Cat daddy gets, gives tough love

By Jeff Petersen, The Observer October 18, 2013 07:58 am
Neighbor Sandy is in my face in a kind sort of way. It’s a classic tough-love intervention. Sandy, who makes sure the cats don’t starve when I go on vacation, has me cornered. Main cat Mattie, the calico, is not starving, she says. In fact, Mattie is grossly overweight. Auxiliary cat Sophie, a Siamese, is doing better, not yet a round mound of pound, like Mattie, but moving in the direction of sloth and gluttony.

You must do better as a cat daddy, Sandy is saying. She knows cats. She has several of her own and cares for more homeless cats that roam the neighborhood. Feed them a different food, she is saying, one that doesn’t contain the feline equivalent of high fructose corn syrup. And don’t leave the bowl down 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the cats to gnaw on whenever they get bored.

As a cat daddy, I am a failure. Six years earlier, when first wife Tina died of complications of diabetes, I inherited four dogs and three cats. I found good homes for the dogs. The cats I kept, for company and to keep me humble.

Winston Churchill once said, “I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”

Pigs were about the only animal Tina wouldn’t collect. She was an animal collector the way other people collect salt and pepper shakers or lawn ornaments. She had an encyclopedic knowledge of dogs, cats and horses and was not afraid to share that knowledge.

I like cats, some of the time. I am just not crazy about them and the way they run around pretending to be the queen of Sheba or the boss of the moss.

With Sandy’s gentle upbraiding, I vowed to do better. I went shopping and bought Mattie and Sophie a classier brand of food, a kind that is not the cheapest in the store, not easy when the inner tightwad is howling in protest.

The new food is chicken and not corn based, one that fills the cats up and makes them not get short-term hunger spikes every half hour.

I also began serving the cats food only for a few hours each morning and evening, and then putting the food away, no matter how much they yowl and grovel.

Mattie, in particular, finds this new scheme to be traitorous. She waddles over to where the food bowl should be but isn’t, looks me squarely in the eye and begins to wail. It breaks my heart. Still, the last thing I want is to lead her down a path to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and stroke. For one thing, treatment for obesity-related illnesses is not in my budget. Taking the cats to the vet makes the small extra expense in quality cat food pale by comparison.

For another thing, I want Mattie and Sophie to spend their golden years in health and vitality — and not turn my house into a feline assisted-living center.

Sure, being a pet parent has no easy answers. There are no diets guaranteed to take off 10 pounds in two weeks and keep them off for the rest of their lives. Diets don’t work. Lifestyles do.

Mattie has yet to get fully on board the new lifestyle train. She is panting for an easy answer to shed the weight. However, just as in humans, taking off weight is an incremental process, of diet and exercise. The cats, though, have resisted my efforts to start an exercise club. Their idea of aerobics is climbing the cherry trees looking for songbirds. Their idea of lifting weights is carrying a roly poly mouse and dropping it on the welcome mat at the front door.

There will be a payoff. Soon, the house won’t shake every time Mattie jumps off the bed or couch. I will feel better for having brought Mattie and Sophie back from the obesity cliff. Maybe this new discipline will even help me in my own battle with the bulge.

Thanks, neighbor Sandy, for the tough love. The cats hate you. 

Contact Jeff Petersen at 541-963-3161 or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it Follow Jeff on Twitter @lagrandenewsGo.