Sam's new cat bed design: the canopy.

Sam’s new cat bed design: the canopy.

During these lazy days of August, Sam has been busy designing a new kind of cat bed: the Cat Canopy. It’s quite inexpensive — simply find a usable curtain. Nothing else is required. There is absolutely no cost to humans.

I think Sam was watching The Sound of Music when he acquired the idea to use the curtains — if Fraulein Maria could find such a creative and useful purpose for them, so could Sam. When I first saw him under his new Cat Canopy bed, however, I went over to investigate, concerned that he was hiding. I soon realized he wasn’t frightened of anything; he was just relaxing.

“Sammy?” I said, peeking underneath the blue fabric.

The "wrap-around": there is a cat in there.

The “wrap-around”: there is a cat in there.

“Mnn?” Sam responded contently, then took a deep breath and went back to sleep.

The Cat Canopy is quite versatile and can be adjusted to fit a cat’s mood, from the “umbrella” to the “wrap-around.” However, some cats — such as Hannah, for example — feel they are too refined for this type of cat bed. Those cats prefer the couch, or the bed.



1173738_10151534035380906_200440028_nWhere do your pets like to sleep? Share your stories and comments in the comment box below! 

Hannah prefers the couch.

Hannah prefers the couch.

Hannah & Sam greet our resident lady bug.

Hannah & Sam greet our resident lady bug.

Summer has been flying by…I just returned from the Tin House Writers Workshop in Portland, Oregon, where I was in a memoir workshop led by the author Cheryl Strayed. I left Hannah and Sam in the care of a wonderful cat sitter, a woman who works at the vet clinic. It was the hottest, most humid week of the year here in Boston, but Hannah and Sam did well in my absence. Sam actually made friends with the cat sitter, emerging from his hiding spot under the bed to rub up against her legs and meow a few hellos. Hannah took everything in stride, but this was another first for Sam.

It’s been a summer of new beginnings. Can’t wait to see what August brings.



Hannah and Sam, on the new couch in our new "spartment."

Hannah and Sam, on the new couch in our new “spartment.”

Greetings from our new digs! It’s been one week since Hannah, Sam, and I moved out of the garret and into what a friend termed “the spartment,” a word that comes from the merging of “spa” and “apartment.” Why? Because after living in the substandard garret for four years, the spartment, a spacious one-bedroom apartment with its full-sized refrigerator, up-to-code electricity, high ceilings, and many windows, it feels like we’re living in a spa.

The move itself wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined. Sure, I had to get after the city traffic and parking office since they forgot to post my moving truck parking permit signs in one location, and then I had to call the police to tow a car parked in the other location. But the movers got us out of the garret and into the spartment in two-and-a-half hours. As for Hannah and Sam, I kept them in the garret bathroom at first, turning it into a virtual playroom. I sprayed the carriers

Garret bathroom, as Hannah & Sam hideaway, on move day

Garret bathroom, as Hannah & Sam hideaway, on move day

with Feliway and gave Sam some Rescue Remedy. Although in my “test trials” of the stuff neither had any effect, perhaps using them is why, to my surprise, I was able to place both cats in their respective carriers without struggle. However, then the wailing began…mostly from Sam.

At the spartment, once the movers were gone, Hannah was the first to venture out. Within a matter of minutes, she was in love with the place, as seen by her enamored look on the new couch (a couch!), a piece of furniture we have not had in years. Sam, on the other hand, stayed in the carrier, whimpering, for hours. I sat beside him every half hour or so to pet him and feed him treats, but he would not be consoled. After all, the garret was the only home he’d ever known (Hannah, on the other hand, had already moved with me twice before). Eventually, I picked up Sam, taking him out of the carrier, and brought him from room to room, showing him the food and water bowls in

Hannah & Sam, upon arrival at the "spartment."

Hannah & Sam, upon arrival at the “spartment.”

the kitchen, underneath a lovely windowsill where birds were congregating; the living room with the garret cat tree; the bedroom with the familiar bedspread comforter; and back to the bathroom, with the litter box.

Sam decided then he’d camp out under my bed for the next twenty-four hours. Hannah cried for part of that first night, but for the most part she relaxed like I haven’t seen her relax in years.

Finally, the next evening, at dinner time, Sam came out. He spent part of the evening perched on the windowsill in the kitchen, quickly running back under the bed when he saw I saw him enjoying himself – he wasn’t going to forgive me too quickly for taking him out of his garret.

Hannah is in love with the spartment couch.

Hannah is in love with the spartment couch.

Now, just as the thick air of summer has arrived, the cats and I are beginning to settle in to our new home. There are still some rules to work out – the other night I caught Hannah leaping onto the couch arm and then proceeding to use it as a scratching post, despite the four real scratching posts in the place – and Sam is still a bit disoriented, occasionally missing the window sill when he leaps up (the garret windows were much lower) or slipping and tumbling on the hardwood floors (he’s only had carpet), and scaring himself silly. But those small bumps aside, I can say with great confidence that we are happy.


Sam finally came out from hiding the evening of our second day, looking to Hannah to show him the way.

Sam finally came out from hiding the evening of our second day, looking to Hannah to show him the way.


Hannah loves every inch of the spartment.

Hannah loves every inch of the spartment.


Sam’s favorite spot is the kitchen window.


*Writer’s note: Look for my essay, “A Topic Too Risky,” appearing in the Sept/Oct issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, arriving on newsstands in mid-August!cs-gy-88x31-4

DSCN1393A lot has happened since Hannah’s birthday earlier this month: illness, and new digs.

Two weeks ago, Hannah woke me up in the middle of the night with frequent trips to the litter box, accompanied by noisy digging and meowing. By morning, she was returning to the litter box every few minutes and straining with no output. I rushed her to the vet for an emergency appointment – unfortunately our wonderful long-time vet Dr. Parker was not in, so we had to see another vet on staff. I suppose I should say Hannah, Sam, and I have been spoiled by our experiences with Dr. Parker. This became clear to me  when we met this other vet, who was qualified and capable but who had a terrible cat-side manner. She was impatient with Hannah and raised her voice and tried to rationalize with her when she wouldn’t stay on the scale. At one point she grabbed Hannah’s hind to prevent her from leaving the exam table, and pulled her towards her. DSCN1400Human-to-human, she was too busy to hear much of my details regarding Hannah’s symptoms and behavior, and was not all that fond of questions. I decided then and there that we would never, ever see this vet again. Luckily for Hannah, a simple urine test came back positive for bacteria associated with a urinary tract infection, and the two-week liquid antibiotic prescribed to her began working within one dose. I’m glad to now be done with the force feeding of medicine: I had to wrap Hannah in two towels, tilt her head back, and jam a syringe into her mouth twice a day. Although of course I was simply doing what was necessary to care for her, the sense of violation wore on us both.

The same day Hannah got sick, I was scheduled to sign a lease for a new apartment – that’s right, folks, we’re moving out of the garret and into a wonderful, spacious place! I’ve been preparing for how I will transport Hannah and Sam. Hannah and I have moved together twice, so I know how to handle her and how she’ll likely react, but Sam, who screams like he’s being murdered and defecates out of DSCN1395fear in a carrier, is another story. As a six-week old, he was thrown from a car on the highway and almost died, so I think somewhere in his little brain he is afraid it’s going to happen again. He positively hates leaving the garret, and this time we’re leaving for good. So I’m going to try Rescue Remedy drops to calm him and use Feliway spray in the carrier and in various places around the new apartment. I know once we get through the initial adjustment period, our new home will feel homey to both cats.

Got suggestions for handling Hannah and Sam during our move? Please share them, and your experiences transporting your own pets to a new home, in the comment box below!



Hannah turns 10 years old today.

Hannah turns 10 years old today.

We met during a crisis – I was coming to terms with a life-long trauma; she was abandoned by an abusive owner. It was May 2, 2006 when she was dumped at my feet at Saint Meow’s shelter in Cambridge, Ma., at the estimated age of three. I stood there, stunned.

She looked up at me with her green eyes and let out one long cry. Before I could think, I told the shelter manager, “I’ll take her.” She was my first pet. Together, Hannah and I learned what it meant to love safely again.

Hannah, post-adoption, age 3.

Hannah, post-adoption, age 3.

Hannah almost died of life-threatening pancreatitis in 2008, when she was five, but today she turns ten, and she’s healthier than ever. When I asked what she wanted to do for her birthday, she said,”sunbathe.” So be it.

Happy 10th birthday to Hannah! We thank all of this blog’s readers for continuing to follow our story as it’s developed over the past three years. Stay tuned…



Hannah, guardian kitty.

Hannah, guardian kitty.

Last Friday, April 19, at 6:45 a.m., I awoke in my tiny attic apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, startled by the sound of an incoming text. I’d been having a dream in which I was running from two assailants who were bent on killing everyone in their midst with guns and bombs. I was frantically trying to find a place to hide, but nowhere was secure.

Such a nightmare is not unusual for me: I have PTSD. I didn’t know the reality that’d been transpiring while I was sleeping.

I sat up quickly and reached for my phone. The text was from the New England Conservatory of Music, located in Boston, where I’m liberal arts faculty: “Due to public safety concerns, NEC is closed…”

Seconds later, I received a text from a friend in Jamaica Plain: “Are you at home? Just checking in case you haven’t gotten the news to stay in. It’s all very unsettling.”

DSCN1275Was I awake, or was I dreaming? I turned on the television and saw the reports of bloodshed that had occurred in my town overnight, the death of one of the marathon bombers, the current search for his armed-and-dangerous brother. “Shelter-in-place”: I was not to go outside or answer the door.

What was happening was real. Surreal.

I began to panic: could the suspect on-the-run be hiding in the basement of the house where the garret was located? In the basement, there is a washer/dryer machine accessible to tenants in a neighboring house through a cellar door, which I’ve frequently seen left unlocked or open to the outside parking lot. As I watched the news, I was suddenly alarmed. My nightmare was still fresh in my mind: I needed a reality check, so I messaged a friend who knows I have PTSD.

My friend assured me that it was near impossible that the suspect was in my basement at that time, because the local news reported he’d been seen on foot in Watertown, a few miles from where I live, around 6 a.m., however it was a good idea to check the door. She wrote, “Be quick.”

In times of stress, Hannah and Sam serve as my danger gauge. If an intruder (or even a friend) were in the vicinity, I knew that Sam would be hiding under the bed. Hannah would have her nervous facial expression and twitching ears. But now neither exhibited signs of anxiety – they were curled up, relaxed on the bed.

I went downstairs with my legs shaking, holding my breath. The cellar door, to my relief, was shut and locked. Quickly, I returned to my unit and secured the triple locks on my door. Even though I live in an attic, I left the shades drawn.

In the days after the bombing, I’d witnessed so many Bostonians experiencing a mental state I’d had as my “normal baseline” for years: intrusive memories, intense fear, anger, sadness, shock. Over the course of my decade of recovery treatment for PTSD, I’d accumulated a stockpile of mental artillery to respond to the aftermath of traumatic events. I put them into practice.

On Wednesday, when a friend told me she couldn’t concentrate and was “in a fog,” so much so that she accidentally dropped a plate of food where she thought there was a counter, I recommended she avoid the media. How many times did we need to see the bombs go off, or hear the screams of terror as we watched spectators and runners collapse or flee? Once was enough: we understood the depth of destruction and pain.

In our attempts to mobilize, to emotionally arm, there’s a fine line between facing facts and re-traumatizing ourselves, the latter of which causes further harm.

But Friday, I couldn’t turn off the TV or Internet. As I watched events unfold, I felt numbness climb from my feet to DSCN1278my limbs to the top of my head. I trembled with the fear of traumatic experience.  The tenants who live below me weren’t home. Hannah and Sam, the “rescue” cats, were now sleeping.

I felt isolated.

For a time, I couldn’t receive or make calls – phone service was flooded – though I could get voicemails and texts. I posted status updates on Facebook. Thirty-nine and single, I tweeted, “It’s 1 of those times when I wish I didn’t live alone.”

I wanted to hug someone. I wanted to be hugged.

To my surprise, people I knew and people I’d never met reached out: Novelist Sarah McCoy responded, “I empathize. One of the scariest few days of my life was being in apt alone during hurricane.” Boston Globe blogger and professor friend Delia Cabe wrote, “Yes, at least you can talk to us here. I’ve had those moments when I was isolated like that.” Author Jenna Blum tweeted, “You’re not alone. The Twitterverse is with you.”

For the next several hours, social media was my home base. I baked a pumpkin loaf cake and posted a photo. Others listed what they’d contribute to our “lockdown potluck.” Sam came into the living room then, begging as usual for dinner. I opened a window: Hannah hopped up to look out at the world.

DSCN1271Saturday morning, the terror over, I left Hannah and Sam, and my apartment, and walked down the street, reveling in such basic freedom. I took the T to Harvard Square, where I ran into an acquaintance and her friend at Starbucks. We shared a table and our shellshock. As we chatted over coffee and tea, I learned that they too lived alone, aside from their one or two felines. While our pets always provide us a source of companionship, during the lockdown we felt a keen separateness from the world, a longing for people.

We were relieved now, in arm’s reach. We embraced each other, and the simple pleasure of living.


cs-gy-88x31-4 What were you, and your pets, doing during the lockdown? Share your experiences and other comments below.

Healthy Hannah


Hannah, the contented.

I still haven’t mastered the art of the vet visit.

This week was Hannah’s annual checkup. Last year, she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that affects the liver, and includes such symptoms as vomiting and a lack of appetite. After months of steroid treatment, in October her liver level tested at the higher end of the normal range, so Dr. Parker recommended a re-test in six months, before then if her eating habits or behavior changed. During these past few months, Hannah’s appetite has remained normal – although she won’t eat her entire meal in one gulp (in the fashion of her brother Sam), she does finish her food, most days. Of course, the night before her annual vet visit, when I took out the cat carrier, she refused half of her dinner, and, for hours, Sam hid under the bed.


Sam, always the prankster.

Going to the vet holds a host of anxieties for the cat, but for the human, especially this human who has PTSD, it’s a whole production of mental and physical coordination. In years’ past, a vet visit would completely unhinge my ability to hold a thought in my head, and would send my mind back into the terror of my childhood. I’d have to refer to my pre-scripted (on a Post-It) list of statements and questions for Dr. Parker. Now, I manage to “keep calm and carry on” as well as can be expected when one is trying to get an unwilling cat into a carrier and transport her to a vet clinic in time for the appointment: layers of fur on one’s shirt, and some sadness and/or guilt for the inability to explain to the feline that she is safe and you’re not giving her away, will always be a given (for me, at least).

Five years ago, Hannah almost died of life-threatening pancreatitis and I’ve tiptoed around her ever since, fearing I might otherwise upset her to the point of psychosomatic-induced death. I worried about her wellbeing at times to the point of driving friends (and Dr. Parker) crazy. It’s taken a long time to work through my visceral fear of losing this being whom I love.

DSCN1224This year, on the verge of her tenth birthday, Hannah, at a trim 7.95 pounds, has received a clean bill of health. Dr. Parker says she has one of the best teeth he’s seen in a ten-year-old kitty (and I’ve never brushed her teeth, as I have to do for Sam). And, the great news: Hannah’s liver is functioning normally. She has exhibited a change in behavior – she has become quite insistent on cuddling on the garret chaise, during which time she rubs her wet nose and mouth, forehead and ears, all over my hands until my palms are drenched and my arms are covered with fur; she has also begun a practice of sticking her butt in my face for minutes at a time, which, Dr. Parker says, is simply her way of asking me to scratch her back near her tail, something she never liked before. I’d thought she’d been trying to tell me something was wrong, like she was the time she developed struvite crystals in her urine and kept running her tail (which was wet with pee) along my hand.

“Do you have any questions?” Dr. Parker asked.

For the first time in a long while, I didn’t. I felt suddenly relieved and happy, and my body relaxed. “I guess I just have to get used to the fact that Hannah is healthy.”

“Yes,” said Dr. Parker. “No more kid gloves for her.”

I tend to think of a cat’s lifespan – both physical and emotional – as reflective of a human’s, but at warp speed. Hannah has reflected to me the salvaged life of an abuse survivor, a kind of healing I never thought was truly attainable. I’ve always questioned its veracity. Now, I know such recovery is real, and to be trusted.