The relationship that a person has with Cats is as mystical and mysterious as they are. Dogs however, live to please and have you at “woof”. It’s common knowledge that Cats are natural born hedonists and for that reason alone, it makes them less popular. Sure, they will seek to charm you with their antics and take some pleasure in putting on a show, but even then, they have to be in the mood and the feedback they get from you needs to be something that they find rewarding.
After my daughter and her husband became Dog people, one of the Cats they had, Jake, just could not adapt the way that their other Cat, Peanut did. He hid under the bed and lived in fear which was very sad because Jake was a burly brute, twenty one pounds of black and gray tabby. He was also what’s known as a Hemmingway or polydactyl, with seven toes on each foot which made him look even larger. To see this gentle giant cower in fear was too much for me to take so I convinced my daughter to let Jake live with ‘grandma’ and ‘grandpa’.
The move was confusing to Jake, and although he had shared our home when our daughter was on Summer break from college when she first acquired him, it was all strange to him. Trying to blend in with our four Cats was also difficult. Micro was the only male and the three females had roles that consisted of Isis the Queen, Rhiannon the Princess, and Astarte the Duchess. Micro was definitely the court jester and he was fine with that, until he needed to confirm his masculinity. A few slaps to the head made him think that his appointed position was quite acceptable.
Jake was slow to come to grips with the fact that his parents were not going to take him back to what was familiar, though unpleasant, and the transition was hard on him. He obviously was not going to dethrone the monarchs and he had too much dignity to juggle balls for tuna. He kept his distance from the ladies, and reestablished his relationship with Micro, though the two had been apart since our daughter returned to school and took Jake with her.
I remember it so well and think of it often, even though Jake crossed the rainbow bridge about 4 years ago. I was sitting on the sofa and Jake was sitting on the floor about ten feet away. I looked at him and he looked at me, but this time when our eyes met they seemed to lock onto something that up until then, had been separated by invisible distance. Suddenly, he got up, jumped up onto the sofa and enfolded himself in my arms. His purr was as deep as what he was feeling and was so strong that he made a chirping sound between the rumbling, resonant tones. In that moment he totally accepted his new home, and me.
You have to earn a Cat’s affection. It’s not done with food, toys, or constant petting. It develops with a blend of love and trust that builds just like the bonding relationships that grow with others of our own species. Maybe that’s why people who dislike Cats find them to be distasteful. For one thing, those people see a distinct separation between animals and humans and for that reason, feel that they should have the upper hand. Dogs are fine with this and except for the instances of having their owners having to establish themselves as ‘alpha’ to keep them under their control, they find their place in the pack and contentment within it. That bond is not something they have to work for like a person has to do with Cats. No one successfully ‘masters’ a Cat. If a person needs to be the one in control and dominate when it comes to an animal companion, then a Cat is not for them. It will be a relationship fraught with contempt and aggravation. If the idea of sharing your life with a smaller, domesticated Lion or Tiger still appeals to you and you don’t want to deal with the behaviors and mindset that are part of the equation, best get a virtual version on the internet.
There are different aspects of the relationship so it depends on what an individual wants from a Cat, be it free spirited side-kick, rarely seen roommate, or doorstop. I prefer the symbiotic relationship that occurs on their terms. It’s so much more rewarding. I don’t ‘have’ my Cats, as in ‘own’ them. They are my companions, confidants, and equals. They are family. They are independent enough to not ‘need’ me, they ‘want’ me.
Last year over Labor Day weekend we adopted Hmandu…yes, as in Kathmandu. It just seemed as if the grief over losing Micro had softened enough to want to fill the space that he had left. I chose his name because he looked rather exotic with his Bengal markings, and he had a spiritual countenance about him. However, the more comfortable he got with his new home the more curious, adventurous and raucous he became. The little guru went juvenile delinquent and began to test my patience as well as that of the former Princess, now Queen Rhiannon, and Astarte, still the regal, long haired, blue eyed Duchess.
Hmandu is a teenager now, and would take dad’s little red sports car if he had Jake’s ‘thumbs’. I wanted another polydactyl like Jake had been, but Hmandu has the skills to crack safes without the extra ‘fingers’. That being said, he is bored with the ‘ladies who nap’ and they’re tired of his attempts at making them forget they’re fifteen and seventeen years old. So, we contacted the rescue that we adopted him from in search of a playmate.
There was a polydactyl female, but she was a year old and I was concerned that there would be turmoil in the castle. However, after we met her, I fell in love. She was gorgeous and had a sweet and quiet temperament so I knew that there would not be a plan to overthrow the Queen. However, we still needed a Kitten who could keep up with Hmandu and one of the new arrivals to the foster home was all that and a bag of Catnip. He and his brother took turns climbing us like trees, snuggling and purring like little jet engines. Obviously, they knew how this game is played.
My husband gave me that look when one of the boys, Macaroni, clung to him with all fours. He’s the same shade of tan that Micro was so this little weasel was clearly fighting dirty. Brother, Mick, circumnavigated my head and wound himself around my neck like a toffee colored fur scarf. Clearly, we were about to adopt two, the female polydactyl, Millie and Macaroni.
Millie had to be spayed and we were to officially adopt and bring her home the day after. However, there was an illness among the new Kittens and the foster mom wanted to put Millie on medication too so the date was postponed for a few days. Then I received an email that Millie was having trouble breathing. This was followed by another email that she had pneumonia and had to be taken to an emergency vet for oxygen therapy. I kept a vigil by my computer as the foster mom kept me updated on her progress. Hope and plans to still share our home with her ended with a phone call that brought the news that Millie had passed away in the oxygen chamber.
The grief was not lessened by the fact that we had not spent more than a few minutes with her. In my mind we were ‘family’. I was going to change her name to Skye, Celtic and lovely, and I wanted nothing more than to shower her with love and adoration and make a forever home for her that would more than make up for her lonely disjointed life thus far. It was not to be and it was so hard to understand why and what had happened to a seemingly healthy one year old Cat.
Macaroni, aka Mac, is big enough for his surgery now and will be getting ‘fixed’ this coming week. We will officially have the honor of giving him a forever home a week from today. We inquired about brother, Mick, but he got adopted last week. There is part of me that still morns the loss of his new ‘sister’ and that will shade the event slightly, but I’m sure the excitement of welcoming the new baby and watching the interaction between the ladies and Hmandu will make this a happy event.
Hmandu is getting tired of promises of a playmate and sits by the door with anticipation in his eyes only to have us come in with groceries instead of his brother. The ladies, on the other hand, are enjoying the peace before the storm. Interrupted naps, teaching him where the back of the line is at the food dish, and the impropriety of chasing the tails of the royals will be the norm until little Mac finds his niche in the pride.
And we will, once again, find that there are hiding places in this house that we never anticipated. Closets and cabinets will need to be checked before closing doors and the clothes dryer fully inspected before hitting the button. The food dish will empty faster and the litter boxes will need scooping more often. And I will lose my heart, once again.