Why would anyone who suffers from allergies want to live with a cat? Only because they are the fluffiest bestest coolest little vermin-killers in the world. Because every cute kitty is a lion at heart. Because you don’t need to get a “hybrid” — no cat is truly “tame.”

There are more pragmatic reasons. You got a cat for your kid and then you developed an allergy. You don’t want your kid to hate you forever. He or she definitely will, but it probably has nothing to do with the cat. Maybe you’ve met your soulmate, only she’s known the cat longer than she’s known you. Don’t make her choose. Perhaps a bundle of yapping cuteness followed you home and even though he makes you sneeze, you are in love. Some are born with both the cat-loving gene and the cat-allergy gene.

I am one of them. That’s me. I live with both cats and allergies. I am not recruiting for this lifestyle. I am not advising anybody with allergy symptoms to try this at home. If you are an allergic person and you live with a cat and you die of asthma – which can really happen, don’t blame me. I am not a medical professional. I am not telling you what you should do. I am telling you what I do. These are also useful tips if you are nonallergic cat person who might have allergic friends visiting.

Here are some basics. Products I use are mentioned. These are not “paid” endorsements.

  1. I have an allergist – This isn’t a DIY project. You need a doctor if you choose to do this. If you don’t have decent insurance, forget it. If you have an HMO or a lousy plan whichdoesn’t cover shots, you might need to find a new job with a better plan. If you can’t afford your copay, don’t get a cat. Allergists, like most doctors, used to tell you to give away your cats. This is because your allergies, even if minor, might get worse over time. Then they realized no one would bother with immunotherapy (injections) if they didn’t love their pets, so now they will only tell you not to get more pets, and to keep coming back for treatment. Shots are a big commitment because they won’t even start working for several months, and first you’ll have to come every week. Then it’s every two weeks, and then every month. After a few years, you can stop. But then you might have to come back. (I recently came back.) An allergist can also work with you on finding medications – both OTC and prescription that can control your symptoms. I take a generic form of Singular which just about eliminates my main, and most dangerous symptom – wheezing. I have an “emergency” inhaler. I take OTC antihistimines on occasion. There are lots of “non-drowsy” choices.
  2. I’m careful about “alternative” treatments. I have used accupuncture and Chinese herbs in the past. These seemed helpful at the time, and are harmless in any case. But some of what is labelled alternative is just plain dangerous. Ephedra, for example, is touted as a “natural” asthma treatment, but it can have dangerous side effects and using it without treating the underlying cause of the asthma – your cat allergies – won’t “cure” you and is not a long-term solution. While Western medicine may not have all the answers, in this case, at this time, the treatments are pretty good and pretty safe.
  3. The bedroom – Allergists will tell you to keep the cat(s) out of the room where you sleep. That’s good advice, but it sort of defeats the point of having a cat and it might not work if , like me, you live in small space. I make sure to change the sheets at least once a week, and follow other housekeeping rules (See below.)
  4. Housekeeping – Cats lick themselves. The saliva has the protein to which you are allergic. It gets in the air and crystalizes. Therefore – linens should be changed at least once a week. I have a Miele vacuum (that has a micro-filter and doesn’t blowback the air. Rugs and carpets? I got rid of them! They are dander traps! Just the worst. I clean my floors (vinegar and water combo works great on almost everything) at least once a week. There are also products one can find (google) that may be helpful. And those sticky rolly things to clean lint from your clothes? Very useful to have around.
  5. Air purifiers and filters – In theory these are helpful. I like mine, but I rarely use it. The problem is it doesn’t work so well if windows or doors open, so they are mostly useful in a closed room with closed windows. We have room (not central) air conditioning and it’s important to change the filters at the start of every air-conditioning season. The AC filter helps enormously especially as I also have hayfever. What doesn’t help? Anything that claims to “clean” the air by charging ions alone and doesn’t have a filter. Do not waste your money. They are debunked.
  6. Cat litter – It must be lovely if you can get a loved one to deal with that! It’s also smart to go with something relatively low-tracking and dust free. I’ve recently switched to paper pellets, which serves the purpose.
  7. Cat Baths – Allergists recommend bathing your cat twice a week. Cat baths, how to, are a whole other post that I haven’t yet written. I can tell you from experience that two out of three cats won’t believe you are trying to murder them, but none of them will enjoy the experience. You will be forgiven quickly however, especially if treats follow. Do not immerse your cat in water. Better to pour water on them, but they still won’t like it. Make sure the shampoos is safe for kitties and doesn’t contain chemicals. The problem with bathing the cats, is that they groom themselves a lot after, getting the saliva back on them which kind of defeats the purpose.
  8. Cat Wipes If bathing the cat seems daunting and/or there’s simply no way you are doing it as frequently as recommended, cat wipes can work. Look for ones that don’t seem too toxic and look for bargains. (I just got a year’s supply to save on shipping). Cats tolerate it more easily than bathing. At this point, I rarely bath them, but do the wipes at least twice a week.
  9. Brushy – My oldest cat loves “brushy.” The others, not so much. Brushing or combing before the wipe down to catch loose hair helps the allergic and helps prevent hairballs.

Yes, this does sound like a lot of work. The reality is it’s mostly basic stuff we should all do allergies or not. The shots are a pain, but after a while, it’s only once a month. It’s not that much work and the result is I get to have cats.

Again, I am not recommended anyone do anything. Also this was written for consenting adults with allergies. Not kids. If your kid is allergic, I got nothing. I know parting a child from his pets – even for his own safety – will break his heart, and parting a child from his pets because of the allergies of another child in the household may cause lifelong resentment, but kids die from asthma and may keep symptoms a secret, so if your kid is the one with the allergies, it might be better to re-home the pet. Lifelong resentment is better than no life at all. Talk to a doctor.

(My fiction has nothing to do with my cats, but if you found this post helpful, please check out my books.)

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Marion on May 27th, 2014

Just wanted to say, that tonight I’ll be storytelling over at this place. It’s a free event. I’ll be telling a story that’s not part of a book or anything, nor will I be talking about my top secret new project. The story I’ll be telling is like, you know, in the monologuist tradition of the late great Spaulding Gray. I’d wear a flannel shirt if I had one and if it wasn’t so humid. You are all welcome to come. But get there early. They’ll be music and bigger headliners and it may be hard to get a seat.

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We idiots stopped by the Church of the Covenant over on East 42nd street to see the New York Opera Exchange production of La Traviata. What drew us there? The chance to expand our operatic horizons beyond the Met, cheap tickets – general admission $30 (less for students and seniors), the opportunity to participate in this “start-up” company’s mission to create “performance opportunities for emerging artists on the cusp of professional breakthrough.” There’s more to the mission statement but the rest reads like buzzwords for grant applications though that doesn’t make them untrue or not sincerely felt. (I know this as an occasional grant writer.)

Let’s start with the hall. The opera was not actually performed in the main chapel, but in a “fellowship hall.” Acoustics were good. But it did present challenges. The stage is a raised platform but only a few feet up. The orchestra area was cordoned off, and while the sitting musicians didn’t block the view, the conductor smack in the middle did to a greater or lesser extent depending on where you were sitting.

The stage was small, but movement was well-choreagraphed to work with that.

As for the performances, Nadia Petrella sang Violetta the night we saw it. Her coloratura was lovely. Dramatically, I thought she was at her best singing Sempre Libera, and it was here that the character’s conflict with herself over her feelings was clearest. She may not have been helped by the “concept” imposed on this production. More to come on that.

There were a number of cast substitutions that night. While the program lists the different casts and all the covers, there were no notes stuffed in with the updates. Instead, we got a very quick muffled announcement right before it started. I didn’t catch it all except the big one – Germont was sung by Roberto Borgatti. Per the program, he’s done recitals before but this was his operatic debut. Don’t know if he got to sing the role before the performance we saw, but for a debut that was amazing. There were couple of times when he looked like he might he might have been struggling, but except for a tiny cough, he sounded great.

My only real quibble is with the choice of setting for the story. They’ve set it Rome at the end of World War II. Violetta is an upper-class aristocrat now reduced to being a courtesan and trying to keep up appearances. Alfredo, an American GI. After seeing the stunning graphic, I thought it would be a hoot – a kind of neo-realist thing, like a post WWII, Italian film.

When I read the act by act description in the program I had my doubts. The better-half didn’t mind it so much. He pointed out it was “unobtrusive.” Alfredo and Germont wear army uniforms. Other people wear evening clothes. They didn’t muck around much with the translation. But it bugged me. As presented it didn’t make lot of sense. (Granted, this in an opera where a dying girl sings – a lot.)

Violetta Valery was based on a specific real person, who most definitely was not an aristocrat, though she may have seemed like one. She was a wealthy woman alone in the world who earned everything she had – on her back. When Germont comes to ask her to give up he’s son, he’s bowled over by her manners – the fact that she has any. Alfredo loves her despite her “past.” What made the story popular from the beginning was the redemption factor — the idea that this hardened tart was willing to sacrifice all she had for Alfredo – and even for his sister whom she didn’t know, the idea that “love” could somehow save her or that the lack of it would hasten her death. The tragedy of the opera is that they are kept apart, and kept apart because of class — her lack. Even Germont learns a lesson and is left to live with a burden of guilt and regret.

Of course a decadent aristocrat, maybe even one who’d been in bed (literally) with fascists to keep what she had, could also be redeemed by love, but it feels like a much different story, and if you set it in the 1940s, it seems doubtful that Alfredo’s romance with such a person would ruin his sister’s marriage prospects.

I was thinking of the film, A Foreign Affair, in which GI’s in occupied Germany get in over their heads with Germans who may or may not have been Nazis. I was expecting maybe more of that — Italians on the make, naive Americans who don’t know what they’re getting into. Violetta could have been an impoverished Sophia Loren-type trying to work in film while being supported by a Baron who maybe made a shady deal or two to hold onto his fortune during the war. There could have been more solid reasons implied for why the relationship would have been scandalous and ruined Alfredo’s family — maybe a threat to his military career or a future in politics.

I guess what I’m saying is, having come up with the idea, they could have gone a little further with it, and really had fun. This was half-measures. However, it was still La Traviata, and still pretty great. I will be checking out more of New York Opera Exchange next season. (As of this posting, you can RUN to the last performance today at 3:00, which could be sold-out for all I know and there’s no phone number on the website, but if it doesn’t work out, you could always get the 7 from nearby Grand Central and visit the Long Island City Arts Open five minutes away. Or you could stay home and read this novella.)

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