Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Waste Management

WARNING: Don't read on if you are eating.

People often ask me if it is hard to see my kittens leave after living with them for 12 weeks. The answer is yes and no.

Recently I had ten kittens downstairs in one room. This is a combination of 4 different litters, one litter of four I'm fostering, two singleton litters and another litter of four. They are all within 2 weeks of each other in age with 3 mama cats pitching in so it works. However, 10 little butts create a lot of excrement. I have 3 litter boxes in the room of different sizes, small, medium and large. Most of the kittens know where to go, but there's always one or two who spoil it all by leaving presents elsewhere.

Each morning starts with entering the kitten/computer room and finding the usual mess created over the night. The food dishes are knocked over. The tray under the water dish has a tootsie roll on it. There's a poo poo patty in the corner by Jay's desk. Upon picking up the tray, I find fermenting pee under it, discoloring the hard wood floor below. I arm myself with paper towels, a plastic bag and XO spray. After cleaning for 10 minutes, I made the general announcement that no one else is allowed to poop. Nobody listens, but it creates the illusion that I'm in charge.

The 4 to 6 weeks old kittens can be the messiest stage because this is when they start eating solid food and learning to use the litter box. The mother cat doesn't like to clean up poop that doesn't result from her milk so they are on their own. The kittens are like toddler children who suddenly become aware of the urge to go, but don't know what to do about it. I recognize it in a kitten who cries and wanders over to a corner to squat. I can pick the kitten up and put it in the litter box. If I'm lucky, a light bulb will go off in its little kitten brain "Oh, so this if what this box is for!" If I'm not so lucky, the kitten will disagree with being placed in the litter box, "No, I have to go, not get in the litter box." Then the kitten will climb out of the box and try to go back in the spot it was in before.

Then there are the skid marks, left by a kitten who no doubt freaked out because he couldn't wait until he finished pooping then got frightened because some "scary creature" had a hold of his butt and was following him. Such a kitten will typically run, meowing frantically with poop in tow until he tries to get rid of his companion by dragging his butt on the floor. This may get the bulk of the problem to let go, but it leaves a trail in the effort. I have often thought the kittens were trying to write their names out in cursive with poo. If the sit and drag method doesn't cause the poop to drop off, it will invariably embed it in the kitten's fuzzy butt. Young kittens are known to sit and poop at first instead of hover and poop, resulting in the same kind of rear mess. There have been times too numerous to mention when I'll find a wad of poo stuck over the kitten's entire private area, preventing any subsequent excrement from properly exiting. This is when the butt baths come into play.

When giving a butt bath to a small kitten, don't under estimate the tenacity of those tiny claws or the effect a crying kitten has on the entire household of cats. I will normally try to loosen the crap under warm running water to remove it. Sometimes it's just easier to take the scissors and cut it off like a big crap mat, then wash the little squirming crying fuzzy butt. By this time all the cats have gathered around the sink to offer their advice and express concern to my victim. Occasionally a mother cat will try to rescue her kitten by grabbing it by the neck to keep me from drowning her baby. I chastise such a mom by telling her that if she were doing her job properly by keeping the bottoms clean, I wouldn't have to torture her babies so much. Once I'm finished with the butt bath, the cats will scatter, fearing that I may be in a bath giving mood and they may be next.

The most inventive I ever got was when I had a litter of 4-5 week old kittens in my master bathroom. I had just cleaned up the skid mark cursive writing, bleaching and mopping the entire floor. I finally was able to get in the shower, but had to step out to get more shampoo. As soon as I opened the shower door, I saw more evidence of butt-writing. I knew someone had to have a poopy butt so while dripping water all over the floor, I checked each bottom until I found the culprit. I decided to multi-task and just brought the little guy in the shower with me.

The other gross reality of kitten and cat waste management is our dog, Chardonnay. Chardonnay is a Golden Retriever who considers it her job to clean up messes. If we accidentally drop food on the floor, she's there to clean it up. Likewise, she is the official second step to cleaning food off the dishes after they are loaded in the dishwasher and before the wash cycle is run. I can hear the groans but no, she never licks the clean dishes. The dirty ones are sterilized in the dishwasher.

The problem comes in when a cat or kitten leaves a stinky poop in the litter box (okay, they're all stinky, but some are especially vile). Chardonnay thinks she needs to clean up the poop. For this reason, the litter boxes are kept upstairs and in the basement where the dog doesn't venture. However, there's the kitten room. We have to be careful to close the door or put up the gate if no one is in the room. If I'm in there on the computer (like now) and a cat decides to go, Chardonnay will hover right at the door, waiting for her opportunity. Cat poo is like a special treat for some reason; I've actually seen her drooling in anticipation of grabbing those tasty morsels. I often wonder if I gave Chardonnay a choice of prime rib or cat crap what her decision would be. Bottom line, don't let our dog lick you.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Close the Windows!

Yesterday was one of those days when I wondered why in the world I breed Maine Coons. There are the days when images of cuteness and fun just ooze, like in this photo where our Golden Retriever, Chardonnay, cleans up the kittens after Kelsey has given them a bottle.

Yesterday started like any other day. Kelsey wanted her boyfriend Erik to come over but one of the conditions of such a visit was that they continue to work on cleaning out her bedroom. It was nice spring day so we had all the windows wide open to enjoy it. Kelsey was supposed to have cleaned her room before Erik came over, but this task proved too daunting (can we say filth so deep that I tease her about a homeless man named Fred who lives undetected under her bed?) Kelsey's response when I nagged her about cleaning her room was that it was too much work and she wanted the Clutter Guy from Oprah to do it for her.
With the boyfriend to "help her", Kelsey got easily distracted with telling stories about the lost treasures she was finding. "THAT'S where that shirt (necklace, CD, etc.) was! I've been looking for that since last year." Erik was pretty useless in doing anything because he apparently is unable to stand or sit without leaning on Kelsey with his arms wrapped around her for support. This subjects the two of them to endless sarcastic comments from Jay and me. "Kelsey, it's no wonder your posture is so pathetic from having to hold up that Erik tumor."
Kelsey has a tendency to be quite silly and childlike when Erik is over so she reacted like a 6-year-old when she "found" a toy. It was a small army type figure attached to a cheap parachute, the kind you might get out of a bubble gum machine for 50 cents. I offered to trash it to which of course Kelsey insisted that no, the parachute toy was really cool. Tossing him in the air wasn't exciting enough however so the next thing you know Kelsey has taken the screen off her window, ordering Erik not to drop it to the ground 2 stories below. The parachute toy went out the window, causing Kelsey to squeal in delight when it landed in the flower bed near the front door.

Of course, the next task was to try to fit the screen back in the window properly. Our window screens are designed to only come out completely for cleaning, relying on fitting the two little latches on the sides exactly in the slots to secure them. This proved difficult because the loop which normally is on the inside bottom of the screen to to pull it into place was missing on the frame. After Kelsey and Erik both tried unsuccessfully to replace the screen, I had to try. I didn't have much better luck with a good fit, but I finally got it. This boring little detail bears noting for later.
Later in the afternoon, I took the two inseparable teens with me to run some errands, including picking up storage containers at Walmart to help with the organization of Kelsey's clutter. We unloaded the van and I took the cases of canned cat food down to the basement. While there, I noticed that Wynonna, one of the older kittens destined for a pet home, was peeing on the dust mop leaning in the corner of the basement. Ever since I moved the new kitten litter downstairs and displaced Wynonna, she's forgotten how to use the litter box, usually favoring the dog's food bowl. I picked up the kitten and placed her in one of the litter boxes in the basement, lecturing her about how she was supposed to be a big girl. She promptly jumped out of the box, telling me she didn't need to go....anymore.

I went back to the van to get the next load to bring in, more cat food of course. On the way through our front screened in porch, I noticed my big red neutered male, Ray, spraying the screen. By this time, I was exhausted from the cold I'm getting from Jay and frustrated with cat pee. I yelled at Ray, telling him it was a good thing he was a favorite or else he wouldn't be and continued out to the van, annoyed because now I had one more mess to clean up.

While outside, I heard a kitten crying. I called, looking for a kitten perhaps in the window or who got out on the porch accidentally. I didn't see the source of the plaintive meowing yet but something caused me to look up. Amy, our adventurous tortoiseshell, had pushed out the bottom of the screen in Kelsey's bedroom window and was now out on our roof. I still heard the meowing, but it wasn't coming from Amy. Looking up even higher, I noticed the silhouette of a Maine Coon walking on the peak of our roof. It was Kinsey hollering that she was in heat, but there were no boys up here and this was more than she had bargained for.

I yelled up to Kelsey, who was in her room already, to open her window. Amy was happy to come back in to Kelsey.
However, Kinsey was confused as she couldn't see the window or Kelsey from her angle and continued to walk back and forth on our steeply pitched roof top, meowing her head off. I put my head in the front door and told Jay we had a cat on the roof. So while I called to Kinsey to come down to the window and Kelsey started crying in fear that the cat would jump,
Jay (my former firefighter husband) got the extension ladder and saved the day. No, he didn't sling the cat over his shoulder to haul her down. He took the carrier I handed him and coaxed a very grateful Kinsey into it.

Now, I'm searching for ways to better secure my windows for the summer before I jump out of them myself.