Don’t stop by, anytime.

img_0536
My house on an average day. Playing with cats is more important than putting laundry away.

I hate unexpected visitors.  I don’t want you to stop by if you are in the neighborhood.  If you are going to be driving by, feel free to text or call to see if I’m available, but if I don’t respond just keep driving.  Sure it might be fine to stop, but it might not.  I’m too polite to tell you to “go away” at my door, but I will quietly seethe your entire visit if you aren’t welcome.

See, I might be naked, fighting with my husband, or naked fighting with my husband.  Those things don’t happen all the time, but they do happen.  I might be in my introverted shell and while you’ll think I’m lonely, I am not.  I enjoy being alone.  It’s an infrequent pleasure in my life.

If I’m in the front yard, feel free to wave or honk or slow down for a quick chat, but unless I invite you in, please stay in your car.

I realize this is weird. My extroverted best friends with people skills tell me, “I was in your neighborhood yesterday and I didn’t stop.”  I think I’m supposed to feel guilty, but instead I reply, “Thank you.”  I know they are trying to illuminate the fun times I am missing, but I am not missing anything.

My house will be a mess if you stop by.  I am not a housekeeper.  If I don’t know you are coming there will be shoes and backpacks tripping you just inside the front door.  The dishes from breakfast, lunch, and maybe dinner the night before will still be on the table – worst case – or in the sink – best case.  The cat-box will be dirty and the house may stink.  My slovenly ways mean you will judge me and find me wanting.  I’ll feel terrible and you’ll feel superior, but I’m sure you can find ways to feel good about yourself without me being involved.

Please, if you are invited, come on over.  It’s not that I hate people, or parties, or visitors.  But I am descended from, or reincarnated from, peoples who had barriers to keep away invading hordes.  The drawbridge must be lowered, the moat monster put away, and the dungeons cleared before honored guests arrive.  If guests are expected, I know I won’t need backpacks to alert me of intruders, convenient food left in case I must suddenly flee, or cat poop to fling at invaders from warring tribes.  Be confident that if I asked you to come, you are welcome.  My house will be clean, my clothes will be on, and the familial fighting will be negligible.

I beg you, don’t stop by.  Give me a call if you are in the neighborhood.  We’ll meet at the coffee shop.  I’d love to see you there.

RIP Zombie Hamster

img_2150

It wouldn’t be the holidays around the Afthead house without a pet dying. Yesterday, when my husband was looking for things to do I suggested he check on Lula, the zombie hamster.  He disappeared into the basement and shortly returned shaking his head.

“She’s really dead this time?” I asked.

“Had been for awhile from the looks of her.”

And like the dope I am I burst out crying. She wasn’t my favorite pet, but death is sad.  We had a quick burial beside the dead-bunny-bush where Lula joined the baby bunny who died in our window well several years ago.  No words were said, because it was 20 degrees out, but her tiny body curled neatly into the hole I managed to spade out of the frozen ground.  She looked very Lula-esque as I sprinkled dirt on top of her.

The last time I knew she was alive was December 14th, because she tried to run around on her wheel while I was working at home:  the tumor on her hindquarters made movement difficult.  I gave her a slice of apple which she nuzzled on for a bit before drinking and heading back to her purple cave.  It was a nice final hamster human interaction.  (Yes, she could have been dead for two weeks in there, but I was dealing with a cancer scare at Christmas and couldn’t bring myself to check on her.)  The last time my daughter saw her was at our Christmas craft party where one of Afthead Junior’s friends suggested feeding Lula to her pet snake.  I can’t say that would have been a worse ending for Lula, but my daughter balked at a Lula death by snake swallowing.

This morning, I did a little research.  Lula’s life expectancy was 1.5 – 2 years.  By my calculations we had her almost 3.5 years.  So she lived an entire lifetime as a hamster, then another as a zombie hamster before the zombie-hamster-tumor took her agility, then her sight, and finally her life.

My last hope for Lula is that she and the bunny don’t start some mini Pet Sematary in my back yard.  I really hope she rests in peace back there.

Hamsters – not the pet for me

I’m calling it.  Hamsters are not the pet for me.  Here’s why:

  1. Hamsters are nocturnal, so really not awake and fun when humans are awake and wanting to play with hamsters.
  2. Hamsters have little personality due to their little brains.
  3. Hamsters are bitey, with no ability to learn not to bite.
  4. Hamsters are small and can easily escape to become short lived cat toys.

In particular, I’m starting to think our hamster Lula is not the pet for me because:

  1. She is a zombie, and I’ve never really trusted her since the hamster zombie apocalypse.
  2. She is now growing a hamster tumor growth thing out her butt, which is probably not related to the zombie thing, but who knows.

Really, that last one is throwing me over the edge right now.  I’m a pet owner who goes way above and beyond to care for animals.  Some might say I go too far, and they might be right.  However, this hamster pet cannot really be cared for.  The vet will see her, but the normal $120 vet charge will apply and while they could do hamster tumor removal or hamster chemo on Lula she was only a $60 pet to start with (including her cage) and she’s well toward the end of her expected lifespan.  And when I consider taking her to the vet even I can’t justify it.  I’m sure they’d perform hamster euthanasia if I really wanted them too, but she doesn’t really seem to be unhappy.  She just looks gross and can’t run on her wheel anymore because there’s this thing growing between her legs.  So I just watch her waddle around drinking water from her drippy straw thing and digging for peanuts in her hamster chow while her tumor and my guilt grow.

I hate hamsters.  They are not the pet for me.

Lula the Zombie Hamster

Meet Lula, our hamster.  Lover of grapes; loved by the cats who want to play-with-her-to death; and zombie.  Lula came into our family three years ago and became a zombie last year.  Thus, like Stephanie Plum’s hamster Rex, I expect her to live forever.

Lula is a Russian dwarf hamster and the worst pet ever.  Hamsters are nocturnal, so she only plays when I want my child to sleep.  Given that my kid is the worst go-to-sleeper ever they make a bad combination.  Also, hamsters are smaller on the outside than they appear on the outside.  (Similar to the Tardis, but the opposite.)  Let me explain.  The day we got Lula my daughter was playing with her in the locked bathroom while we parents got the hamster habitat ready.  Lula squeezed under a smaller than a hamster sized space below the bathroom door and darted between the startled cat’s legs and under the smaller than hamster sized space beneath the refrigerator.  Two hours later a feast of sunflower seeds lured her out.  From that point on she was banished to her cage and only released into the clear ball of torture, which allows her to roam around my daughter’s room bumping into things and making us laugh.  The cats watch the balled hamster snack through the crack under the door, which really is too small for cats.

Lula became a zombie on a fateful day last summer when she died.  My daughter and I were watching her play when she toppled over on her hamster ramp, twitched disturbingly, hauled herself up to the hamster ledge using her functioning front legs while dragging her back legs limply behind her.  She then collapsed had another twitching fit, and died.  She lay motionless while I consoled my daughter, got her ready for bed and read her stories.  When lights out came Afthead Junior cried that she did not want to sleep with the dead hamster.  I agreed and put the dead creature’s cage on top of the butler’s pantry to be dealt with later.

After our normal 90 minute dance of go to sleep, go to sleep, GO TO SLEEP my daughter finally fell asleep.  Ignoring the dead hamster problem, I went to the basement to watch some TV with my husband.  Before bed I decided the dead hamster burial/freezing/whatever could wait until the morning and be a learning experience for the child.

The next morning Lula’s wheel squeaked with the running of an exuberant undead hamster.  Lula, making a rare daytime appearance was animated.

Ever since her status changed from hamster to undead hamster Lula has been much more friendly.  She’s almost always out before my daughter goes to sleep and runs to the bars of the cage to sniff my fingers if I put them up.  She even races to the cats if they are in the vicinity: like on top of the cage trying to eat play with her.  No doubt she is luring us humans and felines in so we will open her cage and she can leap out and feast on our enormous brains.  In the meantime, I give her strawberries, cherries and blueberries to try and keep her at bay.

Goodbye Bart

img_0799

Ah Bart.  Remember him?  He was my attempt to prove to myself that I am not the cat grim reaper (or cat hospice provider as so many of you sweetly suggested.)  I think it is time for me to write his final chapter.

For those of you who missed the early story Bart was a foster cat our family took in back in November when our local shelter became overcrowded with rescue animals from other states.  Our mission was to get him healthy, so he could go to the pet cardiologist to have his level 2 heart murmur evaluated.  (Heart murmurs for cats are graded from 1-6 with the 1-2 range usually not being a big deal.)  Bart was kind of a mess when he came to us, but oh, he was a lover and had a purr that vibrated his whole body.  Over the month we cared for Bart he recovered from a wound on his leg, a multiweek long respiratory infection, a perpetual bloody nose from the aforementioned respiratory infection, and being neutered.  Just when everything was all better and he was healthy enough to go to the cardiologist a surprise gross abscess burst under his chin leaving bloody puss all over his fur and the floor.

img_0442

The shelter people told me to bring him in, that they would evaluate this new wound then check with the specialist.  Even with his new ailment, he was cleared to see the cardiologist, so Mr. Bart went for a field trip to the animal hospital, and I agreed to take him back and get his abscess cleared up before he went up for adoption.  Five more days of antibiotics for Bart at the Afthead house, but he’d get to spend Christmas with us!

December 23rd the shelter called with the results of Bart’s cardiology scan.  He had two defective ventricles.  The shelter vets and specialists conferred and had decided that Bart was going to be euthanized.  His condition gave him only 3 -18 months to live, so he wasn’t eligible for adoption.  Two days before Christmas I got this news, and the extra present was that the shelter said that they would allow me, and only me, to adopt him, but I would have to take him back to the cardiologist and be responsible for his heart medication and quarterly/monthly cardiac checkups.  The single thing that could save Bart was my willingness to take on the time and expense to care for a cat who probably wouldn’t live two years.  I pondered all this while sitting in my study stroking what appeared to be a healthy Bart.

The only person I told was my husband, who doesn’t really care about animals the same way I do, and we agreed that no one else needed this news right before Christmas.  We also agreed that I needed time to decide what we were going to do.  (Mr. Afthead leaves such decisions to me, since I am the one with a breakable heart.)  So I put on my happy face and celebrated the holidays with my family, my own pets, and Bart.

In the back of my head thoughts were churning.  How could this happen again?  Why would life be so unfair to give this sweet cat a defective heart?  Could he continue to live with us?  My cats hated having Bart in the house.  They had stopped entering the basement, which is where their litterboxes are, and had resorted to pooping and peeing on my bed until I put a litterbox in my bedroom.  Could I live with that situation?  Bart was sweet, but a destructive cat and had shredded the chair in my study, his domain, and clawed other furniture when given the chance to explore.  Unquestionably I could have trained him, but maybe not before he died or had a stroke: either likely situations given his condition.  And while we really liked Bart no one in the family felt that he was our cat.  We were doing this so that some other family could adopt this beautiful, big purring cat, not so he would be ours.

There were so many ethical considerations.  Should we tell our daughter about what the shelter had decided?  Should she get to help make the decision about what our family was going to do?  Was it wrong for me to keep the news from my extended family over the holidays?  Was it my responsibility to care for Bart until the end of his life regardless of the cost or quality of his life?  Because I believe in science and medicine I didn’t think the diagnosis was wrong.  If I adopted him he would die.  What should I do?

I searched my heart and my brain but in the end I came to the same place I’d come before.  This was too much.  Without telling my daughter anything except that Bart was going back I took him to the shelter and said goodbye.

For two days I held my sadness in and pretended that Bart might be going up for adoption, or Bart might come and live with us to be fostered again.  Eventually I started to tell my friends and family what had happened.  Because secrets and lies have a way of worming their way to the surface eventually one of my friends told her daughter – a friend of my daughter’s – what happened.  When I found out I knew I had to tell my daughter because kid friends talk.  I didn’t want my child’s trust and faith in her mother to be dependent on the ability of a 9 year old to keep her mouth shut.  I got home from work and said, “I’ve got some sad news.”

“Don’t tell me Bart is dead.”

All I could do was nod.  We cried together about the 8 dead cats she’s known in her 8 years.  She listed each one and the way they died.  Three pets and five fosters all gone.  When we were done with the immediate mourning she told me what I had known all along, “Mommy, we are never, ever doing that again.”  We won’t.  We won’t foster.  We won’t keep big secrets from each other.  We won’t do that ever again.

I love the community at the shelter, and the foster parents.  My foster mentor was so caring when I told her what happened with Bart, and she promised me that my situation “just never happens.”  No one loses 5 out of six foster cats in their first two attempts.  She shared her own sad stories, and even offered to give me a her healthiest foster litter this spring to ensure I have a success.  Behind the scenes I’m sure she raised heck – contrary to the evidence she really thinks I have the potential to be a great foster parent – and a few weeks after Bart died a sympathy card came from the shelter.  It made me cry, but it did not make me change my mind.  This is not my way of helping make the world a better place.  I can’t take any more dead cats.

img_0792

Last time this happened I was able to come up with some silver linings, but not this time.  I’m sad for me, sad for my family, sad for Bart, and sad for the shelter and the folks who work there.  Nothing about this was fair or good or worthwhile.  Everyone poured their heart into this experience and the only glint of silver is that Bart was able to live in a warm house with a family for a month, but that seems so pitiful.

In the end, as always, children are the wisest.  This weekend my kiddo told me, “Mom, I think that all our cats that died are part of Adventure now.”  (Adventure is our only foster that lived, and she’s our pet now.)  She started listing out traits of each dead cat and how she saw them reflected in our pet.  At the end of her speech she looked to me for approval and I told her, “Yep kiddo, I think you are right,” because really I don’t have any better resolution.

Goodbye Bart.  We were all pulling for a happy ending, but it wasn’t meant to be.

Pets 0; Cars 2.

Yesterday was the Girls on the Run (GOTR) practice 5k, and I volunteered to be a running buddy for my daughter and a group of 16 third and fourth grade girls from her school.  They have been training for months and the final race is Sunday.  Wednesday was a big day.  The first time they would actually run five entire kilometers.  Buddies were needed to ensure that no one was left behind as the sprinters and walkers spread out across the course.

It was a warm fall afternoon and the sun was shining.  I had decorated the sidewalk by the side of our house with chalk hearts, GOTR, and arrows, because our house was on the route.  It was my special surprise.  At school, the coaches met with the excited girls for a few minutes and gave them their matching sunflower yellow shirts to wear.  The parent buddies marveled at the amazing weather while waiting to start running.  After no other parents seemed willing to wrangle the sprinters, I took off with the lead group.  Steps into our run we heard a horrible noise: a thump and then a cry.  One thought crossed my mind as I turned back toward the school and the crosswalk we’d just passed.  A kid got hit by a car.

Relief when I saw a golden dog limping and whimpering it’s way across the street.  There was no blood and no gore just sad sounds and a slow moving animal.  One of the Girls on the Run coaches and a mom ran to help the dog.  My 6 girls and I were the only ones who didn’t witness the dog getting hit.  We paused and the kids asked hard questions like, “Will the dog be okay?” and “Will the dog die?” and I said, “I don’t know.”  In no time the singlemindness of 8 and 9 year-olds took over and the runners started again, so I went with them.  After all, we were there to run.

There was no hysteria.  There weren’t even any tears, but each intersection I stopped traffic – the sound of car hitting flesh fresh in my mind – and girls passed me talking to each other. “That dog reminded me of my dog.”  “My mom was crying.”  “Do you think it is dead?”  “I would be sad if it was a cat.”  The conversations continued throughout the run and after we celebrated our accomplishment the dog news was relayed to moms, dads, teachers and siblings.  The coach who stayed with the dog told her story.  The owners were called, but not contacted and a nice neighbor took the dog to the vet in his truck.  “Will the dog be okay?” the girls asked.  “I don’t know.”


 

Today is my work from home day, and I watched our new backyard cat stalk mice, our chickens, and investigate our maple tree.  My house cats dart from window to window not growling but fascinated by the cat that’s outside.  How did she get there and why isn’t anyone making her go back inside?  She’s not our cat, and she isn’t friendly, but chicken bring mice and I’ve been happy to see her hunting the past couple of weeks.  It’s been a few years since Mark the cat stopped coming around and since I’d watched his muzzle and then coat turn from orange to white I assumed he’d passed on.  He used to leave us mouse presents on our front stoop and while the baby  mouse piles were disturbing, I was glad he kept the pest population down.

After picking up my daughter from school I watched the grey cat prowl around our yard.  When she disappeared behind a tree I went back to the basement to finish my work day.  I glanced out the egress window and there she was, her sleek grey fur gleaming and golden eyes staring at a rodent or bug just beyond the edge of the window where I couldn’t see and she couldn’t reach.  I called to my daughter, “Come see the new cat.”  My cats each stretched into the window screen and our family examined her.  My daughter cooed, “Hi cat.”  The huntress didn’t waver from her prey.  Suddenly her focus broke and she glanced down at us before leaping into the front yard.  We all went back to watching TV, typing, or napping in our cat bed.

Fifteen minutes later I heard my husband come in the front door.  He thudded around upstairs and tromp tromp tromped down the stairs.  He greeted my daughter who ignored him in favor of her show.  He stood by me and said quietly, “You know that grey cat that’s been around.  I think she got hit by a car.  I saw someone stop and pick up her body from the middle of the road.  She’s lying in the yard across the street.  She’s not moving.   She’s definitely dead.”

“I just saw her.  She’s been around all day.”  Back upstairs I stared out the kitchen window at an unmoving pile of familiar grey fur sprawled in our neighbor’s yard.  Her positioning and stillness left no room to wonder if she was going to make it.  Her body was right across from the colorful hearts and arrows I’d drawn.  Our new outside cat wasn’t going to help manage the rodent population anymore.

My husband pointed to the white car with blinking hazards, “That was the person moving her.  I hope they are calling someone.  Did she have tags?”  I didn’t remember.

Numbed I went back to my computer and when my daughter asked what was going on I said, “I don’t want to tell you.”  I kept working and my daughter went upstairs to find her dad. I held myself together until her little arms wrapped around my neck and she said, “I’m so sorry mom.”  Only then did I cry.  I cried for the pets, for the owners, for the kids that witnessed a car hit a dog on what was supposed to be a magical day, and for my daughter who would have been “sad if it was a cat” the day before.  When I was done, she sobbed.  “Mom, animals do so much for us.  Why do we run them over?” All I could say was, “I don’t know, kiddo.”

I glimpsed the grey cat’s body across the street while I made dinner.  When I noticed my daughter crying while staring out the window I paused.  We hugged and she moved on. When dinner was finished I looked and even in the dark I could see that the remains of the outside cat were gone.   “Mom, do you think an animal got her, or did her owners find her?”

“I don’t know.”

Call me farmer Afthead

The Afthead family got some chickens.  After the rough experiment fostering kittens last year we left the mammal group of the animal kingdom in favor of the bird group.  Meet Buffy, Rosie and Hope.

img_4345

“What?!?!  You got chickens?” asks Hope.  The girl with her face in the camera was named after Hope Solo.  We got the chickens during the Olympics and little Afthead decided the representative of the Ameraucana breed had to be named after an American athlete.  As a big soccer fan she decided Hope was a good chicken name.  (Given Ms. Solo’s antics during the Olympics I think having a chicken named after her is appropriate.)

This goofy girl is a Buff Orpington.  I really wanted to name her Buff Orpington the Third, because she’s such a formal sounding breed, but Mr. Afthead won these naming rights.  Buffy was the obvious choice for this brave vampire hunting fowl.  In the coming years I’m hoping that in between laying eggs for our family she’ll star in her own sitcom or maybe a movie about a vampire, werewolf, chicken love triangle.

Finally we have Rosie, the littlest of the chickens.  From the beginning she’s been the sweetest, the most friendly and, of course, was the one that almost got sick and died the first week.  Yeah, we appear to attract sickly animals.  After panicked googling, visiting feed stores, and syringe watering this little girl she’s now in great health.  All that hands-on attention in those early weeks has made her brave, well socialized and willing to pose for pictures.   “Who’s a pretty bird?  You are Rosie!”  Momma Afthead got to name this one, and I went for the obvious color-related name for this member of the Rhode Island Red breed.

So that’s our flock.  Really, I have no idea why we are trying this adventure.  We aren’t big local food people.  We aren’t even big egg eaters.  I think Mr. Afthead wanted a project, and converting little Afthead’s old playhouse to a chicken coop seemed like fun.  Of course little Afthead was in: what kid doesn’t want chickens?  It’s all I could do to keep her from grabbing bunnies, turkeys, miniature goats and peacocks from the feedstore the day we got the birds.  Man, that kid loves animals.

Me?  I’m still on the fence about about being a chicken farmer.  While I love them much more than I expected I don’t appreciate my morning, “Are the chicken’s dead?” routine.  I’ve never cared if skunk, fox, coyote, stray dogs, feral cats, or opossum lived in my backyard before, but now they are all chicken dismembering predators waiting to infiltrate every nook and cranny of our chicken habitat.  Ugh.  I’m crossing my fingers and hoping we can get these girls through to the spring, so at least we start getting some eggs.  I’m also hoping if something gets them it isn’t a week when my husband is traveling.  I don’t want to handle a chicken murder scene alone.

Now off to go find some overalls, a nice straw hat and a toothpick to chew.  Come back soon, y’all.  I tell ya more chicken stories.  Ah yup.  “Bawk!”