January 23, 2008

Those Damn Cats

The Wife goes to bed these days at something like 7:30 in the evening. (She gets up very early, too, which is why it seems on some days I barely see her.) So that leaves me on many nights to get the animals put away, which is not a chore I mind very much. But the cats have become a gigantic pain in the ass to tend to at night.

Here's the root of the problem: the vent into our bedroom does not work very well, so we can pretty much only get adequate heat in there if we open the doors into the hallway. That's particularly important to The Wife, who complains of being cold all the time, so I'd like her to be comfortable at night while going to sleep. But, leaving the bedroom doors open is an invitation to the critters to come into the bedroom and sleep with us. One cat, which from shoulder to ass is less than twelve inches long, can and will find a way to take up eight square feet of surface space on a queen-sized mattress intended to comfortably sleep two regular-sized adults. The dogs also have a taste for sleeping on people beds, so they too will share the bed with us given any opportunity. And, we have found that any room to which the critters are given access is quickly covered in fur. Therefore, they must be confined to other areas of the house at night. Soffit House being considerably smaller than Rented Mansion In The Desert, we have found only a few options for this, and the one that seems to work best is the spare bedroom.

The dogs are pretty good with this. They like the routine of having somewhere to go at night and the spare bedroom has a people bed in it. Only the big dog can get on it, since the bed is astonishingly high off the ground. I don't think the little dog can jump up that high. But there are dog beds on the floor and they both like having their own place to go at night and during the day when we're both at work. No, the problem is the cats.

The one cat cannot stop getting in to things. The entire time she is at liberty in the house, she is trying to open cabinet doors, drawers, and constantly knocking things over. She is why we can't have too many nice things out. Bang! Bang! Bang! go the cabinet doors all day as she prowls about the house, opening cabinets to look for food. Or plastic. She likes to chew on plastic. Anything that's in a plastic bag, she will chew on. She'll eat what's inside it, at least some of it, but she'll chew through an empty plastic bag, too. She likes to take our food out of the kitchen cabinets and chew on it. Whether raw spaghetti, instant oatmeal, or almonds are good for cats, I have no idea. We've tried velcro on the cabinet doors, and she figured out how to get around that. I really don't want to install the child safety catches on every cabinet in the house -- they're a gigantic pain in the ass, as far as I'm concerned, and I can't figure out how they install anyway. I'm not made for a child-proofed house. No kids, so no reason to child-proof.

Fortunately, this cat is also somewhat dim, and she tires easily. It doesn't take too much chasing or trickery to catch her. We put her in the spare bedroom at night so that we can get some rest -- but we found that she doesn't like being in the spare bedroom, and will scratch and claw at the closed door, nonstop. It's very loud, and will wake me up. She does it about sixty seconds out of every two hundred when she wants out, which is all the time that she's confined to the spare bedroom. So, we have to kennel her in the bedroom.

But the other cat is pissing me off more tonight. This cat is the prima donna. The scardey-cat. She does not like to be touched or approached very much anyway, and does not like the dogs at all. (Neither dog is ever actually hostile to her, but they do want to play sometimes, which behavior she interprets as a threat. So she runs from them -- which to a dog, is play, aggravating the situation). She particularly does not like to be confined in any fashion. Left loose and alone in the house, she will wander about the kitchen and dining room, getting up on the counters to scavenge for food -- and miaowing loudly to beg. The Wife indulges both cats during mealtimes, by the way, by letting them sit on her lap and be near the people food; consequently, she has taught the cats that people food is just within their grasp. Cats being cats, they are ready to take the next step and actually go for it -- especially when unsupervised. So, if this cat is left loose at night, in addition to sleeping in our bed, she will cry until she is given a cat treat and track her dirty paws all over my nice marble kitchen countertop.

Unfortunately for me, this prima donna cat, unlike her counterpart, is very smart. She learns the very first time she is subject to something unpleasant. Everything associated with anything she finds unpleasant later generates fear. So when we go to get dog treats, she runs and hides -- because she knows that means the dogs will act rambunctiously. She is also not so strongly motivated by a desire for treats as she is by fear of being exposed to something unpleasant. So, I've been able to tempt her with treats once or twice, but now she will not go for treats when I am present, because she knows that sometimes, when I leave treats out for her, that means I'm going to pick her up and put her in the spare bedroom with the dogs. Then she'll have to hide inside the box spring because she doesn't think the dogs know she's in there. I've done this enough that I can no longer tempt her with treats to either go in the spare bedroom on her own, or to get herself in an area long enough that I can pick her up to carry her in there. Same thing with the cat food -- she likes the food just fine, but she's constantly wary and if I approach while she's eating, especially if it's dark outside, she will abandon the food in favor of her liberty.

At night, she runs and hides from me, knowing that I will seek to confine her to the spare bedroom so as to be able to open the master bedroom door and not sleep in a room as cold as a meat locker. So, she has found all sorts of spots where a human can't readily reach down and pick her up. She'll hide under the coffee table -- and when you move the table, she'll run behind the couch. Reach behind the couch, and she runs under the dining room table, in the forest of table and chair legs. Move a chair aside to get her there, and she runs under the kitchen island. Move the island, and she's back under the coffee table. She also keeps her macro-geography in mind, and will not run down the hall to the area where the spare bedroom is. She does not seem to tire very easily, and because she is quick to find spots that are just out of human reach, she can grab quick rests while the human has to move things around or bend down awkwardly. And she's a fast runner, one of the original feline missiles. So, when she wants to evade me, she can do so more or less indefinitely. If The Wife helps, it's pretty easy for one of the two of us to catch her, and the game's up. But I can't do it on my own.

Now, sure, she's come up to sleep right next to me after spending ten minutes licking her ass (charming behavior, that). But like most cats, she's a very light sleeper. She's learned that when I move the computer off my lap, that means I'm going to get up, and that means that I might try to pick her up and put her in the spare bedroom. So she looks sweet and calm, sleeping on the corner of the sofa. But every time I set the computer aside, she runs and hides again. The result is that now I'm tired, and frustrated, after having chased my cat all over the damn house only to have her wander in to the office and sit down next to me as if she owned the place. I don't see her cuteness paying the mortgage, I can tell you that much.

I wonder if life might not be easier if we didn't have the cats at all. We could take dog-friendly road trips on the weekends, and not have to worry about feeding the felines. I wouldn't have to chase the cats all over the damn place. They wouldn't scratch up all the furniture, bang cabinet doors obsessively, or hork up hairballs periodically. Of course, we chose to have a menagerie and this is the result of that choice. It's all I can do to stop the place from filling up with puppies and kittens, which are both really cute, but also really labor-intensive, messy, and smelly. But actually reducing the herd to a more manageable number is out of the question.

Update: An hour and a half after sitting down to vent my frustrations about those damn cats, the little prima donna finally fell asleep within arms' length of me. I let her sleep for a while and then threw her fuzzy butt in the spare bedroom with no fuss -- I don't think the dogs even woke up. So now I can at last, at 11:00 p.m., open up the master bedroom.

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