Cat-astrophic Behavior

Would you tolerate a roommate who stole your food and bit you?

Back in my heady, unattached-to-a-girlfriend days (that is, 2011), I adopted a 3-year-old cat named Charlie from the Maryland SPCA. He was a handsome gray domestic shorthair, and despite being cooped up in an animal shelter, he seemed comfortable around people. Since I was a novice pet owner, I figured that choosing a solitary, mellow, young adult cat to bring home would make the transition as easy as possible for both of us.

If you are a cat person, I’m sure you’re already laughing.

Indeed, I had a grace period of a few weeks before Charlie got acclimated well enough to start wreaking his own brand of feline havoc on me and my home.

It started with the biting. At random intervals, he would walk over to the foot of my couch and stare up at me, unblinking. That was disconcerting enough, but even more so because it was a prelude to his chomping down on my leg or arm, just hard enough to startle me. He was very good at not leaving telltale flesh wounds. I tried my best to find a solution. I carried a can of compressed air to blast him in the face whenever he got aggressive. I kept toys nearby to try to distract him. I even checked out a book about cat psychology. Nothing worked.

I finally had to admit defeat and accept the advice of fellow cat owners: I adopted a second cat. Homer was a dopey-but-affectionate orange-and-white domestic shorthair who had been fostered by my brother-in-law’s aunt. Thankfully, that did the trick. Charlie now burns off his excess energy and aggression in regular sparring sessions with Homer, who can dish it out as well as he takes it. Charlie still bites human hands, but only when he’s annoyed with excessive petting. (What constitutes excessive? That’s for him to decide.)

Cats don’t bite out of hunger, as far as I know, but I’m not sure I’d put it past Charlie — he’s always cultivated a variety of methods for acquiring food. On the advice of my vet, I decided early on not to free-feed. He eats twice a day: Before I leave for work in the morning, and when I come home afterward. As a result, he’s always been quite a reliable alarm clock. I sleep with my bedroom door closed, but 6 a.m. (or a bit earlier, depending on his whims) brings an unholy caterwauling to jar me awake if I’ve overslept … or if it’s the weekend. A few times, I foolishly left my wire mesh wastebasket too close to the bedroom door. Charlie managed to reach underneath the door, hook the wastebasket with his claws, and bang it against the door. Message received.

Though Charlie weighs in at a mean, lean 12½ pounds, it’s not for a lack of trying. When preparing and eating my own meals, I have to be eternally vigilant. Once I had sushi delivered and ate it off the coffee table in front of my TV. I guarded my meal jealously from a pair of swarming felines, but my concentration must have wavered for a split second. That’s all that it took for Charlie to nab a piece of my last California roll and scamper off with it in his mouth. I chased him into the kitchen, but the damage had been done. He’s also been known to pilfer turkey and stick his paws in congealed cooking grease, and has gone after bell peppers, pork fat, freshly-boiled corn, and cornbread mix, among other things.

Even when I dispose of food waste properly, it’s not safe. Last year, Charlie began rooting in the trash can. The first time, he was after an empty bag of dry cat food I had just tossed out. But after that, no matter what was in that plastic receptacle, Charlie would tip it over and spread its contents across the dining room when left alone. I began securing the lid by covering it with an overturned empty recycling bin whenever I was out of the house or upstairs asleep. My parents offered a more practical solution by giving me a stainless-steel flip-top trash can last Christmas. So far, Charlie has been unable to get at the garbage inside. But that doesn’t stop him from trying. The small bit of plastic bag that protrudes from under the lid gets shredded routinely, and I’m often forced to double-bag my trash when I take it out for collection.

You may ask yourself, why would anyone put up with such sociopathic behavior from a pet? Well, I guess I’m just a sucker for the quiet moments in between.

Article © 2013 by Kevin Brotzman