Cat Chat

  • Throwback Thursday: My First Cat 


    Here, my friends, is the evidence that I haven’t change at all in 30-plus years: Even back in 1981, I was reading and hanging out with cats. 

    My first cat was a dignified black-and-white fellow named Bill. He wasn’t named after the Bloom County comic-strip character Bill the Cat; he just seemed like a Bill. 

    First cats are special. They often come into our lives when we are teens or twentysomethings, times when we really need a pet’s nonjudgmental love. For me, Bill was around through middle school, high school and college. He deserved a medal. 

    First cats put up with us even when we don't know enough about them. Calvin, my current cat, benefits from all the Pam Johnson Bennett I’ve read and “My Cat From Hell” I’ve watched. Bill did not have such a highly trained human companion. 

    All the behaviors of first cats seem special. At 11, I didn’t know that most cats “make biscuits” on fuzzy surfaces. I thought it was just an adorable quirk of Bill’s. 

    And we fall so in love with our first cats that we open our heart to more. Bill was gracious enough to share my family with a couple of other cats over the years, all without a hiss. And my fondness for him led me to adopt cats as an adult. 

    Tell us about your first cat and share your photos in the comments section.

  • Why We Should Fix If We Feed

    When we moved into our current house it came with a feral colony of about 30 cats. A lot of them were kittens. I noticed they were thin, and didn’t look to be in the best of health. I started feeding them. I had no idea what to do next, so I began researching what my options were here in Austin TX. I am pretty lucky. Our city is leading the way in the NO Kill Shelter movement. Our Humane Society is just that--HUMANE. They are no kill, and have a great TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) program. They loan traps and neuter for free. Over the year I fixed all the adults! I also trapped and neutered numerous kittens, many of whom we took into our home, where they are now spoiled rotten. The “return” part was something I just could not apply to cats young enough to be socialized. They have brought us untold joy and companionship.



    Even if your city does not have this sort of program I want to urge you, if you feed feral cats, to please have them fixed! The only way to end the suffering of countless precious lives is to step up and take care of them. The streets are teeming with cats living in peril of death, disease, and injury. Do not turn a blind eye to the situation, and don’t think that you are really helping if you feed, yet leave them to breed. Our outdoor buddies are now healthy, pampered, and safer than before. If you can only do one cat at a time, that is a great place to start!



    My colony is now down to 13 cats and is stable. Some found food elsewhere and never returned. It wasn’t always easy and my pocket book has taken a beating. I also vaccinated and had them checked by the vet. But every bit has been worth it. My colony is now fat and happy and there are no more kittens that suffer needlessly on my street.



    Urge your local shelters to support TNR programs and become No Kill! This can take some effort and can meet with some resistance. But with patience with your local government and some community outreach you can get it done!

  • Keep Your Cat Videos Kind




    I watch a lot of cat videos, and, for the most part, they are awesome. Cat videos are somewhere between true love and dark chocolate on my list of favorite things. 

    But I do see a few things that bother me out there in the wilds of the Internet. Sometimes videos present cats in circumstances that are possibly dangerous and definitely a bad idea. Here are the things I never want to see in a cat video: 

    • Cats fighting with what’s clearly more than play aggression.

    • Small children being allowed to pet or play with cats in ways that are uncomfortable for the cat and might get the child scratched or bitten.

    • A human startling or scaring a cat to get a funny reaction.

Your video is never going to go viral if it makes cat lovers like me uncomfortable. And, much more importantly, you’re setting yourself up for behavior problems from the cat. Luckily, there are so many more things we can film our cats doing: sleeping in funny positions, high-jumping after a toy, getting pulled around the living room in a cardboard box (hmmm … maybe this just happens at my house). Let’s keep it kind and classy in our cat videos. Happy shooting!

    Photo credit: Buzzfeed

  • We're Just Giant Cats



    Aha! Just as I suspected: My cat thinks of me as a “slightly big, dumb non-hostile cat.” That’s according to John Bradshaw’s new book “Cat Sense.” In the book, Bradshaw shares some of his findings after studying our feline friends for 30 years, including that they don’t seem to realize we’re a whole different species.

With this verification that our cat does indeed think my husband and I are just another couple of resident felines, I started wondering how he thinks we’re doing as cats. 

    He must be worried that we are terrible hunters. After all, he has never seen us pounce or bat toy mice down the hall. 

    Another sad thing: We are absolutely no good at naps. When we wake up from a midday doze, he gives us a look and then settles back in for another three hours of sleep. 

    On the other hand, maybe we are not total cat failures because we do know the secret of making water come out of the faucets. Sometimes he gazes intently at the faucet, as if he’s thinking, “If they can figure it out, then I can definitely can.” 

    And we like to stretch on yoga mats just like he does. Of course, though, he’s better at it. I know he’s not really trying to show up our downward dogs (who named that pose anyway?) — he just wants to show us the right way to do it. 

    We’re lucky, really, to have such an excellent cat teacher around us. Even if we are big and dumb, he never gives up.

    Photo credit: Infrogmation via

  • Cats In Your Garden

    I just happen to be the “crazy cat lady” on my block and an avid gardener. Some of my neighbors have expressed some concern over the cats in my colony and the indoor/outdoor cats belonging to other neighbor’s going into their gardens to do their business and generally just dig around and “mess” things up. A lot of people are concerned whether the waste left behind is harmful if you grow food in your garden. I want to clear this up once and for all!



    It may not be my favorite thing when the cats dig in my garden bed. They have been known to dig up seeds and young sprouts before they ever have a chance to grow. Even though I don’t love it, it is harmless! Contrary to the many articles online espousing the dangers of cat manure in the garden it is actually good for the soil. As gardeners, we have no qualms about depositing rabbit, cow, chicken and horse manure into our precious garden soil and we know that it can be very beneficial once it breaks down. In fact we need it to enhance the quality of the soil. Cats are not the only animal that can carry parasites and diseases but we don’t seem to worry too much about these other types of feces in the garden.



    Some common sense is required when using manure in the garden or when coming across cat feces. Wearing gloves and or washing hands when gardening is usually a good idea. Toxoplasmosis is a concern if we touch our mouth while in the garden without washing our hands first. But really, how often do you do that? Round worms and hookworms can come from animal feces and this is why I choose to wear gloves. If you go barefoot outside at all then you are also at risk for parasites.

    Most people are worried about the food harvest. Once you pick your beautiful produce all you need to do is give it a good wash before you eat it. Homegrown produce. if grown organically. will be very clean compared to the store-bought varieties, even if you have cats in your garden. So don’t worry anymore about your own or the neighbor’s cats in your garden. If you have strays, please TNR (trap,neuter, release) them so you don’t end up with more strays and ferals in your area. Remember, if you feed, then you need to fix!



Sweet Cat Reunions






    When you’re away for a while, how does your cat welcome you home? 

    After our holiday travels, I noticed again that while our cat, Calvin, is always happy to see us return, but he has a little bit of trouble readjusting to having us around. After a hello meow and a luggage sniff, he seems to want to get in all of his favorite activities immediately, lest we try to leave him again: Let’s play with my fishing pole! Let’s drink out of the faucet! Give me a ride on your shoulder! His energy stays off-kilter for a couple of days after we return, which makes me suspect that he sleeps through our absences so that he’s extra revved up when we get home. 

    Our previous cat, Sally, had a different strategy. Sally was from Georgia and had a bit of the coolly calculating Southern belle about her. After a nonchalant greeting — kind of a smooth “Oh, hello” as if she hadn’t noticed we were gone — she would proceed to snub us for a while. I imagined her sighing. “You see, I have bravely learned to live ON MY OWN.” A few hours later, she would amble back in and plop down on my husband’s lap, as if saying, “Well, I guess we could snuggle, since you seem to have missed me.”

I know there are cats with other welcome-home styles, too, from “I have so much to tell you!” to “I can’t stand it when you’re gone even for a day!” Enjoy these videos, and let your cats know you won’t be going anywhere else for a while. 

    Sweet “welcome home” meows. 

    The “Yay! Mom’s home!” daily routine. 

    So happy that Dad’s home from deployment.

    Photo credit: YouTube user llrnr 

How to Deal with Misdirected Aggression





    Misdirected aggression is one of the scariest, most confusing things that can happen to us as cat companions. Suddenly, our beloved cat lashes out us as if she doesn’t know us, and for no reason that we can understand.

I made it through a severe episode of cat aggression with my now-departed cat Sally more than a decade ago, and I wanted to share with you what I learned. 

    Our problems started when something outside my apartment (I’m assuming it was another cat) frightened little Sally terribly. When cats can’t take action against whatever is scaring them, they may unleash all that panicky energy on their unsuspecting human or animal friends. Our scenario — an outside cat scaring an inside cat — is a pretty typical one for misdirected aggression.

An episode like this can pass quickly, but it can have longer-term effects on your cat’s behavior. Unfortunately, that’s what happened with Sally. She just couldn’t shed her fear. She became withdrawn and would sometimes attack me. I consulted my vet at the time, who offered no help beyond a valium prescription. That was so disappointing, especially because there was so much I could do besides medicating Sally to help the situation.

    As I learned more about misdirected aggression, I started using these strategies. If your own cat has one of these episodes, knowing what to do can help you resolve the problem more quickly.

    • Don’t try to soothe a cat who’s in the throes of misdirected aggression, and don’t try to punish her. Either tactic just feeds her already amped-up energy.

    • Instead, try to stay as calm as you can and convey to the cat that everything is OK. She is taking her cues from you. Remove yourself from the scene until she calms down.

    • Try to figure out what brought on her misdirected aggression and remove or minimize the stimulus. Since Sally had been startled by something she saw outside, I used poster board to block off the lower part of my windows to obscure her view.

    • When things have calmed down, do some activities like hunting games. Make sure she catches the “prey.” She should already have a perch like a cat tree, but if she doesn't, it's time to get one. Feeling confident as a hunter and having a high vantage point to escape to helps cats be less fearful if an aggressor shows up outside. 

    For more information on misdirected aggression, I highly recommend books by feline behavior expert Pam Johnson-Bennett. 

    Above all, if you're dealing with misdirected aggression, know that there is hope. Over a few months, Sally got back to normal. She lived six more years after her terrible episode with misdirected aggression and never showed another sign. When other cats showed up in our yard occasionally, she would arch her back and hiss at them — and them strut through the house victoriously when they left. I'm so happy that she spent those years living with so much more calm and confidence.

    Photo credit: Hannibal Poenaru via

  • 5 Tips for Party-Animal Cats 





    Last week, I wrote about some tips that helped me and my husband happily share our home with our very introverted cat, Sally. 

    In 2010, we were heartbroken when Sally passed away at age 16. The cat who came into our life next could not have been more different. While Sally had been a tiny, skittish kitten who didn’t have enough time with her mom or siblings, Calvin was a big, confident guy who hailed from a cheerful foster home filled with human and feline family. 

    He was exactly the kind of socially well-adjusted cat we had set out to adopt. But at first, we didn’t know what to make of him.

We were used to an older cat who, like us, loved her peace and quiet. We were now human companions to a young, energetic cat who wanted to be with us EVERY SECOND and who meowed more in his first 48 hours with us than some cats do in a lifetime. What a surprise to learn that an extrovert cat came with his own challenges, especially for two human introverts. 

    Here are five tips that helped us live happily with an outgoing, (mostly) fearless cat. 

    • Remember, the cat isn’t trying to annoy you. Sometimes Calvin can seem like that co-worker who just won’t be quiet (especially since my husband I both mostly work at home). We remind ourselves that he’s not following the human rulebook. All he knows is that he’s full of energy he needs to burn off NOW.

    • Speaking of that limitless energy, regular play is non-negotiable. If you know that you’ll need some calm time later — say, for an important phone call or to watch your favorite show — plan some pre-emptive activity with your cat ahead of time.

    • Come up with new stimuli. We were used to minimizing potentially scary situations for Sally. It took a while to realize that a crisis for Sally (like a home repair project) was the coolest thing EVER to Calvin. Having him around is a great reminder to take on new projects.

    • On the other hand, don't forget that even the bravest cat can get scared. I never would have turned on the blow dryer with Sally sitting on the bathroom counter, but I didn’t think twice about it one day when Calvin was hanging out with me while I got ready. As soon as I turned the dryer on, he sprang several feet into the air. He avoided the bathroom for a day or so, but, resilient guy that he is, he soon ventured back in. On the other hand, I still feel guilty about the whole thing.

    • Have fun! Admittedly, sometimes our life-of-the-party cat wears us out. But mostly, he’s an absolute blast. He’s thrilled when we “talk” with him, and, truthfully all those times he get us off the couch when we’re vegging out are for are own good.

What are your best tips for living with an extrovert cat?

  • 5 Tips for Introvert Cats





    Just as you’d never tell an introverted human “Just be more outgoing!” (and you’d never do that, right?), getting along with an introverted cat means accepting and appreciating who she is. For 16 years, I shared my life with a beautiful and very introverted cat named Sally. She was smart and often affectionate, but also easily startled and suspicious of others. Over the years, though, she mellowed out a lot. From experienced, I learned five key things about living with a kitty introvert.

    • A cat tree is essential for all kitties, but especially those who need a confidence boost. Knowing that she has a place to be “above it all” will ease her nerves.

    • Play is another great way to build confidence. A more retiring cat might not give off the rambunctious, "let's play!" energy of an extrovert cat. But even if you have to coax her, an activity like chasing a fishing pole toy helps her feel more relaxed in her environment.

    • Give her a place to hide. When visitors were coming, we made sure our bedroom doors were open so that Sally could retreat and then join the gathering when (or if) she was ready. This is particularly important when your visitors include small children who won’t understand your cat’s reticence.

    • I’m convinced that a cluttered, chaotic environment makes both cats and humans anxious. Maybe I was projecting my own preference for order, but I think Sally always seemed more serene when there wasn’t laundry on the floor or magazines taking over the coffee table.

    • Remember that your relationship will develop on the cat’s timetable and not your own. My husband is a calm person who had great instincts for dealing with a skittish cat. He never forced attention on her or tried to pick her up. She advanced from hiding when he was around to being peacefully in the same room without interacting. Then, three years into their relationship, she decided to jump on his lap one day. After that, his lap was her favorite spot, and they enjoyed a close friendship for the rest of her life. That’s the two of them in the photo: Would you ever suspect either of those two was an introvert?


What are your best tips for helping introvert cats thrive? Let us know in the Comments section.

  • Do You Christmas Shop For Your Cat?

    Do you give Christmas presents to your cat? 

    This may be a dangerous thing to admit on a kitty-centric website, but I don’t. It’s not because he’s been naughty — he has his moments, but he trends toward nice. And please don’t think he’s deprived. 

    Calvin definitely gets his fair share of goodies from us throughout the year. And he has friends and relatives who like to play Santa. Those gifts tell me that the givers are honoring his importance in our lives. 

    That’s why I do give gifts to friends’ pets. Calvin is such an easygoing guy that I don’t think he would be jealous to learn that. 

    Come to think of it, he may actually be coming out ahead on gifts. Technically, this table was a gift for my husband, but Calvin immediately decided it was his. 


    He also seems to have taken ownership of this space heater my husband gave me. 



    And that’s not to mention all the boxes, gift bags and wrapping paper he gets to play with. 


    Do you shop for your own cats? How about other cats of your acquaintance? Let us know in the comments section.