Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Possum Did WHAT?

I'm pleased to get off the topic of house-hunting for a bit to report on other local news.

A week ago Saturday, I sleeping while my husband fed the cats breakfast. He woke me up with an alarming announcement. Possum had pooped in the kitchen while everyone was waiting to be fed. My husband had noticed that Possum was not beside him in his usual supervisory position: he always stands on his hind legs, reaching up toward the counter where the dishes are being filled. He likes to bat at our legs and holler at us to make it snappy. That morning, Possum was sitting by the water dish looking antsy. Afterward, he ate with enthusiasm and settled on the sofa for a wash and a nap. 

My husband said nothing to him about his bizarre act, nor did I. Possum is so dignified. Even when he's lying with his belly on display, he has a regal attitude. If he was stressed or ill, we didn't want increase his discomfort with an awkward conversation.

Possum looking mysterious. Is he ill, stressed from his multi-cat household, 
protesting something unacceptable, or just being weird?

But, privately, we were beside ourselves. Our cats never do such things. We thought about the only time anything similar had happened. About ten years ago, our tiny Persian Snictoria (1995–2012) hated our new sofa. She left "protest poops" on it when we weren't around. We got a web cam, which identified her as the culprit. We watched her trying to jump from the sofa's soft back cushions to the bookcase, and falling hard on the floor. So we showed her how the other cats jumped up there, and her protest ended. 

Occasionally our cats leave us a "gift with purchase," a euphemism that reminds us of nicer things, like Clinique Bonus Time. Our cats all have fluffy "pants," and things sometimes go wrong if they leave the litter box prematurely. It's purely accidental. A "gift" is usually little, dry, hard, and not terrifically smelly (a benefit of high-quality, high-protein food). A gift sits on the floor until we spot it, or more likely, step on it because Persian rugs offer excellent camouflage. Our bare feet seem to have an instinct for finding gifts with purchase... but I digress.

Was Possum sick? Was he stressed or annoyed? Was he developing a horrible behavior problem that would ruin our lives and our apartment? He wasn't talking, so I consulted my cat care books: The New Natural Cat by Anitra Frazier and Your Cat by Elizabeth Hodgkins. Nothing in their medical sections suggested that Possum was ill, unless it was something so serious that he'd have many other nasty symptoms. 

Our wretched, stressed-out cat..

So Possum had to be either stressed or annoyed. We racked our brains for a cause. Nothing came to mind. No one picks on him and he only picks on Wendy sometimes. But he's always done this: she has some crazy Republican ideas and he thinks biting her will change that.

I kept reading Your Cat and found this: "A small apartment cannot accommodate more than two or three cats comfortably. " Dr. Hodgkins went on to describe how terrible things can be for cats who live with many other cats, even in big houses. According to her, we were seriously over-catted in our little apartment.

I snapped the book shut before any of the cats read it over my shoulder. Holy crap. Possum is feeling overcrowded and is acting out. Here we thought he loved supervising his posse as Top Cat but it's become a burden and he's having a breakdown. We have at least two too many cats, even if they all get along, wash each others' heads, and sleep together on the bed. 

What fools we had been to ignore expert advice. We have five cats. How crazy is that? Very crazy. Ask anyone. What had we been thinking? What could we do now to solve this problem? Should we have a lottery, or have the cats draw straws, and send the two losers away to a Swiss boarding school? 

How he looks when I ask him if he'd like to use the bathroom.

Whenever I work myself into a state, sooner or later I call our vet. Naturally, Possum picked a weekend to have his nervous breakdown. Our vet wouldn't be around until Tuesday. I left a message. Then I watched all of the cats for signs that they were overcrowded and miserable. Lion likes to chase and wrestle with Toffee, but Toffee never seems particularly annoyed by this. Possum and Toffee also have a few sharp differences of opinion but then they go back to head-licking and napping together. 

That was all I saw. Cats spend at about 2/3 of their lives sleeping, or pretending to, so having five cats feels a lot like having zero cats much of the time. (I am not suggesting that we could handle more cats. We could not afford the cat food. End of discussion.)

Our vet finally called, questioned me calmly about the episode, and offered an explanation so reasonable that it never occurred to us. "He probably had to go really badly but he was afraid of missing his breakfast. So he had an accident. Little kids do it all the time. They get so wrapped up in something they're doing that, even when they're toilet-trained, they have accidents."

Oh. Of course. 

I've begun quietly asking Possum if he needs to use the litter box before we begin serving his meals. He looks right through me as if he has no idea what I'm talking about.


  1. Yes, this does sometimes happen. Possum is trying to tell you that proper cat etiquette is to ignore the event and product. Then, when everyone is sleeping nicely in the other room, you as Mommy may discreetly remove said product with a paper towel, and never refer to such event again. What's that commercial whose slogan is "As if it never happened"? Just like it says.


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