Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Life of Cat Foster Parents: Art/Dodge

Last December, just before Christmas, Andrew and I became "foster" people to a little gray kitty named Art. He'd been through a house fire, and firefighters cleaning up afterward found him--the sole survivor out of more than 20 cats in this one home. He'd been raised in a hoarding environment. Because of the trauma, he was understandably skittish. But another Humane Society volunteer decided to save him from death in an animal control shelter. Unfortunately, his new foster home went through some upheavals, and the family couldn't keep fosters anymore. He was shuttled to a temporary foster home, then when we signed up for fostering, noting we were open to helping any and all types of cats, he was the first cat we got.

We welcomed Art with all our love and patience. Except for his name. We know a guy named Art; it just didn't seem right to call this shy little kitten with great big green eyes "Art." The name Artful Dodger came to me, straight from Oliver Twist. This little guy dodged a house fire, and come to find out, he likes to filch pens or paperclips if you set them on the floor next to you. We call him "Dodge" for short.

Andrew and I hung out in the guest bedroom with Dodge almost every night for four weeks. We wanted him to get used to our house, and get used to us, before we introduced him to our three other cats. At first he threatened to swat when we held our hands for him to sniff, but he progressed to sniffing our hands and backing away slowly. If I touched him when his head was turned, he'd dart away. He does not like human touch. This has never changed the whole time we've had him. We never let him out of the guest bedroom, afraid we'd never be able to corral him to move him or take him to PetSmart for adoptions. And people typically don't adopt cats they can't even pet, let alone cats who run away from them.

Twice he bit me hard enough to draw bright pearls of blood. The first time was when I picked him up from the temporary foster home. I naively decided to let him out of the cage on our car ride home. Our cat Molly loves car rides. But Dodge crawled under my seat and huddled on the floorboard in the back of my two-door Ford Escort. When I reached around to get him out and back in his cage, he felt threatened--he was cornered--and bit my hand just below my right thumb. I adjusted my tactic and eventually got him by the scruff of the neck and placed him into the carrier.

The second time was last week. I thought I'd try picking him up by the scruff of the neck again. Cats go limp when they're carried this way. It's an instinct they have from the time they're kittens and their mom transports them to new nesting places. I chased him in circles around his little guest room. I probably should have given up earlier, but I'm stubborn. Finally, I cornered him on top of the dresser and grabbed the scruff of his neck. It didn't work. He flailed around and bit my left hand, just below the thumb. I also got some nasty scratches from that attempt.

"You haz string on that camra"
I don't blame Dodge. Cats need to be imprinted with positive human touch from the time they're born until they're a couple months old. If they don't receive this imprint, they won't learn to be affectionate, trusting cats. Dodge was traumatized, shy, and basically feral from growing up in the hoarding situation and then surviving a fire. When I emailed one of the volunteer coordinators at the Humane Society, she found a sanctuary in Florida (http://caboodleranch.com/Index.html) that will take Dodge and let him live out his days with other cats and plenty of food, water, beds, and string to play with. We told him yesterday evening that he will get to retire early to Florida. He seems happy.

I'll miss his antics. I'll never forget the first time I dangled a shoestring in front of him and he came out of his hiding place to play with me. If he followed the string up and saw my hand, his eyes got big and he shrunk back a little. But as soon as I twitched the string again, he forgot about the hand and kept on playing. Tonight, we hand him off again, and he'll be on his way to FLA. I hope he can finally thrive there.

At the same time, we'll be getting a brand new foster kitty. More about that later...

Meanwhile, enjoy this cute video of Dodge flirting with us.
video

Monday, January 3, 2011

Playing Literary Catch-Up: Or, Year 2011 Reading Resolution

Most of my life feels like "catching up." I don't know that I'm trying to catch up to anybody else. The feeling I have is of trying to catch up to where I should be had I known what I know now. Ie., had I had siblings my age, had I gone to a public school, had I started college as an English major, had I not been afraid to talk to boys in high school, had I been comfortable in my own skin at an earlier age.

I wouldn't wish away the path my life has taken, the particular timing of everything. But when I do discover something about myself or about the world, or about the fiction we make of the world, I feel this urgency to make up for lost time.

In regards to books, I feel I am racing to make up for approximately 16 years of ignorance. I feel like one of the least well-read students in my creative writing program. Not that I hadn't read a lot of books since the age of four, when I purportedly taught myself to read. But I grew up amidst a culture of poor taste in books, music, and movies. To be fair, I'm sure I was free to read wider, read better, but I just didn't know. I didn't have anybody around me to show me the way, to say "You should read Alice Munro" or J.D. Salinger, or Raymond Carver, or Sylvia Plath, or Grace Paley. Additionally, if they had, I probably would have discounted half of the suggestions after running them through my particularly Puritanical filter. Swearing? Any suggestion of sex? Dark and unwholesome themes? Forget it. Again, I don't remember anybody telling me these were the standards I should have, I just conglomerated these ideas through bits and pieces of overheard conversations and articles in Focus on the Family magazines.

Drums of Change by Janette Oke (1997, Unabridged, Audio Cassette)Disclaimer and apology if I offend some of my friends here, but I'm gonna be honest. My idea of great fiction used to come from authors like Janette Oak, Francine Rivers, Lori Wick, Robin Jones Gunn, Lauraine Snelling. Feel-good Christian romances. Frank Peretti for the occasional suspense/thriller. Thank God I never could get into the Left Behind series. One author I don't regret spending time reading is C.S. Lewis: Till We Have Faces, Out of the Silent Planet, and a nostalgic favorite series of mine, The Chronicles of Narnia. He's kind of in a category with T.S. Eliot, J.R.R. Tolkien, etc.

Halfway through college, I realized that I was reading fluff for the most part. I started reading more world literature, more classic fiction. When I switched majors from biology to English, I dove headfirst into a world of great, mysteriously rich, heretofore unknown modern fiction. Raymond Carver, Sylvia Plath, Andrea Barrett, Louise Erdrich, Lorrie Moore. After college, I kept trying to play catch-up. But my pace slowed considerably. Till I started grad school--then the fun really began!

I read at least 29 books in 2010. Probably more. This list also includes poetry, non-fiction, and books on writing, but still, I don't think I've read as much since high school. Here's the list. Not all of these were required for school, either. I put an asterisk by the books that met me at a time when I particularly needed to read them. For whatever reason, they changed the way I thought about fiction and writing, about personal history, about the world.

*Adrienne Kennedy The People Who Led to My Plays
Norma Jean and Carole Darden Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine
Grace Paley The Collected Stories
William Zinsser On Writing Well
Mary Oliver Poetry Handbook
A.J. Verdelle The Good Negress
Laura Esquivel Like Water for Chocolate
Bonni Goldberg Room to Write
Dorothea Brande Becoming a Writer
*Lydia Davis The Collected Stories
*Barbara Kingsolver The Poisonwood Bible
Amy Hepel The Collected Stories
Brenda Ueland If You Want to Write
Joyce Carol Oates Black Water
*Alice Munro Open Secrets
*Lorrie Moore Birds of America
J.D. Salinger Nine Stories
*Andrea Barrett Servants of the Map
Charles Baxter A Relative Stranger
Mary Gaitskill Don't Cry
Lorraine Lopez Homicide Survivor's Picnic
*Ernest Hemingway The Nick Adams Stories
*Willa Cather My Antonia
Eugene O'Neill The Iceman Cometh and *Long Day's Journey Into Night
Sam Shepard *Buried Child, True West, and Curse of the Starving Class
Natasha Trethewey Native Guard...

...Not to mention other books and stories I've read that I don't have a record of...

I plan to read even more in 2011. I've already started through the Collected Stories of Carson McCullers, which so far deserves an asterisk as well!

Now if I could just catch up on all the music I missed out on through the 90s and early 2000s when I was busy listening to oldies and christian rock. Any suggestions?