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Thursday, April 19, 2012

The truth about cats and dogs - CAT

dogs | cats | sequel

It's maybe 7.30 am: about that time, though it varies. I've taken five different medications and had some cereal, so I sit down here, at the computer. I make the first stroke on the keyboard.


It is neither a question nor a plea. It's more like a command, coming from the front verandah.

I sigh. Getting myself arranged comfortably at the keyboard is quite a challenge for me, for reasons I won't detail here.


The tone hasn't changed.

If I remain here, ignoring it, she would repeat it, just once, and go. Same tone, neither more nor less insistent or pleading.

I sigh again, manoeuvre myself out of the chair, and open the door, and she is waiting. She comes in without hesitation, brushing up against the front of my legs. This is a bit dangerous for someone like me who lacks balance, but she crosses back and forth vigorously as I drag myself over to the cupboard. Move, dumb cat.

No. There's a large Tupperware container there, of dry cat food. "Crunchies", to use the household idiom. Soxy is a lover of Crunchies.

I walk to her bowl on the verandah, br-ushered all the way by her tail across my shaky legs, directed to her breakfast spot by a tabby who considers she's speeding up the process. She's not. She jumps up on to her table, right where I want to do the one-armed pour of the Crunchies into the bowl. Out of the way!

The Crunchie distribution finally happens, and I am dismissed. I am no longer relevant to her morning. Or her existence. For two minutes I was.

I close the door and return the container to the kitchen.

This is not a Teddy-poodle type story.

Which one of these is the real me?

Soxy came to us, already named, from the animal refuge; look at her paws and there's a wee clue there as to the name. She was a half-grown young female. They were honest with us. She had been one of a feral litter that had survived on their own wits and hunting skills. She'd had three previous "trial" owners and they had all returned her to the refuge.

In the interests of not dragging this out, I leave out much of the story. Obviously, she needed to settle down in the house and get reassurance before she could be allowed outside, or she would have disappeared.

That crucial bonding of tiny kitten and human surrogate mother – she missed that. I made the first mistake and tried to pick her up. That was dumb and I paid quite a penalty in severe scratches. A half grown cat with her strength was not to be toyed with and there was no way she was going to let some stranger hold her.

Even so, gradually she came round. Tracey and Christian were very gentle with her, and she responded.

Clich├ęd it may be as an expression, the Call of the Wild was deep in her. She loathed the catbox and we had to experiment with all kinds of litter to see what she liked best. Hated least, I should say. Gradually, we could let her out and that suited her much better.

She would return promptly, especially when the weather turned cold, and she would luxuriate in front of the fire as only a cat really can. She would come up and be stroked and if in the mood, might sit for a while on Tracey's knee or play with Christian, but she was never fully comfortable with it. She was a control freak.

She still is, totally – but given her past, I get that.

My domain. Go away. Do Not Disturb.

She would play with rubber balls, batting them all over the house. They had to be collected before bedtime or she would resume the game and play for hours starting at 3 am – noisily. She loved any game where she could play at hunting.

It peeved Tracey and Christian that sometimes she would come and sit with me rather than them, but I'm sure it was because I tended to make little fuss of her that she did it. After all, you never quite knew what devious trick a human could pull when they acted nice – like those times Tracey would sneak up and put that nasty anti-flea stuff on her. How very dare she!

Once we were away for a week, so the question of what to do with her came up. We took her to a place where they board cats and dogs while their owners temporarily desert them. She was terrified of the cacophony of dog noises and being surrounded by other unhappy cats, but there was no choice.

She spent what must have been the worst week of her life cowering in a corner of the cage and in spite of the best efforts of the proprietors to get her out into a safe exercise area, she wouldn't budge. I don't blame her.

If I say lying over a bar is comfortable, it is comfortable, silly little human.

I want to say here and now that this is the reason why all my adult life I never wanted house pets. Growing up on a farm gives you a deep sense of responsibility towards animals, but you do not think of them as 'inside' creatures. Dogs and cats on a farm have to earn their living, not be molly-coddled. But we always had pets of one sort or another for my adult life as a non-farmer. That was never my choice. Call me hard-hearted but my respect and love for animals is of a different type from that of townies.

Yes? You have business with me? See my humans and discuss it with them.
She took a long time to forgive us for that pet-motel episode and it was months before diplomatic relations were resumed. We had broken her fragile trust. We vowed never to do put her in a cattery again. Ever.

When we occasionally went away for a weekend, the best solution was to ask our kindly neighbour to put out food for her on the verandah each evening, and she accepted that routine. She chose her own sleeping place outside.

The first time we did that, she wasn't sure we'd return, and she took days to resume cordial relations. She chose not to come inside some nights, rather than enjoy the comforts of soft living and human company. We did everything we could to reassure her, but her trust was brittle. All those previous owners who had sent her back.... when would we do that too? It was bound to happen. It always did.

On other occasions we went away for a couple of days, she was less concerned, because we had returned each time. She still didn't approve of it and would show her displeasure by not coming inside for a couple of days. Oh, she might eat from her bowl in the kitchen, but she demanded release immediately after.

We figured the worst thing to do was to deny her that, so we did let her out, though sometimes she was happy to stay inside and play games if she felt no pressure. Maybe it depended on which particular cat she had to defend her territory from at the time. She wasn't fully-grown and there were some big toms out there.

Does my gut look big in this? It's a trick of the light. Please leave.
Then came the watershed incident. 3 December 2009. Out of the blue, I was having a severe seizure. We went to Newcastle to have my brain excavated. That time away was brief enough.

But it meant that we were to go to Melbourne for my treatment; months of it. Things became totally erratic, from Soxy's point of view. There were weeks at a time when we didn't return; the first stretch of radiotherapy and chemo in particular. She was left in the hands of our long-suffering but wonderful neighbours a lot that summer.

We had deserted her. It had happened again. The trust was broken. That's humans for you. Henceforth they would be tolerated as long as they bore food.

You know what I want. Move, human servant. I have needs.
So, she comes in but rarely now. It is mainly on a quest for food. No matter how hard Tracey and Christian have tried – all sorts of tactics – she's not buying it. In the coldest and most miserable of weather, she stays out in one of her hidey-holes, and hasn't slept inside ever since I became ill those years ago.

She's mature, she tough and can see any other cat off the premises, no matter how big – because they're soft by comparison, even when she bulks up for the winter and looks tubby. And she's unyielding.

Even though we've rarely left this house overnight for two years now, she'll keep her own counsel.

Sometimes, just sometimes, I wouldn't mind... Nah. It'll end in tears.

Dogs, it is said, have owners. Dogs forgive if not forget quite easily as long as the hand of friendship is extended and the indignity or hurt is not too severe. Cats though – they don't have owners. They have servants who do their bidding. Let those servants imagine they are in control, but it's Mr or Ms Feline who is.

And cats never forget. Trip over your cat by accident or stand on her paw or tail – it's all filed away, to be used on evidence against you if the time comes.

She is happy enough, sunning herself in the yard. She is a free spirit. But no way does she belong to us.

NOTE: There is a sequel to this story – added 29 September 2012

Yes. I am both comfortable and well asleep. This is my domain. Go.

dogs | cats | sequel


  1. I enjoyed this! Love the humanistic traits you marry with those of your cat :) They're such silly animals. xxx

  2. MESSAGE TO SUZIE SHAPOOZIE: FROM SOXY I. FELINE: MESSAGE READS: I fired up the computer secretly and read your comment about silly cats. I would like to have a quiet word with you.... MESSAGE ENDS

  3. Well that little cat has you wrapped around her paw. She ignores you and yet I find pages of prose, acres of photos, and hints of longing pouring from your blog. Just think what would happen if she paid attention to you. You'd be buying cat magazines.

    Get another cat. You need a stronger fix.

    1. No. The truth is, we are stuck with her. Of course, we could trap her and have her euthanised, and get another cat; the only logical outcome of what you are saying. I know your passion for cats, and that they'll dance the Mazurka for you. [It's that Ph D in ancient Egyptology you've got!] But her history is as I said.

      If she wasn't removed, another cat we could get that behaved like the cat Tracey and Christian would like would have to compete with her for territory outside, as there's one thing I'd never do to a cat and that's have it spend its life indoors. Another cat would add to the destruction of the native wildlife trying to survive in our urban environment.

      Before Soxy came, there were lovely little penny lizards that would come out on to the steps for sun. Little frilled lizards you could pick up gently by the tail, if you so wished. There are none now. There were wrens and other tiny birds amongst the hedges that Soxy learned to negotiate and trap them in their nests, or catch them anywhere in the yard. I don't see them now in the numbers they were, but I can't count the number of times Soxy used to emerge from somewhere with a small bird in her mouth.

      She does that much less these days, and I'll feed her on demand almost, to make sure that hunger doesn't give her a motive to hunt apart from natural hunting instinct, which these days she fulfils by catching mice. We haven't had one of them inside since the Easter rabbit lost his bum*; before we 'deserted' her for Melbourne trips to fight Brian off. So in that sense she earns her keep while she lies out in the sun contentedly and occasionally allows stroking.

      Cats are cute and they give joy to many owners. All I see is their trail of destruction. People want pets. Some pets serve a vital function in people's lives. Not mine. The cost of having a pet per year and looking after it responsibly would fund one of my scholarships for Bangladeshi girls annually, to help them have a better life.

      That's a stronger fix!

      *The Easter bunny story, for those who don't know it, is here:

  4. Ah, spoken like a true cat lover in denial :).

    You do know, Denis, that I'm teasing you. We tease only the people we love. We've had this discussion before, about cats, and I totally sympathise with your position. It must be incredibly frustrating for bird and critter lovers who live in cities with the inevitable army of cats in every neighbourhood. I am fortunate in that we live on 100 acres, and 95 of those acres belong to wildlife and we've designated our property as a wildlife corridor.

    The 5 acres inhabited by Carl, myself, and 3 cats, do contain considerable wildlife, despite the inevitable depredations of the cats. Fortunately, most cats get over munching on wildlife after a couple of years of gorging themselves, and only the most unlucky bird or lizard gets caught now. I say MOST cats. We have one who seems unwilling to "get over it", much to our dismay.

    Oddly, when we took the WIRES (wildlife rescue) training, we were told that the best carers were families who had pets -- yes, dogs and the dreaded cat. Although the WIRES people hated cats, they had to admit that having pets made people more "understanding" of animals and better able to care for them when they were sick or wounded. So life is full of contradictions.

    Also, I know you realise that people who have pets also can get another fix donating to worthwhile causes, such as enabling disadvantaged people overseas to have opportunities otherwise denied to them. But these precious people do not sleep on your pillow with their chins resting on your nose. There is no substitute for that, or for either fix.

  5. I can't resist being a "bad" girl from time to time.

    I completely agree about ferals. In fact, I wish the CSRIO would develop a virus to get rid of them. I would happily vaccinate all my cats if it meant getting rid of ferals. We sometimes trap them and take them to the pound for the coup de gras. They are incredibly destructive and carry diseases, aside from cleaning up on the pigmy possums and other darlings from the bush. Last year, one attacked my cat and it took $500, several trips to the vet, and many tears to fix her up. And it ate some of our gold fish!!!

    I've just returned from a 10 day trip to Canberra and am getting ready to go off to Gunnedah for another carving stint. Will catch up with you in person soon.

    1. Joan - knowing cats you will believe this - the little bugger has decided to become a house cat after all, and for the last few nights has strolled in, slept in front of the fire, purred her wicked head off and done all the things you expect normal cats to do. OK, so it's been freezing out there, but she's always put up with ridiculous cold to avoid coming in over the past 3 years. CATS!!!

      Please you and Carl please do catch us in person soon.

  6. I enjoyed both stories, Denis. Similar points, but enough differences to be separate. : )

    Although we have 1 usually outside cat (he didn't complain about being brought in this past Winter), & the house cats are allowed out for a bit each day, we haven't had any wildlife deaths or extinctions. Too bad, I'd be happy if the 'possums were afraid of the cats or the cats were at least interested enough to chase them - nope.

    Recently, the cantwaittogetoutside cats have been running outside & then back in within 5 minutes. I had a suspicion & it's been confirmed: at least one mockingbird nest in the backyard & they're attacking the cats (they attack humans, too - I had to call the electric co. to warn the meter reader when a nest was built on top of the meter). Perhaps you should import some. :D

    1. Pegs - see my comment above to Joan. Cats are in league with the Devil. :) No wonder wicked witches always had one around. [Hey I wonder exactly when and why that tradition of associating the two began?]

      We have magpies. They're happy to take on just about any cat. We know about Mockingbirds from the old song about Mockingbird Hill, but I never heard one sing. Incidentally, the Butcher Bird, very like the magpie and featured in one of Maureen's photos , can do this, as my sister Jan was telling me last night:

      I enjoyed the most entertaining concert the day before yesterday. I was working in the garden and suddenly, I could hear birds calling – all KINDS of local birds – black cockatoos, eagles, cockatoos, parrots, magpies, kookaburras, river birds – I couldn’t believe my ears. I knew all of those birds could not be calling at that time. I looked up into the tallest of the gum trees on the footpath at the back of our house – and there was my entertainer. A pied butcher bird was sitting there singing his heart out. He obviously went through his whole considerable repertoire. He was fantastic – and I was absolutely fascinated by the accuracy of his performance. I looked him up in my book later – and he was described as an accomplished mimic. He most certainly was. Yesterday he gave us an encore – Ken was lucky enough to hear it this time as well.

      Interesting, hey?

  7. That's why we love cats. They're unpredictable, independent, do not grovel or humiliate themselves trying to please us. So when they pay any attention to us at all, we feel flattered, honoured, and special. They also know things we don't know; can see things we can't see -- I think these are the reasons they've been associated with witchcraft and anything uncanny. Everyone has a story about the cat who found its way home when it knew not where its family had moved or got lost hundreds of miles from home. Or the cat who waited for you at the gate on the day you came home from a long trip.

    Carl's got an exhibition at Gallery 126, opening June 15. So we've been pretty flat out with that. I've also got a cold, so will wait until that is over before coming to see you. The last thing you need on these cold days is to be sick with a cold. I expect I'll be back on top of things next week and will be in touch.

    Enjoy your cat!! I hope she stays for good.

    1. Joan: you are so right. Soxy fits the profile perfectly.

  8. The cat is enjoying the floor so much.

    1. Yes. We have fun calling her all sorts of terrible things because she's got fat. She ignores them imperiously.


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