach until he’s healed from the oral surgeries.

Tara was told medical costs could run as high as $3,000 so she set up a Go Fund Me account to collect donations.

Many people have asked Tara if she’s keeping Champ or, more commonly, can they adopt him. More than Champ’s foster mom, Tara sees herself as his protector. While there are many who’d love to adopt him, she has found Champ’s forever home in the arms of a local couple. After he heals from his surgeries, Champ’s new family will train him as a therapy dog for their chiropractic clinic!


Originally published 7 February 2015 in The Observer.

Champ loses battle for life


Last Saturday I told you about Tara Hansen, a veterinary technician at the DeWitt Veterinary Clinic who had taken on the role of foster mom and caregiver for a Boxer puppy born with a cleft lip and palate.

Monday night, sitting on the couch with my husband who was looking at his phone, I heard him groan, “Oh no…”

~Tara & Champ 2Looking at his Facebook feed, he merely turned his phone to me, showing me the following message posted to the Boxer Champ community page:

“It is with a very heavy heart to have to type this update . . . (definitely) not an update I ever thought of writing. Champ passed away in my arms tonight. I fought for him until the very end attempting CPR, but it was too late. His little body couldn’t fight any more.”

Marty was stunned. I was in disbelief. And when I told daughter Moira, she bent her head to hide her tears.

Neither Marty nor Moira had the pleasure of meeting Champ. In fact, most of his fans never got the opportunity to stroke his sweet little cheeks or shake one of his cute, tiny paws. But he had a huge fan club to be sure.

None of us would’ve learned of this sweet little puppy had Tara not answered the call of her heart, a call that whispered, “Give him a chance. Try,” when he was brought to the clinic to be euthanized.

Tara is the quintessential animal lover, truly going to any lengths necessary to help an animal in need. Whether it’s to bottle-feed an abandoned litter of newborn kittens, find a new “forever family” to adopt a homeless dog, or, as she did with Champ, devote herself morning and night to the survival of a struggling animal who needed a shot at life.

I know plenty of people who roll their eyes at those of us who connect with other beings covered in fur (or scales or feathers). They mutter thoughtless things like, “It’s just a dog.” So I’m sure there are a few readers wondering why I give so much attention to animals. Simple, each animal, each creature (yes, even spiders) are a living, breathing being that has purpose. Often times, we’ll never know their purpose.

When I talked with Tara the day after Champ passed, she admitted she wasn’t completely shocked that he died because he was exhibiting a few troubling symptoms indicating he was struggling.

“But at the same time, I was upset. I still am.”

Tara reviewed the symptoms with me, saying that at 7 a.m. Sunday, after Champ’s morning tube feeding, she saw him start to gag and struggle. He was open-mouth breathing and turning white. Taking an infant bulb syringe, she did an emergency suction on Champ and discovered copious amount of mucus had coagulated in the back of his throat.

Hearing this took me back nearly 15 years to Moira’s first five months, before any surgeries started to correct her cleft, when her breathing would rattle when mucus clogged the back of her throat. Marty and I grew quite adept with the bulb syringe. Fortunately for us, that usually relieved Moira’s woes and she’d return to easy breathing.

With Champ, however, Tara could tell things weren’t right and she feared pneumonia could be setting in. After clearing the mucus from Champ’s throat, she then took him to the bathroom and started a hot shower so the steam could enter his lungs and loosen any remaining mucus. While it seemed to help, later that day she gave him a nebulizing treatment for safe measure.

The following morning, Monday Feb. 9, Tara woke to give Champ his breakfast and found him in his kennel. “He wouldn’t stand up and he had blood all over the side of his face.”

After Tara cleaned and then fed him, “he perked right up,” she said.

Once he was stable, she and a friend loaded him in the car and made the three-hour drive to Ames where they met with doctors at Iowa State University’s veterinary college.

Tara explained what had been happening over the last 24-hours and while doctors initially guessed the blood may have been caused by irritation to the throat from the tube feedings or sneezing that may have caused Champ to bite his lip, chest films were taken.

“I was sure he had pneumonia,” Tara said. While the films didn’t indicate pneumonia there were a few small spots doctors couldn’t explain. “I wonder if it was some blood clots,” she said.

While in Ames, doctors mapped out a progression of surgeries and had tabled the idea of a feeding port due to Champ’s fast growth rate. His first surgery was slated for next month.

Returning home, Champ was tired and Monday evening, after a feeding “he fell asleep,” Tara recalled. “Then all of a sudden he woke up and threw his head back.”

Tara immediately suctioned Champ, “I ended up getting a whole bunch of blood out of there.” Then his heart stopped. “I started doing chest compressions and by then he was doing agonal (spastic, labored) breathing.”

Despite her efforts, Champ died.

Having raised nearly $2,000 in donations for Champ’s medical costs, Tara wants all the money returned. Many of her donors, in thanking Tara for her compassion and hard work, wanted her to keep the money as compensation. She refused, “It was something I never wanted to pocket the money from or be paid for.”

Instead, Tara is suggesting donating in Champ’s memory, either to an animal shelter or the “Care for Cleo” fund at the DeWitt Veterinary Clinic, which covers costs associated with helping stray and unwanted animals.

Writing on the Boxer Champ Facebook page Wednesday, Tara wrote that despite the heartbreak of losing Champ, she will continue her work.

“In three short weeks I was able to watch this little guy open his eyes, struggle to take his first steps and see him find his little voice. In three short weeks my heart was wrapped up in his pudgy little Boxer body. I will continue on and do whatever I can for animals, this will not detour me from doing what I feel is right. . .

“. . . If (we) humans could take a few lessons from animals, our world would be a much happier and loving place to be!”

RIP Champ. . .


Originally published 14 February 2015 in The Observer.

Clyde the Cat adjusts to domesticity


Sullen Boy remains a pouty force about the house. Some of this I attribute to hormones, a little might be connected to the weather, but I’m beginning to suspect he thinks it’s funny to act so moody. But it’s when he’s with Clyde that his guard drops and the ooey-gooey sweetness of this 11-year-old boy is revealed.

Recently he told me he thought readers would be interested in an update on our semi-feral housecat. In October, I shared about adopting Clyde from the Quad City Animal Welfare Center in Milan, Ill., after reading his story on Facebook.

clyde gutHe’d been brought into the shelter in January 2013. He was roughly 6 months old at the time and was rescued from the streets of Rock Island. He had a few “issues” that had made him not the most sought-after cat. Mainly, he wanted to hide and stay hidden for the rest of his life.

It broke our hearts to think of this somewhat mentally-effected cat craving solitude among 20 or more other felines in the shelter’s cat room, so we threw our own sanity out the window and adopted him. This was in early September and when I wrote in October, he was still a solitary being, sticking mainly to Marty and my bedroom, specifically under our bed.

In the three months since I wrote that, Clyde’s personality has morphed from fraidy cat to crazy cat. It’s been a daily journey watching his confidence build and his personality change. He’s no longer the scared, untrusting cat we brought home in early September.

Because he does not venture downstairs, he continues to live a bit of a solitary life and likely why he’s made friends with the guinea pig, Nova. The pig’s cage is on the floor in one of the upstairs rooms and has an open top. It’s not uncommon to find Clyde in the cage with Nova, nose to nose.

This is one example of his continued “odd” nature. On the one hand, he’s wary of any other living thing, yet on the other, he absolutely craves connection with any living thing. And in this craving, it appears he’s “imprinted” on me.

I’m the first one he approached, I’m the first one he let pet him, I’m the only one he lets pick him up. When he was still sleeping under our bed, I remember talking to him (yes, in the house, we talk to our animals) and telling him he’d probably be more comfortable on our bed.

I’m not sure how soon after that, but it wasn’t long before he found his way up. I’d sense a presence at our feet in the middle of the night, but by morning, he’d be gone. Soon after this started his bravery grew. In the minutes I read before turning out the light, Clyde would emerge from under the bed and meow at me. I’d coax him up and he’d stay at my feet. If I moved toward him, he’d bolt.

But eventually, he inched his way toward me and nightly nestles in against my chest, my hand stroking his soft fur, his purr lulling us to sleep.

Now when I go upstairs he doesn’t charge out of sight. In fact, when I’m gone, he usually wrestles back the covers on my side of the bed, kneads himself a nest and wriggles in for a long winter’s nap . . . every day. His sanctuary is no longer under the bed or behind furniture!

And when I show up on his turf, he merely yawns and stretches, waiting to be pet. While he remains skittish with both kids and Marty, Sullen Boy is developing a bond with this weird cat. Sullen Boy has figured out that Clyde loves to watch his fish tanks, especially at night.

We realized this after waking suddenly to Clyde galloping from the hallway into our room, leaping across our bed, stabbing a claw into the palm of unconscious, slumbering Marty and leaping back to the floor, charging back to the hallway and skidding to a stop before the closed bedroom door of Sullen Boy.

We assume the whole performance was his way of saying, “I’d like to watch some fish. Now.”

And apparently Sullen Boy has a softer approach than either KidGirl or Marty. He talks low and softly, approaches slowly, and he’s often rewarded with a rubbing of Clyde’s generous gut. Clyde has thusly taken over Sullen Boy’s room, chilling out under his bunk beds, stationing himself before the fish tanks or snoozing on a pile of clothes in a wide swath of sunshine.

KidGirl, on the other hand, with a personality more joyful and cheery, continues to foster a relationship with Clyde. Her glee being her biggest hurdle. She approaches Clyde with laughter and smiling while Clyde remains wary and easily rattled. But they’re working on it.

Marty? As Clyde grows more comfortable, so does Marty. When Clyde isn’t sleeping against me, he’s usually at our heads, wriggled in between our pillows. Marty’s an animal lover, through and through, but he was never 100 percent on board with Clyde’s adoption. Yet he’d readily admit that rescuing Clyde from the cat room at the shelter was a good thing.

But his punctured palm did not win Clyde any points.


Originally published 17 January 2015 in The Observer.

Joe Brown’s goes to the dogs, literally


By now, it’s no secret we’re a family of animal lovers. And except for a couple of cats we had during the seven years we lived in DeWitt, our entire cast of fur-covered Murrell children have dwelled in the confines of the old Joe Brown place.

Our family began with Tuttle, a black lab wedding gift from Marty’s brother and his family. Named after M*A*S*H character Hawkeye’s childhood pretend friend, Tuttle was kind of ours and kind of my parents.

When our first human child arrived, we determined Tuttle needed a vacation and would be happier at my parents’ Grand Mound farm. Mom laughs about it now, but apparently we never really verified that little agreement. I assumed Marty had cleared it with them and vice versa, but as Mom tells it, “One day, you brought Tuttle out for a visit. And left! Marty would take her hunting . . . and then bring her back!”

maudry in pastureBy the time Moira was three and Maclane arrived, Tuttle was back. Back in DeWitt for a couple more years before heading north to the old Joe Brown place.

By the time we moved, Tuttle was around eight. Though not terribly old, she’d lost the spring in her once-youthful step. Enter Zeke.

A RAGBRAI teammate from Ames realized his behemoth, caramel-colored giant of a mutt was too big for his small house in town, and since we had a big ol’ house and all that fresh, country air. . .

But Zeke turned out to be awesome with the kids and a buddy for Tuttle before her health deteriorated into a debilitating spinal condition that ended her life.

One of my favorite Zeke memories occurred during a particularly long road trip. If it’s possible for a dog’s hair to turn green, poor Zeke’s had. When that oh-too-familiar stank wafted to the front of the vehicle and I turned around, a woefully comic expression rested on his face. Zeke was car sick.

After depositing some of his stomach’s contents in the back of our old Ford Explorer and leaving the rest in a ditch alongside the road, he eventually passed out.

His favorite pastime, however, would also be his demise: chasing down the many milk trucks that travel to and fro Blanchard’s nearby dairy.

After Zeke died, Tuttle’s health failed and we found ourselves dogless. Within days Marty located a beagle pup, Sydney. She was an absolute sweetheart except for an irritating habit of snacking on dirty underwear, specifically small, pint-sized Spiderman briefs.

Sydney was our one and only mother, having found herself in the family way after dog-sitting Dad Reed’s fully-loaded springer, Chubby. Dad couldn’t remember if Chubby was fixed, but when we’d taken Sydney to the vet to be spayed, it was too late.

Following a litter of seven puppies that winter, Sydney, like Zeke, met her end on 136. Again dogless, Marty and the kids visited a local shelter and were sweet-talked into taking TWO dogs: a massive black lab mix named Gordy and a small, ugly-as-sin rat terrier, Maudry.

After a few months, 136 struck again by luring Gordy to his death. This was around 2009, which I’m happy to say was the last such victim. For now.

Maudry, who wheezed like a chain-smoking 87-year-old bridge player and exhibited a similar level of fitness, remained committed to her belief that she be allowed to hump all the couch pillows and sleep her days away. What a peach.

As lovely as she sounds, old Maudry needed a companion. When a neighbor called to see if we wanted a puppy, a springer/collie mix, that’s when Joe Brown “The Dog” entered our family.

Joe, who remains alive and well with my brother, Matt Reed, is one of the funnier dogs. One Christmas we went south and Dad Reed agreed to dogsit. When we returned and brought Joe home, he seemed blue. When Dad came over for supper, Joe jumped in his car.

The two were perfect for each other. Dad thought Joe should stay outside, Joe thought he should be in. Come sunset Joe would bang on the front door and Dad would yell, “Knock it off!” This banter became an evening routine with Joe always winning. The most faithful of companions, Joe remained at Dad’s side until the end.

Prior to Joe’s taking over Dad’s place, we briefly had a trio: Maudry, Joe and Pugsley, a stray pug. We quickly learned, he was probably a stray for a reason.

Whether it was finding him on top of the dining room table or snorting dead flies, Pugsley was at once both cute and gross. His biggest fault, though, was his running.

It should’ve been no surprise given that’s how we got him. We could barely let him out to pee without him taking off. On one such adventure, we learned he’d shacked up for a weekend with Joe and Kelly Sparks under the pseudonym “Larry.” What a player.

It was clear Pugsley needed open, corralled spaces and we weren’t about to fence in our yard. Though Maclane continues to resent me for it, I encouraged Marty to find Pugsley a new home with an enclosed yard.

And then a pregnant stray showed up at Marty’s parents’ Arkansas home! When the pups arrived, they looked a bit Labrodor’ish. And Marty wanted a hunting dog.

So with hopes the Lab line ran strong, Charlie was brought from Arkansas to Iowa where he continues to be the best darn dog on the planet! He loves the outdoors, tries to flush birds and is a pro at avoiding eye-contact with cats. He’s great at scaring off possums and skunks, doesn’t snore too loud and has the most expressive face ever.

He’s so mutt’y he probably has a dozen different breeds flowing through his veins, but he’s proven himself the most devoted overseer of the Joe Brown place.

Except for having to put Maudry down a couple years ago due to her suffering with COPD-like breathing troubles, we’ve had no further canine sorrows. Let’s hope this lucky streak continues!


Originally published 6 December 2014 in The Observer.

Our uphill journey adopting a semi-feral cat


I don’t know if I’ve been effected by the spirit of Joe Brown, but I’m a total sucker for animals. Living in his home, people often share with Marty and I stories about the animals that Joe Brown let reside with him in this cavernous abode.

There are tiny chips along the edge of the porcelain bathtub, surely remnants of duck nibbles. The grooves along several window sills? Probably dogs. There’s goat horn rubbings on the basement doors and in the attic we found a large, wooden crate with old, nasty straw. We assume it was a whelping box for momma goats. This house has seen its share of wildlife.

early clydeAs of late, our menagerie includes just two indoor cats, one indoor/outdoor dog and one indoor guinea pig. Outside, we have a herd of uppity farm cats amenable to petting only when their food bowls are empty.

This is the most stable our family has been in quite a while. In the nine years since we moved here, we’ve gone through about as many dogs, a hedge hog, many farm cats and two indoor cats.

And it’s the indoor cat situation that remains an issue. Ever since Jan. 2 when our matriarchal alpha cat Turbo died, the younger two have battled for dominance. And these battles are so passive-aggressive it’s ridiculous.

There’s the older, stately Fluffy vs the sassy teeneager, Stashy. Without the calming presence of a Boss, these two will go through periods of destruction that explain why we have only area rugs in our home and yet still own our own carpet shampooer.

Earlier this year, you may remember we fostered a ginormous male ginger cat, “Carrots.” He was a wonderful addition to the brood, but after getting stuck in the rafters of our attic over Easter weekend (being rescued only after Marty opened a rafter with a buzz saw), he then snuck outside the following day and has never been seen or heard from again!

The disappearance of Carrots was so sad! He was a lovely, low key cat, but we fear he was too freaked out when we hosted Marty’s entire family that weekend. We later learned he had a tendency to go on “walkabout.”

For the next several months, we tried to live with the chaos that is Fluffy and Stashy. When they avoided each other, things were fine. But when they’d “rediscover” the other on their turf? Ugh. We knew we needed an alpha.

In late August, a Facebook post from the Quad City Animal Welfare Center in Milan shared a picture of “Clyde,” a tiger-striped male who had been brought to the shelter with his sister, “Bonnie,” when they were about 9 months old.

They’d been found behind a dumpster and were semi-feral. While Bonnie had been adopted, Clyde remained at the shelter for the next 18 months, living in the Cat Room with 20+ other felines. Needless to say, this guy had emotional baggage.

So why would we want him? Excellent question considering the issues Fluffy and Stashy had already brought to the table.

I reasoned that our current situation with Fluffy and Stashy couldn’t get any worse and that helping Clyde may be the best thing for all three. We formulated a plan for bringing Clyde into our family, starting with where he’d live.

Our house is rather large and the idea of letting loose a semi-feral cat who’s known nothing but a single room filled with cages and cats for the majority of his life did not sound like the greatest approach.

After several visits to the shelter, when I brought him home, we placed Clyde in the “Sunroom” off Marty and my bedroom. He’s what’s considered a “bush dweller,” staying low to the ground, hiding behind things and burrowing under blankets. The Sunroom offered both low and high spots for him, sanctuary from other animals as well as peace and quiet.

He was easy to find and easy to pet, though I still bear the evidence of my one and only attempt to pick him up.

After two weeks in the Sunroom, I opened the door to our bedroom, allowing him access to now two rooms. A week later, I opened our door to the hallway. A few days after that, we opened the door to the stairs, thus granting him full roaming privileges. He’s yet to venture downstairs and when we’re upstairs, rarely comes out from under our bed.

But as I sit downstairs, working on this column, Fluffy and Stashy sleeping on the couch, Nova the Guinea Pig rattling his cage in the kitchen, Clyde is galloping around upstairs, paws thundering along the floor like horses hooves.

And what a fabulous ruckus it is! He sounds playful and free! But we still have far to go.

I’ve started folding laundry upstairs to acclimate him to our presence and our voices. He rarely peeks out. In fact, it’s become standard practice for all four of us to flip up the bedskirt and peer under to say “Hello.”

But in the moments when he thinks he’s alone, I’ll see him slink from under the bed to the Sunroom and his food, water and litter box. In a calm voice, I greet him. He used to skitter back under the bed, but will now look back at us. If we stay still, he’ll proceed to eat or drink or sniff around.

This is progress. I’ve seen him jump onto window ledges for a look-see and I’ve found him venturing into other bedrooms. We’ve even watched him walk past us and not scramble away.

I’m not sure he’ll ever be a lap cat, but I’m growing a bit more hopeful he may one day let us pet him.

As for his effect on Fluffy and Stashy? While Fluffy can hardly be bothered to inquire, Stashy is a jerk. Sneaking into the Sunroom and eating his food, drinking his water. I’m waiting for one unsheathed claw to put Stashy in her place.


Originally published 11 Oct 2014 in The Observer.