10 Ways to Be a Better Cat Parent

January 10, 2008

10. Get your kitty a scratch board. Most of them come with catnip. It helps meet their need to scratch (helps your furniture, too) and they love it. Our kitties use them sort of like comfort blankets – when they are stressed or upset, they run to the scratch board, do some scratching, and then lay on it. (By the way, if you have considered declawing your cat (and thus he or she would have no need of a scratch board), this would rank very high on the list of ways to be NOT a better cat parent. You can read more here.)

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9. Take at least 10 (if not more!) minutes a day to give your little cuddle bunny your undivided attention. I find that mindless petting is appreciated, but not sufficient. Just take some time to say “You are my focus.” Rubbing, gentle combing (if they like that), playing, mixed with sweet talk (“Yes you are the queen of the household!” or “Who is the smartest cat ever?”) goes a long way and is greatly appreciated.

8. Don’t let your cat outside. It may seem like they love the outdoors and would feel restricted inside, but explain to them that cats that go outdoors have a significantly shorter lifespan than indoor cats – surely they would prefer to live longer. They may meow at the door for a while, but they’ll get used to it and appreciate that they are not hit on the street, mauled by a possum or raccoon, the object of a prank by local kids, or whisked away by a coyote. I grew up with cats I LOVED that were outdoor and if you would like to hear one of my many horror stories about the way our outdoor cats met their ends as an inspiration to keep your kitty inside, let me know.

7. New toys. The old ones get boring. I highly recommend feather sticks* and things that sparkle.

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6. If it is important to you that your kitty live as long as possible, consider feeding him or her good food. It is more expensive, but so much better than regular brand name foods that you get at the grocery store (unless you shop someplace like Whole Foods). Brands our holistic vet suggests are Pet Promise, Pet Guard, Wellness and Inova, and our cats like them all (more or less). If you buy mail order, bulk orders from places like www.petfooddirect.com can help save money. Watch out for the 22% off coupons sent to people on their email list ever few weeks and order only when you have one of those. Some people go as far as feeding their feline friends raw, fresh food, including thawed frozen mice, but this is a bit too much for us. (Note: Some people argue that cats can be healthy vegetarians. We are not convinced and not willing to risk our kitties’ health to test this out.)

5. Consider what vaccines are essential for your kitty, depending on whether or not he/she is indoor only, and is exposed to other cats. Over-vaccination has become a problem and appears to reduce lifespan and sometimes cause tumors. Ask your vet to check for antibody titers before vaccination boosters. You may not need to vaccinate as often as you think or with as many vaccinations as you think.

4. An occasional can of tuna goes a long way. Just don’t let the little monsters get too spoiled or else they won’t eat their other food.

3. Most cats like having a friend, especially if they spend a lot of time home alone. Introducing a new kitty can be tricky, but worth it. Read up on it before you do the big introduction. And, of course, always adopt from a shelter or from someone who is giving up his or her kitty – never from a breeder or pet store.

2. Keep that litter box super-clean. Cats have sensitive noses and no one likes to use the restroom while having to navigate around old poop!

1. Learn about cats. They have feelings, instincts, and ways of being that are way different than humans. Understanding them better will help you be a better cat parent.

Brought to you by Henry, the happiest cat in Washington D.C.:

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*Re: the feather sticks – I am not sure of where the feathers on these toys come from. I am guessing that birds are not raised and killed for these feathers, but I am guessing they are actually from birds. Which can’t be good. Bonus for someone who can find a feather stick with either synthetic feathers or from lovingly raised and unharmed birds. Which brings up the issue of mouse toys with real mouse fur. We have gotten these second hand from friends with kitties and the cats do like them a lot. But we don’t buy them. While I don’t love the idea of real mice fur on toys, this is not the hill I will die on. Do as your heart leads you.


On Dying Well

July 22, 2007

We have been in Germany, where my partner is originally from, for two weeks. The closest friend of their family is 87 and in the last days or weeks of his life. It was very frustrating on several levels, not the least of which is my inability to understand or speak German to him. So I just had to sit there and smile and say hello and good bye and see if I could figure out what was being said by picking up a few words. Before I started ministerial training and went through the death of an aunt and two grandparents, I had what I think could reasonably be described as a death phobia. It started when I was in elementary school and went on for a very long time, really up until the past few years. I was very overly preoccupied with people I love dying, very nervous when they left to go to the store or on a trip, or really anywhere that something would happen to them. I thought about death a lot – my own or my loved ones – and generally couldn’t talk about it or think much about it without getting quite distraught. This was not a normal “gosh I don’t want my loved ones to die.” It was really a huge problem.

Taking a classes at divinity school and being a student intern minister, as well as needing to be strong through the deaths of my family members, helped me get over this. It just sort of faded away. Thank goodness.

All of this is to reflect on the challenges of dying well, both in the U.S. and in Germany. Something I could not have even began to think about until recently. My family members all had hospice care, which somehow I imagined to be widespread in Germany which it is not. My grandma died with friends and family around her, people coming and going either to simply be present to her, or to bring food, or to share memories – to laugh, eat, and cry. This is how people should die. In their homes, with their loved ones, with skilled nurses and hospice workers asking the right questions, preparing people for what is to come, reassuring, and listening.

Frederic is dying in Germany alone in a room in a home for old people or people with disabilities. No one has spoken to the family, nor to my mother-in-law (who is his best friend) about what to expect, how to best be with him, nor have they spoken to him in a respectful or loving way. He is a patient. He said they are rough with him when they bathe him. We were there to say goodbye before our flight, and although he is confused and can’t talk much, he said, (in German), “Gipsy, I want out.” Gipsy is my mother-in-law. He wants out.

He is an old person that they are waiting to die, washing only because it is their job, not cleaning him up in his bed soon enough so that when we came in he was laying there half naked in his own waste, distraught and confused. And alone. Dying alone is horrible.

It was interesting to see my minister-mode turn on so quickly and so naturally, and it was reassuring to me about my calling. What were his wishes? Perhaps he wanted to talk about his life? Did he have a living will? Perhaps you should offer to put the bed up a little more? I left when I saw him half-naked, knowing of course that he might prefer privacy from a visitor. Perhaps we should only enter the room one at a time – three of us seem to overwhelm him… all these little things I did and thought that seem so basic, but seemed also desperately needed in a situation where everyone was sad and upset and confused.

It was painfully frustrating to not be able to do more. To know that he lay alone in his room because it was simply not the thing to do to be there. His family was not there even every day. He was in the care of underpaid staff.

This is not to criticize anyone involved really, because it seems like this is just how it is done, but to wish for a different system. And to look forward to being able to contribute more through my ministry to the idea of dying well. Both through example, but perhaps eventually, through training others.

As my partner and I think about the possibility of a baby in the coming years, and what it takes to make a good birth and bring a life into the world with minimal medical intervention and trusting the wisdom of the body and our love for ourselves and the new life, and it seems equally important for us to remember what a good death means. How we can slip from this world to the next with as little pain as possible, and as much love and comfort as possible. Because we do not like to talk about death, and because we don’t like to think of it, it seems that it can too often be put in a small room in a big institution, and we try to leave it either to staff who can change adult diapers, or to doctors and machines who try to “save us” from what we cannot be saved from – old age and the slowing down of bodies that just happens.

We are in the process of getting life insurance, and our finances more in order, along with arranging our own wills and living wills. It seems important for us all to do this to save our families from the challenges that Frederic’s family has faced in deciding how to proceed and what to do as he faced his last moments on this earth. Let us all do this to save our families the anguish it can sometimes present and help making answering hard questions easier at the end of life, as well as to think about what a good death would mean to us.

I have also faced the challenge of comforting my partner through all of this. I am a firm believer in some sort of world/life after this on here on earth, and he is not. Wow, does that make it hard to comfort someone facing death. Often “They have had a good life” can be a good approach if that is in fact the case – however, when the dying person has not had a good life – and there is nothing more to look forward to, that appears to be even more of a bind. But perhaps that is for another post.

In peace and prayers for Frederic as he leaves this earth,

Elizabeth


Grandma Update

May 4, 2006

A big thank you to those who emailed me or posted comments about my Grandma. Her funeral is on Monday — she passed away peacefully on Wednesday with family around. In a very Kentucky sort of twist of events, the funeral was supposed to be on Saturday but it had to be changed to Monday because it interfered with the church tractor pull. At least some people in this world have priorities straight :) Of course, she would completely understand. I found it amusing.

One big disappointment is that I won’t be able to go to New York City with our church youth group. I went to New York City on a “Summer in New York” trip in 1996 (ten years ago!) with my youth group and have been back many times with various groups to learn and teach about all the things in New York City that one does not learn about in rural Ohio. Urban poverty. Different cultures. Coffee shops (I had my first cappuccino in New York at the Used Book Store Housing Works Cafe which is still in operation). Homelessness. Ultra-rich people. And all sorts of other things. I lived at the Bowery Mission. The youth group will also be visiting the Bowery and seeing a service like no UU service they have ever seen. If you want the free meal in the evening at the Bowery you are required to go to the service. Sort of like food for oil a la Iraq only it is food for God. There is a big push to get people saved as soon as possible. There are a few amen-chanters near the front and many of the others sleep through the service. I can’t wait to hear what the youth think of it. Or Tricia (our minister) for that matter.

Wish I was going. But New York will always be there.


Times of Crisis, Need of Comfort

May 3, 2006


I got off the phone with my mom about a half-hour ago and she told me that hospice says that my grandma will probably only live another few hours or maybe a day. What surprises me a little is how I run back to those religious places in my life that are most comforting even if I’m not even sure I believe them. I want to kneel down and pray. I want to talk to God, not the UU God that I know, that presence that is within us and among us, but my old God that was this big guy with loving arms living up in the clouds. In times of crisis and sadness and just struggle, there is something about going back to that non-intellectual place we were when we were younger. That love of familiarity and that non-complex deity that was just perfect and loving and comforting. I guess the great thing is that the divine can be both of those things. God/dess doesn’t always have to be complex or heady or in need of ten different adjectives (the great mystery, the spirit of life, interbeing…) but the divine is all of those things and more. For me, at least, both simple and complex. Both personal and diffuse. The great thing, theologically, for me about UUism is that we acknowledge that different paths work for different people and that we are all just sort of fumbling toward making sense out of something that is truly beyond words. Beyond our words. It is nice not to have the responsibility or the pressure to systematically develop a theology where it all fits together, that really gets to it all, but to say “This divine, this non-divine, this something, is so great, so loving, so complex, that we simply cannot get all of it at once into language.”

So, Grandma, mother of 12, grandmother to 26, wife to Arnold, devout Catholic, peace, and love, and gratitude to you as you go to that which is beyond our words.


Dying

April 30, 2006

My grandma is dying very quickly. She was diagnosed with lung cancer about two month ago or so, and we soon found out that it spread to her bones. I have planned to go see her two times, but both times ended up canceling because I wasn’t feeling well or it seemed so hectic to try to go down to see her and weave around the throngs of family there and try to talk to her while she was feeling bad and…. well, it just seemed to make sense to wait and she was doing quite well until just recently. And she is not doing well now. She can barely walk or go to the bathroom herself. She knows she is dying. She is 81 and has nine children and 32 grand children and feels that she has lived a good life. That said, I don’t think it makes it any easier for the family to watch her increased confusion, decreased ability to do adult things, her increasing pain, that fear that she has even as a Catholic that she can’t be sure what comes next. I can’t help but be angry that my mom has to take care of her again – my mom did so much taking care of my grandma and her brothers and sisters when my mom was a child and my grandma was sick then too. And of course it doesn’t feel good to be a little angry at someone who is dying, but of course I’m sure it is normal. What it really comes down to is that when people die, it just sucks. The process typically isn’t pleasant. The feelings it brings up aren’t pleasant. I know, I know. Not very ministerial, ehh? I mean, this a time to celebrate life, pass peacefully into a new place, and so on. But it just isn’t that easy, at least not for me. It sucked when my Aunt Carol died of lung cancer two years ago, it sucked when my Mammaw suffered for five years before she finally died, it sucked that a possum ate my sweet little kittens Wilbur and Lilly when I was 10, when Luke (another cat) got hit on the road, or getting that call in the middle of the night that my cousin committed suicide. I know I’ll need to develop a better spiel on this before I do my CPE with hospice (planned Summer 07), but sometimes I think people try to flower up death and make it a beautiful process and celebration of life and there really isn’t anything nice about not being able to go to the bathroom yourself or your bones being painfully eaten away by cancer. And ministers need to find a way to acknowledge the messy, horrible parts of death and not just make it some sort of divinity-school-land fluffy thing about beauty and hope and transition and cycles. It is horrible, in many ways. And I hate it that my grandma has to go through it and that my mom has to suffer too.

A short p.s. I am listening to Third Day which is a Christian band I listened to in high school and there is something comforting about it. Even though the way they sing about God is not quite how I would frame it, it is great to hear the passion and joyful aching about God’s love. And it reminds me that I really do relate to God language and it makes me more irritated about that speaker yesterday (see previous post) making fun of people who believe in God or talk about God in a certain way. In times of death and dying and deep deep darkness that doesn’t seem like it will ever go away, God whoever whatever he or she is has been a great person to be with me. And, even as I make fun of Revolve magazine (see two posts ago) I also need to remember that that type of spirituality, no matter how sexist and annoying I find it, can bring great joy and comfort to girls who ache. I just hope that in my life I can carve out a space for a God that is there for you when you ache, and even maybe a Jesus who is there for you when you ache, without all the other baggage about how nonChristians will go to hell and men need to be in charge.

Enough for today. As I wrap up Gracie (my kitty) has come up and licked my nose. Animals are so good at caring for us. That’s all for now. E


Preparing for A Service of Healing

April 16, 2006

So on April 23rd I’ll lead “A Service of Healing” at FUUSM. For some reason, this has excited me more than I thought it would. Maybe excited isn’t the right word — perhaps it has perked up my ministerial aspirations? It has just led me to really put my heart and soul into it. I just feel like there is such a need for healing — for making ourselves whole. I almost wrote “whole again,” but I’m not sure we are whole to begin with. Nothing to do with original sin or anything like that, rather, I don’t think we are born into a world where we can ever be truly whole – we are always already in a world of brokenness, pain, and suffering and it is only our journey of life where we can seek wholeness and healing together in community. It is a journey of wholeness, not a destination. In preparing for this service, I am reminded of those that would criticize UUs for not engaging congregants’ emotions (enough) in worship services or in church life in general. While I think that this can be overdone in any context, and I have seen it wwwaaay overdone in Christian contexts, I agree that perhaps UUs have over-intellectualized and over-emphasized political action at the expense of engaging people’s need for affective spirituality. Of course, I’ve also complained of UUs as being too focused on their own spiritual paths and being all about “feeling better” or “feeling good” rather than making the difficult decisions that need to be made in order to bring about the just world that we envision. So I guess, like all religions, we are always working on this balance. I certainly include myself in this.

UU minster Rev. Dr. Thandeka writes a lot about this, as does Michael Durall in The Almost Church (you can get this here at the UUA bookstore), although I’m not sure I’m sold on either of their positions 100%. Certainly, I have learned a lot from reading both of them and hearing Thandeka speak. She is a visiting lecturer at HDS this semester. She recommends Rick Warren’s very popular book The Purpose-Driven Church in terms of thinking about the way that Unitarian Universalism can better address the needs of more people. She argues that a key reason why Unitarian Universalism lags in numbers and influence and why evangelical and/or fundamentalist churches are bursting at the seams is because they have managed to address the affective needs of people whereas UUs ask people to join committees before we ask them what they need for their own lives and own healing. Thus, I’m thinking about how to invite our congregation and, more broadly, lots of other people who are not in our congregations, into a space of healing while also not turning UUism into a self-centered feel-good fest that is all about making “me” feel better.

One final depressing note is that I heard on NPR that there are over 150,000 people on the East Coast who are members of curling teams. You can read about the sport here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curling. Apparently the winter Olympics helped curling to pick up popularity and it is booming. I’m sorry, but please tell me that Unitarian Universalism can beat curling in terms of appeal and numbers. And I know curling teams do not have healing services. Could it be because the “rules” are more defined? Something to think about as I’m off to bed. Easter is in the morning!