Saturday, October 17, 2009

Who's the Alpha Cat?

It's 9:15 on Saturday morning, and I am at work, waiting for our daily assignments. "Dog's Best Friend," an obvious pseudonym for the guy who sits next to me, is an expert on animal behavior. He's had Dobermans, Rotties and now a single pit bull, whom I've met. She seems very sweet.

I love to talk to him about animals. I told him about the two cats lying peacefully on my bed last night. He was pleased, but not particularly surprised. I told him Bella had the position of superiority, up by the pillows, while Shadow was more toward the foot. He figured as much, but said something I'd been thinking, too. As she grows bigger and more sure of herself, she is going to try to become the alpha cat. Then I'll see either fur flying or Bella giving in.

This morning it was more of the former. Lots of running and chasing, and me trying to figure out where to put the cats, where to put their food. I think they put on an act for me, hoping I'll stay home to referee. They are just going to have to work it out, or else. As the vet tech said when he handed me Bella's carrier after her anorexic episode, "Deal with it, Bella."

I think Shadow has done Bella and me a lot of good. For me, she brings back memories of the farm. This morning in the kitchen, she rubbed against my ankles again. It's becoming a regular thing. She only does this in the kitchen, where the food comes from, but she'll do it when the food is elsewhere, as it was today--hers in the living room, Bella's in my room. I was barefoot as usual. I'm not afraid of her, and she knows it. I heard something like purring, but, as I told my co-worker, not real cozy, relaxed purring, but sort of a frantic purring, purring that was asking for something. All of a sudden I remembered the cats at the barn doing the same thing. They were pretty wild, too. My sisters and I were told not to pick them up, and with a few exceptions, we obeyed.

It was my grandparents' farm, but my uncle Donald did most of the outdoor work. My grandmother did not allow animals in the house, but she made exceptions for certain dogs like Butch, a faithful German shepherd, and Teddy, who came later, a boxer. We have a picture of my sister Kitty, wearing summer pajamas and leaning back on Teddy as if he were a backrest. I remember Nana feeding him Cheerios with milk out on the back porch.

All of our dogs and cats were dropped off sneakily by people who saw that the farm looked like a good place, and it was. It's actually what I wanted to do with Shadow, but nobody in Hope has a dairy farm anymore.

Another big exception to Nana's house rule was Gus, the gigantic tom who my uncle particularly liked. He was the only cat I remember being in the house at all, although I do remember my grandmother shooing some out the kitchen door with a broom,when they tried to come in from the front porch.

Donald watched Westerns after dinner in the beat-up green armchair, the kind with tassles on the edges, his feet on the ottoman, smoking Winstons with the enormous gray and white Gus on his lap, relaxing after a day of hard physical labor.

"Gus, you old reprobate," Donald used to say, rubbing the cat's head fondly as the cigarette smoke curled up through the lampshade. I see it perfectly in my mind, and I am glad.

I think now that it's possible Donald identified with Gus, or wanted to, and that's how I learned the meaning of the word reprobate. I was probably 6 or 7. Gus would disappear frequently, and sometimes came back battered, with a scratch down his face or a torn ear. Nana thought he was filthy and full of fleas, which was probably true. She couldn't very well defy her son, though, since he did most of the heavy farm work. (Grandpa did some milking and haying, but he had heart trouble.)

Nana and Donald must have reached a truce on it.

I do not remember any veterinary care for the cats, no shots or spaying. Kittens appeared and disappeared. Cats got hit by cars in the road that bisected the property. We didn't even get upset, because they were nameless and there would always be more. They ate rodents nightly in the fields and probably in the barn, too, and snakes as well. It was a win-win for humans and felines.

My uncle poured them two pie pans of milk after the morning and evening milking, and the felines were always very eager for it. Now, my vet says giving them milk can cause diarrhea. Considering how long I have been around cats, there is an awful lot I don't know.

The ways in which Shadow's presence has helped Bella are, 1., she gets more exercise and...I don't know what else, but there must be more. It must be waking her up more, activating her brain.

1 comment:

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