I will not be ruled by my cat. No more is he allowed to curl up in the warmth of my lap. No longer is he invited to live under my roof. I brought him home five years ago when he only seven weeks old. The cute, little champagne kitten stood out from the rest of the litter in the cage that day. I only needed one kitten. That’s all. But the volunteer with the pet shelter convinced me I should have a pair. This kitten would need a playmate, she advised.
I have had cats for over half a century. I know all about cats. Or so I thought. I did know the volunteer’s suggestion had merit. Kittens like to play with one another, especially when I am off at work and they would be otherwise all alone. Having a playmate helps keep them from climbing curtains, scratching furniture and other untoward behavior.
So on that day five years ago, I scoured the cat cages for a compatible friend for my new champagne kitten. I settled on one who was black and white. She had a beautiful face, a sweet meow and a certain innocence about her. I knew she was the right one.
I paid for the kittens, managed to get them into a single travel cage and headed for their new home. The champagne kitten became Baudelaire, named after one of my favorite French poets. The black and white became Gypsy, a symbol of her exotic look. The two kittens became fast friends. Initially, I thought they were brother and sister; however, time bore out their grand differences. Gypsy was a tiny kitten and remains a tiny adult cat to this day. She still looks like a teenager, so it would be tough to guess her age if I didn’t know better. Baudelaire is larger and has a distinctively shaped face. His champagne color competes a bit with the white on his chest, face and paws. He is smart, handsome and much feistier than his mate.
It is Baudelaire’s feisty attitude that started to get him into trouble earlier this year. His bad behavior began with a sudden bite to the hand of a visitor. I couldn’t understand what had caused this abrupt change of tune. I chalked it up to a new person being in the house. Cats are not always amenable to change. They can be territorial. Perhaps that was his issue.
The next time the same biting behavior occurred, I was the victim. For no apparent reason, Baudelaire bit my hand. He had been sitting on my lap that night begging for attention and I stroked him on his head and neck. Suddenly, he turned and bit my hand enough to draw blood. I pulled my hand back instantly and Baudelaire shot for the door. I was in shock. Why would he bite me?
After that incident, I was far more cautious with my cat. I could no longer trust him. Or was this a one-time incident? I remembered the first time this had happened when he bit my friend. I knew that something strange was going on.
There was a third incident a few weeks later. Another bite to the hand….mine. I realized something was happening that I could not explain. Within a few days, Baudelaire began to meow as though in pain. A trip to the emergency vet and $2,500 later, I learned he had a case of cystitis and was dangerously plugged up. He was unable to urinate. He spent four days in the emergency vet and then home with a cone around his neck to prevent him from licking areas that needed healing. He was not too happy with me, nor I with him; but we started to reach some common ground. I felt badly for him and assumed that his biting was his way of telling me about his pain.
As he recuperated, the next phase of poor habits erupted. He started to pee on my bed and on me. I awakened one morning and Baudelaire was snoozing in his usual spot cuddled next to my legs. I felt something wet. I sniffed the damp area of my bedspread and was disgusted by the smell of feline urine. My cat observed all of this and then ran from the bed.
This pattern grew into a nightmare and several weeks of washing sheets, bedspreads, mattress pads and blankets. One night, he even sprayed my kitchen cabinets right before my eyes. I was appalled. I banished Baudelaire to the outdoors. I could not trust him to use the litter box. I researched bad cat behavior and found lots of advice online. Cats like to mark their turf, I learned, and sometimes that turf is their owner. Just great, I thought. My cat is marking me.
Next step…I will try something new. I added a second litter box so he no longer had to share with Gypsy. I bought a different kind of litter for his box. This one is supposed to attract cats to use the box. The online advice told me that a cat with cystitis sometimes doesn’t want to use its litter box because it associates peeing with pain. Okay. That made sense. So I bought new litter and a new fountain-style water bowl. He needed to drink lots more water to assure his system worked properly. Apparently the fountain is more attractive to cats. I did all those things and spent over $600 on pet stuff. I also bought a plug-in cat “calmer” device that supposedly gives off a pheromone that will calm a cat. It has to be replaced every 30 days at $9.99 per replacement.
At this point, I was reeling from the expenses piling up. I had already paid thousands the year before for dog dentistry, dog pain medications, dog blood tests every six months, and special food for senior dogs. Now I was facing more expensive special food for the cat, too. His old food was not sufficient for his condition. I needed to be sure he did not have a recurrence. I did all the right things, or so I thought.
For several weeks, Baudelaire calmed down. He used the new litter box and quit peeing in my bed and on the kitchen cabinets. He curled up in my lap during the evenings and seemed content. But the worst was yet to come.
One August night, Baudelaire bit me again, my right wrist bleeding with four puncture wounds, one of which was over an inch long. I was livid. His bite came out of nowhere. He was calmly sitting in my lap while I watched television. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, he turned his head and chomped down on my hand. He bit me so hard that I was almost in tears. Blood was oozing everywhere.
Now I was just plain angry. It was me versus the cat. I moistened a tissue and cleaned off my wounds, trying to curb the red drops that were already staining my floor. Then I stalked my cat. Where had he gone? Where was he hiding? He knew he was in trouble. I walked through the kitchen, turned the corner and looked upstairs. He sat in one of his usual spots at the top of the staircase and gave me an icy stare from on high. I began my ascent. He ran toward my bedroom, the only open door upstairs. I yelled at him, telling him it was time to go outside. Did he understand me? He ran under the bed. I found him there and yelled at him again. I know that yelling at a cat does not achieve the desired feline behavior, but I couldn’t help myself. My hand was throbbing with pain and still dripping blood. I pressed the tissue harder against the wound to try to stop the bleeding. By now, my adrenaline was at full tilt and all I wanted to do was locate the cat and put him outside. He knew it, too.
Baudelaire frequently wants to go outdoors. He often whines incessantly to be let out. That night, he just ran from me and wanted nothing to do with the outside. He slipped out of the bedroom and bolted down the stairs like a streak of lightning into the living room. I had already closed off the kitchen and family room so he could not escape into there. I followed him down the stairs and opened the front door to facilitate his departure. I found him in the dining room under the table and shooed him toward the front door again. This time, he ran back upstairs. But I had outsmarted him. I had already shut the door of my bedroom so he was unable to get back inside. He was trapped at the landing with no way out. He faced the stairs and me.
Baudelaire slowly studied his limited options. Then he decided to take his chances and attempted to dart down the wide, carpeted stairs. I was there to confront him. He was unable to slip past me and I grabbed him by the scruff of the neck as his mother did in his kitten days. His four paws with sharp claws extended flew out in all directions. I was not wearing gloves, so this was a very dangerous move on my part. Adrenaline was driving me. Adrenaline and anger. This cat was not going to rule my house.
I carried Baudelaire to the front door and threw him out, slamming the door behind him. He ran as soon as his paws hit the deck. He spent the night under the stars.
The next day, I filled an outside bowl with his special and expensive urinary-tract approved kibbles, gave him fresh water and advice that he would have to fight the raccoons for his food. He tried to come in the front door, but I prevented his entry. He returned to the back sliding door later in the day, whining and crying at the screen, begging to come in. I finally closed the glass door so I didn’t have to hear his meowing.
Baudelaire is now a permanent outdoor cat. He will just have to adjust. He bit me one too many times. I remain the Queen of my household. Well, I’m in charge at least until I forgive him, until I let him have another chance at being a decent cat. Then and only then will I open the doors for Baudelaire.
–Victoria Emmons, © 2014