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Well, okay – not really. The only people who really have any idea how many animals occupy our household right now are our friends and families – who know we’re insane – and other animal shelter/rescue people, who likewise have houses full of animals they didn’t really intend to keep.

But if anyone did ask, these would probably be some of the questions:


  • What, are you guys nuts?

Probably. We never planned on having this many animals but cats, especially, just sort of turn up. Three of the adoptions – Tink, Gord and Max – were deliberate; the other two were rescues/foundlings we ended up liking so much we couldn’t bring ourselves to get rid of them.

  • You have HOW many animals?

We have five. There are four cats – Tink, Doodle, Gord and Squeek, in order of acquisition – and one dog, Max. The city we live in – Kettering, Ohio – places a five pet limit, so any additional animals will be adopted through a program at the shelter where Tony and I volunteer.

  • How did you end up with all those furballs?

Tink was a deliberate adoption. Right after Christmas in 1997, and after much discussion, Tony and I decided we wanted a cat, so we went to a local kill shelter near Cincinnati and adopted Tink. She was an enormous, feisty female tabby kitten of about two months who did backflips off the cage door attempting to catch anyone’s attention who could keep her from being alone and bored (doubtful she’d have been put to sleep, as scarce as young kittens are that time of year in southern Ohio). For two years, Tink was plenty of pet for us, and we were both working full time, so we didn’t discuss it beyond that.

On Thanksgiving in 1999, a dirty, ear-infected tortie kitten of about six months had been hanging around in my mother’s yard in a small town near Cincinnati, eating off her compost heap and chasing her birds. Mom said she intended to call county animal control and have them pick up the kitten – which would have resulted in her euthanasia, probably within a few days, as it turned out she had diarrhea, a yeast infection in her ears, and had eosinophilic reactions to stress (puffy lip, hives on the backs of her legs, etc.). She was at least half-grown, and a bit on the puny side, so they probably would have put her down rather than invest the time and money in getting her back in reasonable health then spaying her. Tony and I stepped out on the porch so I could smoke a cigarette and we could discuss it; while we were standing out there, a skinny, dirty bundle of fur pranced right up and curled up between Tony’s feet. If we had known then what we know now about introducing new animals to a household, poor Doodle wouldn’t have had to go through all she went through to integrate. Live and learn.

I went through a lengthy period of unemployment after that, and during that time started volunteering at a local, privately-funded stray shelter here in Kettering. I’d been there a few months when this enormous, personable yellow tom cat entered the program – he had the usual "living on the streets" problems, ear mites, upper respiratory, etc. – but otherwise, he was healthy. As I volunteered one night a week to do cat kenneling, I got to give him medications and get to know him; he was an affable, laid-back fellow who loved people. His foster had named him "Flame" – which seemed wholly inappropriate, as he was a blocky, goony sort of cat who should have had a big, blond frat guy’s name. After a couple of weeks in our house, he became Gord, and has remained Gord ever since. Gord was introduced in a more rational manner than our "give her a bath and throw her on the floor" method, which Doodle had to suffer. We started out with Gord isolated in a bedroom, and only let the other two cats peek at him through a crack in the door a few times a day. After about three days, we fastened an old window screen to the doorway with duct tape so the cats could see him, and he could see them, but they couldn’t actively confront or contact each other. Doodle, who was already low man on the totem pole, and who is most demonstrative anyway, hissed and growled at him for the first couple of days, then seemed to get used to the idea of having him around; after this, we let him out and let the girls into his room. We put him back into the room at night for a few more nights, then finally put the screens away and let things take the rest of their course naturally. After a few weeks of hissing confrontations – mostly between Gord and Doodle – things settled. Gord likes to play rough, and Doodle isn’t the most burly cat, so there still are occasional confrontations when Gord plays too rough for her and she hisses and squeals like she’s being eaten, but for the most part they get along; Gord and Tink don’t deal with each other directly very much at all, unless Gord is trying to evict Tink from her spot on top of one of the cat trees. Even at that, they lie on the bed together and occasionally groom each other.

Over the course of the next couple of years, Tony and I discussed adopting a dog. He’d had dogs as a teenager, and I’d been around them all my life, though I’d never been allowed to have a pet of my own while I was living with my parents. We looked into breeds, made a call as to size, and occasionally haunted the pet adoption sites on the Internet and kept an eye open at the shelter where we volunteer. Unfortunately, most dogs who were the right size – under thirty pounds – and who were familiar with and got along at least reasonably well with cats never made it into the system at our shelter; they’d come in, be in holding or isolation for three or four days, and immediately be adopted by one of the fosters. One night while surfing, I started looking at nearby shelters on the Petfinder web site, and found a couple of different dogs – both spitz/pomeranian mixes. One of the dogs was already in the process of being adopted; the other one was available. We made arrangements to visit with the available dog, who was called Leo then, and talk to his foster, who was showing him at an adoption fair at PetsMart down near Cincinnati.

The night before we were to visit with "Leo" we went to play trivia and have a few beers at a restaurant near us. The restaurant was crowded, so we sat out on the patio. After about an hour, Tony saw something dart across the pavement out in the parking lot; he got up to return with a young tortoiseshell kitten. She was incredibly – almost improbably – clean; no ear mites, no upper respiratory infection, no fleas. Just kind of skinny, and very affectionate. I suggested we take her home, isolate her, and get her to the vet as soon as possible, then put her in the fostering program at the shelter; Tony agreed, and neither of us could have brought ourselves to leave her there, near so much traffic and prey to anything you could name that might come after a half-grown kitten. After she’d been with us a couple of nights, it was clear Tony didn’t want to put her in the fostering program at the shelter, so we made a deal – if she didn’t upset the household very much, we’d consider keeping her. Stupid me – I figured the other cats would hate her and she’d make enough of a nuisance of herself that, with the new dog whipping everybody into a frenzy anyway, we’d have to put her in the program. I was wrong. Doodle, as always, resented her – but Gord was very friendly, and Tink was her usual calm, aloof self. Even Doodle didn’t really react much to the kitten, other than to hiss at her occasionally if Doodle felt the kitten was threatening something she wanted, like food or attention; she ignored her the rest of the time, too. A deal being a deal, and four cats not being that much more work than three (no, really – once you’ve got used to two cats, the additional work isn’t what you’d think), Squeek lives here for good, now.

The next early afternoon, we went down to meet Max and -- of course -- wound up bringing him home with us.

And here we are.

  • No, really – are you nuts?

Again, probably. In retrospect, though it’s early in the process, the dog has been a bigger adjustment for everybody than another cat. Perhaps it’s because Squeek is still kittenish, knows she’s the low man on the totem pole, and because she does not have the least interest in disturbing the other cats if they don’t disturb her. We’re still having mild problems with Max wanting to "hunt" the cats; he’s okay with them until one of them runs across his field of vision or gets near his chew sticks or food, at which point he feels he must get up and keep an eye on everything. If he gets too aggressive, or if the cats start to seem really bothered, we put Max into his crate for a while. He’s very good about this – only whines or jumps around when it’s clear we’re leaving the house, and I suspect that stops immediately after the door locks behind us.

Update -- still more or less okay, though Tink has gone through a bout of stress-related urinary tract trouble.  We'd been letting Max stay out of his crate at night, as an experiment.  He would crawl directly under the bed as soon as we got in it.  Regrettably, we didn't realize that not only was the top of the bed Tink's territory -- apparently, the space under the bed was hers, as well.  So now Max sleeps in his crate at night, Tink sleeps on the bed, and things are okay.  It's good that Max likes his crate -- and let me assure you, he really does.  Often, in the mornings, if I'm sitting at the table drinking coffee, he'll stay in the crate until I get up to go somewhere else in the house.  I'd feel a whole lot worse about the whole thing, if Max seemed upset or uneasy about it at all.  I still wish it didn't have to be that way, but the solution doesn't seem all that hard on anybody.

  • Do you have kids?


  • Why don’t you?

My first marriage resulted in no children, and ended when I was about thirty years old. Tony had never been married before, when we got married a few years later. We chose not to make an immediate decision on kids, as neither of us was especially anxious to have them at that point, and we knew damned well having children too soon would destroy the marriage. We’ve been together about five years now, and since my biological clock appears to be on infinite snooze cycle, and Tony’s not "all het up" about having kids himself, we’re letting nature take its course in the most rational way (which is to say, if I reach menopause before we make a decision, oh well). We’re very strongly supportive of the childfree lifestyle – we feel that regardless of their abilities, health and social position, nobody should feel obligated to reproduce just because "it’s what you do when you get married." What you do when you get married is devote yourself to another person, whether there are any children involved or not, and oddly enough, some of the best marriages – especially between people who don’t get married until they are our ages – seem to be between people who have no children, or only one. On top of that, there are more than enough people already in this world – many unwanted, some abused or neglected – so we feel no urgency to add to the burden. Our mothers both would like for us to have children, but this is absolutely not reason enough for either of us. They, after all, won’t spend the next thirty years being responsible for another human being; they already did their time.

  • How has it worked, when you introduced animals?

As noted earlier, the introduction of a new pet into a household is a critical time. You have to go into the whole project with the idea that there is the possibility – however remote – that any given animal you bring into your house will not assimilate well with the existing animals, no matter how much patience you have.

Both dogs and cats are territorial, though it manifests itself in different ways -- not to mention the differences from animal to animal. In general, dogs enter into the family hierarchy waiting with bated breath to see who the "alpha dog(s)" is(are). As long as you are able to establish that you are the alpha dog, you will have less trouble with any dog; there will be less trouble integrating a dog into a household with any number or combination of existing animals if you have established yourself with both the existing dogs and the new dog that you are the boss. If there is the slightest question in the animal’s mind about this, strap yourself in – it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

As far as cats go, their hierarchical urges work differently. Unlike dogs, who include the humans in the household as part of the tribe, most cats don’t really seem to think or behave that way; in fact, they aren’t especially tribal at all -- or, at least, the hierarchy seldom stays fixed for any length of time, below the "alpha" level, around here. If there is enough food, and the cats who want human attention get enough of it, the hierarchy may not even really seem relevant – there will be little territorial pissing (or its feline equivalents) if everybody’s got enough food, enough space and enough attention.

If you choose to bring a dog into your home, you have to establish yourself as the boss. If you choose to bring a cat into your home, you have to realize there is no boss, as far as the cats are concerned, no matter how much posturing, yelling and discipline you attempt to impose on them. Cats seldom take direction or can be trained to do much other than poop in their boxes, except by rewards. Some cats can (reputedly) be trained to do things other than poop in their boxes, but so far I haven’t found one who’d do anything I asked predictably. Cats don’t "aim to please" like dogs generally do, though there are variations among cats. Gord, for instance, actually is very affectionate and does seem to want to please us, as long as it doesn't put him out too much; Max, so far, seems to only take direction of a negative kind, and is inclined to test us. 

Update:  Max can be bought.  He's learned a good many commands, and recalls relatively well, though he still is wont to wander off if we have him outside off-leash.  He just did so today, as a matter of fact.  We both looked away, working on something, for less than five minutes and he was already a block away and moving right along.  Next project -- a run for Max and such cats as want to use it.  I hate leaving him in the house on pretty days when we have things to do outside, but if we can't trust him to stay in the yard, he'll have to be enclosed somehow.

See above for the actual "cat introduction protocol," which works more often than not. No guarantees about the level of comfort cats will reach with each other – sometimes, they just do not get along, no matter how much transitional ease is offered. I have no advice for anyone, there – ours have, so far, eventually become accustomed to each other to a level they were all happy, so I can’t really say what should happen if they simply don’t. We have been profoundly fortunate, so far, and even at that, there are times the cats develop grudges or fight among themselves. Far more than the simple majority of the time, they’re okay with each other.

  • Are the cats declawed?

The cats are not declawed.

  • Why not?

We've never seen any need to amputate parts of the animals we chose to adopt and care for, solely for the purpose of protecting inanimate objects.  Tony and I both had the funny idea when we met each other that we wanted to be involved with people who didn't require a lot of changes to suit us.  I know, that sounds like a radical idea -- what would a marriage be like if one or both of you weren't always saying, "he'd be perfect if only ..." right?   Try it, some time.  It worked so well for us, we decided to take the same tack when it came to pets.  Declawing -- an inaccurate description -- actually involves the amputation (by use of an industrial-sized pair of clippers, usually, though now they can do it with a laser) of a cat's toe, up to the first knuckle.  It is not a "cosmetic" procedure.  It is not a "permanent manicure" -- it's major surgery, like any amputation.  Usually, amputations are performed to solve a problem -- they remove a part of the body that's so damaged it will never work again, or so infected it could potentially infect other parts of the body.  Other than Lorena Bobbitt, humans generally don't amputate parts of other humans that they merely find inconvenient or offensive.  What it boils down to is this:  if we hadn't wanted cats, and all that went along with having them in our house -- including the possibility they would be destructive -- we wouldn't have adopted cats.

  • Do you have any furniture?

Yes, we have furniture.

  • I mean, other than cat furniture?

Yes. Most of our furniture seems to be standing up remarkably well to the feline onslaught. I did set aside an old nylon-weave chair in an upstairs bedroom that was intended for a cat scratching post; they have three cat towers in the family room, where we spend most of our time, that have both carpeted and rope-wound posts; they use these more often than not. We also sit down with them once every month or six weeks and take the clippers to their claws. This is as much a function of making it impossible for them to hurt each other as anything. Our leather sofa has been here over two years; it still looks like a leather sofa. I have a canvas sofa upstairs with a cover on it that has survived nearly ten years around a variety of cats without too much molestation. Here’s some advice: if you have cats, don’t buy (human) furniture that practically begs your cats to claw it up! Surfaces like burlap, fuzzy weaves like chenille, anything loosely woven and/or fuzzy is an open invitation to the cat to dig right in. Our leather sofa seems to be of little interest to our cats. It’s smooth, finished leather – not a sueded surface, which might very well invite clawing. Also, the canvas sofa upstairs doesn’t provide good purchase for their claws, which I suspect to be the reason it’s survived so long with little digging. Also, the cats do like to stretch themselves out by their front claws on the nylon Berber carpet in the family room. Tony and I have done this carpet considerably more damage moving furniture and just generally coming and going on it than any amount of cat acrobatics would appear to have done, after a few years with one to three cats.

  • Well, technically it’s all cat furniture, but ...

Really. Most people don’t think about – let alone experiment with – having cats in their houses that they don’t declaw. They don't give it two minutes, or two hours, or two days, or two months to see if it's necessary.  They just accept the declaw with the neuter like you accept the fries with the burger at Burger King. So few people ever ask "what’s involved?" or "is this really necessary?" if the vet offers, they just do it. If you asked them why, I can pretty much guarantee they would say, "I’ve always done it," and "there’s nothing wrong with it, my cats are fine."  Mostly, they would say, "the cat is my property, I can do with it what I want," which tells you how they really feel about the animal.

To be perfectly honest, I’ve never had a cat declawed (or, conversely, a declawed cat), so I don’t know what it’s like to live around one; I’ve never seen a reason to declaw a cat, and don’t ever expect to, so I probably won’t ever know. Since my cats’ claws aren’t a problem around here, I don’t even want to know about it. If I’d had a serious problem dealing with the things a cat’s claws can do, I’d have brought home a ball python. Or a guinea pig.  Maybe both -- though the guinea pig probably wouldn't have lasted long, if I'd had both (kidding!).

  • I don’t believe you, but okay, if you insist.

You don’t have to believe me – I really don’t care. If our furniture mattered more than our companion animals, we wouldn’t have a house full of animals. That’s all you really have to know or believe.

  • You really are nuts, though, right?

Again, most likely we are nuts -- but, really, the animals in this household are only a minuscule part of our insanity. Tony grew up an only child, and I was a middle child, so we both had plenty of ingrained loopiness to start with. Which is to say, we were crazy before all the animals happened, so why should it be any different now?

  • Five animals!  Are you collectors?

While in the case of Squeek we largely chose to keep her because we felt we could give her a better home than most people, and we knew if she went to a public shelter she’d probably be euthanized, the others we kept because we wanted them. We wouldn’t keep Squeek if we didn’t want her, either, but she’s the most compelling case of keeping her mostly for our own reasons, not necessarily her own. She’s very sweet and healthy, so she could be passed along to someone else without too much trouble, but she’s here and things seem okay, so she’s staying. If they hadn’t seemed okay, she would have gone into the adoption program at SICSA. They do a good job of screening people, so she wouldn’t have ended up not getting neutered or being dumped on the street, or being forfeited or shown the door because someone hadn’t thought it out before adopting her, or had to get rid of her because their dwelling place didn't allow pets.

Even at that, though, as Tony said, there are numerous things that could have happened to her even with such screening – she could have ended up declawed, allowed to roam, dumped if she ever became an inconvenience. At least here, we know she gets food, veterinary care and socialization.  We know she was neutered, and we know she was microchipped. We have, however, reached our limit – any other animals who come into our periphery before any of the existing cats goes will be fostered and adopted through SICSA. No, really.

Got a question you just can't stand not to ask?  Here I am:  Melinda