Thursday, October 30, 2014

Come Into My Parlor, Said the Spider to the Fly

It turns out not only are my chosen pets codependent, my involuntary pets are as well.

I have been dubbed the Spider Whisperer by several of my colleagues due to my strange and ridiculous claim that I can speak to spiders and they actually listen to me.  I have apparently inherited this trait from my mother since I have recently discovered that she has her own little eight-legged friend living in her Whirlpool who she calls "Bubala."  And she talks to Bubala like a pet.

My mother and I are strange creatures.

I have stood by my claim to communicate with spiders ever since the year I shared an apartment with my friend Stuart who was terrified of them.  He would squash them first and ask questions later.  What he did not know was that a little house spider shared quarters with us for the entire year, living in a web she spun above the door.  I never told Stuart and the spider never showed her face when he was home.  He spent a lot of time socializing and partying about town while I stayed home and watched TV or read.  In the evenings, the spider would come down out of her hiding spot and hang out in the middle of the carpet.  Just hang.  We'd hang together.  Around eleven o'clock I'd tell her, "It's almost eleven.  Stuart's going to be home soon so you might want to disappear."

I kid you not, she would.  Like a little magician's assistant.

When I moved to Wyoming it turned out that tiny jumping spiders enjoy my townhouse as much as I do.  Through the years they would hang out with me in the kitchen while I cooked or did the dishes and if I mentioned that they were getting too close to the sink, they would hop off and hang out elsewhere.  I trapped the larger of their brethern and transplanted them to the garden.  I might not have a problem with spiders but that doesn't mean I want some monstrosity capable of making a meal of one of my cats sharing my living room.

I had trouble dealing with my ex-boyfriend's tarantula, Scary Alice, at first, but after awhile she and I became great friends.  We had coffee and chats in the morning when the ex took a shower.  Alice would actually come out of her house and sit in the corner of her terrarium and hang out.  I told her her master was an idiot and she definitely seemed to agree.  She liked loud music and whenever we turned the bass up really loud she would come out of her house and put her front paws up on the glass.  My ex said they like the vibrations and maybe that's why spiders listen to me.  They just like the sound of my voice.

I have to say, I think I might miss Scary Alice more than I miss my ex, even if he was the love of my life.

Two weeks ago, before I left for my trip to Texas, I was in the kitchen washing my dishes.  The blinds were drawn over the window in front of me and I happened to look up.  A huge silhouette of something out of a B horror movie splashed across the window and I very nearly dropped the dish I was washing.  I yanked the cord to pull the blinds up expecting the worse and sitting calmly on the screen outside the window glass was a rather pretty little spider.  The sun shining through the blinds had blown it up to about fifty times its normal size but the reality was just a fly-sized beast hanging out between the glass and screen.  I have no idea how he got in there but I kept the window closed just in case he decided to move in. I had to look him up on the computer because I had never seen such a spider.  He had a nice shape, like a tarantula, but smaller, was all black, and had a pretty orange dot in the middle of his back.  He was not a black widow - I know what those look like and he was the wrong shape.  He was larger than the tiny jumpers I'm used to sharing my space with.  It turns out he was a Bold Jumping Spider and he was a male because they have the orange dots and bright green fangs.  As I said, rather a pretty little creature, but I still didn't want him in my house.

A week later I came home to a remodeled kitchen and four very angry pets.  They like the Cowboy but whenever I leave them with him, he fixes stuff and changes stuff and they don't like that so much.  I also came home to a new pet.  Sitting on my newly remodeled counter, smack dab in the middle of the white tile as if showing off his colors, was Mr. Bold Jumping Spider in all his orange, green, and black glory.  He was just hanging out like, "Yo, what's up?  Thought I'd move in while you were gone.  Come on over, have a cup of coffee."

Now I have no problem with spiders, even the black widows and the brown recluses, but I don't really want to go to bed at night knowing something of that size is hanging out in the kitchen.  Granted he wasn't as large as the spiderzilla I came home to one late night that was very easily larger than Scary Alice and very obviously a wolf spider, but still.  I like spiders but I have my limits. And yes, Bold Jumpers are one hundred percent harmless and even if they do bite a human it won't do any damage.  But Mr. Bold Jumping Spider was out of here.  I had a frank chat with him about how he couldn't stay.  He didn't like that and jumped in the sink.  I panicked thinking he was going to drown himself in the drain and grabbed my espresso glass to drop on top of him.  He hopped around in the sink a bit more and I kept thinking this guy is going to come flying at my face, all green fangs and indignation at my unwillingness to allow him to move in.  Finally I got the espresso glass on him and moved a piece of paper under him. 

A primitive but effective spider catching method.  It has worked many times in my favor.

I scooped up Mr. Bold Jumper - now christened "Fred" - the espresso glass, and paper all in one fell swoop and swept them outside where Fred was released in the garden.

I hope he's happy there as it is a lovely garden full of stuff for a guy like him to munch on.  He might even find a girlfriend, though I hope not too soon as the females of his kind rather enjoy biting the heads off their mates.  However, I have no doubt that he will probably find his way back in the house since he somehow already managed it once.

Perhaps Fred and Bubala can start a club.

Interesting fact I just learned from the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, Entomolgy Department:  "The chances of being bitten by P. audax are slim to none. These spiders are difficult for collectors to catch, and they appear fearful of humans."

Fred had no fear of me.  None.  And I let him slip through my fingers!  There are some very irritated and angry arachnid collectors fuming at this very moment....

Friday, May 16, 2014

Not Quite Love at First Sight, but Perhaps Fate

Despite the Cowboy and the three cats, I still maintain that my German shepherd, Tess, is my longest, most successful relationship to date.  She is the love of my life, second only to the lovable, blue-point Himalayan I had as a teenager.  Tess might have her flaws - the bad breath, her aggression towards male dogs, her rampant infidelity - but I still very biasedly believe her to be the best dog ever to walk the Earth.

I actually found Tess on  I had just purchased my house and was beginning what I thought the long quest to find the perfect dog, now that I had a backyard to keep her in.  In the past, as with all burn out crushes, I'd always rushed in, seduced by a pair of big brown eyes and floppy ears and wet nose.  I love animals and I love pets.  My dogs in the past were shelter mutts, lovable in their own way, but secretly what I really have always wanted is a female German shepherd.  They have always been my favorite breed.  The closest I ever came to having what I wanted was the shepherd/collie mix that my mother and I rescued from the animal shelter when I was seventeen.  He happened to be a male, and he was a great dog, but he was my mother's dog.

My other favorite breed is the Papillion, another dog I hope one day to own, but they seem to be a bit harder to come by.

Having just bought a house, I was ready to start looking for a dog, but not quite ready yet to rush to the shelter and grab the first homeless pity case I ran across.  This time I was determined to look, research, and get exactly what I wanted.  I had just broken up with my ex-boyfriend and I wanted the perfect dog to make up for the subpar, not-so-perfect ex-boyfriend.

I found Tess the second day I searched  She was listed at the Casper Humane Society as a one-year-old female purebred German shepherd.  I was going out of town in a week for a doctor's appointment, I was absolutely not prepared to bring a dog home yet, let alone one two hours away that I couldn't even go visit, but I called the Casper Humane Society to inquire about the dog.  They told me that someone had already called interested in her and they were fairly certain they wanted to adopt her.  They had her spaying surgery scheduled and when that was done she would be ready to go home with her new family.  They said they could put my name on the list - I would be number 2 - just in case this family decided not to adopt her.

"But," the shelter employee assured me, "They aren't going to change their minds.  They are definitely going to take her."

"Okay," I said.  "That's no problem.  I just wanted to call and see about her."

"Do you still want us to call you in case the adoption falls through?"

"Yeah, sure.  Give me a call if something changes."

"Okay, we have your name on the list.  But nothing will change."

"Thank you."

The next afternoon there was a voicemail from the Casper Humane Society on my phone telling me that if I was still interested in the German shepherd, the adoption had fallen through and I was the second name on the list.  Of course I called them and made an appointment to drive down that Saturday and check her out.  I still wasn't sure at that point if it was a good idea to bring a dog home so soon - I had planned on spending several months finding the perfect dog - but I thought I should at least go check this dog out.  The fact that her "guaranteed adoption" fell through worried me, but how much trouble could a dog be?

I drove down that Saturday to check her out.  She was a Tazmanian devil in her kennel, up on her hind legs, barking in a high-pitched, spoiled, crazy bark.  She was a little sable, smaller than I expected, and just beautiful.  Her conformation was perfect and she had the big brown eyes and small pointed muzzle that always makes me fall for a dog. I wanted to see her out of her kennel so the shelter employee (who was not bad looking himself) put a leash on her so we could take her into a different room.

Talk about not leash-trained!  She jumped up on the employee, twirled around on the lead like a dancer, got herself all tangled up and nearly tripped and fell flat on her face.  She bounded ahead and got pulled up short by the lead, choking herself.  Then she tried to bound back to the employee to give herself slack only to run into his legs.  They both nearly went down.

In the separate room, she raced in circles and sniffed everything.  The shelter employee wasted no time.  "So you want her?"

I asked why the first adoption had fallen through and why she was surrendered in the first place.  Apparently the family who had originally bought her as a puppy from a breeder had surrendered her to the shelter because she was too active and dug in the yard.  They had made a deal with their neighbors to take her off their hands but the neighbors were on vacation and the family just couldn't keep her anymore.  Then when the neighbors returned from their vacation, they came to the shelter to adopt her.  They decided they didn't want her when they found out she was scheduled to be spayed before they could take her home.  They'd wanted to breed her and of course the Human Society does not allow adoptions for breeding.

Against my better judgment - the trip I had scheduled just a day after I brought Tess home, her extremely high energy, and absolutely zero training - I agreed to the adoption.  For the first four months I wanted to kill her.  Now I can't picture my life without her.  She has come a long way from the day in the shelter with no leash skills, bad manners, and an alleged accusation of digging in the yard.  Incidentally the only hole she ever dug in my yard was to bury a very large bone I'd bought her.  Tess has stuck by me through four different boyfriends and five cats (three of which are still living, of course).  The Cowboy has endured partially because he makes an effort with Tess and she loves him and has welcomed him in her pack.

Tess and I were fated to be together.  As for love at first sight, well she reserved that for the Cowboy, but she's still all mine.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Cat vs. Tomato Plant

I have learned my  lesson.  Plants and pets obviously don't mix in my house.  Let's face it.  I do not possess the greenest of thumbs to begin with but the Cowboy and I had managed to grow a few things last summer and I decided to try again this year, if for no other reason then I absolutely adore fresh grown tomato soup.

This year I started my tomato plants early.  I also planted some oregano and I started some peas outside.  The peas, unlike the pets, are the least high maintenance.  A little water, a screen to keep the dog out, and they are good to go.  The oregano has found a happy spot on top of my dresser, the one piece of furniture the cats have not figured out how to jump onto yet.  The tomatoes started as tiny little seeds in a starter kit and I kept them on the refrigerator for the first two weeks, adequately watered and shrouded in a plastic bag.  The cats never went near them.

Of course it was too good to be true.  After all, Percy has been deemed the biggest feline jerk this side of the Rocky Mountains, and considering we live right at the foothills, that's a pretty big area for him to cover.  Don't get me wrong, I love my Percy, but one must face facts and that is that my dear sweet little black ball of lovable fur is actually a great big jackass.  He will poop right during my lunch and make sure it is as smelly as possible.  He chases and terrorizes Willow.  He knocks stuff off the bathroom counter.  He is constantly dancing around my night table, trying to get at my glasses (my glasses are the most interesting toy, I believe).  He waits until I am just about to drift off for a nap and then starts yowling at high pitch and streaking through the house, sounding like a herd of elephants.  It has always amazed me that a twelve-pound cat can make the sound of a stampeding buffalo herd.  He makes the whole house shake.  So adorable fluffball aside, he is actually quite facetious.

The other day I decided it was time to put the tomato plants in sunlight so they can grow.  They had just sprouted.  I had tiny little greenies and I was pretty excited.  So I set them up by my top level window, barricaded with catproof barriers.  I should have known better.  Where there is a will, Percy will find a way.  And he did.  I came home at lunch and he had managed to move the barriers aside and eaten half of the tiny green sprouts.  I'm sure Willow got up there and helped him, but the main culprit is Percy.  He is obsessed with green stuff and I have had to keep all houseplants as far away from him as possible.  Out of twenty plants I managed to salvage nine.  Nine isn't too bad, considering the Cowboy told me that four plants would be plenty to bear the fruit we'd need.  I had planned, however, on giving away the others.  I'm just lucky Percy hadn't been hungry enough to eat all of them and then walk through the dirt and track it around the house.  I am sure that would have come next had I not removed the plants.  I spent the afternoon transplanting each mangled little plant into its own container and then set the containers up in a radio flyer wagon the Cowboy brought over.  The plants are still too small to sit outside at night so I brought the wagon inside and draped it with towels.

Now most cats do not like surfaces that are not stable enough to stand on.  A radio flyer wagon with small pots inside draped with towels does not make a solid surface on which to stand.  This, however, did not deter my cats.  Even Puckett got in on the action and that is rare for her.  She was the first to stalk over, place her front paws on the edge of the wagon, sniff, and then jump up.  She looked genuinely surprised that the surface was not solid and even more surprised when I hollered at her to get down.  She spent the rest of the evening sulking on her box, face mashed in the wall.  Next came Percy.  He and Willow were content to sit underneath the wagon for awhile.  I was reading.  Just as I started to drift off for a short nap, sure enough, Percy jumped onto the towels himself, woke me up, and freaked out because the surface wasn't quite as sturdy as he thought it should be.  In Willow's defense, she only jumped into the wagon because she was too busy chasing a bug.  As usual my little airhead didn't seem to realize that the other two cats got reprimanded for jumping in, so she was going to get it too.

I gave up and took off the towels, replacing them with a big crinkly black garbage bag that I arranged so that it didn't even look remotely like a solid surface.  This didn't deter Percy who started poking around underneath the bag, trying to get in that way.  I am sure once he found his way inside the bag and the wagon he would have panicked and had a heck of a time getting himself back out.  Puckett, after she stopped sulking, came upstairs and poked around as well, even trying once again to jump onto the bag just to see if there was any way she could turn this addition to the household into her new throne.

And as for Tess, she came inside, sniffed the wagon once, wagged her tail against the bag, causing it to rustle (and further exciting the cats) and proceeded to trot to the food bowl to see if anything new had materialized.

I have to say, I love that dog.  Sometimes I swear she reads minds.

This morning, it was already sixty degrees.  Dog, radio flyer wagon complete with ailing tomato plants, and the pot of sprouting oregano went outside to bask in the sunshine.  I left the backdoor open for the cats to enjoy the spring air as well.  With any luck the weather will hold now so that I can leave those plants outside and not have to bring them in anymore.  I honestly don't think I can handle another night of cats vs. tomato plant drama.  The last thing Percy had to say about the whole thing was the huge pile of nasty he left me in the litter box.  Worse than usual, I might add.  It turns out tomato plants are actually toxic to cats.  Considering these were seedlings and barely sprouted and he hadn't really gotten to too many of them, I didn't anticipate him getting too seriously sick.  But he did let me know what his final thoughts were.

When it comes to plants I suppose Tess is my "good child."  I may be eating my words this afternoon when I go home and find my porch strewn with tiny greenies and doggie tracks of dirt.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

My Pets Think I Control the Weather

Puckett appears to have gotten over her nasty mood of the last few weeks.  This week has become "LOVE ME" week and she will stop at nothing to get her way.  I'm beginning to think the animals just naturally assume I am in charge of the weather.  When the weather is bad, they all act like I have committed some mortal sin and set out to teach  me a lesson by destroying the house and annoying each other.  When the weather is good they flock around me all purrs and mushy looks as if I am to be rewarded for giving them a sunshiney day.

They aren't even outdoor pets, save for the dog.

I know when Puckett absolutely  has had it with everyone and everything, me and the weather included, but the other day she took it to a higher level than I've ever witnessed.  I walked into the kitchen to find her sitting on top of the box in the corner that has been her throne for quite some time, facing the wall.  Not only was she facing the wall, however, she had her face smashed into it, the forehead wedged tightly against the white solidness, eyes shut, ears back.  Her bulk balanced precariously on the box that I have had to set upright in order to keep her from scratching the wooden railings behind it.  It didn't look comfortable at all.  Balancing on a surface that barely contains one's mass is awkward enough, but to ram one's face into the wall for good measure, now to me that just seemed like she was trying to make me feel guilty for something.  I asked her what was wrong.  She turned her head to look at me for a moment, eyes narrowed, then mashed her face back into the wall and resumed the position.

The last couple of days - which have been sunny and in the sixties - my sweet girl has magically returned.  I have awakened each morning to twenty pounds of love jumping onto the bed, purring and rubbing happily against me and the Cowboy.  When we get up, Puckett remains on the bed.  That's when the fun begins.  Usually this is Percy's trick, but for some reason Puckett has decided this week that she needs to hinder the bedmaking routine.  So I snap the sheet in the air and let it settle over bed and cat.  Puckett slips out from under the sheet and settles on top of it, purring.  I straighten and smooth the sheet, then drop the blanket on top of the bed.  There is now a cat shaped lump in the middle of the blanket.  Puckett immediately wriggles out and then follows me from side to corner to side of the bed as I pull the blanket smooth and tuck it in.  She chirps as she does this, like she's chasing a bird or an insect or something.  Finally I drop the comforter on top of her.  She shakes it off, eases on top of it, and finally settles down and licks a paw.  As I finish arranging the comforter nicely, she curls up and goes to sleep.  And there she remains until I get home at five o'clock, and I am quite certain she never moves from that spot.

It's doubly nice for her if I leave the backdoor open and let the air into the bedroom.  Tess sits on the porch outside the door, basking in the sunshine, and Puckett sleeps on the bed.  Even though they are not in the room together, they appear to enjoy the lovely day as one, bringing further evidence that these two just might be soul sisters.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Spring Fever

My animals have absolutely had it with the endless snow and winter wonderland and I have absolutely had it with their lack of tolerance for the crappy weather. It has been a long, miserable winter with three days snowstorms, grey cloudy days, subzero temperatures, a high-energy German shepherd cooped up for hours indoors, and three unimpressed cats sleeping beside the heater, paws covering their faces.

We've had several teasers. The weather would bloom sunny and gorgeous only to plunge headfirst back into a wasteland of snow, wet, and cold. Twice now these teasers have sent the cats into performing their own personal three-ring circus and encouraging the dog to forget her good manners when walking on a leash and try to drag me into oncoming traffic, to say nothing of practically plowing over me on the stairs.

I believe we have finally hit the beginning of spring after this last particular nasty bit of business where the snow fell so wet and heavy, it slid off my car in one big white sheet and froze the roads over, closing I90 from here to Buffalo and from here to the Montana state line. Once again this means my animals are assuming spring has begun and it is time to do the “Spring is Here” happy dance and drive their mistress crazy.

Each one has his or her own way of celebrating. Percy is the most entertaining, and he is the ringleader of this three-ring circus, as well as the acrobat, the trapeze artist, and the “trained big cat.” I guess that makes me the lion tamer and I am doing a bang up job with it, let me tell you. To give an example, a few weeks ago, I was in the bathroom with the door open. Tess was lying right in the doorway, her head and front paws draped mournfully over the edge of the linoleum, eyes gazing at me as though to ask me if we were ever going to do anything fun again. A moment later this small black shape launched itself over the dog, all four legs extended out front, tail stretched out behind. He landed with a thump, galloped into the bedroom with the sound of a stampeding buffalo, and stopped short by the backdoor and yowled. Tess' head shot up and she looked around, eyes wide and startled, before she got to her feet and slunk downstairs to the kitchen.

Every evening Percy tears through the house, up and down the stairs, yowling and caterwauling like the devil himself. Then he'll slip into his litterbox, do his business (speaking of a nasty bit of business), scratches forever, and then jumps back and out and continues to race through the house yowling.

I took him to the vet to see if there was anything wrong with his delicate tummy.

There wasn't.

Puckett has her own methods. She has been on perpetual PMS which is no small feat for a cat with no uterus who is generally a sweet unobtrusive creature. Puckett has been scratching everything and anything that gets in her way, leaving deep claw grooves in the wood of my railings, and has even started scratching the couch. To remedy this the Cowboy fashioned rough wooden braces over the edges of the couch so she can at least scratch something harmless, and wrapped protective foam around the railings after smoothing the wood down with wax. And what does Puckett do in response? She scratched around the coverings and threw me a saucy look as if to let me know that she would scratch whenever and wherever she chose and there was nothing I could do about it.  I swatted her hiney for that one. It was barely a tap, not even with the same strength used for a vigorous patting and cuddling.

You would have thought I had beat her like a redheaded stepchild with the look she shot me. Her large green eyes were wide and filled with such searing indignation as she glared at me and wrapped her tail around her body. Then she turned her back to me, whipped her tail into the air and flounced off, ears slicked back against her head.

Since then the precious darling has been one hell of a moody little bitch. If I pet her she attacks me with her paws, even using her claws to leave welts in my skin. She gives me snotty looks, chirps at me demandingly when its feeding time, and turns her butt to me more times then her face so that I'm starting to wonder whether she's coming or going.

Willow has reverted to her usual pissy tricks, and when I say pissy, I mean pissy. She left me a present on the floor next to the litterbox again and scratches the carpeting on the stairs with wild abandon. When I snap my fingers at her she runs away and then looks at me with this vacant stare like she can't figure out what I'm so upset about. She has developed a new intimacy with her cage for her little missing the litterbox trick. And she teases Percy incessantly. Usually he's the one to pick on her but lately if she is feeling ignored she will roll on the floor enticingly and run after him, pawing at his tail and trying to get him to chase her. Then he does and she trips over nothing, rolls across the floor, and lands on her back, waving her paws in Percy's face. Percy had enough the other night and trounced her pretty good. She responded by hiding under the desk. When he gave up and wandered off to amuse himself with catnip, she darted out and followed him. Another time Percy chased her across the living room and she tried to jump on the desk. She missed and fell back, landing with an ungraceful thud on the carpet. She immediately began to wash.

So did Percy.

She uses the same trick on the dog. If Tess has the audacity to walk by her, Willow shrieks and throws a fit, waving her little claws at Tess all threateningly. Tess just looks at her sideways and moves away, ears back, with a look of confusion. As she walks away Willow will sniff her hindquarters and swipe at her tail.  Oh, the drama.

Tonight I thought maybe the gang had settled down a bit. I was in my bedroom, reading, and gathered around the bed from the side to the foot were all four animals, coexisting peacefully. Tess lay protectively by the side of the bed. Percy stared out the backdoor. Willow was under the corner of the bed and Puckett was curled up between Tess' front paws.

It only took Percy to decide that everyone was being way too good. He attacked Willow who streaked from the room. Tess got up, seemingly annoyed with Puckett's overbearing attention, and left the room as well. A moment later Puckett ran after her. I heard a crash as Willow jumped into her cage and Percy tried to follow. I gave up and got up as well. Percy abandoned Willow and enticed the dog into wrestling with him. Puckett ran to her food bowl and demanded dinner. I started vacuuming and Tess galloped through the house in excitement.  Percy jumped up on the railing and slipped into his tightrope walking routine before he tried to attack Puckett. Chaos ensued.

Well, spring's off to a great start. How long until summer?