Thursday, April 2, 2009

A tale of two kitties

Winter has come to a close and not a moment too soon for Sasha, the stray cat we adopted several years ago. She's an outdoor cat that we found as a wild kitten in the woods near a previous home in which we lived. She's sweet and fairly amenable to petting, but retains a systemic measure of feral cat skittishness.

Sasha is temperamental when it comes to accepting tender mercies from her human benefactors. Feed her? Sure! A complementary buffet is always welcome. Petting? Maybe. Sometimes she indulges herself in our attention. Other times she bolts. She will not tolerate being picked up and refuses to be on our laps. And if the door is held open for her to sample temporary visitation in the house she will stand at the open door, peer in, but not step inside.

There are some benefits we force on her despite her protestations and petulance. Vaccinations are a must. Come late spring, so is shaving. Sasha is a long haired cat, a benefit in the winter, a real liability in the Texas summers. By late May the temperatures climb into the 90's, a prelude to sizzling 100's by July. She spends most of the summer in the cool shade under the deck, but left unshaved, her fur falls out in clumps. Shaving relieves her of this torment and by October her fur has almost grown completely back.

Thus in April or May it's time to catch Sasha, crate her, and carry her to the vet for shaving. This can take multiple attempts over several days because Sasha has very sensitive radar and knows when They Are About to Take Me to the Vet, whereupon, as usual, she bolts.

But when she is finally caught and her hair cut, she is so much happier. She sashays around like a little princess, relieved of all that fur and much cooler for it.

The reverse of the summer shave-down are those winter days in Texas when a "norther"--an express train of frigid air, comes blasting down the Great Plains out of Canada, mowing down everything in its path. Winds can hit a constant 25 mph and overnight temperatures fall into the 20's or teens. Then it is time to rescue Sasha by luring/chasing/pleading with her to let us put her into the garage. The garage may be somewhat chilly, but it's the Bahamas compared to the outdoors.

Here Sasha's radar is even more sensitive. So often have I caught her and carried her to the garage that now when the temperature even drops into the 30's she associates cold weather with Dad pursuing her under the deck. Thus, when the wind turns from the north and the temperature plunges, Sasha preemptively heads for the exit. Often we can't find her at all and she spends the night out there somewhere, alone in the bitter cold. On such occasions we wonder if she'll survive, if we'll see her again. Yet for the times we do successfully get her secured into the garage, she's clearly happy. She purrs and prances around the garage, doing that curling thing around your leg, obviously relieved to be out of the cold.

All of this is in stark contrast to the other stray cat we adopted, Oscar. He is a yellow tabby who is not nearly so finicky when it comes to our benevolence. He not only will gladly accept food, strokes and being picked up, but there is no need to catch him and carry him to the garage. He'll walk there on his own, thank you. (Being short haired, Oscar has never experienced the joys of shaving). Oscar is a very cool customer and one of the few cats I've seen who is not intimidated by a dog of any size.

Oscar seems to know that when the temperature plunges, the garage is a welcome relief from the cold and that even if Dad picks him up to take him there, that's a good thing. "Dad is looking out for me. He knows that if I stay outside I might have to be pried off of the deck with a crowbar." Sasha, it seems, can't quite make that connection and can't see beyond being picked up and carried by Dad to safety as Dad just hassling her, no matter that she will be so much better off.

Somehow I didn't make those connections either when my mother was valiantly trying to raise me with no father in our home. I was, frankly, a troublesome, selfish, rebellious pill. I wanted food on the table and a few other benefits of my choosing, but otherwise anything she required of me was "mom hassling me".

Often we don't make that connection either when it comes to God's prescriptions for living a life of noble worth and value. Instead, so many today want to live like...well, like feral cats. Unbridled and unrestrained. Bless me God, but don't hassle me with responsibilities.

Then we reach adulthood and attain some incremental measure of maturity and realize that restraints on behavior are as much a benefit as a full stomach and that there are greater, more sublime rewards than merely satisfying our grunting instincts.

There are some though, like Oscar, who realize early that the whole package of benefits from their Provider is good, including the restraining influence of the garage, and that one can gladly accept everything while still remaining a pretty cool cat.