violetcheetah: (Default)
I started working with Precious almost two years ago at the shelter "tricking" her into realizing that petting was awesome; before that, she'd been there three years, and a few people occasionally "petted" her with a brush, but I don't know that even that happened that often. When I started working with her, I began by brushing, and learned that if you made her purr, she drooled. She drooled even more extravagantly once I could pet her for real with my fingers. I adopted her a little over a year ago, so I could now spend more than 15 minutes at a time with her, and two things happened: (1) I coined the term "spitsicle" for the up-to-two-inch strands of drool that would sometimes hang from her mouth; and (2) I discovered that if you petted her for about half an hour, she would eventually stop drooling — not, it seemed, because she stopped being happy, but because she would figure out to swallow occasionally.

Precious does not drool anymore. Maybe a drop or two when I first start petting her, but she no longer ends up with strings like a Saint Bernard. She's taught herself to unthinkingly swallow WHILE she purrs, like, you know, any normal cat.

One theory about why some cats drool when they purr is that they were weaned too early, so their brains are still stuck associating happy/purr with food. Makes sense; I mean, that's why adult cats knead, that leftover association with nursing. But then, why do most kittens learn not to drool when they are kittens? Is it because most other cats purr a lot OTHER than when they are nursing as kittens? Do housecat kittens learn because they purr more because they get petted all the time? Precious, before she was in the shelter, and then for three years after that, did not get petted. And so, apparently, other than maybe an occasional snuggle with another feline resident at the shelter, she … she didn't purr. And the occasional snuggle was likely not as marvelously ecstatic as petting. Is she that unusual? Are most cats wired such that nothing makes them happier than human petting — not food, not mutual grooming, not being nursed on by their kittens? Maybe when they themselves are kittens, their mother grooming them is equally wonderful; maybe, for the brief time "the act" takes, copulation brings an emotional ecstasy along with the physical. But other than that, maybe for some cats — most? — nothing in the world compares to an ear rub or a chin scritch by a human being. Maybe that's because we domesticated them and they evolved that way, or maybe part of why they were able to be domesticated is that we humans happen to caress them in a way that is reminiscent of their mothers' grooming. Either way, the result is this: perhaps many cats — most cats? — can never achieve their highest potential happiness without a person. Contentment, yes; but not unrestrained joy, not half an hour at a time of rolly-squirmy-kneady return-to-kittenhood when the world was perfect and safe and nothing bad had ever happened and never would.

Precious used to drool. I thought it was because her brain was miswired. But now she doesn't drool. Because she learned. Because in the last year, she's had an opportunity to learn — to learn something that she apparently didn't have the opportunity to learn in the previous six years or so of her life. I'm so happy for her it makes me cry. And at the same time, I grieve for the countless cats — feral, stray, or just "benignly" neglected — who will never return to kittenhood and never be nearly as happy as they could have been.




violetcheetah: (butler)
Thirty days ago, as I wrote about at the time, I adopted a new cat, Precious; she'd been at the shelter where I volunteer for three years without allowing anyone to pet her, until I started working with her and essentially tricked her into allowing touch.  I am borrowing a kennel-type cage until she's ready to explore, and while I've been leaving it open at times, she's not yet ready to venture into the first actual home she's ever been in.  I'm sure it will come with time.  Until then, I do what I often do with kitties at the shelter, and clamber inside the cage to pet her.  And on that front:

She loves belly rubs, but sometimes she's too antsy to lie still for one.  I'd been occasionally rubbing her belly while she was standing, my other hand rubbing her neck.  Then I started lifting her front half up an inch or so sometimes, just to get her used to the concept.  Then one day, she was on the fleece on the floor of the cage instead of on the hammock-shelf.  And I pressed my luck: I let her turn her back, and then I lifted her slightly and pulled/walked her backwards into my lap.  She didn't stay, but she didn't freak out.  I tried again a couple of minutes later, and she paused longer before leaving.  The third time, she didn't leave immediately, and after 30 seconds or so, she slowly, suspiciously settled in.  She stayed for nearly 5 minutes, partly because I managed to refrain from giggling in shocked, hysterical glee.

Now I put her in my lap every time she's on the floor of the cage instead of on the hammock-shelf.  And she stays, for half an hour or more.  Including, the last couple of times, lying sideways enough that I can rub her belly. She can only enjoy belly rubs lying on her left side, so she ends up facing me, so I could see last night as her eyes got that drunken, half-closed look.  Then, for a solid minute, her eyes closed entirely.  It's the first time I've ever petted her when her eyes were closed.  

I've realized that, in a lot of ways, she reminds me of Butler: the type of caution about anything new, the befuddledness of her face, even the texture of her fur, so soft it's like a plush toy.  Looking at her face with her eyes closed, I could see Butler again, feeling him sitting in my lap, settling into contentment and letting go of vigilance.  I miss him dearly.  I love her dearly, for her own self, but I'm also so grateful that she can bring him back so clearly in my mind.  That will fade, I know, and eventually her face will not remind me of another.  There's a way I'm grieving now for that loss, too, for the day when my memories of him will be memories of memories, not ghosts but just wisps of fog that look a little ghostly.  So for now I treasure the pain of the strength of the memories, smile and cry at the same time, and think, "This is right; this is what I should feel."


violetcheetah: (butler)
I did not choose Butler. And no, he did not choose me.

I went to the Animal Rescue League in Dedham, a week after I'd put Kia to sleep. She died at the tail end of the Great Depression, and the drugs were starting to work, but I was still too muted to feel anything like joy or even contentment yet. And then she died, a year after Jenner, and being muted wasn't that bad, because the grief for her was quieter than it had been for Jenner. Of course, she was a quieter cat, less needy, less volatile, and her absence wasn't as blatant.

I was not sure I wanted another cat. I didn't really want anything, because the drugs hadn't yet kicked in to the point where I felt desire or drive. But more, I wasn't sure I had the energy left to love another cat. Or more, the emotional capacity. It takes effort to love, and just thinking about starting over with a stranger made me tired. I remember seriously thinking that I might not have the ability to love something, that maybe that was gone forever. Maybe it wasn't a matter of wanting; maybe I shouldn't subject a cat to my apathy. And definitely not a kitten. There was no way I needed a kitten. But maybe an adult, I thought. I didn't really want, but I knew I probably needed another cat, regardless of whether I could love it as it deserved, and of course even considering it that way made me feel guilty. But I realized I needed to be selfish; I needed to do whatever I could to stay functional. It was a chore, but I would at least go to a shelter and see what happened. If I fell in love, great; if not, I'd go it alone.

I went with Michele, both because she had a car and because as my housemate, she should have some say.

And I loved the first cat I saw when I entered the room at the shelter. But she was a long-hair, and I'm too lazy to maintain that much fur. I walked farther down the aisle. And there was the cat. A demure little black girl, purring before I got close, rubbing against the bars of the cage, not in a frantic way, but almost contented: I have company, and that's all I need. She looked nothing like Kia, but there was something in her self-sufficiency that reminded me of Kia. And I'd always wanted a black cat. The way in the right light, all you can see of their face is their eyes; the regalness. I opened the cage, and she rubbed against my hand with self-assurance, appreciation without aching, demanding need.

Michele was farther down the row. I was not paying attention to her, because I was in thrall. At some point she said something like, "You should at least spend a little time with the other cats." So I left the black queen for a bit and took a cursory look at the others. "This guy, for instance," said Michele, kneeling in front of a lower cage. "He's a real sweetie." He was butting his head against her hand, a bit imperious, a bit too demanding. She moved aside so I could reach in, and he made a petulant "murp" noise at being left alone for 10 seconds. He was a tuxedo, black and white, and something about the markings on his face, almost symmetrical but not quite, gave him a constant expression of befuddlement and consternation. He was cute enough, but he didn't sing to my soul like the black girl. I looked back at her. "I don't know, I think she's the one."

I think Michele said a few other things encouraging me to give the others in the room more time, to be sure. But I knew. And then she said, "Have you considered getting two?" "Uh, would you be okay with that?" "Would one of them be this guy?" "Uh, that would kinda be the point." "Well, he needs to come home with us." And so that was that. He was an afterthought, at least for me. But Michele's own cat was old and cantankerous, and the new cat could be hers as much as mine, maybe more, since I didn't really have any feelings for him.

I renamed him Butler not just because he wore a tuxedo, but because he reminded me of Anthony Hopkins in "Remains of the Day," buttoned-up and confused by playfulness. He came home before Chess (the black queen) because she had to stay and get spayed. I missed her already, ached for her to be home. I sat down in my usual easy chair and put my laptop and lapdesk on my lap. Butler jumped up and stood between my thigh and the arm of the chair. He stared at the laptop with consternation, but with something else: an incredulousness. How dare this interloper take up residence in his seat? The laptop was Meathead, and my lap was Archie Bunker's chair, and there was a natural order to things, and no, this would. not. stand. He leaned his head down slightly and rubbed the corner of the screen, not marking it as his but shoving it out of the way.

"Uh, no. I have to work. That's how I pay for your adoption fee and your food and the litter you pee in. There's plenty of room beside me." It was a large chair, and there was a good foot between my hip and the chair arm. I pushed him gently back so he was comfortably nested in, petted his head to indicate my approval, and started typing. He stayed meatloafed against me for maybe two minutes. He put his chin on my leg, his nose against the lapdesk, for maybe another two minutes. Then he moved his face forward. It seemed like there was an engine, a means of propulsion, in his forehead, and his body just followed. He wasn't so much trying to shove the lapdesk off me as he was just trying to occupy its current space; if he could just get under it, that would apparently be a victory.

"Okay, fine." He was new, in a new house after being in a cage for some number of weeks or maybe months. Who knew what his life had been like before that. Also, he'd ended up coming to the home of someone who did not really care about him. I felt sorry for him. And I felt guilty for my inability to love him. Besides, going by my previous experience with other cats, he'd get bored in 10 minutes. I leaned forward to set the lapdesk and computer on the coffee table, and he was in my lap before I had straightened back up.

He purred. Loud and low and rattly, and somehow vaguely ominous: keep me happy, or else. Perhaps I just got that impression from the expression on his face, haughty and petulant, an expression that I knew probably had more to do with the markings than with his emotional state, but that I still couldn't ignore. But also, he stared at me, his eyelids slightly lowered, and lower in the middle as if he were frowning, which of course was impossible because he was a cat. I stared back. He didn't look away, and I thought I saw something other than the threateningness: not adoration, exactly, at least not of me, not of my face. It was the look God must have given after each of the first six days of the universe, when he finished his work and looked upon it and saw that it was good. This lap pleases me; you seem to be attached somehow to the lap, so I like you. At least so long as there is a lap. You're good; you can stay.

He did not care that I hadn't chosen him, did not feel betrayed or unloved or less than Chess. I had a good lap, and he was in it, and my feelings one way or the other didn't matter in the slightest to him. For entirely selfish reasons, he liked me. I was making him completely happy. And out of the blue, a wave of gratitude nearly washed me out to sea, nearly brought me to tears. I could give him everything he needed. He did not ask anything of me that I couldn't give. I did not have to change; I did not have to pretend. I was enough — even now, unfeeling, unloving, I was enough for him. It was a gift so huge I couldn't see the whole of it. I felt heavy and sleepy and wired and so light I could float away.

Butler proved to be a champion lap cat. He would stay until my butt had gone numb, and then, when I was about to tell him I had to move, he would curl his head so that his body was a crescent, with his forehead against my belly, and look at me with that one crazy eye. After a few days, when it became clear that this wasn't just a matter of being in a new home, I created a "desk" by putting a 3-foot-long shelf board across the arms of my chair, which were not sloped and which were fairly high — close to a foot from the top of my lap. I set my laptop on the board, and Butler could have my lap while I typed. For 13 years, for some part of pretty much every day that I wasn't out of town, from the duplex, to the house Michele bought, to my first condo, to the condo I live in now. My other cats benefitted from the arrangement, but only if he wasn't already occupying me; and if he wanted an occupied lap, he simply sat to the side and then steam-shoveled his way between the other cat and my abdomen until the interloper gave up and left. My other cats benefit now, after he's gone. They cannot take his place, but they take his place, and they do not care in the slightest that I might be conflicted, wishing it were him in my lap even while not wishing it weren't them. My feelings are unimportant. I have a good lap, and while they are in it, they are completely happy.



Three

Mar. 1st, 2014 09:11 pm
violetcheetah: (Default)
[Written May 22, 2013]

I started volunteering at a small cat shelter in November 2011. Precious had been at the shelter since July 2010. She came in as a mother cat, estimated to be about 2 years old — already too old to ever be socialized — and the reasons why she wasn't just spayed and released have been lost to time, but now she's, well, institutionalized. After nearly 3 years in the shelter, no one can touch her. But: she loves to be brushed. Her brush has been duct-taped to a two-foot-long stick, because that's as close as she'll allow a hand to get to her without freaking out. When she's being brushed, she purrs until she drools, falls over, rolls, lets you brush her belly.

I never really cared for Precious. It's odd, because I'm a sucker for scaredy cats. For the year and a third I've volunteered at the shelter, I've spend countless hours with dozens of unsocialized cats, sometimes doing nothing more for weeks than touching a nose, then learning that one spot on only one side of the neck that makes that one cat push against my hand against his will, or that this girl can't resist having her shoulder blades scratched. And many of them get adopted, and it's bittersweet because I miss them, but it feels so good when the untouchable cat seeks you out, then makes in impression on a stranger and gets to have a whole house, a whole human, to himself. I love it. But for some reason, I never tried with Precious. Maybe it was just that tortoiseshells don't do it for me aesthetically; maybe it was just that there were others who were younger, seemed less settled, seemed like they had a chance. Maybe it was that there were other people who spent time with her, had spent time with her for years, now, and it hadn't mattered.

I had an idea four weeks ago. It was something I'd tried with Caleb, another cat who hadn't let anyone touch him but who liked being brushed. Ages ago, my friend had bought a double-thickness fake-fur mitten from Petco, big as an oven mitt, so that she could wrestle with one of her cats who loved to play-fight but didn't know not to use his claws. Unfortunately, the glove wigged him out and he'd run away, so it sat unused in a drawer for years until I brought it to the shelter. I also bought a pair of cheap, stiff leather work gloves. First with Caleb, now with Precious, I donned a work glove, then put the mitt on over it, so that when she inevitably freaked out and lashed out, as Caleb had, her claws wouldn't penetrate.

I didn't hold a lot of hope. Caleb had only been about 9 months old when I started working with him. Precious was probably 5 years old. The first weekend, I spent fifteen minutes at a stretch with her, several times each night, brushing her with one hand, resting the other one — in the doubled gloves — on the cage shelf. I moved the gloved hand a little occasionally, kept brushing. That Sunday, I had a chance and I took it. Her head was to the left of the brush-on-a-stick that was in my left hand, with the gloves on my right hand. I brushed her neck and cheek, and then rested the gloved hand on her back. She's no dummy, and the glare she gave me and my gloved hand said so. But: brush, cheek, yeah, right there, hey, there's something on my back and it's, wait, ear, yes, ear please, hey, what's on my... oh, fine, whatever.

I only work at the shelter on weekends, so it was six days before I was back. That weekend, we went from the gloved hand simply resting on her back during brushing, to the gloved hand stroking her back in unison with the brush stroking her neck and shoulders. This garnered more dirty looks, but finally resignation. Sunday, I started with the brush stroking her cheek while the glove petted her back, but then after a few minutes I moved the brush aside and rubbed her cheek with the gloved hand. Her eyes burned with the fires of hell, but she couldn't help herself. Even her cheek couldn't help itself; it would push slightly against the glove, and she would glare at me with reproach — perhaps mixed with self-reproach — pull her head back a little, but then slowly relax back to her original position.

The next Saturday, I moved the gloves to my left hand, rubbing her neck and shoulders with the glove. And then rested my bare right hand on her back. Over the course of the night, I stroked her back a little, a little more, always in unison with the gloved hand on her neck. She glared at me, and then — maybe I'm reading too much into it, but still — she seemed to deliberately turn her head away from me, so she couldn't see my bare hand.

Sunday, I started the night with the gloved hand and the bare hand. Then I pulled the gloved hand back. The first couple of sessions, she turned her head away, and I had a pretty strong worry that when she did finally see my bare hand on her back... well, I've never had stitches yet. But by the end of the night, she saw. She wasn't pleased when she saw, and she turned away again to ignore me, but she didn't freak out.

The next Saturday, I didn't even ease into it. Opened the cage, showed her my bare hand, let her glare, set it on her back. Waited. Stroked her back just an inch or so. Did it again. The third time, she turned her head away, and when I moved up to her neck, she leaned into it. She was still glaring at the wall behind her, but she was purring. We did this several times that night, and the next. She was restless, flinching sometimes when I moved abruptly or touched her cheek, but then leaning into my fingers five seconds later. Then she got more restless. Half-standing, meatloafing back down, tucking paws in, reaching out to knead, falling over, immediately standing back up and glaring. Then, late on Sunday, she fell over onto her side and stayed there. Her back was to me. I petted the side of her round belly. She twitched, perhaps mad, perhaps ready to strike, and I tried not to tense up as I thought about stitches. But she didn't stop purring as I kept petting her. And then she stretched, rolled just a little so I could get to her belly itself, still half-turned-away. One paw kneaded the blanket, one paw kneaded the air, and I stood rubbing the belly of a feral cat that no one could touch.

I was floating above my shoulder. My mind seemed to dig its claws into my collarbone to keep from leaving completely, because the joy was so strong it hurt. My eyes stung, and I concentrated on not sobbing, on breathing without whimpering, my mouth open to pull in air silently and let it out. This was real, but it couldn't be real, because nothing this perfect was real, as perfect as my daydreams about it had been, and nothing real is as perfect as the daydream. But in the daydream, my arm wasn't screaming with cramping pain from being held straight out in front of me with no support under it for 15 minutes.

***
[Written Wednesday, February 26]

When I wrote that in May, I did not know I would be starting a job in August that meant working weekends and giving up volunteering. I thought when I wrote that in May that it was the start of months of wonderful work with Precious, socializing her to the point where maybe someone, someday, would adopt her. She'd been destined to spend the rest of her life in the shelter, which is a nice enough place, but I wanted her to want more. But I had to work weekends, and that meant getting to the shelter once every few weeks as a treat. I still petted her when I went, and Michele worked with her when she was in on weekends, and a few others could pet her. But she plateaued socially. It was my biggest regret about leaving: I'd made her start to want, and then left her hanging.

I didn't know that one of my cats would be diagnosed with cancer in October and have to be put to sleep in February. I didn't know another of my cats would have to be put to sleep without warning in December. I went from a four-cat household to two in two months. I have room, physical room in my condo. A dining table that I never use except to stack sewing projects on, just the right size for a kennel-cage for a few weeks until she gets used to a new place. I have room.

She went to the vet's yesterday for her rabies shot. And then she came home. I didn't expect her to want attention for a while, prepared myself to let her be and give her time and not burst into tears when a week went by and she still hated me. She let me rub her neck yesterday afternoon. She purred. Last night, she gave me her belly, and when she raised her head for a minute, a drop of drool plopped on the blanket under her cheek. This morning she'd moved from the small carrier up onto the hammock shelf, which means she's feeling secure enough to be partly in the open, and also means I can climb into the cage and sit and pet her without my neck and shoulders cramping. I still need to steel myself for regression, and steel myself for joy, and the tears that both will bring. The joy even now is dagger-sharp in my ribs, makes me forget to breathe. But she is home. She is where, a year ago, I didn't know she would belong.



violetcheetah: (chess)
I wrote the following the day after Chess died last Monday, with light editing the next day. Time to post it.

-----


I put Chess to sleep Monday night.

Sunday before I left for work at noon, Chess wasn't interested in eating, although she finally had a few bites. She's had a couple of days like that in the last few weeks since the cancer grew back, but they were false alarms. Still, I knew I was closer now than those times. But it's not like I can take off work every day I worry about her. Work was okay as long as there was something to do, but we ran out of mail to process before the first break, even, and I was too unfocused to read my book, so I listened to music with my noise-blocking earbuds even though it isolates me and can lead to a sensory-deprivation shutdown, but I did it because at least then if you keep moving your hands, it's in time to something, or people watching as least think it's in time to whatever you hear. It got me through that first quarter of the day, and through break, and work picked up afterwards, but then after maybe 45 minutes we were out of mail again. This time my hands weren't moving. it was hard to move at all: my body, my mind, both hard to move, dangerous to move. The day was not yet half over, and I thought, I can't get through the rest of the day if it's like this, thoughts of Chess at the edge but not looking, and I finally got up and found Mary, the supervisor, and asked if it would be a problem if I went home, and she said no, it'd be fine. So I went home, and Chess came to her food dish like she always does when I get home, because she only checks for food if someone is there at the dish, so I put out fresh food, and she sniffed, hesitated, and walked away. I busied myself cleaning the living room and dining nook, and she would walk into the kitchen for food, but then walk away without eating. Then she sniffed the water bowl and walked away without drinking. I knew then, with the water, the way she walked two feet and then turned and sat and stared at the bowl, which was betraying her somehow by not having something she wanted. I didn't admit that I knew until tears were falling on the floor by the water bowl while I rubbed her head. I knew. I didn't want to pester her, and the urge to follow her and coax was so strong my fingers curled. So I went to michele's to watch tv like we'd planned to do. I didn't tell Michele. I came home, and Chess walked toward the kitchen, stopped five feet from her bowl, and sat for a minute, and then walked away. I emailed Michele and told her I'd probably need a ride to the vet's tomorrow, and told her why. If I had a car or a license, I'm not sure I would have said anything even then.

I called the vet when I woke up, and since Chess wasn't in pain or distress, they said it was less hectic at the end of the morning or the end of the day. Michele needed to go to work, so I made the appointment for 7:45. I've never made an appointment to put a cat to sleep. I never had advance notice, never had to choose a time or even make a decision; always it's been obvious, there's been no choice to make, really.

In the morning, she sat in my lap and purred while I rubbed her ear and cheek, but then it was too much, she often gets overstimulated or something, always has, and she left, looked for food, didn't want, came back to my lap, stayed longer while I only petted her a minute or so at a time, but then she left again, restless, sitting five feet from the food dish, five feet from the water bowl, wanting but not wanting what was there, maybe I read too much into it, but it seemed like she wanted to want, that she missed the longing for food, missed thirst. Restless. She lay on the bare floor, but she was restless each time I passed by. So I put up the shade on my bedroom window so the bed would be in the sunlight, and I set her there, and petted her for just a few seconds, stopping before she got restless again, and through most of the day, I just let her sleep. I wanted to spend the day just lying on the bed with her, but she wouldn't have stayed, would have been roused to restlessness again, and I knew, it would be less uncomfortable for her to just spend most of her last day unaware of time passing. So I left her alone, and I cleaned all day, petted her only if she was already awake, and then only for a minute or two. Twice I lay down across the bed, on the covers, and stayed for maybe five minutes, but I didn't dare stay longer. At around 7, I lay down again, for maybe 20 minutes, but for the most part I didn't pet her; I'd rub her ears for a minute or two, then just lie looking at the ceiling while she kept purring, rub her ears again for a minute. I left for 10 minutes, then came back and sat rubbing her until Michele got there.

I did right. I did what she needed, not what I wanted, and it should comfort me, but it doesn't. I want to feel guilty, somehow, I want that to fill the hole, or distract me from it.




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Violet Wilson

October 2016

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