Saturday, January 21, 2012

Notes from a Cat Whisperer: Part I

Some people—namely my wife—call me

. . . the Cat Whisperer . . .

[Cue music sting]

I usually work like this: I walk into your house. I meet your cat. An hour later, I stroll out with cat tucked happily under my arm, while you shake your head in wonder: “But he doesn’t do that with anybody.”  (Or, “You stole my cat, you son of a bitch.”)

Sometimes, the little goofballs come running after me, weaving between my legs, whipping their tails, chirping at me not to leave: “Stay, Big Two-legged Cat, stay! Pet me more! Make the kitty feel good!”

And I rarely rarely feed them either. You don’t have to feed a cat to earn its fierce affection, to have it hugging your lap and staring up at you like you’re God (which to them you are). You just have to know how to work the little varmints. Like any human baby, they’re suckers for a tender touch and a soft voice. A lot of cats are pushovers and saps if you know what you’re doing. They’re babies, really. They have no taste in people.

A theory: Cats like the sound of human voices, much as we like their purring. Maybe it’s one of the first steps we took in building our relationship thousands of years ago in the Middle East.

So: talk to your cat! Even if you’re at a loss for words, “blah blah Fido blah blah” will be enough to draw their enraptured attention: “Oh boy oh boy, they’re talkin’ to me, yup! They’re talkin’ to me!” Doesn’t matter what you say.


Now, a qualification: I’ve met a fair number of cats with whom I’ve failed to bond in any way. Per my non-scientific experience, I’d say these cats are truly asocial, likely unintelligent, animals.

For example, purebred felines such as Siamese and Persians (“throw-pillow cats,” I call those) seem to fall into this category; they lie there and buzz like a dial tone, barely conscious, not interactive. Siamese owners swear their cats are the smartest cats of all, but I’ve never seen it.

God may have given cats slightly more brains than we sometimes think, but as with humans, He distributed them unevenly.

There are also cats ‘fraidy, who spend my entire visit trembling under the couch: “You’re going to eat me, aren’t you? Eat me and steal my cat toys, that’s you want to do!”

There are cats bitchy, like a sleek coal-black creature I met once, the sweetest darling ever . . . for about five minutes. Then, with frightening suddenness, her claws unfurled with an audible click like a jackknife, as her back fur rose like porcupine quills. A vicious swat and ugly hiss--“ENOUGH!”--and off she’d angrily dart as though I’d jumped up and down on her tail. “Screw you, too,” I muttered, showing her my finger. That one got left on the shelf.

Out of doors, cats become inaccessible. Outside of the familiar indoor environment, they seem to shed their affectionate indoor personas, transform into fearful, wary creatures . . . but, of course, there’s a lot to be scared of—giant cat-eating dogs, huge cat-hating humans, enormous cat-crushing automobiles, and, worst of all, other cats.

It’s a wonder they even ask to go out. Frankly, it’s best to ignore their pleas and keep them inside. They’ll live longer, healthier lives and so will the birds.

Cats . . . damn them!


This last October, it happened again. Elizabeth and I took our anniversary vacation, this time at the ranch ofour friend Julie’s father in the southern Colorado Rockies, a huge cabin on a wooded hillside, the nearest neighbor a crow’s mile away.

Caretakers live there for most of the year. They’d gone on their own vacation when we’d arrived and left behind instructions for the care of the house.

Among the instructions: “Feed the cat.”

With a mighty groan, I promptly shouldered this Herculean task. The predictable chain of events followed.

As the story goes, Echo, a muscular gray tabby sporting a thin scratch across his nose, had wandered in from the forest that previous spring, having no doubt dodged many a hungry coyote, fox and eagle. It was reasonably speculated that he’d lived with another family nearby and had been left behind in the cruel, infuriating belief that cats are really wild animals like any other (or maybe the owners were simply too lazy to care).

The caretakers set out some food for him and that was enough to persuade him to stay. He was an outdoor cat who, I was told, didn’t come inside, even when invited. (Note: Julie’s brothers, frequent visitors, are both allergic to cats, one of the sadder ailments that can strike a human being).

Despite the scar and his time in the wild, Echo was a handsome, smart and friendly fellow. When I offered my hand, he marked it immediately. The next morning, he followed me around the grounds, as loyal as Lassie, weaving figure eights between my feet, climbing up my leg, purring his heart out. I found him waiting for me when we returned home from outings. When I walked out onto the porch where he spent most of his time, he’d looked up in delight from his bed, and raise his head for my hand, rising, stretching, a purr shuddering through his body.

The third night, he actually followed me inside the house when I went to fill his food dish. Fine catly company, he was. To him, I’m sure, I was awesome.

In the end, of course, we said our good-byes. I can still seeing him sitting in the driveway, blinking and baffled, forlornly watching as we drove away.

Then, I turned away, gritting my teeth, seething, as I stared out the car window: I’d been charmed, seduced and suckered once again:

Cats . . . damn them!

[To be continued]

(re-edited 1/30/12)

Photos by author
Copyright 2012 by Thomas Burchfield

Thomas Burchfield has recently completed his 1920s gangster thriller Butchertown. He can be friended on Facebook, followed on Twitter, and read at Goodreads. You can also join his e-mail list via tbdeluxe [at] sbcglobal [dot] net. He lives in Northern California with his wife, Elizabeth.

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