Sunday, September 26, 2010

Is your cat a furry toy or wild and crazy animal?

cat in a costume
Next to my keyboard at work, I have a picture of my cat in his Halloween costume. I have been known to put him on the phone to talk to his grandparents. At Christmastime, he receives multiple presents that I sprinkle with catnip, so he'll be encouraged to open them. I have one bed; my cat has 4 and I know at least two of them are softer and more comfortable than mine.

I always thought of my cat as a toy somehow come to life--something I could cuddle and snuggle who also had cute and playful thoughts that I could also support.

I'd gone to the grocery store for just a few minutes (the brevity of this visit makes me thankful even now) and came home to find him strung up in my blinds. Somehow the cords that move the blinds up and down had gotten twisted. My cat had probably been jumping down off the windowsill and managed to jump through the perfect loop made by the twist. His front feet were on the ground, but his hips were twisted in the cords and his back feet hung inches off the floor. There was blood, and pee, and he was making a terrible, keening, wailing noise.

I have worked in veterinary clinics for years. I know that rule one is never, ever touch a panicked animal in pain with your bare hands. But, I thought, this is certainly different. This is my own cat, my snugly guy, so the rules must change.

So I ran to him, both hands outstretched. And, shockingly, he bit me. The first bites were on my left hand, a few on the top and a few on the bottom. And then he simply clamped down on my right hand, teeth touching through the meat of the side of my palm. And while he was latched, I shoved his hips through the loop. Only when he was freed did he let go.

Now my hands are bleeding, swelling, throbbing. But I'm not feeling that. I kept thinking: How could he bite me? I was trying to help him.

Somehow, the costumes and the beds and the gourmet food seem to have obscured the fact that I am living with a wild animal--a creature that isn't afraid to lash out with tooth and claw whenever threatened, a creature that would rather injure than ask for help, a creature that is born with weaponry embedded in the fur.

When I went to the doctor the next day, she asked me: "Does this change how you feel about your cat?" And my impulse was to deny: "Of course not! He's just as close to me as ever."

But I wonder. Maybe I have been treating him as a small, furry child whose number 1 job is to please me and need me. Maybe this incident has pointed out my foolishness. Maybe I should treat him less as a child and more like a wild thing.

In the end, things did settle. I had a week of antibiotics and painkillers, but no long-term damage. He lost a toenail and had some sore muscles, both treated with painkillers. And he still sleeps in his many beds, mews into the telephone and looks forward to the new toys I bring home from the grocery store.

But now, when he sits in the window with tail swishing, I look at him with wonder. What does he see? What would he do to that bird, if he could catch it? What will he do to me if I get in his way again?

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