Growth Curves

1920 1280 Elisabeth Karsten

I had sworn myself not to write any cat stories and definitely not to post any pictures. Until my cat foiled it. For part of this decision was based on the idea that my cat doesn´t have the chance to have an exchange with her ilk about her human, for example when she enjoys my perseverance “It´s awfully cute how she keeps rolling the ball, even after I´ve already left.” Or when she is twitching her whiskers mockingly while I do my morning exercise “That´s yoga? Really???”  As long as that is the case, it is unfair if I do it with my ilk. But, things have changed.

So a cat story afterall

Our friendship began two years ago in March when I picked up the ten year old cat missus from the animal shelter, to offer an ageing feline lady some pleasant sunset years, and also hoping that she wouldn´t need quite so much entertainment and diversion as a younger animal. But it turned out that SEVAL as I call her (no idea whether she was a Molly or Lucy before) is in remarkably good shape considering her age and does not relinquish climbing high books shelves (I have high ceilings), pursuing wild chases of real treats and fictional mice throughout the entire apartment and autonomous open air excursions.

When she came to me it was not clear whether she was an exclusively indoor cat or also trained in being outside. She had been found a few days before Christmas outside in the cold, scraggy, listless, full of parasites and suffering from a heart condition. When I took her with me in March, she was free of the parasites, had acquired a bit of weight and had received heart surgery. The fur on her chest was still rather short and petting her belly was not welcome at all. And every new visitor and unpleasant noises like the doorbell, the vacuum cleaner, and the steam iron made her hide under the sofa. In the meantime her black-and-white fur has fully grown back and is thick and shiny, the wheezing sound when she was breathing and purring due to her enlarged heart valve has completely disappeared and her weight is of a healthy amount again. As is her curiosity and sense of adventure, more and more visitors get to see her now and unpleasantly noisy activities like vacuuming and ironing she now watches with a disapproving gaze from high up on the bookshelves.  When we had the first warm evenings this year, she was standing in the midst of the flower pots on the balcony parapet and performed dangerous contortions to get a better overview of the little front garden below her – I live on the first floor. On such days the throwing of balls or goodies and the usually delightful game with a peacock´s feather are for her about as exciting as the umpteenth repeat off a television show.

But last year she had followed me into the backyard while I was taking the garbage out. With two daring jumps she had jumped from the containers over the fence into the neighboring courtyard. When I called her, she replied since last year, when she followed me outside to the backyard while I was taking the garbage out and jumped with two audacious jumps over the fence into the neighboring court yard. When I called her, she answered, mewing miserably but was unable to find the hole in the fence I had opened for her. So finally I had to squeeze myself through the fence and pick her up an unfamiliar house entrance where she cowered ruefully. I then vowed to myself this cat shall remain a house cat.

But some vows need to be broken for love…

For after the third evening of listless roaming of the small balcony on lovely warm evenings, I thought I´d also be unhappy, if I had to spend all that beautiful weather only on a balcony. But what, if the cat ran away and got lost? Or worse, was run over by a car? I live near a busy road…

On the other hand: this cat has had a life before me – if she was used to the outdoors then she should be able to deal with traffic. Thus were my thoughts until a friend gave me an idea. She had seen a woman in the cemetery with a cat on a leash…  A great place to walk a cat for there are no cars nor dogs. Yet I thought walks in the cemetery somehow unattractive and couldn´t imagine Seval walking on a leash. But a mistress only knows what she´s tried out. So I bought a harness and glued my name and number onto it. On the first evening I put the harness on Seval. She accepted that, but didn´t like the result at all. Her disgust felt like: “You´re kidding about this silly thing, aren´t you?” Then she crawled over the floor alongside the walls until I gently lifted her belly and she realized that she could move rather normally. After about twenty minutes she had gotten used to it and didn´t try getting rid of it.

The experiment is launched

I decided to take her to the front yard – without the leash,  shehad my name and number with her after all. She was thrilled, roaming all over the little garden and when I wanted to go inside half an hour later she came with me without any problems. The next evening, another beautiful warm evening, calling her didn´t work at all and I only managed to get her home after I climbed over the fence of a nearby kindergarden and grabbed her by the harness. I decided that going outside was only permitted after 9 pm when there was less traffic in my street and I usually don´t go out anymore after that time so I wouldn´t have to face time pressure in case one of her outings took a little longer. During these two outings of hers I was outside at the same time reading and texting…rather like a mom on a playground watching her kid. By now Seval didn´t mind the harness so much any more even though it always took her a moment until she remembered she could walk in her full height with it. And I felt safe, in case she ran away there was my phone number on her harness. Usually I caught her about half an hour when she was venturing into a neighboring garden or trying to cross the street. But after three evenings of this Seval had enough. It was yet another warm night and this time she managed to get away every time I wanted to grab her. Our front yard is surrounded by a spiky hedge and that made movement for me difficult, while she just crept underneath the shrubs. As a matter of fact she seemed to rather enjoy our little chase, for she was always close but never willing, to come inside. I sat by the steps at the entrance and tried to lure her with calls and treats. She couldn´t have cared less, but sat underneath the rhododendron cleaning herself. Always in view, yet unreachable.

A few neighbors who came and left expressed more or less amused interest. “Oh, you´re walking your cat, are you?” and the undertone made it quite clear that the whole endeavor was not really beneficial to my reputation.

The experiment seemingly fails

I smiled with embarrassment and didn´t say anything and as soon, as they had left I made another attempt at catching my cat. But Seval now knew the hedge much better and wasn´t so easily tricked anymore. Then our favorite neighbor came and asked with compassion whether Seval had fallen from the balcony I shook my head and explained the experiment. She wishes us luck and went inside. By now it was past 11 pm. I had been trying for two hours to catch the cat to absolutely no avail. If laughing cats could be heard, a high pitched giggle would have penetrated the shrubs… Finally at midnight I had to go to the bathroom so badly, I decided to take a short break. When I came back down again, Seval had disappeared completely. I swallowed hard and began getting angry with myself about this most crazy idea. Using my cellphone as a flash light I searched courtyards and gardens, called and mewed but Seval was nowhere to be found. Only the occasional dogowner walking his pet cast me an either worried or bemused glance. But none of them said anything. By now it was almost 1 am and I was too tired to carry on. I decided to go home. Somebody would surely eventually find the cat – she wore the harness with my number, after all! Thank God! Glumly and full of feelings of guilt for being such a bad pet mom I went to bed. What on earth had I been thinking? Seval was a cat! An animal, for Christ´s sake!!!

Nightly wake-up call

My cellphone was in reach and put on full volume and when a text message came at 3 am, I jumped out of bed, hoping somebody had found Seval. But it was a text message from the US and du to the different time zones it had reached me at this ungodly hour even though it was only 9 pm for the sender.

Nonetheless I stepped onto the balcony and gazed hopefully down into the front garden. And indeed there was a black-and-white something directly under the balcony mewing loudly as she heard me. Grateful and relieved I sped barefoot and in my nightgown down the steps through the hell and to the front door to let the cat in. She ran past me, up the stairs into the apartment directly to her litter box! I don´t want to exaggerate but not only due to my personal relief the sound of her sumptuous scratching of the sand in her litterbox sounded rather joyful. Judging the extent of her business, she seemed to be quite delighted to be home again and was a civilized cat after all.

In the meantime I had put fresh food in her bowl in the kitchen and when she came out of the bathroom, I took the harness off her. Then she devoured the food while blinking happily at me. Grateful and relieved I went back to bed where she followed me a short while later, and took her favorite spot purring loudly. In that manner we both went to sleep blissfully nestled together.

The experiment worked, all involved happier than before

Since then Seval´s evening excursions work beautifully: at some time around 9 pm she scratches at the apartment door and I let her out of the house and about 20-40 minutes later she sits under the balcony and wants to come back inside. When I then open the front door she immediately comes out from under the bushes and runs up the stairs into my apartment. As this now works so well she is allowed to go without the harness – for now she finds her home again. And when it´s rainy or I´m out she is  happy to spend the evening inside.  But she does enjoy her nightly outings, she seems more balanced, eats more again and both of us are most happy when she comes home, just like we are, when I come home from one of my outings and we are reunited once again.