Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween!

I hope all the furballs out there (and their people, of course) have had a spooktakular Halloween! I tried to get the furballs in my life as excited about this fun holiday as myself. As I expected, my success rate was not all that great.

I bought a costume for the family cats to all try and share. Cat costume success rate? 50%. That's about what I had guessed it would be, though. I knew that Evan would not tolerate being put in a costume, and the same went for Rosie and Talon. Toby, Trapper, and Thimble at least humored me, though.
I bought the cat costume (which I've been calling "Grizzly Adams") with Toby in mind. He's so laidback, he's the one I figured would be most amenable to celebrating Halloween with me. Toby was a very good model for the costume, although he did practically refuse to walk or in any way move while wearing it.
Trapper gave me no trouble while I was dressing him up, but once he was wearing the costume he was not so pleased. Just like Toby, he refused to walk while wearing it.
Thimble really showed off her glaring skills for this one.
Although I'm certain Astrid would have chewed and shredded any costume I put on her, I was still able to bring out her festive side.
I bedazzled Astrid's collar with a Halloween bow. She's accustomed to wearing cute little bows on her collar, so she was perfectly happy to appease me by wearing this ghostly adornment.
So, from my gang to yours...Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Photo Shoot Shenanigans

I realize that I'm past due on giving a kitten update. Early this week I plan on sitting all four of the kittens down for a photo shoot. Easier said than done, though. The last photo shoot I attempted was of course full of much adorableness, but it was also full of kitten orneriness and chaos.

That being said, please be patient with me. I will do my best to get new shots of the kittens to share. But, if it's anything like the last photo shoot, it will take a lot -- and I mean a lot -- of patience.

To give you an idea of what I'm talking about (as if you fellow parents of furballs don't already know exactly what I'm talking about)...

I asked Thimble to pose for me. Instead, she decided to chase my camera's wrist strap.
Still chasing the camera wrist strap. While being absolutely adorable.
Still chasing it...
...and finally caught it!
I guess I was an un-fun Mom that day, because I took the camera wrist strap away. So, Thimble resorted to glaring.
When Talon's turn came up he followed his sister's example. It took him all of half a second to snatch the camera wrist strap from me.
Remember how Thimble had resorted to glaring after I took the camera wrist strap away from her? Well, Talon just decided he'd climb his way back to it, using me as a human ladder.
Trapper didn't try to steal the camera wrist strap. But, he did refuse to look at me.
This was after I asked him to "say cheese".
And then Toby simply refused to wake up from his nap. (See that white paw coming in from the right side? That's Talon helping me, trying to wake Toby up by sticking his paw in his ear. Toby didn't care. He'd just kept on napping.)
This winning shot was a joint effort between Thimble and Talon. Thimble's in the background, chasing the wrist strap again, of course. And that blurry, whiskered blob in the bottom right corner is Talon, biting my camera. At this point I just called it a loss and gave up.
So, I'll do my best to post some new photos of the kittens as soon as possible. Maybe I can get them to sit still and/or look at me this time around. After all, miracles happen every day.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Awww Interlude

I have decided that I will start a new series of posts. These will be short posts, perfect for those times when life calls and keeps me from writing a long post. These little posts will be called Awww Interludes, and they will each include a picture that will hopefully make you say, "Awww." Because, well, we all need those "Awww" moments every once in awhile.

So, here's the first Awww Interlude.

Just a girl and her orca.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Living with Arthritis

Rosie has arthritis. She is 21 years old, so at least a little arthritis is expected. But Rosie has especially severe arthritis. What do I mean by this? What I mean is that, through x-rays, it was confirmed a couple of years ago that Rosie has arthritis between every single one of her vertebrae.

I'll take this time to note that all four of Rosie's paws were declawed when she was a kitten. Declawing is a highly debated topic. Having a declawed cat and knowing its effects on her, I will openly admit that I personally am anti-declaw. When a cat is declawed, not just the claw is removed, but also part of the actual digit itself. This forces the cat to learn to ambulate differently than their natural tendency. And that is why cats that are declawed -- whether two or four of their paws are declawed -- are extremely likely to develop worse arthritis than non-declawed cats. So, having been declawed as a kitten, now 21-year-old Rosie has severe arthritis.

This is not the best picture to show it, but here is a mild example of Rosie as a "low rider" due to her arthritis. As with many arthritic cats, Rosie walks and stands in a more plantigrade stance than is typical for cats (as in, whereas cats typically walk more on their toes, Rosie walks and stands in a more flat-footed stance).
Also not the best picture to show it, this an example of how arthritic Rosie's front legs sometimes tend to twist somewhat abnormally when she sits and stands.
Of course, Rosie is on a medication to hep combat the effects of her arthritis. She was tried on various joint supplements and pain medications, but the only drug that seems to help soothe her arthritis is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory. Since she also has renal disease and since non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can affect the kidneys, Rosie is kept on a low dose of the anti-inflammatory, and she is only given it every other day. It does help her, but no drug can truly defeat arthritis.

So, how else do I try to help alleviate Rosie's arthritis? By making sure that my house and life is built around making her comfortable and making everything as easy on her and her old joints as possible. She has given me over twenty years of companionship, so it's the least I can do for her.

What are some of my methods for helping to alleviate Rosie's arthritis? Well, I place step stools and makeshift stairs for Rosie to use to get onto and off of furniture, since her arthritis makes it difficult for her to jump. I also make sure that she has plenty of soft beds to lie on, so that her joints are not stiff from or pained by hard and uncomfortable bedding. In cold weather, when her arthritis seems to bother her the most, I make sure she has means of staying nice and warm. And, I make sure that her food and litter box and other necessities are as near to her favorite sleeping areas as possible, so that she doesn't have to travel too far with her stiff joints.

Soft blankets help keep Rosie's joints comfortable. One of her favorite soft beds, as seen in this picture, is a giant fleece blanket. She also likes to be tucked in on cold winter nights.
Rosie has many, many soft blankets that she uses.
Keeping warm helps to keep Rosie's arthritis at bay in the winter. In fact, over the past couple of years it was discovered that Rosie likes to sleep directly in front of a heater in the winter. So now, every winter a heater is set up just for Rosie. Heater + favorite fleece blanket = Rosie's paradise. (Note: In this picture Rosie is actually sleeping on one of the step stools she uses to get onto the couch. Because it was the piece of furniture closest to the heater, she demanded that her blanket be placed on it. She got her way, of course.)
This little old lady is served breakfast, lunch, and dinner in bed. She deserves it.
Queen Rosie may have arthritis, but with the help of lots of TLC she doesn't let it get her down.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Sharing is caring.

I'm sure I'm not the only parent to four-legged furballs who understands the concept of sharing. And when I say sharing, I mean giving up your goods for the sake of -- or, more like it, at the request of -- the furballs.

I can't even begin to count the number of times I've given up my blankets and bedding, items of clothing, and even the food off of my plate for my furry babies. But I guess since they're so cute I just can't help myself, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

I might as well show you some examples of how sharing is caring in my family of furballs:

This picture was taken a few years ago and shows Rosie drinking a bit of milk from a cereal bowl. Even now, at 21 years of age, she still begs on occasion, such as the other night when I was having milk and peanut butter cookies.
This one was also taken a few years ago and shows Rosie lying on a pair of my dad's slippers. Those slippers used to be one of her favorite makeshift beds, but these days she prefers to make use of my favorite sweatshirt.
This picture was from a couple of weeks ago, at a time when the kittens had taken it upon themselves to make a bed out of a pair shorts and a shirt.
See that pillow Astrid's lying on? I had just been using it prior to this photo being taken. But, Astrid had looked so uncomfortable and pitiful next to me on the couch that I just had to give her my pillow. (And then Astrid so kindly paid it forward by allowing Evan to use her as a pillow.)
I guess the moral of this story is that living in a home full of four-legged furballs has taught me to be a good sharer. And I'm perfectly fine with that.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

To give or not to give?

The holidays are just around the corner (they must be, since Christmas commercials are already starting to run rampant these days). That being said, there is an age old debate as to whether or not pets should be given gifts on Christmas, birthdays, and so forth.

So where do I stand in this debate? Well, my furballs are like my children, and so they absolutely get gifts for Christmas and their birthdays. Do I get them gifts for every little occasion? No. And do I give them extravagant gifts that break the bank? No. But my little furballs are my family, and so of course I include them in my Christmas celebrations, and of course I celebrate their birthdays (or at least their "maybe birthdays", as I call them for my furballs whose birthdays are unknown).

Now, Rosie will give you some examples of some of the most recent gifts she's received.

This is Rosie on Christmas two years ago. She received the yellow and brown "crinkly bed" she is lying on in this picture -- she loves "crinkly beds", as she seems to enjoy the noise they make when she moves around on them. (Excuse Rosie's pose in this one, as she was too busy scratching to look at the camera.)
This is Rosie on her birthday last year. On that birthday, as seen in this picture, she got a catnip toy shaped like a banana. She enjoyed it immensely. (Also note that she is lying on the bed that she had received on the previous Christmas.)
This is Rosie just over a month ago, on her 21st birthday. She got a box of her favorite treats, which for whatever reason are very hard to find these days.
Those constitute just a sampling of the gifts Rosie has received. Over the years she has accumulated more toys, treats, beds and blankets, and other goodies than I can even count. Her young housemates are also starting to learn the joys of receiving gifts, but Rosie is still the Queen and remains rightfully spoiled.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

High Population Harmony

As a recap, there are four four-legged furballs under my care -- Rosie, Evan, Astrid, and Thimble. And there are three more little furballs that, although they are not technically under my care, do play a large part in my life -- Trapper, Talon, and Toby. So, how can there be harmony in this furrily high population life of mine? Well, it's possible. Not always easy, and not always perfect, but it is perfectly possible.

I'll begin by noting that this clan of furballs does indeed have one particular inhabitant that goes against the grain of harmony. And that would be...

Rosie is the Queen, and she is certainly set in her ways. After putting in 21 years, though, I would say she is entitled to that. That being said, Rosie is the only furball in this home that seems absolutely against living in harmony with her fellow furballs. Aside from her littermate who passed away almost fifteen years ago, Rosie has always displayed a strong disliking toward other cats. She does tolerate dogs, once she gets used to them, that is. Surprisingly, she tends to prefer larger dogs, such as Astrid (and such as the dogs my family had as I grew up). But, Rosie really does not like other cats. And when I say that Rosie does not like other cats what I mean is that if Rosie catches sight of Evan or Thimble or any of Thimble's brothers she will go after them, screaming and hissing and slapping them around a bit.

I absolutely love all of my furballs dearly, but when it comes to the arrangement of my home I will admit that I make Rosie's happiness and health my main priority. She has been by my side for 21 years, and I grew up with her. After the loyalty she has shown me I never want her to feel as if she is being pushed aside, and I never want her to suffer any ailments as a result of undue stress.

So, how do I keep Rosie happy and healthy in the midst of so many young hooligan furballs that she doesn't even like? Well, Rosie does make it a bit easy for me by the fact that there are only two places in the house where she prefers to spend her time -- the living room and my bedroom. So, when Rosie is in either of those rooms all other animals are kept out or at least incapable of reaching Rosie. Making this task even easier is the fact there is actually one particular couch in the living room where Rosie spends most of her day. As Rosie eats and snoozes her way through the day on that couch, the other animals are denied access to the area with a variety of makeshift walls and barriers.

Rosie on her beloved couch. Note the food bowls, toys, and blankets and beds adorning her couch. She even has access to a litter box not far from the couch.
Now, do Astrid and Evan and the kittens ever try and manage to breach the barriers and reach Rosie's couch? Yes. But, Rosie always lets me know -- very loudly, in fact -- when there is an intruder. That's when I remove the intruder and cuddle Rosie until she's all cuddled out. I also usually have to go and console the intruder -- out of Rosie's view, of course -- because Rosie's punishment toward intruders can be very loud and alarming, although usually quite harmless otherwise.

Aside from Rosie, though, there has been good success integrating everyone into one big, happy, furry family. Of course, in getting Astrid, Evan, and the kittens all used to each other, their first encounters were from behind closed doors, when only noses and ears were used to make initial acquaintances. After that, instead of doors there were cages and baby gates and other such minimal barriers, so that the unfamiliar furballs could see each other but so that there could be no injurious fights in the case that someone felt uncomfortable around their new friends.

Evan and Astrid getting acquainted. Part of their introduction process involved cages, with one locked in a cage and the other investigating from outside the cage.
It may be hard to tell in this blurry picture, but Evan is reaching through the cage to pat Astrid on the head.
This one is very blurry, but in it the four very young kittens are in a cage with Astrid sniffing them and essentially begging to meet them.
Each time a new animal was brought into the family, after a few days of acclimating to each other through barriers, when I was certain that everyone seemed more intrigued than uncertain, barriers were removed. Face-to-face introductions were made, with heavy supervision, of course. At first, these direct interactions did not always last very long, as sometimes one or more of the furballs would start feeling a bit overwhelmed by their new friend(s). But over time the interactions grew longer and longer, until all the furballs (except for Rosie, of course) started to really enjoy hanging out together.

Astrid and Evan have become good friends. They usually get along very well, although sometimes Evan gets a little too cuddly for Astrid and she has to walk away from his advances.
Astrid and Evan playing. The rule is that, because Astrid is so much bigger, she has to lie down when playing with the cats. She usually does pretty well obeying this rule. Usually.
Astrid got to meet the kittens very early on, as she displayed significant interest in interacting with them. The kittens also seemed very eager to meet her as soon as they saw her. In this picture, although you can't see it, Astrid is on a leash and is being held back so that her enthusiasm wouldn't get the better of her or the kittens.
Evan was not sure about the kittens at first, but after getting used to them he now greatly enjoys playing with them. In the above picture you'll see little baby Toby chasing after Evan. The kittens sometimes think that Evan's dragging hind legs are toys to bat at, but he usually tolerates them well. Usually.
Now, are there times when the furballs squabble? Yes. Just as with humans, sometimes it's just not possible for everyone to be in a congenial, social mood. There are times when Astrid gets too hyperactive for Evan and the kittens. And there are times when Evan gets too overwhelmed by his kid sister Thimble and her brothers. In such cases, depending on the situation, certain furballs are separated from the others. Usually after a bit of a break from each other, though, all of the furballs can happily interact. Except for Queen Rosie, of course.

All hail the Queen.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

What's in a name?

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Or so Shakespeare thought. Or at least that’s what Juliet thought.

I, for one, think names can hold great meaning. I am somewhat of a name fanatic. I like to know names, even names of people and animals I just met, even if I might never meet them again.

That all being said, I like my animals to have names with meaning or at least reason behind them. I previously told you the reasoning behind my boy Evan's name. Remember? Evan was named by another person, but I kept the name because it holds significant meaning, as it is Celtic for “young warrior.” And that's why I kept the name, as it suits Evan perfectly. He was seriously and permanently injured as a kitten, but since then he has been nothing but a warrior.

My tough boy Evan. He doesn't let his hind limb paralysis get him down.
But I realize that Evan's is the only name I explained, and since names are just so darn important and fun I simply can’t keep you in the dark regarding the rest of my animals' names. So, here it goes.
I’ll start with Rosie.

Queen Rosie.
When my family adopted Rosie as a kitten almost twenty-one years ago, my dad was the one who came up with her name. My dad has always been an avid reader, especially of the fantasy genre (which, for what it’s worth, is a trait he passed on to me). That being said, Rosie is named after Rose “Rosie” Cotton, a hobbit in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Those nearly twenty-one years ago we also adopted Rosie’s brother, and his name was Sammy, after the hobbit Samwise Gamgee. (Sadly, Rosie’s brother Sammy passed away from cardiac disease when they were only five years old. He was a very cool cat.)

Next up is Astrid.

Astrid and Stormy. Read below for further explanation.
My sister and I named Astrid after the character by the same name in How to Train Your Dragon, which is one of my absolute favorite movies. Our Astrid even has a stuffed dragon that we named Stormy, in honor of movie version Astrid’s dragon named Stormfly. Our Astrid loves her Stormy, although she is a bit rough with the dragon and enjoys throwing it around by its tail. Sorry, Stormy.

Now, how did my itty bitty Thimble get her name?

Baby Thimble at roughly 3 weeks of age.
First off, naming all four kittens was a joint effort between my parents, my sister, and myself. Thimble's name origins are a bit convoluted, but I'll try to make this quick and understandable. It began when my grandma rescued the kittens and noticed that the little runt shook and shivered a lot (whether or not my grandma realized it, little Thimble's shaking was likely due to her malnutrition and sickly nature at that time). Well, my grandma decided to call the little kitten Shaky. To be honest, though, no one else liked that name. So, we decided to start thinking of some names similar to or that at least sounded like Shaky, since that technically was her first name. What happened after that was my mom thought of the synonym "tremble" and then started trying to think of words that rhymed with that. What she came up with was Thimble, and that immediately became the tiny little kitten's name. I think it suits Thimble perfectly, and I also like the name because it reminds me of Thumbelina, which is perfect for my Thimble's miniscule stature.

 Of course, I also have to share the reasoning behind Thimble's brothers' names.

Trapper at approximately 4 weeks of age.
Trapper was the first kitten to earn his name. How did that happen? Well, the minute we met the kittens it was my dad who took one look at Trapper and made the first subtle hint of keeping him, if not all the kittens. My mom is the one who came up with the name Trapper, joking that he would be the one who would get us all trapped into keeping the kittens. It looks like she was more or less right.

Talon at roughly 4 weeks of age.
Talon rightly earned his name by four weeks of age. How? When we would bottle feed the kittens, Talon would be so enthused by the sight of the bottle that he would flail and scratch at it, and scratch at whatever hand was holding the bottle. Bottle feeding Talon usually ended with bloodshed, with Talon’s claws ripping into whoever’s hand was trying to nourish him. Hence the name Talon.

Toby at about 4 weeks of age.
Toby was the last of the kittens to get his name, and if I correctly recall he was not named until about five or so weeks of age. Ever since we got Toby he's been a very laid-back cat that lets you do just about whatever you want to him, and for some reason we just had trouble thinking of a name to match that. Somehow all of his siblings already had names beginning with the letter T, so we kept brainstorming about what T name we could call him to match his calm and collected personality. For whatever reason, the name Toby ultimately seemed the best fit. I’m not sure that I can really explain this one, other than the fact that we thought he looked and acted like a Toby. As a little fun fact, I’ll divulge that the runner-up for Toby’s name was Theo, but Toby won out in the end.

So there you have it. I love names, and I love my animals to have names with good meaning and reason. For me, naming an animal is like naming a child. Of course, unlike with a child, you can change an animal's name without any legal issues. But, when it comes to my furry, four-legged children, I prefer to the pick the perfect name to begin with and stick with it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Fantastic Four

In this post I will introduce you to my little kitty Thimble. That's not all, though. Thimble has three brothers, all of whom stayed in the family -- my parents have two of Thimble's brothers, and my sister has the other. So, I will use this post to introduce you to Thimble as well as her brothers, since they came as a package deal.

Prepare yourself, there is much cuteness to come. You've been forewarned.

This story began over Memorial Day weekend of this year, 2014. My grandmother called to inform me that her neighbor had found a litter of four kittens under his home, and after a span of close observation it was determined that the kittens' mother had either abandoned them or had disappeared. The kittens were roughly three weeks old at the time. They were tiny, all less than one pound, and they were not yet weaned. My grandmother rescued them and immediately began hand feeding them. My grandma lives in a small town that does not have an animal shelter, and she was unable to keep the kittens.

Let me stop for a moment to admit that, believe it or not, neither me nor anyone in my family had intended on keeping any of the kittens. There was already a geriatric cat (Rosie), a physically handicapped cat (Evan), and an active and playful dog (Astrid) in the family. What would any of us do with a kitten, let alone four of of them?

Back to the story, I told my grandma that I would take the kittens off her hands and that I and my parents and sister would care for them until our local shelter opened after the Memorial Day weekend. We made it through the weekend by bottle feeding the kittens every couple hours, and of course there was plenty of oohing and aahing over the little cuties.

Then, when the holiday weekend was over, my mom and I actually made it into the shelter building with the kittens. There we were told that because of the kittens' especially young age and circumstances they would first have to go through a quarantine, and then they would try to find a foster family to hand raise them until they were of an adoptable age. After my mom and I received and subsequently discussed that option, the kittens were loaded back into the car.

So what then? Well, we told ourselves that we were simply going to care for the kittens until they were of an adoptable age, and then we would adopt them out. So we bottle fed them, going through many, many bottles of kitten milk replacer and feeding them multiple times a day. They were even still so young and dependent that we had to stimulate them to urinate and defecate, just as their mother would have. Their eyes were still blue, and they still wobbled when walking, but they were all four adorable. Here, see for yourselves:

This was one of the first days we cared for the kittens. They enjoyed playing in Astrid's Disney Princess pool.
So, our plan was to rear them to eight weeks of age, and then we told ourselves we would find good homes for them. As they approached that age, we looked into some potential adopters. But guess what? In the end, we decided to keep all four kittens. We had even already named them -- Thimble, Trapper, Talon, and Toby. Because, you know, it's always a good idea to name animals you don't intend on keeping. Honestly, I don't think we ever stood a chance once we met the kittens.

Now, as human momma to ridiculously adorable Thimble, I'll tell you a little more about her. While all of Thimble's brothers were relatively healthy when we acquired them at three weeks of age, Thimble was the runt and had some medical concerns from the get-go.

As the runt, she was very weak when we first acquired the kittens. Her mother had disappeared, and she and the other kittens had been without nutrition for who knows how long. Not long after we took them in, at roughly four weeks of age, Thimble took a turn for the worst. She started developing ocular discharge, to the point where her eyes would crust shut. So she was started on ocular antibiotics, and we were constantly trying to keep her eyes moist and clear. Then her appetite decreased markedly and she began to feel feverish. We were quite honestly concerned she would not make it. But with constant nursing and lots of TLC -- as in, she was almost constantly being held, which neither she nor we minded one bit -- she pulled through.

Thimble at roughly 4 weeks of age. She barely weighed half a pound.
Later, at roughly six weeks of age, Thimble developed a swollen front right leg and would not put any weight on it. Although x-rays on such a tiny body are tricky and often not conclusive, it was determined that she was most likely just suffering from soft tissue swelling, possibly from rough play on her brothers’ part. She was too tiny to be given an anti-inflammatory, but after a couple days of pain medication her leg improved and she was moving around like normal.

After that, at about seven weeks of age, Thimble began straining to urinate and passing bloody mucus, so I took her in for another check-up. Her bladder -- as well as her body in general -- were too small to collect a urine sample at that time, but she was sent home with an antibiotic. She seemed to immediately improve on the antibiotic, and she was quickly back to her normal, perfect self.

Now, at a little over 5 months of age, Thimble is thriving. She is fully vaccinated and spayed. She is still the smallest of the litter, having just finally reached 6 lbs. Despite her size disadvantage, she certainly gives her brothers a run for their money, both during playtime and mealtime. Thimble is a cuddler, although only when it’s not playtime. She is also one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen in my life. I mean, seriously:

Of course, her brothers are adorable as well. See:

Trapper. He is the largest of the litter, weighing in at almost 7.5 lbs.

Talon. He is almost 6.5 lbs.

Toby. He is the second largest, weighing in at just under 7 lbs.
I'm sure you'll be seeing a lot of Thimble and her brothers on this blog. Again, you've been given the impending cuteness warning.