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Wednesday, January 15, 2003  

Vacation Food

Three and a half years ago, we went on a two-week road trip, making a wide loop from Minneapolis through South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Utah, all the way to Las Vegas and back via the Grand Canyon, New Mexico, Colorado, and Nebraska. When we got home, our cats were fat.

It’s tempting to blame that on the person who house-sat for us. So that’s what I’ll do.

No, not really. I’ll also blame it on the cats. Strat in particular.

When he came to us, he was an eight-month-old stray. Skinny, adolescent, white-furred, and pink-eared, he looked like a giant lab rat. While we advertised (unsuccessfully) for his owners, we took him in, took care of him, and made a big, healthy, happy, slightly overweight housecat out of him. If he likes you and wants to impress you, he’ll flop over on his side so you can see his ample belly. He might even clean it for you. It’s like he’s saying, “I didn’t used to have one of these because I was a homeless street cat nobody cared about, but now I do because MY PEOPLE LOVE ME SO MUCH! YOU MUST ALSO LOVE ME!”

Of course, after we returned from our two-week road trip, the size of the belly made flopping over on his side problematic. He rolled clear over onto his back a few times because of it and would flail around like an inverted turtle in a furry freezer bag full of vanilla pudding. You could see his sides when he was facing you. When sitting on the floor, from behind he looked like the letter Q. Picking him up for a hug required one to lift with one’s knees. The cat was fat.

My written instructions to the housesitter had included this passage:

“Just fill their bowl with dry food when it gets empty. The cats will try to tell you that they get soft food every day. They will be lying.”

Which is good in theory, but in practice I was hundreds of miles away and the cats (particularly Strat) were right there screaming at her, trying to lead her to their full bowls of dry cat food like Timmy was trapped in the well. So they probably did get soft food every day. Probably twice some days. And then we got home after learning all about the sacredness and rarity of the White Buffalo while we were in South Dakota, and my God, there he was! Orca had also packed on a pound or two, but she at least still had to go around walls rather than through them. And the housesitter moved out of town, probably to avoid the risk of being crushed.

Clearly it was diet time, like, now. No more filling the bowl with dry food whenever it was sort of empty. No more weekly soft-food treats. No more giving him half the can of tuna whenever we had a sandwich. And also, chase the little red dot from the laser pointer. Chase it! There it goes! What? Tired already? Fine, rest a minute. Okay, chase it again!

Strat was nine years old. Everyone told us he wasn’t going to lose the weight at his age. We were simply going to be living with a bewhiskered case of marshmallows for the duration. But we kept him on the diet. A cup-and-a-half of dry food every day for both cats, with soft food only on special occasions.

Orca lost her weight, but she’s still got this funny little empty pouch that flaps from side to side when she trots. As for Strat, we eventually stopped calling him “Chunk.” And people who hadn’t seen him for a while commented on his weight loss, although it was too gradual for us to see it. Finally after three years, he reached his goal weight. I don’t know how many pounds that is, but it’s light enough that he can finally climb back on top of his Kitty Condo™ again. This is a six-foot-long, one-foot-wide, carpeted cardboard tube that stands upright in our bedroom. He used to sleep curled up on top of it, when his circumference wasn’t twice that of the Condo. The top level had a large hole punched through it, but he didn’t care. He’d just sleep with a DDD-sized hemispherical scoop of cat meat dangling into the “attic.” Until he got too fat to climb up on it, that is, and it stood there unused for years. Every once in a while I’d put him on top of it, just to remind him how much he used to love it up there. He would immediately jump down onto the bed, causing the headboard to crash into one wall, tipping the Condo against the other, and breaking the occasional mattress spring.

But a few months ago, he was back up on his perch on a regular basis, and we realized that at twelve years of age, our cat was healthy and happy and only slightly overweight again. At least, he was happy in between the bouts of screaming for soft food.

We left the cats in the care of other people during our Austin trip. Too many people, perhaps. When we got home Monday night, there were at least six empty cans of soft food in the trash. We should have left clearer instructions this time.

Orca’s empty pouch is only half-empty now. Strat’s weight gain is all in is face this time so he looks like one of those cartoon cats with the wide, pointy cheeks. He can still scale his fort, though, so it’s not as bad as it could have been.

I guess, considering all the barbecue and Tex-Mex and Asian food I ate during that time, it was only fair that the cats should chow down as well. But now that vacation’s over, I think we’re all going to start eating more sensibly. Especially them.

posted by M. Giant 3:19 PM 1 comments


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