Look at this face. Does this look like the face of a criminal to you? (Click to enlarge.)
No? Well, you're right. Sam's not a criminal, not anymore. Occasionally I think I detect the odor of recidivism in one part of the house or another, but it usually seems only to be lingering evidence of prior bad acts.
My true love says Sam is a true "foster cat." He doesn't mean we are only taking care of him until someone else can. He means that Sam reminds him of foster children, kids who've been through a very great deal and have a lot of damage, lots of issues that must be patiently and lovingly worked through. Honestly, the extent has taken us both by surprise, but my true love has less experience adopting stray animals than I do, is the one who has to pay for it all this time around, and thus he naturally feels it more keenly than I do.
As you may recall, Sam came to us about ten months ago in poor health and very hungry. He was severely hyperthyroid, which alone could have been responsible for his emaciation (but probably wasn't), and also all by itself was causing him to be extremely anxious at all times. Because of his condition he had also developed a pronounced heart murmur and a chronic ear wax problem, too, and these on top of everything else meant he was uncomfortable in his own body all the time.
On the street, by the railroad tracks -- and not for the first time in the previous year -- Sam had chosen my true love to reveal himself to and beg for assistance. Though I was often to be found out walking, and though I longed on a level probably palpable to other people for another kitty in our house after the last one had died of intestinal lymphoma -- but still grieved and also didn't want to take on any more lifetime commitments with my own life expectancy so tentative, and certainly couldn't face the prospect of more grief -- and though five previous cats had seen fit to approach me for sanctuary, it was not I whom Sam chose; it was my true love. It was my true love from whom he accepted tuna, and petting. It was my true love who was finally able to lure him into our home and safekeeping while I ran to the store (figuratively speaking; a car was involved) for fresh cat care supplies. I flew, actually, in great hope and terrible fear of pain to come, of loss I might live to experience once again, of the potential for failure. Without even a touch of the little lost beastie having passed between us yet, I flew already in love.
This is an appropriate Love Thursday topic, because it is the tale not just of furniture destruction, but also of compromise, and the lengths one will go to for love, of the automatic nature of some love that creeps against all walls or intelligence or sense of responsibility into the heart, and of a love triangle that exists between me, my true love, and this cat, this crazy little street cat. I love the cat. The cat loves my true love. My true love loves me. (And of course I love my true love as well, but please don't ask me what shape that makes because as I've mentioned, I suck at geometry.)
Except when I have been too ill, I have been the one who has tended Sam, cleaning his box, feeding him, taking him to the vet. My true love has paid for it all, thousands of dollars. I rarely raise my voice to Sam. My true love makes no bones about picking him up and tossing him somewhere else if he's in his way or yelling at him when he annoys him with incessant meowing (or worse). Yet my true love is Sam's true love. Sam will leave my lap without a moment's hesitation to greet my true love at the door (but he will not leave my true love to greet me). He crawls onto his shoulder, stands behind his neck, rubs his little face all over my true love's beard. My true love suspects that he reminds Sam of someone else. I think Sam is just an excellent and subtle judge of character, and of meal tickets.
The first six months Sam lived with us, all went relatively well. His hyperthyroidism was cured. His heart murmur improved. His apparent anxiety reduced. Still he was an anxious little being. He would have nightmares which would wake him with a start, and he would need a great deal of comforting, which he found it difficult to ask for or accept. He would express concern if we slept too much, not the normal concern of a cat who wants to be fed in the morning or who is just up and wants company, but a level of concern that seemed so urgent it led me to wonder whether his previous owner had died and that was how he had ended up on the streets with no one looking for him. He didn't like to eat by himself (and still prefers not to), requesting the company of one or another of us to pet him and stand guard over him while he dined.
Slowly but surely, though, he was becoming more comfortable in our house. Then spring came, and at the same time my brain went bad. There was upheaval of the daily routine, massive upheaval. Also, there were open windows and neighborhood cats in the yard.
One day maybe two weeks after my brain surgery I was sitting at the dining table in the bay window of our sunny living room finishing breakfast. My true love was in another room. Windows were open and Sam was bouncing from window to window, from room to room, meowing and meowing. Suddenly he stood before me, lifted his tail and sprayed the pale yellow chintz-covered loveseat.
I was stunned. "Sam just sprayed the couch!" I exclaimed.
"He sprayed the couch."
My true love was outraged, grabbed the kitty, rubbed his face in the mess and yelled "NO!" I begged him to stop. (This does not work, you see; it's an old wives' tale; and in any case, if it ever did work for a dog, it's never ever going to work for a cat. Besides, he was territorially marking out of anxiety, not just randomly urinating. Also, it's cruel.)
After we had a big fight about this, my true love went online and researched feline spraying. He discovered that cats of both genders will spray to mark territory, but only 10% of fixed cats will begin this behavior at any time after they have been neutered. We just happened to get one of the 10%.
And then things began to suck. When the mood hit him, and it seemed to hit him a lot but especially at dawn and dusk when other kitties were most in our yard, Sam would spray just about anything he could get to. He sprayed the dishwasher, the stove, the refrigerator, every kitchen cupboard, every doorway, every windowframe, and of course both pieces of upholstered furniture, repeatedly. He sprayed all over my studio, where our last cat had been very, very sick and then died. Suddenly there was no peace in our house. Lots of yelling. Lots of bad smells and desperation. The pale yellow loveseat was turned into a giant diaper. The blue chair in my studio, the one on which dear Sam had made himself so cozy, suffered a similar fate. Both pieces of furniture had to be euthanized, blinds and windows had to be closed at dusk and not opened again 'til the sun was high, and Sam had to be locked out of the stairwell and also out of my studio until I could thoroughly clean it, not just organize it but find and wash every surface besides the chair which had been sprayed and vacuum the rug, and all that took some time because I have been battling fatigue for months.
The worst event was the evening we were sitting on the now smelly (in spite of assiduous attempts to clean it) loveseat watching TV, my true love petting Sam and brushing him while Sam meowed and meowed and meowed and paced back and forth, when suddenly Sam hauled off and sprayed my true love in the face.
There was big drama. Certain pieces of furniture became airborne. Sam spent time under the bed, and my true love and I spent time screaming at each other. In the end, I pointed out that we were two very smart adult humans and that we should be able to figure out a solution to this that would not involve throwing Sam back out on the street or otherwise injuring him. We decided to consult the vet.
The vet referred us to a behaviorist. Yes, we took our cat to a shrink. We did. We filled out an enormous questionnaire which was designed to determine the problem, what we had done about it, our level of commitment to solving it, etc. We sat in a room in the cat shrink's office while Sam wandered around meowing. Then the cat shrink came in.
She was not a cat person, but had a lot of experience with cats, and made a number of very expensive suggestions. I explained that I was pretty sure Sam had an anxiety disorder. She suggested, observing him pacing and meowing, that it might also be the dementia of old age. My true love explained that it seemed to be set off by the presence of cats in the yard, specifically the presence of one local young alpha tom who had been seen beating up other neighbor cats, seen by the other cats' owners. After listening to all her expensive suggestions, which seemed good enough but which it also seemed were going to take a lot of time to implement and cause noticeable results, I explained that I could not take the stress of our household, that I had been quite ill, was not yet a whole lot stronger, and was facing some more terrible medical stuff and had no idea what it would involve or how long it would go on and so simply did not have the strength to watch and arbitrate between my true love and the kitty 24 hours a day, and that we needed a solution that would begin to show results immediately. My true love reiterated as much and asked about drugs. The pet shrink and her intern wanted to talk about my cancer. My true love brought their attention back to Sam.
The pet shrink told us there are three human psychiatric drugs prescribed commonly to cats. I can't remember the first one, but the other two are Paxil and Prozac. Lots of people I know are on Paxil and report good results. They say they still feel like themselves but like they are able to conduct and even enjoy their lives again, or in some cases for the first time ever. After confirming with our vet that Sam's little old kidneys could take it, we got a prescription for a quarter of a 2.5mg pill per day.
I hesitated to give it to him. I didn't want to destroy his personality just for my convenience. And then he had dental surgery and it seemed unfair timing. But things got worse, not better, and everyone assured me it would be okay and that we could always take him off the drug if it looked like it was harming him, so I relented.
It has taken awhile, but the drug seems to be working. Sam is still a little neurotic and very very verbal, but not in such an urgent, relentless way. He still wants company when he eats. He still gets a little anxious if he can't wake us up at least enough to pet him and speak kindly to him. He still likes things to be on exactly the same schedule every single day (and hey, so do I, frankly). And he is still himself. He still loves my true love best, even though I have resumed tending him in every material way most of the time. He still leaps off of me if he's on me, or rouses from deep sleep, or comes running from any dark nook or bright window where he might be otherwise engaged the minute my true love's car enters the driveway, and he runs to the top of the stairs or even to the front door to greet my true love and tell him all about his day. Or maybe just to say how much he missed him.
But he doesn't seem to have terrible nightmares. He gets his regular schedule every day, which includes times and places for brushing and playing and eating. He seems to feel secure for the first time. He seems to be happy, actually.
He also seems to have stopped spraying, even when that other scary kitty, whose owner sometimes seems to neglect him, sits on our front steps and howls or gets into fights with other neighbor kitties right in our yard or really close by. He comes to us. We go to the window with him. Sometimes my true love takes a squirt gun to the scary kitty and chases him out of the yard, which seems to make Sam feel very good (though it secretly makes me sad for the scary kitty, who is actually quite sweet to humans and IMO deserves more love and protection, less freedom, and less anger -- but we cannot give it to him in our house, and I hate that this is so).
I used to be a vegan. I was vegan for nearly two decades. I always loathed leather, you know, once I discovered what it was. Someone else's skin as fabric -- ew.
I love my true love. I do all the cooking and shopping for the house, and he cannot be a vegetarian, and I cannot maintain two separate diets, so I buy, cook and eat meat, though I eat far less of it than he does. I love our cat, just as I loved all the other strays who came to me before him, and I feed him animal-based foods just as I fed them. He's a carnivore; I do not love him less for it or try to make him something he's not. And now we have the leather-upholstered furniture my true love has actually always longed for to replace that beautiful pale yellow, flowered loveseat and the big blue denim chair in my studio. Leather doesn't absorb urine. Leather can be wiped clean.
The loveseat we used to have cost $130 at a garage sale here in Concord, gosh, maybe ten years ago. The blue chair -- which was never satisfactory, by the way, since it was not soft to sit in, not really the right back height, and was supposed to unfold into a bed but instead unfolded into three sections of entirely different and uncomfortable textures -- cost $450 at L. L. Bean plus delivery. The new furniture we just got cost more than a month's rent.
"Boy are you going to be mad when he starts to claw that!" remarked a friend of ours.
"Oh, he won't," I replied confidently. "Sam doesn't claw furniture, only rugs. Furniture he just sprays."
I sense more strategizing and compromise and furious absurdity in the near future. This is because in real life, love, even love of a small and imperfect rescued animal, is not a lot like what you might read about in books or see on TV. Love isn't just for pretty people and sweetly grateful creatures and doesn't come neatly wrapped or perfectly reciprocated. Love can take you down some complicated paths, including paths about both control and release, and make you try things and go to places you thought you never would.
And you have no choice, not when it's real, no choice in whether or not you will love, only in whether or not you will bend to love's will in practical matters even when that seems most ridiculous just so you will have tried and not given up on love.
And often when it's real it makes no sense, and there is no explaining the lengths to which it will drive you, not to sane people who weren't hit by the same sudden arrow in the ass it makes perfect sense to believe was shot by some horrible laughing child up in the trees.
Happy Love Thursday, everyone.