That Darn Old Cat

Scooter the Siamese Cat backed into our herb garden, pointed his tail at the sky, and peed — on the herbs we use to flavor our food. Then he walked over to the catnip patch, rubbed his face against the catnip leaves, ran a half circle around the yard, climbed up the tree beside the deck, and jumped onto the deck. We like to see Scooter climb the tree to the deck — he is nearly 18 years old (that’s 90 in human years) and it shows that he can still get around. Tree climbing has become a necessary survival skill for cats in our neighborhood since the coyotes moved in. Our neighbor two houses down had six cats not long ago — now they have two. In the past we often saw stray cats traveling through the neighborhood; we haven’t seen a stray cat in months. The only good news for us is that Scooter doesn’t get in fights any more — there are no cats left to fight!

Several months ago we replaced the deck on the back of our house. To jump from the tree to the new deck required learning a new maneuver for Scoot and we hadn’t seen him "make the leap," so we were encouraging him. Ann was on the deck calling down to him to come up; I was on the ground watching. He climbed about eight feet up the tree, stopped, and quickly backed down the tree. He ran about 20 feet, stopped, and frantically started cleaning his fur. I was mystified by his failure to jump onto the deck, so I walked over to the tree and looked up. Around the tree trunk was a large spider web, with a big spider right in the middle of it. Scooter had detected the spider web, probably with his whiskers, and backed out. I can relate — I hate feeling a spider web on me, especially if there’s the possibility of a spider crawling around on my head or back. Scooter only weighs seven pounds, so a big spider could be a real problem — like you or me having a fanged, venomous rat stuck on us.

Scooter hates getting wet almost as much as spider webs. One sunny day last autumn Scooter had been out and away from the house for about two hours so I went out to check on him. I walked into the back yard and heard a squirrel clucking the predator alarm in the woods behind our house. Concerned about the possibility of a coyote, I stalked slowly along a big gully that runs down to the creek deep in the woods. I stopped to listen and heard a leaf rustle. I stopped for a moment and saw movement in the gully. Scooter came into view walking up the gully. He would take two steps, stop and shake a leg, take another two steps, shake another leg, and so on. As he got near, he scented me but he wasn’t happy to see me — he was pissed off! He was wet and mad about it. He had fallen in the creek! He didn’t want to be seen in such a sorry state — he found a sunny spot and licked all the horrible water off his fur. My guess is that some leaves were covering a pool and he thought it was solid ground.

Scooter prefers to lick something wet like grass or leaves when he is thirsty and outside — he is uncomfortable drinking from a large body of water. He probably can’t hear very well when he laps water from a lake or creek, which makes him vulnerable to attack. Also, if he is ambushed from behind while drinking from a lake, he is trapped. I prefer to think that he is genetically predisposed to avoid deep pools of water. His ancestors were jungle cats, where crocodiles inhabit the rivers. A cat would be a nice snack for a big crocodile, or a prize catch for a small one. Along with getting wet, he despises getting cold, but once he really surprised me.

One dark and dreary winter night several years ago we were having a sleet storm. (It was before Scooter was put on permanent curfew for fighting at night. At that time he had a cat door to the outside and could go out at any time. Almost every morning at daybreak he would go out for about an hour and then come back to the bed with us.) On this particular morning, the howling wind woke me up right at dawn. I couldn’t sleep and for some reason I went downstairs. I looked out on the deck and saw a most unusual sight. Scooter was on the deck, stretched out on the railing, facing into the wind with sleet bouncing into his face. The temperature was about 25 degrees, and the wind was blowing about 20 mph, which means the wind chill was about zero. Scooter seemed to be enjoying the blizzard — I had to go out and pick him up to get him inside. He had ice frozen in his fur.

Why does a cat get underfoot while you are walking? Scooter takes that annoying cat quirk to new depths. When you are carrying something that blocks your view of the floor (like a television) down the stairs, Scooter will run to get right in front of you. And STOP!!! Just before you step on him, he will squall and you will stumble. Once we had two strong guys come up to my office on the second floor to carry a heavy filing cabinet to the basement. Scooter always hides when strangers, especially large men, come into the house. As soon as they picked up the filing cabinet and got to the top of the stairs, Scooter ran out of the master bedroom and got under their feet.

Not long ago I had a client meeting with me in my home office. She told me that she is allergic to cats. I told her that our cat is deathly afraid of strangers and that she would never see him. Within minutes Scooter trotted into my office, started rubbing against her legs, and wanted to jump in her lap! I had to call Ann to come get him and carry him away. He protested vigorously. My client was starting to have an allergic attack as she left.

Although Scooter misses the freedom of the cat door and lets us know about it at every opportunity, we had good reason to restrict his freedom. No more being awakened by cats yowling and having to run outside at 2am to break up a fight because Scooter has found a unwelcome feline on his territory and he is telling intruder how badly he is going to beat his butt. Scooter is a little cat with a very loud voice — common with the Siamese breed. It is a most unpleasant wake up call. The migration of coyotes into our area is another reason we don’t want Scooter out at night. Oddly enough, Scooter has never accepted that we won’t let him out at night. He sleeps until dusk and then goes to the door and loudly demands to go out. I believe that the human distinction between day and night is not obvious for cats, because they can see so well in the dark.

Last year the very loud pre-fight yowling of two cats getting ready to tangle woke me up from a deep sleep. Scooter, with no way to go outside, was in the bed with us. I went to my bathroom — the two cats were about 20 feet below my bathroom window. Soon after I arrived, the rough stuff started. The awful sounds of a fierce fight ensued, and I could feel the impact of their struggle as they tumbled through one of Ann’s flowerbeds. The fighting continued across the yard and into the woods. The next day I went to the scene of the fight — about 18 feet of flowers were flattened and shredded. Chunks of white fur were scattered all over the ground. Cats can be sweet, lap–loving animals or incredibly vicious, and they have the tools to be killers: lightning fast reflexes and 16 built–in switchblades backed up by sometimes poisonous bites. They can be very destructive to each other (the dark secret about cats — they hate most other cats!). I don’t miss the days of rushing Scooter to the emergency vet to get him sewn up. I was especially glad he wasn’t mixed up in the fight I heard that night.

Scooter doesn’t have to be outside to create havoc while we are sleeping. One day I said to Ann "I’m glad Scooter doesn’t every throw up while he’s on the bed." (He eats grass in the yard and comes in and regurgitates on our carpet far too often.) Well, you know what happens when you make a statement like that — it doesn’t take long for it to boomerang. About 4am I was awakened by the violent heaving of a cat about to spew on the middle of our bed. I grabbed him behind the front legs and started running for my bathroom. (It takes great skill to pick up a cat and run with him when he doesn’t want to be picked up. He gets very sticky, like a porcupine, and will scratch you like a thorn bush if you don’t have exactly the right hold.) So I was barely awake and running with my arms extended straight out in front of me holding Scooter, who was heaving and had all four legs wind milling with his claws out. I ran into the bathroom and dropped him in the bathtub. Then I tried to compose myself, feeling some relief about saving the bed from the puker. Of course, Scooter kept jumping out of the tub, indignant about the rough treatment. It was only after I walked back into the bedroom and stepped in something wet that I turned on the light. The trail of cat barf on the carpet extended from the bed to the bathroom.

When Scooter really gets upset because we won’t let him out at night, we race to burn off his excess energy. I call him to the basement — he knows what I’m up to — and as soon as I think I can get the jump on him, I run as fast as I can to the second floor. It is amazing how Scooter the old cat can get to the top of the stairs on the second floor first. He delights in outrunning me.

One morning — when he had a cat door to the outside — Scooter woke me up as he came in from an excursion at daybreak and snuggled against my beard (furry things stick together). I could feel moisture from the dew on his legs. I went back to sleep. That morning I got a haircut. When I returned home, I looked in the mirror to check out my haircut. I saw something strange just inside the top of my ear. I looked closely and it was a TICK!!! Scooter had brought it in and it had crawled over to me. (Several times I’ve had dozens of chiggers bites, from the same source.) I was not elated when I realized that I had gotten a haircut with a tick in my ear. My barber didn’t mention it to me, but I’m sure he had something to talk about after I left.

April 9, 2000

P.S. Tomorrow is Scooter’s 18th birthday. Unfortunately, the last three months have not been the best for him, health wise. He’s finally acting his age — he’s moving more slowly, making fewer trips to the deep woods, avoiding fights, and not hunting anymore (the same could be said for me!). We hope warm weather will see him return to good health. Perhaps he hasn’t used all of his nine lives.