Thursday, February 19, 2009

What Is It With Cats, Anyway?

Someone once described Man's relationship with dogs as a friendship, as we needed dogs as hunting partners (and the occasional shish-ke-bab) and they needed us as protectors; our relationship with cats, however, was a bit more one sided, like the cats deigned to be associated with us on a day-to-day basis.

Each cat seems to interpret their contract with humans differently. I had a big orange Persian growing up that just walked in the back door of my home when my father was coming in from bowling one night and just decided to stay. Tiger, as my mother called him (I preferred Fritz, after the X-rated cartoon cat) liked to sit in a dining room chair under cover and whip out a razor-packed paw on the unsuspecting bypassing pedestrian. He'd jump up into my bed at night to sleep with me--this in an un-air conditioned house in Sarasota, FL during the summer. It was rather like having a furry heating pad with me during the 90+ degree, 100% humidity nights. Persians, of course, shed their weight fur just about every day--did I mention that I'm allergic to cat dander?--making everything in the house both furry and sneeze-inducing. If I rubbed my eyes after petting Tiger/Fritz, I'd swell up like a prize-fighter after going the distance with Ali.
I even accidentally ran the poor cat over one day when I was going to my job at a movie theatre; Tiger/Fritz had gotten in the bad habit of sleeping under the back tire of our Pontiac and I backed over the poor thing one night when I didnt' see him. He survived, fortunately, though he always seemed to hold it against me after that.

Cats seem to also realize who doesn't like them and immediately make a beeline to torture them. My grandmother hated cats. She was with us one Thanksgiving and, in a livingroom full of cat lovers, Tiger/Fritz made a beeline for her on the couch and started rubbing up against her leg. She looked down at him with a look of pure disgust, but since Tiger/Fritz was about half her size, what was she going to do?

We were "given" a cat about fifteen years ago. Kitty, who also goes by the name of Stinker, was in a box on our porch one morning when I went out to get the newspaper. There was a note attached indicating that some poor family just couldn't afford to raise her and that they'd been "watching" us for a while and had concluded that we were "kind people" who would give her a good home. Now, being stalked by someone as the subject of an involuntary cat adoption isn't high on my list of life goals, but we couldn't just toss her into the then-empty back lot for her to become a feral kitty, so we kept the poor waif.

Now, Kitty had managed to make it appear that she's finally accepted us under certain conditions: we have to make sure that there is always plenty of "wet" food whenever she wants it, the kitty litter cannot be allowed to get too nasty and there'd better be a lap available when she wants it. Of course, your petting cannot be too affectionate, as Kitty tends to decide on a whim to take a bite and a swipe out of you without any warning, stalking off with an angry look in her eyes. She's never really forgiven us for bringing our border collie mix, Emily, home one day from a rescue society sale; she took one sniff and did her best "Bride of Frankenstein" hiss and stalked off.

At least we seem to have it better than my wife's youngest sister's family. They've got a huge black cat that's a pint-sized panther. I've only seen Midnight in passing (and I do mean passing--he runs off whenever anyone not in the family comes into a room), but my wife tells me that he likes to come into my sister-in-law's bedroom, hop up into the bed and walk around making trilling noises, but that if they are very, very quiet, he'll leave them in peace.

Kitty, on the other hand, has abandoned the idea of sleeping with us (probably because Emily sleeps in our room and likes to exercise her herding instinct), but will sit outside our door at 4 or 5 in the morning, either yowling for food or, even worse, scratching lightly on the door to tell me that it's her feeding time. Of course, my wife never hears any of this, which I suppose is her revenge for breast-feeding our two girls all those years ago.

Anyway, cats have made it pretty evident that they want us to need them but that they don't want to seem to needy--except, of course, when a lap is empty.

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