The Cat Who Lived (#371)

Our Boss Cat was determined to use up every single one of her nine lives. We thought she should be an indoor cat; she thought she was a big game hunter and bolted outside at every opportunity. We grew adept at using bags and purses to shield the doorway when entering. Thwarted, Boss Cat would hiss at us, assuage her rage by beating up our rescue dog Woofie, and plot her next attempt. She learned to lurk under Woofie and our other rescue dog Fey as they stood by the door. When we let them into the backyard, she’d streak out and over the back fence. The neighborhood got used to seeing me wandering around the block, calling: “Here, kitty, kitty!”

Sometimes she came back quickly (i.e., if she hadn’t eaten and I had chicken). Sometimes she didn’t. Then I’d usually find her on our morning dog walk, stalking other dogs on their morning stroll or chasing racoons down the sidewalk and up trees.

Juvenile raccoon in our orange tree. Beneath feline notice.

These fleeing racoons? They were twice her size.

In the evening, I’d once had to rescue her when she got stuck on a telephone wire.

Every neighbor with a dog had a story of Boss Cat terrorizing that dog. Including dogs who outweighed her by seventy pounds. Yellow Labradors fled from her. The famously aggressive terrier? She cowered.

Boss Cat once disappeared for an entire day. We put signs up all around the neighborhood and feared she was gone forever. Boss Cat returned at 1 AM, covered in grass and looking pissed as hell. There wasn’t a scratch on her. She ate three helpings of food and then slept for sixteen hours.

Boss Cat’s one injury came after she tussled with the lanky brawler cat Blackie. She wound up with an infected abscess. Which was getting off easy, since all the other cats Blackie attacked “looked like they’d been run over with a lawn mower,” according to one mauled cat’s owner. Boss Cat refused to accept defeat. After we’d spent hundreds at the vet and she’d healed, she snuck out and lured Blackie back to our yard just as I was setting out with Woofie. Blackie’s initial attack pounce turned into a scrambling, inglorious retreat—with both Boss Cat and ninety pounds of canine backup hot on his heels.

Blackie never bothered Boss Cat again.

So it wasn’t the neighborhood cats or dogs that worried me when Boss escaped.

It was the coyotes.

California was coyote territory long before white folks started shooting and poisoning them. I was thrilled to see them finally return. My neighbors? Not so much. Many of them had outdoor cats. “Missing Cat” signs began popping up. Our semi-feral cat colony disappeared. More than one napping cat was snatched off a porch on our block. Some cat owners brought their cats completely inside or built “catios.” Some would only let their cats out during daylight hours, with supervision or a leash.

All the other outdoor cats? Gone within a year.

Yet Boss Cat was still determined to escape. At dawn one morning, Boss Cat shot through my legs when I went outside to water plants. She paused on our front steps, giving me a triumphant, taunting look. She knew I could never catch her. If I tried to chase her, she’d just run across the street. Since our newest dog was in the backyard, I left the front door open as I hurried inside to dig up chicken scraps. Within thirty seconds, I heard an unfamiliar canine snarl. I sprinted for the front door.

Boss Cat was in the doorway, SLASHING A COYOTE IN THE FACE.

A hard right, a solid left, repeat. Because she had cleverly positioned herself in the doorway, the coyote could only snap at her from one direction. And because cats are unbelievably fast and Boss Cat never paused, the coyote was getting hammered.

I imagined Boss Cat’s internal monologue thusly: “Come at me, bro! You think you can take ME, motherfucker?! Think again! You are nothing to me, coyote! Nothing! I’ve made canines three times your size CRY and I will fuck you up!” BAM. BAM. BAM BAM BAmbambam!

Mr. Coyote fled. Boss Cat not the easy prey he expected and there was a big, loud human charging in (I was yelling, albeit incoherently). As soon as the coyote disappeared, Boss Cat stalked back inside. Her tail had puffed up to three times its normal size and her pupils were huge, but she’d taken no damage. For once, she refused food.

Boss on sentry duty that morning

Instead, she jumped up on the kitchen counter and glared out the window in the direction Mr. Coyote had fled. She lashed her puffy tail repeatedly before settling down to clean her paws and claws.

I guess the blood of her enemy was tastier than chicken.

I’ve yet to see a coyote on our block again.

The story of Boss Cat vanquishing the coyote went down the street. Various neighbors and kids, especially those who had lost cats, came by to gawk and/or pet her. Some brought treats. Boss Cat lapped up the attention and the food, and rightly so. She was a local legend.

She was the Cat Who Lived.


A Question of Coyotes (#370)

While coyote sightings are pretty common in Southern California, we didn’t see any in our neighborhood the first decade we lived here. Which seemed a little odd, because there’s a huge, undeveloped hillside that looms over the neighborhood.

We had plenty of outdoor cats and wildlife, though. Folks would leave cat food on their front porches for their outdoor cats. When I walked before sunrise, I often saw skunks trot down the sidewalk, turn up the walkway to a house, climb up the front porch, and help themselves to a bowl cat food.

Dog food thief

Andy and I once found a possum in our garage, inside a large bag of dog food. When we opened it, all the possum did was blink and continue eating.

We relocated the bag and the possum to our side yard and got a large plastic container for dog food the next day.

We also had hawks, falcons, owls, and plenty of small birds.

In semi-wild life, our neighborhood hosted a huge cat colony. Asshole humans would dump unwanted kittens at the park on the top of the hillside. The kittens would make their way down the hill to the house of an older woman who was a hoarder. She fed them, but ignored all her neighbors’ suggestions about contacting Fix Nation or any other TNR groups. The colony expanded exponentially. The Boomer neighbors complained about the overwhelming stench of cat pee. The bird population took a hit. The city refused to intervene.

Inevitably, a pair of coyotes discovered that our huge, grassy hillside was the perfect place to raise a family…and get take out from the surrounding suburbs.

The first time I saw them was probably on one of their early recon missions. At sunrise, I was walking down the hill with one of my dogs. Ahead of me, I spotted a loping canine that looked like a small German shepherd coming up the hill and thought, “Crap! A loose dog. How am I going to catch it—”

And then another, almost identical canine appeared behind it—with the exact same easy, but ground-eating, stride. They had no collars and giant ears.

I stopped immediately and told the dog to sit. He obeyed, and we watched the coyotes pass.

They never even looked at us.

Since then, I’ve seen the coyotes on the hill numerous times (my Instagram account is full of them). I never get tired of watching them hunt for gophers or lope in the brush. I enjoy hearing the young coyotes howling with the fire engine’s siren late at night, or yapping excitedly to let a returning parent know where they are. Those coyotes make our little part of Los Angeles wild and wonderful.

A lot of folks in SoCal fear the coyotes. Numerous motorists have stopped to warn me if they’ve passed a coyote. Which is kind, but also kind of ignorant. I’ve never had a dog under 75 lbs, and I am much bigger than my dogs. Every sane coyote (and we don’t have rabies in our area) gives us a wide berth because coyotes are not stupid.

Coyotes are usually less than forty pounds. Wild animals don’t have an ER; like other predators, they calculate the odds of injury in every single encounter. There is zero chance they’d try to take on two other, larger predators unless their den was being attacked. They generally stay away from humans, although my MAGA neighbors refuse to accept this. (And, yes, the coyote haters are inevitably MAGA.)

The MAGA cultists put up signs about “coyote attacks” in our neighborhood, but of course they don’t mention that the coyotes are attacking other animals and not humans. Arguments have raged at many SoCal city halls, with the MAGA crowd insisting on the right to kill coyotes. One city actually pays a ton of money to a problematic trapper who snares and kills them. When a third-grade class wrote letters protesting killing coyotes, MAGA supporters doxed and threatened the teacher. The school and teacher hired security.

And yet the psychotic MAGA meatheads insist that it’s the COYOTES who are the real danger to children.

“They could snatch a child right out of the street!” one neighbor insisted.

“If a toddler is in the middle of the street, especially in the middle of the night, a coyote is the least of their problems!” I retorted. While small children have been grabbed/ attacked by coyotes, that’s often on the idiot parent isn’t watching their child closely and has ignored warnings about coyotes in the area.

What the coyotes really want is a matchup with something much smaller: a rodent, a cat, or a small dog. Small dog owners have responded by buying coyote suits:

Story & Picture from The Atlantic

There are no suits for cats, however.

And there is no longer a semi-feral cat colony in our neighborhood.

But you don’t hear the MAGA Boomers thanking the coyotes for that.

Dogless (#365)

We had never lived in our house without a dog. The night the owners of our current house accepted our offer, we got our first dog. Woofie came with us to the housing inspection. In less than six months, we’d gotten Woofie a buddy named Fey. Dogs were incorporated into our lifestyle from the start.

They prewashed our dishes, which was especially handy with egg yolk.

They made sure we got exercise: 2-6 miles daily.

They helped us meet our neighbors. (To this day, I generally know the names of all the dogs in the neighborhood. Their owners’ names? No idea.)

They guarded our house and saved us money on alarms and utility bills. If the dogs were home, we could leave the windows open when we were out.

They gave us a handy excuse to leave awkward dinners or parties: “Gotta get home and let out the dogs before Bad Things Happen.”

The dogs helped entertain and raise Baby D, as well as ensuring he had a very robust immune system.

Even in Los Angeles, I could walk those dogs at any hour without an ounce of fear. Only the most desperate, hopeful dog-lovers would approach me and my 160 pounds of canines. (When they did approach, it always made Woofie’s day.)

No TV show was ever as funny as watching their battles over water bottles or tug toys (which generally ended in Woofie dragging Fey around the yard as she hung onto said toy). We spent many summer evenings on our swing in the backyard laughing over their antics.

They were family, whether snuggling with us on the couch at night or counter surfing relentlessly during the day.

And we lost them both to different cancers within a year-and-a-half of each other.

I took losing Woofie hard. So did our Boss Cat. While Fey had guarded her yard all day, Woofie spent much of the day inside, playing with Boss Cat or getting attention from me. I kept expecting to hear his claws on the hardwood floor, or feel his muzzle lift my arm when I paid too much attention to the computer screen.

Boss Cat tried to play with Fey, but Fey was a sensitive German Shepherd mix. When Boss Cat batted her in the face, Fey barked and snapped. A normal cat would have fled. Boss Cat glared and hit Fey with her right paw so hard that the WHAP reverberated through the house. Fey—who had vanquished multiple loose pit bulls, a Tibetan Shepherd mix, and a Rhodesian ridgeback—winced and slunk away. Without a canine playmate, Boss Cat consoled herself with food, gaining a pound after Woofie’s demise.

Andy took Fey’s death hardest. She was his obedient girl who loved to jump on the couch and have him pet her face after he got home from work. Andy consoled himself with Boss Cat, who allowed cuddles and head bunting nightly.


Our dogless house was a quieter place. Less mess. Less money spent at the vet. No need to hurry home from Baby D’s soccer tournaments. It was much easier (and cheaper!) to hire the girls down the block to feed Boss Cat than to find a reliable dog sitter to stay in our house when we traveled.

We closed and locked all our windows up when we left, returning to a house that was a veritable SoCal sauna.

We had to throw out leftover food and waste water rinsing away egg yolks.

I still went for early morning walks, but my only companion was Pokemon Go. Sometimes I would see a big dog and run over, cooing, “Oh my GOD! She’s so cute! Can I say hi?! I have a venison treat in my pocket in case she had allergies is that okay?!”

I had become the desperate dog stalker.

We took care of a friend of a friend’s dog for a few days. Boss Cat hated that dog on sight. She nearly tore out a window screen trying to escape the house and refused to come into the living room until the dog went home.

I told Andy, “I guess if we want another dog, it would have to have Boss Cat’s approval.”

“You want another dog? You’re the one that always goes on about how you have to train it and do all the work.”

“Yeah, but…our house doesn’t feel right. Every morning, going up the hill, I think, ‘This is such a waste of a walk. Some rescue dog out there would be loving this.'”

“We’d have to find a dog that is good with cats and kids.”

“But it has to be a rescue dog that needs a home. A big dog.”

“Not over eighty pounds,” Andy declared. “I need be able to carry the dog ten years from now when it’s old and sick.”

“It’ll have to be trained. And not a puppy. I am not up for spending hours on dog training again.”

“So we’re looking for a dog that’s good with cats, good with kids, is big but under 80 pounds, is young, but not a puppy and fully trained?”

“Yeah,” I sighed. “We’re probably not getting another dog for a while, are we?”

And we didn’t.

Until I found the Tank.

Cat on the Run (#343)

Some cats see an open back door, yawn, and go back to sleep.

Some cats bolt at the speed of light.

Our Boss Cat would bolt—and then stop in the center of the patio. She’d look back at the human in the doorway, tail twitching. If no chicken bribe appeared within 30 seconds, Boss Cat would climb a tree and disappear over the fence.

Her hapless humans would then circle the block with chicken, calling, “Here, kitty-kitty! C’mon, Boss!”

The speed with which we found Boss Cat was inversely proportional to the time since her last meal. If she’d just eaten or already gorged on a chicken bribe, she couldn’t be lured home. Instead, I’d walk around, checking in with dog walkers.

Boss Cat liked dogs. She liked to play with them. She especially liked to hit them in the face. While out hunting for Boss with our dogs, I once ran into one outraged neighbor and his prized Basset hound show dogs.

The Champion Basset Hounds

 “Look out,” he warned me. “There’s a cat back there that’s followed us half a block and keeps trying to attack my dogs! I think it might be rabid!”

I sighed. “She’s not rabid. She’s mine. She likes to beat up dogs.”

The neighbor stared at ninety-pound Woofie and seventy-pound Fey. “Even those big dogs?”

“These dogs are her personal punching bags. She’s clearly bored and hoping for new targets.”

A neighbor across the street, one who didn’t have a fence but who trained her Labrador retrievers to stay on her property (mostly), flagged me down during another hunt for Boss.

“Your cat was sitting in your front yard a little while ago. My six-month-old puppy saw her and went on alert. I told puppy to leave it, but she charged across the street and straight up to your cat.”


“Your cat didn’t even MOVE until puppy got close. Then she smacked puppy right across the muzzle. It was so hard I heard it, clear across the street. Puppy ran back to me as fast as she could. I don’t think she’ll be leaving the yard to chase cats again,” the neighbor laughed.

Boss could clearly take care of herself, but I still worried. All it would take was a car or a coyote, and we’d have no more Boss Cat. Baby D would be devastated. I would be devastated. Even Andy would be devastated (maybe).

One evening, when my ExStepmother was visiting, I circled the block repeatedly, unable to find the cat—until a neighbor over the back fence finally pointed up.

Boss Cat was lying across the telephone wire above our backyard, a foot or two from the telephone pole. Maybe she got there while in hot pursuit of a squirrel (telephone wires are the squirrel highways of the neighborhood). Her perch was precarious, at best, with her belly straddling the wire and one front claw snagged on the wire.

I could see the problem. If Boss yanked hard enough to pull her claw out, she’d lose her balance and fall. She might even wind up hanging by that one claw.

Baby D turned to me, face full of alarm. “Mommy! You have to save her!”

“That’s twenty feet up!” exclaimed my ExStepmother. “Mommy needs to call the fire department!”

I shook my head and went to get the ladder, telling her, “I read recently that fire departments don’t do that anymore. At least not in big cities.” (ExStepmother is from a small town in New Hampshire.)

Now, no one knows better than I do that even if Boss Cat fell, she would probably be fine. Cats are built to land from great heights. Humans…not so much.

I climbed the ladder anyway.  I couldn’t stand to see Boss Cat stuck like that, especially not as nightfall approached. And I couldn’t let my cat or my kid down.

At the top of the ladder, I was still about 10 feet shy of the cat. I moved to the telephone pole, continuing upwards using the metal rods driven into the pole that utility workers use to access electrical and phone lines.

Which was when I discovered why utility workers always wear heavy clothing and gloves, even in summer. Those telephone poles are not smooth. They are splinter fucking central.

Close up of a never-been-sanded telephone pole.

It was like climbing a porcupine–and I was wearing light cotton clothing. I collected slinters on my stomach, chest, and hands. I gritted my teeth, continuing until I was high enough to reach the cat.

This was the part that worried me. Cats are not the most rational or trusting creatures. Boss might fight me, or try and flee. And how was I going to carry her back down? I had not thought this rescue through.

I was an idiot.

Luckily, my cat was not an idiot. Boss Cat didn’t fight as I unhooked her claw. She immediately crept across the wire and my arm, settling herself smoothly across my shoulders. Like she’d totally thought this through while I was climbing. Or like she rode human elevators daily. The cat stayed put until we were about 8 feet off the ground. Then Boss Cat jumped down and went straight to Baby D, who carried her inside and fed her chicken.

I put away the ladder and spent the following week removing splinters.

The next time Baby D’s Cub Scout troop visited the local fire department, I did ask one of the firemen, “You guys don’t get cats out of trees anymore, do you?”

The nice young fireman said, “Actually, we will if we aren’t too busy.”


Author’s Note: If your cat ever does get stuck in a tree, who you gonna call? An arborist. 

Christmas Cat Attack (#333)

I refer to the time between the end of November and Christmas as “Baking Season.”

It starts with my husband’s six-hour birthday cake (although sometimes he asks for a giant éclair or a chocolate pie), then segues into Thanksgiving desserts (pumpkin cheesecake and maple pie). After that, I make literally hundreds of cookies for Christmas. There are tins for teachers and heaping piles for my familial horde when we travel.

I also bring cookies to parties, carefully arranged on holiday themed platters. This is actually my favorite part—making my project pretty. I’m the same way about preparing my house for a party or dinner. Vacuuming and cleaning bathrooms are a miserable chore. Putting out the gorgeous old tablecloths and fine china? So fun.

My fun became more of a chore once Boss Cat, feline marauder extraordinaire, joined our household. The rescue group made us promise to put the obese Boss Cat on a diet.

Boss Cat after losing a lot of weight.

Boss Cat thought diets were bullshit. Once she lost enough weight to be able to jump onto the dining room table, she was relentless.

If you turned your back for two seconds, she’d snag a strip of bacon from your plate. Or a piece of chicken. Or even TOFU AND RICE. Continue reading Christmas Cat Attack (#333)

Feline Fatigue (#326)

Dogs everywhere rejoiced during pandemic lockdowns.

Unlike me, our dog was super excited to have the boy child home ALL THE TIME. Instead of leaving on the weekends for soccer games, boy and dog played soccer in the backyard (the grass may never recover).

At first, Boss Cat seemed to like having everyone at home. What’s not to like about two extra people to harass until they opened a new can of cat food? Continue reading Feline Fatigue (#326)

Election Night: Then and Now (#305)

Over 70 million Americans have spent the week holding their breath. We remember how confident we were four years ago. How we arrogantly assumed that the rest of the country saw Donald Trump for what he was: a hateful, racist, incompetent, misogynistic narcissist who would run the country into the ground.

I watched the numbers roll in on CNN and compared it with the New York Times website. And by 7 PM PST, it was clear that Clinton did not have the votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. It was shocking, but true. Numbers don’t lie. The trend was obvious.

My Chinese-American mother-in-law was visiting. She didn’t understand why I was upset. “It will be fine,” she said.

“It will not be fine,” I told her. “With the Senate also Republican, there will be no checks on that man.” I fled to my bedroom. Continue reading Election Night: Then and Now (#305)

The Ultimate Thief (#298)

Both our dogs were rescues. Our second dog, Fey, was rescued from the streets of South Central Los Angeles and never forgot it. She was loyal, well-behaved, and obedient.

And then there was Woofie. Our first dog ran away repeatedly. He went to science class at the local school. He created bizarre insurance claims. He dug up the yard. He snuck up on the furniture, curling up in Andy’s preferred recliner.

But worst of all? He was an unrepentant thief. Continue reading The Ultimate Thief (#298)

The Extortionist (#281)

Our new cat didn’t just come with attitude. She also came with a serious weight problem. Boss Cat was big for a female cat, with large feet, a long body, and a very long tail. But you couldn’t say she was merely “big boned.” Like Garfield, her belly bulged over her feet. She could only play with a string for about 2 minutes before she got winded, even though she was only 2 years old.

We promised the rescue group we would put her on a diet. We bought  special “Fat Cat” food and doled it out by an eighth of a cup.  At the time, I wondered why her foster dad had let Boss get so fat.

After 2 days, I no longer wondered. Continue reading The Extortionist (#281)

New Cat (#278)

When my husband mellowed on the subject of a new cat, I contacted the group that had rescued our dog Fey from the streets of Los Angeles.

“We have a big dog who tries to play with everyone and everything,” I explained. “We mostly trained him out of chasing our old cats, but Woofie’s not totally reliable. Do you have a cat that’s okay with dogs?”

The volunteer said, “Oh, do we have a cat for you!” Continue reading New Cat (#278)