The sad song of Salem. (Feral cat woes/cat mom FAIL.)

There’s a special kind of angst that comes from failing to protect a being who needs protection. I never thought I’d sit here sharing this feeling with you, but it’s been bothering me so much lately that I had little else on my mind when I sat down here to talk to you guys today.

Salem, our feral cat, used to sleep in our laundry room, which is an outdoor room. She would sleep and lounge and stretch and luxuriate in the bed I made for her, a pile of carefully folded towels and layers of cozy blankets beneath a little table set up against a wall, with a huge, snuggly blanket folded in half and wrapped around the whole thing, all plush and warm. She loved it. Callaghan and I would watch her through the security camera mounted on the opposite wall, and we saw how much she loved it.

Then I had to go and make it “better.”

Nighttime temperatures have been dropping into the low 40’s, so I decided to put in a pet heating pad. Instead of making her more comfortable, it scared her away. She hasn’t slept in her laundry room since. It’s been so cold here in the desert; the whole point of this specially-designed-for-dogs-and-cats heating pad (which has very good reviews from dog and cat parents on Amazon) was to keep her bed at body temperature during these colder nights.

The problem? The pet heating pad works well, but it has a very strong industrial/chemical odor. Our outdoor furbaby’s encyclopedia of scents can’t explain that the odor belongs to a weird yet harmless inanimate object. Not to mention, it’s just an unpleasant, offensive scent. She hates it. She’s afraid of it. And I realized it after it was too late.

Before the noxious heating pad, Salem’s biggest laundry room threat was other stray cats. There’s this one male cat in particular who can’t help but be a male cat, spraying and/or urinating on her bedding to mark it as his. We’ve been cycling through this pattern the same way we did last winter: tomcat contaminates Salem’s bed, Salem is duly deterred, I go in with my attuned olfactory sense and my black light, find the source of the odor, and do what needs to be done (e.g. laundry) to restore her perfect sleeping conditions. Salem comes back to sleep in her bed again. She always comes back!

She hasn’t come back since the pet heating pad entered the picture, though. Every morning I go into the laundry room hoping to see signs of Salem on the cream-colored blankets – black fur, bits of leaves and dirt – and nothing.

Adding to the misfortune of it all was the fact that it took me a few days to figure it out. Salem’s blankets were saturated with this awful odor! I quickly bore away the pet heating pad and laundered her bedding and put it back together, but Salem had already decided that the odor belonged to an unidentifiable and dangerous beast. She always won the territory war with the male cat, but she lost the war with the heating pad… and I was the one who brought in the vile foe and lined her bed with it.

I’m so mad at myself. When I found her bed unslept-in yet again this morning, my anger at myself drove me to rage-clean the house.

The nights are getting colder and colder, and Salem isn’t sleeping in her bed, and I can’t stop thinking about it.

She still considers our yard to be her yard, though, and that’s good. She comes and goes during the day, hanging out in her favorite spots, eating her meals and snacks on the patio, and drinking from her “watering hole” near Geronimo’s burrow. Sometimes, in the evening, I sit in the dining room and watch her through the sliding-glass door. We connect and bond with eyeblink-kisses. Then the sun sets, and she goes away.

She seems sad. Maybe it’s just me seeing that through the lens of guilt, but I’m sure that she is sad that she can’t sleep in her cozy bed anymore.


Salem through the glass door. [16 December 2019]

Thank you for listening to my tale of woe. I’ll certainly come back here all kinds of elated if she starts sleeping in her laundry room again!



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