March 12, 2014

WILLIAMS: Where to draw the line


---- — My friend, Jan, is staying with her daughter for her post-surgery convale­scence and for the duration, I am responsible for her cats (three), her fish (in a small plastic swimming pool in a back room) and her plants (orchids). It has been a couple of weeks and is liable to be a couple more.

I am feeling the strain. If anything happened to any of the cats, the fish or the orchids, I would never forgive myself and Jan would probably never forgive me either.

I have two cats myself. I love and spoil them but Jan is a cat-owner on a completely different level — you might say, a fanatical level. Her cats have hundreds of toys and multi-level cat furniture and little plastic tents to crawl into. They sleep with her at night — under the covers, on the covers, on the pillow ... wherever they want to be.

One of the cats, Shiloh, loves riding in Jan’s big red truck so even in the middle of a blizzard, Jan takes her out for a trip at least as far as the mailbox.

“I don’t suppose you’d consider taking Shiloh for a little ride every day?” she asked before she left.

“No!” I said, firmly. “I don’t mind feeding and watering and changing litter boxes but I draw the line at being a cat chauffeur!”

When I come in every day to do my chores, all the lights are on and the radio is playing (Jan’s cats will only listen to country music. George Strait is their favorite). I fill food bowls and dole out treats. I put fresh water in the water bowls, topping them off with ice cubes as the cats expect.

These three cats are all ragdolls but they have totally different personalities. Shiloh is the diva, the demanding alpha of the bunch. Dakota is the lovable one. He will talk to you non-stop. Savannah is shy — so shy, in fact, that I haven’t actually seen her the entire time I’ve been doing this. I only know she exists because there has been no lessening of the contributions to the litter boxes.

Once the cats are taken care of, it is time to feed the fish. These are big gold fish that live in the pond during the summer. When you tap on the side of the pool, they all rush over, sticking their heads out of the water while making kissing gestures. I drop their little pebbles of food into the water and it’s like a mini-feeding frenzy for a few moments.

Now we’re down to the plants. Leave it to Jan to have orchids. It is one of her claims to fame that these delicate plants flourish and bloom abundantly in her care. She couldn’t have tough old philodendrons like anybody else. Even I can usually keep a philodendron alive, black thumb and all. I stare at the orchids every day, praying not to find a wilted stem or a yellow leaf.

During the last snow, there were deer tracks across Jan’s yard. She was thrilled when I told her. She said they must have been drawn to the corn she put out for the squirrels. She told me she’d tell me where the corn was if I wanted to continue to feed the deer.

“No, Jan,” I told her, “I’ll take care of your cats, your fish and your plants — but the deer are on their own.”

Vicki Williams is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached through the newspaper at