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Friday, May 5, 2006

Things they don't teach you in Old House 101

When you buy an old, neglected city house in an old city neighborhood, you expect some problems, and others take you by surprise.

Did we expect the house to be dirty and contain a little junk when we got it? Yes. Did we expect to find more junk than could fill a thirty foot dumpster AND a forty foot dumpster AND a good portion of our yard? No. Did we expect to find numerous dead mice, buckets of animal excretions, morgue and hospital equipment, and prosthetic legs? No.

Did we expect the house to have bugs? Yes. Did we expect to have to shower obsessively for the first week because the house kept giving us fleas? No. Did we expect to have to gut the kitchen immediately and live out of restaurants and two giant Tupperware boxes for months, because of the sheer magnitude of the infestation? No.

Still, certain kinds of problems you can expect, even if their sheer magnitude takes you by surprise. Trash and bugs? Yeah, we expected that. We knew we'd have to replace the roof and relay a good portion of the back wall, but just didn't realize how very badly the house needed it, and didn't expect the top layer of the roof to blow off in a storm. We knew we'd have to reverse prior bad repair jobs, although we didn't realize that one of them would explode and flood our basement.

But yesterday we had a weird Old House Incident that I never, ever could have foreseen when we started looking into buying an old house.

Our cat Mallinckrodt has ringworm, which her most recent vet at the Humane Society thinks she probably got from the dingy basement where we originally found her almost a year ago. Ringworm is curable, but it is also highly contagious to other cats and to humans, so Mallinckrodt has been quaratined in our basement for over a month now as we treat her. We, of course, live upstairs, as do our two 9 month old boy kitties, Jarns and Swan.

Yesterday morning, when we got up, Swan didn't seem to be around. Curiosity quickly turned to alarm as we realized that he was nowhere to be seen. Finally, Michael opened the basement door, and there he was! Michael brought him upstairs, and we quickly realized that the little guy was probably covered in ringworm spores. I closed him in the first floor bathroom, so he couldn't infect us, Jarns, or the house (Ringworm thrives in rugs and fabric.). I called the Humane Society to ask what to do, and they said they'd give me some prescription shampoo to bathe him in, to prevent the fungus from taking hold.

Before I left to go pick up the shampoo, I thought I'd get Swan set up with a bowl of food, some water, and a litter box in his little quarantine room. I opened the door, fully expecting to have to wrestle a charging cat, and... the room.. was... empty?!?!??

I examined the room, and figured it out pretty fast. Our house had a major fire in 2003, and from what we can tell, it seems to have started under the first floor bathroom. No one ever completely fixed the room afterwards. So, there is a filthy, jagged, charred hole around the bathtub faucet, leading to the plumbing void, which is full of broken, heavily fire-damaged pipes. Apparently, Swan climbed through that hole and down into the plumbing void, and from there somehow twisted himself around and dropped down into the basement. (What?!?) That is the only way he could have gotten out of that room.

Sure enough, I opened the basement door and there he was.

I locked him up in the second floor bathroom, which has its own problems but does not have any holes charred in it, and went and got his shampoo. When I got back, I covered up every possible escape route in that part of the house, including the gap between the floor and the back wall of the house. Swan did not escape, although he did scratch me, scatter cat litter everywhere, completely shred the latex gloves I was wearing, and rip a sizeable hole in the bathrobe I was wearing over my other clothes. But the ringworm bath is done, damnit.

Yeah. I knew we were in for some intense and strange problems when we got this place, but I never, ever could have seen this one coming.


Anonymous said...

Wow, what a story! I was "lucky" in that my house was condemned when I bought it and had been vacant for several years. By that point most of the bugs had pretty much died.

Plus, I lived in my old place during the renovations to get the house habitable so my cat was not subjected to anything nasty.

Claire Nowak-Boyd said...

I'm still amazed that he did it!

I think our place wouldn't have been so verminy had it been abandoned for a while, but then again it also probably wouldn't have had plumbing!

I did feel a bit bad about subjecting our (late) 16 year old cat to living in the rehab, and in the house in general. He only had three legs and could not climb stairs. But the other three kitties we rescued from different abandoned buildings last year, so these conditions are not much different than what they are used to. Everybody seemed to be hacking for a couple of days when we did some minor plaster demo, but on the other hand they had a lot of fun hunting all the mice that used to live here. On the whole, nothing too alarming happened until this incident I wrote the post about!