Reader-Submitted Pet Stories

We asked; you responded. Here are funny, sad, and poignant stories about our furry and feathered friends.

Alone But Not for You

My husband, Silas S. Warner, author of Castle Wolfenstein, left this world after battling kidney disease combined with diabetes and high blood pressure. His heroic work on DNA software gave the world the ability to separate the innocent from the guilty and free hundreds of wrongly convicted persons.

Unfortunately, Silas’ death left me totally alone except for the assistance dogs I have had, who help me walk with sciatica, brace me from falling, and get me to and from places with steep steps. These range from San Francisco art galleries to a music school with a staircase that would confound a spider.

My current service dog, a golden retriever named Cassie Rainbow, joins the other dogs in having a particular gift: human relations. She will kiss babies and comfort the ill, revealing in her inner-lit blue eyes a love that radiates to all, comforting indiscriminately.

Since my husband’s death in February 2004, my life in the world — teaching horseback riding and writing and producing plays — has been made possible, in spite of an overwhelming state of grief, by the following heroes, of whom Cassie Rainbow is one: Boo Boo Bear, a Newfoundland, pulled carts full of children at a community event in Chico, accompanied me to my first official paid job as a therapeutic riding instructor in late June 2004, and wagged his immense rudder-like tail in time to the beautiful music at the Berkeley Jazz School, creating, as the instructor termed it, “the Boo Boo Bop.” Boo Boo outlived the normal life expectancy for Newfoundlands by four months.

Yet his health deteriorated quite rapidly by age ten, and an amazing dog — a long hoped-for fantasy — asked for a home. A Saint Bernard I named Héro La Lumiére (Champion of Light), had been savagely abused and undernourished by his former owner, a meth lab idiot now in prison. The Animal Rescue Foundation provided the free services of a behavioral evaluator, and Héro’s good French manners prevailed and we went home.

With the help of two eye operations and my own food program of ten pounds of kibble each day plus a rice/chicken/liver/tomato concoction in the slow cooker, Hero thrived. A French woman resembling an older Audrey Hepburn fell in love with him, and never doubted HŽroÕs comprehension for a moment. And HŽro played the role of a cow during therapeutic riding games and at abled facilities where I taught.

Service dogs are meant to help their human partners lead a full life. Héro accompanied me to the opera, where he absorbed the libretto with better understanding than most of the audience, his beautiful eyes never leaving the stage. We tutored in libraries together, where HŽro never had to stretch to reach the water fountain. Since meth madness had almost killed the dog, we led drug education rallies, yelling, “Meth equals death! Meth equals death!” All of these rallies were impromptu, on BART platforms and in libraries, and I hope KPFA aces Dennis Bernstein and Davey D. would be proud of us.

Héro’s premature death at age three and a half was caused by the lung damage perpetrated by early meth exposure. How I got a sick 165-pound Saint Bernard into my little Toyota and to the vet’s that December afternoon I will never know.

Miracles abound throughout this story. Love itself is a miracle. So are the dogs.

Kari Ann Owen, Hercules

A New Light

I bought a new light fixture for the foyer. From her pillow bed in the living room, my dog, Kihei, watches me make the black-to-black and white-to-white wire connections. I no longer think of her as a rescue dog. She has left her anxious days behind. She has chosen me.
Kihei is like the green wire I attach to the ceiling fixture, my grounding connection; my safe harbor from dangerous currents. She knows this, and shows this, in the way she looks back over her shoulder on our leash-less walks to keep track of where I am, where I am heading. Though she walks in front of me, she is following.

I call her a Bashepador — guessing her to be part Basenji, part Shepherd, part Labrador — a short-haired, orange-brown mutt that would be mistaken for a purebred Korean Jindo dog but for the fact that she has one floppy ear and one erect ear, a symbol of her fractured origin. Her standing ear swivels like a radar dish, monitoring for squirrels and unfamiliar approaches. She sighs through her nose.

I pop in a new light bulb and flip the switch to test the connections. The light is sudden and bright. Kihei, whose original name is unknown, and who did not respond to her shelter-given name, is named after the sun and sand-splashed town on Maui’s southwest coast, which Hawaiians used to refer to as a barren place, where no one wanted to live or work until the late 1960s when water was piped into the area from central Maui. The town of Kihei was developed in vague service to local industry, a hodgepodge of buildings squeezed between the ocean to its west, and to its east, a highway to somewhere else. So, too, was the place she had been found, a desolate patch between the bay and Interstate 80, halfway into an unknown history, days from an unnoticed end.

We first met in a gray, square room at the Berkeley Humane Society, occupied by a desk and a red sofa. I had been told to expect her to be wary. But she bounded from her handler to my place on the sofa, lifted her paws onto my knees and placed her nose against mine. The handler — a multi-pierced young woman with a blue-streaked ponytail — said that she never does that. It was my birthday, and she had seen that I needed to be reborn.

I turn the screws of the stop-plates that hold the frosted glass cover in place. As I fold the ladder and return it and my tools to the utility closet, I decide to take Kihei for a walk. She bounds from her pillow at the sound of the unlatching of the front door, one ear leading the other. We leave the light on.

Andrew Wiener, Oakland

Pude the Wonder Cat

Even people who didn’t like cats delighted in Pude. Many came to love him — his alternately plucky, joyful, and serene nature — and that something special, soulful in his eyes. Pude was a bona-fide bliss-ball, a dyed-in-the-wool ecstato-cat. As soon as I awoke, I’d see him sitting there beside me, patiently waiting for me to open my eyes, gazing at me with his huge, expressive peridot peepers. He’d then immediately bestow on me his unique, daily brand of good-morning greeting: He’d bound onto my chest and ardently rub my nose back and forth three times with his Eskimo-style kiss, and then lick my nose several times. I came to call this “shnurfling.” My other two cats, Pinky and Homes, were affectionate, too, but neither did Eskimo kisses.

Pude never cried or complained. So when I thought I heard him crying around four one morning, awaking me from a feverish flu-fueled haze, at first I thought I was dreaming and went back to sleep. Several minutes later, there was that sound again, rousing me, but again I dozed off.

I’d closed my bedroom door that night to keep the cats out. I needed an undisturbed night’s sleep to get over the flu. But my bedroom was in the colder part of the house, and the main heat source was a big floor grate on the other side. So I left the heat on that night, hoping some might seep through the crack under the door.

Then I was awakened a third time. The clock said 4:23 a.m. Pude was crying — it was unmistakable — and scratching frantically on my bedroom door. I finally roused myself, thinking he must be sick or hurt. As I opened the door, I saw Pude doing the strangest behavior I’d ever seen. He emphatically turned his head to the side several times, as if painting. I looked in the direction of his paint, just as a strange odor filled my nostrils. A large, matted print had fallen from the wall onto the big floor-grate. It was surrounded by smoke and bursting into flames. I doused the flames, took Pude in my arms, and thanked him. The other two cats had skedaddled out the cat door, but he stayed — and saved me. If not for him, by the time the fire would have invaded my room, it would have been too late. The day before, the smoke alarm beeped its need for a new battery, but I hadn’t replaced it yet and just disengaged the alarm.

After that Pude, a name that was originally short for “Puddha,” became “Pudini the Wonder Cat.” A few years later, when he was fourteen, Pude got sick. After two vet visits, I took him to a specialist, who uttered terrible words. He said Pude was in his last days; there were tumors in his intestines. He said I should get ready to say good-bye.

Back at home, Pude and I tuned into each other, as we often did. I got the clear feeling that this didn’t need to be the end, and that Pude felt that way too. He still had so much spirit and spunk. So I did all I could to help him get better, starting gradually to monitor the effect. I adjusted his diet, gave him herbs, applied a plant balm, and tried to encourage wellness with my hands. After a week or so, Pude showed signs of improvement, so I continued. In another few weeks, he seemed totally well. I gradually reduced all ministrations but the adjusted nutrition, and I waited. After two months with no signs of illness, I took Pude back to the specialist, who took more ultrasounds. He came back and said that the first sonograms must have been defective — because there was nothing there.

But when he was twenty, Pude got really sick, and this time several organs were involved. He got so sick that there was no denying — it was time. He decline suddenly became marked, and I called the vet, asking if she could come over to help him on his way. In his own way, Pude had let me know; and for two days he had been too weak even to schnurfle.

As we waited for the vet, I held Pude on my belly and expressed my thanks, love, good-bye, and so much more. Then, with his last bit of strength, he lifted himself forward, reaching his face toward mine. I pulled him closer and bent my head forward. Pude then gave me, one last time, three Eskimo kisses and four loving licks. It was his last act. A moment later, he was gone.

Jenna Jackson, Oakland

The Champ

This was 1991. Being fat, black, nerdy, smelly, and sensitive about it (contrary to today’s fashionably ironic hipster shit) was not cool at all back then. I was bullied so badly, I wanted to kick my own ass.

Winter break eve; waiting at the bus stop, next to the country bar. Two overgrown eighth-graders are giving me hell. Suddenly, snapping out from behind a dumpster, an angry mongrel of a dog starts barking and snarling at the jerks. They step off.

It actually seemed as if he wanted to be my friend. His eyes were smiling when he approached me. The school bus pulled up and I quickly got to a seat, but when I looked out the window he’d already split. Miraculously, when I get off the bus seven hours later, there he is! As he followed me home I decided to nickname him “The Champ.”

Since he had my back, I took care of him. Tricky though, considering the fact that I had to make sure my family didn’t know of his existence. For five days during that chilly vacation I was able to feed, bathe, and play with The Champ. He slept under my bed, and we watched a lot of MTV.

The sad part: My grandfather, June Bug, came home smashed (which was not unusual), tripped over the kerosene heater in the living room, and damn near burned our house down. In the smoky late-night scramble, my pet freaked out and bit the drunk’s leg. He took a McGruff-sized chomp.

Aunt Shirley came to pick me up. I kept asking her if the dog would be okay. Wasn’t so worried about June Bug. She just kept driving me around town and telling me not to worry about it. By the time she dropped me off, The Champ was gone.

DeWayne Frazier Dickerson, Oakland


One day my friend Karen said, “Hi, Jerry. How would you like to have a nice little puppy? I know that you recently lost your dog, Shadow, and I know that you know how to take care of animals.” I said, “I can’t do that. I’m still grieving for my poor dog, Shadow.”

A few days later, Karen came by again. She was carrying a tiny puppy. It was a Miniature Pinscher. I looked at her and said, “I still don’t want a dog.” She said, “Why don’t you try him out?” Then she sat the puppy on my lap and it curled up in my arms. I said, “Maybe I’ll keep him for a day, but I am going to find out about this breed first.” The info from the Internet was that they were not related to the Doberman Pinscher. They were a hyper dog and they barked a lot. It said that this breed was a bad apartment dog.

Later, while I was working at my desk, Karen came in with the puppy again. She asked, “Why don’t you keep him for one night?” She had two other puppies with her, but both were smaller. Karen looked over at me holding the dog and laughed, saying, “You know you’re going to keep him.” I said, “Okay, Karen, I’ll try him for a week. But I don’t think this is going to work out.”

When I got home, I put some papers in the bathroom and left him for a while. When I next looked, he had pooped on the floor. I told him, “No pooping in the house,” and took him for a walk. After that, he never did his business in the house again — ever. I thought, “This must be a smart dog.” I put him in a crate and left him for a while. When I returned he had ripped the skin off his nose trying to escape. I was afraid to put him in the crate again. I thought, “This dog is not going to work out.Ó

I decided to put him in the bathroom while I slept at night. He made so much noise in that bathroom that I had to let him sleep in my bed. He didn’t like it when I left him home alone, so I began taking him with me wherever I went. He was totally attached to me by now, and his trial time was coming to an end. Right around this time is when I began to realize that this dog was actually training me as much as I was training him.

I called him King, or “King of the Mini Pins.” Some people started calling him “Little King.” Of course I had to keep him. The Chinese people who live in my apartment building call him King and refer to me as King’s father. But they don’t know who I am?

Jerome Essel, Berkeley

Shoshan Takes a Nap

It was a warm morning. Shoshan had just finished her breakfast of mixed cereal, mashed bananas, applesauce, cut mango, and broccoli. She was stuffed, and zoned out on my shoulder to digest her food before playing with her toys. I was in the driver’s seat facing the sun and closed my eyes, taking in the warmth through my skin and feeling incredible. We both fell asleep for a short nap. A woman parked her car and proceeded to shop. Several minutes later the woman came out and walked over to the truck to comment on how bonded we seemed to be. Shoshan had pressed her body into my cheek, her feathers fluffed up, absorbing the sun.

As an Umbrella Cockatoo, she was surely one of the most dependent birds I had ever owned. At 32 years old, her trust in me had been earned, and all of her social needs were met by me: food, water, toys, social preening, and nursemaid during her infertile egg-laying in spring when her hormones ran amok into craziness. I was her everything. With the window open, the woman pressed her hand into my palm, and wished me a wonderful day. I acknowledged her greeting, and unfolded my hand to find a twenty-dollar bill staring at me. Immediately, with tears running down my face, I thanked her for her support.

She returned to her car, unloaded her packages, and came back. “I didn’t give you enough,” she said, and handed me four more bills. “You and your bird need to eat of course. You look so comfortable together, so secure with each other. I have never seen such devotion with a bird.” I thanked her, shaking my head, weeping inside my body. It was hard enough to acknowledge that as a homeless woman, living in my truck, I had responsibilities, which extended to making sure my bird was happy, healthy, and alive. It was harder still to acknowledge to myself that I was homeless — a label that connotes so many images that just don’t reflect who I am.

Seeing dogs or even cats in a car don’t conjure those same images. But a bird is a dead giveaway. It hadn’t been the first time that Shoshan had provoked such a response from a stranger, but this time, it had been unexpected. Usually it entailed questions like, “What kind of bird is it?” friendly smiles from those who instinctively ‘knew’ what the situation was, or getting bird treats from other bird owners and understanding conversation from those who knew how difficult it was to do what I needed to do. This woman had done what no one else had: She instinctively knew that we were a pair, a bonded unit who took care of each other. Shoshan hadn’t abandoned me, and I certainly wasn’t going to give her up because I didn’t have a place to live.

Robin and Shoshan, Oakland


To prepare for the new goldfish, Lauren brought a fishbowl and black gravel. Wyatt offered the pump, and Julia toted in leafy green plants. When Gimpy arrived the next day, my whole sixth-grade class crowded around his bowl, where they pointed, laughed, and cooed like new parents.

Having never owned a goldfish, I was clueless about things like pH and food flakes. In fact, I felt confident about only one thing. Belly-down: alive. Belly-up: dead. Thus, I entrusted Gimpy’s well-being to the kids and secretly delighted in finding him alive each morning, floating around like a little slice of mango with paper-thin fins. He was cute. I liked him.

Days passed. The kids made up tales about Gimpy’s previous lives and jostled for feeding privileges. A few even invented a “Fish Dance,” a spontaneous display of gyrating hips and waving hands to celebrate, well, the fish. What they did not do, however, was care for his fishbowl. Before long, its glass sported a dark film of algae and its water became clouded with decomposing food. I pressed the kids to address the problem. “He’s your fish,” I said, wanting them to take responsibility.

Still, nobody stepped up. Excuses varied. No time. Don’t have the proper materials. Don’t know what to do. I held firm, but as another week passed — and the bowl’s condition worsened — I grew nervous. Gimpy was nearly invisible now. Would I kill him just to prove a point?

No, I decided, asking for help from a seventh grader, a former student who professed great fish knowledge. After school that day we performed an Extreme Makeover on Gimpy’s fishbowl, and in no time he was back to whizzing around in water that was clear as glass, straight from our tap. Who knew it was so easy?

Satisfied, I left to make photocopies, returning twenty minutes later to find Gimpy nearly belly-up, his fins waving lethargically; his tiny eyes already glassy. I quickly transferred him to a mug of spring water, where he tipped drunkenly for a minute and died. I was crushed, and confused. I would learn about chlorine later, but in that moment I just gazed at the empty bowl, chastising myself for being so careless.

The kids were less heartbroken. The next day they set Gimpy’s tiny body into a hole in a flowerbed. A few fake-cried, some expressed genuine remorse, but nobody blamed me for his demise. “These things happen,” said Lauren, the fishbowl tucked under her arm. “Fish usually die in the end.” Until that moment I hadn’t realized how prepared the kids were for this outcome, how many of their homes already contained evidence of a deceased pet: an empty cage, a frayed dog collar, a half-used bag of kitty litter. Their short lives — like it or not — had seasoned them for loss. The funeral ended and a small group gathered for one last “Fish Dance.” As they hopped around Gimpy’s grave, I found myself smiling, admiring their joy, their courage, their youth.

Chris Malcomb, Berkeley

A Valentine for Misha

I was on my way out to lunch one Valentine’s Day when I suddenly saw my childhood dog. She was medium-sized, shaggy, white, and furry. Her head was pointed, terrier-style. A few strands of hair hung over her face. Dougal! I leapt off the bus to say hello.

Not Dougal, after all. Her name was Misha. When she placed her paws on my waist, I asked, “Will you be my Valentine?” She licked my cheek and offered her paw to shake. I wish I had memorized her number because I have since fallen in love.

I was five when Dougal first offered her paw to shake, and we shook paws the whole time I was growing up. I liked gazing into her adoring brown eyes. I liked it when she licked my cheek. We lay on my blue-green shag rug while I scratched her tummy. I whispered my secrets to her, and she listened with care. My love for Dougal was the strongest kind I’ve ever felt. I asked her to marry me, and, of course, she said yes. Misha reminds me so much of Dougal. I can’t stop thinking about her.

I know! I’ll place a “Missed Matches” ad in the Express so I can find Misha again. That’s how Dougal had come into my family — after my parents answered an ad in the paper. My mother still has a clipping of the ad saved in a special box on her dresser. I hope my new ad brings Misha back to me.

Misha from Castro Valley

Outside Grace Baking on Solano,

Valentine’s Day, 12:30 p.m.

You licked my face when I asked you to be my Valentine. Water and dog biscuits? Box 3915.

And here’s how my voicemail message sounds: “Hi Misha, I love you. I keep looking for you outside of Grace Baking, but I haven’t seen you there. I really want to see you again because you’re my Valentine, and I adore you. Hope you call me soon.”

Today I saw people I had been thinking of in a distant way; and two shaggy, white, furry dogs. Dougal twins! I ran across the street to say hello. Why can’t I run into Misha? My heart is aflutter!

Misha answered my ad. She’s living in Albany now. Just think — we could be reunited tomorrow. The next day I leapt off the bus once more, for a grand reunion!

Eva Schlesinger, Berkeley

A Pet Story

She was a tabby, skin and bones, with large green eyes. Not a cat I’d want to touch or have sit on my lap. Nor did I want a cat. I was busy studying for my master’s and working part-time. But the cat kept appearing on my doorstep. Finally, I relented. I named her Tania.

Even the times when I returned home very late and rushed to fill Tania’s empty food bowl, she would not rush to eat. She’d jump on the coffee table by the sofa, wait for me to sit down, and then face me, as if to say: “Welcome home. How was your day?” Only after I talked to her would she have her meal.

One day I found Tania tearing up papers in a corner of the pantry. She was no longer scrawny. Her sides bulged. “Aha! Kittens on the way!” I lined a shallow carton with soft, clean rags and placed it in the spot she had chosen.

Time passed. I was at home studying. Tania jumped on my lap and meowed into my face. I was surprised. She never demanded attention. I put her down on the floor. She jumped back onto my lap and meowed with an urgency I couldn’t ignore. I got up and followed her into the pantry. She stepped inside the shallow carton and as soon as I knelt beside her she started delivering her kittens.

A year went by. I noticed that Tania was hardly eating. She wasn’t jumping on the coffee table to ask about my day, nor was she sleeping in her usual place, a fluffy area rug by my bed. Day and night she stayed sitting in the shower stall. I took her to the vet. “Nothing wrong,” he said, “She’s pregnant. Not eating? Some stomach bug, I guess. Nothing to worry about.” Back home, Tania resumed her place inside the shower stall.

Two nights later, she dragged herself into my bedroom and lay down on her usual spot on the fluffy rug. I sighed with relief. Tania must be feeling better; by morning there might be a new litter of kittens. In the morning there were no kittens, but Tania was still there, by my bed. I called her name. She didn’t move. My stomach tightened as I watched and saw there was no movement at all. The cat wasn’t breathing. She was dead.

An autopsy revealed the fetuses were oversized, too large for her to deliver. I will never forget Tania, the cat who always welcomed me home, who wanted me at her side while she delivered her first litter of kittens; and at her side again, a year later, when she must have sensed that she had only a few hours left to live.

Kathryn Winter, Berkeley


It all started with show-and-tell. You remember Show and Tell, don’t you? That’s the day you get to bring in something really great from home to show all your buddies at school.

It was my last teaching year. Retirement was beckoning and I took full advantage of the fact that I would not be returning to my teaching position (i.e., I broke a few rules).

Having decided to push the envelope, my first foray into being the numero uno “bad” employee was to hold a pet-themed Show-and-Tell week. We had snakes, guinea pigs, salamanders, cats, lice, fish, turtles, and one mini piglet. It was an infamous week. The stares from the other teaching “professionals” were looks to die for.

Anyway, the big hit at pet week turned out not to be the mini piglet, as you might have guessed, but Spot — a small, sweet, shy, and unkempt Poodle-Chihuahua mix. I grew fond of this scruffy little fellow, and so did the eighty first-graders who ran wildly with him during recess. We were all grateful that he slept fitfully during class. Were my lessons that boring? I tried not to take it personally.

Needless to say, I grew attached to the mischievous little eight-week-old pup. Time passed and soon I retired, yet the memory of little Spotty, the Show-and-Tell dog, lingered. I found myself thinking of him and even considered adopting or fostering a pup.

But I put off all of this canine thinking while a friend and I scooted off to Astoria, Oregon. It was autumn, and my cell phone chirped. Six-year-old Rachel, Spot’s “mom” was on the phone — and she was crying.

“Teacher, I need help,” she moaned. “My mommy is giving Spot away because I am not taking good care of him.” She painfully continued, “Mommy is giving Spot to the pound, and you know what they do to dogs at the pound. Oh, teacher, will you please take my puppy?”

Well, my friend and I wound up our vacation and made our way to little Rachel’s house. Spot was cowering in the corner of the garage, waiting to be rescued. He jumped into my arms, looked up at us and smiled. He knew he had found his forever home.

And that is the true, unembellished story of how Ellen co-adopted Spot, now called Spotnik Bubba, and the Show-and-Tell Puppy. And that’s the truth!

Ellen R. Gierson, Oakland

A Tribute to Aja Katrina

Please Mom, can we keep them?” my then-thirteen-year-old daughter begged me, referring to a muted Calico of grey, white, and tan who had taken up residence in our woodpile with her five kittens. Still grieving the death of our ten-year-old Sheltie, F. Scott Underfoot (“Scotty”), I had no room in my broken heart for a family of cats.Without any qualms I told her, “No!” Besides, we were a dog family.

However, I soon found myself feeding the thin, friendly mother who would climb into the woodpile with her catch dangling from her mouth to feed her brood. One chilly rainy day in October, succumbing to the continuous pleadings of my daughter, into the house came kit and caboodle, on the condition that my daughter find friends to adopt the feral kittens.No problem. We successfully located five families. In a few more months, however, we had to locate five more to adopt her second litter! And then she was spayed.

I named her Aja, as her face resembled a map of Asia (and I like Steely Dan), Katrina, because she sat with such aristocratic dignity with one polydactyl paw raised gracefully as if posing for a portrait. We were now a cat family.

While Aja and I grew closer, my daughter graduated from college, married, and remained in LA. I sold my Capitol Hill house and relocated with my best friend, Aja, to the Bay Area.

Two years later Aja suddenly stopped eating and drinking. A sonogram revealed an abdominal mass for which the vet suggested chemotherapy. But I could not put Aja, now eighteen, through that. My only other option, he told me, was euthanasia.

She was becoming obviously uncomfortable. Continuing to refuse all nourishment, she lay close to a heater, with large dilated pupils and a steady purr. We cuddled together on the couch throughout her last day as I tearfully told her how much I loved her, how much she meant to me, how she taught me to be more present, to adapt to new surroundings, to be patient, and, most important, to love and be loved.

The next day I tenderly held her in my arms as the vet administered the lethal injections.Only minutes later I stood outside the clinic holding an empty carrier, and the shock of what had just happened overwhelmed me. I felt lost. I didn’t want to go home, for home would never be the same without my sweet kitty.

The apartment felt hollow, empty. Her toys were scattered around, food and water bowls untouched, wisps of hair everywhere. I needed to talk and cry. I needed a compassionate someone, who understood our unique bond, to listen. Gratefully, I found Betty Carmack’s support group in San Francisco, and another in Marin, but surprisingly none in the East Bay. I vowed that when my grief healed sufficiently I would create pet loss support groups as a tribute to Aja Katrina. And I did.

Jill Goodfriend, Oakland

My Cat, the Compulsive Eater

Some cats eat to live, but my cat lives to eat. Her name is Mao (“cat” in Chinese) and her whole existence revolves around meals. She wolfs her food down as soon as she sees it, and then urps it five minutes later. Before discovering a cure for her compulsive eating habit, I was faced daily with piles of partially digested cat food in surprising locations around the house.

For months, I suspected there was either a mysterious ingredient in the cat food that was causing an allergic reaction or perhaps a carb addiction. Cat food is mostly made of corn — not exactly what cats were born to eat. After trial and error with many bags of gourmet, non-corn cat food, I concluded that the real cause was the speed of her eating. She was inhaling her food in sheer panic. Where was this anxiety coming from? A starvation experience from kittenhood? What had her first owners done to her?

A Tibetan Buddhist once told me that anxiety is the karma of animals, even well cared for pets. Although we humans believe pets have a life of ease, they are actually always suffering, anxious about food, laps for naps, or the next vacuum-cleaning session. Mao’s anxious meows took on a whole new meaning for me: Hey, my bowl is empty! Come see! Wait, you’re going out? You’ll never come back! Follow me … see my empty bowl!

Eventually, I figured out that she was swallowing her food without chewing. Her kibble was too small to require it. Eureka! I searched for dry food that was bigger, and found some cat food shaped more like stars than fish-tank pebbles. But my solution had only solved part of the problem. The bigger kibble had slowed her down a bit, but not enough to eliminate the over-eating.

Desperate, I went to Pet Food Express, where each one of the employees is a pet therapist-in-the-making, willing, almost excited, to listen to the angst of us pet owners. “I’m thinking some kind of a feeder?” I said, “Not the kind where the cat can access food anytime it wants; a timed thing.” The PFE employee was stumped for a mere nanosecond before directing me to a large covered platter with five trays that rotated in timed intervals, revealing only one tray at a time. Wahoo! I set up five feeding times, coffee-maker style: 6 a.m., 10 a.m., 2 p.m., 6 p.m., and 10 p.m.

At 5:55 pm, I waited with Mao to see if it would turn. Both of us were nervous. At 6:01 p.m. the machine rotated with a slow grind. Mao jumped straight up into the air, aghast. But then she gingerly approached the machine. The food passed the sniff test and the crunching began.

Now, the sound of the rotating feeder is music to my kitty’s ears. I can leave the house for hours at a time worry-free — as long as I remember to fill her feeder.

Heather Merriam, Berkeley


Newsletter sign-up

eLert sign-up

clear sky
75.2 ° F
83 °
67 °
43 %
1 %
75 °
73 °
69 °
66 °
62 °
Support the East Bay Express, local news, donate