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I believe no one should be labeled as ‘crazy’ for loving a pet.—David Williams, MIC

Men with Cats: Intimate Portraits of Feline Friendship is a fun collection of photos and stories by David Williams that breaks the stereotype that only crazy ladies care for cats. Williams himself is a freelance photographer who lives in New York with his wife and their two cats. Men With Cats: Intimate Portraits of Feline Friendship was recognized as a New York Times Best seller shortly after its release in 2016.

Each two-page spread of this 140-page delightful photo book consists of a professional photo, identification of the male cat owner and his cat companion(s), and a quote that highlights the feline friendship. How each met differs: A mother cat followed Louis home; A burned cat slated for euthanasia was rescued by Al; Cats abandoned at an auto shop catch Alex’s attention. How the bond developed is unique: Brent loves how his cat jumps on his chest, kneads his paws in his beard, and licks his face; Reuben appreciates how relaxed his cat is and tries to emulate that lifestyle; Dennis admires the array of sounds his cat will use to communicate, with his favorite being a chirrup that acknowledges his presence. The way the men describe the friendship devotion varies: Benn refers to his relationship with his cat at being like an old married couple; Brian jokes that his cat is a dog except evil instead; Dustin shares that when he and his cat make eye contact there is a deep inner connection.

Photo books are not my typical fare. I’m more of an information sort of reader. One of my favorite parts of Men with Cats: Intimate Portraits of Feline Friendship is the section labeled “What is the hardest part of cat ownership?” I wanted to see several other spreads like this. But I must admit that a couple rereads of Men with Cats: Intimate Portraits of Feline Friendship revealed more than I expected about living with cats.

Williams started this photography project back in 2009 not only to shuns stereotypes, but also to celebrate feline friendship. In his preface, he expressed the hope that his book would inspire readers to rescue and adopt pets or donate time and resources to animal welfare groups. Men with Cats: Intimate Portraits of Feline Friendship certainly increased my appreciation for the quirky and intense bonds that can exist between men and their cats.

A good owner is just anyone that shows love and compassion towards their pet — whether it be a cat, dog, or rabbit.—David Williams, Refinery 29

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Rainy started her week with a visit from two of our friends. In the middle of the week, we worked on established routines. She finished her week with a trip to a major pet store.

Two weekends ago, friends from out of town came by for a visit. We invited them to visit our critters before going out to eat. The critters include our 13-year-old toy poodle, our reclusive tortie that we adopted from Tia’s Place at Hearts United for Animals, a former feral cat, and our irrepressible Rainy that we adopted as a stray kitten. Our poodle was all kisses, while our tortie wanted to sniff faces, and our feral observed from the safety of the living room cat tower. As for Rainy, she displayed a cautious curiosity. Proud pet mom that I am, I wanted to demonstrate what our cats can do. We ran through a few obedience commands (sit, stay, twirl), and I also pulled out the agility jumps. Then I handed treats to our friends, who took turns getting our cats to perform. The cats were naturally nervous, but also complied with requests.

During the week, after breakfast, Rainy and I kept up our grooming and obedience routines. I brought lots of cat snacks, so that she would associate grooming with good stuff. At the same time, I didn’t just hand out snacks but instead made her work for rewards. After I cleaned her ears, which get dirtier than that of our other pets, I asked her to “Hi-Five”. Then I brushed her, even though she barely sheds, and ask her to stand and twirl (dance). I finished up by cleaning her teeth, and asking her to do her favorite trick: roll over. All done, I put a treat in my mouth, tell her “Kiss!” and let her take it from me.

Establishing a routine hasn’t been easy. I was initially reluctant to add regular training to my schedule because of the time commitment and because I thought it’d be a chore. I finally just decided to start. I picked to work with Rainy on training near mealtimes prior to my getting absorbed in other activities. Then I simply stuck to our schedule until it became routine.

At the end of the week, my husband and I took Rainy with us to run some errands. This is a new experience for me. I’ve taken dogs on errands before, but never cats. Rainy and Andy wait in the car while I make a couple of deliveries. At Petco, it’s a different story. Rainy can come with us. We loaded her into the pet stroller. Rainy sat up, alert to passing cars. When we got inside, we filled our shopping cart with treats, food, and litter, Rainy relaxed for a ride in the stroller. As we shopped, I heard the occasional “Aw” from fellow shoppers. In the checkout line, the customer behind us, and I shared how our two cats like it for walks and about where we purchased it.

Back at the car, I spoiled Rainy with lots of treats. When we return home, she flops onto the living room floor for a stretch and snooze.  Adventure is exhausting!

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors Pet Talk. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2017.

If you like cats, romances, and mysteries, check out Mayhem and Mystery at the Kitty Kastle by Malynda McCarrick. The downside is the writing could use some editing and polish. The upside is a portion of the proceeds from the purchase of this short fun read goes to support Midwest cat shelters.

Too many strange things were happening at the Kitty Kastle for anyone to dismiss them as just anyone’s imagination. First, there were the unexplainable noises such as that of footsteps when there’s no one else around. Then there was the lack of noise. On the fourth floor, especially in an old house, one should the wind or the rain but instead the build is sound proof. Third, there are walls that are located where they shouldn’t be and a foundation that doesn’t line up with the rest of the building. Finally, there are the gifts that mysteriously appear. The mystery is my favorite part.

One black cat knew that something was afoot and kept trying to provide clues to Jay Carpenter, the man hired to bring the shelter up to code. He’s also a growing source of comfort to Miranda, the owner of Kitty Kastle. She’s recovering from a messy divorce, but apparently can’t resist a hunk in a toolbelt. Jay turns out to strong in build and gentle in character. Soon, the two are dreaming up a multitude of ideas for how the building could be renovated. Moreover, because Jay knows the shelter couldn’t cover the cost of major repairs, Jay has volunteered to help for free. Just as important, a dog lover at heart, Jay is slowly being converted to a cat lover. The romance is unrealistic but does make for a light-hearted read, which we all need at times.

Finally, there are the cats of Kitty Kastle. They live in a dream shelter. Each floor has varying levels of padded condos. In addition, the walls have ledges and cubby holes in which the cats can play and hide. On the first floor is a central playroom, filled with climbing structures and tunnels for the cats to explore. There’s also a large kitchen with multiple refrigerator for the specialty foods and various medicines the cats would need. Finally, the owner lives on the premises and so she is available 24/7 to check on the feline residents. The shelter’s inhabitants serve as a pleasant backdrop and the mystery wouldn’t have been resolved without Minx.

Author Malynda McCarrick is Midwestern country girl who grew up with a love for books. She’s also an avid animal lover. One day, the arrangement of vendors at a cat show put her and The Cat House (a no-kill cat shelter) next to one another. Afternoon conversations between the two led to McCarrick taking an interest in The Cat House and eventually self-publishing a cat cozy dedicated to its hard-working volunteers. Run-on sentences, missed punctuation, and some stereotype characters diminished some of my enjoyment of Mayhem and Mystery at the Kitty Kastle. Otherwise, McCarricks’ novel served as an evening of escapism.

Plaintive meows caught her attention as she headed inside her home for the night. Scurrying away from her porch were two tiny kittens. The woman had a dog crate handy inside and she retrieved it now to try to capture these scrawny black cats. They’re too small and too young to be outside. Were they even six weeks old yet. If a fox or some other predator didn’t kill them, they could easily be crushed under a car’s tires. The woman shivered. This cold snap was typical of Nebraska weather in fall. It was not the time for such little creatures to be homeless. The kittens took a few steps towards the crate, and the woman wondered if it smelled too much of dogs. She disappeared inside and returned with an open can of tuna.  She placed the can inside the dog crate, then stepped back and waited. Slowly, one of the kittens approached. Its hair was unkempt, and its bones protruded. Finally, its hunger overcame its fear It stepped inside the crate. Soon the trembling kitten was devouring the tuna. The woman looked around. Its sibling had disappeared. Sighing, she closed the crate, and then pulled out her cell phone to call Animal Control.

Pet fostering starts with a need. Early this past November, a friend of a friend messaged me. She wanted to know if I had a trap that she could borrow. She said she was trying to trap a kitten. And then she proceeded to tell me about another kitten for which she needed to find a home. As is my habit in such situations, I sent her a list of animal rescues and wished her the best. Ninety-nine percent of the time, this is where my involvement ends. My husband and I don’t rescue. Both times we’ve tried foster care, we ended up adding a new pet to our household. We now have four pets, and that’s enough. But something about this kitten tugged at my heart. When a posting about the kitten appeared on the Joining Forces Saving Lives Facebook page, I followed its progress. When I learned that the kitten had been labeled ’feral’ by the shelter, and that this label was causing potential adopters to shy away from it, I knew my husband and I had to get involved.

The little black kitten hunkered in a cardboard box at the back of a cage at the local humane society. When a volunteer picked it up, the kitten uttered an almost inaudible squawk. The volunteer handed the kitten over to me. The kitten flattened itself against my chest and buried its head inside my jacket. When I gave the kitten to my husband, the kitten instantly clung to him too, and even protested when we said goodbye. On our second visit, the kitten had been identified as a girl and given the name Onyx. We asked if we could check the kitten’s weight, and discovered it was only 1.3 pounds and quite bony. Onyx’s spunk had no doubt helped her to survive the perils of outdoor life, but by our third visit we realized that outdoor life had taken its toll on this frail kitten; when weighed again, she was now down to 1.2 pounds. The shelter had kept Onyx safe and warm since she’d arrived, but now she needed more. In order to thrive, she needed a home. And so, with the help of Joining Forces Saving Lives, we became her foster parents.

Fostering is a roller coaster ride. The first day Andy and I brought Onyx home, we placed her in our spare room. Because her low weight was our biggest concern, our immediate goal was to get her to eat. I tried hand feeding Onyx three different kitten foods. Two of them she rejected; the third she not only ate from my hand, but she also from a dish. I felt elated. But my excitement was short-lived. When I later mixed milk replacement powder into her food, Onyx refused to sniff it. Andy had to syringe feed her. At least half of the watery mix dribbled down her chin and chest, but she must have enjoyed what she ate. The next morning, Onyx ate an entire helping from a dish. Again, I felt elated. A quick recovery seemed imminent. Except by noon, Onyx was again refusing to eat. And so, the roller coaster ride began. One day she had normal bodily movements. Another day, her litter box was a mess. One day she strutted about the guest room. Another day she retreated into a corner. And so, we were eager for the most miniscule indications that Onyx was going to live.

The wide-eyed kitten rolled onto her back. She stretched her front paws over her head and purred contentedly when we scratched her fat belly for the fifth time in one night. A camera flash illuminated the scene. We had taken yet another photo of her. She batted the camera strap with her paws. Elsewhere in the house, the three family cats were restless. They remained unsure whether to accept this creature that had disrupted their cozy lives. Onyx stretched her back legs until her paws touched the side of our napping toy poodle. One day at a time….

At the time of this article, Onyx will be nine to ten weeks old and has reached a healthy weight of two pounds. She likes to play with small plush toys and our toes. She also likes to run about the guest room, but also likes to take long naps in our laps. We’ve nicknamed our foster cutie “Bat Girl,” because her little black face and big black ears she looks like a bat. It’s fun watching her personality develop. Thank you, Capital Humane Society and Joining Forces Saving Lives for letting us foster her.

The month of July was a full one for Rainy. We practiced a few items on the Canine Good Citizenship test. In doing so, we revisited clicker training, visited a friend, and toured a store. Oh, and we played on an agility jungle gym.

Why is Rainy working on the Canine Good Citizenship test when she isn’t a dog? Because prospective therapy dogs must pass it, but there is no such test yet for felines. What type of items are on the test? The first five items test a dog’s ability to politely and calmly meet strangers, while the last five cover obedience commands and the dog’s ability to handle distractions and separation. I figure that Rainy is learning how to handle the first five through her supervised visits; the others I want to focus on practicing at home.

One of the basic obedience commands tested in the CGC test is, “Come.” Rainy has been struggling with the command, so this week I decided to revisit clicker training as a way of teaching recall. For clicker training, one uses a small metal noisemaker to mark desirable behavior, and then rewards with a reinforcement such as a treat. When watching online clicker training videos, I realized the importance of marking the tiniest sign of obedience. I used to reward Rainy only if she fully obeyed the command. Now the instant that Rainy head towards me, I click and reward. Rainy doesn’t always make it to me or take a straight path, but the point of clicker training is to shape a behavior. The more I clicked and rewarded each time she obeyed, the more improvement I saw. (You can read a longer version of how to teach “come” on page 16 of Lincoln Kids.)

Another item on the CGC test is a demonstration of the pet’s ability to ignore noisy distractions. I enlisted my husband to help with this one. I called the cat trio into the kitchen, rewarded them for coming, and then asked them to sit. When they started to sit, Andy dropped an object on the floor. He started with a quieter item and proceeded to louder ones: first a cardboard tube, then a pill bottle, then a spoon. Despite a history of noise aversion, Rainy wasn’t fazed by any of these distractions. Next time, we’ll practice with louder noises.

As I noted, the first five items test an animal’s ability to meet strangers. This week, I accepted an invitation to take Rainy to visit a friend. When I opened the door of Rainy’s carrier, she didn’t want to come out. To help relax her, I offered her goat cheese from my hand. She ate it. To encourage her to come out of her carrier, I sprinkled a trail of cheese leading away from the carrier. She didn’t take the bait. I placed a blanket on the floor, added some cheese, and then simply lifted Rainy out of the carrier. She didn’t protest, but instead ate the cheese and sat next to me. Next, I moved the blanket closer to my friend and added more cheese. Rainy ate the cheese and sniffed my friend. I gave my friend some cheese and Rainy accepted cheese from her hand. Finally, I put the blanket on my friend’s lap and placed Rainy onto it. Rainy laid down and allowed my friend to pet her. When Rainy got down, she took time to explore, but eventually retreated under the bed. Visit over!

At the online International Cat-Assisted Therapy group, some owners of therapy cats shared that they had started their training by going to indoor places. When I told this to Andy, he suggested we visit Sit Stay, a small pet store. While my husband searched for just the right dog treat, I pushed our pet stroller up and down the aisles. Unlike one of our cats who hisses when I take her places in the stroller, Rainy sat upright and peered at the sights. The store clerk was impressed! So was I! After Andy bought a bag of fishy pet treats, I unzipped the stroller. Rainy peeked out and let the store clerk pet her. Another success!

For a long time, Andy and I have talked about having a pet enrichment day, on which we would rearrange our living room to give our pets a new environment to explore. This week we did this, and in doing so treated our dog and cats to an agility jungle gym. Our other two cats weren’t too sure about the new arrangement; Rainy took it all in stride. She jumped onto the boards placed on chairs, raced through tunnels, and climbed onto the heights of the cat tower. At one point, I followed her into the bigger tunnel. When she turned around and saw me following, she flopped down as if to ask, “What are you doing, Mom?” Then she leaped to her paws and zoomed about the tunnel as if to say, “Some fun, eh?!” The other two cats finally decided to in on of the action. Our pet enrichment afternoon was a blast!

Most nights, Rainy joins me in bed at night. She curls up under my arm and then snuggles with me until morning. Our life is full and my girl is happy!

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors Pet Talk. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2017.


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Fall 2017: Focus on Cats!

All things cats ahead! I will post roundups of cat training books, cat Trap-Neuter-Release books, cat coloring books, and cat cozies. For all other animal lovers, I will also post roundups of dog cozies and zoo books.

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