Monday, September 04, 2006

Why Cats Suck

I'm what you might call a walking argument for the toxoplasma gondii effect. While more or less indifferent to animals in general (don't hate 'em, but don't exactly love 'em neither), I am a devoted cat fanatic. Cats are indescribably beautiful, fascinating to watch, just similar enough to humans that it's possible to relate - and yet mysterious and "wholly other" in important ways too. But more than anything, just plain cool to hang out with. They have a sort of playful arrogance that makes it a lot more interesting than, say, playing fetch with a dog.

I currently live with grey cat named Marten, whom I picked up from the animal shelter after my childhood cat died in 2004. Marten (called "Grastado" at the shelter) wasn't exactly my first choice. In fact, he might not have even been there the first time I went. See - first I got a freaky-looking black cat I named "von Mises," but whose real name turns out to have been "Otis." After I'd had him for a week, I got a phone call from the shelter saying they'd found the owner, and I gave "Otis" back. Which was actually fine with me since we weren't getting along all that well.

Marten was there when I went back, but I probably wouldn't have noticed him if not for a girl there looking. She had her eye on a cat named "Conan" - and Conan was a damn cool cat, I have to say - who had already been spoken for. However, the woman who "adopted" him had failed to show up to pick him up, so in another day or so this girl could have him, and she was therefore going every day to see him in hopes. She told me that "Grastado" was also cool. To me, he looked pretty mangy. But I'd taken all the other decent-looking cats out of their cages and played with them a bit, and none of them really had "it," so I gave Grastado/Marten a go.

Now, when you take the cats out of their cages, they generally do their best to be really friendly so you'll want to take them home. Not that they actually care about you, just that they figure whoever you are, you've got to be cooler than the shelter.

Marten, however, didn't. He walked straight up to the door and looked at me like "OK, you'll do. Let's go."

I knew he was the one.

And on the whole, he's the Best Cat Ever. He's an outside cat, a devoted hunter, and he likes just hangin' out. Though he's free to come and go as he pleases, he insists that I sit with him outside for a half hour or so every day. We're best friends!

But he does have one annoying little habit - and that's that he likes to bring his catches inside when they're not quite dead.

He doesn't hunt to eat, you see - just to play. (In fact, he's been known to come inside, drop a mouse on the floor, and head to his food bowl. Catching the mouse reminds him it's time to eat - but it doesn't seem to occur to him consciously that he can eat the mouse.)

I used to just leave the back door open so he could come and go as he pleased, but that obviously led to lots of critters getting chased around the living room (especially chipmunks). Now I make him ask to come in and out, and so the problem has largely gone away. But today he got sneaky. He's learned to cry and make it sound almost like he doesn't have his mouth full of some soon-to-be-dead rodent, and so sometimes I let him in and something gets past.

Unfortunately, today it was a tiny mouse. Normally what I do when this happens is throw him in the other room and shut the door. Then I go get the dustpan and herd whatever it is in and throw it out the door. I keep Marten inside for another 20min. or so to let it escape (I don't want him eating wild animals as much as I can help it - even though I'm careful about his shots and medicine), and then let him go.

For some reason, he hasn't really figured out that he's not allowed to have his "toys" inside yet - but then, cats are pretty stubborn about not learning things they don't want to hear.

Well, today the mouse got away. Marten had it on its back, and it looked dead or dying. But I guess this was an example of "playing dead" behavior. I put Marten in the other room, like I always do, but when I came back with the dustpan it was simply gone. And it still is - gone. I let Marten back in, hoping he would find it, but he never did. And that's the creepy thing - I looked everywhere. There's nowhere it really could have gone, and yet gone it is.

So I guess there's a half-dead mouse running around here somewhere. It's so small, I'm not sure I'll ever find it or even smell its dead corpse. Marten usually sleeps inside, though, so maybe he'll find it tonight.

Anyway - this is the one thing that I don't liks about life with Marten! But it's cute in a way too. He's always so proud of himself and wants me to know.

I admit, though, I've always wondered just what it is, exactly, that I get out of having a pet cat. I mean, it's pretty clear what's in it for Marten. Free food, free house, occasionally gets his head rubbed. But for me? I just don't know. And it's especially puzzling that it's cats in particular. I mean, what would it be, exactly, about general characteristics of typical pets that makes people like them at all? And shouldn't a cat be just as good as a dog for whatever purpose a pet serves? Or a ferret or whatever? And yet, I like cats. Just cats.

Like I said, a walking argument for the toxoplasma gondii effect. I like cats because my brain is infected with them like a disease - quite possibly literally.

[UPDATE: Found the mouse hiding under a cushion. It was very much alive - seemed mostly uninjured. I put it outside where it no doubt got caught by an owl (or another cat).]

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