Tag Archives: Cats

Dealing with Cats, Part 1: What is respect?

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Disclaimer: I am not an animal rights activist, I have zero connection to that movement and their personal sets of widgets, and often only minimal exposure to them through some of their worst representatives (PETA, Peter Singer).

I think the argument about whether animals (including humans) have a nebulous and abstract quality called “personhood” (which seems to have to do with the values of a particular set of human cultures) is the entirely wrong way to go about giving respect to animals. Too often it is terribly ableist and depends upon whether the creature in question possesses certain traits valued by certain humans, and when you go down that road you end up creating a set of criteria that not even all humans let alone all the rest of animals meet. Then you end up creating a system that privileges people based on those traits. And Singer is only among the worst of human beings to do this, he is far from the only one. In fact most people I encounter regularly seem to do this sort of thing all the time, to one degree or another. Arguments about “sentience” are similarly doomed, offensive, and full of the obvious limitations of various human imaginations when it comes to non-humans and some humans. Except that somehow they’re given even more of an outer sense of objectiveness because “sentience” seems to mostly be used in scientific or science-fiction circles.

[Edited to add: I have been told that some of that may matter in legal situations. But this series of cat posts is about personal situations between humans and cats. So in this context, cats should be respected because they exist.]

I base my beliefs in matters like this on respect.

I believe that everything, human or not, animal or not, conventionally considered alive at all or not, is worthy of respect.

I do not believe this in some fluffy insubstantial manner; fluffy sorts of people have been attracted to me in the past because the words I use superficially resemble words they sometimes use, but as soon as they find out a bit of what I am actually about they have a habit of running away rapidly. It is serious to me, solid, and ethically demanding. I also happen to believe that everything communicates and can be communicated with. I do not mean sitting around speaking out loud to rocks and having them speak out loud back. I mean that everything conveys information to everything else, whether or not that information is transmitted through the laws of physics or through complex linguistic patterns.

This is a perception that I have had my entire life and that has often been at odds with my culture. But I can’t let go of it just because some people have done terrible (and I do mean terrible) things to me on this basis (although at times I have learned to avoid the subject altogether). It is too important to how I treat others, from humans to cats to plants to rocks. I am not (as some have misinterpreted me) attributing human traits to nonhumans, I am rather saying that I view every kind of thing from humans to nonhumans as having a quality entirely their own that is important and valuable and worthy of respect and sincere attempts to listen to what they have to say to the world around them.

(I also don’t divide the world up the same way the English language forces me to sound like, but I have learned that very few other humans can speak the language I started out with and have always carried with me underneath the various attempts to sound as if I speak English. I have also found that attempts to translate my language to English not only fall short but cause reactions in others from ridicule to condemnation as incredibly inadequate in some manner whether moral or functional. And that linguists get pissed that I use the term language at all but I don’t know a better one.)

How do I know this language or whatever you call it is shared by other people? For one thing, I see it mentioned from time to time:

Momo listened to everyone and everything, to dogs and cats, crickets and tortoises — even to the rain and the wind in the pine trees — and all of them spoke to her after their own fashion.

Many were the evenings when, after her friends had gone home, she would sit by herself in the middle of the old stone amphitheater, with the sky’s starry vault overhead, and simply listen to the great silence around her.

Whenever she did this, she felt she was sitting at the center of a giant ear, listening to the world of the stars, and she seemed to hear soft but majestic music that touched her heart in the strangest way. On nights like these, she always had the most beautiful dreams.

Those who still think listening isn’t an art should see if they can do half as well.

–Michael Ende, Momo

Or the following quote (somewhat autistic-centric and specific-culture-centric, so occasionally prone to generalizations):

MM: [Speaking of some autistic people…] we do not draw a line between inanimate and animate beings, that they all have a soul to us.

Daina: As a child, everything was somewhat alive to me. Perhaps the face-processing tendency that most NTs have enables them early on to distinguish what is alive and what isn’t, and what is human and what isn’t.

Ava: Or maybe what is and isn’t alive, is just another assumption that NTs make. So for the NT child, either because of the strength of those attachments to faces and the accompanying social world, or through some coincidental developmental process, the aliveness of the sensory world fades. Whereas we ACs retain more of the direct experience of the world and less of the face-addiction-belief thing.

Sola: This reminds me of a poem that I studied in high school, “The Pond” by Bjalik. The poem describes a secret place in the forest, where there is a little pond and a tree growing from it. When the poet was a little boy, he used to go there, alone, and listen to the “language of visions,” an unmediated way for the child to communicate with the tree and the pond. The articles that I read about this poem discussed the role of spoken language, as adding the social aspect, separating the initially naive child from the true essence of the world. I was enchanted by the poem. For many months I perseverated on the meaning of communication and language, searching the library for more articles about this. However, unlike the conclusion of the poem, I did not feel that growing up and maturing inevitably meant losing this innocence and being expelled from nature. I felt that I was still that child in the forest. Now that I know that I am AS, I am not surprised that the poem had such influence on me.

[…]

MM: We are always sewing souls into the things we create.

Jane: Yes I think soul (essence of being) is created through the creation of a relationship. I call it a moral relationship (which I know sounds prissy or sanctimonious to some), by which I mean a relationship where there is acceptance/acknowledgement of agency and responsibility. When I relate to an object (whether it is another human or a bear I have created out of cloth), with my moral/aware consciousness, when I acknowledge my power to affect (recognize, hurt, heal, shine like the sun or nourish like rain — even to destroy like lightning), I also give power to the other (the object) to affect me. So that other is as alive as I am (in this sense). We are in a moral relationship that gives life meaning. That is why I know the bears who are my most intimate and daily family do help me be/have whatever is good in who I am and what I do. It is the relationship that makes us who we are (that makes me who I am). And I say that even though I have a strong tendency to want to say/feel I am I, alone. That fraction of truth lives inside the larger truth of relationships.

MM: Most of humanity is ignorant for not seeing what is around them. I hear the rocks and trees. Wish me well and tell me I am one of them, one of the silent ones who has now been given a voice, and that I must come out of hiding to protect others without voices: in my case I tend to help give voice to persons with Alzheimer’s disease. My washer and dryer speak to me, and I painted a face on them and gave them names and make sure I don’t overwork them. When I worked in a copy shop I could produce more copies than any other employee. Yes, I could understand the physics of the machines and their limitations from overheating etc. But for me the machines were talking to me and I talked back regularly.

I was raised by my Siamese cat I could understand her language better than the human language, and so I spoke Siamese before I spoke English, and I thought the cat was my real mother because I could understand her more than I could understand humans. I speak to children, babies, machines, rocks and trees as if they can hear me and they know what I am talking about. That is why my success with Alzheimer’s patients is so high: I treat them with such great respect and assume they know what I am saying. And I wonder why the rest of the world is so ignorant as to treat others as stupid and dumb and things and animals so terribly because they are somehow less than us? Well I think that this is a very arrogant stance to think we are better or more alive than these others who very much have a soul.

The last set of quotes is from a set of conversations between several autistic women in the book Women from Another Planet edited by Jean Kearns Miller. It’s not identical to my experience, but the basic idea many of them are getting at is quite similar to my own idea of my innate “language”. These are not the only autistic people I have heard say this either, just the ones readily accessible in a book. Whatever way I innately perceive the world around me in this sense has a lot in common with a specific subgroup of other people, many of whom have been defined by others as autistic but not exclusively that. And I am always glad to hear something of autistic people that isn’t the stereotype of either having an empty head or a head filled exclusively with elaborate formal logic like Spock.

So how does all this apply to cats? Well, in my book cats are as deserving of a fundamental respect as are humans, rocks, and all kinds of other things whether traditionally considered animate or inanimate. Like all forms of respect, this doesn’t mean treating all cats identically to all humans (that would be a frightfully human-centered way of doing things), or even treating all cats or all humans the same as each other. Respect has to do with really listening to who someone is and treating them accordingly, even if that differs from how you would treat someone else with respect. Identical and equal are not the same. It is as wrong to reach out and pet all over a cat who finds indiscriminate petting unpleasant, as it is to withhold petting from a cat who thrives on it (but in both cases it’s also wrong to approach the cat in a way that has everything to do with your own preferences and nothing at all to do with the cat’s!). Respect doesn’t mean you don’t have to work to understand the cat either, but that is a topic for a later post in this series.

This post is the first in a series of posts I am planning to write about how to deal with and interact with cats. It’s an attempt to give a broad overview of where I am coming from before I jump into all the details. And my reason for writing this is my reason for writing most things: I rarely see anything written about the subject matter from this perspective, I know I can’t be unique in valuing this perspective (because no one is that unique no matter what they believe), and so I write the kind of thing I would like to see written. And because a friend and I have been discussing nothing but cats for ages, so my brain is pointed in this direction.

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[Photo is Fey, viewed from over the top of both of our heads. Her face is pointing the opposite direction of mine, and mine is barely visible in the photo. Her cheek is partly on my cheek and partly on the grey neck pillow. She is a grey cat with ticked fur, and a white area on her nose like a diamond on top of a triangle of white. There is also some white visible on the tiny part of her chest that you can see. She has green eyes, each one partially shut but with one more so than the other. Her ears are in their normal relaxed position. Her whiskers are neither pulled in nor pushed out, and can only be seen on one side where they spray upwards (her face is pointing to the left side of the photo). And to me, the way her face looks in this photo is both intense and familiar, although I don’t know how they would look to anyone else.]

When she curls around my heart and purrs

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These photos could easily go with my last cat post, and will have to do while I’m writing a series of new cat-related posts. She was doing something similar to this when I came up with the poem in the last cat post.

I don’t have an adequate way to describe how the photos differ from each other. All of them involve parts of my face showing, and parts of Fey showing. (Fey is a grey cat with ticked fur and some white markings on her face, paws, and belly.) In nearly all of them, Fey has parts of her face pressed to my cheek. We are lying next to each other on my bed, which is slightly tilted upward at the head. The pictures are from various angles. In the last photo, Fey is sniffing my forehead.

We can sit like this for hours, whether awake or asleep.

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Cat Love

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There is no joy greater than the purring of a cat 
(No not a cat. This cat. Cats are not interchangeable.)
There is no joy greater than the purring of this cat  
When she curls around my heart and purrs
And I purr my silent purr back
She taps out a soft rhythm of her cheek on mine
Once, twice, four times, eight times
Then rests it gently on my face for an hour
Then she shifts, and flips her head upside-down under her arm
The purr getting loud in the stretch 
Then buries her face in my neck for a while 
Before bringing it back to my cheek
And there is no moment where pain matters less
For there is no joy greater than the purring of this cat  
When she curls around my heart and purrs
And I purr my silent purr back 

(Dedicated to Fey.)

a closeup of my face with my eyes closed and a grey cat face with a spot of white resting her cheek on mine

We’ve been doing this several hours a day lately, including right now.

For a lovely illustration of a purring kittypile, see the following YouTube video by Anne of her three feral rescue kittens. There is no transcript or captions but maybe someone capable of doing so could do so in comments (including the purring). The most relevant sound to me is the sound of three kittens purring in unison in a way that sounds like an amazing cat harmony.

A difference in perspective.

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“She’s so happy” is what someone just told me about Fey, my cat, who’s visiting me where I’m staying right now.

Actually, while Fey is a lot of things right now, happiness isn’t what I’d summarize it as. She’s glad to see me, but she’s also edgy and scared about being in a new place (and about me not being home yet), angry at me for not being home, annoyed about having been picked up, and frantic in her attempts to get me to do something by nudging my hands and face hard and in rapid succession.

I notice this sort of thing often. I obviously can’t read a cat’s mind and know precisely what she’s thinking about everything, but I can get a pretty good clue through body language of the assorted layers of emotions she’s got going on.

Other people often seem to have a limited template of cat emotions in their heads.

Such as, as I finally deduced today, “Purring means the cat is happy.” Which is a gross oversimplification of the use of purring by cats, and which seems to lead to humans totally ceasing all further observation of what the cat happens to be doing in addition to purring, as well as all comparison of the sound of the purring to all other purring the cat has done.

Then there are more “subtle” things like not knowing the difference between a play-bite and an anger-bite. Which doesn’t seem subtle to me, but after watching a lot of people interact with cats, it seems like many people don’t get it. I’ve seen too many people attempt to “play with” (read: invade the space of) a heavily annoyed cat, only to conclude the cat is “mean” when they get hissed at and scratched. And all too often, even after the hissing and scratching, they might say in a sing-song voice, “You meanie,” and go back for more. Putting themselves at risk of a serious bite and taking every warning sign the cat has to offer as a sign of “playfulness”.

That last one, I had trouble understanding for awhile. I thought the humans doing those things were being cruel themselves. Then I ran across a person who seemed absolutely contradictory: She was very conscientious about most things, but at the same time she seemingly terrorized my cat and then laughed about it.

A friend pointed out that she probably wasn’t able to read feline social cues very well.

And that did turn out to be the problem after all.

But it seems like to many people there’s only one set of nonverbal cues that exist: That of the neurologically standard members of their own species in the culture or cultures they are most familiar with.

Anything beyond that appears less nuanced, but often they conclude that rather than being unable to pick up the nuances of an unfamiliar species, neurotype, or culture, then these nuances don’t exist unless the unfamiliar people in question develop nonverbal cues specifically intended to communicate to the person doing the observing. They might even, if they don’t even manage to learn an abbreviated version of the nonverbal cues in question, conclude that the unfamiliar species, culture, or neurotype has no body language. Which leads to being stereotyped as mysterious, sinister, defective, deficient, or some combination of the above.

I’ve always found it interesting, how if autistic people don’t understand certain things about non-autistic people, it’s because autistic people are disordered (deficient in understanding “nonverbal cues” in general, as if there is only one kind), but if non-autistic people don’t understand autistic people, it’s also because autistic people are disordered (deficient in our ability to produce “nonverbal cues” in general, as if there is only one kind). People seem very resistant to the idea that there are many levels of detail and nuance that they are missing in this regard.

If cats survive.

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This has absolutely nothing to do with just about anything I usually write about.

But I was watching this show recently about what would happen in the extremely unlikely event that something made humans but no other species go extinct. (They did not get into the near-impossibility of this scenario.) At first it was really depressing, but then they were showing how once all the cities were overgrown, housecats would take over living in the ruins off of all the small animals and birds that were now living there. (And they showed how cats already do that in some ruins.)

I know it sounds strange, but I could deal with the concept of extinction of the human race a lot better if I knew the cats were going to take over. I know that’s unlikely to happen — anything that would affect humans so drastically would affect other species as well — but if cats survive it seems less depressing.

The difference between what’s normal for someone and what isn’t.

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I remember being confused about something that happened during my first Autreat.

After Autreat, someone was talking about how surprised she was to see a particular person having a particular kind of trouble. (I’m being vague on purpose, the kind isn’t all that important and the people involved probably want to be anonymous.) I was surprised how focused she was on this, given that lots of people there (including me) had the same kind of trouble and she did not seem alarmed that the rest of us did. I asked her about it but she hemmed and hawed more than she gave an actual answer.

I eventually got an answer from a friend of hers that was more blunt: “Nobody looking at you expected you to be high-functioning enough not to have that trouble anyway.”

Oh. (Keep in mind at that point I regarded myself as being, and looking, extremely “high functioning”, and believed in functioning levels. This was awhile ago. But, more to the point, I didn’t always have that trouble to the extent that I had it after flying across the country, especially after getting stranded between flights.)

Today a guy came over who works for the nighttime emergency service I use in lieu of a roommate. Normally, they’re sent over here for bad situations. Often I’m some combination of very ill, in pain, and immobile. Apparently there’s some mandatory part of the program that involves them coming out and meeting us on an ordinary day periodically. And I’m beginning to see why.

Someone who mainly sees me during emergencies is going to have a much different understanding of what my baseline abilities are, than someone who sees me on an ordinary day. In fact, a person who doesn’t know me well could easily mistake the way I’m doing on a bad day, for the usual, and thus not really worry even if I’m showing clear signs of something being incredibly wrong.

This isn’t just true in medical situations, either. People who worked for this agency have disregarded signs of emotional stress on my part before because their presence caused me enough stress that they never saw me un-stressed. When my friend had to explain to them that normally I’m a fairly animated person and don’t sit meekly in a corner saying yes to everything unless I’m terrified out of my mind, they had trouble believing her.

So it actually seems like a really good idea to have people get familiar with what someone is usually like, even if what they’re normally going to be dealing with is emergencies. That way, they can tell the difference between something being wrong and something being normal for that person.

(BTW, the recent absence of posting is because I’m working on a video about my cat, and cats take a lot of time to film, at least in the contexts I’m trying to film her in.)

Eight Random Things

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I’ve been tagged by Steve D at One Dad’s Opinion.

The rules:
1. Let others know who tagged you.
2. Players start with 8 random facts about themselves.
3. Those who are tagged should post these rules and their 8 random facts.
4. Players should tag 8 other people and notify them they have been tagged.

I’m doing this one photographically. The photographs that have larger versions can be clicked on to see them. I’ll do photographs and then the stories behind them. Not sure how random they are, they’re all stuff I found in different areas of the house though.

1) Clock

These are the innards of a particular clock. My parents apparently found it in the attic somewhere and have no clue where it came from. It doesn’t work too well now, but throughout much of my childhood it did. My parents said that its gong was one of the first sounds I responded greatly to, and it was with apparent recognition and great interest (the apparent recognition led to speculation I’d heard it in the womb already, no clue if that’s possible or not). I can remember in older childhood running to watch the workings behind it whenever I heard the first few clicks winding up for it to gong.

2) Beam tree

a slab of plastic with a tree-like design inside, sitting on a wooden stand and lit from the bottom

This is called a beam tree, and we had one in the house because my dad worked at SLAC. It’s another thing I remember staring at a lot. In this case, there was a base a friend of his made, that had a light in it with a rotating colored filter. This meant it would light up in all different colors. I didn’t even realize how rare they used to be until I got older, nor did I understand how they’re made. Basically, they’re made by sticking a slab of plastic at the end of a particle accelerator and bombarding it with electrons. Then a person touches it with a piece of metal in a certain spot, and all the electrons escape. The tree-like shape is the escape path of the electrons.

You can see one being made here:

3) Books

a field guide to birds

That field guide to birds is the first book I ever read, and apparently memorized a good deal of it. I was quite young at the time. I particularly remember my favorite word ORIOLE (which is black and purple), and because the word was black and purple (due to the O and R), confusing it with the black and purple coloring on the next page, which appears now to be attached to a grackle.

the book Momo by Michael Ende

These days, though, my favorite book is a children’s book, Momo by Michael Ende, and my preferred reading is children’s fiction.

4) Scrapbook

scrawled child writing saying, if the air is so full of water vapor that it cannot hold anymore the weather report says the relative humidity is 100 percent if the air has only half as much water vapor as it can hold the report says the relative humidity is 50 percent

This is from a scrapbook my parents made from when I was a kid. For reference, I did not at the time understand the words concepts of humidity, relative anything, water vapor, or percentages. I was copying this almost word for word out of a book.

scrawled child writing saying, sometimes mars and earth are on the same side of the sun then the two planets may be only 35 million miles apart, then a badly drawn diagram, a bunch of hearts, and writing saying, to anna and ron

From the same scrapbook, astronomy stuff that I apparently gave to my parents given it has their name on it. I don’t remember if that was from a book or not. Astronomy was a Big Thing of mine for awhile, I devoured the entire section at the library. Just random kid geekery I guess.

5) Message bracelet

a message bracelet saying 10 GOTO 1 RUN ERROR

Speaking of which… I don’t know about you, but I don’t know a whole lot of little neurotypical girls who, when asked to make a message bracelet, would come out with something like this. My brothers taught me to use a VIC-20 to make patterns on the screen pretty early, things like this are the result.

6) Cats

shiny ceramic figurines of a black mother cat with two kittens

I used to collect these, this is only one of the remnants of that collection (I gave most of it away before moving). I used to have an entire shelf full of cats in ceramic, wood, rubber, and any other form I could find them in. Cats, as you can gather, have been another Big Thing for me. When I was in sixth grade I wrote my autobiography as roughly, “We had cats named Tiger and Mouse and Calico. Then Mouse had kittens twice and there were Smokey and Tangerine, but Tangerine’s name got changed to Frank. They all ran away when we moved but Smokey and Frank came back. Then a black cat showed up in our woodpile and got named Jenny before we figured out he was a boy.” And so forth, going on at great length about the fur length, coloring, and appearance of all the cats.

7) Tape measure

a retractible tape measure

I found this lying on the road in Boulder Creek, California, which is where I lived when I first moved away from my parents. It had clearly been beat up and run over a bunch of times. It’s become one of those comfortable objects that I take with me places for familiarity purposes — it feels good in my hand. And it also has ties to another kind of object I used to use that way. When I was in school, I carried a lot of bags around with me (people frequently made the pun with my last name because of this). One of the things I did was I’d pick up rulers and put them in the bag. I unfortunately wasn’t grasping the idea that it wasn’t nice to nab other people’s rulers. I amassed quite a collection. Oddly enough, I never got in trouble for it, but I did get a bunch of kids chanting “Thief! Thief! Thief!” when they saw how many of them I had. I suppose they had a point. (Don’t worry, I’ve since grasped the idea of property.)

8) Star

a star-shaped ornament with metallic edges and lots of colored plastic pieces hanging on twisted wires in the middle

This is something my friend Natalia sent me, along with a wooden cat. The wooden cat fits perfectly in my hands and has gotten so familiar so fast (and used as another of those familiarity objects) that people often ask me if I’ve had it for ages, but really these things were only sent last year. The ornament is really cool because it’s got little pieces of colored plastic in the middle that look neat when held close to your eyes, and can also be fiddled with and spun in circles. Natalia is particularly talented at picking out things that really suit me in some way.

So I have to tag a bunch of people. Hmm. I hope I haven’t overlapped with anyone’s tagging, and I’m not even sure all these people participate in things like this, but here goes:

I guess I tag Natalia (same Natalia) at My Spanglish Life (because she’s random by nature anyway), Dave Hingsburger at Chewing the Fat (not sure if he does memes or not, but worth a shot), Moggy at Moggy Mania, Rark at rarkrarkrark, Danni at Danni’s Blog, Neral at kirayoshi, Chris at Simple Gifts, and Danechi at And Stimming with Rainbows at Every Design.

Compulsions, and reverse compulsions, and even weirder.

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I haven’t talked to a whole lot of people about compulsions, and I’m curious if anyone’s experienced anything like this. I used to have a lot more of them when I was younger, including the classic one about stepping on a line in the sidewalk. I would go to great lengths to avoid stepping on lines in the sidewalk, and was terrified if I missed.

But it did not end there. In reaction to that, I became just as studious about stepping only on lines on the sidewalk. Sort of a reverse of the first compulsion.

And it didn’t even stop there. Then I got a compulsion to very carefully measure my walk so that it appeared that I was walking normally and without regard to lines and spaces, but where I was actually keeping careful track of lines and spaces, and keeping careful track of my stride to make sure that I was just perfectly not-concerned-about-lines-and-spaces in my walking pattern.

I have read not much on the stuff that psychiatry calls OCD (and I’m using psychiatric terminology because I know no other), but I’m curious about whether other people’s compulsions have followed that weird pattern of “compulsion to do something,” “compulsion to do its opposite,” and “compulsion to act as if neither the thing nor its opposite matter”, often switching between all three of them in different orders over time.

Also if anyone’s ever experienced a fascination with a particular (innocent) thing that turns into a revulsion that can’t be shut off. That fascination might be like, watching the particular way cats turn their head when they eat and the sound they make, and insisting on watching it over and over and even imitating it, and then suddenly being so repelled by it that you can’t stand to be in the same room with it or anything that even vaguely resembles it. But where it’s at first an irresistible fascination, then an equally irresistible revulsion, and even worse, a revulsion that you can’t possibly turn away from and find yourself compelled to repeat (such as lip-smacking, where I used to be fascinated by it, now can’t stand it, but sometimes find myself stuck “having” to lip-smack over and over or something because I can’t stand it).

Dog stuff.

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Jen on the couch with two dogs

Jen (my morning staff) brought her dog to work today. He’s just recently adopted, five years old, easygoing, and enormous. BJ couldn’t exactly get him to play with her, but she still liked him, and he kept licking her ear, so I think they’re friends now.

In fact, they left ten minutes ago, and she’s just finally stopped whining and howling at the door after they left. She really likes him. Apparently he can come to work often from now on, so that’s what he’ll be doing. Which means BJ will have a friend (which is good because she’s of the social school of thought that if you don’t meet at least ten people every day you’re deprived of something essential).

The cat, on the other hand, can’t stand him. Of course. Her tail puffed up to an impressive degree before I even opened the door, and she turned spiky and growly as soon as he came in. He is enormous (125 lbs), and loves cats, and even he was intimidated enough by her to hide behind Jen.

(And just for an update on Joel, he presumably saw a doctor this morning and appears from his tracking system to now be in Canada which is a good sign.)