You’re touching my back. Knock it off.
Take a close look at the above photo. Well, try to ignore the clutter around the dog and cat in the photo. Focus on the dog and cat. To paraphrase a line from Ghostbusters, “Dogs and cats sleeping together. Mass hysteria!”
Let me say that, although we have always had pets in our family, I had no idea about Daughter’s fixation with cats and strange cat photos until I started reading her posts. I’m okay with it, of course, but she may have a little too much time on her hands to have amassed such a collection of “cute” kitty pics. Probably another blog there, perhaps, but I digress.
The cat in the pic, Sandy, is the matriarch of the pride in our family, which at one time numbered seven total felines (elements of two of her litter generations). She came into the house as a cast-off runt of a feral mother, once again, given to us by one of Daughter’s friends (see my previous post for reference). She was given the name, Sandy, and was hand fed and nursed into survival. Usually it seems that animals instinctively recognize when they have fallen into good times — never the situation here. From the git-go she was an “ornery cuss,” whose bad disposition only worsened with time. Before we got wise (like, how could we not have been?), she birthed two litters in quick succession and, presto, we had a house full of cats — much like the Tribbles in Star Trek (Daughter also feels my media references badly date me and confuse readers). At this point in our lives, cats were simply everywhere. In a nod to familial connections, we used to keep a photo of the father pinned to the wall above the phone in the kitchen. After doing his damage (twice), however, he was never seen again in those parts. His photo eventually disappeared, too.
With each passing year, MamaCat (nee Sandy) transmogrified into something out of Frankenweenie, except the dog in that movie was nice (Please note recent media reference). Tim Burton couldn’t imagine what she became: a holy terror. And best of all, she saved the worst of her abuse for her offspring. She couldn’t stand them and went out of her way to make her displeasure known: scratching, biting, growling, howling, hissing — whatever negative cat noises you can come up with, she vocalized them, and followed up with physical violence.
She’s been with us over seventeen years now, and in those idle moments of life remembrance (like when I can’t sleep most nights), I honestly don’t remember seeing her around all that much over the past two decades. She mostly hid out, and when she wasn’t hiding, she was attacking someone or something.
Then, a funny thing happened about five years ago. She had a stroke.
One day, she simply couldn’t walk. We took her in to our wonderfully supportive vet, expecting her to say the kindest thing to do was to “put her down,” but instead she just said, “Let’s give her a few days and see if she perks up.”
If nothing else, MamaCat is a survivor. Slowly, she regained her mobility and strength, and within weeks she was pretty much back to normal — except for one thing. She was nicer. No, she didn’t magically become a lap cat, but she certainly became more sociable and friendly — at least with humans. My years of college study led me to conclude the stroke had killed off more of her bad gray matter than whatever was left behind. Good matter? Indifferent matter? I’ve got no science to back up my observations, but the theory still holds some water, I figure.
She still hates her remaining two grown kittens (both sixteen themselves), and she actively bites, growls at, and scratches Daughter. But at night, she now sleeps in a basket at the foot of our bed, and actually allows me to pick her up for a few seconds occasionally. It’s also frightening to admit this, but I can even rub her tummy (I hate using that word, but it’s appropriate for her) some evenings. Such acts “pre-stroke” were not simply unthinkable; they weren’t even possible.
So, let’s back up a moment. About five years ago we adopted the most wonderful, loving White German Shepherd. He is both a dandy and dandyish, but will attack anyone who approaches Mom, knocks on our front door, or tries to deliver packages or mail (we’re a “known” address with UPS, Fedex, and the US Postal Service). The trickiest part of blending him into the family was working with MamaCat. Did she accept him? No. Did she attack him? No. Did he care one way or the other? Apparently not. He doesn’t like cats hovering near his food dish, but that’s about it.
Our DandyDog has a hard time getting comfortable, so we have a variety of beds and cushions throughout the house for his convenience. One of his primary, most cherished locations is at the foot of his Mom’s bed. The indentations on that cushion are molded to his frame, and he spends most nights there — until recently. It seems MamaCat has taken a shine to that particular spot, and she parks herself prominently at the beginning of most evenings. It’s her own “Occupy” movement, but she literally takes up, like, 10% of the available space. DandyDog usually wanders by, looks perplexed (a common expression for him), then collapses on the rug near Mom’s side of the bed.
Until today. MamaCat and DandyDog not only shared the same space, but were actually touching. Though it didn’t look like either was particularly comfortable with the set-up, they were, in fact, together. I suppose it was more of a journey for the cat than the dog, but it was a feat nonetheless. And unimaginable both within the context of the entirety of this one cat’s life and the behavior that defined same.
I don’t know that there’s any great truth involved with all this, except that change seems possible, even after years to the contrary. I can imagine MamaCat yowling in her best Rocky Balboa — “If I can change, then you can change.” I think that was Rocky III, maybe IV. Again, dating myself.
Seeing change like this happen gives me hope, provides context, and gives me something to ponder as I get older and become less likely to change. You see, I guess I’m a lot like MamaCat myself.
It’s also helpful when I’m out of blog ideas.