October 19, 2019

Bad Cat!

The cat pooped on the couch again, and my husband isn't talking to me. That is, he's only deigning to address me if absolutely necessary, ending each sentence with, “Get rid of the cat!” Does he really think endless repetition will change my mind?

We've been over this subject ad nauseam. Ever since our daughter, Alison, then age 11, chose the three-month-old tabby mix with the sweetest little face and soulful eyes from our local shelter, about a dozen years ago. It was love at first sight. She christened the kitten “Greywinkle Rose Mi-amour.” Her father never ceased grousing that he'd been hoodwinked into the deal when shelter personnel called for his consent, and he didn't want to appear “the bad guy.”

My husband is simply not an animal lover. I understand, somewhat. My father never cared for pets either, asserting, “I save my love for people, not animals!” Still I'd been allowed the “smaller” options – a turtle and parakeet – as a child. We tried that route with Alison as well, at first. But Purim carnival goldfish barely lasted the ride home. (I'm certainly glad to see that tradition – wherein traumatized fish begat traumatized children – gone.)

We had a lovely parakeet for a while, though my husband complained that his cheery chirps kept him from hearing the TV, and so would regularly cover up the cage. But then one morning – a time when we normally let the bird fly free – he must have followed us out the door when I left to drive Alison to second grade.

Horrified at not being to find the bird anywhere upon my return, I frantically sought a doppelganger replacement at several area pet shops, hoping my daughter wouldn't notice the switch. She did, of course, at once. And then the new bird got sick and died within the week. (It lies buried in a lovingly decorated shoebox under a palm in our front yard.)

So that was it for pets in our house for a while. Until Alison made a new friend in sixth grade who lived in a multi-pet household and whose mom was a vet. Suddenly our daughter fixated on acquiring a kitten of her own and regaled her new friend with daily questions about cat care. Months passed – obviously, this wasn't a passing whim. As my daughter had shown due diligence in her cat research, I figured it was time. I didn't want her growing up saying she'd never been allowed a real pet as a child, and I simply told my husband that since his other two (from his first marriage, now grown) had enjoyed two cats as kids, ours should be allowed one too. (I rarely use the ex-wife card, so I knew he'd acquiesce.)

But he's still a stubborn male who saw no reason to change his habits simply because a kitten had come to stay. Which meant he refused to remove his intricately built, hand-painted miniature ship models from their open display shelves on a glass etagere. The kitty, whose natural youthful exuberance didn't stop at climbing up curtains and tangling up wires, soon found herself attracted to these “toys.” We woke one morning to find her playfully swatting them about … at least the pieces that were left.

Needless to say, the destruction of his ship-model collection didn't exactly endear her to the man of the house. But perhaps sensing he was Top Dog (or rather Top Cat), “Winky” (as we came to call her, both for her sleepy “winking” eyes and as a shortened version of her lengthy moniker) favored my husband. She took to following him around, and was always quick to jump onto any seat he'd vacated after sitting at attention at his feet.

She was the perfect cat for our household, in many ways. And over the years, man and beast achieved an accommodating sort of truce. Though never particularly cuddly, and definitely no lap cat (despite my daughter's best arm-scratched attempts), Winky was always our furry mascot – close by but never intrusive. I laughingly claimed she was the most reliable member of the family! Always first to arrive at the dinner table, she'd sit in her kitty-corner of the settee, patiently awaiting a fingertip taste of whatever was served, or a leftover plate or pot to lick. And then she was off!

Unlike other writers' cats who annoyingly planted themselves in front of computer screens or shed fur onto keyboards, ours could be heard softly snoring on the stack of printer paper, snug in a low cubby between our desks. Evenings found her nestled into the bottom shelf of our coffee table, facing the family while we relaxed on the couch to read or watch TV. And come night, she was often the first to bed (would that we get to sleep as quickly!), curled up in the comforter at our feet.

Greywinkle had arrived at our home perfectly litter-box trained (she'd come from an indoor cat's brood). In addition to standard feline self-grooming, she eventually decided to no longer suffer my attempts (more like battles) at paw manicure, and began biting off the tips of her claws when they grew too long. (She didn't like being brushed either, but I solved that by regularly finger stroking away loose hairs.) Every member of our family was an out-of-the-box independent personality, so it came as no surprise that the newest four-legged addition would be ornery (ahem, have a mind of her own) as well. And we all got along fine – even when it was just the three of us, once Alison left for college.

That is until our daughter, her fiancé, and their frisky new Maltese puppy (she'd finally found the ideal, cuddle-happy lap pet) came for a visit from L.A. All the puppy wanted was to play … and that often meant playing with its next-in-size kin, the cat. Even Winky had trouble keeping track of the pup's frantic zipping and slipping about on our vinyl floor. She'd try to beat a hasty retreat and take cover, but the dog would have none of that. So she resorted to hissing and the occasional useless swat. Except for appearing for meals, she made herself scarce throughout their visit.

When the annoying intruder left two weeks later, Greywinkle was most content. Especially once she'd lay claim to the leftover doggy bed, which happened to also be perfectly cat-sized. For a while, she barely left this newly conquered plush piece of territory. Except, unfortunately, to do her business on the front couch – next to the front door, where puppy had finally decided to use her wee-wee pad.

If all this sounds like our animals have trained us, rather than the other way around, you are likely correct. And maybe my husband's newfound hatred for the cat (after years of mostly silent acceptance and even occasional, playful attention) has something to do with territoriality as well. It didn't help that not long after our daughter & company's departure, an outside stray who'd come a-calling at our window for years, actually managed to break in by smashing through the window screen. I was off reading in the back bedroom when I heard a thud, caterwauling, and then my husband shouting bloody murder.

I rushed out to find the living room floor dappled in gray and white fur. The fur had literally “flown” till my husband's shouts interrupted the catfight between what he described as a “matched-size pair of gray cats.” When I asked where our cat was, he shrugged, saying his shouts had sent one cat jumping back out the window and another dashing off somewhere in the house. But which one? It was several hours before Winky gingerly tiptoed out from under Alison's bed, happily with just a minor scratch above her left eye to show for her ordeal. (And no, I didn't “see the other cat.”)

I thought the worse was over. The stray returned (for a rematch?), but I made sure to keep the front window tightly shut. But then Greywinkle began to assert her claim to this territory – our couch beneath the front window – with her poop. Except for this horrible new habit, she's still the perfect cat. She's even mellowed with age (or gotten lazy), and now tolerates a lot more petting. I've tried cat repellant sprays (she waits till they dry, and the odor seems to repel us even more), aluminum foil covering (she'll just burrow beneath) and locking her in the bathroom with the litter box after breakfast (she'll do nothing for two days, then visit the couch in the dead of night while we're asleep). If it's a battle of wills, thus far she's won. But not really. My husband simply wants her out.

But even if I were willing to let her go (and after all these years, with our daughter away, I admit to having developed quite a fondness for her pet), where would I place her? People aren't exactly knocking on doors to adopt a senior mixed-breed cat that's perfectly healthy, but not very cuddly, with litterbox issues, despite her still sweet little face and soulful eyes. Having her around is like having a piece of my daughter around, and I admit she's become a source of comfort to mom as well.

When Alison first chose her at the shelter, she was a vegan, card-carrying PETA member. Some of her passion for the humane treatment of animals has since rubbed off. I can't stomach the idea of giving a member of the household (even if it is an animal) the boot – just because she's turned old or difficult, and no longer suits our needs. I'm not that type of person. And don't we all become more difficult to live with as we age? Does that mean we should throw in the towel and part ways at the first sign of trouble?

To my husband, it's black and white: he's had it with the nasty smells. Then there's the fact that his grown son is coming to visit in a couple of weeks and he “won't be embarrassed by living in a sh–hole.” I've Lysoled the couch and rug, repeatedly. The smells are pretty much gone, for now. Winky, too, as I've relocated the kitty – complete with her food, water bowl and litterbox – to my daughter's old room, where she's often found taking her morning nap. It's a small room, but not the worst place for solitary confinement until things cool down. She also has her doggy bed, a plush rug, and my regular visits to keep her company. Perhaps now that the couch is no longer an option, she'll start pooping in her litterbox again. And can be let out of solitary early – for good behavior.

© 2015 Mindy Leaf

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