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Um, wow. It’s October. I am not exactly sure where this year has gone. Oh that’s right, it went all over Portugal, Morocco, Israel, Sweden, and England. Not to mention home. As you’ve seen, it’s been a busy one, and I for one am glad that we’re heading into fall. I love these crisp, cold days (or will once this past week’s heat wave has gone, which it seems to have done today), and I especially love the holidays. More than anything, I love being home with our families for the holidays. As much fun as we had last fall, exploring Lisbon and Venice, it just wasn’t the same.

And of course we can’t forget the newest addition to our lives this fall, Bola the wonder cat. This week he has gone from sweet cuddly kitten who has been deprived of human contact all his life, to testy adolescent cat intent on pushing all the boundaries we set for him. Oh, I can’t play with the marbles on that fancy chinese checkers set that was a wedding present from a dear friend? That’s what you think! After not using the squirt bottle on him for the first ten days he was with us, we’ve now squirted him at least 4 or 5 times in the past two days (and every single time was for playing with those dang marbles.)

We also have some moments that make it all worth it, such as last night, when he was leaping two feet in the air after a new toy we bought him last weekend. Such are the joys of kittenhood.

On a wholly different note: back in the spring, I submitted one of my many many Morocco photos to an online photo contest. Voting for the People’s Choice Award opens today, so please, gentle readers (all ten of you!) head on over and cast your vote (here’s how.) My photo is on list #2, photo 16.  Many thanks!

And now, to start October.

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It’s an indicator of just how busy I’ve been that I haven’t even commented on the fact that this week was the one-year anniversary of our arrival in Lisbon. I’ve had other things on my mind, I guess.

Looking back at my entries from that week, I can see that a year ago today we explored what was to become our neighborhood. We introduced ourselves to the restoration guy across the street from our flat, whose red-spattered smock turned out to be covered with paint, not blood, as I’d originally thought. We also discovered our mirador that day, and ate lunch at a carpaccio place that took an hour to produce one salad. Needless to say, we never went back there.

Although my initial impressions of our adopted city were not the most favorable (“I wanna go hoooooome!”), I remember that as the day my opinion started to change (click on the photo to enlarge):

Now that I’m safely ensconced and embroiled back in my life here, that world seems even more foreign than it did at the time. Already, I am grateful to have kept such a detailed account of the year, with so many pictures. Eventually, I might even print a few and hang them on the walls — see again that post-project time frame, which I am anticipating with great relish.

In the much more mundane but no less exciting here and now, I’ve discovered that Bola’s favorite toy is a pair of my plush furry duck slippers. He has eyed them with trepidation every time I’ve worn them, as if he were deciding whether to attack them or run away from them.

Last night the former impulse won out, and he spent a good fifteen minutes disemboweling first one, then the other, with enormous gusto. My slippers have now been thoroughly killed, although now I can effectively never wear them again, as Bola will always think they’re to play with. Oh well, it’s worth the sacrifice to see him that happy. Hard to believe he’s already been here a week…!

Three days later, and it’s as though Bola has been here forever. We’re settling into a comfortable pattern with each other, which seems to involve a lot of sleeping and scampering about on his part, and a lot of moderating the destruction left in his wake on ours. Luckily, we’ve discovered that playing with him before we go to bed means that he will actually let us sleep for most of the night, which is a happy change from our last cat, who enjoyed waking me up by purring in my face every night at 2, 4, and 6 AM.

In fact, all around this is a nice change from our last cat. Bola is far braver and smarter than that cat ever was, and will actually listen when you tell him that the coffee pot or shower do not present a mortal danger to him. He was harder to convince when my brother came over, as he made all kinds of loud noises and left his friend’s dog outside to whine. Bola dashed under our bed and remained there, purring to let me know he still loved me, but I’m staying right here thanks.

In short order, Bola has pretty much taken over our lives, which we have happily relinquished to his small furry dictatorship. On Saturday, I spent a good 15 minutes on the phone with a girlfriend talking about our cats. Ten years ago, we talked about boys. Now, we talk about our cats.

Ah yes, the thirties are definitely our most glamourous decade yet.

During this whole adoption process (though I’m still not sure whether we adopted Bola or he adopted us), I’ve been thinking a lot about our attitude towards pets in general. Our country has a mania about its furry companions, and spends some ridiculous amount of money on them every year. We treat them like children, sometimes better, and so far Gabe and I are no exception.

We got Bola from a sweet lady who goes to shelters and rescues cats and kittens scheduled to be put down, then either fosters them herself or places them with other people until they get adopted. There is a whole slew of programs like this in the Bay Area, many of which are run by people who take their pets far too seriously. Every time we wanted to even meet a cat from one of these organizations, we had to fill out a lengthy application, starting with “Why do you want to adopt a cat?” Um, what am I supposed to say to that? Because they’re cute?

One lady wouldn’t even let us see a kitten because I mentioned we were planning on having kids, and she thought he needed a more “mellow” home environment. I get that they want them to go to a good home, but really. It’s a cat. Not a child from a Third World country.

Speaking of other countries, it almost makes me laugh to compare these good people’s attitudes towards pets to what we have experienced elsewhere in the world this year. In Portugal, skanky alley cats reigned supreme, my favorite being the black cat that lived on our street, which had its ears completely chewed off and a grizzled, hundred-mile stare.

The same conditions applied pretty much everywhere else we went, including Morocco and Israel. It was somewhat of a novelty to come back to the States and be able to pet a cat that you see on the street instead of giving its scabrous flea-bitten hide a very wide berth indeed. I tried telling this to some of the ladies we met through this adoption process, and they were horrified at the stories I told. I stopped mentioning it after a while, but could not imagine such a service functioning in Portugal. They would certainly have their hands full.

I found an article that goes into all of this in far more depth on Salon the other day. Us Americans and our pets. What’s the deal, anyway?

Perhaps I will be able to answer that as soon as I’m not so busy answering to the beck and call of my kitten.

We have a busy day of ball throwing and cat dancing ahead, but I thought I’d share some pictures of Bola’s first day with us. As you can see, he is a real help in the office:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I’d like you guys to meet the newest member of our household:


This is the kitty formerly known as Taiga, although we have yet to rename him. The top contender, almost unwittingly, is the name Bola, which means “ball” in Portuguese. Gabe and his nieces still talk about the Chow puppy named Bola that they met in Cascais, and how it was the perfect name because he was a ball of fur. After we first met this kitty on Wednesday night, I was trying to think of his name, Taiga, and out came “Bola” instead (must be the “ah” ending.) So far that has stuck, despite our original intentions to name our future kitty Sushi. Some things are really not up to us.

In fact the entire decision of getting this particular cat was not really up to us. As my friend pointed out the other day, it never really feels like we own cats, but rather the inverse. This relationship is no exception.

We started our search for a cat about a month ago, fully intending to get a mature cat, as we (read: I) didn’t feel like dealing with the kitten crazies. As you can see from the picture, that plan worked out really well.

We thought we’d found a cat through Craig’s List a few weeks ago, but as can happen with a system based on trust, the owner backed out at the last minute, saying they’d decided not to give up their cat after all. Much disappointed, we resumed the search this week, and went to an adoption fair to see a kitten I’d spotted online. By this point, we’d decided that unless we knew the home they were coming from, older shelter cats would bring too much baggage with them. So we’d widened our search to include older kittens.

So. Adoption fair. We weren’t well impressed with the kitten we’d come to see, who was so freaked out he was almost comatose, and didn’t engage with either of us. Gabe of course fell in love with a very dog-like fluffy black kitten, but I was less excited about his habit of biting fingers. Just as we were getting ready to go, the lady said, “Oh let me pull out one more for you,” and went to a cage on the side that we hadn’t seen.

As soon as she did so, I had a suspicion that I was sunk. The cat she pulled out was beautiful, a ball of silvery gray fluff, with huge paws and a long feathery tail drifting behind. She put him on my lap, and I was immediately impressed by how alert he was: not afraid or hyperactive like the other two kittens were, just watchful, keeping a big yellow eye on everything from kids to gerbils to huge German Shepherds. I was still holding out some last defenses, however, until he decided it was OK to fully relax. He wrapped himself all the way around my waist, tucked his head into my elbow, and said, quite firmly, “You’re mine.” Indeed, I was doomed.

Yesterday afternoon, Gabe IMed me to say, “What do you think about the cat? I think we should get him. I think we should pick him up tonight.” Whoa, I said. Whoa! Really?! Are we ready for this?! I mean, it takes me two weeks just to decide if I want to keep a pair of jeans that I’ve bought. This is a cat, which we will have for his whole life. I don’t want to rush into anything, you know? (Never mind the fact that we’d been looking for nearly a month, and talking about this particular cat for 24 hours. This is about as impulsive as Gabe and I get.)

So off we went to pick up our kitty, who is still temporarily nameless. He’s only been here for twelve hours, but already he owns the place. By the time we got home, he was purring away in the car, and by the time we went to bed two hours later, he’d already checked out the whole house and was ready to pass out next to me on the bed. Our last cat, a foster for some friends of friends, took a week to even come out from under the bed, and two more to explore the whole house. This cat is fearless in comparison, and hugely friendly, purring at the slightest touch from either one of us. I get the feeling he’s been starved of human affection, having spent most of his young life in a shelter.

During that same twelve hours, I have already asked myself (and Gabe) “Why did we get a kitten again?” For one thing, it does make it a little difficult to sleep when someone’s jumping on your head every other hour or so. But I only half mean it, because I know exactly why:

“Treat history as a springboard, not as an anchor.”

- General John G. Medaris

When I Wrote It

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