Friday, September 14, 2012

Cat People, People Cats

Possum doesn't care for souvenirs. 
He prefers his people to stay home.

Since we no longer have fragile cats who need fluids and multiple medications, we no longer need the cat-sitting services of a veterinary technician when we travel. We're back to using the regular neighborhood pet-sitting service. They take care of food, water, litter-scooping, and companionship twice a day, and cost half as much.

Although he mostly walks dogs, our sitter does a fine job with cats, too. I know he spends quality time with ours, which matters to me. Possum, at least, enjoys petting and conversation, and misses us when we're away.

Cat sitters have barely seen Wendy. She hides under the bed or sofa the whole time they're here. When they hunt for her, they see a squished calico with enlarged pupils peering out behind her massive tail. The vet tech once found her curled up in the front-loading washing machine, whereupon she vaporized and reappeared under the bed.

Our dearly departed Snictoria and Snalbert had good manners and were sociable with sitters as with all visitors. Snalbert was particularly fascinated with workmen, who'd have to stop whatever they were doing to give him attention every so often. Even power tools didn't daunt him. I doubt that Wendy will ever appear in front of strangers, let alone ask to investigate their drills and workboxes.

The cat sitters always leave us notes to tell us how everyone behaved, and it's heartening to read that Possum has been coming out to greet them and have his play time. He's head cat of the household now, which comes with social responsibilities.

When we arrived home last weekend, the note said that the service had sent a new sitter, a woman described as a "real pro" with cats, a cat person.

She reported that Possum had jumped into her lap on her first visit.

My Possum! In a stranger's lap. My first reaction was akin to shock and awe... and then I realized I was jealous. I know it's ridiculous. Why should I mind if he curled up in the lap of some "pro"? I'd be delighted if he tried it with one of our friends, while we were there. But the idea of him having a cozy private time with a stranger, well....

Dog people are used to their beloveds nuzzling, sniffing, and licking everyone they meet; with some dogs, everyone is a new best friend. Nice dogs are supposed to do that. Cats are supposed to be more challenging. They have a wide range of attitudes toward people but, with most cats, we have to earn their good will somehow.

Some otherwise domesticated cats, like Wendy, will flee from any stranger (and from their own people, sometimes) because they're convinced we want to kill them to make a delicious stew. It's not usually a reasoned reaction, but there it is. Convincing them that there are better food sources in the world than cats can keep you busy for their lifetime.

Most cats are wary to a lesser degree, and will warm up to you if you speak gently and let them approach you. Such a cat could end up in your lap if you've proven yourself not to be loud, scary, or obnoxious.

Some cats trust their instincts and cozy up to some people instantly and avoid or even attack others. My childhood cat, the fearsome Kelly, loathed one of my relatives and once chased her out of our house and into her car. He had the right idea: she was a chain smoker who ignored my dad's no-smoking rule.

A smart cat will take some time to size you up. People who can't take the pressure will often say they "don't like cats." In fact, it tends to be the other way around.

There are also "people" cats who behave like dogs, running up to anybody to loll at their feet, demanding belly rubs. They leap into any available lap. There was Tilly, a tortoiseshell tabby down the street, who was just such a feline hussy. Kindly passersby would wonder if they should take her into their homes because she adored them so desperately. We neighbors would tell them that she had a good home, she just threw herself at everyone.

I don't want Possum to be that kind of cat. I would prefer a bit of polite reserve on his part with everyone but me. And perhaps my husband. Perhaps. Wendy likes to throw herself at him when she's in a certain mood. With me, not so much. Fair's fair.

The evening after I read that note, I kept looking searchingly into Possy's big hazel eyes, watching for any hint of guilt, remorse, or shame over his weekend activities. Nothing. Instead he looked straight back at me and kept asking for more food.

I began to hope that maybe he really did just sit in her lap, rather than stretch himself out intimately for a nap, as he likes to do with me when I am lying down. I'm adept at reading almost anything with one hand because he is using the other as a pillow. I hope he didn't stare into her eyes from a few inches away, purring, as he does with me. I hope it was just a quick, polite lap sit. So, finally, I asked him.

The look he gave me. He didn't dignify my question with a reply. But I saw his answer in his eyes: "If you don't like what I do when you aren't here, stay home with me! Or take me with you."

Got it, Possum.

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