Sunday, February 22, 2009

An animal’s eyes will follow you more closely than the Mona Lisa

Felix offers his paw and comes in for a closer look.

Have you ever noticed that human beings don’t pay much attention to the nonverbal signals we give each other? We get so wrapped up in our own personal dramas that we don’t evaluate clues offered by people around us.

Animals are smarter than that.

Like the wise gaze of an old magnum opus, an animal’s eyes follow their people around the room whenever they make a move. Their survival instincts are honed to gauge mood and behavior. And danger.

There are some human beings who have learned that it’s in their best interest to watch others more closely. Criminals in prison, for example. And victims of violent crime.

But in the case of animals who find a safe home to live out their time, it’s pure love that drives them. They can’t wait to see what we’re going to do next. Perhaps that’s why animal lovers find the riveted attention of their pets so intoxicating. Who doesn’t want to be the center of someone’s world?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Little C tumbles into the rabbit hole

A search for Little C is conducted in the crawl space.

I got one of the worst frights of my life last night.

The evening had started off peacefully. I’d fallen asleep on the couch watching Law & Order. When I awoke, I decided to check on Little C in the master bathroom, where she had been napping.

I pushed the door open, but the room was still. Deathly quiet. Little C wasn’t on her bed. I ripped apart the pillows and blankets, calling out for her in vain while I searched the small space.

Moments later, a sickening reality crept in. There was only one plausible explanation. Little C had gone exploring, and had gotten herself stuck. She had to be lodged somewhere in the house’s innards.

It wasn’t a stretch for me to reach this conclusion. Many times I had seen and heard of rescues that began like this. Cats trapped in tub enclosures, walls, crawl spaces. Their curious natures draw them to the tiny dark tunnels. Sometimes they can’t make their way back into the living space. Or if the house is under construction, they might be accidentally bricked in by workers.

If they are fortunate and someone responds to their cries, they are pulled out skinny and dehydrated, sometimes weeks later. I always encourage people who have lost their cats to search outbuildings recently locked up for the winter, such as garages and sheds, as well as new construction sites.

And now it had happened to Little C.

As a responsible pet guardian, I should have known better. Dangers lurk in my house. It’s relatively new -- cosmetically unfinished -- with many nooks and crannies. Round holes where speakers are supposed to fit. Square holes for control panel hook-ups. Wires protrude from the cut-outs, ready to be put into service on the day when I finally decide. Scattered throughout the house are rectangular holes on the floor that connect to the heating system. Metal grates were intended to sit in them. But all of the grates have been removed.

Cats with territorial tendencies mark ground with their urine. A common spot for cats everywhere to frequent is in the heating grates. They treat them like those third-world toilets in the floor.

In my cat house, the vents have been closed off with flat pieces of rubber to protect them. But the only way to get a tight seal against the wood floor was to remove the metal grates. When it gets so cold that the heat has to be on, I push the rubber panels back a bit to let warm air pump through the house.

I was certain Little C had squeezed herself through the small hole the heat was coming through, perhaps looking for extra warmth as cats tend to do. She’s a small cat. But still I had my doubts. She has gained a bit of weight lately. It would have been a tight squeeze.

I lay down on the floor, put my face to the opening and started calling, “Little C! Little C!”

Silence. Little C is normally a chatty cat. If she was conscious, she likely would have meowed back. I stuck my hand into the metal duct as far as it would fit, groping around for her warm, furry body. My fingers touched a body, but it wasn’t Little C. Wrapping around something familiar, I pulled the object out. It was Doll Favorite!

Now panic started surging through my body. I was electrified with dread. My mind had put the puzzle together. Little C must have dropped Doll Favorite into the duct, and gone after her in the hopes of retrieving her best toy. She had tumbled into the rabbit hole like Alice in Wonderland, and now she couldn’t claw her way back out. I pushed my arm in deeper and found a foam ball, and a hard-shelled plastic one I had filled with catnip for her.

I tore out of the room and headed for the basement. That’s where I could access the crawl space. I climbed a pallet rack and pried off the makeshift wood trap door, hoisting myself into the dark, dank space that runs under the house. The ducts that snake under the foundation carry warm or cool air to each room. I calculated where Little C would have fallen into the hole. It was the furthest point from me. I would have to crawl along like a worm until I made it to the opposite end.

I am intensely claustrophobic. To me, the crawl space wasn’t just a dirty, cobwebbed inconvenience. It felt like being buried alive. But after three seconds of hesitation, my maternal instincts kicked in and buried my fears.

If Little C was in there, I wanted to be in there with her.

I crawled along, feeling the plastic-wrapped insulation with my hands until I detected a heavy spot. That had to be her body, I thought. I called and called out to her, putting my face against the plastic, but I couldn’t hear her respond. I couldn’t risk slicing through the plastic with a utility knife -- she would be badly cut if I missed.

It took some time to pry the ducts apart. Luckily Little C had some help from her Hero. When the tube was finally opened, the source of the extra weight was revealed. A bunch of Little C’s toys fell out, including another doll from her trio. But Little C was nowhere to be found.

I decided to patrol the house and see if she had made her way back through another opening into the living area. I was searching the main floor when it hit me.

It wasn’t Little C who had fallen into the rabbit hole -- it was me.

My brief catnap had snatched my memory of the present momentarily. I had completely forgotten that I had put Little C in the holding cage, just like I had recommended to readers in an earlier post (Cats love the velvet paw treatment, February 9, 2009.) After I placed her in there, I dozed off as the sun went down. When I woke up it was dark. Her black coat blended in with the plastic carrier’s dark color. She’s usually vocal about getting out after a few minutes, but decided to stay silent last night.

When I got to the cage and peered in, there she was, right where I had left her. My embarrassment over my over-reaction was overwhelmed by another feeling. Pure relief to find her safe.

And the jolt of pet parent panic wasn’t a waste. It was a wake-up call. From now on I’m going to do better at cat-proofing my house. And myself.

Little C is notorious for her playful, mischievous personality.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Dogs rescued from neglect won't suffer any longer

This dog spent his days in the darkness of this dirty shed. Note his nose poking out from the bottom left corner of the yellow door.

Even the sweetest day of the year doesn’t give dedicated rescuers in the field pause from heartbreak.

While many people celebrated love with their heart throbs on Valentine’s Day, I was consoling a New Orleans animal control officer whose heart had been torn apart. You met 22-year-old Melanie Fenwick last week. She’s the red-haired rescuer who came upon three dogs existing on a trash-strewn, derelict property.

The place is like so many others that litter the post-Katrina wasteland. Buildings that were submerged under dirty floodwaters are moldy, tattered shells.

In this case, two three-year-old pit bulls were being housed in dark, dilapidated sheds. The third, a five-month-old puppy, was clamoring to escape from the cab of a junked pick-up truck.

During one site visit, Melanie found a dog tethered on a heavy chain next to a burning pile of debris. There wasn’t even a bowl of water to quench his thirst as he sat breathing in the toxic fumes.

Melanie and her partner Travis Causey hoped they could orchestrate a happy ending to this story. They instructed the dogs’ guardian to make changes towards improving their welfare.

“Those pictures were not the worst ones,” said Fenwick, referring to the photographs posted to the blog story, Officers help dogs living in dismal conditions, February 10, 2009.

There isn’t a happily-ever-after ending for these dogs.

On Friday, the case went to court. The owner struck a plea bargain. He agreed to relinquish his two older dogs to the Louisiana SPCA. In exchange, some charges were dropped – a neighbor had spotted one of his dogs roaming at large, and none of them had rabies vaccinations. But the neglect charges stuck, and he pled guilty to three counts. One for each dog.

Now the fate of the two dogs turned over to LA SPCA had to be decided.

Prospects for pit bulls needing homes are grim at best, hopeless at worst. Most shelters I visit are overloaded with them. Many shelters won’t even put them up for adoption, fearing liability to their organization, or mistreatment of the animals. Pits are often euthanized upon arrival. Some organizations will consider adopting well-behaved pit bulls if the dog -- and the potential adopter -- pass rigorous assessments.

Louisiana SPCA does place pit bulls. But tragically, the dogs rescued in this case have several strikes against them. They aren’t babies anymore. At three years of age, people will look right past them and gravitate towards the plentiful puppies. And they tested positive for heartworm. The mosquitoes nurtured by the steamy climate of the bayou carry the parasites. The disease is expensive to treat and requires weeks of quiet rest. It’s not practical to offer this peaceful convalescent environment in the shelter’s chaotic setting.

And the pit bulls seized have other marks against them -- significant scarring to the skin that might be viewed as battle scars.

“We don’t want them fought, and we don’t want people coming into the shelter thinking, ‘Oh, this is a good fighting dog,’ ” Melanie said. “Nothing with scars goes up.”

The dogs were scheduled to die soon, this past Friday or Saturday perhaps. I don’t know if they are still alive. If they are, their time is coming. Possibly as you are reading this. Take some comfort in knowing that, unlike how they were treated in life, their deaths will be handled with humanity and compassion.

If you feel compelled to act and memorialize them, there is something important that you can do. Educate someone you know who is thinking of breeding their companion animal. Whether they own a pit bull or another type of animal, you will be saving lives. There is an epic overpopulation crisis. There are simply not enough homes. It’s time for all of us to act.

Back in New Orleans, the sheds where the dogs lived in misery have already been torn down by the landlord.

“His house really shouldn’t be inhabited,” Melanie said. “He didn’t have a proper place to put the dogs.”

Melanie won her case. But she’s frustrated. The win begets a loss. Unlike people who minister to human beings, animal rescuers aren’t just tasked with saving their charges. In many cases, they are also responsible for deciding who lives, and who dies.

Melanie consoles herself with the knowledge that their last few days at the shelter will likely be the best times for these dogs. And like most rescuers I meet, she’s more worried about the dog going home than the ones scheduled to die. The five-month-old puppy will be returned to his guardian this week. Melanie will be back to check on him soon.

“I care about the well-being of the dogs,” she said. “It’s good that they’re not going to spend the rest of their lives on the end of a chain. They won’t have to live through that again. At least they’ll have shelter and food until the end."

Friday, February 13, 2009

Fly away home, Big Bird

Big Bird is back in flight following a near-death experience. Photo taken by Pat Maloney.

Rescuing animals has found its way into my heart for many reasons, not the least of which is a family matter.

There are dedicated animal lovers on both sides of my family -- parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. One great-grandfather was even the state veterinarian for Zimbabwe back when it was still called Rhodesia. Relatives who were gone before I was born are posed in old photos holding beloved dogs and cats. Their animals were important enough to be included in the black and white shots long before digital cameras stored thousands of pictures with a few clicks of a button. Back then, setting up a photo was an ordeal.

But no family member loves animals with the passionate fervor of my mother. She carries cat food and a dog leash in her large purse in case she comes across strays. She’s trapped feral cats to spay and neuter, and reported dogs locked up in hot cars to the authorities.

And she doesn’t just help companion animals. She rescues wildlife facing danger, too. Near her place in Florida, she’s pulled her car to the side of the road to pick up wayward turtles and help them safely cross the road. She’s cordoned off burrowing owls so people won’t threaten them while they are vulnerable in their habitat, which consists of a shallow hole dug in the dirt. She even makes sure the runners on her windows are gecko-free before she shuts them to avert tragedy.

The latest recipient of her creature compassion is Big Bird, a great blue heron who had nearly met his demise by the time she spotted him. Poisoned and confused, he was flying “as if he had lost his GPS”, Diana Maloney said.

She quickly got in touch with a local rescue group who agreed to come right over and try to catch the bird. Diana was “absolutely gobstruck” watching Dan the Bird Man at work, and she writes about his techniques in her story below.

“He just dove on it,” she said. “At one point I looked away. I couldn’t bear to see. I was expecting to see a squished bird, but he actually dove onto his elbows and knees. You only get one shot at it.”

The situation was dire. He couldn’t miss. If he did, Big Bird wouldn’t survive one more night of a cold snap in usually sunny Sarasota. The temperature had dipped below freezing several nights in a row. Herons are skinny birds without much meat on their bones to begin with, and this one was significantly underweight.

But in an update I received today, I found out that Big Bird wasn’t fully cognizant of his near-death experience. He showed zero gratitude towards his captors, who helped save his life by warming him up in their toasty intensive care unit and nursing him back to health.

“The girl phoned me from the rescue center and said this is one pissed-off bird,” Diana said. “He is so mad. She went in with the fish, and he puffed out all his feathers and he put out his wings, and he charged her.”

Below, I've posted the story she wrote on the rescue.

Diana Maloney prepares to release the bird she rescued. Thanks to her quick thinking, he won't be getting his angel wings just yet.

We are privileged to look out over a fairly deserted beach. Deserted but for the wildlife that abounds there, both on the sand and in the water. Arriving home, I looked up and was horrified to see a beautiful great blue heron fly straight into our building. And then plummet to the ground. He stood up but didn't attempt to move. I went inside to observe "Big Bird" from the foyer. My fear that he was in trouble was confirmed when he staggered away, turned, and flew back into the building again.

A call to the Wildlife Center of Venice brought us the help we urgently needed in the form of Dan, a volunteer from Bradenton. I don't know exactly what we expected, maybe the use of a tranquilizer, but we were definitely not expecting what followed. On arrival, Dan quickly jumped out of his truck. We pointed out where Big Bird was hiding between some bushes and the property fence, with just his head showing. Dan ran back to his truck, grabbed a large net, attached the pole handle, and went into predator mode. Crouching low to the ground, out of sight of the bird, he scurried towards him like an animal hunting prey, poised to pounce. He made only one downward motion with the net. It covered and encircled the bird. He seemed to almost drop to his knees and elbows and cover the bird. By this time, Big Bird was squawking loudly and not happy.

When Dan emerged from the heap, Big Bird was safely tucked under his left arm and his right hand held the bird's neck just below the head. The net had done its work and lay on the ground. Before placing Big Bird in the rescue carrier, Dan carried out a deft cursory check for injuries. As he held the bird tucked under his left elbow, and held the head with his left hand, his right hand moved quickly over the top of the bird’s outstretched wing. And then the same procedure on the opposite side. No palpable injuries. He checked the eyes – membranes were all open, a good sign. A closed membrane could mean he had suffered a concussion.

But Big Bird was not acting normally, Dan told us, and so would need further examination by a vet.

Today, I was contacted by the rescue center. They believe this bird is less than a year old. Through a process of elimination, it appears that he may have botulism poisoning from ingesting dead or contaminated fish, or even cigarette butts. He is underweight, which indicates he may have left the nest too early and not yet be proficient in the art of hunting for food. His treatment will include flushing the toxins through his body repeatedly, maybe administering sub-cutaneous fluids, and possibly feeding him intravenously until he is well enough to be released back to this area.

Here’s a closing thought. Wouldn't it be great if instead of taking the youth of Sarasota on a hunting trip, as is happening this weekend, they were taught the art of capturing wildlife in the manner that Dan demonstrated? This skill could save a creature's life, rather than ending it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Officers help dogs living in dismal conditions

A dog's nose peeks out from the left corner of the door when officers arrive. Photo courtesy of the Louisiana SPCA.

I’ve got another illuminating update from the field filed by webmaster Shelly Patton of the Louisiana SPCA. She’s been riding along with animal control again.

Her story struck me hard. I felt like I was riding along with her. But what resonated most was the importance of citizen involvement. Filing a report when you witness animal neglect or cruelty can change an animal’s destiny.

Sometimes taking action involves a bit of legwork. Animal control for a particular region might be handled by the city, or contracted to an independent agency such as an animal welfare organization. If at first you don’t track down the organization with proper authority, don’t give up. Ask around. Over the years, I’ve reported many people in a multitude of cities. The results were satisfying.

As you’ll find out when you read Shelly’s story, a few telephone calls on your part can make a dramatic difference to an animal’s treatment. We owe it to the animals to speak out and get involved. If we don’t, who will?

Here's what Shelly reported:

Officers Travis Causey and Melanie Fenwick had been at the address the previous day responding to a “roaming at large” call. The first thing they noticed when they arrived was a pit bull puppy in the cab of a blue pick-up truck. The puppy was excited by our arrival. Jumping at the window, he was clawing to get out and greet them.

Walking past the truck, they climbed the weather worn stairs and knocked on the door. They surveyed the yard below. Debris was everywhere. The yard had the junkyard appearance so common in low-income areas.

Just past the driveway sat the pickup truck nestled in overgrown vegetation. The truck was waiting for “someday” to arrive. Its hood was opened in a silent scream. The passenger window was hanging precariously in its frame. The back right tire was deflated and the truck bed was filled with debris. At this point, it was nothing more than a kennel. A dangerous kennel.

Hearing the door open behind them, Melanie and Travis turned and told the man answering that they were there responding to a complaint. They asked if he had seen any strays roaming. “No. No dogs,” he said. “The only dogs I seen are mine. I have them out back. Want to see them?” He spoke of his dogs with a sense of pride. He didn’t think he was doing anything wrong.

As the man walked them around to the back, he was questioned about the puppy in the truck cab.

The backyard was worse than the front: overgrown, littered with empty bags of dog food, dirty cracked buckets, cans scattered about, broken furniture, discarded piles of plywood, and trash.

A dilapidated shed stood to the right. It had no doors or windows. Even sections of the exterior walls were missing. The inside was falling apart, just a framework with crumbled sheetrock hanging here and there. Years of dust and grime held it together. The floor was a build-up of paper, sheetrock, 2x4s, and filth. This shed was home to a white female pit bull. The 10-foot chain securing her to the doorframe was G80, a large, heavy tow chain. Perhaps at one point the chain had belonged to the truck out front. Now it was dead weight around the dog’s neck.

Beyond the first shed sat a second. This shed had a door and tightly boarded windows. The only light filtering into this enclosure came through a hole in the bottom left corner of the door. It was just large enough for the muzzle and eyes of a large dog to fit through. The officers were being watched.

Melanie and Travis began to educate the man about city ordinances concerning dogs and basic standards of animal care. He was in violation of many of them.

They explained to the man exactly what laws he had violated, and the consequences he would face if he didn't raise the standard of care for his dogs. They informed him that an officer would return to verify that he had made the changes necessary to comply.

Some situations require the animal be removed from the property immediately. But that wasn’t the case on this call. Ninety percent of the complaints animal control officers respond to require only education and condition checks. Many people don’t know they are doing the animal an injustice by the way they are keeping them. When the animal’s needs are outlined, they often make changes willingly that are in the best interests of the animal.

Primarily, animal control officers are community educators. They speak for the voiceless, advocating for them to people who love their animals but just don’t know any better.

Melanie and Travis had scheduled this man’s condition check for a few days later, but when time allowed for the visit the next day, the officers didn’t hesitate to arrive earlier than scheduled. Particularly because of the puppy and chained dog involved.

We walked around back to have a look.

The white pit bull – now unchained – was watching us through the hole in the door. The man enthusiastically told us the cab puppy was now in the house. Two major issues had been resolved.

The man opened the shed door so the officers could get a better look at the dogs and the conditions inside the shed. Out ran the white pit bull. Accompanying her was a blue male. Both were a bit on the thin side, but by no means emaciated.

The man told us he let them out at least once a day to run around. Judging by the way they stayed in the area, I believed him.

At one point, the female ran by, kicking up a kitchen knife lying in the weeds near a pile of wood. As the metal flashed in the sun, it caught Melanie’s eye and offered her the perfect opening for explaining the importance of removing all debris from the immediate area. She set parameters for the clean up, emphasizing the dangers that debris posed to the paws of a running dog.

Travis and I went into the shed. Although it was dark, the darkness was not a violation of city code. Travis noted that there were two bowls of clean water and two empty food bowls. There was only a small amount of fecal matter on the floor, an indication that the man did clean up after his dogs.

But the smell was a problem. The air was thick with ammonia. Travis patiently explained something needed to be done about the buildup of urine on the floor. Cleaning the floor using a mild bleach solution once a week should do it. Travis told the man, “You want to take as good a care of your dogs as you do your children.” To me, it appeared that his statement sparked a dawning enlightenment in the man. Travis had given him a visual he could understand.

The focus turned to the condition of the dogs themselves. “Feed them a little more. They are too thin,” Travis added, pointing out a few obvious medical conditions that needed addressing. The female had a bloody tail tip. The male had a minor skin condition, and possibly an ear infection.

After running through the list of requirements the man had to complete and sustain, including yard clean-up and a veterinary visit, another condition check was scheduled. Officers will return in two weeks to verify compliance.

What struck me about this experience was the man’s willingness to do right by his dogs. He had already made some of the necessary changes he had learned about the day before. I got the impression that he cared. He just hadn’t known any better.

Louisiana SPCA animal control officer Melanie Fenwick cuddles a pit bull puppy. I snapped this photo of her at a temporary shelter set up by LA SPCA in Baton Rouge. I fled the city with staff and the shelter animals this past September when Hurricane Gustav rolled in.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Cats love the velvet paw treatment

Sam and Felix enjoy a friendly headlock.

On Saturday I promised to tell you how to operate a harmonious cat house.

After spending some time over the weekend thinking about it, I’m wondering if I’m qualified to answer that question. I still have a lot to learn.

It’s true that I’ve rescued hundreds of cats, and fostered many of them in my home. And with a current head count of nine, I have more pets than most people.

But I’m always picking up new tricks from other animal rescuers.

Take my friend Carol Reichert at Richmond Animal Protection Society, for example. She’s the one who taught me the best way to safely introduce a new cat. Set up a large cage in your living space and let the new arrival spend some time in there each day. This gives the cats a chance to get used to each other. Nobody feels threatened. When the new cat isn’t in the cage, he should be confined separately in a room. Just letting a new cat loose in the house to fend for himself is emphatically the wrong way to make an introduction, causing rifts that can last a lifetime.

I am going through this process right now with Little Carreen, who has been living in my house for a couple of months and is still adjusting. She’s tiny, much smaller than the other cats. That sets her up to be a target for bullies. Thankfully she’s already formed bonds with two of the other cats – Sam and Henry – and they spend time visiting with her when she’s hanging out in the large master bathroom. She spends time with me in the loft when I'm writing, sitting in my lap so I can protect her.

I tried the cage idea with Madison, my 15-year-old who can’t stand other cats. Over the years I’ve tried many times to integrate her with varying success. When she stopped grooming herself and starting hiding under the bed constantly, I knew she badly needed her own space.

Madison is currently living in the daylight basement, where she enjoys snuggling up on the double bed I slept in as a child. The other day I placed her safely in the large dog-sized carrier in the middle of the living room, hoping she might start getting used to the other cats. She howled and howled in distress until I took her back to the basement.

I have resigned myself to the fact that she will probably never feel comfortable living with other animals. I visit with her several times a day, and sleep down there with her on some nights.

My cats have taught me that they occasionally need their own space to gear down and be alone with their thoughts, just like humans do.

Sam is my most social cat, both with people and other cats. But he has a contradictory side. He craves a bit of alone time each day. I found this out by accident. I started giving him a short period of solitary confinement in the basement or a bathroom when he was annoying other cats. He doesn’t hurt them, but loves to take chase. He doesn’t even have to chase to get them growling in his direction. He simply stares at them and starts rolling around on his back as a taunting maneuver.

He soon figured out a surefire way to carve out his own private time. Now he bothers the other cats on purpose. When I open the door to the bathroom, he strolls in like he owns the place. I toss a towel down and he curls up there, contented and ready for a long nap. He signals he’s ready to rejoin the group by scratching at the door.

So much for discipline.

To my surprise, Sam – previously Madison’s constant tormentor when she lived with the others – wants to spend time in the basement badly enough that he behaves when I let him in there. Madison doesn’t seem to mind having him with her in short doses.

Knowing your animals’ special likes and dislikes becomes even more important in a multiple pet household. Catering to each cat’s needs helps their mental balance. A pinch of catnip or a favorite food treat fosters contentment that goes a long way towards creating goodwill between the cats.

My calico cat Opus doesn’t like still water in a bowl, even if it’s fresh. She demands running water, and sits on the kitchen counter in front of the tap meowing until I get the message. She’s a cantankerous cat who might take a swipe at you if you reach out to pet her. But she’s very affectionate at night, when she sleeps on my head.

My feral cats will usually run if I approach them – they would rather come to me. But they are extremely vocal, and love it if I speak or sing to them. And they meow back. The cats will come and stand around me in a semi-circle if I’m having a karaoke moment. They don’t care that I can’t sing worth a hoot.

Just like people, animals have their own idiosyncrasies, and they thrive if their needs are met. Without words, they tell us how they want to be treated. We just have to watch and listen.

Opus demands running water when she's thirsty. Maybe I should call her Queenie?

Happiness afternoon nap with your best pals.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Pitter patter of tiny paws is as distinct as a cat's meow

I don’t have kids, but I do have cats. A pride of nine mischief-makers who crave special attention. And just like a parent of human children, I do my best to cater to their individual needs.

Visitors have trouble telling some of them apart. Four are black. Three have grey markings. Two are tabbies. I know each of them by sight, even a sidelong glance. Just like a mother asked to tell her twins apart.

The other night, I was taking a moment to repose on the couch. But the cats weren’t sleepy. By nature, they are nocturnal beings who sleep most of the day. They ran and jumped and played with balls and catnip toys. They batted each other’s tails and caterwauled as they wandered through the house going about their nightly activities.

Lying there with my eyes closed, I knew exactly what each cat was up to. I knew them by their meows. Their gait. Their method of play.

Even when they jump onto my bed in the middle of the night and it’s too dark to see, I know them by the touch of their fur and heft of their body.

Knowing who’s who doesn’t mean it’s any easier to get them to behave. Right now they are galloping through the tax receipts I spread out carefully on the floor in categories. The cats take a running start, land on a pile, and slide like a pitcher coming in to home plate. The tiny scraps of paper swirl around them like confetti. I’m left to pick up the pieces – er, papers.

For the fourth time, I’ll be re-sorting them.

I’m not complaining. I’m feeling lucky that the receipts barely dodged one cat’s vomit and another’s need to mark territory with a little bit of liquid courage.

Tune in to read tomorrow. I’ll tell you how I give my felines individualized treatment to encourage harmony in my crazy cat house.