Donerail Farm

Kitten Karma

Originally written July 6, 2009

I lost my cat, Skeeter, last week. She was Bubba’s sister and had been my favorite barn cat for ten years – a regal beauty reigning among the ‘working class’ cats who were her barnmates. Skeeter., who looked like a Maine Coon cat, was talkative, loved to be picked up, held and petted, and would perch on the windowsill of whatever stall I was cleaning and demand to be petted at frequent intervals. If I did not immediately respond to her trills and meows, she would reach out and pat me on the arm to garner more petting.

Saturday I was running errands. On my way to the gym, I passed Radio Shack, in a busy strip center in Alvin, and remembered my truck ‘clicker’ had been dead for a long time and replacing the battery was one of those things I’d been meaning to do and just never got around to. It wasn’t even on my list of things to do this day that was predicted to be another record-breaking scorcher. As I was standing at the counter, waiting for the clerk to replace my battery, I saw a blur of white streak past the glass-front of the store. It was a kitten. A tiny kitten. In a busy parking lot. With what would be blistering hot pavement by the afternoon. Fronting a very busy street. 

 When I finished with my purchase, I went outside and the kitten, a tiny, emaciated gray and white scrap of life, had jumped up into a potted plant by the door. I could see abrasions on its sides through its thin fur, and small sores on the tops of its front feet and the ‘hocks’ of its rear legs. It lay there in the potted plant looking up for me like it had just been waiting there for me.  It made no protest when I picked it up, but immediately started purring.

 There was no question that the kitten was going home with me. But how? I knew how dangerous a loose kitten could be when one was trying to drive.

 I got in my truck and immediately saw the large clear storage tote I’d bought at Wal-Mart earlier on my first errand stop. And, I had a towel I was taking with me to the gym. I laid the towel on the bottom of the tote, settled the kitten into the tote, put the lid loosely on the top and surveyed the results. The kitten immediately curled up on the towel, all the while gazing up at me.

 I was hooked.

From there, I drove straight to the feed store, taking the kitten-containing tote inside with me. It has been probably a decade since I had a kitten and never one this small and emaciated. I consulted with the people at the feed store and they suggested Kitten Milk Replacer. It was clear the kitten was flea-infested and I knew it was too young to treat and they said to bathe it with Dawn dish soap. I purchased Kitten Milk Replacement, kitten kibble, a tiny litter box, and set off home to break the news to Mike.

 There are some times when Mike knows that the case is ‘stacked against him” and this was one of those times.

 He asked me if this kitten was going to be a house cat or a barn cat, and I truthfully answered, “I have no idea.”

 I set the kitten up in a bathroom with the litter box and carried the plastic tote with the towel and laid it on its side. The kitten promptly hopped inside and curled back up on the towel.

 I read the directions on the KMR and hoped like heck the kitten didn’t have to be bottle-fed. My fears were completely unfounded, as, when I put a shallow plastic container on the floor, the kitten, with no coaxing whatsoever, began greedily lapping the milk. I fed the kitten about an ounce of KMR every hour for the next few hours.

 When I got the kitten settled, Mike and I went out to lunch and stopped by the Half Price Bookstore in Clear Lake . As we walked in, there was a stack of cages with cats for adoption by a local cat rescue organization. I laughed to myself, thinking if I had not already ‘rescued’ the kitten, this would have been tough to pass up.

 We bought our books and headed home. As we turned down a street near home, there was a huge plywood sign in front of a driveway – FREE KITTENS.

 I had to laugh again. Ok, Ok, I get it!! The forces of nature REALLY seemed to want to make sure I had plenty of opportunities to get another cat before the day was over. I am absolutely sure that even if that tiny kitten had not crossed my path at Radio Shack, some kitten, somewhere, would have come home with me on Saturday!

 Sometimes you have to believe in fate, or God, or whatever you want to call that universal force, working in the background of our lives. I have read the universe hates a void. I think that must be especially true when it comes to kittens --- one moves on and one moves in. Call it karma. – And that’s just what I’m calling the new kitten. Karma.

Epilogue: Karma went to the vet a few days after I found him. He had systemic ringworm, which caused all his sores. He weighed 3 lbs, and he’d probably gained at least a pound the few days I had him! He got meds for the ringworm, meds for internal parasites and the OK to treat him for fleas with Advantage. Now (Sept. 9) he weighs 7 lbs and I doubt he remembers that once lived in front of the Radio Shack. ;) Mike says Karma "won the cat lottery." Bubba, my other house cat, still is not convinced it was a good idea to rescue Karma, but they are at least coexisting peacefully.



The Lap Cat 

Bubba started out life as a barn cat. For his first six years of life, Bubba, along with his mom and sister, were the chief rodent patrol officers at Donerail Farm. He is now a fat, spoiled house cat and is fairly horrified at the thought of 'roughing it' outside.

My black and white male cat Bubba is very un-catlike. I inadvertently imprinted him at birth and he follows me around like a dog and meows for me to pick him up or pet him. When I clean stalls, he lounges on the windowsill and when I get close enough, will reach out and "bat" me to get my attention and beg some petting.

The horses are tolerant of Bubba, regarding him as hardly significant enough to even register a blip on the equine consciousness.

Until one day.

I had been riding my new (at the time) mare, Nanja in the arena. I had stopped for a minute to talk to someone and Bubba had wandered out to view the proceedings from the sidelines. (He knew that sometimes really wonderful things called LUNGE WHIPS would be flying around in there and they were wonderful game to stalk, although the meat of the actual LUNGE WHIP was hardly worth eating, being scrawny and stringy. But they were lively quarry and fun to pursue, even if they weren't good eating.) I am sure Bubba was on the hunt for the elusive lunge whip on this day.

However, to his dismay, the lunge whip was lying dead in the arena this day. So, as I sat on Nanja and talked, he strolled over and stared up at me adoringly. I, however, engrossed in my conversation, did not pay him enough attention. (In his opinion.)

Bubba, tired of being ignored, decided to jump in my lap. The only problem being was that my "lap" was, at the moment, about five feet in the air aboard a horse. However, since they don't teach this sort of practical matter where he went to school, Bubba did not stop to think about force, mass and his trajectory (not to mention gravity) before he launched himself in an enthusiastic leap in search of my lap. Had he had time to consult NASA, he would have realized he made quite a few errors in his calculations. (None of which having to do with the practical knowledge that a furry predator with claws should never launch itself at a horse's midsection. Bubba most certainly does NOT view himself as a furry predator.)

Suddenly Nanja was aware of a cat sized blip her equine radar.

And it was headed right for her midsection.

In about a nanosecond, roughly a million years of instinct suddenly registered on every single one of Nanja's brain cells. And they all screamed the same thing: "MOUNTAIN LION AT NINE O'CLOCK!!!"

I, of course, was blissfully unaware of these CATaclysmic (so to speak) forces hurtling through space, about to meet.

I felt a thump as Bubba hit about my knee level, surely looking like Wiley Coyote as his ACME rocket propels him JUST shy of the butte he is trying to scale.

At the same time, Nanja flew sideways in the opposite direction as if all the demons from hell were after her. (Which proves the law of physics that states “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Bubba did not know about this little law of physics, either.)

Bubba decided my lap was not a prudent destination at this time, and he totally forgot about my lap, or even hunting lunge whips as he flew, as if propelled by an ACME rocket launcher, to the safety of the barn.

I was happily in no danger of being dumped as a result of this physics experiment gone wrong, but I did almost fall off from laughing so hard.

An Almost Tragic Cat Story, June, 1999

Proof that cats really DO have nine lives....or two, anyway.

My black  and white spotted Momcat had been missing for a few days and I was thinking “Oh, perfect - just when I was about to take her to get fixed, she wanders off.”  Very unlike her, especially since she had two kittens that, although they are OLD enough to be weaned, none of them seem to be in any hurry to do so. Despite the fact they were about 12 weeks old! (And the only reason she ended up having kittens in the first place was that she just didn't look old enough to be spayed when she wandered up....obviously I was wrong!)

I had been driving my dad’s little Honda Civic while they are in Colorado for the summer - better gas mileage and to save wear and tear on my new truck.

I thought I detected a faint odor of cat urine when I was running an errand  and thought “no way - no cats have been in here.”

Just happened to make WalMart one of the stops and when I came out, someone had stacked a whole row of baskets on the driver side, so I decided to put my stuff in the trunk. Imagine my amazement when I opened the trunk and there was a very scared Momcat!! I slammed the trunk quickly (didn’t want to chase her around the WM parking lot!) and zoomed for home, frantically trying to think of HOW she got in the TRUNK!!

It finally dawned on me I’d gotten feed two days previous and driven the car into the barn and unloaded the feed. She MUST have jumped in the trunk at that point, and when I shut it, I did not see her.

So she was in the trunk for TWO WHOLE DAYS with no water. In June. In Houston.  I about died when I figured this out (still on the way home from Wal-Mart) and was thinking I was probably going to have to take her to the animal emergency clinic - envisioning IV fluids, etc.

Got home, opened up the trunk and poor Momcat was crouched flat in the trunk, terrified. I got her out and took her to some water but she had no interest in it - she had to find her kittens.  They came running and there was a joyful family reunion, with much licking all around - only then would Momcat drink any water.

Momcat turned out to be perfectly fine. I cringe to think of all the “what ifs.”  What if I had stopped using the car and started driving my truck to work?  What if I didn’t park in a parking garage where the car stays relatively cool during the day? What if those shopping carts weren’t blocking my car door???  And on and on..... As far as Momcat... one down, eight more to go. 

  Epilog: Momcat is still with us, living the good life as a pampered barn cat.

Bubba and the Automatic Food Dish

Cats are known for being low maintenance, right? I mean, just toss some Cat Chow in a bowl every day and they feed
themselves from the ‘buffet’ when they get hungry.

Meet my house cat, Bubba. Bubba is not one of those cats who can have the 'all you can eat buffet' . Bubba definitel
abuses the 'all you can eat buffet' concept, as evidenced by his 16 lbs. and rather large "Buddha" belly. 

Therefore, Bubba eats Science Diet Lite Hairball formula dry cat food – at thirty bucks a bag. The little morsels
are shaped like pyramids and I measure them so scrupulously for his twice-a-day fix, I might as well count 
each individual kibble. I am sure Bubba does.

However…the problem with having a cat who has to be actually be fed meals at certain intervals is that the cat
develops...expectations. Expectations of being fed promptly at
5:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.  each and every day.
I admit I loved seeing that cute little face just staring out the glass front door, eagerly awaiting my arrival
home  every weekday evening. My husband, Mike,  says Bubba parks himself  there around
4:30 every afternoon
and just waits for my arrival. I was Bubba's sun, his moon, his stars. Ok, I knew he was really waiting for his dinner,
but still....

However, the dinner feeding was not the problem. It was breakfast.

Like a junkie, a cat's expectations gradually start shifting....slowly but surely, they want their “fix” earlier…   

At first it's cute...the soft 'pat pat pat' of an impossibly furry paw on one's sleeping face is certainly a better
way to greet the day than the blaring alarm clock. So you humor him - you were getting up in five minutes
anyway - and you feed him at
5:25 a.m. Except soon, the soft "pat pat pat" arrives at 5:00 a.m. 

After a few days of this ever-earlier routine, it's no longer cute.  Attempts to dissuade the large, furry alarm 
clock don't work. For one thing, shoving a 16-lb. animal with claws off a bed is not always easy - especially
when you are only half awake and the said feline is completely awake.

And determined. 

And you are wearing very sheer nightclothes.

Locking him out of the bedroom provokes frantic thrusting of paws scrambling  under the door and piteous,
mournful meowing no more conducive to sleep than the soft but determined 'pat pat pat.' 

Over time, the Cat Servant becomes noticeably grumpy and starts to get dark circles under her eyes.

And might I point out that there are no 'weekends' in a cat's world?

But the Cat Servant is a modern gal and a firm believer in harnessing technology to solve problems! So she
searched the Internet and found  an automatic cat food  dispenser.

The secret - she tells herself - is to disassociate the human being (that would be herself, the Cat Servant)
with the cat – that would be Bubba - getting fed.

The automatic food dispenser is a simple plastic gizmo. Battery operated, it has two food trays that are covered
with lids. You simply load with kibble, close the lids, and twirl the timer dial to the number of hours in the future
you want to give the pet access to food. At the appointed time, the lid will pop up and breakfast
(or dinner!) is served!

When I filled the futuristic-looking square white plastic trays the first time, I made sure Bubba was there to watch.
I loaded them up, set one tray for 8 hours in the future (
5 a.m.) and the other 20 hours in the future (5 p.m.)
and set it on the floor next to his water dish in our master bathroom.

He knew there was food in there.  He sniffed it. He patted it gently on the lid. He  nudged it with his nose. 
In fact, he did all the things to it that he did to me every morning! Then he sat back and just stared at it as
if kinetic energy alone could make the plastic lids fly open and free the aromatic contents.

The first couple days went great. I felt very smug when I stopped getting that ‘pat pat pat’ on the face at 
dark-thirty. On about day three, I woke up at
4 a.m. to a strange sound – sure that there must be an
intruder in the house.

I got up to investigate and found Bubba was pounding on the auto cat dish and,  he had, in fact, flipped the
whole thing upside down in an attempt to get to the  prize inside – those little pyramid-shaped kibbles.

Finally I had to move the auto feeder from our bathroom to a spare bedroom  because Bubba’s insistent
and noisy tries at prying the thing open were keeping me up!

Fast forward a year later. I was no longer getting up earlier than planned by soft and insistent face patting,
but do occasionally hear Bubba wrestling with the cat dish.

The plastic lid is permanently etched with claw and bite marks. The thing has  become more battle-scarred
than an Apollo capsule after rocketing to earth during re-entry. Twice he’s managed to rip the lid off one of
the trays, but it snapped right  back together. I have learned, after filling it, to set it in the middle of the room. 
Otherwise, Bubba makes a huge racket by bumping it against walls.

Not only is it a convenient feeder, but it’s also an exercise machine! Bubba has never worked this hard for his
food in his entire life! Strangely, though, about a  year and a half into the great ‘automatic pet feeder’
experiment – Bubba was no longer wrestling with the feeder. He seemed to accept his fate of waiting patiently
for it to tick-tick away until each lid popped open on its own.

Then, a few weekends ago I realized when walking by the spare bedroom, that the  pet feeder’s lid was open
and it was only 2:30 – several hours earlier than his pre-determined dinner time. Hum. A malfunction?

Then I seemed to notice that Bubba’s food dish seemed to be opening early on a regular basis.

My husband, Mike, the uber engineer, swore Bubba was opening it. I said no,  I would hear him if he were
wrestling with it in the middle of the night.

Mike said, “He’s turning the dial to open it.”  I laughed at him. “Oh yea, and next he’s going to learn to drive
to the store to buy his own food,” I retorted.

So Mike, in typical anal-retentive MIT Ph.D fashion, conducted almost a week of  experiments on the feeder
to see what was wrong. What he found was….absolutely nothing. When he sat it on the counter in the middle
of the day and set the timer  for 4 hours….it opened in 4 hours. 

“It’s the carpet,” I suggested. “The batteries are in an open chamber beneath it.  Maybe the carpet is doing 
something to the batteries.” 

So Mike tested the feeder in the carpeted spare bedroom, but shut the bedroom  door during “testing” so
Bubba couldn't interfere with the “test results.”

It worked just fine on the carpet when Mike tested it. Over several days.

And then, one night I could not fall asleep. Around midnight I heard an odd ‘tic tic tic’ sound. It was coming
from the spare bedroom where we kept Bubba’s automatic feeder.

I turned on the light and saw an amazing sight.

There sat Bubba, crouched over the plastic feeder, holding it steady in place with his left front leg and paw. 
His right paw – that impossibly big, furry paw – was  covering the timer dial and slowly TURNING IT. 
It made a small ‘click’ for every hour he advanced the dial forward. If he were crouching just a little closer to it he
would be pressing his right ear to the dial in a perfect feline impersonation of a  very talented safe cracker. 
Or, one might say, a
CAT burglar!

He saw me and froze for a moment…and then continued to inch that plastic dial forward – toward his own
personal treasure – those little pyramid-shaped kibbles.

I was incredulous. If I had not seen this with my own eyes I never would have believed it. I laughed out loud
at this highly comical sight. Bubba just kept working at inching that dial closer to the time it was set to open!

I never dreamed Bubba – or any cat – could be so clever. And then I had to think… Bubba was born in our 
barn and over the years, finagled his way into a “promotion” to housecat, patrolling our large house at will and
sleeping wherever he chose to  sleep. And he has his own personal Cat Servant who buys him gourmet food and
serves it to him daily.  

Just who is the smart one here?? ;)

His most treasured possession has ALWAYS been his food – so how fitting that we obligingly put it in his own
personal “safe” every day – for him to open with his own special ‘combination’ -- whenever he wants!
(but just not as MUCH as he  wants!)

 All works copyright Cyndi Craig, 1998-2009.  Unauthorized use prohibited.


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