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Angry cats and the women who love them

At the beginning of February, about a week after I gave up The City of New Orleans, I wrote this email to a friend.

I had an extended dream last night about committing "assisted" suicide. For some reason, I had to have others involved. The first attempt was execution style.

Someone was trying to behead me -- and failing repeatedly. I know the guy -- he's a bike mechanic who recently tuned up the bike I built, and my last contact with him was him calling me and saying he could give me some tips about things I should set up differently, if I wanted.

We agreed that it just wasn't working, and he offered to get me a sedative. Incidentally, the method was having me kneel over a wood-chopping block, and he was using a small hand ax. I don't remember any pain, but there was an awful lot of blood.

I don't remember how the dream segued, but then I was at some kind of company picnic, and I was taking sedatives in food (notably ice cream). The sedatives were to put me to sleep, and then someone was going to give me a lethal injection (this is the way cats are euthanized).

I guess I feel really really guilty.

The City of New Orleans was a nice enough cat, in many way a rather wonderful cat, but she was labile and unpredictable. Cats bite when they are overstimulated, but her biting was abrupt and often had no apparent trigger at all. She was a cat who would walk up to you and bite you.

Her flashes of hostility didn't make it any easier to give her up. When I finally made the decision, after three years of patient exploration and deep guilt and shame, I was met with a surprising lack of sympathy. In retrospect, I suppose it is not all that surprising, but people treated me as if giving her up (or putting her down) was my first response to a cat that probably bit me for a good reason. It hurts to feel like your hard work has been trivialized, even when you know that the trivializer sees evidence for her assumptions regularly.

The people I spoke to in the last week I had The City of New Orleans were volunteers in cat-rescue of one kind or another, either in formal organizations or amateurs. They all had one thing in common: none of them believed that The City of New Orleans's biting behavior was substantially dangerous. The woman who finally picked her up made it very clear to me on the telephone that she thought I was an inherently bad person who was frankly ignorant of cat behavior. I'd be interested to know whether her opinion changed after she'd had The City of New Orleans for a few days.

The City of New Orleans was a profoundly needy cat. She was a dedicated cuddler who would jump into any curvature of human's body that looked sufficiently lap-like. She purred almost continuously while being held, and she nuzzled and kneaded. Then very suddenly she'd snap at hands or face. She drew blood from me many times, and while I never became ill as a result of a bite from her, it was clear to me that I could not keep her, and that it would be hard to find someone who wanted to.

Sometimes poorly socialized cats can find a new life as barn cats, but even if I knew of a local place to bring her, she would not have thrived in an outdoor environment. She'd been declawed by previous owners (she was seven years old when I got her at the shelter, and who knows how many owners she'd had). She also had a metabolic disorder. She required medical food, otherwise she developed painful crystals in her urine, which became blood-tinged.

I had high hopes that the identification and treatment of her metabolic disorder would improve her behavior or even resolve her problems. It didn't. There was no good way to know how long she'd been ill, and I know I might not be able to snap out of it if I'd been in pain regularly for an extended period of my adult life. I often wonder what her previous owner was like, whether she was punished for behavior that had started as a cry for help but escalated into retaliation.

I had a lot of sympathy for her but a finite capacity for taking on her unhappiness. In addition to biting, she was destructive, and every time I left the house, whether for an hour or a week, I knew it was quite likely that I'd come back to some kind of damage. She turned my apartment into a place where I did not want to be.

I had written to the same friend the previous week about the same general subject.

I slept wretchedly last night -- and I didn't even watch the state of the union address!

I dreamed about wumpus. I had just given up [The City of New Orleans], and he appeared to me, reproachful. He looked the way he did right before I had him put down, only he wasn't wearing any bandages. His stitches had dissolved away, but his wounds were resting in place, rather than the skin hanging open (as it had in real life). I petted him and he stared at me with lifeless eyes.

I used to wonder if I was so in love with him that I couldn't form a relationship with a person. Now I realize that by getting [The City of New Orleans] immediately, I never really grieved him.

I couldn't go back to sleep.

I wonder if I have grieved enough. I go back and forth. I think, I couldn't deal with City-of-New-Orleans magnitude stress again, and maybe that means I'm not recovered enough to take on the responsibility of a pet. Or maybe it just means I have a healthy sense of proportion about how much effort one should be willing to make.

July 4, 2002