Garrus and Charlie’s Story Part Eight: Adopted!

After we had the boys for two weeks, the animal shelter called us to let us know that someone had submitted an application for Tink (Charlie). However, as foster parents, we had first dibs. I did not want to break up Garrus and Charlie’s adorable bromance and I was fully aware that the latter had been adopted and returned three times before he came to us. I did not want that to happen again or for him to regress back into himself.

I immediately spoke to Aaron about it to verify that he was on board with adopting these two cats. He responded with an affirmative “Let’s do it.” So I told the shelter we wanted to keep both. Since we took them home as fosters during the Clear the Shelter event, the adoption fee was waived. Yay free cats!

This is the last post in this series describing how we went from a single-cat household to a three-cat household. Now we have a little clowder! If you haven’t already read the previous posts, be sure to check out Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, and Seven!

Want to know more about fostering and the boys’ progress? Stay tuned to Purry Home Companion!

National Specially-Abled Pets Day

Today’s holiday was created by animal advocate Colleen Page to educate the public about the importance of caring for disabled pets. Animals of all kinds can become disabled from injury or illness, or they may be born with a disability. This does not make them any less lovable or less deserving of their forever home!

Photo courtesy of Neatorama

Thanks to advances in veterinary medicine and new technologies, these animals can use support slings, dog carts, and other aids so that they can live their best lives! There is also plenty of useful information, advice, and support available for pets with any number of disabilities.

Check out this YouTube video of an owner using Australian Sign Language (Auslan) to communicate with his deaf dog Flop!

Remember that a disabled pet is more likely to be overlooked at a shelter. They need loving homes just as much as pets that hear, see, and walk with four paws.

Photo courtesy of Bored Panda

Meet Zeus! He is a blind Western Screen Owl that now lives at the Wildlife Learning Center in Sylmar, California. Aren’t his eyes amazing? You can also check out Zeus on Instagram!

Boudicca’s Story

In November 2000, I was a high school sophomore and, after discussing my desire to get a cat with my parents, decided to adopt one. I went to the ASPCA in Dallas, accompanied by my older step-sister, Krysta.

What was I looking for? In middle school my family and I adopted a markedly high-energy, extraordinarily playful, and irrepressibly naughty half-Siamese all-black longhaired cat named Misdemeanor. (Yes, her name was aptly chosen. If she had been a bigger cat, she would have been Felony. She was a very naughty girl.) Unfortunately, Misdemeanor did not stay with us for very long since she once slipped out the dog door and never returned home. After a lot of searching, we were fairly certain that, since she was a gorgeous cat, someone had taken her in. So we went several years without a cat. While I enjoyed her playfulness, I wanted a less high-octane cat. A more laid-back lap cat appealed to me most. In terms of color, I didn’t have my heart set on any particular color or breed, although I must admit that I have a definite soft spot for black cats. (Who doesn’t like having a house panther?)

The ASPCA had three community cat rooms at the time–one for kittens, one for adult males, and one for adult females. Kittens are adorable, of course, but they tend to be frisky little rascals, not chill lap cats. I hung out in the room with the boys but none of the toms really stuck out in my mind. Ultimately I spent the most time in the girl cat room. There were four black cats but all were seemingly aloof and indifferent, completely uninterested in engaging with me. (NB: This happened to be the case with these individual cats. Not all black cats are snooty and unsocial.)

Only two cats remain vivid in my mind all these years later. One of them was a slender red spotted tabby named Ladybug. I estimated her to be about six months old, certainly less than a year old, so there was a kittenish element to her. Confident, she came right up to me and wanted to play, but once I sat down she made a beeline for my lap. She was charming and vivacious so I found her quite delightful. While I was preoccupied with Ladybug, I didn’t pay attention to the other cats in the room. Distracted, I didn’t see a dark cat-shaped blur until Ladybug had been politely but abruptly ousted from my lap. The blur was a young tuxedo cat, who had daintily climbed into my lap and sat there like she owned me.

“Well hello there,” I said. “Why did you shoo off Ladybug? I can visit with you too.”

Before I knew it, the tuxedo cat draped herself across my chest and left shoulder, wrapping her right paw around my arm, leaving her back legs and tail sprawled across my torso. She rested her head on her left paw. Apparently this cat was part-Gumby, part-liquid, given the way she stretched so languidly. The whole time she vibrated with the loudest purr. This cat was also part-Velcro since she was now attached to me quite firmly.

I stood up with her draped on my shoulder; apparently me moving around didn’t bother her in the slightest. I gently detached her from me and put her down on the floor. She raced up the cat shelves and leapt off of one, flying back onto my shoulder. I put her down again and scurried out of the room to visit the boy cats and kittens again. When I returned, the same little tuxedo cat sat in front of the glass door, waiting with great anticipation of my return and giving me a running commentary all the while. When I opened the door, she leapt from the floor onto my shoulder (I was too surprised to put my hands up and catch her). Again, immediate purring ensued. She was utterly adorable.

Krysta stopped by; it was getting late and we needed to start home. “Did you pick a cat?”

“No,” I said. “One picked me!” I gestured to the tuxedo cat, whose name at the time was Minx or Mittens (I think).

Krysta laughed. “Well, do you want her? She clearly likes you and she’s lovey.”

I don’t think there was any doubt in this cat’s mind that I would be the one who would take her home, feed her, and love her a long time.

With regard to her name, I already had an inkling to call her Boudicca, which is derived from Brythonic boud, meaning “victory”. I named her after the queen of the British Celtic Iceni tribe who led an uprising against the Romans in AD 60-61. While my Boudicca was not nearly so hardcore, I thought it was a name with great character.

When I told my stepdad what I wanted to name her, he exclaimed, “What? You want to name your cat Booty Call?!” After I stopped laughing, I corrected him. My grandmother misheard me and thought I wanted to name her Botitas, or “little boots” in Spanish, considering that she had white paws. Such was my family’s reception to my cat’s unusual name.

Being a writer with a flare for names (I study onomastics as a hobby), I ended up giving her a multi-part name. First I added Queen before Boudicca in honor of her namesake sovereign. My grandmother likened her beautiful eyes to that of the seductive Mata Hari, so that was soon added. When she sat in a classic loaf-cat pose, her ears often tilted and her eyes appeared to turn green so she looked a bit like an owl and partly like Malificent: wise, content, and possibly plotting some nefarious deed…after she finished her nap. So her final name became Sophia (Ancient Greek for “wisdom”). Her full name is thus Queen Boudicca Mata Hari Sophia. The vet techs call her Queen B or Miss B. As you can probably guess, she has many, many nicknames, some of which include Boo, Boophus, Boophus Brain, Googly Girl, Her Majesty, and Pretty Girl.

This is the earliest picture I have saved of Boudicca, dated November 2011. By this time she had filled out to her adult house panther size. When I first took her home in 2002, she had an adolescent cat’s slim physique.

Change a Pet’s Life Day

Egads! I missed Change a Pet’s Life Day! (Things have been a little hectic because Boudicca was sick on Tuesday. Thankfully, she is getting better now.)

Change a Pet’s Life Day (belated) is a pet holiday celebrated on January 24 and intended to encourage adopting pets from shelters and consequently, raising awareness for animal shelters. As a shelter volunteer, I can testify that there are so many wonderful animals that need loving homes. There are pets that would do well with new pet owners and others that would thrive with experienced pet owners. There are young, old, middle-aged, everywhere in between. If you are not a cat or dog person, shelters often have other pets that might strike your fancy such as guinea pigs, hamsters, birds, rabbits, and even pigs and chickens. Here is how you can change a pet’s life:

  1. Adopt. Head to your local shelter and adopt a pet! Many shelters offer special discounts on January 24th while others will hold adoption events throughout the week or on the weekend. Rescue groups will probably have similar events so be sure to look for these. (NB: Adoption is a commitment. One should not adopt a pet without really being sure that this is what you want and that you will be able to care for this pet.)
  2. Foster. Unsure if you want to commit to having a pet? Does your shelter need temporary homes due to space or other needs, such as a pregnant cat or dog? Giving a shelter animal a foster home is a demonstration of compassion and generosity. Whether you foster one time or do it regularly, it does make a difference in pets’ lives!
  3. Donate. Find out what your shelter needs. Does the shelter have a wish list or a Friends of the Animal Shelter organization that could provide this information? Food, toys, collars, leashes, scratch pads or poles, and carriers are commonly asked for items. Money, of course, is always immensely appreciated because it can be used for whatever the shelter needs at the time or for future use.
  4. Volunteer. Do you like to be involved in your community? Do you love animals? Volunteering is a fantastic way to change pets lives on a continuing basis. I enjoy having the opportunity to love on and socialize cats and help out at adoption events so that these lovely kitties get matched to the right homes.
  5. Transform your pet’s life. Would your pet benefit from more exercise or attention? Would a play date with another cat or dog or a new toy make your pet’s day? I’m fairly certain that one of the highlights of Boudicca’s day is when she gets her lap time session in the evening. The boys are equally thrilled by visits and play time.

Rescued Pets in My Life

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This is Chiya! She is one of my parents’ two rescue dogs. She is a sassy and independent Tibetan Spaniel. Originally her name was Holly but my mom changed it to Chiya, which is Spanish slang for “crier,” in honor of her distinctive shrill alarm bark. (Tibetan Spaniels were bred to be watchdogs as well as canine companions.) She excels at being a foot warmer too.

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Here is dog #2, Chiquita! (We call her Chica for short.) She is a Kooikerhondje, which I promise is a dog breed that I did not make up. My parents took her in after her previous owner became very ill with cancer and shortly thereafter passed away. Look at those marvelous ears and that tail! She is such a well-behaved dog and an excellent snuggler as well.

Last year, I volunteered at the Clear the Shelters event on August 19 at my local animal shelter. I intended to show cats and match them to new owners. I did not intend to take home a new cat, let alone two, but I am SO GLAD that we decided to foster and later adopt Charlie and Garrus. They have made a lot of progress since then and both are happier, healthier cats.

In this photo you can see hints of how skinny and scraggly Garrus (then known as Aristotle) was. When he stood up, swaths of fur along his sides were missing (licked it off due to stress in the shelter) and in general his coat looked haggard. He was so skinny that his ribs and knobbly spine were clearly visible. Both he and Charlie looked SO pitiful at the shelter. We quickly learned that Garrus was not eating much and in a lot of pain due to dental issues, which we promptly fixed.

This was the first time Charlie (then known as Tink) emerged from behind or underneath furniture for a significant length of time. A huge scaredy cat when we brought him home, he was highly reactive to people (us), sudden movements, many noises, new objects, and any change. Both boys bolted whenever we stood up; they would only timidly approach if we sat down on the floor and remained very quiet.

Fast forward four months: here are the boys sprawled in the sun. (I took this photo in late December 2017.) Rather than fleeing when I approached, they stretched, slow blinked, trilled and squeaked (Charlie), welcomed scritches, and purred.

Lastly, look at Queen B! In November 2000, a lovey five-month old tuxedo kitten chose ME as her person at the ASPCA. Seventeen years later she is still my girl!

How can YOU change a pet’s life today?

World Kindness Day

Today is World Kindness Day! The world certainly could use more kindness, compassion, and altruism, especially toward ourselves and to others. On that note, here are a few different ways you can demonstrate genuine acts of kindness toward animals, and by extension, your community:

  1. Care for pets. Learning how to gently and correctly handle pets is a crucial part of being a responsible pet ownership. It’s important that children know how to properly approach and handle pets for a number of reasons. Caring for a pet can also help children (as well as adults) develop a sense of empathy, compassion, and responsibility.
  2. Take your pet shopping to pick out toys, food, or other supplies for the animals at your local animal shelter.
  3. Put together a gift basket for somebody from your pet. Bonus points: make a paw-printed card to go with it. (Make sure it’s made with non-toxic ink or water-based paint.)
  4. Foster a shelter animal.
  5. If you have a sick or elderly friend or neighbor, offer to walk their dog or otherwise take care of their pet. If the owner has transportation issues, offer to help them transport their pet to the vet if they need it.
  6. Volunteer at and visit an animal shelter, rescue organization, or sanctuary.
  7. Walk or run a 5K that benefits a pet or wildlife charity organization.
  8. Foster a military pet on behalf of a service man or woman while they are serving abroad.
  9. Learn how to report animal cruelty. Depending on the state, police departments may handle these investigations while elsewhere it falls under the jurisdiction of animal control or municipal agencies.
  10. Visit the zoo or aquarium. These organizations care deeply for the animals in their care and work hard to conserve endangered species.
  11. Plant a butterfly garden.
  12. Choose cruelty-free products.
  13. Donate to a spay/neuter program in your area to help reduce the feral cat population in your area.
  14. Leave wild animals in their natural homes. If you see or find an injured or obviously sick animal, or suspect a baby animal has been abandoned, contact your local wildlife rehabilitation organization to learn what to do next (if anything).
  15. When out on a walk in the woods, by a stream, or on a beach, pick up plastic rings, bottles, and other litter that can harm animals.

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Adopt a Senior Pet Month

IMG_1841November is Adopt a Senior Pet Month!

Before I start talking about senior pets, it’s important to understand the basics of pet lifespans. Pets age and grow similar to how humans develop over time. They start out as babies (puppy- and kittenhood), go through a youthful period (adolescence), reach adulthood, and continue to their twilight years (senior and geriatric period). Cats, in particular, can live a long time–15 or more years. Here’s how cat life ages break down:

  1. Kitten: Birth to 6 months [human equivalent: 0-10 years]
  2. Junior: 7 months to 2 years [human equivalent: 12-24 years]
  3. Prime: 3-6 years [human equivalent: 28-40 years] 
  4. Mature: 7-10 years [human equivalent: 44-56 years]
  5. Senior: 11-14 years [human equivalent: 60-72 years]
  6. Geriatric: 15 years+ [human equivalent: 76 years for a 15 year old cat to 116 years for a 25 year old cat!]

Charlie is the equivalent of a 24 year old, although I must admit he seems more like a furry toddler. Garrus, being 6, is the mature one of the boys, being the equivalent of a 40 year old in human years. Boudicca is 17, which would make her roughly 84 in human years! 

Dogs’ lifespans are a bit different and depend on the breed and the dog’s size. Large dog breeds tend to have shorter lifespans than smaller dog breeds. For example, a large dog breed, say a 1-year-old Golden Retriever, would be 18 in human years. An 11-year-old Golden Retriever would be 96! A Great Dane or an Irish Wolfhound may only live 8 years. By contrast, a small dog breed like a West Highland White Terrier would be the human equivalent of 12 at 1 year old and 96 at age 16.

In animal shelters, adult pets and especially seniors are considerably more likely to be overlooked and, consequently, take a longer time to find their furever home. I think a lot of this has to do with myths about senior pets and just how “old” a pet is.

As part of my volunteer work at the Pflugerville Animal Shelter, I help out in the cat room and show adoptable animals there, especially during adoption events. Almost every person who comes in to look at a cat asks first, “Do you have any kittens?” (NB: I have nothing against kittens. Kittens are friggin’ adorable and they deserve good homes too.) Please look at adult cats!

A number of people I’ve spoken to in the cat room positively balked at adopting an 8-year-old cat and often wouldn’t even look at a cat over the age of 5. I have had at least one person directly state that they were under the impression that adult animals (cats and dogs alike) would not bond with new owners but only kittens and puppies would because they were more “moldable”. This idea floored me. I had never heard that before and, in my experience, certainly not true.

Whether a pet is 6 months old or 6 years old, a pet can certainly bond with a new owner. Take my two former foster cats, Charlie and Garrus. They are two and six years old, respectively. Charlie had been adopted at least three times, albeit briefly, and Garrus had at least one prior owner. When we first took them home, they were timid, skittish, and prone to hiding. We sat on the floor and waited for them to feel confident and comfortable enough to come out. This patience paid off because they started to show affection toward us and slowly started to bond. (Getting shy animals to build trust and bond can be a challenge.) By contrast, when I adopted Boudicca, I’m fairly sure she had already started to bond with me before we left the ASPCA. (She was about 5 months old at the time and it should not be overlooked that she chose me.)

When I work in the cat room, I often get to love on cats who are so eager to love on anyone and grateful for any attention, whether it is playtime, chin scritches, or being held. Most of them definitely want to engage with humans; the rest may be anxious, afraid, or need more socialization in order to feel comfortable with human company. Socializing and loving on cats are my primary duties as a volunteer. Now that I’ve worked with shy and timid cats, I’m happy to help other cats come out of their shells so they can find a loving home!

There are a number of advantages to adopting a senior pet. Here are a few:

  1. Personality. A senior pet has an established personality and disposition. Older animals tend to be calmer as well. Even-tempered, low-key pets are companions with whom you can relax. They also often make excellent snuggle buddies. Who wouldn’t want that?!
  2. Manners. Older pets know basic manners and household etiquette. That is because they are generally familiar with home environments and some kind of training. Many already have experience living with other animals and children. Kittens and puppies, while adorable, don’t have manners yet because they lack experience. They need to be taught manners and doing that requires a lot of work. 
  3. Size and activity level. An adult or senior pet has achieved their adult size and generally has an established activity level. These are important things to consider when adopting, as a unique pet’s needs (high energy, big size) may impact your lifestyle (will need lots of exercise and space). It is also important to consider whether an energetic or laid-back animal would best suit your lifestyle and if your lifestyle suits that animal. Look at the differences in energy levels between Charlie, Garrus, and Boudicca. Charlie likes to be busy, Garrus enjoys both playing and chilling out, and the highlight of Boudicca’s day is regularly scheduled lap time. 
  4. Trainability. Because senior pets have well-developed personalities, manners, and experience, they are generally easier to train and require less monitoring than kittens or puppies. Young animals frequently get into something they’re not supposed and can’t always distinguish between a safe situation and a dangerous one. An adult pet, by contrast, is more likely to know what “no” means and be less of a troublemaker.
  5. Housebroken. Senior pets don’t have teething issues and are already house-trained. In short, they tend to be less destructive. (A group of kittens is called a destruction for a reason! Kittens can be nuts.) Older pets are generally more in sync with human daytime and nighttime patterns of activity and sleep.
  6. Not problem pets. Senior pets are not necessarily “problem pets” as some tend to think. A senior pet may lose their homes for any number of reasons: novelty of a pet wearing off, allergies, death of an owner, new baby, loss of a job, a move, or a change in work schedule, to name a few. None of these reasons indicate that there was something wrong with the pet. With Charlie and Garrus, their last owners were seniors and in ill health; I believe both went into nursing homes and could not take their cats with them, so they were surrendered.
  7. Health. Senior pets are not necessarily sick and decrepit. Some pets have health challenges their whole lives while others are pretty healthy well into their twilight years. Any health issues a senior pet has may already be diagnosed and receiving treatment. Being fully prepared and knowing what you’re getting when adopting a pet is empowering.
  8. Save a life! Adopting a senior pet saves lives. Seriously. Senior pets are more likely to be put down if they cannot find a home and the shelter faces overcrowding.
  9. Love in action. Adopting a senior pet or a special needs pet can be the ultimate act of generosity and love. They need loving homes just as much as kittens and puppies do!