Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Close Encounters of the Feline Kind

When I was little we had a crazy mutt of a dog. Some dog in the neighborhood had a litter (there were always litters of puppies and kittens in the neighborhood) and all it took to get my dad to agree to a dog was to put the tiny mewling thing on his chest as he sat in his recliner one night. Such a simple manipulation and the puppy was ours. My mom gave her the name Gypsy and it was a harbinger of the wild, incorrigible mutt she would turn out to be.

In hindsight, my parents probably had no business getting a dog at all. My mom was pregnant with baby number 6 or 7, I can't remember. Either way, it's pretty safe to assume that she and my dad were holding things together with both hands. The oldest of us was about 8 and the youngest was a toddler, Maybe about 14 months old.

Gypsy was a maniac. She ran all over the house, she chewed things, and she never stopped barking. I remember taking her for walks and she would drag me along behind her as she strained at the leash to go faster and farther. We could never let her off the leash because there was no guarantee she would ever come back. Now that I'm an adult (an adult who has seen many, many episodes of the Dog Whisperer), I realize that Gypsy needed way more exercise than she could get living in our little Southwest Philadelphia rowhouse. My mom didn't have the time or energy to devote to training Gypsy much past housebreaking and had to resort to simply letting her out in the backyard (we mercifully had a backyard) when the kids old enough to walk her were in school during the day.

And then one day, Gypsy was on a tear through the house and she ran right over the baby and scratched his face. He was fine (I'm pretty sure it was my brother) but I'm guessing that was when my mom reached her limit. One day I came home from school and it occurred to me that I hadn't seen Gypsy in a couple of days. I still remember my mom swallowing hard before telling me that she and my dad had sent Gypsy to live on a farm where she would have plenty of room to run and play.

Apparently people really give their kids that line, it's not just for television.

I should ask my mom what they really did with her.


We got Kitty a few months after we got married. He adopted us. Frank came home one night from work the bar and found him stretched out across the front step of our building. When Frank brought him upstairs, that cat immediately started purring and winding himself in and around my legs like he had known me for years. That was all he needed to do. He was our cat forever from that night, when he howled and scratched at the bedroom door until I let him in and he curled up on my pillow next to my head. We never could decide on a name for him and eventually he just started answering to Kitty.

We soon found out that this cat is um, psycho. He's incredibly needy, especially for a cat. He must always be in my face, on my lap, in my ear. He endlessly bashes his face into mine, which I know is a sign of deep affection but hi, so annoying. He licks the corners of my eyes and the tip of my nose when I'm sleeping. He does that kneading, pawing thing endlessly, especially when I'm sleeping. If he could find a way to crawl inside my face and live there, he would be the happiest cat ever.

Kitty also has aggression issues. He wants to be stroked and petted and scratched and then he doesn't. He makes his feelings clear by attacking the hand of whomever is showering him with love. He waits in corners and just on the other side of doorways to bat and scratch at the ankles of passersby. Our poor black lab outweighs Kitty by at least 50 lbs and even she avoids crossing the lunatic's path. We've gotten him toys for him to play with, thinking that the aggression is misplaced energy and boredom but no, just pure crazy. Even the vet - who is exclusively a cat vet - said he was the weirdest cat she'd ever met.

It's always been sort of a joke amongst our friends that our cat is the devil. Everyone knows to ignore him and they all try petting him at their own risk. We chalked every one of his quirks up to being lost on the streets for an unknown amount of time and gave him more love. He was just our misunderstood kitty that we loved no matter what.

Of course, we were quite worried how Kitty would react when the baby came. I didn't believe any of the old wives' tales/urban legends about the cat that smothered the baby, but Kitty's neediness comes with a side of extreme jealousy. I was worried about him climbing over the baby to get to my face. People say that cats instinctively stay away from babies and display gentleness with small children. While I'd never really seen Kitty interact with kids, I had no reason to think that he would suddenly find sanity upon the arrival of a smaller, weaker rival for my attention.

Clearly, I was right to be concerned

If he was allowed any closer to Bo's face, he would so be on it. Because that damn baby is in his spot.

Unfortunately, when we're not shooing Kitty away, we're ignoring him altogether. This has resulted in way more nighttime face diving since the baby is in bed and my arms/lap/face is free. As soon as Bo goes to bed for the night, Kitty climbs into my lap. As soon as I'm in bed for the night, Kitty is on my face or on my pillow, behind my head, both paws in my hair.

Things took a bad turn the other day when Bo - who is now all about grabbing at everything around him - took a few swipes at the cat. Kitty responded by batting Bo in the face. I was in the shower and I could hear the screaming through the closed bathroom door, shower running, radio on.

You may be surprised to learn that Kitty is still breathing.

There weren't any scratches. We don't think he used his claws. It was like a warning shot I guess.

So now what? We really don't know. It's unthinkable to me to take Kitty to the pound and essentially abandon him. There's a good chance he was abandoned once and that's how he ended up on our front step. On the other hand, I can't have a psycho cat attacking my baby.


This all happened like 3 weeks ago, which is when I started this post. Apparently though I live in some kind of wormhole where time slips by without my knowledge.

Kitty is still with us, still desperate for attention and pushing the proximity envelope with Bo. Our solution for now is to not let Bo reach out for the cat and to do our best to keep the cat away from Bo. I'm sure we'll have to revisit once the boy is crawling.

Maybe I'll get the name of that farm from my mom.