Friday, October 24, 2008

Our Cat, Winnie, is a Lesson in Accepting What Is

Winnie is a feral cat. That means she was born in the wild and grew up too much in the wild to ever be completely tame. What makes a cat (or any animal) domestic is that humans are in control of its genes. That is not so for feral cats. A lot of the local feral cats have some bobcat genes in them and they grow to be quite large. That is the case with our Winnie, size wise any way. We can't know for sure about her genetics.

If you were to visit our house, you would never know that we have a cat; unless you noticed the food bowl on the kitchen floor. This is made more difficult, however, by the fact that she likes to "bury" her food and so the bowl is mostly always covered by the fabric place mat upon which it rests. We had to give her the place mat because otherwise she would drag dirty socks or whatever out of the laundry in order to cover her food.

Also, she hides under our bed whenever anyone strange (meaning not me and not my husband...I know, whether or not we are strange is debatable) is in the house. And that is where she is right now...but I am alone in the house. She has been living under the bed for the past several days.

In her defense, the weather has been stormy. It is Monsoon in Arizona and the thunderstorms can sometimes be very intense. About five days ago, we had a storm that was of awesome proportions. The lightning was right over head and the thunder was coming very loudly right upon the flash. I call them "flash-bangs" because that is how they occur. We know of one person who has a dog (Jack Russell Terrier) that has to be sedated for pretty much the entire season.

Somehow, Winnie has gotten it into her head that when either my husband or I is moving about the house that we are to be avoided, although we have never stepped on her or run into her in any way. If I am lying on the bed or sitting in my recliner, she is fine. If I move in my recliner or get off the bed, zip, zoom, she's back under the bed.

This isn't the first time she has done something like this. Right after we had to put her brother down because of kidney failure, she had a similar episode. I would have to guess that it has to do with feelings of vulnerability. But she's a cat! What can I know about what motivates her?

So what does all this have to do with accepting "what is?" On the other occasions when she decided she was going to live under our bed from now on, I thought it just wasn't right. Why should she do that? She should come out and eat and do all the regular stuff. Why should I have to coddle her? Why doesn't she just get with it? How can I fix it? Just what the heck is going through her little walnut of a brain? (Did you know that they say a cat's brain is about the size of a whole walnut? It explains a lot.) At any rate, the upshot of all that non-acceptance is that it causes me a lot of stress. I mean a lot. And I worry about her. Our cat home veterinary book doesn't have much to say about this issue and there is no way she would ever consent to talk to a cat psychologist.

The thing is I can't know what is going on inside her little walnut. I don't know why she is suddenly afraid of me in some situations and not in others. And I can't fix it. And neither can anyone else (she has never been to a vet and may never visit one). So I have decided to just accept that for now (and maybe forever, who knows) she is our cat-who-lives-under-our-bed.

I give her food in her bowl that is pushed well under the bed and away from the outside edges. There is very little "head room" under there and the bowl does have a very low rim, but still I wonder how she manages to eat it. She does have a habit of eating with her feet, but the bowl appears to have been licked clean, so I decided to risk annoying her and watched the process. She pulls the bowl directly under her mouth and starts scooping the food into her mouth with her paw. She is a strangely amazing cat. When Bear was still alive, he would sometimes jump into our bathroom window before Winnie could. This was a highly coveted spot as it offered a high vantage point for peering outside. So she would run into the bathroom, get his attention and run out through our bedroom and into the dining room where she would meow loudly. She kept up the back and forth until he could stand it no longer and he would leave the window to see what was up. Then Winnie would dash into our bathroom to claim the window. How's that for using the old walnut?

She also gets her hairball remedy treats each morning...under the bed. I only see her during the day if I go and lift the bed skirt and look at her. Mostly I keep this to a minimum to avoid annoying her and only do it to be certain she is still breathing. She comes out at night, usually after we have gone to bed, to use the litter box and drink some water. She will also eat some of the dry food that I leave out for her. She comes in the very early morning to lay on my stomach and purr as if nothing were wrong, only to disappear as soon as it seems likely that I am about to get out of bed.

It still all seems a bit silly to me; I can't quite get over that. But if I want people to just accept me as I am, well then, I should at least show others the same courtesy...including our cat. So I am not trying to drag her out from under there. I am not trying to make her conform to my idea of proper cat behavior. I accept that this is how it now is between us. I don't really believe that she will continue in this behavior for the rest of her life. I am not entirely certain that it would make for a healthy lifestyle, but for now, this is how it is and I'm okay with that; and it feels wonderful.

Accepting what is and not resisting it doesn't mean that you let the world walk all over you. It just means that you stop judging situations as good or bad. Things are just what they are; if you don't label them then they have no power over you. Within this framework, going with the flow so to speak, you can still work to achieve the outcomes that you desire. And sometimes you just "flow" right into what you want with no effort at all. Case in point, it is many hours since I first started to write this article and just moments ago, there was Winnie, sitting beside my computer chair and meowing her head off at me. That usually means FEED ME. NOW. So she is coming out of her self imposed exile. Still, I will keep an open mind about what tomorrow will bring.


Dianne Lehmann

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