Sunday, January 23, 2011

Some Photos Of Cats Enjoying Warmth, Sunbeams, and High Places

Well, the office closet cat-shelves seem to be getting more and more popular these days. Here are Brodie (rear shelf), Shadow (front upper shelf) and Coraline (lower shelf) enjoying the view from up high:

One of the first things I thought to myself when I first saw my current home (before actually moving in) was "this house needs cats!". And a primary reason for my sentiments in this direction was the fact that there are so many HUGE windows built into the structure. Below all four kitties are relaxing in the sunbeams coming through into the kitchen:

(Also...notice the way Brodie is licking Shadow? Adorable, right? I thought so too, until I remembered that I'd just given Shadow his monthly dose of topical flea-prevention treatment. Which you apply to the back of the neck specifically so they can't lick it off themselves! Apparently whoever came up with that strategy hadn't accounted for meddlesome sibling teamwork, hence, I had to shoo Brodie away from "helping" his brother after I took this photo. :P)

Still in the kitchen, but now Cora is hanging out in close proximity to my sweater:

Next, we have Brodie next to my desk in the "cat-nest":

What is a "cat-nest", you ask? Well basically it's what happens when you pile up a bunch of blankets and bedding material in one place because you're not entirely sure what to do with it all yet...but which you end up leaving as-is because the cats insist on sleeping there.

And finally, Cora is shown demonstrating one of her new favorite resting spots:

...right on top of the living room heat register.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Veturday Round II

Brodie went in for his shot boosters and check-up this morning (following his siblings' visit last week). As I'd sort of suspected would be the case, he took the carrier and car ride with a lot less angst than his siblings. Even though he's the most timid around visitors to the house, he actually seems to be the bravest when it comes to things like Adventures In The Car. It's really interesting seeing how complex the siblings' personalities are in that you can't just label them as over-archingly "the brave one" or "the scaredy-cat" because they're all brave and scaredy about different sorts of things.

But I digress. Per the vet, Brodie appears to be in lovely health. No heart murmur either, hooray! The only small area of concern is that Brodie actually does appear to have some (probably genetic) susceptibility to gingivitis. He eats the same stuff as his siblings, his gums just seem more sensitive and for some reason food seems to "stick" more to his upper teeth. So in an effort to stave off further problems I am going to at least attempt to start brushing his teeth regularly. I tried it today and he wasn't entirely happy with having a little plastic thing shoved into his mouth, but he was a very good sport about it and I managed to at least touch all the relevant tooth-surfaces with the brush. Next time I might try one of the little "finger" brushes I got a while back but never really got into the habit of using on the kitties.

Oh and Brodie weighed in at a nice 13.5 pounds. Which the vet seemed totally happy with, and which looks like a good size for his overall frame (which is long and squarish but not as block-like as Shadow's).

In any case, I and the kitties are very glad to have all that vet business over with. Next up on the catblogging agenda: more pictures, and possibly some videos of the youngsters working out a new puzzle!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Caturday in Vetville

This past Saturday marked the first trip to the vet in about a year for any of the youngstercats here. Coraline and Shadow went in for their vaccine boosters (rabies, etc.) and a general physical exam; Brodie will have his turn this upcoming Saturday (the "little guys" are no longer little enough to allow simultaneous triple-kittywrangling, so we had to make two appointments!).

In any case, I am pleased to report that Cora and Shadow are apparently in glowingly good health. Not that I'd expected otherwise, but I was definitely relieved to hear that Shadow's heart sounds normal, as both he and Brodie had low-level murmurs when they were babies. The murmurs resolved by the time the boys went in for neutering at the age of five months, and thus were not a sign of any worrisome illness, but it's still something I like to make sure gets checked now and then.

On another physical note, initially the vet suggested Shadow was "on the high side" weight-wise at 15 pounds, 2 ounces. She adjusted her appraisal, though, after I showed her how LONG he is. Shadow might look stocky when he's all scrunched up (he goes into this tight-crouch position when he's nervous) but when he stretches out it's really apparent that he's pretty much all lean muscle everywhere. He relaxed a little when I picked him up and thus I was able to unfurl him a bit; at that point the vet remarked that he actually did look like a 15-pound cat (as in, a cat who SHOULD weigh around 15 pounds given his length and frame). I agree, especially considering he's 38 inches long (including nearly 14 inches of tail) at a year and a half old and had a solid build even when he was otherwise tiny.

Cora, meanwhile, weighed in at 9 pounds, which (though absolutely unproblematic and healthy for her frame) surprised me a bit. Picking up Shadow is rather like picking up an elongated, silky brick, thus, in comparison Cora feels like air and fluff. She's also got rather kittenish proportions (or at least the effect of such proportions, given her fluffy cheeks and her big round eyes) to the extent that I continue to be surprised when I see her standing next to Nikki and clearly being longer and taller than her elder housemate. Of course Cora isn't liable at this point to get as big as her brothers but she's certainly turning into a grownup in her own right -- and judging from her demeanor lately, she knows it!

But anyway. One interesting aspect of this most recent visit was that the vet we saw was new -- well, new to me and the Wonderful Felines at least. She's been at the VCA clinic we go to since 2008, but I'd never seen her before. I really hope she sticks around, though, because so far I like her a lot. We started off seeing one vet when the kittens were babies and I really liked that one too, but she moved out of state in the middle of last year. So then we got assigned to a different doctor, and while she did a fine job caring for Nikki's battle wounds, she wasn't as much inclined to get down to the technical details of feline healthcare with me the way the previous vet was. Which made it a little harder for me to feel like I was actually communicating with her. But the new vet seems to have a similar analytical style to the first one and even apparently spent a number of years as a field biologist, which is just cool. I think she is going to be a fine doctor for my kitties.

I am also glad to have finally gotten the "so what are you feeding them?" discussion over with. This new vet didn't even flinch when I told her the younger cats regularly ate raw meat, and in fact seemed to be pretty well informed on the subject of feline nutrition. She just said to be careful about sourcing meat and was glad I wasn't feeding them pre-ground stuff (as ground meat has a lot more opportunity to pick up nasty bacteria before you even get it home, plus grinding allows oxidation which can destroy important nutrients like taurine).

Oh yeah. And the vet also remarked on how nice the kitties' teeth looked, which at least suggests chewing up gizzards, etc., is indeed conferring dental benefits. Yay! Of course Cora, Shadow, and Brodie are still quite young and many cats who are going to end up with dental disease don't show any signs of it until age three or so, but it's at least encouraging that they don't have any early-manifesting issues in that regard.

As for how the cats themselves reacted to their outing, it was very obvious that they were quite anxious in the vet's office -- as I mentioned previously, Shadow went into his fearful scrunched-up crouch posture and pretty much stayed that way throughout the whole visit, aside from when I picked him up to demonstrate his striking resemblance to Tacgnol. Cora also did a lot of scrunched-up wide-eyed staring but wasn't nearly as tense as her brother and did a fair bit more moving around during the whole affair, like she was clearly apprehensive but also curious.

Neither cat seemed to enjoy being in a carrier, especially when the car was in motion. Matt and I tag-teamed to get them into the carriers in the first place at home so that didn't end up being a major ordeal for us, but Cora and Shadow seemed absolutely beside themselves. :/ They both howled a fair bit, especially Shadow, for whom the carrier seems to represent All That Is Vile And Evil In Existence.

I had attempted to acclimate all the cats to the carriers by setting them up in the spare bedroom weeks ago, and putting treats in them, spritzing blankets with Feliway and laying those inside, etc. The first day I had the larger carrier (we have two: a big plastic one and a medium-sized soft mesh one) out of the garage, Shadow refused to even enter the spare bedroom. He spent most of the day hiding in the office closet! By the next day he was okay with the carrier's mere presence, though, and that seems to have stuck even post-vet-visit. I think he's figured out that the carrier itself can't just scoop him up like some sort of cavernous cat-swallowing monster, at least.

Cora was also clearly unhappy with the carrier situation, but made far fewer operatic Tauntaun noises than her brother. She was also in the smaller (soft-sided) carrier, though, which to me looks a lot comfier than the plastic one. Plus the soft carrier has a zipper opening on the top, which I was able to unzip a little during the car ride (enough to fit my hand inside and give Cora ear-scritches, which definitely calmed her down a lot). I would have put Shadow in that one given his generally greater carrier-angst, but he really needs the next size up, which hopefully I manage to acquire at some point. With four cats we really ought to have four carriers, but I didn't want to get that many before I got an idea of how big the boys were going to grow.

In any case, I could tell Cora and Shadow were very happy to finally get home on Saturday! Since they'd basically been babies last time they went anywhere in the car, I was thinking the whole time during this past visit that part of their obvious anxiety might have been due to not realizing that they'd actually get to come back to familiar territory. But of course they did get to come home, and after a day of sleepiness (from the shots) they both bounced right back to their usual level of activity. This Saturday will of course be Brodie's turn...then we shall be quite done with vet visits for a while, which I don't expect any complaints about from any felines here!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Office Closet Desk Shelf Cat-Climbing-Gym Project

Well technically this project is not actually "done" yet -- I've still plenty of organizing to do, and probably some more wall shelves to put up, but as the main cat-relevant parts of it are now functional I figured I'd blog about it.

It all started with two realizations: (1) the fact that the closet in the room Matt and I call the "office" (basically the computer room where we do work, filing, and hobby stuff) was really not being very well utilized, and (2) my corner-style desk (purchased about six years ago to fit a particular niche in my old apartment) was bugging the crap out of me.

Unfortunately I can't seem to find a picture of how awful the closet looked before, but trust me, it was bad. Bad as in "there's a bunch of random stuff crammed in here that has nothing to do with the functionality of the room". [UPDATE: I found a "before" picture I'd forgotten I'd taken; see below. The doors are off, but the random crap and old saggy shelves and meaningless clothes-bar-holder-thing are still there, and there's so much wasted space!]

Taking off the closet doors (which were GIGANTIC and MIRRORED) helped make said random stuff more immediately accessible, but there was still just a ton of useless/wasted space. Not to mention the fact that every time I so much as ventured near the closet I risked having a roll of wrapping paper or a piece of old inherited photography equipment fall on my head (and that was on a good day.

As for my desk...while the corner design had worked okay in my old place, it was really cramping the potential of the new office (at least my corner thereof). Plus in the chaos of moving in last year I hadn't thought very well through the orientation and location of my primary home work-area and had managed to put the desk so that my back faced the door into the room. This sort of arrangement is invariably bad for me due to the fact that my peripheral vision is both very sensitive and seemingly wired directly into my "fight or flight" brain-circuits. It had gotten to the point (in around November 2010) where I was actively avoiding sitting at my own desk to use my own computer because of the constant on-edge sensation I got from sitting with my back to the door (and seeing little flickers of shadow at the edges of my visual field constantly from Matt and the cats moving around).

(Picture shows my old desk, sitting in the corner. Sure, it looked "nice enough" but I couldn't stand sitting there. Also, that nifty vintage power supply on the top shelf? Managed to fall down and almost crush my hand one night when one of the cats jumped on it. Bad news all around...)

Anyway, though, to make a long story slightly less long (and pull it back to the subject of cats where it belongs!) after gleefully getting rid of my old desk via Craigslist and pulling all the crap out of the closet and painting the walls inside a lovely-to-me shade of grey, it occurred to me: why not build feline-friendly functionality right into the new office layout? I mean, the cats already habitually climbed my desk and leaped about in the closet at night (which had me springing out of bed to see what that terrific crash had been on multiple frantic occasions), so at the very least I needed to fortify the room to be cat-safe.

(Picture shows the office closet when it was basically emptied out, post-painting)

One cool thing about making an environment cat-safe is that in doing so you've often laid the groundwork for also making it fun for your feline housemates. Cats, after all, revel in freedom, particularly freedom in three dimensions...and emptying out the office closet revealed quite a bit of vertical space that might be able to provide Cora, Brodie, Shadow, and Nikki with a fair amount more of this valued cat-commodity.

All that said, I didn't want to go out and buy some sort of expensive closet-organization or desk system. Even when I've got decent income coming in I tend toward the "cheapskate" end of the frugal spectrum, and my unemployment last year had me even more embedded in the "how can I kludge this?" mindset than usual. And in the end, I only ended up buying two more Ikea shelves (GORM units, which are inexpensive untreated pine), a few shelf brackets, a wood panel (also from Ikea) modular desktop and legs, and some miscellaneous small hardware-store items (wood stain, rope, etc.).

The rest was all scrap wood from the garage or IKEA shelves we already had (but that were not being efficiently used; basically I stripped them down and re-purposed them. Which is one thing cheaper Ikea stuff is great's like parts of a big wooden Erector set.) And I have to say that wood stain is now my new best friend when it comes to projects like this. While I suffer no illusions that my new office arrangement would win any design awards, it does look significantly nicer and less patchwork-y than it would have if I'd left all the wood I used untreated.

The photo above shows the closet roughly as it appears now. The shelves still aren't really organized and the cabinet in the middle -- just an Ikea IVAR cabinet I stained and added legs to -- is actually still empty, but the basic structure is there. Note as well the orange mesh "curtains" in the lower left...these now help contain scatter from the litter box without blocking the cats' view of the surrounding area or creating a nasty "stagnant air" environment as many covered litter boxes do.

Now for the cat-friendly aspects of the closet: observe this photo, taken at a slightly different angle than the previous should spot two tabby tails seemingly hanging out of the ceiling!

Moving in closer (flashlight in hand), lo and behold...'s Coraline! Unsurprisingly, she was the first to explore the new "catwalk" attached to the inside of that little overhanging bit of wall above the closet opening.

...but Brodie eventually got curious too!

This angle better shows how the "catwalk" is attached. Brodie demonstrates how to get down from the little cat-nap platform at the end of the catwalk:

As for my desk area, it now looks like this:

...and it is SO much more functional and comfortable now than the corner desk was! Not to mention sturdier. I think I've managed to find every wall stud in this room as a result of this project, because this thing is SOLID. When it comes to fortifying against the forces of both feline and earthquake origin, I tend to apply the Mythbusters' philosophy: "anything worth doing is worth overdoing". So yeah. The cats can run up the sides of this thing, climb the shelves, scale the walls, etc., to their hearts' content now.

(I still need to clean up the wire mess under the desk and organize some more of my work and hobby and craft materials onto the shelves, but again, the basic structure and cat-relevant bits are in place here.)

Finally, here is another view of the desk area, showing one of several possible routes for the kitties to get up to the top shelves, while also serving an important function as a scratching post (which all four felines here now use regularly):

Oh and for those curious about such things, the desk uses legs only on one side...the other side is attached to the IVAR shelf unit adjacent to the wall, which is firmly bolted to studs. Also, since the IVAR units tend to be a bit wobbly even with those metal X-things installed on the back, I used a piece of oak floorboard (stained to match the shelves) and some metal angle brackets (which you can't see at all unless you look up inside the shelf) to maintain the shelving unit's rectangularity even in the event of enthusiastic kittyclimbing.

So far I am very happy with how this new office layout is improving my own productivity and cheerfulness levels in this room, and the cats seem extremely pleased with their new climbing/play/sleeping structure. I've still got a fair mount of work to do organizing the human stuff, and will perhaps be able to get some nicer pictures when that happens, but the cat components are pretty well in place, at least until I think of something else to add!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Holiday Miscellany

Well, the holidays ended up being far too hectic to allow much time (or brain-bandwidth) for blogging, but now the bustle has somewhat subsided I figured it was about time for some more photos!

First we have Cora here eyeing the pile of presents (for two sets of extended families, and yes, there were a few for the felines!) near my and Matt's little tree.

Speaking of which, the cats did great with the tree this year. Not only have they matured considerably, I think it helped that we got a smaller one and clamped it (in the back, invisibly) to an end table unlike last year when we had a 6 foot tree just standing in the middle of the living room.

Considering 2009's antics included all three youngsters taking flying leaps INTO the tree I was not about to risk a repeat of that, not with everyone at least twice the size they were last year. But the table-mounting thing worked out wonderfully for both humans and kitties...I put one of their beds under the end table with the tree-blanket draped over it and that became one of the most coveted spots throughout the holidays.

I'm not perfect about this but I always try and make sure the cats get regular interactive play with toys like this feather-on-a-string thing even when chaos (such as that induced by holidays) is monopolizing the majority of human attention. Here is Shadow waiting for the feather thingy to enter pouncing range.

These cardboard scratchy-pad things are HUGELY popular around here. Seriously, they are probably one of the best random bits of Cat Accessory in existence. They're just basic corrugated cardboard but apparently the texture of that material is wonderful for running one's claws across. I've usually got three or four of them around the house at any given time and each one generally lasts at least two months before being shredded enough to pop into the recycle bin.

Nikki is very possessive of the "double wide" scratcher on the sofa and can often be found sitting on it just as she is doing in the above photo.

And of course rest is important for everyone (human and feline alike) during the year's busiest bits. I am actively grateful to all the cats but Brodie in particular for his quiet but insistent reminders to take a break already once in a while.

(Here is Brodie snuggling in my hair on the couch after a very long day!)

Oh yes. And in addition to all the usual holiday-heightened activities around here, the kitties managed to endure what was a major first for me and for them: an overnight houseguest. My youngest brother stayed over for nearly four days over his Christmas break from college, which meant major routine deviations for everyone and lots of activity nobody was used to.

Of course it was great to see my brother (he and I have always gotten along really well despite the 13 year age gap) but since the younger cats hid most of the time he was here I kept finding myself missing them! Cora and Shadow also spent a lot more time in hiding than I had expected but then again, overnight guest is a very different thing from a visitor who just comes and stays a few hours. Brodie hid about the usual amount but I did expect that from him seeing as he's generally the shyest around guests.

That said, I was quite relieved to note that while the youngsters wouldn't eat dinner at their normal time, they had no problem eating at night when my brother was asleep in the guest room, which is awesome considering in the past they've sometimes not wanted to eat until they've been able to ascertain that a visitor is good and gone. Nobody had any litterbox issues either, and by the last day Cora even sat with my brother on the couch for a bit.

And all that said, Nikki had a great time during Ryan's visit, by which she was utterly and completely unfazed (after all, she already knew him from when she lived with my parents and siblings). With the youngsters holed up in their various favorite secluded spots Nikki got her pick of laps and could play with toys, etc., without being bothered by rambunctious youngsters. So in a weird sort of way us having a houseguest that was familiar to her seemed like kind of a "vacation" for Nikki. So I am happy on her behalf about that I suppose!

Anyway, as much as the holidays can be fun I am very happy things are already settling down into their usual, somewhat quieter state. I look forward to seeing what 2011 brings for human and feline alike!