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July 10, 2004

The Cat (Dr. Doolittle's Diary # 2)

cat yikes

It takes a long time to win the trust of a cat that you haven't raised from scratch. He was found living wild with his brother under the bushes in the front yard. He might never have made it into the house except that like all cats he instinctively understood the value of playing hard to get. He ran up a tree and refused to come down. A cooperative neighborhood rescue effort ensued, and, when completed, resulted in immediate adoption with full citizenship. He had a home, and his brother was placed in a suitable foster home setting nearby. He had to be given a name to satisfy the paperwork process, and "Hunter" was chosen since he had managed to survive in the Great Outdoors. Later, it would become clear that his brother had probably caught most of what was eaten, and Hunter was a suitable appellation only in the sense that it sounded a lot like those pretentious names that many human children were assigned in the '70s and '80s.

As a kitten, Hunter lived with a male human sibling who he came to view as his new brother. To this day they have that relationship, and play with each other as kittens from the same litter will do. As he grew into young cat-hood, Hunter acquired other names. His brother called him "Kittens" (for reasons not entirely clear), and still does even though he has been fully grown for some time now. One assumes that the use of the plural form results from his periodically insane behavior (Attention! Chat Lunatique) wherein he races about the house literally bouncing off the walls, and launching random attacks on appendages and other inappropriate objects. When this behavior emerges, it is hard to believe that there is only one cat in motion. For reasons equally obscure, I took to calling him "Meowsers." On those occasions when he pooped on the rug instead of in his litter-box,cat kicking litterbox or sharpened his claws on the newly acquired furniture,cat scratching chair he was called by other names that modesty forbids repeating here. In true catlike manner, he was adept at ignoring any name he might be called by, with barely concealed contempt.

It is understandable that Hunter was distrustful of humans, as there was every indication that he was not well served by them in his first weeks of life. The circumstances in which he was found, living wild under some bushes half-starved and smelling of gasoline, speak for themselves. Even today, the sound of the doorbell or a strange voice in the house are enough to send him streaking for the bedroom and his favorite hiding place. Having kept dogs for pets for most of my life, I was not well versed in the techniques of winning over abused cats. I learned. Here than are some pointers garnered from my experience.

When trying to gain the confidence of a fraidy-cat you should:

Keep his food and water dishes and the area around them scrupulously clean.
Never allow his food or water dish to be empty.
Avoid stepping on his tail.
Avoid yelling and sudden movements.
Refrain from picking him up unless he is in imminent danger.
Learn what his favorite foods are, and keep them on hand.
Learn what his favorite treats are, and keep them on hand.
Learn where on his head he needs to be scratched.
Learn where on his cheeks he likes to be rubbed.
Learn where he likes to be stroked gently just behind his chin.
Understand the importance of morning greetings.
Keep his litter-box and the area around it scrupulously clean.
Understand that all cupboards and closets must be thoroughly investigated.
Appreciate that any toy that you buy him will be ignored after the first minute.
Appreciate that only common objects (e.g. empty paper bags) will become toys.
Abandon any pretense of privacy, as the privy is much too interesting a place.
Learn to distinguish the "I'm hungry" whine from the "let me in (or out)" whine.
Learn to distinguish the "I need attention" from the "Leave me alone" whine.
Figure out the correct force for scratching his tummy when he rolls over.
Master the timing of petting him only as long as he wants it, and no longer.
Take him to the Vet for an annual check-up at least twice. cat with vet
Comfort him all the way to the Vet, while there, and all the way home.
Understand that all high places must be visited at least once a day.
Leave him alone when he is sleeping, (which is most of the time).
Leave all the doors of the house open so that he may move about unimpeded.
Open the window when he scratches on it. cat in window

You should add to or subtract from this list as required. Expect that there will be setbacks along the way to complete trust. At least once you will sink into your favorite chair without noticing that your cat has adopted this spot as his new favorite afternoon sleeping place. After a few years he will forgive you for almost sitting on him.

In the end, your efforts will be rewarded. One day, when you stretch out on the bed for a nap, Meowsers will jump up there with you. After making the rounds, he will find a spot near your chest and settle down there, nose to tail. If you pet him just the right way he will purr until his eyelids start to droop, and then doze off secure in the knowledge that you care for him and that you won't roll over on him while he sleeps. You will then be treated to the sweet sound of a cat snoring gently. The only sweeter sound is that of your spouse snoring, with the baby that you love snoring between you. That, good friends, is what trust is about.

Hunter snoozing

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