Sandy’s 10th Anniversary

Grab a drink and a snack for this one, it’s long. But my boy has been a part of my life for 10 years now, and he deserves a proper story. What follows is a recounting of some of the major events of my life as a cat mom, including some of the unique things my little boy has done.

Fair warning, I’ve included a few sad bits, so you may want a tissue or two. I tried to title everything in such a way that you can tell if the section will be fun or sad.

The Meeting

Ten years and two days ago, I went to the Animal Welfare League of Arlington to look at cats. The plan was to window shop, see what kinds of cats and what ages were available. I’d never had a cat before, but I’d always wanted a marmalade — orange and white — tabby.

Once at the shelter, right near the front of the cat room, I found a beautiful marmalade tabby, seemingly pulled right out of my dreams. I eagerly asked to take it to the meeting room but the shelter worker warned me that several people had played with the cat already that day. It had only arrived at the shelter a couple of days before and hadn’t settled in yet. The poor thing cowered in its cage and hissed at the shelter worker when she tried to coax it out. She didn’t push it, instead advising me to try again early the next day before the cat had been in and out of its cage several times.

Slightly disappointed, I walked around the room looking at the various cats. There were calicos, tabbies, young cats, old cats, and everything in between. As I walked down the last row, my eyes were on the top row of cats, but my attention was still on the cat I couldn’t interact with.

Suddenly, I felt a pull on my shirt and looked down at an adorable little “Puss in Boots” face. The perfect picture of interest and innocence. A little paw was reaching through the bars, hooked on the hem of my shirt. I’d been chosen. I carefully released the claws from my shirt and gave the cat, Sandy, a little scratch on the head. 

“I’ll be right back,” I said, and went to find the shelter worker. I asked to play with Sandy, who was very happy to be out of the cage and proved to be playful and eager for attention. I even got a head bonk and some purrs. Naturally, when playtime ended, I asked about adopting the little sweetheart.

I was lucky, there were no other applications. I filled one out and went right in for the interview.

“Sandy’s such a sweetheart! And so playful. She and I will get along really well!” I gushed.

“Actually, Sandy’s a boy. Is that going to be a problem?”

I’ll admit, that surprised me. I’d assumed, based on the name, that he was a girl, but, “no, he’s still a sweetheart.”

The interviewer gave me a brief overview of what they knew about Sandy. It wasn’t much. A woman had adopted the poor boy about 2 months earlier, presumably from a different facility, given the lack of earlier information, then returned him to shelter life about 3 weeks before me finding him. His previous human’s new boyfriend didn’t like Sandy. I’m pretty certain, however, that it was more than “dislike”, but more on that later.

Taking Him Home

He wasn’t exactly thrilled to be in a carrier.

I must have done well in the interview because she told me I could pick him up in 2 days. And precisely 10 years ago, I did. He was such a wonderful addition to my life. He proved himself to be very smart. It only took him a week to learn he could hook his collar — breakaway, of course — on any kind of protrusion to pull it off. He wore down two in a row to where they wouldn’t stay clasped anymore before I gave up and let him go “naked”.

Of course, his intelligence could be used for evil. He soon learned that “down” means “go lower”. He hopped up on the bathroom counter one day while I was in the shower. I sternly admonished him, “down”. His response? He slipped into the sink and hunkered down, staring at me as though daring me to say anything. I switched to “off” after that. 

Even a screwdriver could be a toy.

He was — still is — incredibly playful. Like most cats, anything could be a toy, from a fuzz drifting in the air, to one of his jingle bell balls, to my hair. But he was too curious for his own good. He trapped himself behind a large armoire, and even on top of a door in his escapades. He once ended up closed in the closet all day after following me inside without me realizing it. When I got home and found him, he raced to the litter box, then the water, then the food. Poor little guy. Thankfully, that only happened once, but he does still get himself trapped in rooms for short periods because he’s followed someone inside.

Cords and strings were only available when someone was nearby.

His playfulness made me nervous. A couple of times, he raced around with such enthusiasm, I saw some of the furniture rocking. I wasn’t worried about my stuff, but I did worry that I’d come home to cat pancake one day, so I started keeping him in my room while I was gone and at night. I made sure to cat-proof my room, pretty much the same as baby proofing. More on this a bit later.

A Sad Discovery

By far the saddest thing I discovered about Sandy in his first few weeks home is that his previous owner mistreated him. Anything that moved quickly over his head terrified him. Now, I realize that with some things it could be a prey response, but reaching my hand out to pet his head scared him, and even small toys flying over him. He’d freeze and his eyes would dilate completely, then he’d take off. 

Hangers also terrified him. I can’t think of any reason for him to be scared of them unless they were used against him. And looking back with 10 years of cat ownership, I think his tail had been harmed. Stepped on, maybe. He still has an odd twitchiness about it, but he’s fully healed. It doesn’t hurt him anymore.

Time for a Friend

Sandy likes attention from his humans. After just a few weeks of having him, he’d be waiting for me when I got home, eager to head bonk me and pat my cheek as though attempting to pet me back. He wouldn’t leave my side until bedtime. He wanted all of my attention, all the time. This insane neediness convinced me that it would be a good idea to get him a companion. Perhaps a friend during the day would cut down on the loneliness and need for so much human attention.

I couldn’t even play video games without him bugging me.

I took Sandy on a “playdate” with a cat my coworker was looking to rehome, but it did not go well. While Sandy tried interacting nicely with the cat, she growled, hissed, and smacked at him. I didn’t want to deal with an antagonistic household, so I didn’t adopt her.

A few weeks later, a friend informed me that her coworker was transferring overseas and he was looking to rehome his pets, including his cat. Once again, we had a playdate, and this time, by the end of the hour, they were playing next to each other — pretty impressive for cats. 

I adopted Koya, and Sandy had a new sister and playmate. He was thrilled, she was accepting. More than once, I came home to find a nick on Sandy’s forehead or nose where Koya had taught him a lesson about insisting on playing when she wanted to sleep. They never became best friends — Koya looked rather disgusted when Sandy tried to groom her — but we had an amicable household.

A game of tag is soon to start.

They played together a lot in the first few years — before Koya mellowed out and became rather lazy. Both seemed to enjoy playing a fascinating game of tag. They had clearly defined rules and “safe” places where they couldn’t get tagged. Koya’s was one of my sofas, Sandy’s was my dining room table. If one of them invaded the other’s “safe” place, they’d hiss and lightly smack at the invader. But usually, when one reached “safe” there’d be a pause until the “safe” was vacated, much like children’s tag.

A Room of Their Own

For a while, Sandy and Koya stayed in my room at night and during the day when I was at work. But at night, Sandy would race across my pillow or stomach multiple times, waking me up. So I decided it was time to get a bigger place with a room for the cats.

I moved upstairs into an apartment with a den that could house the cats at night. They enjoyed having their own space, and I got to sleep. I’m sure many people will have thoughts on this — my friends certainly did over the years — but it worked for me, and it worked for my cats.

The door to the den opened inward and had a glass center. One time, Sandy managed to close the door behind himself, probably while playing. I came into the room to find Koya in my bedroom and Sandy in the den looking morosely out through the glass.

Laughing, I opened the door, and he exited with the stiffest walk I’ve ever seen, head held high, as though he knew he’d done something stupid and was thinking, “just ignore it, pretend nothing happened.”

An Odd Change

Something’s wrong… I’m not getting petted.

You aren’t crazy, that photo is Sandy on a leash. I used to take him — by car — to PetSmart down the street and let him walk around. He’d go up to people and sit at their feet, staring up at them with wide eyes as though to say, “You want to pet me now. You want to give me attention.”

He was a complete attention hound, and, typically, the star attraction at the store. He’d walk around, sniffing everything interesting. Occasionally, I’d put him in a basket if I was in a hurry, but even then, he’d ham it up for anyone who got close.

Hmm, that doesn’t look like a satisfied face.

The year after I moved to the larger apartment, the complex decided to raise my rent by about $200 a month and I moved to a different city. The cats got an even larger room, but, for some reason, Sandy’s personality changed.

He became less outgoing. He was no longer interested in meeting new people; rather, he was scared of them. He clearly no longer enjoyed the trips to PetSmart. He would try to hide in every nook and cranny. I tried taking him twice after the move, just to make sure the first time wasn’t a fluke, before stopping the trips. I didn’t want to put him through stressful events.

To this day, I have no idea what caused his change in personality. He still isn’t great with new people, often running away and hissing at them if they approach. It generally takes him 3-4 visits before he starts becoming more accepting.

The Health Scare

About 2.5 years after adopting him, Sandy had an unfortunate medical experience. Cats’ urine is predisposed to forming crystals. Male cats have a urethra that narrows drastically at their penis. Because of this, if large enough crystals form, they can block the urethra, making it difficult, or even impossible, to pee. This is referred to as “getting blocked” and it happened to Sandy.

I’d seen him straining on the litter box and thought he was constipated, so I fed him some olive oil. But, by that evening, he moved slowly and made horrible, pained noises when sitting down. Koya even gave up her favorite sitting spot for him. Worried, I took him to the emergency pet hospital, Southpaws. They were fantastic, keeping me in the loop every step of the way. They had Sandy right as rain in a few days, but it was expensive, and I had to get a new credit card called Care Credit to pay for it.

Hospital visits are stressful. Relaxation is a must once you’re back home.

To my horror, he got blocked again about a month later, just before Christmas. This time, I knew what expense I was facing, and that I couldn’t afford it. I asked about less expensive alternatives and the vet told me that for a couple hundred dollars they could just drain his bladder, which had a less than 50% chance of clearing the blockage. The vet felt the more likely outcome was that Sandy’s bladder would refill and he’d be back in the same position in a day. If I did nothing, his bladder would eventually explode. I couldn’t let that happen.

I asked every question I could think of to narrow down my options. There wasn’t any kind of program where I could work at the hospital to pay for his treatment. I wouldn’t be allowed to just take Sandy home given his condition — completely understandable. If I decided not to proceed with treatments, I’d have to have him put to sleep. 

I broke down at the dawning realization that I’d almost certainly lose my little boy. Once I managed to compose myself, I called my cousin who has owned cats for decades to help me make this difficult decision. I laid out the situation to her, explaining my choices and why I only had two. 

“Is it selfish of me to try draining his bladder when it may do nothing but prolong his suffering? Please help me decide what to do.” I knew, as a cat parent, it was my job to make difficult decisions in Sandy’s best interest, regardless of my feelings.

Unexpectedly, she told me I was going to get Sandy full treatment, and to call her to provide a credit card number when necessary. I couldn’t believe it. It was my own Christmas miracle.

“I know I should say I can’t let you do that, but all I can say is thank you. I can literally never repay you for this gift.” Beyond the priceless gift of my boy’s life, I knew she would never actually allow me to repay her. On top of that, one of my best friends, after reading my Facebook post about what was happening, sent me a monetary gift to help pay for his treatment. 

With a huge thank you, I returned it to her, with the explanation that my cousin was covering the treatment. Turns out she’d meant to send it anonymously. I had her over for dinner a bit later as a thank you.

Still a little groggy from the hospital.

Sandy got his treatment, and, because he was such a pain to the vets, was sent home early as they were “concerned the amount of stress might prolong his recovery.” Translation: “Your boy is a brat, and we’re sending him home.” It didn’t bother me, though, because it saved my cousin some money.

This time, he received a prescription for urinary health food that would help prevent crystals. Between that and the extra water I coerced him to drink, he’s yet to have a real problem with crystals since, thank goodness.

As a thank you to my cousin, I finished a kitten cross stitch I’d been working on that was, almost perfectly, Sandy and Koya. I added a mat with their paw prints and a nice frame. It certainly doesn’t come close to equalling what she did for me and my boy, but it was made with love, and she liked it.

Koya’s paw print on the left, Sandy’s on the right.

Time for Tricks

Sandy likes food…

With Sandy back to full health, his innate kitty naughtiness came out in full force. He was seemingly in a constant search for ways to get into trouble, or steal food.

…especially human food.

I decided to put his intelligence and love of food to use and teach him some tricks. I went with Sit first. I’d tell him to sit, push his butt down, then praise him and give him a treat. It didn’t take him long to put two and two together. What he doesn’t seem to have ever grasped is that sitting doesn’t mean I should give him a treat.

I followed up Sit with Lie Down, taught in much the same way. It took him a bit longer to learn this one, mostly because he was under the impression that half lying down was acceptable.

With two tricks under his belt, he was quick to put two and two together when I started teaching him Shake by picking up his paw. Then I got him to put his paw in my hand to Shake.

And with his understanding to put his paw in my hand, High Five was super simple. And it wasn’t hard to get Up, as he was more than willing to rear up on his back legs to try to get more treats.

The last, and definitely hardest, was Roll Over. He still hates that trick, I think it has to do with exposing his belly.

I tried very hard to teach him Speak, but he’s not a very vocal cat, and there isn’t really anything that makes him meow, so it’s incredibly difficult to get him to understand that Speak means meow.

You check out his full répertoire on Instagram. If you have suggestions for future tricks, let me know and I’ll give them a try.

Good Bye, Koya

For the next few years, everything was great. I got to enjoy spending time with happy, healthy kitties. I met Jim, and we bought a house, which the cats adored because they had more space to run. But, at the beginning of 2019, we found out Koya had cancer. The vets had no idea how long she had left, just that she had at least one tumor in her belly and they couldn’t operate on it. She was already on steroids for what we previously thought was an allergy, which affected their ability to give her a more accurate diagnosis.

Koya never really acted any differently than normal, she still ate, cuddled, and played. But Sandy knew something was wrong. We realized after we lost Koya that Sandy had significantly curtailed his playing. He’d stopped making so much noise and stopped pushing Koya to play. They even curled up together in one of the cat beds, something Sandy hadn’t bothered to try in ages. Koya had never allowed that before. I think he may have been offering her comfort.

We got a camera to keep an eye on them and make sure Koya was doing OK.

On April 28, we discovered a grey poo in the cats’ litter box. A Google search revealed that was a sign that organs were failing, and, with Sandy perfectly healthy, it became obvious that we’d be saying goodbye to Koya.

I called the vet, and they could accommodate us in two hours, so we spent time cuddling her and giving her extra treats. I think she ate half a bag, because, why not? The surprising thing is Sandy didn’t complain or try to steal any of Koya’s treats.

Thinking it may help Sandy to see that Koya wouldn’t be coming home, I tried to put his leash on to get him ready to go with us. He threw a fit. His reaction was along the lines of cats getting captured by animal control. He hissed, spit, even tried to bite me. Jim tried to get him in his harness as well and got the same reaction, so I told Jim to leave him be, and we took Koya to the vet. I won’t make you suffer through that experience.

One of the last photos I took of Koya.

When we came home, Sandy’s behavior was off for the rest of the day. He wanted nothing to do with us and mostly hung out in the cat room. Contrary to expectations I’d formed from reading some articles online, he didn’t ever search for Koya.

I’m positive he understood what was happening and didn’t want to be there for it. Or he didn’t want to steal any attention from her.

Recovering

Over the next couple of days, Sandy’s behavior returned to normal, and we realized just how much he’d changed over the previous few months. He started playing intensely again, chasing his jingle bell balls all over the house. His “crazy times” came back, with him racing around the house like crazy. It was nice seeing him back to his old self, even as we mourned losing our little girl.

It only took about a week and a half for Sandy to start getting needy. He wanted way more attention from us, and Jim especially.

I didn’t feel I was ready for another cat yet, but Jim started looking through rescue organization websites to see if any cat caught his eye. He wanted to get Sandy a companion to ensure he wasn’t too lonely during the day.

About three weeks after we’d lost Koya, Jim came across a profile for Bumble, an almost 10-year-old male cat at King Street Cats. They are an excellent organization, by the way. If you’re local to the Washington, DC area and are looking for a cat, check them out.

The poor boy had been picked up in Anne Arundel County, MD with BB pellets under his skin. His story touched both of us, so after a visit, we arranged to bring him home on May 31.

Hello, Bumble

Sandy was unimpressed when we brought Bumble home. Unlike his first meeting with Koya, he hissed at the newcomer and even growled at him. Bumble, true to his profile page, kept quiet. It’s sad, but I think he was terrified.

Sandy knew Bumble was still around. We kept Bumble in our guest bathroom so he could get comfortable with us and with all the new smells. Little by little, we introduced Sandy to the bathroom, letting him get used to Bumble’s smell.

The silly boy hissed at me once because I wouldn’t let him eat one of Bumble’s poos out of the litter box. Eating poo is gross in and of itself. Eating poo covered in clay litter? Double yuck. I’m sorry for the visual, but Sandy’s anger that I wouldn’t let him do it was rather hilarious.

Once Sandy stopped hissing at Bumble (or his scent) we started leaving the bathroom door open, both to allow Bumble out if he wanted and to allow Sandy in to try to coax him out.

First, he just watched Bumble…
Sometimes from a bit closer…
…sometimes from a bit further away.

We still put Sandy in the cat room at night and while we were away to allow Bumble to explore the house. But when we were home, Sandy would often go into the bathroom and talk to him.

He really wanted Bumble’s attention.

When Bumble started coming out of the room, Sandy would try to go over and talk to him. It was like he’d gone from “stay the hell away from me, intruder” to “we’re going to be friends, now.” I tried explaining to Sandy that he had to give Bumble time, but it made no difference. He wanted to be friends. And he got upset when Bumble seemingly ignored him.

Sandy would go over and sniff at Bumble, usually emitting some kind of noise, wait for a few moments, then hiss and run away. I like to think that something like this was going on:

Sandy: “Hi!”
Bumble: …
Sandy: …
Bumble: …
Sandy: “Well, screw you, then!”

Sandy kept making overtures with Bumble. As they got along better, we made the decision to let Sandy stay out at night. This eventually led to them playing together, playing chase and tag, while we were asleep.

Sandy was eager for a playmate, but also a little nervous.

Because they were getting along so well, we decided to let Sandy stay out during the day as well. Having the extra space to race around and have fun, plus having a companion who was willing to play with him, and would even initiate playtime, resulted in a calmer kitty.

Sandy still has crazy times. He still races around after toys. But he’s less needy. He seems happier, even than when he had Koya.

It’s clear that where Sandy and Koya were able to cohabitate peacefully, Sandy and Bumble cohabitate happily. We’ve heard Bumble let out little trills calling Sandy to come play — which he usually responds to. We’ve even seen Sandy and Bumble tentatively grooming each other. It never lasts long, but they’ll sniff each other, and maybe drop a couple of licks on the back of the other’s neck or top of the head. I haven’t caught a photo of that yet, but trust me, it’s adorable.

That’s a Wrap!

He is the most interesting cat in the world.

So, 10 years with my boy. Today he’s getting fêted with lots of treats and attention. I doubt he quite understands why, but I hope he realizes that he’s very important to me.

Hopefully, he’s still around in another 10 years, and I can tell you all about the next decade. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading his story. And, spoiler alert, I’ll be sharing Bumble’s story for his 1 year anniversary.

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