Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What's wrong with that cat?!

[image: Sheba on her pillar in my study]
Monday morning we were out for about two hours, getting acupuncture. It's unusual for both of us to be out in the morning, but not unheard of. When we came home, we were meant by the loud lament of The Banshee Cat. 'Sup? I wondered, using my latest street vocab, learned from my grandson. Whassup, Sheba? Why do you need ten minutes of petfest and verbal reassurance to calm down?

It came together with many observations of this little old cat we adopted last summer. Her skittishness, her fear of all Others, cat or human. I thought she had what writers call a backstory, and I knew what it was. It was titled "Separation."

Sheba was eight or ten years old when she was left at a veterinarian's by the woman who brought her there. How long was she there in a cage, waiting to be picked up and taken back to her home territory?

But before that, I thought, she had experienced abandonment. I imagined she lived with an older woman who loved the cat dearly - Sheba has a great purr, the softest fur anywhere, loves to be petted. Her dainty, well-trained habits suggest someone worked with her - no scratching on the rug, no trying to run outdoors.

What if that woman got sick and was taken out, and never came back? Maybe Sheba survived for many days until some niece or sister came to the apartment to pick up some things, and there was the little cat, wailing piteously, out of water and food and scared to death by her person's disappearance. Abandoned and likely to die of dehydration or starvation.

We can hardly know what it feels like to be a nine-pound animal that cannot open a door or get water for itself, that is totally dependent on people who don't follow the schedule. One horrible experience with abandonment can train that animal to be forever easily frightened.

It's a good thing, I thought, that we've never gone on vacation since we had her. We did that when we had Sherlock, leaving him in the care of a reliable and attentive neighbor. Nevertheless, when we pulled in the drive coming home he was on the kitchen table letting out sustained, distressed meows, telling us over and over, I missed you, I didn't know if you were ever coming home.

Thing was, Sherlock was a big strong male cat with a lot of resilience and a naturally sociable fearless nature. He got over it, no credit to him I suppose. He didn't do therapy or meditate on it, just plunged forward into the present reality. That's the kind of cat he was. Sheba is another kind of cat altogether.

What made Sheba and Sherlock such different members of the same species really doesn't matter. Why, why we humans ask. Buddhism points out that we are better served by concentrating on the reality of now. Sheba does have something in her personality you could call separation anxiety. Knowing what caused it would not much help me deal with her. Following her attentively to one of her pillars and stroking her, that helps much more. All this, of course, does not apply to our Small-r relationships ™ with humans in our lives, how we might accept them. It's just about cats.

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