NAHCOTTA, Wash. — Many clients of Oceanside Veterinary Clinic in Seaview will recognize Sooz Laughlin as the nice lady at the front desk who checks in their pets. But there’s more to know about this woman who lives in Nahcotta with her six rescue cats.

Those six cats have a fancy catio (cat patio) that Laughlin had built two years ago as part of her car port. It is furnished with an artistic touch, not surprising, as she is also an artist who paints miniatures and hand crafts sun catchers.

Laughlin also has a long history as a vet tech in Oregon. And, she owns and operates The Kitties’ PJ’s cat sitting service, which she does before and after her day job and on her days off.

Fancy feline digs

When Laughlin pulls her little red Miata into the carport, she can look through the windshield at the 8 x 12-foot wood and wire catio that her six “babies” occupy. Because of a clever short tunnel, they can easily walk in or out of the house. The pet door-type setup spans from Laughlin’s studio room, where she creates her art. She has a flap that works if she ever wants to close it, but mostly the cats just come and go as they please.

The catio has a cover structure which spans from the house. Rain water just runs right off.

The catio was built by a man from St. Helens, an area where Laughlin lived before moving to the Peninsula. She said that he had two catios and she really liked them. There was a labor trade involved, but she purchased all the materials, including the cedar, 2x4-inch wire, hardware, plexiglas, rolled plastic and some of the interior features, such as a nautical rope. Materials cost about $1,000.

Catios are becoming popular as a way of providing fresh air and a safe outdoor experiences for house cats. Since Laughlin lives on Sandridge Road, where traffic is a concern, this catio gives her peace of mind that her kitties will be safe.

Another consideration is safety from wildlife.

“I once lost a cat to coyotes,” she said.

Because of other wildlife concerns, she never leaves food or water in the catio.

“I don’t want to [entice] the bears or raccoons,” she stressed, adding the cats can easily go into the house to eat and drink. But for their pottying pleasure, she does have a cat box in the catio with a broom hung up for cleaning the floor and a tap light mounted on one wall for working after dark.

When she does go into the catio to clean or just to interact with the cats, she is careful not to give them an opportunity to escape. “The door opens outward,” she says, which gives her a lot more space for entering.

Once inside, she can easily secure the door until she’s ready to come out. One day last week, some of her cats were in the catio, but two remained inside the house. A black and white female, LuLu Belle, was perched atop a tall cat tree. Laughlin said the tree was a gift from a friend who moved away and couldn’t take it. LuLu Belle not only enjoys that high spot, but she also sometimes naps in a cubby-hole below it. A few minutes after being on the top tier, she climbed down onto the floor and spread out on a door mat that says “Wipe your Paws.”

Regardless of where the cats are on the catio, they won’t have to deal with the wind. While Laughlin has the door currently plastic free to let fresh air come through, she has easy-to-hang plexiglas sheets that she can put up like clear curtains, attaching them with wingnuts. She also has some clear plastic in a roll that she can use for weather proofing. It’s called Flex-O-Glass. It’s a Do It Best product. It cost about $90 and has lasted two years.

When she uses this, she secures it with strips of lath. This holds it firmly in place, so the wind doesn’t tear it.

The feline family

Each of her cats has a story on how and why they were rescued. But they seem to have left the tough days behind and are now just regular house cats, thriving in their environment and Laughlin’s love and care. There are “three and three,” Laughlin said, explaining the male and female numbers.

That day last week, inside the catio, she hoisted a relaxed brown tabby named Slinky, held him close and gave and received kitty kisses. She has another brown tabby, Snigglefritz. Black and white LuLu Belle seems to be the most relaxed around strangers.

There is another black and white who was in the house that day. His name is Bobo and Laughlin described him as “pudgy.” Greyman also stayed in the house as did The Smooge, a long-haired female who looks like the cat pictured on Laughlin’s cat sitting business cards.

Playing with other cats

For a person so in love with kitties, what better business than cat sitting? She always goes to the cats’ houses and doesn’t bring them home. But when she takes care of these felines, she combines her skills as a vet tech with that love.

Recalling when she lived in Oregon, Laughlin said, “I was a vet tech for seven and a half years at one place and two years at another. I went to the Apollo School.” She said her experience allows her to do fluids, insulin and pills.

When she cat sits, if a kitty needs to be administered a pill, she has a system. “I usually come from behind, pull their mouth open and use a pill gun.” It works every time. But it’s not all just medication, feeding or cat box cleaning. There’s also that love.

“I play and snuggle, whatever they want to do,” she said. “I usually stay about an hour. I used to play mousey-mouse with one of my regulars. There was a big cat tree. The cat would jump on top of it and I’d throw [toy] mice at him and he’d throw them back down at me.” She smiled at the memory.

That playful “regular” was from when she did cat sitting in the Scappoose and St. Helens area for about eight years. She also did some goat sitting when she was there.

Someday, when Laughlin retires from her day job, she wants to do the pet sitting more as a full-time venture. “I will probably sit dogs, too. And I’ve done some chicken sitting.”

Laughlin is one of those people who stays away from the temptation of animal shelters. She’d want to bring them all home. But, “I can work where I do at the clinic because all the animals are owned.”

She talked about a lady down the street who is fostering three young kittens. “I couldn’t foster. I’d want to keep them,” she admitted.

Her love for cats has always been a big part of her life. She laughed when she said that everywhere she’s worked, “Everyone always wanted my name at Christmas parties because I was so easy to shop for.” Cat-themed gifts, of course. “I was known as the Crazy cat lady.”

Lynda Layne is a contributor for the Chinook Observer.

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