Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Communicating With Cats

I love you, but I also want to eat you.

I once read that cats have the I.Q. of a two-year-old child. That’s fine with me until they begin acting like a two-year-old child. Like many toddlers, my kitten Olive tends to think that all attention is good attention and all repetitive actions are a game. We’re trying to train Olive not to jump on the table when we are cooking and eating, not to bite, and not to claw the tiny ottoman into to a pile of glistening, red polyester fibers.

Yesterday morning when Dave got out of the shower, Olive latched onto his ankle with the force of a small, furry predator. Innocent, zealous ankle-licking quickly transformed into an impulse to devour Dave’s flesh. Claws and teeth were unleashed and Dave gave her a stern talking-to. For some reason, a freshly-showered Dave really whets her appetite. Perhaps she has the archetypical paradox of loving us, yet wanting to eat us.

Shortly after, we found ourselves huddling around my laptop asking the Google how to train cats. This led to a Wiki-How or Ask.Com page about communicating with cats, complete with a how-to video. (Not that we aren't experts in speaking cat.) Soon we were immersed in the world of translating meows with a phrasebook and deciphering meaningful feline body language.

We learned that a low, deep MRRRRooooowww is a sign of displeasure and a high Rrrrrooooowww! is an expression of terror. Subtle differences in the angles and movements of the tail may reveal anxiety, excitement, and aggression.

The subject of clawing and biting was most important to us, so we scrolled down. The article informed us that “a cat will drive his/her claws in and out of you as a sign of happiness or playfulness.” It continued to say, “Either way your cat knows and loves you.” The phrase “drives his/her claws in and out of you” brings to mind more of a stabbing motion with adamantium claws. I’m actually quite glad that my cat doesn’t know and love me that much. I considered editing the article so that it would be less stupid, but then I realized that ninety people already did.

His body language indicates that he knows and loves you.

As far as disciplining a fighting, biting kitten goes, we were advised to shake cans of pennies at her, squirt her with a spray bottle of water, and pick her up by the scruff of her neck and growl in her face like a bear. I have many spray bottles lying around but they are all full of caustic vinegar. “That’ll show her,” thought I.

The idea behind the penny can and spray bottle is that you sneak up on your criminal kitty, catch her in the act, and assault her with loud noises and a shower. We don’t have any cans to put pennies in, but we do have a huge glass fish full of spare change that is Olive's best friend. We considered turning the fish against her and shaking it in her face when she claws the desk chair.

Since the fish is always in the room, whenever she considers leaping onto the table to knock off a plate of poached eggs, she would look back and think, “I can’t do this now. The fish is watching me. The fish is always watching me…”

Today we dropped her into her cardboard carrier and brought her to the veterinarian. The entire car ride was accompanied by the seething sounds of a screaming kitten. At the office, we scooped her out onto a cold steel table. The veterinarian stuck things in her ears and poked around her eyes. He told us that our kitten has conjunctivitis and that there’s only a 95% chance of recovery. Then he said that some cats get a strain of the virus that never goes away and they walk around for fifteen years with trailing eye mucus behind them like hairy snails.

“Any tips for teaching a kitten not to bite?” I asked.

“You’re not encouraging it, are you?” he asked. “My brother used to play tug-of-war with his cat, and now the cat is insane.”

“I don’t think so,” I answered.

“I would pick her up by the scruff of her neck,” the vet said, snatching Olive up by the neck-skin. “And I would shake her and say, ‘Good kitties don’t bite' in a sterner voice than I’m speaking in now. Because that’s what a mother cat would do if Olive bit. The mother would pick her up by the neck... and throw her.”

The vet decided that today Olive would get a rabies shot. Olive panicked and looked for an emergency exit as the veterinarian produced an enormous syringe and wiped an alcohol pad across her back. She desperately moved towards the carrier, probably trying to communicate something to us through meows and body language: “Okay guys, I’ll get in the carrier! I love the carrier! Look at me! I want to get inside of the carrier now…”

The vet called in his assistant, who grabbed Olive by the scruff of her neck and, once again, began to shake her.

“The kitten might cry a little,” the veterinarian said as he plunged the syringe into her back. Once again, the kitten screamed. I quite nearly screamed myself.

When the vet and assistant released her, Olive stumbled towards Dave. He lifted her carefully into the cardboard carrier. I comforted her with my shrill female voice that cats love all the way to the apartment. “We’re almost home. Far away from that bad, bad man who kept shaking you and sticking needles into your skin. What a bad, mean-spirited person.”


  1. Oh, poor kitty!! A needle in the back? Not cool, doc.

    Olive is soooooo cute!

  2. She got another needle in the back today, too! Olive can't escape the veterinarian.