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Domesticated (ha!) cat abuse


Ignoring the traditional wisdom of columnists that readers don’t care a twit about our pets, I’m going to vent about my cat, Sophie. I’m beginning to believe that John Ashcroft was right and calico cats are the spawn of Satan. (Sophie isn’t technically a calico, but qualifies with her motley-colored tabby coat and devil-like behavior that makes my mind go places it shouldn’t. Besides, this may be my last great chance to kick John Ashcroft around.)

I gave the sweet, innocent and soft-sounding name to the feral, 6-week-old kitten that climbed people and curtains and fought human contact with her teeth and claws, hoping she might epitomize those qualities as a mature cat. The bite she recently sneaked up and delivered to my wrist, disabling it for 48 hours as severely as a bad sprain, proved that she does not. Scratched, mangled hands that look as if they’ve been through a sausage grinder are one thing, but the prospect of writing one-handed turned what would normally be a rhetorical question – “What am I going to do with you?” – into a real dilemma.

“What can you do?” someone who meant well replied. “She’s like your child.”

Let’s be clear. Sophie is not my child. She is a cat. I do not carry her picture around in my wallet. Do not send letters that start with “Dear Beth and Sophie” because cats cannot read. She is a cat; she is not a human being.

I wish she were an actual human, though. Then, someone would recognize that I’m getting hurt too often for it to be clumsiness and intervene. I could have her thrown in jail for domestic abuse and paroled to a batterers’ treatment program. There would be support groups I could go to.

But there are no services that ask: “Are you afraid of your cat?”

Hell, yes.

I try to keep in mind where she came from. Motherless, she received none of the mommy-cat smackdown that teaches kittens manners. I followed the veterinarian’s advice on how to correct her behavior. When she played too roughly, I grabbed the loose skin on the back of her neck and hissed as a mother cat would. Didn’t even faze her. I’ve used spray bottles, rattled coin-filled tin cans and used other vet-approved disciplinary tactics, all for naught. Once, in desperation, I tried a non-vet-approved tactic and growled like a cat and bit her back. She didn’t retreat.

I respect that she’s not a lap cat. Perhaps this is taking martyrdom too far, but I accept that I’m in a arrangement with an 8-pound, hissing, biting, scratching fighting ball of fur and get the pleasure of her company for maybe 15 minutes a day, but still must buy the food, change the water and litter, and dust cat hair from the surfaces she touches, which is pretty much all of them. It’s OK. As long as no one gets hurt.

I’ve gotten all manner of advice as I hang around friends’ houses a little too long to postpone going home to her. I’ve been warned that that she’ll sneak into my bed some night and steal my breath – an old husband’s tale, maybe, but in this case, it seems wise to heed caution. I’ve heard from people who said they’d knock or kick or slap the nastiness right out of her. Others leave no doubt they’d toss her in the street and let her fend for herself. Even those well schooled in animal-welfare issues think I should drop her off at the shelter and not look back.

I’ve even been urged to get in touch with a pet psychic. I interviewed one once, in Fairfield, of course, and the most interesting of all the very intriguing tips she gave for communicating with pets was that luring a lost pet home is as simple as pulling the white light from one’s bellybutton, like from a ball of string. Unless there’s a reverse function that would allow me to use my inner white light to send her away, that advice doesn’t seem particularly useful here.

So in answer to my own question about I am going to do with this cat, I’m going continue to love her, put up with her behavior and hope that she turns sweeter as she matures. I signed on. I said I’d save her life. She’s my responsibility, and cat scratches and bites don’t absolve me of that. I appreciate the balance here: A cat can be taken out of the wild, but the wild can’t always be taken out of the cat.

Beth Dalbey is editorial director for Business Publications Corp. E-mail her at bethdalbey@bpcdm.com.

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