He’s always been a big cat — one of his paws can fill my palm, and his legs are as big around as my wrist — but he’s also exhibited a lot of anxiety around having food available to him At All Times. (This is a pretty common thing for rescue cats.) Trying to balance his physical needs and mental wellbeing has led to a boy who is, while very tall and weirdly muscular, also kind of a chonk.
He and Kiko had their checkups and booster shots not too long ago. Because of the pandemic, it was all very distanced. My partner dropped them off in the parking lot, a tech took them in, and he waited outside until the visit was over. When both cats were returned to us, we were given the verdict: They were healthy, he needs to lose weight, and he was also a gigantic asshole by the way so here’s a standing prescription for gabapentin, to be given to him a half hour before every future vet visit.
“I feel like I just paid almost four hundred dollars for them to tell me he’s fat,” my partner lamented.
“I mean… kind of. But they also pointed out that he’s kind of a dick. And he got booster shots!”
“… Three hundred and fifty dollars for someone to roast my cat.”
And so, Pye has a special robot butler that dispenses special Chunky Boy Cheerios for him at regular intervals. He loves this, because the only thing more dear to his idiot heart than food is machinery. (You should’ve seen how excited he was to “help” the maintenance guy fix the dishwasher in our old place. Or the time he similarly attempted to help my partner repair a printer that Pye had, for some reason, diligently packed full of coconut bark.) Because he is extremely adept at drawing bizarre conclusions about things, he’s decided that, if he whines and flumbuses around in a specific way, the Benevolent Gods of Tasty Food will cause kibble to appear in his bowl with no input from either my partner or me. It has led to several impromptu a capella concerts at 3 AM.
Kiko, meanwhile, has a special pink teacup and snack plate to eat and drink from, because she refuses to drink out of bowls and demands to be accompanied to her food and I have lost control of my life.
Fortunately, Pye’s managed to stop gaining weight on this regimen, despite his food anxiety. He hasn’t lost anything yet, but, with luck (and monitoring his food and increasing his activity level) he’ll get there. If not, this kid’ll be eating corrugated bran puffs for the rest of his tiny life.
I mean, that’s not what’s kept me busy for the past twenty or so days, but it’s a small project I’ve embarked on.
(What did keep me away was an absolute ton of paid writing. It’s hard to write all day and then still feel like I want anything to do with words by the time I’m done. This is especially true when that writing involves hours of researching things like metallurgy and UV-C lighting. By the end of it, my brain is tired and feels like the tail end of a discarded boba tea.)
About a week ago, my S.O. and I found the app Meow Talk. It claimed to be able to record cat noises and translate them into something understandable to humans. I consider myself pretty perceptive when it comes to figuring out what these nerds are trying to say to me, but, admittedly, I was curious. How accurate could a cat recording app really be?
As it turns out, eerily so. It correctly interpreted all his weird little greeting chirps as “Hello.” He also tells the fridge “I love you,” and responds to my attempts to smooch him with “I AM IN PAIN.” Like I said, accurate. Meow Talk isn’t even paying me for this endorsement. I’m just genuinely surprised and tickled that someone was able to interpret my cats weird little trills and yowls. I haven’t yet managed to capture one of his weird 3 AM TED Talks to no one, or the paid mourner-style wailing he does every time we move a piece of furniture, but I’m working on it.
It doesn’t really work on Kiko, but she primarily communicates through touch. If someone makes an app that can turn little paw-taps into human speech, I’d be all over it. So far, I’ve managed to figure out her “please sit by my bowl and watch me eat,” “smooch my head,” and “roll over, I need to nap on your stomach. It’s an emergency” bops, but she’s developed a very robust punching-based language that defies interpretation a majority of the time.
If you have a cat, especially a vocal one, I recommend messing around with the Meow Talk app. It’s fun, if nothing else, and could be informative. Especially if your cat has a weird attachment to appliances.
Let me preface this by saying that I love my cats. I do. But one of them has an odd obsession with getting into any plant that’s within reach (and several that aren’t), and the other will hurl things and scream if one of us fails to sit on the kitchen floor with him in the morning. I don’t know why this is, but it’s the reality of the situation.
Anyway, as you can probably tell, this makes setting up and maintaining a home altar somewhat… challenging, shall we say. Not only do I not want my altar disturbed, I also don’t want to have to worry about someone eating something they shouldn’t. So, here’s how I keep everyone (and everything) safe:
Train Your Cats to- hahahahahaha
Sorry, couldn’t resist. Couldn’t finish that thought with a straight face, either.
Choose Portable Altar Decor (But a Permanent Space)
In my opinion, part of an altar’s power is in its presence even when it isn’t being used. Some of that is lost when you have to set up and take down your altar every time you need it, but that doesn’t make a portable altar any less beautiful or meaningful.
If you do have to go the portable route, however, I’d recommend keeping a dedicated altar space. Even if you can’t have food offerings out without your dog getting into them, or your cat tries to knock over all of your statuary, you can still have a specific space that’s only used for your temporary altar. Get a nice accent table and cover it with a cloth. Set it with a good-sized crystal or a vase of flowers (if your animal companions will allow for it). Save the other altar tools and decorations for when you’re actually performing a working, but keep that space as a designated altar even when it isn’t in use.
Use a Drawer
One of the best ways I’ve found to avoid my felines’ penchant for destruction is to choose a table with a nice, deep drawer, and set up an altar in that. You can still have a permanent space, and all you have to do is pull the drawer open to get to work.
Remember to close it gently, though — you’ll keep your altar tools and decorations from rattling and knocking around that way.
Use the Floor
If having things knocked over is your primary concern, why not just put them on the floor to begin with? The fact is, having chairs and tables so far from the floor isn’t a universal thing — plenty of cultures around the world use low tables, floor cushions, or nothing at all.
Designate a space for a floor altar. Set it with a small accent rug and your altar supplies. Place a comfy floor pillow in front of it, and you’re golden.
Use the Outdoors
If your interior space is too thoroughly dominated by your four-legged roommates, consider working outside. It’s a bit less convenient if the weather’s bad, but outdoor altars are beautiful, functional, and, if you work closely with your local nature spirits, immensely powerful.
The only tip I’d offer here is to choose altar decorations that are resistant to walking away. Expensive statues might disappear on you, and shiny crystals may prove irresistible to the local bird population. Materials that aren’t durable enough might end up a bit worse for wear after a few rainstorms and a couple of rounds of sun bleaching, too. Largish stones, garden statuary, candles, and — of course — plants are inconspicuous, not likely to disappear, and can handle being outside.
Watch the Center of Gravity
Few things are as nerve-wracking as a tall, lit candle. This is especially true when that candle is in the same room as a cat. If candles are part of your practice, make sure to invest in some good, heavy candle holders. If you can make sure your candles are sufficiently bottom-heavy, they’ll be less likely to tip over easily. For this reason, I also recommend tealights and jar candles over, say, long, fancy tapers.
The same is true of any statuary or other decorations. Avoid choosing items that have a high center of gravity, because they’re much more likely to tip over if, for example, a very zealous boxer puppy wags his tail too close to your altar.
Invest in Some Museum Wax
Museum wax is what helps keep museum displays in place. It comes in several types, from an opaque, gummy material to one more like clear dental wax, and can help things stay stationary if they get bumped. The only caveat here is that it doesn’t work on an altar cloth — museum wax provides a tacky surface between two smooth finishes, so it won’t really help to keep your statues in place on top of fabric.
Know Your Poisons (They May Not Be What You Think)
I remember watching a video by a crystal worker a few years ago. In it, they mentioned being guided by their intuition to charge a piece of cinnabar(!) using fire(!!). The reason I mention this is that, sometimes, the list of things we know we should keep away from our pets isn’t as long as it ought to be.
For example, cinnabar is an ore of mercury. Some specimens even have droplets of mercury on or in them. Metallic mercury is, itself, not that toxic — organic mercury compounds are far more dangerous — but inhaling heated mercury vapor is a super bad idea. Honestly, you shouldn’t even really handle cinnabar or wear it next to your skin. If you want to work with it, use gloves, keep it in a glass container, and definitely don’t let your pets touch, lick, or play with it. Definitely definitely don’t heat it up.
Some other gemstones contain toxic materials, like lead, arsenic, or antimony.
Plants and mineral specimens aren’t the only sources of a potential poisoning, either. Some pottery — particularly very old or inexpensive stuff — may not be food safe. This means that its paint or glaze can contain toxic minerals that might leach out if you use it to cook with or eat from. While this isn’t usually a super serious concern for altar tools, it can be if you have a pet who tries to sneak a drink out of your altar’s water vessel or steal your food offerings!
The bottom line is, it’s important to know what goes on your altar. If you have pets, it’s equally important to assume that everything is going to end up on the floor or in someone’s mouth eventually.
Some people don’t like the idea of adopting rescue animals, especially adult ones. They worry that they won’t be as trainable as a puppy or kitten — they might have all kinds of behavioral issues and odd quirks from their past home(s).
To be perfectly honest, I’m pretty sure Kiko and Pye were normal before we got them. (At least, I’m reasonably certain that Pye didn’t throw noisy tantrums if you neglected to sit next to him and eat cereal in the morning.)
I don’t know how Kiko could’ve survived otherwise. Her history indicates she was an outdoor cat — undersized, post-partum, a hair’s breadth from losing a leg to gangrene. Now, she taps my forehead to wake me up to watch her eat, will only drink out of a special pink teacup, requires smooches on the head at exactly 11:30 AM, and knows that the sound of me brushing my teeth means it will shortly be Cuddle Time. She won’t eat cat treats — her preferred snacks are strawberry yogurt and butter lettuce. She doesn’t like to walk through the apartment, either — she’ll launch herself face-first at my ankles, cry and hold up a paw as if she’s injured, and make big, sad eyes at me until I pick her up.
Her favorite thing, though, is the exercise bike.
I have a bog-standard stationary bike ever since my cardiologist recommended that I start taking short, easy rides to rebuild my endurance. I don’t know how, and I don’t know when, but Kiko made up her macadamia-sized mind that This Was an Activity of Buddies.
And so, she chubbles.
She sits at the edge of the bed, gazing up at me with her cartoonishly large, round eyes. She knows she has me wrapped around her little white paws, and all she has to do is wait patiently. If I fail to respond, she daintily taps at my knee.
Eventually, I will have to pick her up.
I always do.
I have no idea what she gets out of this. It’s a stationary bike. We don’t go anywhere. There is nothing to see but the bedroom door. She nestles herself into my elbow, flops her head back to mush her face on mine and give me her little :3 smile, and purrs. And she’ll stay like that until I’m done pedaling.
There’s no reason for it. She could be ignoring me, happily cuddling with my partner. The second she hears the telltale boop of my exercise tracker app, she pries herself away to chubble at me. She could be asleep, she’ll wake up. She could be in a different room, I’ll hear the strawberry bell on her collar jingling as she hurries from wherever she’s been hiding. She cannot get enough of turning me into some kind of incredibly inefficient one-person palanquin.
So, yes. Sometimes, when you adopt an older animal, they can be a little weird. Most of the time, it’s in the best way.