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Successfully Living – With a Cat
First, a cat is a cat. This may seem obvious but there are certain things one needs to realize about them. They come across as arrogant and aloof. Felines seem wicked because they like to play with unfortunate critters they have caught. Cats seek to please only themselves and consider the family they live with to be their minions whose only goal in life is to wait upon the cat. After all, a female cat which is not neutered is referred to as a queen. How appropriate is that! How successfully a cat enslaves its minions is definitely up to the minions. If you can tolerate its yowling when it wants something, you can make it wait for it. One does not have to drop everything and wait upon the cat. Remember, you are a human, top of the food chain, our species dominates the world, and it is a cute, lovable, noisy, mammal that really is hard to refuse. But, you do have the option of not being a slave to it. Be strong, it doesn’t hurt to let the cat wait a few minutes.
Cats are not really arrogant. They just don’t care about humans the same way as dogs do. Their species has associated with humans for thousands of years but it is not a social species to begin with. Dogs on the other hand are. The family becomes the dog’s pack. Cats like our company, they just don’t express it the same way as dogs. If they did not like us, they wouldn’t live with us. They can be independent as long as they know how to hunt. House cats that never had a mother feed them wild critters rarely know how to hunt. While going to college, I worked on dairy farms where unwanted cats were dropped off. No extra cat one day, the next a terrified, new cat. It was pitifully obvious they were terrified, out of their element in this noisy, dangerous environment where they didn’t know how to get food other than have a human give it to them. Even if the farm help fed the farm cats cat food, the new cat didn’t know where it was and if it tried to eat, the other cats bullied it away. The farm cats did not like an intruder and were constantly fighting with and hurting it. Dropping off an unwanted cat on a farm becomes the most inhumane thing anyone could do to a cat. Drop offs usually lasted a week, maybe two before they died in some horrific way involving machinery. They rarely lasted long enough to fit in and death even by being mangled in machinery was better than what life they were living.
Aside from the horrors of unwanted cat drop offs, it was on these farms that I saw cats behaving in a more natural way. Mothers would bring their kittens mice from the field and they called their babies with a special call. Kittens would come running from every where. The mother would drop the live mouse in their midst and go back out for more. The kittens learned to hunt by stalking and “playing” with the poor mouse. When adult cats do this, they are just being a kitten again. They do not have any feelings of remorse because they are cats, not people, and the mouse is just lunch. I can’t remember the last time I felt remorse for a sandwich. I don’t usually play with my sandwich before I eat it, but I definitely don’t feel remorse.
We had a cat who adopted us. His name was Lester. Actually, his name was Lester, Lord of All Carlisle. We lived in Carlisle at the time he came to us. One day he just appeared in our sheep barn. He had moved in from the farm just up the road. I recognized his looks as resembling those of cats that lived there. He was an attractive cat. Gray tiger with white markings on his chest and feet. He was somewhat friendly so we took him in. It didn’t take too long to figure out Lester wasn’t quite right. He wasn’t a loving cat. He tolerated attention and had such a quiet purr you needed a stethoscope to hear it. He showed affection by biting and putting his paw on your nose. He would stretch up to do this if you were sitting down. If someone was sitting on the couch and he was on the back of it, he would grip their head in his paws, claws extended so the victim couldn’t get away and then chew lovingly on their hair. The older he got the less clean he was. The only thing he would clean was his face and behind. Everything else in between was very much like a rancid dog. He was an old poop, but he was our old poop so I kept taking care of him…when he was around. Lester often disappeared for several weeks if not months at a time. He would come back like it had only been since that morning he had been away. It wasn’t like having a “real” cat. I wanted one that would sleep contentedly on my lap and purr with the power of a motor boat. Lester wasn’t a total dud. He caught and killed all manner of rodents including rats and weasels. It’s a rare cat that will take on a rat because they are large and can be quite aggressive. I was absolutely astounded over the weasels. They are small, very vicious, predators known for killing chickens, an animal very much larger than they. They know how to kill. A really tough match for a cat, much more so than a rat. He earned his keep when he killed weasels. They were attacking our chickens and if he was brave enough to tackle a weasel, I would continue to take care of him.
During that time, my oldest son was almost one and a half and Lester seemed pretty tolerant of him. We wanted a border collie so got a pup we named Fergus. Lester treated the puppy like his pet. When he first saw Fergus, he acted happy like: oh, thank you, you got me a puppy. Years went by and we added another son to the household. This time, the new baby made just too much noise and Lester moved out and wouldn’t come into the house. He would eat outdoors, sleep outdoors, and would just come around to show you the frog he had just caught. For some reason, he wouldn’t eat the hind legs and I would find perfect pairs of frog’s legs, still attached to one another all over the property. We moved to another location. By that time, the baby was a toddler and not quite so noisy so Lester decided to move back into the house. It was while we were there that I went to a farm to get a real cat. The kids on the farm brought her out to us. A pretty little female kitten marked light gray and white. They told us she was from a line of loving, great cats. She came home with us and my three year old named her Elmer.
Elmer had all the barn cat maladies…ear mites, worms, fleas and after getting all that cleared up, she tried to fit into the household. Fergus let her know immediately who was boss. He picked the tiny kitten up in his mouth and terrorized it and me by growling and gnawing at the little thing. He dropped her and she scuttled under the couch only to come out less than a minute later, unhurt but soaked with saliva from the dog. She walked up to the dog and rubbed against him. You’re the boss, I’m the cat, I’ll remember that. If I had just been in a large animals mouth being chewed on, I wouldn’t have been so nonchalant about being immediately friendly with the creature that did it. She decided if Fergus was the boss, she was next in line. It didn’t matter that Lester had been with us for years, it was her house. I would look into a room to see Lester trying to walk through with a kitten holding on to his neck and chewing on his ears. He was a real trooper. He just kept walking with his head to one side weighed down by Elmer chewing and just tried to ignore her. He could have really hurt her, but he didn’t. Lester finally had enough and moved down cellar. He became like a weird guy that lives in the cellar and because he never comes up, he gets weirder. Lester didn’t want to leave it. Took his meals there, had a litter pan, and presumably hunted rodents and slept. If he needed something, a paw would come out from under the door and bat around to get our attention. Periodically, I would eject him from the cellar to get some fresh air. Elmer ruled the house, or as much as Fergus would let her.
Elmer has been my good friend, now, for 11 years and though we’ve had our squabbles, she and I are pals. Not so much with the kids. The secret to a good relationship with a cat is to be able to read it properly and they had trouble with this. It can’t really talk to you so the way it will let you know you are over stepping bounds is to swat you. But, if you watch carefully, the cat will tell you it has had enough with it’s body language. Maybe the ears go back, its eyes might look evil, and it may twitch its tail. Most of all, if it ever starts growling with it’s ears back, tail whipping from side to side, and proceeds to hiss, get out of claw range quickly because this is one really ticked off cat and blood is about to be shed…yours. I was raised to respect the animal and if ever I got scratched or bit, the first question was: What did you do to the cat/dog? They need their space and they may be “owned” by us but they need to be left alone when they want to be. One thing to never, ever do to a cat is to pat it like you would a dog. They don’t tolerate this well and will shred the hand that is doing it.
Elmer wouldn’t bother with my son until both got older. She sometimes slept on his bed, which he didn’t like because if he stretched out his legs, she would attack his feet under the covers. He tried all sorts of things to make her leave the room, but she wouldn’t budge. He eventually found one thing that worked. He would get up, ask the cat if she wanted to be fed and no matter what time of the night it was, he would trudge downstairs and give her food. This was a mistake. Elmer soon figured out all she had to do was bat at the boy’s feet a little and he would get up and feed her. She soon ruled the night. When I found out Elmer had enslaved my son, I gave him some hints on how to make her leave. My favorite was to just put a blanket over her. She hates that and will bolt from the room. Now, if she is in his room, he just cranks up the electric guitar and amp, and she flies out.
Even at a young age, Elmer was a killer. I read one time that cats are good hunters if their mother feeds them wild meat and shows them how to hunt. Her mother must have been an excellent hunter. She caught mice, voles, moles, and shrews. She didn’t eat the moles and shrews, she acted like they didn’t taste good. As she got bigger, she would come home with young rabbits and an occasional adult even though they were her size or bigger. She would give them to our dogs, making the same noises as a mother cat calling her kittens and leaving it to go off and get more. More than once, she chased a mouse through the house and got it. And more than once she brought one of her little playmates into the house to play with. I issued an ultimatum that no one was to let her in unless her mouth was checked first. None of Elmer’s playmates, living or dead, were allowed in the house. The one rodent she wouldn’t tackle was a rat. She saw one in a trap and was obviously frightened of it. Rats were Lester and Fergus’ domain.
As long as she caught rodents, I was happy. I was intensely unhappy when she caught birds. Elmer knew of my displeasure because she would hide the fact she had a bird. She was always very proud of the rodents and always brought them home to show us before she ate them. If I saw her with a bird, I would take it from her and if it was still alive, let it go. So, she started being secretive with her bird kills. One time I let one of her catches go and the look I got was downright evil. About half an hour later I came out of the house to find a headless bird, still warm, on the back porch. My older son thought it was Elmer’s way of flipping me the bird. Whether or not it was, I got the message. There, let’s see you let that one go. Another time, she was behind the greenhouse and came around the corner with feathers stuck to her face. Bird? What bird? I wasn’t eating bird. Nope, no bird here. One day, before she was fully grown, I saw her stalking a wild turkey. These are huge birds and that didn’t seem to matter to Elmer. It was a bird and she was going to get it. I scared it off because I could just see Elmer leaping on it and the turkey flying away with her clinging to it’s back.
So, what is the relationship we have with cats? They depend on us to give them shelter, food, warmth, and scratches about the neck and ears. We have the opposing thumb thing going on, they don’t. We have to open doors for them to let them in and out…which if you own a cat, you know this is frequently. And if it’s raining or snowing, they stop dead in the doorway, curl their tail and won’t go out. At this point, gently but firmly nudge them out with your foot. Or, if they are like Elmer, if they see it is miserable, snowy weather out the front door, she goes to the back door to be let out. When the door is opened she seems disappointed because it’s the same weather out the back door too. We save them when they get stuck in trees, from dogs chasing them, and other cats beating them up. We buy their favorite food so they don’t have to eat something with hair on it. Though I have often wondered where a cat would get shrimp and salmon in the wild. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to have moist mouse in a pouch or rat in a tin? We make sure their litter box is clean and we throw toys for them to play with. What do we get in return? A really good friend who may keep the rodent population down in the house. One who likes to snuggle up to you to share warmth and show how contented they are by purring like a motor boat. If they are like Elmer, they want to get up on a shoulder when it’s cold to wrap themselves around someone’s neck…and stick cold paws against the human to warm them. In a lot of ways, cats are like babies. They are loud, yowling things that demand something from you, but they are cute, funny, entertaining, warm, and very loving when they want to be…as long as you learn to read their moods.
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