Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Meet Lucy & Mojo, Plus the Best Cat Toy Ever!

We have cats once again.

Lucy is black but for a few white hairs in her ears, and a tiny patch under her collar. I've never had a black cat before and have discovered that she becomes nearly invisible against a navy blue blanket. This is especially true in dim lighting, or whenever she closes her preternaturally orange eyes. Her fur has the silkiest texture I've ever encountered in any cat. Her personality is completely sweet and trusting, but her appearance is sometimes downright demonic. We call her "The Hellcat" when she's looking particularly impish, and "Lulu" when she's playful as only a kitten can be.

Then there's Mojo: long, lanky, and stripey. Though well beyond the kitten stage, he's still not quite full grown by the looks of his big paws. I reckon he'll be growing into those. His personality is the oddest combination of skittishness and trust I've ever seen in a cat. He startles easily, but also gets comfortable with people (who aren't moving around) very quickly, and definitely wants to lavish and be lavished with affection. We're hoping that plenty of exercise and a little time will mellow out his slightly high-strung nature. He was cooped up in a small area before we got him. He is astonishingly strong and muscular for his sleek frame.

Fortunately his disposition is such that he doesn't bully Lucy, because he could easily roll her if he chose to. In fact, they get along just fine, which is a relief. Both cats came from shelters, and we paid less for them than it would have cost us for the feline leukemia testing, vaccinations, and spaying/neutering that they've already had done.

Much as I enjoy showing off the new additions to the family, there are a couple of frugality angles to this post. While Lucy and Mojo are pets, not livestock, they will still be expected to earn their keep. The old farmhouse we live in has mice in the attic. We can live with that, though we do set out traps and will leave the attic door open in summer so the cats have access to the rodents' chosen living area. What we can't tolerate is rodents in any other part of the house, especially anywhere near where we keep our food. Keeping cats means the rodents remain a respectful distance from our living areas. I will also want rodent patrol outside during the warmer months of the year. Voles and mice are not welcome in the garden, in the garage (where we keep our potatoes and other crops at certain times of year), nor where the chicken feed is kept.

So yes, our cats are intended to be both companions and mousers. To that end, we train them. And here's where the second frugality angle comes in.

Best cat toy. Ever.

When I met my husband-to-be, I had two cats, one of which was still a kitten (and whom we just put down in December). He adored them, which scored points with me. He also made them the best cat toy ever - I kid you not. More points scored. I say it's the best cat toy for two reasons. One, because it's insanely easy and cheap to make, and what little wear and tear it sustains can be easily repaired. And two, because cats find it deliriously compelling. I'm telling you, this toy is irresistible to young cats - far more so than those expensive feathery toys sold at pet stores. Even our fourteen-year-old cat would still take a swipe at it up to a month before she died. The only downside is that this is an interactive toy. You have to work it. But I've never seen another cat toy that cats will chase and chase and chase until they are lying on the ground, abdomens heaving, and panting open-mouthed, trying to catch their breath. Then they'll get right up and chase it some more. Fifteen minutes of this treatment will wear out a kitten to the point that a nap is in order.

All it takes to make this toy is a cheap length of spring steel, a pair of needle-nosed pliers, a tiny bit of gaffer's tape, and a few lengths cut from the twine handles of a brown paper shopping bag. The spring steel should cost about a dollar, if that. Choose one that is neither too stiff nor too flexible. You may want to buy a few pieces to ensure you've chosen one with the right amount of give, because I can't really describe it much better. You'll learn by observation. When you've got your spring steel, cut three or four short lengths from the twine handles, about 1"/3cm each. Poke small holes through the center of each piece and thread them onto the spring steel. Using the needle-nosed pliers, bend over a very short section at the end of the spring steel to create a stop. Bind this metal loop tightly with a narrow strip of gaffer's tape. You'll need to cut the tape to make a sufficiently narrow piece, and make it long enough to wrap around the metal several times. At the other end of the steel you'll want a little something to hang on to. Bend over a longer length of steel and bind it just the way you did on the far end. It doesn't take much; you don't need to make it the width of your hand. Just an inch or so will do, so that you don't lose hold of the toy.

Play with your cats by running the twine pieces along the floor, up the walls, or through the air above their heads. Young cats will learn to track these pieces with chilling efficiency. You are helping them hone their predatory instincts, and you'll find you need to change up the patterns of movement fairly often. I find it curious that young cats most enjoy play that trains them to do what they were born to do - the very "work" I want them to do for me. Eventually, the twine pieces will be chewed, clawed, and frayed into deterioration. It's trivially easy to replace them. Just take the gaffer's tape off the small hook, unbend it, thread a few new pieces of twine on, and redo the hook with pliers and tape.

One note of caution: if your cat catches this toy in her claws, do not violently yank it away from her. I made that mistake once with my last cat and found that one her claws was bloodied at the cuticle. It didn't seem to bother her; she was still eager to play and walked around just fine. But I felt awful and quickly learned to respect the grip she had on the toy.


Anonymous said...

So very cute! I have serious kitten envy.... You know, you could be more generous with the photos of them... just sayin'.

Enjoy them heaps.


Robin said...

How fun, two new cats! We got a starving black kitten that was dumped at our place the end of last summer. I was somewhat bummed because I thought black cats a boring shade. She has now worked herself very firmly into our hearts and is one of the nicest cats we have ever had. She is partially blind in one eye so I didn't know if she would be a good hunter. We have gotten two mice left on our doorstep recently so it must not affect her too greatly.

I know what you mean by mice in old houses. We caught a good number in our house the first winter we were in it. I was completely grossed out when I found mouse poop on the kitchen counter. Since then we have torn out almost every wall in the house for renovations and I haven't noticed any problems with them yet. Though the walls we tore out were nasty. More dead mouse bodies, mouse poop, and nuts in the walls then you could imagine.

susan said so said...

"Both cats came from shelters, and we paid less for them than it would have cost us for the feline leukemia testing, vaccinations, and spaying/neutering that they've already had done."

YES! As Shelter Manager for a large open admissions shelter, I tell people this very thing every day. You can't get a "free" puppy or kitten from the paper or flea market and get everything done for it that we do without spending a lot more than you'll spend at a shelter.

6194 people believed me in 2009 - that's how many adoptions we did!

Thank you so much for adopting from a shelter, and for spreading the good word about shelter pets.


Kate said...

Ali, it's funny. Do you know how hard it is to take good pictures of young cats? They rarely sit still. But I did have a collection of photos nonetheless, and I thought, who's going to want to see lots and lots of pictures of my cats? I erred on the side of restraint, evidently. But I did add one more to this post, just for you. Perhaps there will be a few gratuitous pictures of feline cuteness in future posts!

Robin, how sweet of you to take in a stray kitty and give her a good home. Sounds like she's repaying you well for the kindness.

Susan, shelter-sourced animals certainly make sense from a financial perspective for the new onwers. But I do wonder...If we had just picked up some kittens from someone's litter, that would have kept two more cats out of the shelter system too. I'd never pay for a cat from a breeder. But I have taken kittens born feral and to a housecat who didn't get spayed in time. Those kittens never became burdens on the limited finances of any shelter, so...

Teresa/Safira said...

Mandatory SQUEE!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the bonus pic, very cute! As I write this my adopted feral kitty Paisley is trying to get my attention for some kitty love.... Enjoy the kitties!