The first thing I noticed was the debris that our cat, Taft, left when he vacated a spot. It looked like sand. How was he getting sand in his fur? He’s an indoor cat. Then Taft stopped sleeping in his usual hangs. He kept jumping on the bookshelves, seeming to want to be as high up as possible. He knocked over candlesticks and pencil holders in this pursuit.
“Taft has fleas, Mom,” my eleven-year-old, Spencer, said.
“He doesn’t have fleas,” I said. “He’s an indoor cat.”
“Seriously,” Spencer persisted. “I see fleas jumping all over the place.”
“Right,” I snorted. “This from the kid who freaked out every night for a week after we got back from camping because he was convinced he had ticks.”
“Mom, the fleas are biting my feet at night.”
“And did you have ticks?”
“There you go.”
Taft couldn’t have fleas, but something was definitely amiss. He would race to his food bowl like he was being pursued, eat fast, then jump on something tall, leaving those mysterious piles of sand everywhere. What could it be?
Two days later, Spencer was pulling on a sock, “See Mom. Look at all my flea bites.”
I looked and saw a small constellation of red dots on the top of his foot.
“Maybe it’s a rash from your feet sweating,” I said.
“It’s fleas, Mom. One of them jumped on the book I was reading last night.”
I sighed, “OK. I’ll check into it. Just to put an end to all of this.”
That night, I went on the Internet and searched for information about fleas. I figured that I’d print out a couple pages to put Spencer’s fears to rest. There were too many things that didn’t add up for me. Why was Spencer the only one who noticed these so-called fleas? Why was he the only one with bites? Spencer had been wrong about the ticks and he was simply indulging another swath of panic about parasites that might take over our home. And what about the piles of sand? What connection could they possibly have to the fleas?
Within seconds on the Internet, I had my answer.
The sand was actually flea feces.
He would race to his food bowl like he was being pursued, eat fast, then jump on something tall, leaving those mysterious piles of sand everywhere. What could it be?
Flea feces? Are you fkidding me? I jumped up and inspected a dresser top that Taft had recently been sitting on and found some of the sand. I grabbed a spray cleaner and a paper towel and spritzed. When I ran the towel over the dresser top, a whole smear of red/brown filth clung to it. I knew what I had. Flea Feces.
“Pat,” I said to my husband. “Taft has fleas. The whole house is infested.”
“But Taft is an indoor cat, “ he said.
“I don’t know how he got them, but they’re here and so are their feces.”
I took Pat on a brief tour of the evidence. The smeared paper towel, the bites on Spencer’s foot, Taft perched on top of the television set like a sniper. Now, I realized, he was searching for ever higher roosts to avoid the army of fleas living in our carpets.
“So what do you say, we flea bomb the whole house tomorrow?” I said to Pat, while Spencer was putting his sock back on.
Pat rubbed his chin, “Mmmmm. Those bombs are so toxic.”
“Yeah. I know. They are toxic to the fleas. That’s the point. Let’s bomb them out of existence.”
Pat sighed, “I know you hate this, but I really don’t want all those chemicals. Let’s spray a little with Cedarcide.”
Cedarcide was a natural spray that Pat had bought for our trip to India. On the road, he would spray all our beds with it, each time extolling its effectiveness. And when I begged for DEET in hotel room with more mosquitoes than usual, Pat turned from his spraying to hiss, “You never believed in the Cedarcide. Never.”
And he was right. When it comes to bugs, I’m a first responder. Blow them up. Agent Orange the whole apartment. I don’t care if I get brain cancer twenty years from now. I can’t take any more flea feces on my furniture.
I knew better than press my point because Pat would insist on the non-toxic route first. And with kids and cat, I knew that he was mostly right. So we sprayed with Cedarcide until the apartment smelled like a hope chest. When that didn’t work (which I knew it wouldn’t) we got flea powder from the grocery store.
Pat decided to powder each room’s carpet individually, then close the door so that toxins wouldn’t get to us. The children’s room was the most affected so we stripped the bedding and got everything off of the floor.
“We don’t have any facemasks do we?” said Pat, walking into our bedroom as I lay on the bed, exhausted.
“Facemasks?” I lifted my head up to look at him. He was wearing yellow rubber gloves and surgical scrubs that he took from the hospital when I gave birth. He had tucked the mint green pants into his athletic socks and wound silver electrical tape around the tops of the socks and his waistband. He was wearing crocs on his feet and he had pulled a knit cap down over his ears. He was holding the canister of flea powder. I responded with all the love I could muster, “Facemasks are probably with the rest of our riot gear.”
“Right,” he said, “I’ll just tie a bandana over my nose and mouth.”
That night, the children slept on our bedroom floor while the powder worked it’s fatal magic. And in the following nights we powdered and vacated the other rooms, each time moving to another overnight encampment like Bedouins.
When it comes to bugs, I’m a first responder. Blow them up. Agent Orange the whole apartment. I don’t care if I get brain cancer twenty years from now. I can’t take any more flea feces on my furniture.
And still the fleas thrived. On a Saturday morning, I woke to find Spencer sitting in our desk chair in the living room, his knees pulled up to his chin, clutching a canister of Cedarcide, while he read a book.
“This is the only flea free spot in the house,” he said, then sprayed a spot on the floor close by.
That was it. Clearly we needed a professional. I immediately looked up a vet online and woke Pat with the news that we had an appointment in an hour.
“How much is it going to cost?” Pat said rolling back over to face the wall.
“The vet says up to two hundred or so.”
“Do you know how much Cedarcide that would buy?” he mumbled.
“Pat. It’s a done deal. We’re going to the vet. Do you want to be married to me or Cedarcide?”
“OK,” he said, readjusting the pillow under his head. “But we don’t have a cat carrier.”
“I’ll figure it out,” I said, feeling tough and motivated. I searched through the apartment, trailed by the kids making suggestions. Murphy wanted to roll Taft up into a blanket. Spencer proposed our big pasta pot.
“No, we just need a box,” I said, just as I spotted a case of Charles Shaw wine in the hallway. Bingo.
The kids helped me unload the bottles and, after several escape attempts, we finally managed to gently contain Taft.
“OK,” I said. “Someone get your father. You guys can stay home and watch TV while Daddy and I take Taft in.”
Pat trudged in a couple of minutes later, unshaven and bleary, “What’s this about the kids staying to watch TV?”
“It’s just that it’s a small office and it doesn’t make sense for all four of us to go,” I said.
“Yeah,” said Spencer. “We want to watch TV.”
“No, no, no,” said Pat. “We’re all going.”
“Awww,” complained Murphy.
Pat sat down on the couch, sighed, and pulled the kids in, “We’re all going to go because Taft is a member of our family. And whenever one of us needs support, we give it.” We all glanced over at Taft staring out at us, ears pinned back by the edges of the carrying hole, looking like he was wearing a nun’s wimple. “We help each other even when it’s not fun or easy.”
Or practical, I thought, anticipating the scene that did come to pass – the four of us uncomfortably crammed into a tiny examination room, each telling the vet irrelevant and conflicting parts of the flea saga.
I watched the kids lean their heads against Pat on the couch and felt my body soften with love for this man who consistently makes choices with his heart before his head.
“All right,” he said, rising from the couch. “I’ve got Taft. Can someone hold open the door?”
The boys raced the door and opened it. I grabbed my coat and Pat sailed into the hallway holding the tremulous package aloft.
Over his shoulder, he called out, “Hey, someone grab the Cedarcide. The vet will go nuts for it.”
As it turns out, the vet was unimpressed by the Cedarcide, prescribing instead a flea bath and giving us a powder for our rugs and furniture. It was all so much simpler than either Pat or I imagined. Taft and the house were both free of fleas within two days. But the story of our family coming together to vanquish them will last a lifetime.