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Aug 6, 2023

About a Cat and an Umbrella

When I met Rosie in 1995, my head was still in the clouds as the first pet sitter to be named “Best of Philly.” This is the cat I credit with keeping me humble during those heady days.

About a Cat and an Umbrella

At the meet & greet her owners warned their beloved cat had issues while 3-year-old Rosie crouched under a nearby table hissing disapproval. For months she had been given a vet-prescribed dose of amitriptyline (antidepressant) in the fervent hope the medication would improve her mood and, more importantly, her toileting habits. Too often Rosie would think outside the (litter) box.

Yet in spite of the medication’s dulling effects, Rosie remained cranky and continued to pee wherever it suited her. She was also a difficult patient and the owners wanted to avoid the stress of medical boarding. Plan B was a spritz of water to keep her worst impulses at bay. Thus on a guided tour of the apartment to show the litter box locations (Rosie had two feline housemates), her owners pointed out the spray bottles of water stationed on windowsills and tabletops that were used when Rosie behaved aggressively. Which was often.

My first engagement was three visits over as many days. The cats stayed out of sight on the first visit. During the second visit I cleaned Rosie’s urine from stair carpeting while she hissed at me from the landing. And sometime before the third visit, Rosie hopped onto the kitchen counter and peed in a box of tissues soaking through to the handwritten visit notes I had slipped underneath. Best of Philly? She thought not.


I was Rosie’s pet sitter for the next seventeen years. Her cattitude never softened but soiling outside the box improved greatly after the owners purchased a home with polished hardwood floors, kept bare to limit Rosie’s options. Advancing age kept her off the counters.

Rosie was 15 years old when this photo was taken. Her housemates were aging less well and, in consideration of their aching joints, the owners provided litter boxes and water bowls on all three floors. Rosie exploited these generous options to grumpy advantage by moving to the nearest staircase when I arrived. If she missed her chance on my way up, she’d catch me on the way down. Only the camera could zoom in this close as Rosie warned me off with low belly growls. What to do?

In the early days of our relationship I moved through Rosie’s space with a spray bottle poking out of my pocket, a visual reminder that I was “armed.” As Rosie became more comfortable with my presence, she became more aggressive and that was nerve-wracking. I gave up the spray bottle for a pocket-size travel umbrella that proved effective. Rosie may have resented my visits but she never lost respect for that umbrella: In an instant it could burst open, dark and menacing … holy crap.

So, as rehearsed countless times, I reached for the umbrella triggering a brief display of feline fireworks before Rosie disappeared around a corner. She always had the last mrowww!

To varying degrees all cats are territorial. And lots of cats are shy or fearful of outsiders and choose to hide. But Rosie preferred to sway into every pet sitting visit as bold as brass. RIP, Rosie.

NOTE: A folding umbrella is a safe shield against an aggressive house cat. But not a good choice for fending off overeager dogs or teething puppies. Any negative association formed indoors could be problematic for you and your pooch outdoors.

Did you know?

The majority of cats are faithful to their litter boxes. But when they aren’t, the reasons fall into two general categories: health problems and behavioral issues. In all cases taking the cat for a health checkup is the vet-recommended first step.

If the problem is not health-related, a cat will use urine and feces to communicate with us. The most common reasons for feline unhappiness include the litter box (type, litter, location), the box isn’t clean enough, and/or social conflicts (people, feline housemates, both). The following are lessons learned by a handful of caring cat owners:

1. A cat was so brand loyal that when the owner took advantage of a sale to buy a different brand of the same type litter, the cat stopped using her box. Fortunately the cat’s owner scooped the box regularly, noticed the absence of activity, and on a hunch went back to the store to buy the usual brand. Both the owner and his cat were very relieved.

2. A cat with feline housemates and multiple litter boxes was himself faithful to only one box. If any other cat used “his” box before he did, the cat would poop on the cream-colored hallway runner just beyond the sweep of the front door so his owner wouldn’t miss it when she walked in. Eventually the owner tried a top entry litter box, a change that did reduce the frequency of poop messages at the front door. The owner always considered herself lucky the cat’s disappointments were expressed in solid form.

3. A woman living in a studio apartment with two cats sharing the same litter box without issue, discovers that the male cat has started peeing on her bed. Why? The woman had a new boyfriend who was spending nights at her apartment. The cure? Tossing the mattress and moving into her boyfriend’s house in the suburbs.

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