After a year of mourning the loss of our dear cat France, we thought we had come into good luck this summer when a couple of cats were foisted upon us.

I was really, really looking forward to the summer of cats. The first cat we picked up was a favor to friends. They had lost their refugee status in the US because of trump, and were seeking asylum in Canada. They were turning themselves over to Canadian immigration and spending a few nights/potentially longer in a detention center, and us watching their cat throughout this process was the only way they were going to be able to keep their baby. We decided this would be an adventure- and also part of our duty as friends and activists. We knew there was going to be one complication going into it all — we still had a few days left at our collective house- and cats were banned. Since he was a refugee cat though, we wanted to have him on the down low. It was underground railroad shit.

About three weeks ago the cat and his owners showed up with all the supplies, including a hormone diffuser and a little jacket to reduce anxiety. He was also finishing up his last week of antibiotics for a UTI (which we later learned was recurring, and happened whenever he is stressed. He has special UTI preventative food). Things went well at first- it was a super quiet and cuddly cat. We think maybe he was just drugged up with antibiotics and sleeping pills though because a few days later, when Carp was out of town the cat sprayed and started an endless chorus of crying.

I didn’t know what the smell was at first. I woke up for work, and as I was walking to the car I was like, man, my clothes stink. I thought it was our moldy washer — which was a very probable cause for my clothes smelling bad. But they had never smelled this bad- I smelled like rotten pee. Fast forward to the end of the day and I realize it’s my purse that stinks. I think maybe I sat it in something gross at the bar I was at last night. I think it’s my fault. I’m embarrassed as I walk out of work with it and hope no one notices, but I can’t believe anyone wouldn’t.

When I get home, the mystery is solved though. Well, sort of. The whole room stinks. I still don’t know what cat spray/ piss smells like, but I’m assuming this is what it is. It smells like death. The cat is as lovey and lonely as ever- attention seeking to the max. I don’t spend much time with it though, because I don’t want to sit in my smelly room too long. It’s that bad.


Later that evening Carp returns from his trip. He walks up into the room, and immediately panics. No longer can this cat be a secret- the smell has drifted out of our room and is taking over the whole upstairs where everyone’s bedrooms are! Carp opens up some scented oils- greasing up the walls with it as he tries to air out the room with the windows open. Soon the room smells like a disgusting mix of mint and cat pee.

The room is hot as hell still at 9 pm at night — of course it has been cool all summer, and then decides to heat up as soon as we are babysitting a cat in our non-airconditioned house. Carp thinks the cat is dead or dying because he won’t come out from under the bed. Finally we end up pulling him out, and, deciding that he is too hot we take him downstairs in the house, where it is a little cooler.


The cat goes ape shit.


The cat sprints all over the house, running into things and knocking things over. He’s a danger to himself at this point. Finally he finds refuge in our mudroom- underneath all of our shoes. We leave him there for a long time, and Carp finally wrangles him out a few hours later, strapping his special “de-stress” blanket onto him.

We go to bed that night worried as hell about the smell and about everyone finding out. Worried as hell that the cat is dying of shock. And also anxious about our move tomorrow. Did I mention that we are catsitting right in the middle of a long awaited and very much high stakes/ high tension move? And also the beginning of a three week long severe heat wave?


The next morning we wake up, start packing for our move, and then around 11 head to our favorite place to go in crisis- the neighborhood bar. We get a drink, and decide that we are moving to Salt Lake City in a year. And then we head home and pack up the cat, litter box and all, and move him to our new apartment. It’s the hottest day in record for Syracuse that day. The perfect day to move with a cat. We spread our stinky cat sprayed items out on the lawn to air out during the day, and answer questions from our housemates- trying to keep them from getting too close to the items.


Later that night we settle down after a full day of moving, and I do the cat’s twice daily required brush. I walk outside to clean the brush off, and when I come back in we can’t find the cat. We then lose the cat for about 3 hours- searching all over the house, all over the neighborhood. It almost ends our relationship. Just kidding- but really. Finally we give up, turn off the lights and get in bed. Only then does the meow come from inside the walls of our new house, and then hauntingly arrive at the foot of our bed.


Two days later my mom and brother are flying in to visit for the week- and they are deathly allergic to cats. Our initial plan was to keep the cat at our collective in our room there since we are still paying rent there- and have my family sleep in our new apartment cat-free. But since the heat is continuing to be so intense, and this cat has made it very clear that he can stink up a whole floor of a house- we realize we can’t leave him there. And we can’t have him at our new place. So we find a kennel to toss him to for the week on our credit cards.


The night that my mom and brother arrive- I can’t calm down. I’m sure that we have not vacuumed well enough, and they are going to be sneezing all night and unable to stay in our beautiful new apartment. It threw me into a 24 hour panic attack- which I really wasn’t able to shake the whole week they were there until the last day. No cat allergies are had that week though- just my panic attacks- and then it’s time to pick the cat up from the kennel again. We bring him home with another UTI because of the stress.


Carp takes the cat to the vet for the UTI the next day, and waits for an hour before the vets tell him that they cannot look at our cat today.

I come home from work and find Carp staring at the cat.

“He keeps itching. I think I waited in a vet waiting room for an hour just to give the cat fleas,” Carp mourns.

Luckily this doesn’t turn out to be true.


A few days later we pick up another cat for the next few weeks- our new neighbor’s from upstairs. She is a really good cat- but where our cat needs constant brushing, this one wants constant rough housing. We feed and play with him once a day, but we can hear him upstairs from our apartment throughout the day, and it sounds like there are a couple grown people throwing things around upstairs.

Flash forward a few days and we’re having our first house party. We invite 15 of our good friends in the city, and it is a great success of a party. Our cat is pretty good during the party, despite attracting a lot of seedy cat characters to the perimeter. Of course he waits to make his exit until 1 am when we are intoxicated and tired. He runs underneath our house, through a hole in the latices. Carp has to wedge himself in after the cat- and army crawl underneath the house to retrieve the little guy.


The next day the cat pees on our futon that we’ve slept on for three years together. It’s luckily just on a pillow, so we throw that out. I talk to my coworkers the next day- and they say we should really get the cat neutered. UTIs can kill a cat — getting the cat neutered will help with the UTIs as well as the spraying. They hook me up with a coupon for getting the deed done, and I bring it home excitedly to Carp. Carp tells me it’s a no- go though, our friend unquestionably wants the balls “intact.”


A few days later we go on our first overnight trip away from the cat. We’re a bit nervous that cat has either peed all over, or is dead. We walk in after leaving the cat alone for 24 hours — and it smells just like death. The cat is nowhere to be found, and I’m sure he’s dead. Then we walk further in, and it smells like piss. Of course. He did it again. This time directly on our futon that we’ve slept on for three years. We find a big soaking spot right in the middle. It’s probably been soaking in all day. Then we find the cat alive of course.

We put the futon out in our sunroom to help with the overpowering smell, and then investigate why the kitchen smells like death. It’s all of the wet cat food that’s rotting in our trashcan, and has been baking in the hot apartment all day. The cat only eats wet food, and only eats half of the can. We have to throw the other half away, and don’t have a garbage disposal. Ergo the smell. Guess what? The cat is going to learn to like dry food from now on.


That day after getting back was the worst. Carp and I fought about nothing. Really, we were just frustrated by the cat that keeps peeing on our new apartment, and slowly demolishing all of the limited things that we own. We don’t sleep much that night. Partly because of the stress, and partly because the cat upstairs and sounds like it’s throwing things around. We can’t bring that other cat downstairs with us because it’s a female- and our unneutered male cat living with us is like a biohazard to that little tiny female cat upstairs. So we just listen to it making noise. Interspersed with the thunder, we can’t really tell which is which.

The next morning I get up and give our cat it’s thirty minute brushing that it requires each morning. And then I head upstairs to check on the neighbors cat. Upstairs I find that the cat has jumped into our neighbor’s china cabinet and pushed out a ceramic mug- shattering it on the ground.

I pick up the big pieces while the cat meows at me. And then head back downstairs because I have to go to work. I let Carp know so he can clean up the rest of the shards of ceramic so the cat doesn’t injure itself.

An hour later I open my email at work to find an email from him titled: “Rescued the neighbor’s cat from the roof… at least I hope it was her cat because I let it back in.”

Carp explains that he went upstairs to finish cleaning up, and couldn’t find the cat. Then he heard a cat whining and saw it sitting on the outside ledge of the window in the rain. He found a hole that the cat had made in the windowscreen, and pulled the cat back in. Then he secured the window.


Where are Carp and I at overall? Our brake pads are worn thin. We barely escaped our past living situation intact, and this cat we are babysitting has been the cherry on top. It’s been an inconvenience, but it’s definitely not the end of the world. The second cat has been less work, but definitely adding onto the feeling of the absurd.

And so, after a year of mourning the loss of our dear cat France, we thought we had come into good luck this summer when a couple of cats were foisted upon us. This was long before I knew what cat spray smelled like, before I knew that people didn’t neuter their cats, that cats got UTIs, that cats needed constant brushing, that cats can whine like the earth is ending, that cats can escape windows, that cats do not like unairconditioned apartments alone very much.

Now we are closing the chapter of the Dirty Cus Winter and Cat Summer, and planning on creating something else.

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© Copyright 2018 Annie Windholz

midwestern librarian, writer, activist. subscribe —