Forty Four—The Talk (Understanding and Accepting the Ways of the Housepet)
Grandma Brown took Bailey for a walk immediately following Onyx’s spritzing. She let me in and nodded her head in Onyx’s direction. Clearly, this was a job for a head pet. I found Onyx frenetically grooming himself. He was growling and muttering to himself, “…this is stupid! I miss the barn! She spritzed me with water—stinky water!…” It was a while before he even noticed I was there. “What you want? You come to swat me?” I realized at that moment how young our little Onyx was. Truly, he was just a baby.
This realization made me act with greater gentleness than I originally had planned. I took little Onyx’s head and licked down the spikey places in the back he couldn’t reach. Then I groomed the spot in between his eyes that seems to soothe him most. As I worked, I explained to him that while he was special and important, he was also part of a larger whole. I tried to help him understand the importance of respecting humans, and their things. I also explained to him that pets work together, and often we will gladly share our food with him—but he shouldn’t just presume to wedge his way in to our feeding space. Finally, I shared with him how saddened Bailey was by his attacking her.
Of all the things I explained to Onyx the last bit affected him the most. That crazy little kitten adored Bailey. His eyes got wide and it seemed as if he was about to start crying. He was truly a loving and sensitive little cat who desperately needed to learn the ways of being a house cat. I assured him that the sooner he learned the ways of the house, the sooner he would enjoy even more attention, and more treats. He would, incidentally, see less of the nasty water spritzer as well. As I predicted, my talk with Onyx had a greater impact after only one encounter with the spritzer.
Our first lesson was litterbox manners. I explained to Onyx that there were very few instances where not using the litterbox was okay. The first, is of course, illness, and the second is suffering from restricted access to litterbox. In both instances it isn’t really the cat’s fault and therefore we cannot be held responsible. Any other business not done in the litterbox could be done outside the house provided it was far away from Grandma Brown’s flowers and vegetable garden. Onyx was a little surprised that things were so restrictive—especially outside, but he agreed to these terms. Mostly because I emphasized that repeated violations could result in his return to the barn.
The next lesson was respecting human’s fabric things. I explained to Onyx that while there was this unspoken expectation that cats express their love and gratitude through both shedding fur and kneading on our human’s fabric things (clothes, bedding, upholstery etc) scratching, chewing or spraying them was tremendously frowned upon. I reminded Onyx that this was also especially true of draperies. While Onyx did kind of glare at me when I said this, he did not mouth off at me in any way.
I then moved on to the topic of scratching overall. Onyx was amazed to discover that scratching was only limited to designated areas called “scratching pads” and “scratching posts”. Life in the barn must have been every bit as tough as the streets because Onyx was under the impression that the uninhibited use of claws was an inherent right. Wide-eyed he listened carefully as I explained the difficulty that could befall a kids’ cat who scratches. I also explained the damage that could be done to a doggy nose or ear with the swipe of a cat’s claw. The thought of possibly hurting Bailey made Onyx’s furry little chin quiver. Together we repeated the house cat’s creed: “claws are for bugs, vermin, protection and itches” several times.
When Onyx inquired after counter tops, and shiny trinkets on high shelves, I struggled a little. Even though the glamour of this type of adventure has lost its sheen for me, I still was unclear about the precise reasons why pursuing such things were frowned upon. I always prided myself, as head pet, to offer sound reason to explain things to other pets. This time, however, when Onyx asked “Why?”, I had nothing specific to offer except, “The humans don’t like it”. “But why?” Onyx asked, befuddled.
“Because they don’t.” I said with a shrug
“Why don’t they?” This little scruff was not one to blindly accept things.
I decided, instead of making something up, I should just be honest with Onyx. I told him, “You know, I don’t know why— it’s weird really”
The little scruff seemed validated somehow, “I know! Right?!”
I gave him my best sage Head Pet look and said with great gravitas, “Still, until we learn to master the can opener, it is our best interests to follow their rules—even this one.”
Onyx half purred, and half sighed, “You are a wise cat, Oscar…very wise.”