File under: It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

When we walked into the animal shelter near Christmas 2010, our mission was simple and well-articulated: Get two cats, so they could play together and we could leave them alone for days at a time without feeling guilty. They would forever be inside cats, so as not to risk their disappearing one night or getting in fights, like Kitty used to do.

We lost our cat, Cat, about this time last year. Daphne, who adores animals of all kinds, was heart-broken. We had healed, resisted getting another pet, and then it just felt like it was time to jump back in.

Now I wonder what on earth I was possibly thinking.

My first clue should have been the relative emptiness of the feline kennel. Typically, the cat house at the shelter is packed to the gills with mewing, itchy-watery-eye-inducing claw bags. Not the day before Christmas Eve. Everyone else had made it in early to select their holiday gifts. What we encountered were the six or seven left-overs.

When we walked by Rudolph’s cage, he reached up and out, as if to tap us on the leg to get our attention. “Excuse me, madams,” I could imagine him saying in a British accent, “But could you bother stroking my side? It has been a while…” Charming. Absolutely charming. We went into his cage (I should explain that the cages are dog-kennel-sized and we could stand upright, lest you picture a cozier, more awkward set-up), and he softly head-butted our legs, amping up the effect by purring loudly. When we found ourselves distracted by another cat, Rudy politely reminded us by reaching up with his high-five to tap us again. Delightful.

There was nothing particularly noteworthy about any of the other animals, except that Carol was the smallest and was the only calico in the bunch. She was so pretty. It was with that shallow assessment that she made the cut. Rudy we selected for his dogishness.

We still lived in our house at the time. Our cats had always been indoor/outdoor cats, so although we had a litter box, the cats tended to do their business in the yard. This was about to change, as we did not intend to let Rudy and Carol out.

I have had two indoor cats before, so I do have a reference point for what I am about to assert: It quickly became clear that Rudy and Carol were the smelliest, messiest, and most prodigious defecators in existence. And I’ve seen horses and elephants drop loads, so bear that in mind.

The litter box was under the sink in Daphne’s bathroom, so her room constantly reeked of sewage. I could not figure out what was wrong with these animals. At first, I thought that perhaps they had picked up an illness at the shelter. But the days and eventually weeks passed, and they were still grossing us out. I scoured the internet and hit up friends for advice. I purchased expensive cat food. I even made brown rice and boiled chicken so that all they had to eat was meat and grains for a while. Nothing seemed to help.

I would clean their litter box two or three times a day. I had to. Otherwise, I could not have insisted that my child sleep in the vicinity. Typically, I would say that these were her pets and that she should clean up after them, but managing to neatly dispose of diarrhea bombs is not something of which I assume that child capable.

Eventually, I settled on pine litter instead of the clay, and that helped with the smell a lot. It was also a lot less messy than the clay pebbles, which was helpful since both cats were flingers when burying their business (if they bothered to bury it at all).

Their personalities came out quickly. Rudy was obviously a lap cat. He wanted to be in the middle of everything and would sit on your lap if you were reading, on your arms if you were using the computer, and on your newspaper if you were really wrapped up in an article (hypothetically; in my town, this never happens). Carol was a batter. If she could move something from wherever it was perched to the floor, she would go for it. Big messes, little messes. Lots and lots of messes.

But they were just babies; the shelter estimated that Rudy would be two in July and Carol would be one in May. So surely they’d be out of the kitten phase soon, I erroneously reasoned.

When we moved into the trailer, it was as though shrunken environs amplified their characteristics. We have no real countertop space, and we can’t leave things on the table because we use it so much. Instead, Carol took to batting around their food and water dishes. I would move them back and correct her, but then she’d just do it again. Perhaps I should have just left the food and water in the middle of the kitchen floor.

However, I saw this as a challenge. My first plan of action was to purchase the allegedly “no skid” bowls from PetSmart. My cat had those for lunch. Figuratively. In no time, the heavy stainless steel containers with nifty rubber skirting were being treated like hockey pucks, but hockey pucks that slosh water and suspiciously-formulated nuggets all over the laminate floor.

Next, I purchased the “feeders.” You know, the containers that hold several days’ worth of food and water? I figured that those might be heavy enough to prevent Carol from moving them around at her whim. They seemed to be working okay (she did bat at them a couple of times) until I went away overnight and returned to find the water container on its side, empty, in the kitchen floor. The carpet in the dining area and living room was not even damp, so I can only assume that the little… well, Carol, knocked the bottle over fairly soon after I had left and that she and Rudy spent the better part of 24 hours trying to drink out of the toilet which, I’m sure they’ve learned, doesn’t hold water in an RV the way a house house toilet does.

Idiots.

The final stage of the plan, because I couldn’t imagine what else I might try if this didn’t work, was to sink anchor screws into my wall and to hold the water and food containers in their respective places using tiny bungee cords from The Home Depot.

Guess what? That worked! Carol spent about five hours a day for the next week trying to figure out how to dislodge the containers, but she never succeeded. She did strum some interesting notes on the cords, but the dishes held tight.

Carol’s solution? Knocking over the 13-gallon kitchen trash can! Yes, that 3 pound pipsqueak, who does not appear to have the ability to grow, despite her food aggression, copious consumption of cat food, and stealth of any item of unprotected people food, can rock the trash can until it falls over into the floor, spilling its contents and creating her own personal playground.

About a month ago, Carol found a new victim: Toilet paper. I don’t know why she hadn’t realized its shredding potential in the past, but now we have to perch the roll atop the mirror in the restroom, lest we come home to cat-made confetti.

Both Rudy and Carol will hop into any open cabinet. This is particularly problematic under the sink, where they can climb behind the stove and access the wires leading to the fuse box. We have no way to retrieve them there. Plus, when they get into the closets, our clothes end up all hairy(er. Than usual).

Carol especially likes to go outside. And by “likes,” I mean that she stands at the door, using her kitty ESP to intuit when we’re about to be home. She then darts out, if she can, but Daphne has gotten good at blocking her and making loud, obnoxious noises to scare her off. The other night, I’d gotten home at 10 o’clock and nodded off before receiving a phone call. At about midnight, I heard a familiar, plaintive, “Meow”ing from outside the living room window. Carol must have sneaked out when I’d arrived at the RV, and my argument to Daphne’s OCD about swooping the cat up in her arms whenever I leave or slamming the door closed, pushing on it with her behind, testing it by trying to pull it open, then trying the door knob and the latching mechanism: “They’ve never gotten out before and I open the door LOTS when you’re gone” was rendered moot.

Rudy is a snuggler, which would be nice, but he is relentless. He decides to be loving when you’re trying to work or read, or when it’s bed time. Then he’ll come stand on your chest (and his pawfalls seem to be targeted right on the most sensitive areas, if you know what I’m sayin’) and ram his head into your face or your hand. If you don’t respond, he “high-fives” you until you notice his claws digging into whatever is nearest to him. He does this when I’m working out. I’ll be doing squats, and he stands up on the countertop, reaching out and grabbing at my arm or shoulder.

Rudy also likes to knock over beverages, especially if they’re in a foam cup. I don’t know why that is his preference, but it is. He will take a perfectly good Route 44 Diet Coke, easy ice, and upend it, sending it crashing to the floor in an explosion of carbonated water and syrup.

Finally, the cats DO play together, as we’d hoped. The problem is that they play together the most exuberantly between the hours of 6:00 and 8:00 every morning, the majority of which time we are still in bed. And they have no caring for the fact that there are things as sensitive as human bodies snuggled underneath the highly un-claw-proof sheets. They zoom over us like we were traction-enhancing pincushions. The first run is the worst, when it wakes you from a dead sleep. The one right after you dozed back to sleep is pretty terrible, too.

So why do I keep the cats? Simple: Daphne is in love with them. I don’t anticipate a reality in which I live both with my daughter and without cats. So I grin (most of the time) and bear it (having no other choice). We’re half way to college…

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