Sunday, August 18, 2002

I thought I'd lost Katherine forever.

It amazes me how a series of innocent mistakes, which by themselves are harmless, can lead up to such tragedy when combined. Yesterday I had scheduled an appointment for Kat and Calypso to see the vet and get caught up on their vaccinations. Little did I know that this very responsible act toward the continued health of my cats would ironically lead to their potential demise.

I had problems getting Kat into the pet carrier. Usually I can lift her up and place her into the cage hind feet first with little incident. On this occasion, however, she felt the need to get defensive, shrieking and hissing like only a frightened, panicked cat can, contorting her body in a frantic attempt to free herself from my grasp. I winced as she tore two deep gashes into my wrist and leg, but was determined to get her into the pet carrier and arrive at the vet with time to spare. I was not hurting Katherine in any way, but I realized this 11-pound cat was besting her 235-pound owner and I knew I had to take control of the situation quickly. After managing to dismantle the pet carrier, I removed the top of it, placed Katherine on the exposed bottom half, and re-fastened the lid on top of her. She hissed from inside the carrier, shaking it back and forth with her body weight in a final act of defiance.

Already soaked in sweat, I next grabbed Calypso's pet carrier and slowly approached her. She was curious at first, but then, realizing that she too would be caged, began to shriek, claw and bite so suddenly that I was truly stunned. Why were my cats reacting so violently? Sure, my cats have never liked being placed in a pet carrier, but their current behavior was so uncharacteristically over-the-top that it left me dumbfounded. Quickly learning from the mistakes I had made with Katherine, I found a sheet, folded it over several times, and used that to wrap Calypso so that she couldn't claw at me or hurt herself. I placed the still shrieking, bundled Calypso into the second carrier, retrieved the sheet and fastened the carrier closed.

With two hissing, growling cats now subdued, I proceeded out the door with one carrier in each hand. When we arrived at my truck, I placed the two carriers on the truck bed cover while I retrieved my keys and unlocked the passenger door. I then activated the garage door opener, which further spooked the two cats. To my sheer horror, I saw Katherine use her weight to roll her pet carrier end over end until it fell off the truck, crashing onto the cement floor. My mind was reeling at this point --was Katherine hurt? How did she manage to roll herself off the truck? Why are my cats so petrified? It was then that I realized that Katherine's fall had caused the latch to her cage to jar loose --she was escaping!

In horror, I realized I had only milliseconds to run to the garage door opener on the far wall and close the door before Katherine escaped. But it was too late. Already she was out, racing frantically around the truck several times in a blind, mad dash. When I finally did activate the garage door, it refused to close because Katherine's presence had activated the electronic sensors that detect obstructions in the doorway.

Katherine was now free, loose on the world and panicked out of her mind.

I felt truly helpless. I stood there for several moments, watching Katherine dart around the back of my apartment building, then over into the neighboring building, unpredictably changing course several times. I watched as she leapt up a 4.5 foot retaining wall and into the lawn beyond; I watched as she rammed her head into a fence she had not seen, the momentum of her body lifting her hind end up in the air as the front came to an abrupt halt. She then raced off to the right, disappearing into the bushes. I thought that was going to be the last time I ever saw Katherine alive again.

On the verge of panic myself, a full five seconds transpired as I thought of a course of action. Is it too late to give chase? Will I ever find her? Will she run out into the busy street behind me and get hit by a car? Should I call someone for help?

I quickly realized that if Katherine had any chance, it was up to me. She had never before been outside untethered. For all five years of her life, Katherine had been an indoor cat, unaware of the harsh world outside. Here she was, running about aimlessly in a foreign world, exposed to all the elements and dangers that the outdoors could afford. She was alone. And so I ran.

Climbing the retaining wall, I ran into the direction I last saw her, calling out her name repeatedly, desperately. Was she already too far away? Could she still hear me? I came to an old Chevy S-10 rusting away in a neighbor's yard. Dropping to the ground, I peered into the shadows underneath. There she was. Katherine sat still, her body heaving rapidly, shivering in total fear. A dried leaf hung from one of her whiskers, but she paid it no mind. She remained there, looking around, waiting for nothing.

"It's okay, Katherine. Everything is okay," I said to her softly. She didn't seem to hear, even as I repeated it over and over again. Eventually it seemed as though I were reassuring myself. I knew that at any moment, Katherine could start running again, could escape into the brush and vanish forever. This was my one chance to save her. We lay there together for a few minutes and I continued to talk to her quietly, hoping she'd respond.

Finally, a glint of recognition returned to Katherine's eyes. Very slowly, she began to inch her way closer to me. I knew that any sudden move could set her off again, so I waited for the right moment to grab her, resolving to never let go. When my chance came, I took hold of the fleshy area behind her neck, slowly moving her toward me. She didn't resist, laying almost slack in my arms. I was overwhelmed with waves of relief. As we walked back toward the garage entrance, Katherine hid her head pitifully under my arm, unable to stand the outdoors any longer.

When I released Kat and Calypso back into the apartment, I immediately reached for the phone and cancelled their appointment. Katherine was surprisingly unharmed, but it took several hours for her to regain trust in her owner.

I could care less if they ever see a vet again.

Thursday, August 15, 2002

Katherine can be one strange pussy.

For the past several months, I've noted a consistent, odd ritual that she performs when she's alone in my bedroom. I'll be in the other room, watching TV, eating, or both when suddenly I'll hear Kat make a series of deep, gutteral and strangely sad and pleading meows. The first couple times alarmed me, as I immediately assumed she was injured. By the time I'd reach the bedroom, the creepy meowing would stop and I'd find Kat looking at me with feigned innocence, as if to ask, "What? What's the problem? There's nothing to see here...move along." Lying on the bed beside her will almost always be the same object: a black comb.

Now, Katherine has placed objects on my bed before. Usually I'll come home from work to find things like plastic milk jug rings, one of my socks, a feather toy, etc. Lately it's been the comb.

I can only speculate as to what's going through her mind as she places the comb next to her, bellowing out that blood-curdling, whimpering meow. Perhaps she is going through some sort of mid-life crisis (at the ripe old age of five), regretting that she'll never have a litter of kittens to call her own. The comb becomes a symbol of a child to her little, tuna-logged mind.

Or perhaps, just perhaps, I have a psycho kitty on my hands.

Thursday, April 11, 2002

One of my brother's cats, Tika, died today. She was nine years old.

It's shocking when it happens, and perhaps surprising for us as pet owners to realize just how much our animals mean to us. They are more than mindless automatons batting their paws at string or kicking litter around --they are family.

Tika's death was surprising to everyone, as she seemed the healthiest of my brother's cats. It was not until she started gnawing at her own stomach to reach an unseen source of pain that they were able to confirm the cancer. By that time, it had already spread throughout her body.

TikaI can't imagine how hard it would be to put one of my cats to sleep. I hope I never find out. Katherine and Calypso will each be five years old this year --Katherine's birthday is just two days away-- and I can't fathom either of them getting so sick that it requires euthanasia. I don't think I could make such a decision. Who am I to dictate who should live and die? How do I know what my pets are thinking, what they really want? Such questions seem ridiculous to those who don't own pets, I'm sure.

Still, there comes a time when it's your responsibility to ease their suffering if for no other reason than the fact that you possess foreknowledge they lack: that the pain will only get more and more unbearable. It's the toughest decision a pet owner can ever face, but it's arguably the most caring one.

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