Friday, April 29, 2005

The Explorers

I have a trio of furry explorers living in my household. Farquaad, Stitch, and Tooncinator were used to living in a condo three stories up, where the opportunities for exploration were limited. Once in a while, they were allowed to on an excursion to the balcony, or perhaps into the hallway where they got great pleasure sniffing at our neighbors' doors. Other than that, they were housebound.

It wasn't totally tedious for them, as we had plenty of windows with big sills and strategically placed cat perches, but their line of sight was still somewhat limited by being so high up. I also created what I called "Cat Television" by scattering bird seed on the balcony. That would attract lots of sparrows, mourning doves, grackles, and the occasional acrobatic squirrel that managed to climb the brick wall. It was always amusing to see the cats sitting with their fuzzy faces pressed up against the patio doors, chattering their kitty machine gun noises to threaten the wildlife.

But overall, their opportunities for adventure were limited. Duloc Manor is much more cat-friendly. Granted, I don't allow the felines to go wandering at will. They are only allowed outside while safely restrained on a leash. I've seen the cars whiz by as though they think they're on the racetrack at Disney World, so I don't want my pets to become "kitty pancakes" in the road. There's always the possibility that they could become gator bait if they get too close to a lake, and I saw how much interest our nieghbor's dog piqued in the hunting owls. When they go outside, I want them securely leashed and as close to me as possible. But even though they're restrained, the cats just love any opportunity to get out and explore their little corner of the world.

Stitch is our most intrepid explorer. Before we adopted him from a shelter, he had spent some time loose in a field. I suspect that he was a housecat before he was lost or abandoned, since he settled right into our household with virtually no adjustment period. He knew exactly what a couch was, as well as a litterbox, scratching post, and most importantly (to him), a food bowl. But in his time living on the wild side, he apparently developed a taste for wandering. Now, he is just as enthusiastic as any dog when we take his leash out of the drawer. Almost before we slip it over his head, he's frantically begging at the door.

Sometimes he bolts down the stairs like a black-and-white streak of lightning. At other times, he steps out casually and daintilly sniffs the air for a while before deigning to leave the porch. Otherties, he simply collapses, rolling and thrashing around on the porch, trying to get his coat as filthy as possible. No matter how he makes his initial exit, he also has to have a good roll on the sidewalk the moment he steps down off the stairs. He is just as meticulous as any other cat in grooming and polishing his coat, but the moment he steps outdoors, he has an overwhelming compulsion to get his fur as dirty as possible.

Personally, I suspect that he is engaged in a "scent war" with the cat next door. His orange and white kitty neighbor has free run of our street, and she considers herself the four-leged ruler of the neighborhood. Before we brought our own cats to Duloc Manor, she would stop by to visit us and give us a "kitty fix." She wandered through our yard and perched on our porch posts, making herself right at home and no doubt leaving all sorts of kitty pheromones to mark her territory.

Apparently cats place a lot of importance on pheromone communication. I know that my trio loves to rub their faces against virtually everything in the house. When we moved them to Florida, I purchased Feliway (a synthetic spray that mimics a cat's facial pheromones) to spritz around Duloc Manor. Supposedly, it makes cats more comfortable in their surroundings. I couldn't swear that it worked, but I do know that the kitties settled in much more quickly that I thought they would. Even Tooncinator, our crazy cat, got over the shock of being hauled in a cage with his two mortal enemy-cats for 24 hours straight rather promptly.

I'm sure that our neighbor kitty had our property staked out, so of course Stitch smelled the presence of another cat and decided to do some marking of his own. Whenever he is outdoors, he rubs his face on everything within range and rolls and thrashes like a wild thing on the ground.

Farquaad used to be scared to death to step over the threshhold. His background is more traumatic than Stitch's, as he had been living under a dumpster in a truck yard. He was barely old enough to be away from his mom-cat; I have no idea what happened to her or his siblings. But he was marked for death, as the sadistic workers think it's fun to play "Let's Run The Kitty Over With The Forklift." If they don't finish the job, the Waste Management pick-up man enjoys tossing any unfortunately stray that he can get his hands on into the compactor. As you can tell, they're a real charming bunch of people.

But fortunately, they didn't know about the kitten, which my brother found when he was making a delivery there. Poor Farquaad was sitting in front of the dumpster and wailing piteously, but whenever my brother approached, he would duck under it, sitting just out of reach. Finally, he was tempted out with food; my brother leaped at him and just managed to grab his hind leg before he made it to shelter. Now, he lives a life of luxury, buddying up to Stitch, beating up on Tooncinator, and conniving my husband into giving him ground beef. Quite a far cry from the days when the death penalty was almost imposed on him.

Other than that, his only experience outdoors was being shoved into a cage in Canyonero and being transported 1200 miles through an ice storm. Understandably, he was in no hurry to leave the house again. One day, when my husband had Stitch in the front yard, I tried to bring Farquaad out and he was so terror-stricken that he peed all over the foyer! That was my last attempt to force him.

But little by little, he has watched Stitch out the window, and his curiosity has been piqued. At first, he would slink stealthily out onto the stoop and gaze around in a panic before retreating into the house. Then he got a little braver and mapped out the foreign territory of the porch, rolling around to leave cat smells and claim it as his very own. Now, he will actually go all the way down the stairs and even to the end of the front sidewalk, rolling, weaving through the flower beds, and grazing on the lawn (all the better to hork up later so I get to do my favorite cleaning job: mopping up cat barf).

It took him a little while to understand the concept of the leash, but now he's an old pro. Stitch adapted to the restraint almost instantly; he may have been a dog in a former life. He will walk with me all the way around the block, and even down the alley. For the most part, he trots along at a steady pace, but every now and then he has an irresistable urge to collapse. Still, if I goose him with my toe, he gets the message.

Farquaad probably wouldn't do well on an actual walk. He has a terror of strangers, so he'd probably choke himself to death trying to make a beeline for home the moment he spotted a jogger or someone walking a dog. He likes watching people from distance, as long as he's within our property limit. He's also very bold when he sits in the formal room window. No matter who comes on the porch, he'll stare them down from the top of his cat perch, as he knows full well there's a pane of glass between him and them. If they open the front door, he rockets upstairs at full warp speed.

Tooncinator's outdoor experience is limited. In the condo, he enjoyed the balcony, but he wasn't much for the front hallway. At Duloc Manor, he will occasionally take a jaunt outside if he happens to be around when we're doing kitty excursions. But since he spends most of his life under the bed upstairs listening to the scary voices in his head ("Kill all humans! Kill all humans!"), there's not a lot of opportunity.

I try to make what the behaviorists at Animal Kingdom would call an "enriched environment" (i.e. lots of perches, scratching posts, and cat toys), but the lure of the great outdoors can never be entirely overcome. Thus, forevermore, I'll be stuck taking the explorers for their daily walks. If you're ever in East Village and you see a woman holding the leash of a big, black-and-white bundle of fur that is writhing around on dirtiest spot of the sidewalk, that would be me.

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1 comment:

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