A lot has changed in Kitty’s life since the last time I devoted a complete column to her. Most of the changes began when David discovered a program on Animal Planet called “My Cat from Hell.” I don’t think he really believed Kitty was that bad, but he thought he might find some tips on how to restrain some of her more irritating habits, like scratching on the furniture and using our bare feet for toys.
The show features Jackson Galaxy, a cat behaviorist who visits the homes of people with pets that behave so badly they are in danger of being “re-homed.” It’s an entertaining way to spend some down time, so David and I watched the show together for several weeks until we began to see repeats. Then David switched channels, and I reviewed what we had learned.
First, we learned that, compared to some cats, Kitty is an angel. She uses her litter box, and any scratches or nips have been the result of over-zealous playing instead of nastiness. According to Jackson and other cat owners I’ve talked with, those incidents are probably our fault. When she was younger, before her teeth and claws could actually hurt, we played with her with our hands, which is a big no-no. I’ve been on the lookout for new toys, although balls of foil are still her favorite. I’ve also resorted to rubbing lemon juice on my feet and hands a time or two. That’s supposed to be a turnoff for her – I’ll let you know how it works out.
Next, we learned that cats need things and spaces they can “own.” That can be as simple as a strategically placed cat bed or as elaborate as a series of cat trees, shelves, and tunnels. I decided to try something in between.
Kitty has a bed in the laundry room, and there’s a dining room chair by a window where she spends a lot of time. There’s also a window in the living room that she can see out of by standing on a box of old LPs and putting her paws on the sill. Then, there’s a couch, a couple of chairs, and several forbidden tables. Not much Kitty ownership there.
I surveyed the living room for a while and settled my attention on the companion window to the one above the records. This window was blocked by a wing-backed chair that no one ever sat in and flanked by a small built-in cabinet and a large speaker from another era that has been incorporated into our entertainment center. I pulled the chair away from the wall where it still sits, waiting to be re-homed. I shared my plans with my neighbor Connie, and she contributed a carpeted pedestal that is the same height as the window sill. I removed the knick knacks from both the cabinet and the speaker, and Kitty has spent many happy hours wandering from surface to surface or sitting at the open window, watching “cat TV.”
She loved her new space, but she wanted more. She tried sitting on the sill over the records, but either she leaned out too hard or she was chasing a bug. Either way, the screen and the cat ended up on the ground outside. After that, she turned her attention to a window on the other side of the living room. It had been forbidden territory because, in order to reach it, she had to cross an end table. Still, the view that was hidden behind a slightly opened mini blind drew her. Finally, I gave in, raised the blind a foot or so. Now she’s allowed to sit on the table as long as she doesn’t mess with my stuff.
At first, the extra freedom seemed to agitate her. A couple of nights, she was into so much mischief that I put her into the laundry room early where the worst she could do was knock a few cans and spray bottles off a shelf. Then, Saturday night she mellowed out. Maybe it was because she spent half the day working in the yard and the garden with David and me, or maybe the magic of having her own space was setting in. At first, she was so calm that I was afraid she was sick, but by Sunday night I was beginning to really like the new Kitty.
She still won’t sit in my lap, but she does let me pet her a little more often. Sunday night she tried to knock David’s glass off the coffee table once just to see if he was paying attention. She also jumped on my feet as I walked by on my way back to my chair, but there were no teeth or claws involved. As I write, she’s lying half on the dining room tile and half on the living room carpet, surveying her kingdom. For the moment, that’s angelic enough for me.
A LONG AND WINDING ROAD: A Caregiver’s Tale of Life, Love, and Chaos