One of the first things you learn as a pet owner is that they bring malodorous moments in their wake. (I have already waxed lyrical about the smell of an unwashed poodle in Bathing the Boot).
Naturally, as nature takes its healthy course, pets also produce waste matter, the smell of which can burn the tips of your nostril hairs, especially when they have accidents inside your home. Cats at least have the decency to bury theirs outside or in a litter tray, but when you also have dogs, you soon discover that what the cats have buried can very easily be exhumed. I regret to have to announce that all dogs – even aristocratic French Poodles – find cat excrement to be a tasty and nutritious supplement to their diets. Your cats’ toilet area becomes a site of excavation which your dogs cannot resist, as you soon find out when they come bounding up to you, wagging their tails and breathing with delight in your face.
There was only one occasion when a particular smell completely disgusted one of our pets.
For this we have to rewind to the years in Ngodwana.
One of the advantages of living in Ngodwana is that it is situated very near to Dullstroom, where trout fishing is a favourite occupation. There was a roadside stall in the Eland River Valley which sold trout at a very reasonable price, with the result that we ate trout more often than we would normally have done.
On one occasion I was trying out a recipe which called for filleted trout. Having deboned about six or so, I stood looking at the skeletons, loath to throw them in the garbage bin. (Not only would they soon reek, but there was still a fair amount of healthy protein on the heads and tails.) I knew that fish bones could not be given to dogs, but in the hidden recesses of my mind were pictures from comic books of alley cats triumphantly carrying off just such fish skeletons as I had on my kitchen sink.
I decided to place the fish skeletons on the back lawn for Ginger and Katy. (I must remind you we had no dogs at this stage of our lives.)
Ginger, being around as usual, was very curious to see what I had placed so invitingly on the grass, and approached the bones to give them an experimental sniff. Her head jerked back in surprise, and she sat down to give the matter due consideration. After staring at the mound for a while, she came to a decision.
She got up and stood over the pile and then very carefully and painstakingly covered them up with loose dead grass, of which, it being winter, there was an ample supply.
No need to guess what she thought of them!
Fast forward now again to Iswepe, where the hostilities between the canine and feline factions had reached such a pitch that the cats became more reluctant than ever to leave the safety of the house...
It is now a few days after Wolfie has seriously blotted his copybook with Shadow Maker Number One by making a serious attempt on the life of her beloved Ginger. (See Cats are from Venus, Dogs are from Mars.)
She (SMNO) goes to the dining room to retrieve her crocheted handbag (a lovely thing of dark blue yarn with white flowers) which she has left on a dining room chair on our return from Ermelo.
And what does she find?
Ginger, in the act of using the handbag (for the second time) as a toilet!
Had she (Tasha) not disciplined Ginger the first time it happened when the bag had been lying on the floor of her bedroom? Had she not, to the detriment of the handbag’s appearance, had to have it washed in the washing machine to get rid of the awful smell? Was the weather not perfect for outside toileting?
She lets out a yell of fury that almost raises the roof.
Ginger races off, ironically, to Tasha’s bedroom (usually a haven of safety).
Tasha runs after her, pounces on her and drags her back unceremoniously, sticks her nose into the reeking handbag and administers what can be termed a jolly good spanking.
Ginger goes and sits in the passage while Tasha takes her handbag to the laundry.
Tasha heads for her bedroom and stalks past Ginger, muttering dark imprecations. (Does this sound familiar?) Ginger does not attempt to flee. She senses that the storm is over and she is safe from further chastisement...
This was becoming a real problem. We had tried a litter tray but Katy no longer covered up and also tended to balance on the edge of the tray and do her business outside it.
And I need not tell you that once there is a spot in the house which smells even remotely of cat wee, they return to it again and again if they happen to be accidentally locked in, or, as was now the case, too intimidated by the dogs, besides being too old to bear the cold outside in winter, and finding it much more convenient to use documents left on the sideboard, or the dining room chair (where Tasha’s bag had been), or my pot plants in the sunroom (which I then had to get rid of), or any dirty washing lying on the floor, or the bathroom mats...You get the drift, I’m sure.
Eventually I placed the litter tray on the narrow stoep in front of the lounge, which was fully enclosed with a low wall (thus inaccessible to dogs), and to which you gained access by a door from the sunroom. It had a security door so we were able to leave the door permanently open. But, guess who had to tend to the litter tray? With Barry going out daily to earn our bread, Dieter having emigrated to Germany, and Tasha in the midst of her fourteen-year bout with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, (that is another story) who else but me?
To understand my feelings let us once again rewind to 1987 or thereabouts (I trust you are not becoming dizzy with all this rewinding and fast forwarding) and let me tell you about my newly upholstered lounge furniture.
Accidentally locked into the lounge in Ngodwana when we went away for the weekend, Ginger made use of the nice little hollow created by the button in the middle of the cushion of one of the arm chairs. Mercifully she used only one chair.
Great consternation. Back to the upholsterers. They do their (pathetic) best. A while later, Ginger, with full access to the garden, uses the chair again.
Never mind consternation. I chase Ginger round the garden determined to catch her and drag her back to the scene of the crime, if I do not do away with her with my bare hands first. (I tend to be volatile.) Ginger eludes capture. In fury I determine to take her to the vet when he arrives in Ngodwana in two days’ time. Yes. Put To Sleep. No less. I inform Tasha of this decision. She nods her head pitifully. She knows that I let it pass the first time as it was not the cat’s fault that she had been locked in, but that this time I will not relent. I harden my heart and ignore Tasha’s distraught expression.
Ginger stays away for three days. No one knows where she is. The vet comes and goes. My anger evaporates. Ginger returns the following day.
Now, you tell me, how did that cat know?
This time I unpick the cushion cover myself and discover that the upholsterers, who had assured me they could deal with the problem, had simply used a very strong smelling powder to mask the pong. With the cover off, I can still smell cat wee. No wonder she used it again!
In despair, I replace the cover and shove the cushion into my washing machine and wash it in hot wash. Now the cushion is large and the door of the washing machine is small. Desperation gives me strength and I eventually get it in. (With much sweating and grunting.)
Results? Perfectly clean and restored. No shrinkage. No fading. (And thus I have cleaned those cushions – all sixteen of them - ever since! Though not in hot wash, I must add. It has been my annual upper-body workout.)
Now fast forward a few years to Swaziland. (Sorry.)
I have bought a beautiful goose-down duvet for our king-size bed a few weeks back. (Yes, it was expensive).
It happens to be a Saturday morning and I decide to change the bed linen. I pull off the duvet cover, the fitted sheet and the pillowslips, leaving the dirty linen on the floor, with the duvet itself left on the bed.
A while later I come back to the bedroom, bearing clean linen. I find the door closed. This is strange. I cannot recall closing it. I open it and am overwhelmed by the stench. Katy is on the floor at the door. She quickly disappears. In the centre of the duvet – yes, the brand new goose-down duvet on the bed, and NOT the pile of dirty linen on the floor – is a disgusting pile of cat poo! (I could use a more descriptive four-letter word but shall refrain.)
I will leave it to Tasha to describe the scene. (She and Dieter had both come running to find out what the hysteria was about.)
Here follows Tasha’s report, kindly typed out for me.
1. Scream of horror from Mom. Children assemble at bedroom door in sympathetic shock and awe.
2. A second scream (louder and longer) of pure rage.
3. Third scream, really getting into it now, with knees bent and hands clenched into fists.
4. Realisation that there aren’t enough screams in the world to describe this outrage, or to prevent spontaneous combustion from impotent fury.
5. Falls onto knees, clenched fists white at the knuckles, and another bloodcurdling scream, this time straight from the diaphragm.
6. Final scream with head and arms on the floor.
7. Deathly silence and stillness.
8. Deep breath.
9. Gets to feet, eyes blazing, face white with red blotches, lips tightened to such a degree that the mouth has disappeared altogether and has been replaced by angry little lines in a tight circle.
10. Mouth opens just enough to mutter, “I’m going to kill that cat!” through clenched teeth.
11. Children, due to a combination of sympathy, fear, nervousness, and the fact that the whole display was truly hilarious, try desperately to wipe the smiles off their faces as Mom passes. Not successfully.
12. Mom turns on us in fury to yell “It’s not #%#* funny!!!” and moves swiftly past us in pursuit of the perpetrator of the outrage, whose survival instinct has warned her to disappear.
End of report.
(Just in case you are wondering. I couldn’t find her.)
Fast forward some more to Iswepe. (At least I haven’t made you go backwards again.)
You will, I do trust, now understand my jaundiced attitude towards the litter tray.
I can tell you that it is just as well I had no idea how many years it would be part of my household duties, because both cats made a determined effort to be entered in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s oldest cat sisters.
Katy began drinking more and more and the litter tray became a thing of horror.
Looking back, I cannot believe that I never thought of getting a second tray. Surely, if you have two cats, two litter trays is an obvious solution!
Three years after the Year of the Dog, when they were nineteen, it was obvious that Katy would not be with us much longer. She was rake thin, drinking copious amounts of water – probably due to diabetes – and had become very deaf.
When she developed diarrhoea and constant retching, we knew it was time to take matters into our own hands.
Once again, I backed out of the dreaded task and Barry and Tasha took her to the vet. She growled angrily all the way there, growled when she was put on the table, growled when the vet shaved her foreleg and put in the needle and was still growling as what was left of her life ebbed away.
This was so typical of Katy. Tasha said it was difficult to remain solemn!
Although we missed her sociable presence, there was one upside to it all – the litter tray was no longer flooded!
By this time Ginger was very stiff with arthritis but otherwise not doing badly at all for such an old cat. We celebrated her twentieth birthday marvelling at her staying power, but a few months before her twenty-first birthday it became clear that this ancient old lady, now quite senile, was dying by inches and it became very painful to watch.
Eventually Tasha could bear it no longer and together we took Ginger to the vet.
The poor cat was so dehydrated that it took ten minutes before the injection took full effect.
I have mentioned before that I am not really a cat person, and I always preferred Katy, but Ginger had, in her own special way, crept into my heart.
Tasha had always claimed that, throughout her childhood, if she was upset or crying, Ginger would come and find her to comfort her, purring and rubbing herself against her. I was convinced that it was just Ginger’s way of coming for an extra cuddle.
But one day, when we were still in Swaziland, I received news of a death in the family. I remained seated on the telephone seat in the hallway after the phone call and was crying, when Ginger appeared out of nowhere to do her rubbing and purring thing. After a minute or so, I went to my bedroom and sat on my bed, still crying. Tasha clearly remembers how Ginger actually ran after me down the passage and into the bedroom, where she installed herself again at my feet, purring away and walking back and forth rubbing herself against my legs. I had to admit it. That cat was definitely trying to comfort me!
Now, I ask you, could you have resisted that cat?
She was also an expert at sneakily creeping onto my lap.
I would be sitting, engrossed in a television programme, and would suddenly realise the cat was sleeping snugly on my lap without my knowing how she had got there. Tasha said Ginger would sit on the floor at my feet watching me intently and would then put one experimental paw onto my lap. If I did not react she would place the second paw there. If there was still no reaction, she would then, gingerly (tee-hee!) leap up. And – hey presto! – the deed was done!
They had been an integral part of our family for so long it was quite strange to be cat free. They had been such sociable cats – the one a placid lap-cat, who was never happier than when she was being petted and cuddled; the other an independent soul, who even though she did not like being handled, still loved hanging out with her humans. They even went for walks with us in the garden, behaving more like dogs than cats. The saying that dogs have owners and cats have staff never applied to them.
But I can promise you one thing – I did not miss that infernal litter tray!
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