Cuatro, Count ’em, Cuatro, Gatos

My poor mother continues her slow, inexorable decline. Thankfully, she appears not to be in pain, and her care is fantastic, so all we can do is keep her comfortable and hope that when the end does come, that she does not suffer. I figure, as the dutiful oldest daughter, that it is my job, in addition to helping to manage her care, to honor whatever promises I might have made to her along the way.

Aside from saying to friends and family that I would love to scatter her ashes at Saks Fifth Avenue (or at least a portion thereof), which is just the perfect ending for her, last year, after my father died,  in one of her more conscious moments we talked about the fate of their two beloved cats, Luigi and Tabitha. And in a moment of what was probably terminal weakness, I said quite clearly, “Don’t worry about the kitties, Mom. If anything happens to you, Arnold and I will take them and make sure they stay together with us.” It made sense then and it makes sense now, sentimentality aside, because our local shelters here are full of cats and kittens in desperate need of homes, and anyone who would be willing to adopt two older cats needs to be looking there first, I would submit.

Both my parents’ cats were adopted years ago from two different shelters in Santa Fe. To avoid territory battles, we arranged to bring them to my parents’ house at the exact same hour on the same day. I had read somewhere that doing it that way was a good idea, and at least in our case, it was. The two never fought, bonded immediately, and several years later came down to Mexico with my parents on the plane to Guadalajara when we finally pried them out of their too-big, too-unmanageable, Santa Fe house for what they thought was just the winter, but we knew it was probably for good. I wasn’t on that trip; I stayed behind to make sure their rented house here was ready for them upon their arrival.

But Arnold headed north and helped my sister Wendy to close up their house and bring them all down. He described to me the Peter-and-The Wolf parade through two airports and customs, with him managing the two terrified cats in their airline-approved carriers, plus all their cross border veterinary certificates for entry into Mexico (we called the documents their PussPorts). In addition dealing with my octogenarian parents in wheelchairs, (one with diabetes, incontinence, and emphysema, and the other with dementia) their caregiver also wrangled enough portable oxygen tanks for the plane ride and extra tanks, oxygen, and diabetic-friendly food for any unforeseen delays in the airport (for my mother) and their luggage. The two kitties then enjoyed six months of being with both my parents before my dad passed away, but now that my mother is past the point of being able to even pet them, the moment had come, a week ago, for me to say to José, “We’re in town for awhile, maybe this is the best time for us to bring them over to our house”. This we did, about a week ago. And, as we say in my ethnic group, oy gevalt.

Our own two cats – females who have been the queens of the roost for years – reacted as predicted to the interlopers’ arrival with regular bouts of growling, flattened ears, bared teeth, and bushed-out tails. They continue to escape with much snarling to wherever they can hide out to be out of the way of the two intruders whenever and wherever they happen to come upon them in the house. Since we brought them to our house a week ago, we have developed an elaborate system of feeding them all separately so things don’t get worse; and keeping them all straight proved complicated enough so that I began referring to them as Group 1 – our original two, Rosina and Missoni, and Group 2 – the parental cats, Luigi and Tabitha. We feed Group 1 where we always have, in the lavanderia (laundry area) along with Reina, the dog.  Group 2 gets fed upstairs in the bathroom where they also get locked up at night with their own cat box and water, so as not to invade Group 1’s nocturnal territory, namely our bed.

Someone told us that it takes ten weeks for cats to get used to each other. My recollection was that Rosie took a lot longer than that to get used to Missoni when she arrived, but the good news is that after however long it took, those two are now bosom buddies who sleep curled up together, lick each other and all that good stuff. Now their sisterhood has become a matter of Group 1 school spirit, I think. “We have to stick together, girlfriend, look at what these dreadful humans have visited upon us NOW”.

Meanwhile Luigi and Tabitha (Group 2) are having the time of their lives. I do believe cats are incredibly sensitive creatures, and they knew it when my dad died, and they sensed that my mother was gradually failing and no longer able to even interact with them. José and Sandra did their best to give them attention and affection but Wendy, Arnold and I noticed that they were spending most of their time hiding in a closet at my mother’s house as she lies sleeping more or less permanently in her rented hospital bed. Undoubtedly, both of them were suffering from major kitty depression. So getting them out of there had become a priority. Now, across town at our place, even though they have two other cats hissing at them all the time (and we keep telling them “this too shall pass”), if nothing else, it’s a little livelier for them. We are spending lots of time petting them and interacting with them and they are just loving the attention – purring, nuzzling us, wanting to sleep on our bed with us. This is not allowed yet because it would cause the Third World War but I told Wendy “the second I see all four of them on the bed together – which might be six months from now, god only knows, we can stop closing Group 2 up in the bathroom at night.” Reina is just doing the doggie equivalent of rolling her eyes and saying “good grief, more cats.” But she’s fine and Group 2, at first terrified of her, are already able to be near her without undue concern.

So the games have begun! I am sending my sister periodic status reports : “7 p.m. Report: Luigi stretched out under the table, Tabitha warily perched on one of the dining room chairs,  Missoni grooming herself on top of the bookcase but taking it all in, Rosina watching with flattened ears from a safe vantage point on top of the desk. Broke up major hissfest ten minutes ago but all calm now. Am standing here with squirt bottle at the ready but need to fix dinner & must put squirt bottle down, Pray for Peace”.  My sister is the worst of the multi-cat suckers, however. Ten years ago she agreed to foster a litter of kittens for her local shelter and when it came time to give them up for adoption she couldn’t bear to do it. So she has five huge tabby cats (I think it’s five, there were some other strays involved in her household and I sort of lost count).

Never in my life did I think I would end up with four, count ‘em, four, cats. Much as I love them. One of my friends commented that it’s verging on weird-hoarding-lady stuff to have four cats and a dog. Arnold just sighs and says, as he opens a can of cat food, “Hey, ya gotta do what ya gotta do.”

And so back to spray bottle duty.  Adelante.

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