by Lauren Merryfield
From the Editor: It is frustrating to realize that the sighted public has real reservations about the ability of blind people to parent, but it is also interesting to see that they have questions about how we take care of our pets. Lauren Merryfield has no reservations about getting down and dirty when it comes to talking about the care of her pets. It is obvious that she is a cat lover, and it is also obvious that there is truth in the saying that “Dogs treat you like royalty; cats treat you like staff.” Here’s what Lauren has to say:
I received my first kitten, a yellow-and-white kitty I named Fuzzy, when I was around seven years of age. Back then, our cats were mostly outdoor, so they came and went through the years, some of them not lasting all that long. Eventually, a select few would find their way into our home and be allowed there.
After my first husband and I moved to our home, we received a kitty as a housewarming gift. We had her for fourteen years. She eventually went blind and needed insulin due to diabetes. No one commented all that much back then about how I managed with cats, because there was almost always someone around. But now that I am widowed and living alone, the questions come:
"How do you know where your cats are?" Most of the time, if they're quiet and/or sleeping, I might not know where they are, but this does not bother me. Cats do not always want their humans to know where they are. When they want attention or food, they'll show up.
"How do you get them in their carriers when you take them to the vet?" I know my cats so I can often guess where they are. I pick them up, and as they squiggle, I put them into the carrier. No, you do not have to see to get your cat into its carrier. They may protest, but how does a sighted person put their cat into the carrier when it is protesting?
"How do you know when your cat is sick?" If the urine has a pungent odor, I know one has a urinary tract infection. If they leave evidence of an upset tummy, I know. If they are too warm, I know. When my Maryah was panting due to difficulty breathing with fluid in her lungs, I knew. If Toby isn't pestering me and is not sleeping, but hiding, then I know. Cats hide when they are ill so that is the number one means I have of knowing when they are ill and need help.
I discover when they do not need help also. When I took Laynie in to be spayed, resulting in an overnight stay, I put a soft kitty bed on the floor where she could get to it easily. I even put a few treats there so she could find them easily. After showing obvious happiness in being back home after her overnight stay, I suddenly observed her climbing the patio screen. As she was hanging there playfully, I realized that she would be dictating how much pampering she would or would not receive from me.
"What do you do if your cat has a fur ball?" Almost always, my cats through the years have made it a practice to let their fur balls fly in my pathway so that I will find them. I just clean them up. I usually go barefoot at home so that I have a better chance of finding something on the floor that needs attention.
"How do you keep from tripping and falling on your cats' toys?" I walk gingerly. I probably shuffle some of the time. Going barefoot once again comes to my benefit in locating cat toys on the floor. When they are playing with them, I can hear where the cat and the toy are.
"What if another cat comes in from the outside?" Yes, that has happened. One day my kitty at the time started growling and hissing. I couldn't figure out what was going on at first until I heard similar sounds coming from under the dining room table. A neighbor's cat had climbed up to our balcony and when I opened the door, he/she sneaked in. Sneaking did not last long.
"How do you clean the cat box?" This may seem gross, but not only do I use a pooper scooper, but also, I often use my hands covered with a glove or a sandwich-sized bag to make sure the cat box is clean. This is not any worse than changing a baby's diaper.
The question I am asked most often is: "How can you tell your cats apart?" This is an easy one for me. I am sometimes surprised that someone would even ask. I know them by their tails, by their body shape, by their meows, by the bell on their collar if they are wearing one, which toy(s) they are playing with, because they have favorites, and by what they are doing. If I hear one slamming the kitchen cupboard doors under the sink, I know it's Toby. When something was knocked down, it was Maryah. When a cat sneaked out and was gone for two or three days, it was Maryah.
I remember the times when I would leave a Braille note on the table and later find it on the floor, with "kitty Braille" added to it, and I knew it was Kitten Kabootle, our Himalayan.
When one meowed in such a way that it went up at the end like a question, I knew it was Laynie. When I could hear a cat meowing frantically from the window when I'd come home, I knew it was Jaspur. I similarly knew it was him when he got out one Halloween night and he was a totally black cat—not a good combination, Halloween and black cats. One meowing in a high-pitched tone, getting louder if I do not respond immediately is Toby. He is so gifted with his meows that I sometimes find myself responding to scolding or whining. He is the only cat I've ever had who does this. If I hear unwanted chewing, it is Toby. If I hear excessive scratching in the wrong place, it is Laynie. One who often spoke in two meows, "meow meow," was Melissa. When I hear a crash from the trash can being tipped over it is Toby.
Some people, including some blind people, would say that a blind person cannot be owned by a cat, however, I totally disagree. Cats always figure out that I cannot see, however, they do not go into fear-mongering as some humans do; they just work around it. Two of my cats would stand with a small object I dropped, holding it between their front paws until I located the cat, and then the item. They know that I touch the seat of my chair before I sit down to prevent having a flat cat. They trust me to take care of them, and how much I can or cannot see is not part of the equation. They show the same unconditional love toward me whether I can see or not.
At times, when I am asked questions that are born of doubt, I feel like it is definitely not the cat's meow. However I also realize that these are opportunities to stop and educate someone. For them to go uneducated about what a blind person can do would definitely not be the cat's meow. But when they discover how I live the life I want with my cats, then it is—yes—the cat's meow!