DEAR JOAN: I was bragging, too soon it seems, about how fast Spot, my feral orange male tabby cat, was getting domesticated.

The other night I used Icy Hot on my aching leg muscles. Spot howled at the back door, which is how he notifies me of his desire to pay an indoor visit. He began rooting around my legs and under my long dress. I thought he was hiding or playing, and thinking of how cats think in "maps," I went to the lounge where Spot gets petted when he comes inside for a visit.

He jumped up and rubbed his head against my legs. Suddenly, he hissed and bit me hard on my hand. I'm guessing he must have gotten a taste of Icy Hot. He behaved like some cats do around catnip, as if he were stoned, but then suddenly got aggressive. He's usually sweet and affectionate with me, especially for a reclaimed feral.

Bonnie, a cat at the Contra Costa Human Society, waits patiently for someone to play with.
Bonnie, a cat at the Contra Costa Human Society, waits patiently for someone to play with. (Joan Morris/Contra Costa Times)

Any idea of what made him go to war against me?

Ria Tanz Kubota

El Sobrante

DEAR RIA: Cats rely on their powerful sense of smell to make it through each day, identifying people, places, objects and even food.

Not only do cats detect scents through their noses, they also have two special organs on the roof of their mouths -- vomeronasal or Jacobson's organs -- that let the cat smell things more deeply. A cat can determine almost everything about the object it is smelling, almost as if it was tasting it.

Some odors have the power to send a cat into sensory overload. What aromas might tip a cat into hyperdrive varies from cat to cat.

I had two Siamese cats at different times in my life, and both of them went nuts over olives. Every time I made something with olives, the cats would lick, bite and claw me with a frightening sort of abandon. They both acted exactly like Spot -- like they had gotten a big dose of powerful catnip. Oddly, if I gave them an olive, they would roll it around and body slam it a few times, but they wouldn't eat it. They apparently just liked the smell.

I've never been able to discover what it was about the olives that set them off, but my other cats never had that reaction. It might be a good idea to use Icy Hot after Spot's visit.

Cat lovers, is there a smell that drives your cats batty? Tell me about it, and I'll collect the information and share it here. It should be very interesting.

Feel good story

A few months ago, Emily Neabeack started a drive to send toys to military service dogs stationed in Afghanistan. The drive took off when the Golden State German Shepherd Rescue and area police K-9 units joined in, and the collection grew from toys to much needed items for the hardworking dogs and their handlers.

Military service dog enjoys a gift from a group that collected toys and supplies for the dogs.
Military service dog enjoys a gift from a group that collected toys and supplies for the dogs. (Courtesy of Golden State German Shepherd Rescue)

After arranging for transportation overseas, the deal fell through and the group had no way of getting all the supplies to Afghanistan. Recently, however, the workers teamed up with Operation Creekside, which gathered up the boxes awaiting shipment, repackaged everything into smaller boxes and took them to a post office.

When folks standing in line at the post office overheard that the shipments were for the military dogs, they spontaneously joined in to help address the packages and some chipped in for the shipping.

The group still needs help in shipping the larger boxes that contain beds and crate liners. If you can help, a tax-deductible donation can be made by going to www.operationcreekside.org. Type in "for the K-9s" where it says "note to seller." Winter is coming and those dogs need those warm items.

Soldiers in Afghanistan open gifts sent from the Bay Area for their K-9 companions.
Soldiers in Afghanistan open gifts sent from the Bay Area for their K-9 companions. (Courtesy of Golden State German Shepherd Rescue)

Contact Joan Morris at jmorris@bayareanewsgroup.com or 1700 Cavallo Road, Antioch, CA 94509.