Whilst I was perusing this story about the possibilities of trauma being a heritable thing, on my home office computer, my daughter came in to see what I was up to, and to lavish some small affection on our own bit of inherited trauma – that is, Mom’s cat, Isabelle. Isabelle was the last of those purebred apple-head Siamese cats which had been Mom and Dad’s. When their house had to be sold upon Mom becoming an invalid, my sister took the dogs to live with her (along with Mom) and Blondie and I inherited her two cats, one of whom has since passed away from advanced age. But Isabelle … sigh. Mom can’t remember how old she is exactly, since she was one of a long series of pure-bred apple-headed Siamese cats – and this iteration turned out to be as nutty as squirrel poop. Also mind-blowingly timid, unaffectionate, hostile even, unhygienically given to pee and crap where she slept (or where I slept, which was even more disgusting), and negative to the existing cats. We speculated that either Isabelle had been dropped on her head too damned many times as a kitten or was just as inbred as heck.
Anyway, upon completion of the Glorious Catio last spring, Isabelle – with her disgusting toilet habits and bad temperament firmly established – was one of those who moved in full time. There she spent her days and nights, fed and sheltered, amused by the garden outside, receiving some affection whenever we went out to sit – carefully, of course – and all was right with our world. (And it was nice to be able to clean something and have it stay clean for longer than ten minutes.)
Late in October, we rescued a dog from the streets in our neighborhood; a lively pug-chihuahua mix, whom no one recognized or claimed. We started calling him Fang – one has to call animals something, of course – and schemed to re-home Fang with an animal-loving couple of our acquaintance, a couple whose previous small dog had crossed over that rainbow bridge, and looked to us to find them another one, since my daughter and I seemed to have a secret super-power of animal-attracting. Fang seemed agreeable to cats but was (and still is) a consummate escape artist, and speedier than chain-lightening with a link snapped. We were afraid to keep him in the house, where he might tangle with our two small dogs, outside in the yard – too many gaps in the fence where he might escape. The Catio, with hardware mesh walls, brick floor and latched door, was the perfect temporary place. The cats, after all, had their ranks of shelves and perches, far above a small dog, who would perforce be limited to floor-level.
All went well for a couple of days. Our friends agreed to take Fang when no one claimed him, and my daughter went to run some errands, and I settled down to work at the computer. Until the sudden horrific ruckus broke out – howling, snarling, wailing – coming from the Catio. I rushed out there to see two cats on the highest shelves, watching with interest, and Isabelle with one hind leg up to the knee caught through the slats of one of the chairs, and twisting around, yet had her front claws and jaws firmly latched onto Fang’s rump. All too obvious what had happened; Fang had surprised Isabelle, asleep on the chair, she got her leg caught, and retaliated as cats will, with tooth and claw.
Fang, of course, did not like this situation, and commented loudly. Isabelle didn’t seem terribly pleased, either. I grabbed her scruff, eased her leg out from the chair, she let go of Fang and seemed to levitate across the Catio and hang onto the screen door for a moment before falling back to the ground. Fang, whimpering slightly, seemed relatively unhurt save for his dignity. But Isabelle was limping, badly enough to make a visit to the vet obligatory. My daughter thought she might have broken one of the long bones in her leg. So – applied some antibiotic to Fang’s rump, stowed Isabelle in a carrier, and off to the vet. (By coincidence, the one that I had brought Fang to, earlier in the day to have him checked for a chip.)
No, it emerged that Isabelle had not broken her leg – to the astonishment of the veterinarian, she had contrived to blow out the knee tendons in attempting to get her leg out from between the chair slats. The best and least expensive surgical solution he could suggest was to install a long pin through the leg bones to hold the knee rigid, and let the tendons heal. This we agreed to; for a cat we weren’t all that fond of, that to all appearances hitherto wasn’t all that fond of us, either – but Isabelle was Mom’s cat, and we felt obligated to take care of her to the best of our abilities because of that. We warned the veterinary staff of her disobliging and usually hostile nature and left her overnight for the surgery the following day.
When we went to collect her the following afternoon, the vet-tech enthused to us over how good and cooperative she had been, how affectionate she had been, even when the anesthesia wore off. My daughter and I are looking at each other and going, “OK … what have you really done with Mom’s cat, and where did you find this identical Siamese?”
We had to keep her restrained in a crate inside the house for a good few weeks – a crate just large enough for a towel-and-piddle-pad covered pillow, with a dish of food and a water dispenser. She took her daily antibiotic graciously, seemed to briefly retain her old habit of peeing and crapping where she slept, and then … didn’t. The concept of the litterbox seemed to have dawned on her. The surgical wound on her thigh healed over (she’ll go back to the vet after the holidays to have the long pin removed), and she curled up quite amenably in one of the pet beds that we have star-scattered across the household. From there, she moved into claiming the dog-bed at the foot of my bed, from Nemo and Connor (who prefer sleeping on the bed itself,) and to being actually human-affectionate. She sits on laps when offered, purrs affectionately, ‘talks’ to us in ‘Siamese-cat-yowl’ when we pet her.
Really, it’s quite astonishing, the transformation. I can only think that there must be something positive said for trauma. At least in the case of Isabelle.
(Note to all – the first three Luna City books are marked down for 99 cents on Kindle for the month of December only. Yes, as the pusher promised; the first couple of hits are free!)