Friday, November 4, 2016

The Pee Problem: Making a Mockery of My Horror

It may be time to admit that I have a problem on my hands. Admitting is the first step, they say. One can go on for years and years with a problem, but until they acknowledge its existence, it's hard to find the impetus to make a change.

So here goes: I've got a cat pee problem.

For about a year now, I've been trying to tell myself that I don't have a cat pee problem. Cat pee problems, after all, are for lunatic collectors of felines. Hoarders. People who don't take care of their cats. People who adopt and adopt and become so nose-blind to the smell in their houses that they no longer notice any odor at all, when in fact the stink is wafting up the street and dropping joggers on the pavement. Cat-pee houses sometimes have to be torn down. When my dad bought the building for his law practice, one room had been inhabited by a crazy cat lady whose cats thoroughly saturated the carpet. I don't know how they got the smell out of the wood but I know it was time-consuming and expensive. I've dealt with my share of dog pee, and it's benign and downright fragrant compared to cat pee. Cat pee is no joke.

And here I want to stop and scream, "I'm a dog person anyway! I can't have a cat pee problem if I'm a dog person!" There's a stigma associated with the smell of cat urine. I'm loath to even bring it up because the scent itself conjures an image of a raving woman in a house dress standing on her porch with hair curlers and a shotgun. Tidy people--people who have their shit together--don't have cat pee problems. Dog people don't have cat pee problems.

But of course, they do. I've been very quietly reaching out to the cat people I know. Growing up, we never really had cats, and even though I've been a cat-owning adult for some time now, I still feel like a newbie. My inexperience reveals the fact that I've never really gone all-in with cats; I just sort of have them around, and until now, the cats have held up their end of the bargain. They've used a litterbox, slept on our furniture, and tripped us every few days. I'm pretty sure those are the three main things expected of them.

The cat friends have assured me that they've all had a pee-er at one time or another. Cats who've peed on chairs, on curtains. My mother-in-law had one who peed in only one corner, and when the corner was unavailable because a piece of furniture covered it, he was fine. What the hell, cats? My obsessive Googling indicates that the reasons a cat will pee boil down to two categories: a physical problem or a behavioral problem. A physical problem is simple to treat. A behavioral problem, not so much.

The cat in question is Putter (pronounced "put-her"), an 11-year-old tortoiseshell female we adopted the day before I found out I was pregnant with Andy. At the time we had a Doberman and a business of ferrets--four, to be exact. She was a tiny kitten and she took her share of abuse from the weasels who thought she was one of them. Ferrets have tough skin and bite each other hard, and they used to drag her around by the scruff of her neck. They toughened her up. Then Andy arrived and rocked her world. The dobie died, we adopted Nugget, our collie mix, and Gimli came along as a stray kitten shortly thereafter. And then--Heaven help her--Ben was born. A few months after Ben came along we rescued Maya, our German shepherd. Now, Panther has moved in too, and through it all Putter has been more tolerant than I'd have expected a cat to be. She does seem to try. She bonded with Gimli, ignores Nugget, hates Benjamin, and hides from Maya. She despises Panther and adores both Shawn and my electric blanket.

Needless to say, the cat has endured a lifetime of inconsistency. Animals, children, and chaos all coming and going. It's not ideal. But the urinating is only a recent development. She's hung on for a long time. Like all female cats, Putter's been under the impression that this is her house and that she's the monarch. At times she appeared so stately that we were convinced the urinator was Gimli. I'd yell at him and run him off and grumble about selling him down the river, and I feel pretty bad about this, in hindsight. Only in the last year did we figure out who the real culprit was.

Our first visit to the vet revealed a raging urinary tract infection. Poor Putter, we all exclaimed. No wonder she was peeing on the rug. She's been sick for months and nobody thought to have her examined. What terrible humans we are. We got her feeling better, but after a brief hiatus the peeing returned. Grimly, the vet told me that the problem was behavioral and would be a challenge to treat.

Cat urine is perhaps the most offensive substance in the domestic human-animal world. Give me yak, give me hairballs. Give me a dog rolling in a dead fish. Anything but cat pee.

See this amino acid? It's Felinine. The S in there is sulfur. While the cat urine takes its sweet time soaking into Benjamin's bedroom carpet, the molecules begin to break down. As they do, the sulfur cleaves off. So now sulfur is just down there, rolling around in the pile, and the longer the urine sits, the worse it smells. Fresh cat pee isn't easy to find. Day-old cat pee is unmistakable. Week-old cat pee? Might as well head down to the ol' bunker and dig out the gas masks.

There's always a reason for an animal's physical attributes, and evolution had a plan for cat pee. Unneutered male cats have a high concentration of Felinine in their urine so that when they mark a tree in the wild, the scent can power through rain and still act as a stinking, blinking beacon in the yard for any other dude who decides to wander through. Nature, you sly genius. However, Putter's girly urine still contains more than enough Felinine to ruin my carpet.

The pet stores are happy to sell me a variety of cat pee products. Off. Dumb Cat. Anti-Icky-Poo. Things that crystallize. Things that de-funkify. Things that repel. The Nature's Miracle people would have me believe that their enzyme formula is the way to go, that enzymes are really the only tool for combating the smell. I'm not so sure. I've spent several hundred dollars on big gallon jugs of Nature's Miracle, saturating the carpet over and over again. The smell always remains. And if I can smell it, Putter can smell it. That stink is a big flashing cat sign: Liked it the first time? Come on back! 

While I'm fighting this battle with the world's rudest amino acid, I'm also going slowly insane. The pee has gotten into my head. In the first few months, I could easily detect the smell of cat pee. I'd walk up the stairs and get a whiff. I'd announce to Shawn that there was fresh cat pee somewhere. He'd never be able to smell it, but I'd get down on my hands and knees and crawl around with my schnoz smashed into the carpet until I found the wet spot. Then, like a pointer, I'd tense and alert the family. Pee! I found pee!

But after a few months, I guess I went a little nose-blind. In Pavlovian style, I learned to associate the smell of Nature's Miracle with the presence of feline urine, and the two scents blended together to form a ball of confused frustration in my sinuses. Had I or had I not treated that particular swatch of carpet? Was it damp because I had just cleaned it the day before or was it damp because Putter had peed on it again? I started spending more time on the floor, bloodhounding my way around the room, baying when I thought I found another wet spot.


These days, it goes like this: Walk up the stairs, stop in my tracks. Do I smell something? Is that cat pee? Enter Ben's room, drop to my hands and knees. Smush my nostrils into the carpet and proceed to hoover around the room. Sniff. Fresh pee or old pee? Damp or dry? Felinine or Nature's Miracle? Can't decide. Get in the car and drive to Petco. Purchase a gallon of enzymatic cleaner for $42.99. Return to the room and pour the entire bottle into the corner. Sit and watch the puddle. Sniff the puddle. Sniff my pants. Ask myself if they smell, too. Remove my pants. Sniff the knees of the pant legs and decide they reek of pee. Wash the pants with enzymatic cleaner. Sit in Ben's room with no pants and watch the puddle dry. Open a window. Air out the room. Sniff the cuff of my shirt. Imagine it smells like pee. Remove the shirt. Wash the shirt. Sit in Ben's room in my underwear and watch the puddle dry. Leave the house in clean clothing to go to Ben's Halloween party at school. Ask my friend if I smell like cat pee. When she says no, decide she's wrong. Subtly remove myself from the group and retreat to the corner of the classroom so nobody can smell me. When Shawn arrives, ask him if he smells cat pee on me. Tell him he's wrong when he says no. Go home. Notice the yard smells like cat pee. Take off my clothing again. Notice the dog smells like cat pee. Notice the shower smells like cat pee. Drive to Petco in clean clothing. Buy another gallon of enzymatic cleaner. Pour it on the rug and watch the puddle dry in my underwear. Sniff my hair. Wash my hair. Ask the mailman to come upstairs and tell me if he smells pee. Argue with him when he says no.

I bought Putter an expensive self-cleaning litterbox. She likes it. She uses it. There's no evidence that she's peed on the rug since I gave it to her. She seems to be happy.

But I still smell pee everywhere. On me, on you. It clings to the curtains, to the trees. It blows in on the wind. I smell pee in the car, on the kids. The plates come out of the dishwasher reeking of urine. When people come to the house I turn on fans and open windows. I light candles and flick on my Scentsy warmers. I bake a turkey so the house smells like roasting bird flesh rather than cat whiz. I ask Shawn and the children to smell the rugs, the wood, and my own body over and over again. I inhale until my lungs hurt and I get woozy.

And nobody else can smell it. Nobody believes me.

But I smell cat pee.

This morning, as I wrote this blog, I took a break between the seventh and eighth paragraphs to pour a gallon of vinegar on the carpet. I found the treatment on YouTube. I treated half of the area and left the other half untreated so that I can compare the two later, when the liquid dries. They say that if you can question your sanity, then you're still sane, but I'm not sure if that applies to someone who spends half of the day on her stomach inhaling a faceful of ammonia.

This is my life, now. I'm Edgar Allen Poe's tragic murderer, smelling the thump thump of cat pee under my floor boards.

Why will you say that I am mad? The disease has sharpened my senses--not destroyed--not dulled them. Above all was the sense of smell acute. I smelled all things in the heaven and in the earth. I smelled many things in hell. How, then, am I mad?

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