05/06/2013 10:54 am ET Updated Jul 06, 2013

House Cats: Let's Take a Walk on the Flea Larvae Side

Getty Images

The problems associated with owning a pet could fill volumes. As a relatively new cat owner, I did not expect my life (and my house) to be turned upside down with the invasion of flea eggs and flea larvae.

It began when my cat Zoey contracted fleas the night she escaped into the (feral) terrain of my neighborhood. Rescued a mere twenty minutes after her foray into freedom, it wasn't long before Zoey began to scratch herself St. Vitas dance style. What I had assumed was just a simple feline itch turned out to be a major infestation. A friend came to my rescue and transported Zoey to his house (where she was shampooed more than once) while I began the long process of fumigating the house.

Flea larvae, unfortunately, can stay put in rugs and furniture for up to six months. Zoey, therefore, was put on a long range sabbatical until my house was safe. At the local supermarket, I bought several bottles of Hartz Ultra Guard Plus, a flea and tick home spray. I washed, scrubbed, sprayed, vacuumed, and then repeated the process many times over. But just when I thought I had the problem licked, a handful of fleas would leap from the floor onto my hands when I used the computer.

"They're still here!" I said to the friend who had Zoey. "This house is as clean as an operating room but the bugs still manage to jump on me from every angle." (Fleas, by the way, cannot fly; they take leap frog style jumps from the floor or where they're nesting to what they hope will be a warm furry host. Since I am warm but not furry, they wound up, as the Rolling Stones used to say, 'Under my Thumb.' But random killings didn't deter the more unruly, hungry ones from finding ways to jump into my socks.)

While I was never reduced to Zoey's excruciating St. Vitas dance experience, I'd sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with an intense urge to scratch. Were the fleas, like those Verizon Fios advertisements, everywhere?

But just as I was on the verge of giving up and domesticating the invaders, the fleas vanished. Arrangements were made to bring Zoey home, but then something else happened: my friend's mother, an elderly woman in ill health, had fallen hopelessly in love with Zoey and told her son, "I cannot live without the cat."

Taking Zoey away from someone who claimed to love her wouldn't be easy. I did not want to go on record as having killed an elderly woman, so the son and I had to come up with a plan.

Following Ernest Hemingway's dictum -- "One cat just leads to another" -- we devised a plan to find a look-a-like cat and exchange the felines on the sly. To do this we contacted a local woman known as the "cat lady." Now, the "cat lady" specializes in finding cats for families and individuals who want pets, so we put her to work to find a Zoey clone for a midnight transfer.

A transfer cat with black and white tuxedo markings, a virtual Xerox of Zoey, was located. "The cat lady is a genius," I told my friend, mindful all the while that no cat, like any human being, is ever perfect. There's always the fly in the ointment, the unsightly blemish, the unfortunate... "but." This, despite Alexander Dumas' observation that, "the cat, an aristocrat, merits our esteem, while the dog is only a scurvy type who got his position by low flatteries."

Snoopy's problem wasn't just her name, it was a personality ravaged by the discomfort of a skin disease so advanced that it was all she could do to not act like a little mouse, scampering this way and that, afraid of her own shadow, or doorbells, footsteps, or the on and off click of my kitchen night light. At first our inclination was to "save" Snoopy, to bring her to a good and honest vet (today, this seems to be an oxymoron) , who wouldn't taunt us with fear techniques until we maxed out our credit cards on Hocus Pocus tests, biopsies, injections, and God knows what else.

The vet we found crushed any hopes we had of finding "one good honest man or woman in Dodge." In the long run, it didn't matter anyway, since Snoopy's prognosis wasn't good. Regrettably, she was sent back to her former home with the vet's dire summing up that her failing health began with an old infestation of fleas and mites.

So it all comes back to fleas, invaders not from space but from the feral world of the city. Call the flea connection the down side of serendipity, I suppose, but there was no way I could throw in the towel. I had no choice but to get out the Hartz Ultra Guard and spray the area where Snoppy had stayed put for the better part of a week, and then make plans to head back to the drawing board in my quest for a Zoey Xerox.