December 31, 2023

FTV: How Did That Happen?

Growing up, we had dogs for more years than we did not. The first one I remember was a purebred Black Lab named Duke. I learned later that ‘Duke’ was a shortened version of his full name that sounded more like a loyal English subject of high ranking, but neither my mother or father could remember the exact title he had. He was a big lump of a dog who wouldn’t hurt a fly. If we took his bowl away from him when he wasn’t finished eating, he would put on the big puppy dog eyes and the saddest look he could muster, but he would never snap at us kids even when we were crawling all over him.

Duke was eventually replaced by Duke II who was not of royal lineage but just as nice. Unfortunately, he took to roaming our neighborhood on the edge of town and somebody peppered him with shotgun pellets, probably because he knocked over their garbage cans looking for treats. We knew he did this from time to time with our own cans but apparently not everyone was as tolerant as we were about it. I thought it was a terrible fate for a dog that had heroically chased away a night caller who was trying to remove the battery from our car. We wondered why he was sitting on the porch in the morning with a broken chain hanging from his collar…until we noticed the hood on the car in the driveway was open. Duke was a great watch dog but he departed this world much too soon.

I didn’t know exactly what a Weimaraner was until we got Annie. Dad wanted to train her to be a retriever for duck hunting and she was pretty good in the test trials. Sleek and strong, I can see why the breed gained the nickname ‘the Silver Ghost’. She loved galloping down the dock at camp and launching herself well out into the river to chase any stick thrown for her. Annie was a gentle girl but I found out how strong she was the day she went after the paperboy and I had to wrestle her to the ground while the kid made a hasty retreat on his bike. It turned out that when she was a little pup, Annie had gotten her ear caught in the chain of a paperboy’s bike. Until that moment, we had no idea she had a thing about bikes and paperboys. With a lot of the former (bikes) and only one of the later (paperboys) in our neighborhood, we retired Annie to a nice farm in the country with neither.

My mother vowed to never have another pet and of course, that went out the window when our neighbor brought over Rusty. He looked like a cross between a Cocker Spaniel and an Irish

Setter (larger than a Spaniel but smaller than a Setter). The dog had shown up on their doorstep and they were not looking for a pet. Knowing we had dogs in the past, they thought maybe we could take care of Rusty until his owners could be found. My detective dad snooped around a bit and discovered he had been abandoned by a family who lived on the opposite side of the Northern Michigan University campus from our neighborhood.

People who were familiar with the situation told dad the poor dog was probably better off if they left him behind. We did not understand this fully until we took Rusty to the Vet for a check up. The Veterinarian said his tail was broken at the base of his rump probably from being kicked. This information told us what the people familiar with his plight hinted at – his previous owners were not pleasant people and did not deserve any pets (or perhaps, kids). It also explained why he never wagged his shaggy tail – when Rusty was happy, his whole back end would shake side to side instead.

Rusty had his own phobia that no doubt stemmed from his being abandoned. We learned early on that if he was left alone in the house, he went a little crazy. The first and last time it happened, he chewed up the door and window frames in our kitchen and living room. We knew he was going to be one of those dogs who would be traveling with us…a lot. A jangle of the car keys was all it took to get him out of the door and it never bothered him to be alone in the truck when we went to shop. He just couldn’t be alone in the house.

When I was in high school and college, I was the designated dog sitter when dad and mom were on the road. If I went to the store, Rusty was my co-pilot. I took the good natured ribbing I got about my ‘red haired girlfriend’ because he always rode shotgun in our truck. I only lived two blocks from the high school and across the street from the NMU campus, so it became a little tricky to walk to school without Rusty following me. At first, I would let him out one door and leave by the door on the other side of the house. When I came home, he would be sitting on one of the porches waiting to be let in. Why didn’t we just put him on a chain? We tried but we had more evidence he had been abused. If we put a standard collar on him, he would gag and retch. We tried a body harness but he would pull the chain tight and wriggle out of it backwards. The sneaking out of the house worked fine…at first.

Once Rusty caught on to my disappearing act, I would put him out one door, wait until he ran around to catch me at the other door, and then I would slip out the same door I had let him out

through. It took a couple of weeks for the old dog to teach me a few new tricks. He began sitting at the corner of the house where he could see both doors. Option number three became making him think we were going for a ride. I would leave the window cracked if it was warm and he would hop into the truck where I would find him peacefully sleeping when I got home. One does not know disappointment until the dog who has been sitting in the truck for a couple of hours doesn’t get to go for a ride. There were days I made it a point to take him for a spin after his patient waiting was over. I walked home for lunch everyday so it was an act that we repeated twice a day, rain or shine.

So there you have the nutshell version of my upbringing as a dog person. The fact that I am now a cat person is still the mystery alluded to in the title of this FTV. I still like dogs. Once when we were first married, my poor wife was chased by an angry Doberman while jogging. She escaped by climbing onto the hood of a car in our apartment parking lot and ever since then she gets a little jumpy when approached by a strange dog. I either give them the friendly treatment or the alpha male ‘I am in charge’ bit while remaining between a strange dog and my wife. I now realize that my transition from being a dog person to a cat person was a very gradual shift that began when we first started dating.

When I first arrived in Ontonagon, I was invited to a fellow teacher’s house for dinner. It turns out they had two Siamese cats who decided to spend time with me on the couch. My fit of sneezing and coughing were a pretty good indication that I am quite allergic to cat dander. On future visits, the cats would be banished to the upstairs bedroom and I would be fine as long as I remembered not to touch my face without washing my hands thoroughly. My hosts suggested I might not be a good candidate for owning a cat. Then I met my future wife..

What is it about cats and their ability to sense when one is allergic? Visiting my girlfriend’s house when she was on break from NMU (I was in my second year teaching here), I discovered she had a black cat named Nicky and a longer haired white cat named Shelby. They were nice cats and I couldn’t help but notice they would come around long enough to get me sneezing and then retreat to their warm perch in the furnace room. Allergy pills helped some, but over time, it seemed that I was becoming less sensitive to whatever was making me allergic. It didn’t take long for me to actually start to enjoy seeing the boys when visiting. Still, after they passed away, it would take another thirty years for me to get cozy with a family cat again.

When Elizabeth and Todd (our WOAS-FM West Coast Bureau) were still in Los Angeles, they decided to adopt a rescue cat. It started innocently enough with a neighborhood cat. They called him ‘Our Boy’ before finding out he was named Joe Bob. JB would hang around their apartment building and they thought maybe he had a free rent agreement with the landlord as long as he kept the mouse population in check. He was a stray that many people fed and one particular gentleman would keep an eye on. He would let Joe Bob in for some food but never closed him in – a true free range kitty. This neighbor also saw to his vet visits and took care of him when he became very ill. They briefly thought about trying to adopt him but he was too much of a free spirit. Sadly, Joe Bob died of cancer not long before they moved to a different apartment in Culver City.

A person at school who worked at Karma Rescue put them on to a tough little former street cat named Don Juan. He had been found wandering in the neighborhoods of Venice, CA where he had apparently survived being shot in the hind quarter with some sort of pellet gun. DJ had been through a couple of foster homes and had a reputation for being a sweet boy so Don Juan soon found a home with the WCB.

Todd, like myself, turned out to be quite allergic and things didn’t look too good for a prolonged stay by their new pet. The discovery of a magical potion called Allerpet-C turned the tide. A damp cloth rub down (of the cat, not Todd) with this wonderous solution a couple of times a week prevented further allergic reactions. My wife was there when they ‘brought the baby home’ from Karma Rescue and got them set up with everything they would need as the owners of a new cat. DJ is no longer with us, but we still make donations to Karma Rescue for the fine work they do.

We became cat people again when my wife began volunteering at the Ontonagon Country Animal Protection shelter. There were a small number of cat volunteers at the time so she got her ‘cat jones’ by doing many shifts caring for the in house felines housed there. Eventually, yours truly began helping out and as more volunteers were added to the schedule, we settled into a routine of working three Monday evening shifts per month plus assorted fill-in days. Some volunteers are skittish about giving medication to the cats who need them so when the regular cat coordinator is occupied elsewhere, we tend to pick up those duties as well. We have a small house so we avoided bringing home one of the shelter cats, reasoning we get plenty of cat time

working at OCAP. That all changed when Mittens arrived at the shelter.

Mittens (or ‘Mr. Mittens’ as everyone began calling him) was a large black polydactyl cat. His owner had suddenly died when he was about ten years old and the grief stricken tabby ended up at OCAP. Polydactyl cats have extra toes and we suspect this is where he got his ‘Mittens’ handle from. He was so shy that friends of his former owner had not even been aware there was a cat in the house. When we first encountered him, he spent the majority of his time sitting sadly in his litter box. My wife likes all cats but has always been attracted to those with a hard-luck story. After a couple of weeks getting to know him, we hatched a plan to bring him home for my wife’s birthday. Small house or not, we made room for our big new boy.

We were not sure what to expect so the game plan was to get him home and let Mr. Mittens get used to his new digs. As a shy cat, he wasn’t trying to be an ‘alpha, I am in charge’ cat. Only once do I remember him rearing up to his full height when a persistent bully cat kept bothering him (at which point the bully cat backed off and let him be). Usually, he would play magician and disappear. Mittens found he could use his extra toes like thumbs – he could easily open cupboard doors in the cat area, hop in and close the door behind him. The first day we had him home, he did just that and we found him sitting behind all of the stuff stored under our kitchen sink. He often walked around rattling doors just to see if he could still open them.

Dr. Stuermer was a true cat man and at one appointment, he stretched Mr. M to his full length and declared him to be ‘a magnificent animal’. Sadly, we only had Mittens with us a little over four years when he contracted a fast moving cancer. It only took about a month before we had to have him put down as his health had declined in that short period of time. We were convinced we would not be getting a new cat anytime soon – it would be hard to find one with as much personality as Mr. Mittens had. A few months later, another hard luck boy came our way.

Mr. B (yes, there seems to be a pattern here, but he came with this name) also lost both his cat mother and human mother in a short span of time. He had been a robust 20 plus pound black cat when he came into the shelter, but in his grief, he stopped eating and dropped to less than 11 pounds. He ended up at Deepwoods Vet Clinic and they had to put in a feeding tube to administer medications for liver problems he developed with his massive weight loss. When my wife read a shelter update that said, “He seems to have lost the will to live,” she was on her way to visit him at the clinic. I was in Oregon at the time and when it was reported that Mr. B perked

up and got real excited when he got a second visit, I told the WCB, “We will be getting another black cat as soon as I get home.”

Mr. B was in pretty tough shape when we brought him home but we figured if he couldn’t rally and get better, at least he would have a home for a while. His eating and litter box sessions were spotty at best and he was relatively calm when we had to give him the meds via the feeding tube. The one thing he could not tolerate was taking pills. Any attempts to get a pill down him were met with squirming and retching. Luckily we were able to get the meds in him without needing to pill him. We tried many combinations of wet and dry food and the one thing that helped him rally was kitten chow. About the time we began to worry Mr. B was not improving, he fooled us and began to slowly come around. The feeding tube came out and he slowly gained weight and his litterbox use began to be more regular. We may have worried about his physical health, but mentally, he made himself right at home. He never made much noise, but he was always happy to be around his people.

Two summers ago, we got another scare when Mr. B began losing weight again. A quick round of blood work ruled out cancer but did confirm he was suffering from a hyper-thyroid condition. One treatment available involved being dosed with radiation (which could only be done at a great distance from here) and required special handling and isolation. We didn’t think he would respond well to being separated from his familiar surroundings. The second option, pills, stirred memories of his utter dislike of taking pills. An older shelter cat named Hazel was getting the same pills and we were administering them in a little ball of Velveeta. We crossed our fingers and hoped for the best . . . and Mr. B ate the pill laden balls without hesitation.

When Mr. B began having troubles with his ears, we eventually tracked it down to an allergic reaction. The newest addition to his diet was the Valetta (which we had to stop using) but the question was, what to do about the pills? B was always more of a dry food eater so we again held our breath and tried giving him his dose in a little blob of canned cat food. It worked so well, we have created a little bit of a monster. Two doses a day twelve hours apart are not hard to give, it is just he starts bugging us for it a half an hour earlier each day. Maybe his Apple watch isn’t keeping time correctly? It wouldn’t be so bad but along the way he picked up the habit of making a ‘trumpeting’ sound when he wants his wet food.

One of the symptoms we found for the thyroid condition was actually described as cats

making a rather loud, trumpeting like yowl. This is one of the things that put us on the trail for what was causing him to lose weight. When we first had him home, we often joked that we may have brought home a mute cat. Little did we know he would transform into a cat with a voice that can shake the house like Foghorn Leghorn. Even his normal conversational meows are loud enough that people talking on the other end of the phone will say, “What is wrong with your cat?” “Oh, nothing,” we explain, “he is just a loud one!”

So there you have the story of my journey from dog person to cat person. I actually like just about all animals, but I have always told non-cat owners, “The secret society of cats has a code – each cat is responsible for bringing in at least one human into the ‘cat owners club’. Don’t laugh, I can tell you Nicky and Shelby did their job as did Joe Bob and countless other cats we have seen come and go through OCAP. Come to visit our house and Mr. B will try to work the same cat magic on you, too.

Top Piece Video – Okay, so Ted Nugent can be a little … ‘blue’ … but this was recorded for TV so he was pretty well behaved . . . Cat Scratch Fever