Monday, February 20, 2012

Much Ado About Boris

     Perhaps the biggest logistical problem with our move back to Atlanta has been what to do about Boris, Spartacus's 16 year old cat. Spartacus watched Boris and his sister, Natasha, being born when "Mama" had her kittens, and Boris has long outlived them both, confirming the notion that some cats really do have nine lives. When we got married, we'd just gotten our German Short-Haired Pointer puppies, Simon and Lilly. Because Spartacus still had a house near his workplace in Alpharetta, Boris and Natasha stayed there, and he hung out with them everyday on his lunch break. We weren't sure how these old cats would get along with our energetic new puppies. After being unable to sell his house, Spartacus decided to rent it. He worked out a deal with the renters where Boris and Natasha would remain at that house in one of the extra rooms, and he'd come and check on them every day. They were willing to do this for a break in the rent, so it sounded like a reasonable plan. The night after these folks moved in, Spartacus found Natasha very sick and disoriented, and Boris, behind the washing machine with his jaw broken in two places. Unbelievable! Boris had surgery to repair his jaw, but Natasha, who was in florid renal failure, had to be put down. The renters, who'd already signed a lease, swore that they didn't do anything to injure the cats, and Spartacus was so stressed out and heartbroken, he decided not to pursue legal action.
     Boris came home to my house, a noisy place with teenaged twin boys, whose friends were constantly coming and going, along with two curious and crazy puppies. Being an introverted bachelor for all those years, Spartacus's house, in contrast to mine, was unnervingly quiet. When he and I started dating, I tried to bond with Boris and Natasha, whose exposure to humans was pretty much limited to Spartacus, but they wanted nothing to do with me. Both cats were tremendously undersocialized. For example, Natasha bit me when I got close enough to pet her one time, and Boris did nothing but hide from me inside the kitchen cabinets. Although they seemed to love Spartacus, they demonstrated no interest in developing a relationship with me. Maybe they were jealous of his new love interest, or perhaps they sensed that I am not a "cat person." I've been a cat owner in the past, and have found them to be spiteful and vindictive, as well as high maintenance, what with the cat litter and cat hair everywhere, the constant vomiting of hairballs, and, lest we forget, their adorable habit of scratching up your dining room table legs and ruining your upholstery. That being said, I do enjoy other people's sweet cats who purr and allow you to hold them.
     I believe animals have personalities, and our friend, Boris, qualifies as an Axis II personality disorder. Once we learned that he had an overactive thyroid gland and got him started on medication, he mellowed out a little bit, but I've still never gotten to pick him up and hold him. Boris lived downstairs in our old house. While he was there, he wreaked havoc with his claws on a perfectly good leather sofa. This infuriated me. Was this how he showed his appreciation for having such a nice place to live? Instead of declawing him, we opted for glue-on plastic claw covers, which prevented him from digging into the furniture. Now, if only there was an easy solution for his personality disorder.
     When we moved to Rome, Boris had the entire downstairs apartment to himself. We rigged up his self-cleaning cat box to the water source and drain pipe in the spare laundry room, obviating the need to scoop his cat litter. It was nice and quiet down there, except when we'd have company. When my mom and niece, or Nick and Rory and their friends came for overnight visits, Boris hid in the laundry room most of the time, but would begin loudly meowing at 5 a.m., waking everybody up. To keep him from messing up the brand new furniture, we had to keep all of it covered in aluminum foil; not very practical when you're trying to entertain. Another problem was his constant puking, along with his predilection for the white shag IKEA rug I'd just purchased. Invariably, no matter how much exposed hardwood flooring we have, Boris is going to puke on a rug or any suitable facsimile, e.g. bath mats, yoga mats, the belt of the treadmill. Hairballs smell worse than poo, and the odor is difficult to remove. I bought a steam cleaner, but we ended up having to toss out the IKEA rug anyway because, despite all our efforts to clean it, it was impossibly permeated with the stench of bile and undigested cat food. Yuck!
     Our new place has only one level, and the issue of how to best handle Boris has been a source of  consternation between Spartacus and me. The self-cleaning cat box requires both water and drainage sources, and has to be hooked up in either a bathroom or a laundry room. Since we only have one bathroom, the laundry area, which opens directly into the kichen, seemed to be the only possible alternative. I'm not crazy about the idea of having a cat box so close to the kitchen, nor am I excited about giving Boris free reign over the entire loft, especially because I've got some very nice wool rugs that I refuse to see destroyed. The thought of cat puke on these beautiful rugs induces in me a strong desire to upchuck. Initially, I thought that maybe we could encircle an area near the laundry with some room dividers to create an open enclosure for Boris. Spartacus didn't approve of this idea. He thinks Boris is depressed because he's being confined to the laundry room right now. In order to have our current place ready to show for potential renters, we needed to remove the aluminum foil from the furniture downstairs, restricting Boris to the laundry room so that I wouldn't be spending all my time, vacuuming his long white hair from the upholstery. Boris doesn't move around much. He is 16 years old, and I'm assuming he's probably a little bit senile. He sleeps 21 hours per day, so it is hard for me to understand how he could be depressed from a lack of roaming. If anything, he's depressed because Spartacus is gone so much now, commuting to and from Atlanta, leaving here at 6 a.m. and not returning most nights until after 8 p.m. He and Boris don't see much of each other anymore.
     Last Friday, the topic of our therapy session was going to be "Much Ado About Boris." Our therapist, Mark, is remarkable, and I thought he'd be able to help us get this thing figured out. I'd done a Google search about pet-related relationship problems, and learned that there are entire shows devoted to this phenomenon, such as "It's Me or the Dog." This verified to me that I am not alone in my cat-generated angst. As usual, Spartacus got stuck in Atlanta rush hour traffic, and wasn't able to make our appointment. So, Mark and I spent the entire hour, talking about Boris, his personality issues, his cat box, his cat hair, his puking, his thyroid problem, our bonding problems, Spartacus's genuine affection for him, and the layout of our new place. Mark observed that pets are a common source of problems in relationships, and validated that my feelings about Boris are not unreasonable. I've tried to compromise, because I know how much Boris means to Spartacus. It is a given that I will go bonkers if I have to spend the rest of Boris's natural life, cleaning up his puke and cat hair, in exchange for absolutely no reciprocation of gratitude or warm fuzzies on his behalf. Mark agreed that cats do indeed have personalities. He said that pets tend to assume the personalities of their owners, and that, unfortunately, these tend to remain stable over time. If Boris and I haven't bonded by now, it's unlikely that we ever will. Boris is a lot like the pre-me Spartacus, reclusive and skittish. We now laughingly refer to this alter-ego persona as Horace Pinker, a character from the cult horror movie, Shocker. Horace Pinker was unpredictably moody, socially awkward and withdrawn, and worst of all, didn't bathe during his solo weekends. Horace is pretty much under control now, but he surfaces from time to time, just like yesterday, when it was clear to me that Spartacus had no intention of showering after a long, sweaty day of packing. My session with Mark was very productive. I realized that I've done all I can do to reach a compromise, and that it was up to Spartacus to come up with a definitive plan for Boris, one that we'd both find acceptable.
     The next day, Spartacus and I went to Atlanta to complete the walk through on our new place. It now stood empty, the owner having moved a couple of weeks ago, so this was the first time we'd really assessed the space in which we'd be living. The laundry area didn't look like it was going to be compatible with the cat box. In order for the the water hose and drainage tubing not to be crushed, we'd have to leave the folding doors open all the time. Back to square one. The idea of having the drainage hose connected to our only toilet wasn't appealing either, and having a plain old cat box that has to be scooped 4 times a day is simply not an option. In walking around and inspecting the place, I discovered a little room, about as big as our current laundry room, with a vented door which houses the furnace and the tankless water heating system. I noticed a drain in the floor, which I presume leads to the sewer because we're on a slab foundation, as well as an electrical outlet and a water faucet on the inlet pipe to the tankless device. This just might work! I turned the knob on the faucet, and water came flowing. It's obviously there for a reason, and because of the way it's configured along the pipe, turning it on won't restrict water flow to the tank. This would be a perfect place to contain the cat litter box, and provide Boris with a quiet, secure area away from the dogs, who he's never been around for more than about a minute. Once he became acclimated to our new place, we could let him out under direct supervision, and see what happened. It's definitely a good place to start. Both Spartacus and Horace Pinker unanimously approved of this idea, and we went on to have a very good weekend together, all of us relieved that the Boris conundrum seemed to have been resolved. Since I'll be spending a lot of time at home, maybe the cold war between Boris and me will finally come to an end. At this point, the only thing I know for certain is that the glue-on claw covers will be replaced and maintained, the vacuum and steam cleaner will be kept armed and ready, and that I will do my best to accommodate this 6 pound feline terror, simply because Spartacus adores him.
Boris, the 16 year old asshole...he is actually kind of cute!

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