January 6, 2018

Update on the Boys of Elsinore

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A couple of feral kittens came to stay with me in September. Let me rephrase that in a more responsible way: I adopted a couple of feral kittens and while in full control of my faculties, brought them into the nice geriatric climate of my home where I live with Artemis, a 13 year old cat. After four months I can state that I have ruined Artemis’ golden years and I have several times wanted to check myself into a cage at Seattle Area Feline Rescue and let the kittens have run of the house.

It actually hasn’t been that bad. Laertes, after a month, became a joyful, leaping, affectionate and purring ball of orange fur. He fetches and brings back little fuzzy balls, drops them near me and sits politely, waiting for me to flick them across the room. Periodically I get a yardstick and scoop 15 or 20 of them from under the stove and the couch. He thinks the yardstick is great fun, too. He’s easily picked up, likes to be petted and cossetted, licks (me) a little more than I enjoy, and likes to put his face close to mine. He actually reaches for me, which I find utterly endearing. So I’m keeping him.

Hamlet has been more of a challenge but it should be stated at once that I am keeping him, too, if for no other reason than I named him Hamlet. I cannot return a kitten named after one of my favorite characters in literature. He continues to be a Hamlet: suspicious and fearful. He watches me cuddle Laertes and Artemis as though he might be interested in joining but experience has taught him otherwise—not unlike me and cruise ships. He looks at visitors as if silently suspecting: “Did you kill my father and marry my mother?”

We’ve made some progress. I got him to the vet for his first appointment in early December. This turned out to be quite a production. Weeks before, I brought the cat carrier into the front room and left it sitting open. After a few days I tossed in a cat treat. After a week, I tossed treats all the way to the back. When it was time to betray him by closing the cage door, he was taken completely by surprise and I felt like a Judas, which I was.

At the vet I learned Hamlet had a condition called stomatitis, which is like gingivitis, only on steroids. His poor little gums were red and inflamed. The gold standard treatment for stomatitis is to have all the teeth pulled. Yikes! And it’s expensive. Yikes on steroids!

There are other less extreme things to do but they involve stringent home dental care, something that isn’t happening any time soon unless you count Greenies. For those who don’t know, Greenies are a popular cat treat touted as having dental benefits–I guess they do scrub away at the plaque—and Hamlet loves them. The vet gave Hamlet a steroid and an antibiotic shot to temporarily calm things down and we were on our way.

Once home and I let Hamlet out of the carrier, I actually never expected to see him again. I thought he might hide behind an arras, only emerging at night to eat whatever food was left in a dish. But within a few hours he was doing something he had never done: pushing against my hand and letting me pet him.

A week before Christmas, I heard him sucking on something and noticed a foul-smelling saliva. When he wasn’t worrying it, a tooth hung outside his mouth. I made a vet appointment for the day after Christmas. Time for Operation Quisling: tricking him back in the carrier.

It was more complicated this time. I threw in the cat treat. Ooh, salmon chunks. Hamlet sat at the door to the carrier and watched me until I disappeared around a corner. He nipped in, grabbed the treat and nipped out. After a few days of this practice, I threw in the treat and retreated to where he could see me but was reassured that he could move in and out faster than I could get to the carrier and close the door. We progressed to my tossing in the treat and walking nonchalantly past the carrier while he was inside. During the week before Christmas it seems like entire days were taken up with this activity.

Come time to leave for the vet appointment I knew I had only one chance to close the door on Hamlet. I flubbed it. He dashed out, I grabbed him, he slipped away. Then I did something quite ill-advised: I chased him. I chased him up the stairs into the loft, closing the door behind me. I chased him into every corner of the loft, down the stairs, up the stairs, back down the stairs where I cornered the terrified little guy who won the battle by biting, clawing and drawing a great deal of blood.

I left him cowering behind the drier while I retreated, hysterical, into the bathroom for alcohol, Neosporin and Band-Aids. I was upset with myself, crying so that I couldn’t see the Band-Aids and dripping blood all over the bathroom.

During this time I also had charge of my neighbor Bill’s cat, Suli. I had let her out earlier in the day and I chose this vulnerable moment to go across the street and let her back inside and maybe get a little cat love for myself. The long and the short of it—and generally speaking Suli never needs much provocation—was that she bit me quite hard, bruising my arm and leaving little teeth marks.

For the next 24 hours I didn’t talk to or look at a cat. I fed them perfunctorily and otherwise ignored them. I hated them all. They were all dead to me. By the next day, Hamlet was pushing up against me again, wanting me to pet him, even reaching for me like Laertes does.

The errant tooth had by now fallen out and was probably down the side of the couch but Hamlet still needed a booster and his rabies shot. Time to launch Operation Benedict Arnold.

I resumed lobbing treats into the cat carrier. Surprisingly this was the easiest Op. We made our appointment and the outlook on Hamlet’s gums is perhaps a little better than first thought. By the end of the day he was curled up on my lap for the first time. I am in the running for Cat Owner of the Year, even if I am a three-time traitor.


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