Paws, whiskers: Condo living through eyes of our pets

Posted on Wed, 11/01/2017 - 11:30am

By Tracy Poyser

Captain MorganWe humans make up the majority of Malibu East building residents, and we know how to get our voices heard and concerns resolved. But, about 50% of our condo units are home to four-legged residents who speak in woofs and meows, and feel that their two-legged neighbors don’t know enough about them. And, they get really embarrassed when they get in trouble with their custodians/parents because they did something perfectly doggy or catty, or can’t figure out what those mysterious rules of the building are supposed to mean.

My own pets are of the stuffed, low-maintenance persuasion, but I love speaking to their live counterparts and am auntie and sitter to a couple of fabulous felines.

So, with the help of their resident interpreters and dog/cat whisperers, I have been privileged to speak directly to members of a recently formed pet committee (self-appointed, since they don’t understand elections): cats Stella Barahal and Pong Whaley and dogs Galant Beatty and Capt’n Morgan Reichel-Fukumoto. Their life stories would take up too much space, but here’s what they want to tell you (in no particular order since they don’t know about attention span).

From Stella Barahal: “I was about 3½ years old, I think, when my Judy rescued me from the cold. Her old cat – a guy named Robert – had just gone to cat nirvana (or wherever we go, I wouldn’t know), so she was lonely. I don’t remember how I got there, but I had become a street cat, living in a backyard in Logan Square all winter. My mom heard about me from a friend and rushed to my rescue. I was scruffy, hurt and needed pain pills, but I had been spayed (that means I can’t have kittens, whatever they are).

“In Judy’s place, there was a big glass door in every room going out to a concrete place with a railing where birds land, but it scared me, and I never, ever want to go out there, and I think there’s a law that says I shouldn’t. I can see all I want through the glass. But, there’s that long space with many doors just outside the front door. I peek at it and sometimes go a few steps with my mom, but I’m never allowed to play there.

“I heard Judy tell Tracy that I rule the place – and that’s right! Surely, Judy wouldn’t expect me to clean out my litter box, triple-bag the lumpy stuff in it, and put it on the floor of the bulk room (never down the chute). It’s below my dignity, and I don’t have opposable thumbs. I do, however, have claws – so if you want to adopt one of my kind, get a good scratching post and don’t go nuts about the upholstery, whatever that is.

“I heard a horrible thing: Some poor cats get their front claws cut off before people let them live with them. It’s like chopping off a human’s fingers at the first joint and often makes us weak and sick later on. Also, my Judy always gets me checked and vaccinated for rabies and distemper, and watches me because I can’t tell her when I’m sick – I just may sniffle or throw up. I’m told that I’m now 14 people-years old, and when my Judy is sick or sad, I cuddle with her and make her feel better, too.”

Pong Whaley lives with this reporter’s sister, Rita, and brother-in-law Bob Whaley, and it took awhile to persuade him to give an interview. He is over 13 years old, doesn’t like to be told what to do or, even worse, how to be a cat (what do they know?). But, my sis is a bit of a cat whisperer, and that helped.

“When I was real little, I lived in a large room with many kittens where people came and played with us,” Pong recalls. “Then, a man and a woman came and took me and my best buddy Ping away – I sure wasn’t going to leave him behind. But, when he was only 11 people-years old, he suddenly left and didn’t come back. I cried and cried and looked all over. But it’s now almost OK because the lady really fusses over me, and I like being the kingpin. I even like the man now – he used to be Ping’s guy.

“We live in a place with lots of good stuff, but I no longer have a white leather sofa to scratch. That was fun – when Ping and I jumped on it, our claws got stuck. Now they have chairs, which would be nice to scratch. But, they put a strange square mat thing under them, and it zaps me and makes me jump back when I step on it. So, I leave the chairs alone – who cares?

“I don’t let them cut my claws – it frightens me. They tried it when I was little and even bought a straitjacket thing to get at my paws, but they couldn’t get it on. Dumb. Took the vet 20 minutes to get them cut, so they let me be after that. Scratching posts are OK, too.

“Sometime I accidentally bite when I play. The first time I bit Bob, his arm got all red because of something in my saliva (spit, that is) and he had to go to the people doctor for antibiotics, whatever that is.

“Yep, I would like to go on the balcony to catch birds and flying-around things, and there are little lights moving back and forth out there at night, but you know people – they nixed that. NOT. EVER.

“Do I want to play in that long space with all the doors? Nope, not me – tried it once and it was scary. There’s a door thing to a cage that opens and closes. I think it gets to other places that look the same, and how would you get home then? Tell your cat not to be stupid.

“A couple of times I ate a pill or two that I found on the floor – and I got dopey and couldn’t walk, and Bob took me to the Uptown Animal Hospital (5545 N. Clark St.) to stay overnight with the cat doctor. They were so nice I didn’t have to bite them, and made me well.

“Best advice for new cat parents: Don’t pick us up when we don’t like to play, brush us lots, don’t buy lots of fancy toys – paper bags are great. … OK, I’m rambling, so talk about dogs already – and meow to you, too.”

On to Capt’n Morgan, one of the two canine committee members – a glossy black cocker spaniel/mystery dog mix who feels fortunate indeed to have been adopted by Susan Reichel and Kevin Fukumoto nine years ago. One of their friends had found him tied to a fence on Halloween, dressed in a pirate costume (thus the name). All attempts to located the owners failed, and the one-year-old pup landed in the dog pound, where Susan and her friend Eileen Smith found him in a cage with his costume clipped to it, and rescued him from almost certain death.

“Woof – it was a shock to be in a place with walls, and I didn’t know what a leash was,” Capt’n Morgan recalls. “I got used to the elevator – and I really like meeting other dogs, and run in the new dog run in the park (south of the Osterman Beach House). Lots of trees with squirrels to chase – but no more swimming until we get another doggy beach where it’s safe. Big waves scare me! Sometimes my mom and dad go away – and I get to stay in a nice place called Grooming by Galdy (7007 N. Sheridan Road), where I also get brushed and groomed. It costs $50 in people money per night.”

The Captain’s advice to other dogs and their parents: “Be friendly with people because they have treats. … Don’t pee on the hallway carpet or in the elevators – people have to tell the doorman or the office right away. … Always pick up my poop, especially in our building’s dog run, so take plenty of litter bags. … Be polite when you get to ride in the people elevators – some don’t like me to lick their feet or smell their grocery bags and stuff.”

Nine years ago, I had the privilege to meet new puppy Galant Beatty when our longtime resident and Board member Carol Beatty brought him home as a 6½-week-old purebred poodle from Cantif’s Poodles. He was a white fluff ball who fit in her hand (his registered name is “Can’t be Forgotten”). His predecessor in Carol’s home and heart, Farineau, actually turned out to be Galant’s great-uncle – a hard act to follow, but Galant was up to the task. Since Malibu East was his only home, he had no problem adjusting.

“I love to go on the balcony with my mom to help her water the plants, but I never, ever stay out there alone,” Galant woofs.

“I was in a bit of trouble one time – I didn’t like to be alone, so when my mom went to play the organ in church on a Sunday morning, I barked and barked until I was hoarse, and whined and whimpered and barked some more until she got home. My mom heard about it from Tracy, who was then our neighbor. So, my mom bought a little gadget thing, and when I started barking, it made a high-pitched annoying sound that only dogs can hear. That made me stop right away.

“Also, sometimes I have to remember not to jump on people and kiss their faces, but I only do that to people I know. I like most dogs except for Great Danes. I love thunderstorms, but I have to stay inside for them.

“I generally get walked by my mom or her daughter, Georgia, or they get one of our nice resident pet walkers, Melodie Garcia or Sandra Papp, to take me out – they know that I’m stronger than I look.

“A final woof about how to be a good citizen: Please, sit down in the elevator – four legs take up space. … Share our dog walk with other animals and don’t growl at them. … Remember that the freight elevator is for people with dogs and carts and stuff, not just to ride.”

For a people perspective on our pet population and her own pet peeves, I talked to our inveterate resident pet expert Melodie Garcia, who’s been a pet sitter/walker for 27 years, most of them in our building. She built her four- and two-legged clientele (plus birds and fish) through word of mouth alone – and suggests that’s the best way to locate someone you can trust with your beloved pets. Here’s some very important advice from her:

Be sure to familiarize your sitter/walker with your pet’s medical history, whims, attitude toward other dogs (one of her charges hated schnauzers).

Take time to introduce your sitter to your pet; let them play together while you’re home.

Provide an ample supply of food, with instructions on your pet’s preferences (i.e., wet or dry food, feeding times, medications).

Leave an info sheet with all emergency contact information, cell phone number, veterinarian contact, etc., in your unit (refrigerator magnets are great for this), and let your sitter know how to reach you at any time (one of Melodie’s clients went on a cruise without telling her, and the client’s dog became very ill).

If you’re getting on the elevator with a cart, look out for dogs’ paws – it’s easy to run over them.

As Pong and Stella meowed earlier, don’t let cats or dogs roam the hallways. They get lost and frightened. Melodie remembers one shar-pei mix with separation anxiety who managed to open the unit door with his teeth and got on the elevator. It took awhile to figure out where he lived.

Most importantly, make sure to leave your unit key with our Management Office AND a neighbor or your sitter. It’s so important to reach a pet in case of fire or other emergencies, or when you get locked out.

I had wanted to add a bit more on how and where to adopt a pet, especially Felines & Canines Rescue Center at Devon and Paulina (, but will leave that for another Dialogue issue. For now, thanks for letting our pets have a bit of a voice as an important and beloved part of our condo community – and feel free to translate this article back into woofs, meows, peeps or twitters (fish don’t talk).