Sunday, December 28, 2014

Dog Days of Christmas

A few weeks ago, I posted an appeal on Facebook for a loving family to foster my friend Elizabeth's dog Zeus for a year. Her family was moving, and they couldn't take him to their rental house. [You long-time readers may remember my pet-sitting misadventure with Zeus, that time I made him dreadfully sick by feeding him cat food and then Bill had to clean up after him.]

Well, despite my ridiculous mistake, Elizabeth and Shawn trusted me to watch him and the cat many more times over the years, and I've grown quite fond of him. He is the best behaved, most mild mannered dog I've ever seen. But when she asked me if we could take him, I said that our house is really too small for a big German Shepherd and two cats. And also, I hate picking up dog poop. (I don't think I said that part out loud, but it was a reason.)

In addition to asking my friends to take Zeus, I did some praying, asking that God would place him with a family who would love him and take good care of him, a family who would find him to be a blessing.

As the deadline approached, my prayers intensified. Elizabeth had said he'd have to go to the shelter if no one would take him, and I couldn't bear to think of that gentle dog being put to sleep. A crazy thought slowly took form in my mind, and then in my heart. What if we took Zeus? Yes, our house is small, but at age 13, he's not a wild dog--nothing like naughty Lola.

"Well, God, I guess we could take him," I said. "But if there's another family who would be better for him, I trust you to work it out."

A few days passed, and no other family stepped forward. A week before moving day, I was driving Ethan to school when I broke the rule against talking before 9 in the morning. "You know Elizabeth and Shawn are moving?"

Ethan didn't answer.

"...and they can't take Zeus with them. So he will go to the shelter unless somebody takes him."

He looked out the window.

Keeping my voice casual, I said, "So, I'm almost tempted.... I was thinking maybe we could take him. It's crazy, though, because our house-"

"We should totally take him," Ethan said, with more enthusiasm than I've ever heard from him at that time of the morning.

"But I don't know how the cats will do with a dog. You know how crazy Arwen got over that cat in the backyard."

"The cats will be fine. We should take him."

"I'll pray about it."

"We should take him."

"Have a good day. I love you."

A few prayers later, I felt a softness in my heart. Didn't God put me on this earth to love? Doesn't Zeus need my love? Three animals, two animals? What's the difference?

That afternoon, I sent Elizabeth a text: "If no one else takes Zeus, we will foster him."

"I love you!!!!!!!" she replied.

I told both kids the exciting news, but warned them that we were just the last resort. "I'm trusting God to put him with the right family. It might not be us."

"He can sleep in my room," Ethan said. "I'll have to clean it up first."

Having a dog could have some perks, I thought.

About a week later, on Friday the 19th, Elizabeth brought Zeus over, along with a big bin of dog food, his bowls, and two beds. She taught me his voice commands and the corresponding hand signals for Sit, Stay, Go, Lay, and Up.

After she'd given me all the instructions she could think of and answered all my questions, she took her leave.

Zeus tried to follow her out the door.

"Stay, Zeus!" she said, holding her palm out in front of her like a stop sign.

He waited at the closed door. Was she coming back?

Yes, she was. She'd forgotten her purse. Again, he tried to go with her. "Stay, Zeus."

And then she was gone.

When Arwen and CiCi came out of hiding to investigate, both of them arched their backs and fluffed their tails. I found that fascinating. I'd seen them arch at each other in play, but I'd never seen the puffy tails. Arwen hissed menacingly, but Zeus didn't even notice. He was too concerned about where Elizabeth had gone.

He waited quietly by the door for a long, long time. Finally, I called him into my bedroom/office, where I'd laid out one of his beds. "Come in here with me," I said. I touched the bed with my index finger. "Lay down."

He lay down and stared at me dully. Oh, such sad eyes! I felt a lump forming in my throat.

Stroking him gently, I prayed for God's comfort. "Let him feel safe. Let him feel loved," I prayed. And then I cried. Over a dog. Can you believe that? I knew that must be the Holy Spirit moving me to compassion.

As soon as I sat down at my desk, Zeus went back to the front door to wait. That's where he stayed until Allyson came home from school.

Over the next few days, the cats cautiously watched him, getting closer and closer. Here they are looking down at Zeus, who was minding his own business lying on his bed just below them.

See the ridge of hair along Arwen's spine? And CiCi's fluffed tail?

CiCi warmed up to Zeus first, touching noses with him by the third day.

Zeus warmed up to us, too. Allyson, Ethan, and a few of their friends gave him lots of attention and love. But it seemed to be my attention he wanted most, maybe because I was hard to get. He'd walk up to me throughout the day and nudge my hand with his nose. I petted him awkwardly, grimacing at the hair that sloughed off each time I touched him.

On Saturday the 20th, day two, we took our Christmas card picture in front of our Charlie Brown tree, which looked much more bedraggled this year because I haven't figured out how to keep CiCi out of it. Allyson and I were determined to have all three pets in the picture, but Ethan was skeptical. He held Arwen, the most reluctant of the party.

Allyson's friend Ellie gamely took a few shots with Ethan's iPhone while we tried to keep the pets calm. Here's one that didn't make the cut:

This was the best we could do. I figure in ten years when our clothes and hair are ridiculously outdated, I can sell this picture to a greeting card company for one of those quirky cards that people love because they can relate. Real life isn't as pretty as your average photo card....

A Christmas Miracle
Just when I was starting to think of Zeus as one more branch on our crazy family tree, the story took an unexpected turn. On Christmas Eve, Allyson and I stopped by my friend Nicole's house to drop off the aforementioned Christmas card and a little gift. As we chatted on her porch, somehow the topic of Zeus came up. "I just can't believe we ended up with a dog," I said. "I am such a cat person. Definitely not a dog person."

"My kids have been wanting a dog," she said wistfully. "Our dog died recently, and they want another one."

"Maybe you could..."

"No, I don't have time to train a dog," she said. (As a home schooling single mom with three young children, she's possibly one of the few people who are busier than me.)

"Oh, but you wouldn't have to train Zeus," I said. "He's the best behaved dog I've ever seen." I sent Allyson to the car for my phone, and we showed her the pictures I've posted above.

"Oh, he reminds me of the German Shepherd we had when I was growing up," she said.

"He's such a good walker," I said. "I bet he could be your running buddy."

"Can I come see him?"


"How about now?" she asked. "I want to have some time with him before my kids come back from their dad's. This could be their Christmas present."

An hour later, I was teaching Nicole all Zeus's voice commands and their corresponding hand signals, giving her all the instructions I could think of and answering all her questions. She said she would take him on a trial basis until next week, when she'll need me to watch him while they go out of town.

"Oh, I've been pet-sitting him for years," I assured her. I didn't mention the time I'd poisoned him with cat food.

And then they were gone. And I was unaccountably sad.

When I broke the news to Ethan, he took it pretty hard.

"This is better for Zeus," I said. "He'll have a much bigger house and a bigger yard, and he can get lots of exercise running with Nicole. And we'll get to see him again whenever they go out of town."

Ethan wasn't convinced. "Why'd you take him if you were so ready to give him away?"

"I was only taking him until we could find another family," I said. "I'll keep praying. If he's meant to be our dog, it won't work out for her family."

It's been a few days, and Nicole says Zeus is doing well--except that he got tired when she took him for a run. "He was all happy at first," she explained, "but around mile three he started lagging behind. I almost had to drag him home."

Poor dog! By mile three she would've had to carry me home! Maybe he can work his way up.

"Well, if you change your mind, it's no problem," I said.

"Oh, I don't know about that," she said. "Let's wait and see how he does with the kids."

I'm sure her kids will love him at least as much as mine did. So I guess that's the end of our dog story. I'll keep you posted.

In Other Pet News
CiCi has gotten into so much mischief. It's a good thing God made her so cute!

Here she is after she jumped up on the table and helped herself to a tub of sour cream:

A few minutes later, that dollop of cream on her forehead was gone. I suspect big sister Arwen might have helped her with that.

I was horrified when Ethan asked what I'd done with the sour cream.

"I threw it away, of course!"


"Because CiCi was eating out of it."


I frowned at him in disbelief.

But guess what happened a few days later? I was sitting down to a German oven pancake, left over from Christmas morning, when CiCi jumped on the table and snatched it right from under my fork!

She jumped down with the pancake in her mouth, and I tore off after her. Despite her growling, I jerked that pancake back. And I ate it!!! (I can't believe I'm telling you that. You'd have to try a German oven pancake to understand.)

I don't know what I'm going to do with that naughty cat. No matter how many times I spray her with vinegar water and set her on the floor, she will not stop jumping on the table. And now she can jump up on the kitchen counters, too, which is a big problem. If anyone has any pointers, I'd be most grateful.

All Hiss
One more story, and then I'll turn in for the night.

Remember the video I posted in my last entry of Arwen going berserk over a strange cat in our backyard? I am now pet-sitting for that cat, who lives right next door. Her name is Emma, and she's very fat. She has diabetes, so she drinks a LOT, which also means she pees a LOT. But she is very sweet.

Tonight, Ethan texted me that Emma had slipped into our house when he came in. He hadn't noticed for about 20 minutes. After that, he held her and petted her for a long time. "She's so chubby and cute," he said.

I thought of Arwen's enraged screams just a couple weeks before.

"Wasn't there a cat fight??" I asked. "Did Arwen see her?"

"Yeah, but she just stood there frozen," he answered.

I guess she is all hiss and no scratch. Whew!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Every Day Is Kitten Day

Okay, as always I don't have any time, but I've just got to share a few cat stories. I'll go way back to the beginning....

Wednesday, October 22nd was the big day when we got to pick up CiCi. That week of waiting was torture for Allyson, who counted down the days to Kitten Day several times per day.

At long last, the day arrived. We brought our 1.5-pound kitty home in a carrier, lined with her favorite blankie. Tucked under my arm was a spiral notebook with frantically scribbled notes that I probably never actually referred back to.

I was most nervous about introducing CiCi to Arwen. She made wide circles around the carrier, nose twitching. When Ethan opened the wire door and CiCi stepped out, I heard Arwen hiss for the very first time. Over the course of a few days, the cats approached each other cautiously and even touched noses, but it usually ended with Arwen hissing. I had to keep them apart, which is how CiCi ended up taking over my master bathroom.

On the first morning, I crept into Allyson's room and snuggled up to her. "Good morning, beloved princess, daughter of the Most High."

Her brow furrowed, and she turned her back to me.

"Good morning, Kitten Mama. Happy Kitten Day."

She grinned.

"You said Wednesday was Kitten Day," she murmured.

"It was. But now every day is Kitten Day," I said. "Okay, Kitten Mama. Your baby is crying for you."

It was true. CiCi cried plaintively, stretching her tiny front legs through the bars of her carrier to touch Allyson's arm. (Every night since CiCi came, Allyson has slept on her roll-out mattress on the floor, with CiCi's carrier next to her head.)

At first we fed CiCi a revolting blend of kitten formula mixed with wet cat food, which she sucked greedily from a medicine syringe. She chewed the tip of the syringe, turning her head from side to side so that much of the slop ended up in her fur, leaving her smelling perpetually like tuna. Worse, she clawed frantically at the syringe, scratching our fingers in the process.

So we quickly abandoned the syringe in favor of a saucer on the floor of my bathtub. In her excitement, CiCi walked all through the food, tracking it all over the tub and smearing it over her belly, so that she still smelled perpetually like tuna.

Gradually, we phased out the kitten formula and just gave her the wet food. And on the first day that she dove into Arwen's full bowl and stole some food, we started dropping a few pellets of dry food onto her plate.

Since then, we've had to lock her up when Arwen eats. Otherwise, she makes a beeline for the bowl. While Arwen stands back politely, CiCi climbs right into the bowl and growls menacingly as she gobbles as much as she can get down before I gingerly pull her out, holding her by her chubby belly and trying to avoid her razor-sharp claws.

Allyson and I had to watch Gremlins recently so she'd understand what I meant when I said that our sweet little CiCi turns into a mean Gremlin any time she gets around food. Even when she's alone in her bathtub, she growls quietly and kind of mutters to herself while she eats.

CiCi's not the only cat who's obsessed with food. Arwen is always on the lookout for any wet food CiCi might have missed. The moment I open the bathroom door to let CiCi out, the two cats pass each other on the way to check each other's bowl for leftovers.

They've become pretty good buddies, mostly. They love to tussle. CiCi seems to be the aggressor, but Arwen subdues her with a well placed bite now and then. Sometimes a sharp little cry from CiCi sends me running to separate them. Arwen gives me a guilty look, as if to say, "What? I didn't do anything."

Early on, Arwen started grooming CiCi, which always warms our hearts. CiCi isn't sure what she thinks of that, especially when Arwen holds her with both paws and gives her a good bath. CiCi kicks at Arwen's face with claws extended, and then the grooming session usually turns into a wrestling match.

The cutest thing is when they sleep side by side on Arwen's favorite perch on the back of the couch. That cushion has seen better days, but do you think I mind? I have become such a cat person!

Both cats are very nice nap buddies. We discovered this when Allyson and I were in bed for days with the flu recently. CiCi slept on Allyson's chest, which surely was good medicine. On the day I thought I was up to returning to work but ended up taking a five-and-a-half hour "nap," CiCi and Arwen were with me nearly the whole time. CiCi made a nest between my knees, and Arwen slept on my shin. 

This past Sunday, I was feeling particularly exhausted after church, still sapped from the flu, I think. We'd be putting up the tree that night, and I told God I really didn't feel up to that. We couldn't put it off any longer, though, because Allyson would be at Bill's for the next two days.

"Oh, Father," I prayed silently, over a sink full of dishes. "I'm so tired. Please give me strength to make it through this day. Help me to enjoy decorating the tree, for the kids' sake. Okay, for Allyson's sake." (Ethan had been less than enthusiastic about decorating the tree last Christmas, so I wasn't expecting much.)

God told me to leave those dishes and go take a nap. I set the microwave timer for 35 minutes, allowing 5 minutes to fall asleep and 30 minutes to sleep--which is my maximum, if I don't want to feel groggy for the rest of the day. 

The moment I fell into my nap chair, Arwen climbed onto the ottoman and curled up in the crook of my knees. Ah! And then CiCi climbed into my lap and curled herself around my belly. I smiled my thanks to God as I felt an infusion of joy giving me strength even as I slipped out of consciousness. 

When the beeping timer pulled me out of sleep about 33 minutes later, I was ready to face  both the dishes and the Christmas tree.

God had a wonderful surprise in store for me. After Allyson and I had put up the tree, Ethan came right out when I called him. He cheerfully hung all of his own ornaments and a bunch of the others, even the boring red and green balls (most of which Arwen and CiCi removed over the course of the next few days).

We drank some eggnog and then all three of us sat on the couch to admire the tree while I read the first few stories from our Jesse Tree book, which outlines Christ's lineage. 

Next, I read The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, which never fails to make me cry. This year was no exception. 

What a delightful evening! This Christmas season, God has been blessing me with so many little joys, filling my heart to overflowing. When I think back to last year, I remember how lavishly He showed me his love--with the scripture-stuffed stocking from my friend Gentle and the cross painting from my sweet niece Hillary. This year, I want to give out that lavish love. God has put many ideas in my heart, ways to share His love with friends, family, and strangers. What a sweet pleasure. 

So, back to the cat stories... 

Within 15 minutes, the cats had run off with the tree skirt. I remembered last year, when Arwen drug it all over the house. This year I'm not even bothering to put it back. It will just lie in random places until Christmas Eve, when I weight it down with presents. 

We keep a big spray bottle with water and a bit of vinegar on the hearth, right by the tree, and I spray the cats liberally if they touch the tree. The temptation is too great, though. Every time my back's turned, CiCi bats at the branches or even nestles on a branch halfway up the tree. When she spots me, she tries to flee the scene, but I chase her down with the spray bottle. It's actually pretty fun. 

A Confusing Family Tree

Allyson considers herself CiCi's mama, which makes me... Grandma. Yes, Allyson calls me grandma when she's talking to CiCi. Ethan is Uncle, but sometimes he's Brother. And Arwen is Big Sister, which kind of makes her Ethan's sibling.

It's weird family dynamic, but it works!

Some Weird Cat Psychology

Okay, now for the stories I've been dying to tell you. First, a strange cat has been hanging around our backyard for the last week or so. The first day it showed up, Arwen cried like a baby as she watched it through the window. "How sweet! She wants to play," I thought. 

And then she started hurling herself against the window, rattling the blinds. She screamed and hissed, struggling to get to the other cat, who was hissing at her from the other side of the glass. 

If you don't find a cat's screams stressful, take a look for yourself...

Before this, I'd had no idea that our mild kitty had such a temper. It was pretty amusing until Arwen turned on CiCi, arching her back and hissing. I quickly separated them.

I've watched them closely since then, and Arwen seems as motherly as ever. But tonight a high-pitched shriek from CiCi brought me running to the living room. I found Arwen crouched at the back door, moaning piteously. That stupid cat was back. 

I don't know what Arwen had done to CiCi, but she seemed pretty spooked. When Arwen took a step toward her, she arched her back, all her fur standing on end. Allyson scooped her up and cradled her like a baby. "I won't let Arwen hurt you," she crooned. 

Arwen isn't the only cat acting weird. A few days ago, I was sitting at my desk when I heard loud purring coming from the bathroom. CiCi was sitting on the fuzzy bath mat alone, sounding like a vibrating engine. 

"Why is CiCi purring?" I asked Allyson. "She's just sitting on the rug by herself." 

"Oh, she always purrs when you put her on the mat," Allyson said.


"I don't know. She just likes it."

I went into the bathroom for a closer look. CiCi was sucking noisily on some rug fibers, kneading the rug luxuriously with her claws spread wide. "Allyson, she's trying to nurse the rug!" I said.

I grabbed my phone and took a video. If you turn up the volume, you might be able to hear CiCi purring.

Because I usually drape the mat over the shower door to keep CiCi from tracking kitty litter onto it, she doesn't have much time with it. Every time they are reunited during one of our showers, she purrs and nurses.

Have you ever heard of something so bizarre? 

It's humbling, actually. I'd been feeling so loved each time CiCi greeted me in the mornings with her loud purring. Now I realize that she feels the same way about my bath mat!

It's never a dull moment around here. Every day is Kitten Day. 


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