This is a difficult subject. I wanted this to be a happy blog, focused on beautiful things and Boston. But I feel an overwhelming urge to speak up about my personal demons.
My biggest (or at least most rotund) personal demon is called Bunny, pictured above.
We hear regularly about child abuse, domestic violence, animal abuse, and other forms of physical and emotional pain and tyranny (such as working in an cubicle). These terrible things should call us to sorrow, outrage, and action to eradicate them entirely. But at least they are not forbidden topics any more.
But there is still one taboo that victims are too ashamed to talk about, except me: Cat abuse. As you see, it happens in my home. It's embarrassing, it's wrong. But there's nothing I will do, because I love Bunny, even though she has complete control over me. And whenever I get brave and try to report her abuse, the authorities just smirk at me. (You know how doctors are required to ask, "Do you feel safe at home?" Try explaining that your cat enjoys whacking you.)
It is vital to remember that not all cats are abusive. Most are decent, law-abiding, nice pussycats. (I once knew some like that, I suppose.) Let's not allow the minority to give the whole species a bad reputation. There are already too many nasty, ignorant cat-haters working on that.
I know I should seek counseling for me or for both of us, but I guess I haven't hit bottom yet. I still have a nose. (Perhaps Bunny will choose to get help for herself someday, but I doubt it.) Anyway, I hope you now realize that abusive cats are out there, hogging the sofa, and try to have some empathy for us victims. You can often identify us by these signs:
1. Scratch marks on and around the nose. This is caused by the cat repeatedly swatting its sleeping human to awaken it, so it can be petted and praised. The cat has acute self-esteem and separation-anxiety issues.
2. Bite marks on the feet. See above.
3. Yawning, fatigue, and other signs of sleep deprivation. The result of physical (see above) or psychological abuse on the part of the cat, intended to keep its human in a weakened state. The cat may sing, or recite poetry and speeches throughout the night. The cat may appropriate its sleeping human's pillow, or attempt to sit on its sleeping human's head. None of this is normal cat behavior; these are signs that the cat has taken control of the household.
4. Confusion. Abusive cats are adept at creative torture. It is common for their owners to exhibit the kind of "learned helplessness" experienced by lab rats in those electrified-cage experiments — they become incapable of decisive action, exhibit feelings of anxiety and worthlessness, and engage in abnormal grooming behavior (including scratching of head or tearing of hair). Here are some documented techniques of abusive cats:
- The cat wants to go in, and then out. Then in, and out, multiple times a day. Mostly it just wants to stand in the doorway, undecided and letting cold air in, while you miss Mad Men for the third time.
- The cat demands food, so you provide its favorite meal. The cat stares at the bowl and at you in loathing and prepares to "bury" the food and stalk off. You try a series of other foods with similar results, until you run out of options and return to the original food. The cat eats heartily after sending clear signals that it considers you a moron.
- The cat wants nothing to do with you until you are hard at work at your computer or deeply absorbed in reading. The cat then appropriates the keyboard or reading matter by lying upon it, pretending it wants to spend time with you — although it will not make eye contact.
Those are five common warning signs. Now, before confronting a cat you may think is abusive, keep in mind that the following are considered normal — not abusive — cat behavior:
- Clawing and biting children and defenseless older adults
- Scratching upholstery and woodwork
- Eating plants and quickly puking them up
- Vomiting hairballs up to three times a day
- Knocking over valued objects
- Tearing around the house, chasing invisible prey
- Occasionally emitting blood-curdling howls in the wee hours
- Raiding the kitchen for people food late at night
- Displaying extreme affection toward people whom you've warned about the cat's antisocial ways
If you believe that someone among your family or friends has an abusive cat, urge him or her to get help. However, finding help is difficult. While cat shelters abound, there are no shelters or social services for their victims.
Efforts to halt the abuse vary in their effectiveness. Some victims get a dog, hoping to intimidate the cat into better behavior; this rarely works. Some try preaching religious or humanist sermons, hoping it will repent and change its heathen ways. This succeeds in rare cases. While there are many cat therapists, most cats just curl up and sleep on the therapy couch, making behavioral changes less likely. Retaliating during episodes of abuse, perhaps with a spray-bottle of water, produces mixed results and usually just makes the owner feel like a jerk.
The only technique that has been proven to have some efficacy in clinical tests is becoming enslaved to the cat, lavishing it with constant affection and compliments, and anticipating its every desire. The more energy expended on this, the more successful the outcomes appear.