Sunday, June 24, 2012

Becky's Thatcher

Me: “Do you think Mommy’s a mean person for making Thatcher go outside?”

Katie: “No! Not at all! Thatcher’s the mean person. Not you.”

I felt a little better having a five-year-old’s approval. Young children haven't yet learned to lie to your face and tell you what they think you want to hear in an effort to cheer you up.

I kicked my cat out of the house three weeks ago. Instead of feeling relieved after a nearly ten-year bad relationship, I felt horrible. I instantly regretted throwing him out on all fours onto the grass.  It was the only way I could get him to stay outside without beating me to the back door. Maybe I broke his leg?

I went outside to check on him. It was as if he’d disappeared. It couldn’t have been more than thirty seconds since I’d tossed him onto the grass, ran back inside, shut the door, and walked down the hallway to let the dogs out of the bedroom. I had shut them inside with Will and Katie so they wouldn’t trip me up as I chased the damn cat around the house. As soon as I opened the bedroom door I returned to the back door and looked out. But he was gone.

I’d been awake half the night worrying about what I was going to do with this rotten cat. The night before he'd gone on a rampage and bit not just me, which was usually the case, but Will, who was not usually on the menu.  I finally came to the half-assed conclusion that the most humane thing I could do was force him to be an outdoor cat again. I’d still feed him and make sure he had water. We’d go outside and pet him and check on him. I figured when it got too hot or too cold out we could even let him inside the garage or something. Make him some kind of shelter, a cat house of some sort. 

I figured this first day would be tough. It never crossed my mind he’d take off, though. I assumed we’d be plugging our ears from his howls at the back door all day. Instead, I was the one howling inside.

Will tried to comfort me but I just pushed him away and warned him I might throw up. I tried to comfort myself by doing something productive: loading the dishwasher. Making sure everything fit just-so. Something I could control and clean and make new. But I wanted Will to comfort me and he didn’t have long until he had to go to work, so I went down into his lair to sit and talk to him about it.

“He’s an asshole, Becky! He bites our guests. He bites us. You took him in as an orphan and bottle fed him and wiped his ass to get him to go to the bathroom--yet he’s always been an asshole.”

It’s true. Why did I feel so terrible?  He deserved it.  Will’s solution, and one I was starting to think was more humane than what I’d decided, was to take him to the vet and euthanize him. I didn’t want to kill him. He’s an asshole, but he’s been a part of our family for almost ten years. I just wanted to figure out a way for us to peaceably coexist.  A vet once prescribed him amitriptyline for his "behavior problems" but I never noticed much of a difference.  Since he'd usually bite me as I was trying to get him to take his meds anyway, I figured it wasn't worth it.

He used to be a mostly-outdoor cat before we moved to this house. We lived in an apartment next to a small creek and he’d literally never want to come home. In fact, when we moved to our current house, I thought we’d lost him. It had been three days since we’d moved the last of our things out of the apartment. I returned for the third time to the forested area along the creek to call for him, “Meow-Meows. Here Meow-Meows.”

I rarely call him Thatcher. He responds best to Meow-Meows. He finally came running out of the forest on that third day. I picked him up and drove him to our new house.  Often after one of his particularly viscous episodes I'd think, "Why didn't I just leave him in the forest?"

He went in-and-out at our new house for about two weeks. Then suddenly one day he refused to go outside. We even took him out and tried to sit with him in the grass. We tried coaxing him out with treats. It was the weirdest thing. Our cat who used to pee at our front door at the apartment when we wouldn’t let him outside was now hunching down low and running inside our new house as if something was going to get him if he stayed outside
We figured he’d gotten into a catfight or something. New cat. New neighborhood. I’d seen a cat roaming around down the block. We never saw any visible markings to indicate he’d been hurt, but we assumed it was a catfight that turned him into this indoor cat.

Which would have been fine with me if Thatcher wasn't so cranky. I love cats. I still miss my cat Zach and he passed away more than a decade ago.  He was a sweet, fat, lap cat who wouldn’t harm a flea even if it was trying to kill him.  In fact, I think he had a little brain damage.  He was the only survivor of a litter of six kittens that had a horrible flea infestation that caused the rest of his siblings to die of severe anemia.  Zach survived, but you could tell he wasn't the brightest crayon in the box.  It just made me love him all the more.
Thatcher is not Zach. If he sits in your lap he sticks his claws into your thighs and if you try to shift him into a position that doesn’t draw blood, he bites you.  
He'd taken to pissing on our back door, too.  Not in a UTI way.  He was on a special UTI diet to make sure it wasn't that.  He didn't pee everywhere, just on the back door.  Like he used to at our apartment.  So I took it as a sign that he wanted out again, even if he didn't act like it once he got outside.  I knew I certainly wanted him out.

So after a sleepless night three weeks ago, I kicked him out.

About an hour after the fiasco of actually getting him outside and returning to the house looking like I’d been in a catfight myself, thinking he'd run away, and my crying like a crazy cat lady, Katie and I heard a faint “meow” outside her bedroom window. We ran outside and there he was, curled up in a ball, hiding inside the broken basement window cover.

Despite our recent scuffle, he came to me and let us pet him. I showed him where I was going to keep his water and food. We hung out with him and let him explore the back yard, then we said “See you later” and went back inside.

After all that worry and fuss, he's adjusted amazingly well. It’s as if he’s forgotten whatever trauma kept him indoors these past seven years. When I sit on our front porch swing, he lies next to me and purrs while I pet him.  I sometimes have to check his collar to make sure it's not Bizarro Thatcher.

Here’s a photo I snapped of him in our back yard after his first night outside:

And here’s one of him today, three weeks later, back inside the house:

What?!  Don't worry.  Just for the afternoon while we’re under a heat advisory. I was going to make him stay inside the garage, but he’s been so sweet these last three weeks since he’s turned back into an “outdoor” cat we figured he can stay inside as long as he causes no trouble. So far he’s just snoozing like a good cat should.