The Thinker

My nemesis the cat

I must be a very bad pet owner.

We have two rather geriatric cats. They recently turned seventeen years old. They were purchased in early 1987 as something of a house warming present for ourselves. We had purchased our town house six months earlier and weren’t planning children any time soon.

We had managed to find another home for a rather neurotic cat left over from my wife’s single days and were petless. Dixie, the previous cat, was a very large, extremely beautiful but very neurotic cat. She insisted on sleeping with us (because my wife let him), in the process usually taking up most of my side of the bed. I’ve noticed extremely beautiful people tend to be self centered and neurotic but was surprised that the same seemed to be true of gorgeous cats. This was a cat who was either asleep or licking itself. No one could see Dixie without being immediately drawn to him. This factor worked in our favor when we wanted to find him a new home: he was snapped up by the first person who came over to check him out.

But my wife was used to having furry things around the house and after a couple months she was desperate to have another cat. How could I tell? Perhaps it was because she was wandering around the house saying “Got to have a cat!” all the time. I got the message. This time though she wanted to start with a kitten. The only problem was there were no kittens available and she couldn’t wait. We eventually found some kittens at a Doctors Pet Center in Tysons Corner: three kittens from the same litter. It was pretty much take it or leave it.

Sprite, the good cat
I noticed Sprite right away: a lovely grey and white cat that even at 10 weeks old had a sweet and mellow disposition. Terri noticed Squeaky, the girl cat in the litter. I wasn’t wild about Squeaky but I naively thought two cats from the same litter could become playmates and they would be happier that way.

Clearly I didn’t have much experience with cats! Except for a parakeet, I came from a petless household. I have since learned to never project this feeling on a cat: cats don’t particularly want other cats around. In retrospect we all agreed it would have been better to have gone home with just Sprite. I think Squeaky too would have been much happier. But we were young and foolish so both of them came home.

Squeaky was originally named Pixel. Pixel and Sprite were both computer graphics terms, and I owned a Commodore 64 at the time, so it seemed appropriate. Squeaky’s true personality asserted itself immediately. She is a “never shut up” sort of cat, and she sounded exactly like a door pivoting on a rusty hinge. So Squeaky she became. She answered to it; she never responded to Pixel.

During those brief weeks when they actually seemed like kittens it was Squeaky who was aloof. She wanted nothing to do with us humans. So I kept picking up and playing with Sprite instead and Squeaky went into the corner and ignored us, except at dinner time, or when she wanted to bellow, which was most of the time. We’re not sure why she bellowed. She bellowed at the moon. She bellowed at a fleck of dust. She bellowed I believe because she missed the sound of her own bellowing. After we brought our baby Rosie home from the hospital Squeaky decided that getting up four times a night was simply not enough, and made sure to bellow outside our bedroom door the rest of the time. (We agreed not to let them sleep with us. We still throw them out at night.) Sprite however turned into a sweet, lovey-dovey cat who liked nothing more than to sit forever on your lap while you gently stroked him and he dug his claws into your legs. (I learned to wear heavy jeans most of the time.)

Squeaky, the act from Hell

After a year or two though Squeaky began to figure out that being aloof wasn’t quite what she wanted. She wasn’t the center of attention. So she inserted herself into our lives. We tried our hardest to be nice to her and to pet her and to give her positive attention. But she has always been a nervous Nellie. She was incapable of relaxing. If you put her on your lap she would immediately shift, and shift, and shift, and get up, and yell in your face, and shift … you get the idea. She had to be IN YOUR FACE. Eventually we couldn’t take it anymore so we threw her off our laps. No matter. She’d immediately jump up on our laps again. We’d throw her off. On and off. So it went on this endless round robin and eventually we were yelling at her and she was yelling at us and we entered into classic dysfunctional relationship. It seemed unlikely Squeaky would be amenable to therapy.

Squeaky cannot be satisfied. Ten minutes of lap sitting and she wants twenty. Twenty and she wants forty. Two hours and she won’t be satisfied by four. I have repeatedly tried to figure out if there was any end to the amount of attention she craved. All my experiments have demonstrated it is bottomless. And now it is all these years later and she is still the same way, except she is much older and is now thin as a rail and bulimic. Much of her life, when she isn’t yelling at us, involves eating food and immediately throwing up. I’d think she had some sort of terrible condition, but she’s been doing this for many years.

I make sporadic attempts to be nice to her hoping that maybe her brain will finally reprogram itself. I don’t want to have two to four incidents of daily cat gorp to clean up. I try to put her on my lap and I won’t let her move hoping she’d figure out she needs to sit still if she wants to be on my lap. Immediately she starts moving around and twitching. Sometimes it works for a little while, but thirty minutes later old patterns reassert themselves and she is howling and demanding attention again.

Squeaky has become our nemesis. I open the front door and she is there at the crack yelling at me. Invited or not she follows me around the house. I only feed her in the morning but no matter if I am in the kitchen she figures I must be getting ready to feed her and will follow me around yelling at me seemingly upset that I’m not dishing out kitty caviar. She is always underfoot. We’ve all tripped over her innumerable times. We don’t know how she has survived this long. We don’t know how we have managed to restrain ourselves from kitty homicide. We’ve offered her to all our friends and even strangers. No one will take this cat. She is psycho-kitty.

The stress is too much for Squeaky. She engages in nervous habits. She repeatedly licks her fur near her tail and manages to lick most of it off. She won’t take care of herself. She looks awful. I know I must be a bad pet owner but I can’t think of what else I am supposed to do about her. At this point I think just letting her live is a supreme gesture of humanity on my part, but maybe she’d actually prefer to be put down. I doubt most pet owners would last a year with this cat.

Sprite meanwhile remains the perfect cat. He never demands attention, he only gently inquires. He is content to sit on my lap for hours and gently be stroked. Squeaky observes us with great jealousy but never figures out it that if she were to emulate her brother’s behavior she would be treated the same way.

If ever there were a case for putting a cat on Prozac, Squeaky would be it. So far we haven’t gone that route but even her vet has suggested it as a possibility. Maybe it has come to that. This is a cat that deserves some peace. Apparently no one can give it to her, so keeping her medicated all the time may be a blessing to all of us.

It is now many years later that I realize both cats were misnamed. If I had to do it over again Sprite, the good lap kitty would be named Jeckyl. Squeaky of course would be Hyde.

Over the intervening years Terri has learned that she allergic to cats. We don’t have the heart to get rid of them so she takes lots of antihistamines to deal with it. Both cats are strictly indoor cats, but they must be reaching the end of their natural lifespans. I’ll miss Sprite dreadfully when he dies. I never bonded so well with an animal before. But try as I might I’ll never forget Squeaky. She is one of these unforgettable characters who should be written up in Readers’ Digest. I’ll probably just be relieved when she passes into kitty heaven. I might even sing “Ding, dong the wicked witch is dead!”


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