Saturday, August 31, 2013

Save The Gerbils


By the time you've had a cat for seven years, you like to think you've got her sized up, and understand her motivations and her predilections, and are only left with the occasional isolated query, such as "does that belong to you?" and "where are you going with that?" and "is that what we do with Mommy's slippers?" But like any beings sharing a confined space, you have developed an understanding.

For instance, the first cat, (Saint) Larry, was nothing like the current occupant, Tater. Larry was the very best kitty she could be except for the pooping thing, and Tater is the very best kitty she can be, apparently, within the constraints of her own nature. But they were very differently motivated.

Larry liked to eat. And by the time we'd taught her to shake hands and roll over and a few other things she learned to do for tidbits, she had tidbitted up to a sort of tortoiseshell football shape perched on dainty little feet. Visitors took to calling her "fat cat" but I thought it was slanderous, until the day I noticed that when she rolled over on command, parts of her just kept rolling. She'd get fish flakes and kibbles and a tiny portion of wet food and completely lose control if we had chicken for dinner, which drove her to petty crime.

Tater, on the other hand, does not give one shiny shit about food. She wants her maintenance half cup of kibble every day to top up the tank, but nothing else interests her at all. All she wants to do is play. All. She used to fetch those little fuzzy plush mice, and that was terrific, because I could play from my chair, but then she quit bringing them back. Dave rigged up a green mouse on fishing line and that's her very favorite game. Every day she goes and sits by the closet that the green mouse is in and acts pitiful until he comes out. She interprets every human activity, from napping to quilting to working on taxes, as a sure sign we're ready to play too.

So when the woman who was looking in on her in our absence reported "I think she's bored," we were struck by dread. We imagined coming home to a house with all paper items spindled or serrated, and a lot of progress on her ongoing Gravity Project, wherein every household item is relocated to the lowest possible point. It's been a passion of Tater's for years, and she's grown accustomed to the noise.

So while Larry had no toys at all, Tater has a whole box of them. All of them, balls and mice and feathered doo-dads, are battered and flayed. When all the fuzzy mice start to look like mummified thumbs, Dave brings home a new set. He's calm about it. He's like the conductor of the cattle car heading to Auschwitz. It's not going to go well for the new mice.

The other day Dave came back with a new toy for Tater. It was a little stuffed gerbilly fellow, and he just had a good feeling about it. I had a bad feeling about it. She already has a stuffed kiwi bird, and she takes that out for a good disemboweling from time to time, after which I gather up and re-stuff the polystyrene guts and sew the bird back up, which always makes me feel like one of those evil dudes who re-creates virgins for a paying clientele. Tater ignored the gerbil.

But then one day Dave was taking a nap, or "watching golf," as he calls it, and I had stepped outside, and within seconds I started hearing this mournful low howl, rroowwWWRRrrooowwWWRRRrow, which sounded like a cat but certainly not our cat, who has a high squeaky voice. I was alarmed. I figured Tater had cornered something I didn't want to know about, or she had pulled the refrigerator over and pinned herself, or something, and I ran inside to find her cradling her gerbil. She instantly strolled away and emitted a normal squeak.

Now we hear the mournful low howl at least once a day, always accompanied by a surreptitious relocation of the gerbil, who remains unmarred. If you toss the gerbil, she does not run after it, but waits until we're not looking and removes it to a different room. Obviously she cares deeply about the little fellow.

I think it's ridiculous, having such strong protective feelings about a stuffed animal. Pootie thinks it's stupid too, but then again he thinks cats in general are stupid.

61 comments:

  1. I've just moved into a place where the previous resident must have fed every stray, and pet, cat in the neighborhood. Of course, I felt it my duty to carry on with this important mission but didn't realize it involved so many cats. However, I think my little dog, Skeeter, has pretty well cleared out the interlopers so that now I'm down to the really hard core vagrants who live under the house and by-God ain't leaving. Hopefully, Skeeter and the squatters will soon reach an accord.

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    1. You have my permission as a bird-lover to trap the squatters in any way you can imagine and I won't ask what you do with them, either.

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  2. The late and lamented Medlyn had a Gonk. He loved that Gonk. When we moved to our current house we found it in a box which we had started unpacking, and gave it to him. He gave us a look of complete disgust, picked it up and carefully put it back in the box. No wonder neither of us remembered putting it there...

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    1. I love that story too, EC, not least for the words Medlyn and Gonk!!

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    2. Bruce, I forget--do you have a cat? I know you have a Boston.

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  3. I think it's sweet that Tater loves her gerbil. My daughter's cat just loves her food, nothing else, nobody else.

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    1. So, as a pet, she's just a kibble hoover. I think I like a little more liveliness. Not TOO much liveliness--it's a fine balance.

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    2. She is old, about 13 I think, but quick enough to slash at you when you pet her and hit a sore spot. She still fights off intruding cats that dare enter her yard.

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    3. Hey! She and I have that in common. I'll hose any cat in my yard. That would include my own, if she even thinks about getting out. [sound of birds applauding]

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  4. Just wondering how Pootie protects himself from Tater's fierce attentions?

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    1. See, that's the thing. She has never molested Pootie or his best friend Hajerle or poor little Scooter, who is Pootie's minion. She differentiates. I have no explanation for it.

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  5. A love affair she doesn't want you to know about, yet one she cannot give up.

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  7. Hey, cats are vicious predators by nature -- just consider the behavior of their larger African cousins towards zebras, wildebeest, and the occasional careless tourist. Humans first domesticated them to kill off real mice back when the latter were a serious threat to the food supply rather than long-suffering lab animals. It's amazing cats don't do more damage than they do.

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    1. Oh they do plenty. Speaking of lab mice--I was a serious threat to them once. I don't dare say how much.

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  8. My Tigger has all manner of store-bought toys but his favorite is a wadded up tiny ball of paper. Or an empty box. He's like Maru the famous internet cat, he'll hop in and out of an empty box, entertaining himself for minutes (which is hours in cat-time). His other cat toys he pretty much ignores, except to bring them to me in the middle of the night, leaving them by the side of the bed where I find them with my bare feet. It always feels like stepping on a dead mouse which jerks me wide awake. Just what you want at 2 a.m.

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    1. If I stepped on a dead mouse at 2am at least I wouldn't have to go pee anymore.

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  9. Pootie and I are of one mind.

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    1. You should be proud, and a little alarmed.

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  10. Stepping on a real dead mouse is squishier than you might think. And a little crunchy. Not a thing to do barefoot. Easier to clean off than stepping on a slug barefoot, though.

    You might consider getting Tater a goldfish. Deep, heavy narrow bowl so she can't tip it over. Hours of entertainment for cat and people. Have you considered those cat-entertainment videos? A bored Tater could be a dangerous thing.

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    1. They have videos for cats now? Three Blind Mice? Tom & Jerry cartoons, maybe? Horror movies about dogs? There's always some new niche market.

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    2. I have such a vivid memory of stepping on a slug barefoot when I was a kid that I never go barefoot anymore. I almost ralphed on the spot.

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  11. Every cat is a wonder. Our current guy, Toby, is addicted to ping pong balls. He lost them in impossible places and hung there mournfully until someone sent a grand child under the sofa or behind the cabinet for the ping pong ball.

    I messed with his mind: I bought him a gross. He extracted just one from the package. "I know where I can get 143 more, lady."

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    1. He messed with your mind. Of course, with Tater, who likes to stash mice under the fridge, it would only take an extra ten minutes to stash the other 143.

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  12. "Tater, on the other hand, does not give one shiny shit about food"

    shiny shit is cracking me the hell up!

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    1. I'm starting to think you're easy. But I like that in a reader!

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  13. Are you sure it's not a case of Tater experiencing ... uh ... how can I put this delicately ... a particular brand of FONDNESS ... for her new petite friend??

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    1. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

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    2. Except that we both know it will only end in a broken heart for Tater.

      Maybe Pootie's jealous. That would explain a few things.

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  14. Evil dudes who ...do WHAT? Not an image I like to begin my day.

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    1. Horrible image, but with a basis in fact. Sorry hon.

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  15. We have two cats--Baxter is three and last year we got him a kitten. There were a few days when we worried that it had been a very bad idea, but then things calmed down. Baxter's favorite thing is the small plastic bag with a button in it that comes with some shirts or blouses. He absolutely, devotedly loves it and carries it all over the house.
    We have a basket full of official cat toys, but the button and bag are da bomb as far as he is concerned.
    Cats be crazy.

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    1. The first week we had Tater, we were 100% ready to take her back as defective. Not defective exactly but way more cat than we'd been counting on. Either she calmed down or we got used to her. Now she's Dave's best little buddy. I'm still waiting for the reincarnation of Larry.

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  16. My Tribble was too cool to play. He had toys that he ignored, and when I tried to engage him, he'd humor me for a minute and then just sit there and look at me as if I were the village idiot. The only thing that ever got him going was a paper "Chinese yoyo", and even that was only a brief fascination. I always felt that he was a failure in his obligation to entertain me, but now I realize that he no doubt thought the same thing about me.

    I like Dave's interpretation of "watching golf". I have a similar reaction to football.

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    1. I do think there is a failure in his obligation to entertain you. All pets should be entertaining. In their own ways. I prefer mine to be downright hysterical, and so far they've all come through.

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  17. The Gravity Project! Re-virginized cat toys! Delightful, and a nice piece of validation for owners of highly mediocre dogs.

    P.S. Tater clearly has used the standard-issue occult powers to animate a Frankengerbil. Beware, Pootie and minions.

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    1. I just had the most vivid image of coming back from a walk and finding the house busting full of gerbil, like Alice when she ate the mushroom. Thanks for that.

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  18. Once you've had a cat as a roommate, you kind of understand things like yodelling with a mouthful of gerbil.

    When we got Holly, she was a year and a half old, living in a crate in the local no-kill shelter, her litter and her food two feet from each other. No idea what her life was like before that but she had no concept of play so I bet it wasn't much fun. Balls, catnip mice, fuzzy mice, corks...all just sat gathering dust in her toy basket.

    Then one night about 2 a.m. nine years after she had come to live with us, I heard the gawdawfullest racket in the living room: thumping, banging, chirruping, squawking. crashing. I staggered down the hall, slammed on a light expecting to find the cat having a seizure. Instead I found every single toy in her basket scattered around the room and their owner trying to look nonchalant in the middle of all of it.

    The "play" switch had finally flipped to the on position.

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    1. What a great, great, great, great story. I know. Just when you think you've got them all figgered out.

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  19. I bought one of those toys advertised on TV (Cat's Meow) that looked like it would entertain my 2 cats. When it arrived I immediately put in the batteries and set it on the floor. The cats both stood nearby staring at this thing which looked like a 2 ft round and flat yellow space ship. Eagerly I pressed the button to set it in motion. A little arm with a ball which has a tail underneath the cloth spins around and is supposed to simulate a critter under it. The cats immediately jumped back and kept their distance. I left it on for about a half hour and all they did was stare, their little heads moving with the hidden critter. My eagerness faded and I turned it off. After it sat quiet for several minutes, the cats approached it and began reaching under the cloth for the critter. But when I turned it on again, they leap away like it was on fire. After 2 weeks, Mooshoo will finally play with it for maybe 3 minutes. Kala will lay on it when it is off. These csats do not know what fun is!!!!

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    1. I'm pretty sure Tater would react the very same way. She likes to have more control over her prey. Unless it's a moth, and then she's all over it.

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  20. My Millie (I rescued her as a kitten from under a dumpster) loved those mice too. But there was a special one she had gutted and all that was left was the furry hide. She treated that hide like her kitten. Gently moving it from one room to another, occasionally closets, she looked after it for weeks and weeks. Finally, her maternal instincts subsided and she drowned it in the water bowl every night.

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    1. Maybe that's a different kind of maternal instinct...

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  21. Hey Murr! I'm with Pootie, though I'm shocked and disgusted to discover that I'm warming up to cats. I'm losing it. Please send help. And pizza. Help WITH pizza. Yes, that will work.Indigo x

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    1. Someone once told me anyone who hates cats never had their own cat. Dave used to hate cats. Boy has he gone over. He assumed they weren't funny. Other people's cats aren't funny. I think you're just warming up to cats for Pearl's sake, dude.

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    2. Murr has it right (again). My partner came from a cat hating household and assumed he didn't like them. When I came home from work one day to find him carrying one of our cats from room to room so 'he can look out the windows from a different perspective' I knew the cats had him. Hook, line and sinker. (And that was Medlyn too.)

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    3. Okay now we need to know what Medlyn looked like.

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    4. Black and beautiful. One of his favourite poses was upside down in my lap with a coffee mug warming his belly. He was a cat of almost infinite charm - which he needed. His naughtiness was unparalled. If he thought we had been talking on the phone too long he would march down to the bathroom, pull the towels from the rail, and desecrate them.

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    5. I cannot resist an upside-down cat. That's how I chose my Larry. I picked her up and began petting her absently while looking at the other kittens at the Humane Society, and when I looked down again, it was a freckled belly I was petting.

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    6. A direct line - their bellies, our hearts.

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  22. My Smokey had a number of assorted toys...wads of aluminum foil, clothes pins, binder clips, twist ties, you name it. However, she was in love with my tripod. She would rub against it, purr like mad, lick it...seriously, it was like watching a pole dancer.

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  23. Thanks for visiting bluesky (canning peaches). Great blog. I didn't realize you wrote "Trousering..." hilarious.

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  24. I read somewhere that animals appear to be increasing in intelligence and compassion. I have a feeling a number of them have already overtaken a lot of people in that regard.

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    1. Of course, they can overtake people merely by us going in the other direction.

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  25. Like their human mama, your cats are a hoot. I have two cats, also. They are littler mates, now 14. Zephyr is a lazy old thing. He lives for belly rubs and food. He has been known to lie down to eat. Skittles on the other hand is every bit as much of a cuddler but he plays non-stop. He makes his own fun and has the energy of a kitten. Gotta love cats. Yours sound like they're a couple of sweeties.

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