One of the very few positive things to emerge from this pandemic is that people have stepped up and fostered (and even adopted) shelter pets, to the point where there are record low numbers of dogs and cats left to foster!!
Of course, as I long ago lost my mind where animals are concerned, I am doing my part. Truth be told, I was fostering even BEFORE the self-imposed quarantine, but I’ve added to my brood since then.
First a little background to bring you all up to speed.
The “old guard” consists of Jojo, the 15-year-old sister of my beloved Raven (who we lost a few months ago), my obnoxious but adorable Pomchi, Munchie (10 years old next month), and the post-Sandy sisters Savannah (my soul cat) and Luna (who has become a troll, but more on that in a moment). These four creatures alone are a source of many trials and tribulations, and also great joy. Jojo literally went to college with my daughter, once she was able to live in off-campus housing that permitted pets (and for which I inevitably had to pay a “pet deposit”). She’s a pretty chill creature, having been around the block a few times. She used to have a real wanderlust but now seems content to just gaze out the window at the comings and goings of the birds that I’m pretty sure are living in my dryer vent. Munchie recently suffered some kind of knee injury while jumping off my bed, which is par for the course with this little guy. At a mere 9 pounds, he’s undergone two bladder stone surgeries and a left knee operation, which is a lot to put a tiny dog through. Once the swelling went down and he was able to put weight on the recently injured right knee, the vet reassessed and recommended against another surgery. “Too much arthritic damage in there already,” he said. So Mr. Muncho will walk with a hitch in his step for the rest of his days, but at least we have the bladder stones under control.
Jojo and her “mom” at college
Savannah is the biggest cat – and among the biggest creatures – in the house, at a zaftig 16+ pounds. Lately, when she tries to jump up on the counter where the food dispenser is kept, she sort of thuds into the cabinet, unable to get the requisite lift. But she shakes herself off and tries it again from a different angle, and success!! She’s had her share of health issues, including bladder stones of her own and the worst case of ringworm I have ever seen. But she’s hearty, and affectionate, and tolerant of all creatures. She sleeps comfortably amongst the dog beds and leads the entourage accompanying me into the bathroom.
Savannah ignores the dog in her bed; Savannah ponders the universe
Her sister Luna used to be my desk cat, but something happened in the past few months that has chased her under the bed in my daughter’s room, where she only emerges for food and brief petting sessions. We cannot explain what happened. She just may relish the peace and quiet of the under-the-bed zone, especially with the revolving door of beasts coming through this house. We share some mutual cuddles a couple of times a day when I go in to feed her or clean the litter box (or just because I miss her being a fixture on my desk with the amount of time I spend at my computer), and then she scoots back into the darkness.
Luna, former desk cat
I have a couple of Posh Pets [poshpetsrescueny.org] foster fails, as well: Gizmo (my first) and Polly Wobbles. Gizmo is a semi-deranged shih-tzu who put me in the hospital (not on purpose!) with an infected bite on my finger and has raging allergies and OCD. Polly has ataxia, which causes her to walk like a drunken sailor and drool a little, and she also takes Pepcid daily for her acid reflux. I’ve written about both of them in my blogs before. Suffice it to say that they are indelible parts of the household with their own weird quirks but we love them both.
Gizmo and Munchie (and Savannah, ignoring the dogs in her bed); Polly Wobbles
I told the story of Greg in my blog post “2017: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1/13/18) – he was the “good”, of course. The Posh Pets cat director had a tragic fire in her home and all the shelter workers and volunteers ended up taking in her foster cats. It turned out that Greg was just a freeloader and had never been one of her cats after all! Didn’t matter – Greg moved right in with us and never looked back. He is a handsome blonde tom who has a way with kittens and is the unofficial “big brother” of our house. Mr. Kitten – or, variously, Harmon and Hunter, his names when he was on the Posh Pets roster – is a gorgeous lad. We fell in love when we were fostering him as a kitten and just basically kept him. Nothing more was said about it. He is a mush and did I mention he’s gorgeous? My daughter and I jealously fight over his affection.
The boys hanging out; sultry Mr. Kitten
Our last little fellow we didn’t think was a boy at all. When we started fostering “her” and her sister Eve – two nasty little ferals who came into the shelter around Xmas 2018 – we didn’t think she would ever come around. Eve surprised us by becoming a lovebug in short order and was quickly adopted, but Virginia never seemed to get the memo. She did like food, however, and she LOVED Greg, so eventually she calmed herself down and tolerated us humans, as long as we kept feeding her. She would swipe at you, nails exposed, every time you walked by once she determined you didn’t have any food. My sister actually made progress with her one weekend when she was visiting, because she let her sit with her at the table and shared her breakfast with her, one nibble at a time. (The cat never forgot – every time my sister comes over now, the cat formerly known as “Virginia” goes right to her, ostensibly looking for handouts but actually letting my sister pet her, too.)
About six months ago, one of the cats started peeing in weird places, and there seemed to be blood in it. Well, you need to be a detective in this house to figure out whose excrement is whose, but I eventually figured out it was Virginia. She was still a foster at this point (and still a girl), but only two potential adopters had ever come over to check her out, and she had lashed out (literally) at both of them. So at that point I made the executive decision to keep her. I didn’t figure she’d ever get adopted, and there WERE things that made her happy here. She would even get very aggressively affectionate and rub all over my arms and hands when it was feeding time or if I was giving out cookies. But now that she was officially mine, I had to bring her to the vet to see why she was peeing blood.
Ha! This was no easy task. On the first attempt, I ended up with a two-inch gash on my arm, she peed on me and hid for hours under my bed. I had to cancel the appointment. The vet was very understanding and suggested I give her a sedative first. The next day, sedative successfully administered in her food (which she ate so fast she didn’t notice a thing), it was a little easier to load her up in the carrier and bring her to be examined. Two surprises: Virginia was NOT a girl (although she, frankly, was not terribly well-endowed for a male cat), and s/he had a serious collection of struvite crystals in his bladder. The remedy: Magical prescription food that would not only cure him but also prevent the crystals from forming again. Only problem was that if he had to eat this special food, in order to prevent him from eating everybody else’s non-prescription food (which he would definitely do), I would have to feed everyone the (expensive) prescription food. This would not do anybody any actual HARM, although it’s a little higher in calories than your standard feline fare (and some of my cats – I’m looking at you, Savannah – don’t need the extra poundage). It would just cost me more money. But if it kept young – Virginia? We needed to come up with a boy name – healthy (and avoid us having to bring him more frequently to the vet), it would be worth it.
So – what to name him? People suggested Virgil, which seemed to make sense. My daughter started calling him Virgin, but that just sounded too insulting. Yes, he’s a virgin – what choice did he have?? One day, I heard the XTC song “Making Plans for Nigel” (which always reminds me of my boss because his son is named Nigel and I suspect his son is a lot like the Nigel in the song), and I started singing it to Virginia/Virgil/Virgin: “We’re only making plans for Nigel/We only want what’s best for him”. That nailed it for me. He is now Nigel (although all his vet records still say “Virginia”).
Nigel (fka Virginia)
The Current State of Play
Hopper – ah, Hopper. I fostered him a few months ago, and we discovered that he has a bit of the demon in him. He is devoted to us – perhaps unhealthily so – but when he meets new people, he loses his mind. He is an adorable little 5-pound scruffmuffin with these sad button eyes, and you just want to snuggle him or carry him around in your pocket. But you cannot, because he is evil. I also get the distinct impression he does not like men.
Hopper, contemplating chasing a cat
Well, Hopper got adopted by a woman who stuck through his initial craziness upon first meeting her at the shelter, and she swore up and down that she didn’t have that many visitors. She brought one of her two dogs to meet him (the other was elderly and didn’t travel well), and they didn’t hate each other, so we determined she would be a good adopter and off he went. A few weeks later, one photo of a sleeping Hopper was sent by his adopter to the Posh Pets president with a note that said she loved him. All seemed to be fine. But then came the phone call – she was returning him. Could I come pick him up at the shelter?
Now, by this time, I had another “problem child” foster pup at the house, an 8-year-old Maltipoo named Luna (“Luna Poona” is what we all call her, for some reason, and given that I already have a Luna at the house, I usually just call her “Poon”). Luna, a former Posh Pet save from the Brooklyn ACC, was living quite happily with a married couple, but then the couple, late in life, had an unexpected baby. Now, Luna didn’t seem to mind the baby (although you can never be sure with Luna, as she’s a “bite first, ask questions later” dog much like my Gizmo), but she HATED the baby’s nanny. So back to Posh she came after six years. (Returns break my heart. I never want to judge – people have their legitimate reasons – but I kind of still do.) Luna got bounced around to a few fosters, but she couldn’t control her peeing or her drinking (not to mention the biting of toes if your feet were in her way and fingers if you were silly enough to try to give her a treat that way). There was clearly some sort of medical issue going on. When she finally ended up at my house, she was officially diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, which is a condition affecting the pituitary gland that causes her to drink and pee to excess. Now her Cushing’s is managed with twice-daily medication (which Posh Pets still pays for – she is STILL a foster dog, after all), but Luna has developed (again, like Gizmo) what appear to be seasonal allergies. I have given her two baths in the past week, which make her look more like a curlicued poodle than a Maltese because I don’t know how to brush her out all fluffy like the groomer does, and she’s been relegated to wearing the cone of shame (although I’ve managed to find a soft one that’s a little less cumbersome and annoying for her, but unfortunately it still allows her to get to her ear and inside left leg, which seem to be her itchiest bits). Posh Pets has her listed on the website as a “special needs” dog, and she will require the right sort of adopter, but so far, she’s still under my care for the foreseeable future. She’s grown on me in the months that she’s been here. I get a kick out of the blank expression on her little monkey-face. She just kind of looks at you, like “What?”
Luna Poona stuck on the stairs: “What??”
So back comes Hopper – the scene at the shelter when his former mom dropped him off was like a clip from a horror film, with this five-pound devil dog lashing out at everyone from what he thought was the safety of her lap. I was trying to avoid seeing the woman by hiding in the cat room, but the shelter worker came back to get me. “You’ve got to help – we can’t put a leash on him,” she said. As soon as I walked into the office, he relaxed a little and came right to me. We spent a few painful minutes listening to her, in tears, describe his unprovoked attacks on the elderly dog (not the one he had previously met) and her adult son and his children, to the point where the kids were now afraid of dogs (although I note that another of her grandchildren, a girl of about 14, had accompanied her and seemed very fond of Hopper, and he of her). The woman had brought him to a trainer and the vet, and no one could do anything to “fix” him. He continued to have this violent streak that seemed uncontrollable and, while she did love the little guy, she just couldn’t handle it anymore. So Hopper came back to my house, and he’s been here ever since. Posh Pets gets a ton of applications for him, because he’s adorable, but when the president explains what he’s like (and I actually spoke myself to an interested party the other day), they all turn off. I think the perfect home for him would be a hermit like ME, but without any other animals and a bare minimum of visitors. He would be a constant companion (yes, he sleeps with/on me), and I think he fancies himself a grand protector of his person. He’s playful and can entertain himself with a wide variety of toys (which he tends to hoard). He also lives up to his name and has an impressive vertical jump and could probably learn some circus-type tricks. If I didn’t have all these animals (and if he didn’t spend so much of his time chasing cats), I might have considered keeping him. He’s also young – only three years old – and that’s a big commitment for me. I kind of imagine being “dog free” in 5-10 years, but I could conceivably have him into my late 70s. He’s also really frustrating. I was forced to bring him into a 7-11 the other day, tucked under my arm, and he lashed out so violently at one of the guys who worked there, even I was frightened. There was nothing I could do to calm him, which was the truly alarming thing. If worse comes to worst and no realistic adopters appear, we’re going to send him upstate to a woman who adopts “difficult” Poshies. He had been at her house to recuperate from kennel cough when we first rescued him from Animal Care and Control in Manhattan and she fell in love with him (which is easy to do, as long as you don’t see his “dark side”). That might end up being the best place for him, out in the country without so many scary people (men?) around.
But wait – there’s more!! Posh Pets recently took in five beautiful Pomeranians from the same home. It was a mysterious owner surrender situation (I’m not privy to the details and I’m not going to ask); even though the Poms were well groomed and gentle, they were excessively shy and had never been to a vet. During this stay-at-home crisis, while Posh is definitely doing adoptions (amazingly, they’ve done a few a day – cats and dogs – for the past couple of weeks), because of their withdrawn natures, the Poms are not good candidates for drive-through meet-and-greets with potential adopters. So until we can have a safe location to hold more extensive meetings outside (or until the weather improves – it’s very rainy here this weekend), the Poms were better off going to foster homes rather than staying at the shelter. First they asked if I could take two but, as I already HAVE two fosters, I declined (even though I felt bad about it). But when it turned out that they only needed me to take one, and my “boss” (i.e., my daughter) said okay, Mackenzie came to stay for a few days. She’s adorable, but she has a tilt – especially when she’s running, she looks a little like she’s on a NASCAR track – and her bark sounds like a squeak. But I don’t think she’s going to be here for very long. It’s tough to resist so much adorableness, and so far she’s displayed none of the quirks that Hopper has (although she is a little bit of an attention whore).
On the other hand, I think we do have a new permanent resident (although I haven’t made it official yet). During the summer and fall last year, I fostered a ton of kittens, including one semi-feral feline named Kansas. Kansas and her brother Vegas had come in a little older than most local kittens, hissing and spitting. Once they were spayed and neutered, respectively, they were both ear-tipped so they could be put back outside. But at the same time, some of the shelter cats experienced a bout of ringworm, so they were all quarantined in cubbies for a few weeks. Kansas got over the ringworm quickly, and by that time she had calmed down enough for the shelter director to wonder if she might be able to be socialized rather than released to one of the local feral cat colonies. She asked me to give it a shot, although Kansas was still very reluctant to let anyone touch her. She lived in a cage in my house, just opposite my desk so she could see me all the time. Eventually she would let me stroke her face and chin for long periods, which apparently led her to realize that this petting thing is pretty sweet! But she relished the safety of her cage, and even when we left the gate open, she stayed inside. When it came time to send her up to the cat room at the PetSmart store in White Plains, NY (where Posh Pets has a cat room), I figured she would do well given that she could live in the safety of a cage-like cubby and let people pet her all day long. Boy, was I wrong. She regressed and they ended up sending her back to the shelter. She was shy in the cat room, but clearly remembered me when I went in there and would emerge from wherever she was hiding to let me pet her. If I sat on the floor, she would even come and sit on my lap, which she had never even done when she was at my house.
A couple of weeks ago, a family came in to adopt one of the other kittens, a cute tuxedo girl named Caroline, who immediately jumped out of the cage on to the dad’s shoulder. The mom and dad were sold on Caroline and were ready to take her home, but the daughter (who reminded me a bit of Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, right down to the faux-fur jacket) turned on the waterworks. So we ended up bringing her into the room where Kansas and the other kittens were, and she fell in love with Kansas, who evidently looked like their previous cat who had passed away. Miraculously, Kansas liked the girl and let her pet her (although she was less sure of the dad), and the girl beamed and begged and they ended up taking both Caroline and Kansas. I was strangely sad, but I felt like the girl and Kansas had had a real love connection.
Fast forward a week and Kansas is back! She hid for a few days (which we warned them she would do), and when she finally emerged, she evidently went on a rampage, attacking a visiting dog and some kids and the dad, leaving visible marks on the latter. Now, this did NOT sound like my Kansas. Even in her early days, she was never really violent – just hissy and spitty, sort of telegraphing violence but never actually going through with it. She was always more fearful than aggressive. Sure enough, when I went to see her soon afterwards, she was her same affectionate self. In fact, if I’m not anthropomorphizing too much, she seemed really happy and relieved to be hanging out with me. An idea started brewing.
When Posh Pets started farming out cats for fostering during this coronavirus lockdown, I closely watched the posts on Facebook, waiting for someone to say, “I have someone to take Kansas,” but no one did. I asked my daughter what she thought about fostering Kansas. She was noncommittal but didn’t say no. I told her to bring her home with her when she went to work at the shelter last Thursday. But I couldn’t wait and I picked her up on Tuesday. She was under my bed for the first day – again, completely expected – but she emerged that night and gave me cuddles, purring up a storm. I had clearly made the right decision. And, having learned my lesson from my cat Mimi, who I delayed adopting for over a year even though I knew I wanted to from Day One, I’m keeping this girl. She is a love, a Savannah “Soul Cat” Junior.
So I’m back up to seven (permanent) cats and three (permanent) dogs. I enjoy following a photo blog called “Seven Cats and Counting” [https://7catsandcounting.com/author/sevencatsandcounting/], featuring a clan of dogs, cats, a turtle (Princess Maple Anne) and a fish. I see these folks as kindred souls. They’ve lost a couple of their cats in the past year or so, so now I’m waiting for them to take in a new one. (That’s what the “and counting” is all about!) And fostering (and adopting!) needy creatures is certainly welcome respite from reading and thinking about politics and COVID-19 for a change!! Adopt, don’t shop!