I have two cats and I love them both but they are my enemies. They work against what I want to accomplish. If I’m making my house pretty by laying down a new rug, they will scratch it or barf on it. If I create a clean, low-allergy space by vacuuming, they will shake themselves and send hair flying in the air. They meow insistently that it’s dinner time when it isn’t, they yowl in the dark early morning for breakfast. It’s difficult, I hate these parts of cat life. But I live with this contradiction because I’m a person who emotionally collapses at the sight of my kitty. They are ridiculously loving. Maddie cuddles beside me every evening. She purrs at my ear at night, Aleksy jumps onto my chair and kneads my body. He drools from affection on my hand. It doesn’t get much more rewarding than the open shameless affection of a cat. Cat people know what I mean.
Madeleine came to us as a six-month-old stray. She sat on our porch again and again until my dog attacked her and we took her to the vet and had her stitched up. Then she was ours. No debate. Her sweet spirit and unprecedented beauty made me fall in love with her.
Aleksy also came as a stray. He sat outside our window and yowled for weeks. He sat on our fence and wouldn’t leave. He decided at some point during the summer of 2005 to live with us and he wouldn’t take no for an answer. We couldn’t say no. He was too needy and loving. We haven’t looked back since.
But now in the last few years, later in his 18-year-old life, Aleksy has taken to chewing on plants. He does it when he wants attention, when he’s frustrated, when he’s hungry and wants food. He loves crunchy, stiff stems, likes to shred Devil’s Vine, pulls each serrated leaf off ferns. His favorite though is a bouquet of flowers. Roses and lilies are decapitated with the satisfying clench of his jaw.
This is not a healthy habit. Some plants are toxic and not long after his hijinks, he throws up, on the floor or counter if we’re lucky. So a handful of years ago, I gave serious thought about how to deter him. I love plants and I wasn’t not going to grow them. But I couldn’t set the plant high on a shelf, he can jump onto counters and shelves and dressers. I needed a barrier to surround the plant’s container. But I needed something that wouldn’t block light or air. I needed something removable. I figured out a solution: bird cages. Bird cages are available in several places: most obviously pet stores but more inexpensively antique and thrift stores, craft stores, and discount home stores. They usually have a liftable roof or door and sometimes no floor. You just lift and water and replace. When the plant gets big, the leaves poke through the little bars and Aleksy will chew on them, but unlike in years before, he can’t chew enough leaves to get ill and throw up.
Here’s the one drawback. When the plant outgrows its container, it’s sometimes difficult to find bird cages large enough. So I had to make my own barriers. I went to the hardware store, bought stiff screening, used tin snips to trim it, and created tubes of steel mesh. This is easy to work with, you simply bend the little tines around the mesh squares with pliers to secure it. Then when you need to water, lift off.
People have complimented me on the aesthetics of the bird cages, which is nice. But it’s survival really, not only for me and my plants, who otherwise suffer down to their sad nubs, but mostly for Aleksy who no longer gets sick every other morning. I can’t tell you what a relief it is every day to wake up to a healthy home with greenery that’s intact and lush. Now if I could just stop the yowling.