M. Giant's
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Monday, April 21, 2003  

This Is Not My Beautiful Cat

Strat was a stray when we took him in. A feral, violent beast of the streets, it took two tranquilizer darts to take him down—a dose that would have killed a rhino. We locked him into kitty-sized five-point restraints, hosed the blood and viscera off of him, and took a two-week vacation to let him acclimate himself to his new surroundings. During that time, he killed all my houseplants, the TV, and a hapless neighbor child in the course of working off his feline PTSD-related rage. Now he’s a happy, friendly housecat. And he never even tries to get outside.

Okay, none of that is true except the first sentence. And the second-to-last. The last sentence is the least true of all.

Strat’s escapes fall into three categories. Category One is when we’re sitting out on the front stoop, talking or hanging out or whatever with nothing between the cat and freedom but an unlatched storm door. And, you know, us. After some effort, Strat is frequently able to nose the door open and come dashing out to join the group, meowing triumphantly. Then he rubs himself on the concrete steps and eats some grass so he can deposit a nice chlorophyll-and-bile stain on our carpet later on.

Category Two is the opportunistic escape, in which he sneaks out the door while multiple people are going in and out. This works for him because not everybody has been conditioned to watch out for cat escapes every time they open the door, like we’ve been. On one of these occasions, several of us were hauling all of the band equipment out of the basement. When we got home six hours later, retrieving the cat from outdoors necessitated an extension ladder.

And then there’s Category Three, the most maddening and nerve-wracking. The front door doesn’t always latch properly if we don’t lock it. Given enough time, Strat is sometimes able to pry it open using his claws or his nose and pull a Steve McQueen without anybody realizing he’s left until someone notices that there’s still food in his bowl.

Which cues the embarrassing interludes of wandering around the neighborhood with a flashlight and a can of Pounce™, stage-whispering Strat’s name and looking all over for a flash of white fur. The worst of these occasions was one night when Trash came home late, and we realized later—at about 2:30 a.m., in fact—that we were short one cat. We gave up the search after an hour, hoping he’d come back on his own; sure enough, when I went out to have another look at 6:00 a.m., he was there in the front yard demanding to know why I hadn’t let him in sooner.

We had another minor Category Three last week. I was working in the yard, using both front and back doors, and I think Strat got out the front while I was in the back. On this occasion, we realized he had as much as an hour’s head start. I grabbed the MagLite™—it wasn’t fully dark yet, but I wanted something to clock him on the head with, if necessary—and headed back out, just in time to see a snowy blur vanish behind the house two doors down.

Normally Strat will come to me if I spot him outside, or at least wait for me to come to him. Sometimes he’ll wait underneath the deck and force me to flush him out with a rake, but the principle generally holds true. I figured I’d round the corner of the neighbor’s house and there he’d be, waiting for me to pick him up so he could pretend to be all indignant about it. But he was gone.

Okay, not entirely gone. I though saw a white flash streaking behind our garage, but I would have had to hop too many fences to get directly to him. So I went back out to the street, walked around to our garage, and the neighbor’s garage, and ascertained that he was—wait for it—gone.

This is pretty unusual behavior for Strat, even when he’s in escape mode, so I began to suspect that I had misread the situation. When I saw a white cat dash for the neighbor’s back door, I stopped being suspicious and became fairly sure.

See, the neighbors have a white cat as well. His name is Fievel, and he is the wussiest cat I’ve ever met. He’s been known to try to flee from his own whiskers. We once saw him chasing a squirrel at a fast walk, and the squirrel was hardly bothering to stay ahead of him. Apparently Fievel thought I’d been stalking him, trying to sneak up on him so I could dash out his circus-peanut-sized brain with my flashlight. Which I was, but only because I thought he was someone else.

I followed Fievel into the neighbor’s screened-in back porch, where he was taking their paint off with panicked howls at the back door and trying to jam himself through the airtight weather seal. I had to make totally sure it wasn’t my cat—I mean, I was pretty sure it wasn’t, but this one had the advantage of being right there in front of me, a claim my cat couldn’t make—so I picked him up. A cat in hand, you know. In terms of weight, this was more easily done than hefting Strat off the ground, but Strat has a reasonable expectation that when I pick him up, it’s not so I can eat him. Fievel had no such assurance. This was the first time I’d ever been able to get close enough to talk to him, let alone pick him up. I’ll never get to do it again, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it this time if he hadn’t been cornered. He screamed as though I were pulling his legs off, and when I put him down he tried to leap over the back door. Honestly, I don’t know why any creature should live in that kind of fear when it possesses a vertical of that caliber.

The neighbors weren’t home to let him in, so I left him to his panic attack and resumed tracking down the other white cat. He made it easy for me. Some feline yowling from a couple houses away led me to where Strat was locked in a motionless (but not soundless) staredown with another neighborhood cat of equal size. They crouched threateningly, their noses six inches apart, comparing lung capacities. I could tell Strat wasn’t really that up for the fight, because when I picked him up he put up less resistance than he does when I’m taking him out of the cat carrier. The other cat shrugged and went on his way. Apparently the animal kingdom doesn't buy into that whole "ha, ha, you got rescued, you're so lame" theory of conflict resolution.

Later I went and found the other cat and clocked it with my MagLite. It seemed a waste to have carried it around for nothing.

posted by M. Giant 3:27 PM 0 comments


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