May I introduce Spunkmeyer, ferocious feline I recently cared for during her owners’ vacation. Even though the name evokes a lad (at least in my mind), Spunky is a lady – an old dame at that – preparing to celebrate her fourteenth birthday in the not too distant future. Up until this cat-sitting experience, I had encountered these capricious creatures only intermittently since my childhood days, when we “owned” a series of them. As any ailurophile (thanks to Merriam-Webster for featuring this delicious Word of the Day a few years back) will attest, it would be more accurate to say that they own us, one of the facts I was reminded of.
Another was the independent character of domesticated tigers. Whereas our former dogs anxiously awaited our arrival after an absence, and greeted us happily and wholeheartedly, Spunkmeyer only showed her fuzzy face upon my return to her realm after an interval deigned appropriate by her, though this lag time diminished, the longer our acquaintance. Rattling a bag with her favorite snack, freeze-dried minnows, also hastened her appearance. At least in this regard she acted predictably, but this was the exception rather than the rule. Unless I twist logic by stating that what was always predictable was her unpredictability.
I could neither anticipate her mood, nor her food preference, though I quickly learned what ranked last among the collection of canned food, as beef remained untouched in her bowl most of the time. Once she was over the initial shock of seeing me enter the house, rather than her two favorite humans, and once she accepted that I was the only warm body for the time being, she actually demanded attention, typically by sitting on her haunches, prairie dog-like, and by staring at me intently. This plea for petting did not preclude a dramatic reversal of temper, and I was unable to foresee if and when she would give me the evil eye. One moment she rolled onto her side and frolicked under my caresses, the next she swatted at me. She finally made me understand that she expected me to sit in one of her armchairs, preferably with a soft blanket on my legs, so that she could snuggle in my lap. In those idyllic instances she expressed her contentment by a constant kneading motion of her velvety paws, and by a perpetual, pervasive purr. This manifestation of feline pleasure and relaxation also translated into mine, as I was receiving a massage while simultaneously listening to a soothing tune. However, as if to reassert her reputation of cantankerousness and independence, a slight shift or leg movement on my part annoyed her highness, caused her to growl, to hiss, and to throw me a fierce glance. A lion-like roar generally signaled the abrupt end of this harmonious scene. These times of mutual delight, however brief, might be the (only) reason why we humans still cling to the myth that we can “tame” cats.
Thank you, Spunky, for abiding my presence in your queendom, and for blessing me with at least a few blissful moments, when I indulged in the illusion that you actually liked, rather than simply tolerated me. If there is a next time, I will try to be a better human being and live up to your standards.
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