The view from BlogPaws 2013

Chloe DiVita, Yvonne DiVita and Tom Collins BlogPaws chief execs.

Chloe DiVita, Yvonne DiVita and Tom Collins BlogPaws chief execs.

I will post more later, but here’s a shot of some of the awesome, pet-loving people who helped bring BlogPaws 2013 together. I have plenty of pictures of the pets that were there, but unfortunately, I don’t have time to post them all tonight!


Little dog, big dog – Just let me have a cat


Cats make a house a home …

Growing up, I had cats and dogs for company. I got my first house cat when I was in preschool. He was a little black and white cat that I named Tramp, and we brought him home in a birdcage because we didn’t have a pet carrier. One of Tramp’s favorite past-times was sitting atop his scratching post and waiting for someone (namely me, since I was about the height of his scratching post) to walk by so he could jump on their head and go for a ride. When he got a little older, he did the same trick from the top of doorframes.

Over the years, I had many cats, both indoor ones and outdoor ones. My mom, however, has always been more of a dog person, so we had beagles, strays, random mixes, a Lhasa Apso and eventually, Shih-Tzus. While I love animals of all kinds, I’ve always been more comfortable with cats – they typically use their litter box without any fuss, they don’t wake you for walks in the middle of the night, they sleep as much as they want (which I envy them for), and most cats can stay home by themselves during their human’s short weekend trips out of town.

Dogs are needier. They need to be walked several times a day. They aren’t good about rationing their food to last for several days. They chew, they bark, and the bigger they are, the more they drool. I’ve never had a cat chew up an important phone number or eat a book cover, but I’ve had dogs who relished those things.

My first Shih-Tzu was named Max, and he was almost perfect. He was smart, cuddly, well behaved, and just playful enough. He always let us know when he needed to go outside. When I was in school, he’d wait for me to let him out when I got home. Max even picked up his toys and put them in his bed so they wouldn’t be scattered all over the house. Even my grandmother, who wasn’t a pet person, liked him.

Max and I would stay with Meme during summer break while my mother was at work, and when Meme started cleaning, Max knew that his favorite time of day was coming. He would lie in the floor and wait for her to start sweeping. She would always give him a good sweep, which he seemed to consider an excellent treat. After he was swept, he would get his sock toy and want me to drag him around the house on his belly. He looked like a little dust mop with his white fur flying out behind him.

We got Missy the grumpy Lhasa Apso a few years after we got Max. She was full of personality and loved my mom and me, but other than that, she was antisocial. She didn’t want to go visiting, and when we had friends over, Missy had a horrible day growling every time the “intruder” took a step. Where Max would flop in a stranger’s lap and want a belly rub, Missy sat under the computer desk making snappish growls and discouraging guests from getting off the couch.

While I was in college, I added a cat named Andy to Max and Missy’s pair. He and the dogs mostly ignored one another, but for the first time, I felt like Andy was really my own pet. My mom and I shared Max and Missy, and they would snuggle and play with either of us, but while I was away at school, they seemed to bond more closely with Mom. Andy, on the other hand, was always anxious to see me because I was “his” girl.

When it came time for me to move away to an apartment, I took my cats rather than any dogs. The cats wouldn’t demand a 3 a.m. trip outside and down three flights of stairs. They wouldn’t chew on my books if I left them in the floor, and if I wanted to take a quick trip out of town for the weekend, I could leave them at home in my apartment with no worries about them starving or making a serious mess. When I took a longer trip to attend a weeklong conference, I had a friend stop by and refill their bowls and scoop their litter every few days. They were perfect apartment companions.

My cats have even stayed by themselves while I went out of the country for weeks or months. I just had my mom come by to check on them regularly and keep them in a constant supply of cat food and clean litter. Dogs couldn’t do that; they’d get bored and chew the house to pieces.

A few years ago, my husband decided he needs a hunting dog. We didn’t have a fenced yard, or even a dog pen, but that didn’t matter because he informed me that the dog will hunt better if it stays in the house with us. If I were to get a housedog, I would bring “my” Shih-Tzu Sally home from my mom’s house. She’s small, compact, and about as catlike as a dog needs to be, but according to the laws of men who hunt, Sally isn’t a real dog. Since we already have four cats, a small, furry dog would automatically fall under the cat category, and according to Chris, we don’t need another cat. Dogs – more specifically BIG dogs – are acceptable according to the “rules.”

I ruled out mastiffs, Irish wolfhounds, coon dogs, and labs – too drooly, too huge, too loud, and too hyper. Apparently, magazines say that standard poodles are the newest “in” hunting dog, and my mom just happens to have a pair of standard poodles. Chris called dibs on one of their puppies, and we named her Clover.

I don’t know much about standard poodles, but having a dog trained to hunt and retrieve in the house with my cats is a little disconcerting. Of course, Clover doesn’t hunt now that we got her. Sometimes she doesn’t even remember her own name.

Standards are supposedly very smart and easy to house train, but after years of having only cats, adding a dog into the equation complicates things. No matter how smart Clover may or may not be, she never will be as low maintenance as cats. We can’t just go off and leave the her and the cats home alone for the weekend.

Clover isn’t easily portable like a small dog either. I’m used to putting the cats in their carriers and being ready to go. A big poodle is sort of like transporting a miniature horse. If we go on vacation, we can’t simply have somebody come by to check on the animals every few days. Clover needs to go outside and run, and run, and run – or else she starts systematically tearing things up. If she can reach my stuffed bears, those are her favorites, but she doesn’t mind knocking things off countertops and ripping into her own bag of treats.

I’m not sure why a big dog strikes me as so much more trouble than a small dog or a cat, but in my mind, a dog is going to require a lifestyle change. I’m not used to hunting dogs, and the ones I know are almost exclusively outdoor dogs who live in fenced yards and kennels. We have a fence but it has no gates, and I don’t want my furniture gnawed or peed on by a bored dog.

Sometimes I wonder if we couldn’t have just gotten another cat – or maybe a catlike dog? I know how to handle them!


Clover makes herself at home.

I’m not a crazy cat lady, but my pets are my “fur-kids”

I know a lot of people aren’t “pet people,” but I don’t know what I would do without “fur-kids.” When I was little, we had dogs and barn cats. Somehow, the standoffish cats at the barn appealed more to me than the excitable dogs that barked and growled at strangers.

As soon as I found out there was a new litter of kittens, I slipped under pallets, between hay bales and even under a bush hog to cuddle the newborn balls of fur. They didn’t always appreciate my dragging them out of their nest, but playing with the kittens was one of my favorite things.

One day when my grandfather and I went on a walk, two grey tabbies followed us home. We put out a bowl of food, and they stayed. The two sisters were identical except for their eyes: Mew had brown eyes, while Purr’s were green. They started out as carport cats until some feline spat drove Purr down the road to live in my grandparent’s garage. I lost track of how many litters they each produced, and later, their children produced their own kittens. I’m sure we helped populate half the county with free kittens.

When more than one mother had kittens in close proximity, I took it upon myself to try to keep the kittens divvied up between the correct mothers. Whether it was a case of curious kittens or jealous mothers, it never ceased to disturb me to return home and find the kittens with the wrong mothers. Perhaps I was a bit obsessive as a child, but I had to be sure the kittens were properly sorted before I could sleep at night.

Eventually, we got the kitten population under control through generous donations of mousers to stables, barns and anyone who wanted a kitten, and instead of spending my time dividing the kittens into their original litters, we were free from cats for awhile, except for Mew and Purr and a few of their children, who were particularly nice or pretty. We had some cuddly indoor lap dogs, but cats have always been my favorites.

When I was in college, someone I worked with found a black kitten coated in sap or tar and asked me if I wanted to take him. After getting him cleaned up, which included having his back shaved, I took the motley kitty home with me. He looked so ragged that I named him Andy, after Raggedy Ann’s brother. He nestled in my hair and slept under the covers with me, and when I had to go back to school, he listened while I talked to him on the phone. We also had an understanding that if I told him, I’d “be home Wednesday” he would start looking for me at the windows a day or two before I came home, even if I wasn’t on Wednesday.

By some genetic fluke Mew and Purr, who were both long-tailed mousers, both had Manx kittens. The Manx breed is known for cats with round heads, rabbit-like back legs, and tails that are either short and stumpy or missing altogether. Ever since meeting my first Manx kitten, I’ve had a fondness for them, and when our last Manx cat succumbed to old age, my mother found me a new Manx kitten to keep Andy company. Christabelle has been my constant companion ever since.

When my friend Laurel mentioned that no cat she has ever adopted would sleep in bed with her, it surprised me because almost all of my indoor kitties have been cuddlers – sometimes even bed hogs! When Christabelle gets cold, she sometimes will burrow under the cover with me, and if she can’t get under the cover, she curls up in a tight ball on my pillow, right above my head. Something is wrong if a cat or two doesn’t walk on me during the night or cuddle with me while I sleep.

Now that Andy is gone, Stryker is my only boy cat, and for some reason, he is the most loving when he knows that I’m upset. If I’m crying, he’ll walk across me and will lie on the bed or couch near me, purring, just to let me know that he’s there.

I’ve never understood how people can’t love an animal. Even if it’s not cats or dogs, horses, guinea pigs, rabbits, etc. can all be loving pets. When people don’t make sense, or I’ve had a bad day, my fur-kids are always there. They may demand food and plenty of attention, but they never yell, lie, complain or judge. They never get angry that you didn’t do things their way, and their only deadlines are making sure they have full bowls, clean litter boxes or a walk, and cuddle time.

Whether I’ve been gone for an hour, a day, or a whole vacation, my fur-kids are happy to see me. My favorite time of day is when Christabelle and Spike greet me at the door and Snowbird pokes her furry nose through the stair rail for me to pet her.

So what that I have cat hair on my furniture and a few claw snags on the bedspread? Those things can be vacuumed or replaced, but the unconditional love of a pet is irreplaceable. If we had room for a well-trained dog, I’m sure I’d feel the same way. I know I have the same feelings about my mom’s dogs when I “borrow” them for cuddles and puppy kisses. It may not be true for everyone, but for me, life without pets would simply be too cold.

Christabelle the vegetarian cat can’t wait for summer gardens

Oh, pineapple, you look so good!

Oh, pineapple, you look so good!

Christabelle, my Manx cat, has always had a slight obsession with greenery. When she got big enough to jump up on countertops, she immediately made a beeline for the plant I had been tending for years. She tried chewing all of its leaves off, so I put it on top of the refrigerator; somehow she managed to climb up there after it.

My little vegetarian has made it impossible to keep live plants inside. She destroyed a plant I wanted for my apartment several years ago. I had to take it to my grandfather for intensive resuscitation, and when she would go to visit my mom when I would go out of town for extended periods, all plants had to be put away – far, far away – out of sight and out of smell because Christabelle can find the most ingenious ways to get to her little green “veggies” if she has the slightest inkling that there might be something edible in the room.

I am extremely happy that our house has a fireplace mantel and several tall pieces of furniture that she can’t climb, jump upon, or hop from one piece of furniture to higher ones until she reaches her plant. On more than one occasion, she tried to eat the roses that Chris sent me while we were dating, and I had to blockade my flowers with tall stacks of books. For some reason building fortress walls around a vase of roses takes some of the enjoyment out of getting flowers from a thoughtful man. At least here I can keep flowers from my husband safe and unnibbled on the mantel or on a high and out of reach shelf without having to build elaborate barricades of books to keep her away.

By all rights, Christabelle is one of the most prissy indoor cats ever, but ever since she discovered I attempt to grow flowers outdoors, she has decided that she needs to go outside whenever I go near the back door. She pretends that it’s not the plants she’s after by rolling around on the concrete for a few moments before marching over to the nearest green plant for a nibble, and when the urge strikes her, she lets us know when it’s time for her excursion by running to the door ahead of us and parading up and down the porch.

To appease her whims, I take her out on the back porch where it is quiet, and the herb garden grows right up against the porch edge. She always makes a beeline for the herbs. She seems to enjoy sniffing lemon basil, but to satisfy her green plant craving, she goes for shoots of grass that spring up along the porch edges.

Strangely enough, she doesn’t want to play in the grass or take walks in her favorite patches of green stuff. Christabelle is too prissy for that. She wouldn’t lower herself to eating anything she walks on, so she rarely leaves the porch or walkways unless she has to do so to reach a better patch of grass. Prissy thing that she is, she generally simply cranes her neck to see what she can nibble from the solidity of a clean concrete stoop.

Christabelle doesn’t stop herself at ornamental plants; she’s also a fan of vegetables. Fresh corn in the husk and spinach seem to be her favorites, but even pineapple is fair game, as long as it has its green top in place.

A few years ago, we received a box of garden fresh vegetables from a neighbor, and before we even had a chance to clean them and start up the grill, Christabelle set about picking her favorite snacks. Fortunately, it’s difficult to do much harm to an ear of corn still wrapped in its husk or an unpeeled pineapple, but the vegetarian cat needed to show us that she expected her own fair share.

She doesn’t seem to care much for broccoli. Once when I was trying to break her from eating my houseplants, I offered her several small pieces of broccoli, and she wouldn’t touch them. Like many kids, she actually hid them under the table.

Spinach, however, is one of her favorites. She will beg beside the table at dinnertime until I give her a piece of spinach from my salad. Being that she’s picky, a whole leaf won’t do; she wants it cut into bite-size pieces and placed in front of her like a proper princess. If I set a place for her at the dining room table with the rest of the humans, I think she would be perfectly content as long as I kept the greens coming.

Like most cats, she enjoys an occasional bite of chicken or tuna, but of all her options, she seems to prefer vegetables the most. I thought it might be an anomaly, and maybe all of my cats had a predilection for strange food, but none of the others are the least inclined toward leafy greens. My big, orange and white boy cat is much more like Garfield, and like his cartoon cousin, he has been known to wind up in a plate of lasagna – of course, he was a baby kitten with food issues, and he didn’t know better. (He is much better behaved now.) Spike is indifferent to most things unless they’re offered to her, and Snowbird turns her nose up at everything except canned tuna. Christabelle, therefore, is the only one who actually gets excited over fresh vegetables.

I like a good salad, and I certainly can’t wait for garden season to hit its peak, but I don’t think I’ll ever get quite as much joy out of the first harvest or a bouquet of roses as my very own vegetarian cat.

A tribute to a mouser, er, “snaker”: Missing Miss Purr, the dog-like cat

Purr brightenedMiss Purr thought she was a dog. Even though she grew up around cats and dogs, she seemed to identify more with the other species. She let herself in and out the doggy door, just like the other dogs, and she preferred licking people’s hands to cuddling and purring. Purr spent her days in a dog grooming shop, supervising from her perch on anyone’s shoulder. When she got bored, she would check her humans’ hair for “cooties.”

She learned how to open the screen door, and she would come and go at her leisure, but she made it a point to be present whenever anyone was eating cheese – cheese twists, cheeseburgers, pizza, it didn’t matter; she just wanted cheese. Unfortunately, she was the one and only lactose-intolerant cat I’ve ever met, and even the tiniest taste of cheese or dairy upset her stomach. She begged for it incessantly.

When she was little, she slept in a laundry hamper in my bedroom, but as she got older, she began spending more and more time outside. Eventually, she only came in at night to sleep. I wanted to take her with me when I moved to Mississippi, but I knew she would hate apartment dwelling. Christabelle, my Manx kitten, was much more in touch with her domestic side, and she rarely ventured past the threshold. Purr howled and pounded on the doors whenever she was locked in the house.

Purr was content at my mom’s house with the dogs, going and coming, and then she discovered mousing. As she grew up, she got in touch with that one aspect of her feline personality, and she loved to show off her kills. Sometimes, however, she didn’t quite kill her prey. My mom came home on more than one occasion to a stunned bird sitting in her kitchen or a startled mouse running through the living room. The worst were the snakes. I don’t know how she got them in the doggy door, but mom found two and I discovered a third one behind a cabinet.

One day, I was cleaning, and I saw something peek out from behind the cabinet. It looked like a mouse tail, so I finished my vacuuming and called Chris to come get rid of the mouse at Mom’s house. He pulled the cabinet away from the wall, and we were greeted by an ugly surprise: the three-foot long snake began lashing at us as we moved its hiding place. Chris got a hoe, a bag, and reinforcements to help him remove the snake. I picked a vantage point a safe distance away and let the men handle the wrangling of the serpent. It was less than cooperative, and it didn’t leave in one piece, but that was Purr’s last chance. Either she could go home with me immediately, or she would meet with an “unfortunate accident.”

We took her home, and she did everything in her power to prove to us that she hated being confined indoors, but we didn’t have a doggy door and had no intention of installing one. Where Mom has a fenced yard with a deck that sits 10 feet off the ground, our porch is level with the ground and very inviting to all manner of opossums, raccoons, and squirrels.

For the first time ever, Purr found that she was an exclusively outside cat. Most of the time, she loved her freedom, but from time to time, she would pound on the door or window to see if I had changed my mind yet about installing her doggy door. She played in the yard and rambled far into the woods, but I never saw her go near the street, and she usually came when I called her. Almost weekly, she would bring me a present: a mole one week, a bird the next, and sometimes even a snake.

After awhile, a little black tomcat appointed himself Purr’s new best friend. She had had cat friends before, and her best buddy in the dog grooming shop was a huge orange marmalade cat named Sundance, but Howler was her first wild friend. It took over a year of constant feeding and reassurance before Howler let me pet him, but late last fall, he finally decided he enjoyed attention just as much as Purr.

Howler would leave for weeks at a time, and suddenly he would show up again as if he had never been gone. Purr usually stuck around closely, but during a January snowstorm, she disappeared for three weeks. Following the May floods, Howler came home muddy and thin as a rail after a lengthy absence. I never knew where they went, but they always knew their way home.

During another night of storms, I checked on them both. Purr was curled up in a chair and Howler was finishing the last of the cat food I had put out for them earlier in the day. The storm cleared Sunday morning, and neither was around. When I started to leave home just before noon, I found Purr. She had been hit by a car across the road from my house. It was the first time I ever saw her anywhere near the road. I got her taken care of and buried in my family’s own little pet cemetery, and when I returned home that evening, I found Howler a mere 30 feet away, also struck by a car. It was too dark and stormy to do anything for him right them, and when I got up Monday morning, there was no sign of him.

I’ve never had good luck with indoor-outdoor or exclusively outside cats, but I thought these two were different. I thought Purr, at least, had sense enough not to go near the road. For several years when I was growing up, every Halloween, one of our barn/carport cats got ran over. They were too wild and plentiful to lock in the house, but I have dreaded Halloween ever since. Now, my two furry friends met the same fate on the same day, and I can’t imagine how that “coincidentally” happens.

I know cats tend to run out in front of cars, but it doesn’t hurt to slow down when driving through residential areas – even ones out in the country. They aren’t just animals, to some of us they’re friends and companions. So drive carefully, and be aware – you never know when a cat, dog, or kid might cross the street without looking.