Thursday, December 4, 2008

Feline Farce

There have been myriad queries (okay, one or two) about the lamentable cat situation (chronicled here November 23). Pictured at right is an actual Novalis cat at risk of villainous entrapment (did I mention...? ha ha). (Due to a technical glitch, illustration later removed).

One additional cat was trapped, although it actually wasn't one of ours, but rather a stray (we think) we had seen lurking around the neighborhood for a while. My wife pleaded for its release, as it would have faced sure euthanasia at the animal shelter. The neighbors relented, and the stray was pardoned (although I haven't seen it since, so I wonder).

It turns out that the neighbor wife's cat phobia (stemming from a past "bad experience") is the issue, as well as the teenaged son's fear of having a cat scratch up his pristine new car. My first car was a 1975 Dodge Dart--I was more worried about making it across intersections without stalling than about domestic cat defacements. But I did not bring up that "bad experience."

Water guns were proferred and declined. Neighbors agreed to withdraw traps so long as steps are taken to limit feline prowling. As a gesture of good will (and a kind of neighborly placebo), we agreed to erect a privacy fence in the back that will at least keep that neighbor out of sight, out of mind (with pleasure), both for the cats and for us.

I point out that we were actually, without knowing it, offering the neighbor wife free therapy, in the form of graduated exposure, for her cat phobia. In a better world, our friendly felines would gradually have infiltrated their yard, stamping out their rodents and gently marking their territory, and, no catastrophe ensuing, neighbor wife would have been won over to their charms: cure effected. But as usual, psychiatry's efforts go unappreciated.

I tried to think of a proper cat-trapping poem to dignify the occasion; the corpus in that category being limited, I could only choose Rilke's great and terrible "The Panther" (translated by Robert Bly):

From seeing the bars, his seeing is so exhausted
that it no longer holds anything anymore
To him the world is bars, a hundred thousand
bars, and behind the bars, nothing.

The lithe swinging of that rhythmical easy stride
which circles down to the tiniest hub
is like a dance of energy around a point
in which a great will stands stunned and dumb.

Only at times the curtain of the pupil rises
without a sound...then a shape enters,
Slips through the tightened silence of the shoulders,
reaches the heart, and dies.


Anonymous said...

There once was a cat who had been entrapped, and
with paws pressed in earnestness he meowed:

'...I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this species will rise up and live out the true meaning of the creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all living organisms are created equal (but some cats are more equal than humans)."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of North Carolina the kittens of former slaves and the children of former cat trappers will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four kittens will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their fur (or lack thereof) but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today...'

And the crowd meowed in ecstatic unison, for they were ripe with the itch of neighbourly oppression and backyard border security: 'Yes we can!'

John J. Coupal said...


Wow! That's some eloquent cat, especially for one domiciling in New England.

I thought the maximum suavity of catdom was for them to say when given any human command: "Sorry, I can't listen to your words now. Leave me a message, and I'll get back in touch....when I feel like it."

Unknown said...

Hmmm. If we'd had to beg for the release of the stray, we'd probably end up adopting it (one of us has a soft heart; the other has a soft head).

I'm going to log off and obsess over the fate of that cat now...

Anonymous said...

John J. Coupal,

I know exactly what you mean...

I myself prefer the canine counterpart in terms of furry companionship. Apart from a proportionally larger prefrontal cortex than feline, I adore their impulsivity, occasional aggressive tendency (never unprovoked), loyalty, grovelling tendency, charming tendency to return to own vomit, and above all, their unconditional love. I'm a hard core believer in unconditional love -- stand by your psychopath is what I say!

Anonymous said...

Apart from a proportionally larger prefrontal cortex than feline...

Sad, but true. Only a few of our cats even know their names; most will only answer to the whir of a can opener. And forget impulse control -- non-existent.

OTOH, they don't beg to go outside in 10ยบ weather, or pee on the rug when it's raining. I have never had a cat hump my leg, eat my daughter's science experiment, or scatter coffee grounds across a white carpet in the middle of the night (okay, that last one was my fault).

Novalis said...

Marcia, I never did see that stray on a regular basis, so hopefully he's still around, but spooked perhaps to a different part of the neighborhood.

In general I find the remoteness of cats to be an impressive work of nature. But a few of ours do get in social and needy moods at times(even when they're not hungry), which are all the more affecting against the backdrop of aloofness. The sociability and neediness of dogs has no off button, which I confess does not suit me.

John J. Coupal said...


"The sociability and neediness of dogs has no off button, which I confess does not suit me."

I'm surprised you went into psychiatry.

A patient's neediness over a long stretch of therapy can be anxiety-provoking in a physician.

Novalis said...

Oh, but dogs LIVE WITH YOU, and for me they carry none of the associated satisfactions that patient care does provide. So the analogy is stretched.

But you are observant--I do indeed need my time away from the office, which these days of course includes the pager and cell phone. I would not be happy in a job requiring 24/7 call duties.

Retriever said...

Our family loves both dogs and cats. The youngest kid croons dotingly to the dog "You are the best psychiatrist in the whole world". I think that's more a reflection on the awful child psychiatrists out there than the dog...

But guess you wouldn't like that cute cartooon by Mark Parisi of a dog on the couch telling the shrink "I have a confession to make, I don't come here to be psychoanalyzed, but because you let me on the couch."

The entire family agree that our two cats are complete jerks, narcissistic, vicious killers of birds, baby rabbits as well as the rodents we praise them for getting, aloof, etc. but we adore them also. Is it the "this is painful, this emotional withholding, this absence, this being used and abused....feels familiar, must be love??"

It may just be as simple as cats are low maintenance and their humans can neglect them, go away, without too much trouble usually. You don't have to worry about being sued as with a dog that may bite, or knock over a person or cause an accident.

Tho I totally sympathize about the cat phobic neighbors. Yet another example of people inflicting their own neuroses on others. We are moving towards a situation where we are all going to be forced to keep our cats indoors, before too long, I think. Poor cats. People look at me with horror when I say I have an outdoor cat. "But somethin might happen to her?" I say: Yup, but she will be happier until it does. Something might happen to me too, but I don't cower indoors forever. Cats need to roam, and they don't hurt people, rid the neighborhood of vermin and are much healthier and happier, even if their lives are slightly shortened by a higher risk of accidents or becoming a coyote's dinner. To keep a wild animal a prisoner seems very cruel. And cats are basically wild, unlike our fawning ego-boosting dogs.