Inherited Trauma

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!)

24 thoughts on “Inherited Trauma”

  1. Cats kill billions of wild birds and small mammals every year. 1 out 10 birds die by cat. They are legendary killers, and even one is capable of doing disproportionate damage.

    Not to say that cats are bad. I like them well enough. I think of them as asymmetric pets, compared to the forthrightness of dogs. It’s just that they need to be watched closely, like the mafia.

  2. Where I live, cats are prey to Bobcats, Cougars, Coyotes, Owls and Red Tailed Hawks.
    They are too wary to succumb to the Javelina, who routinely kill feisty dogs that challenge them.

    About a year ago I found a freshly killed feral cat just off my gravel driveway. A rather gaping wound
    was on his/her left side chest. Something was missing! I don’t know why the critter didn’t steal away with the whole carcass.
    I shoveled it up to deposit in a better location for the carrion eaters, it was easily 10#, too
    heavy for the predator birds around here to fly off with.

    My cat, a rescue Siamese hybrid, is very dog like. He follows me around the yard when I am gardening/landscaping,
    hangs with me in the garage when tinkering, comes when I call (sometimes) and sleeps at the foot of my bed.
    All in all, a dang good cat. He doesn’t like people food, though he does like murdering the House Finches and Golden Finches.

    One thing I learned from my veterinarian sister, if a cat breaks a bone, as long as both pieces are in the same room,
    they will heal.

  3. Raymondshaw….The cat you found was likely killed by a bobcat, the chest opened and the liver and heart eaten immediately, as they contain the the most nutrients. If the bobcat had eaten recently, it may have just left the rest of the carcass. Alternately, it may have intended to hide the remains and later return, but was interrupted before it could do so. Mountain lions do the same thing. When living in the mountains of Colorado, my wife left early one morning to go to town. She called me right after she left and asked me to come down the road a little way from our house to move a dead deer that was blocking the one lane shelf road from our home. When I got there I found a fresh lion kill of a nice buck with a neatly incised round hole and void in the chest about the size of a soccer ball. The heart, liver and kidneys were missing; otherwise it was untouched. I took some photos and moved it downhill off the road. I was pretty sure the lion was watching. The deer was gone the next morning, probably dragged aways and covered with leaves and branches. I didn’t search for it. An adult lion needs to kill a deer about every 2 weeks to live, so finding dead deer was not an uncommon occurrence, but that was freshest kill I ever saw. The lion probably heard the car coming and moved away. Someone walking may have found it guarding the kill.

    I kept the photos on my phone for a couple years and liked showing them to people who thought lions were “cute”.

  4. When I got there I found a fresh lion kill of a nice buck with a neatly incised round hole and void in the chest about the size of a soccer ball. The heart, liver and kidneys were missing; otherwise it was untouched.

    We had a case of a lion attack on a woman mountain biking in Mission Viejo CA about ten years ago. Her friend, who was riding with her, drove the lion off but she had bad facial injuries. Her husband, an oral surgeon, went into the prep room to see her before she went to surgery and fainted when he saw her face.

    The sheriffs were looking for the lion with a helicopter and found another mountain biker, dead. The lion had eaten his liver. His bike had a chain loose and they theorized he was kneeling, fixing it when the lion hit him from behind. He had been missing a day but had not been reported.

    Mountain lion hunting was banned thirty years ago and they are all over California. Mission Viejo backs up to a nation all forest but the lions are very close to town.

    Now I live in Tucson and there are quite a few around here. A tom,an I know was walking her Yorkie and a lion lunged out of the brush near her and caught a quail as it took off.

  5. In the instance I mentioned, the wound was walnut to golf ball sized, the patient received a cardioectomy.
    I can only guess, but I think the surgeon was either a raptor or a bobcat. The relatively small amount of
    blood visible was very red and very wet. I relocated the body about 50 yards to a location where I usually
    leave dead varmints and such for the local Turkey Vultures, Ravens and Coyotes to eat in privacy. It stayed around
    for a few days until only the tail remained.

    An interesting observation about Turkey Vultures- they need a runway to take to flight, 20-30 feet. When they smell
    a meal, they pass on the opportunity if they don’t see room for a quick retreat if needed.

    I know a local small business owner who also hunts Cougars in the area ranches. When a rancher finds a livestock
    carcass, he calls this hunter for help. He hunts with dogs & has >20. Hunts with a pack of 10 per trip. He claims
    to be quite successful at it. He really enjoys his hobby.

  6. A good few of my parents’ cats, and those belonging to neighbors — those that were allowed outside — were lost to coyotes, or possibly bobcats. This present Isabelle survived only because she was a complete and total wuss about going outside at all. Davy, the older cat of theirs had survived for several months as a cat-of-no-particular-address, begging for handouts, until Mom and Dad took him in.
    Around in my neighborhood now, the main perils for cats, besides motor vehicles and cat-hating dogs, are hawks. Probably coyotes are a peril for them along the wooded creeks – and we have spotted a coyote or two there.

    All we have managed to do, with regard to mountain lions, Dr. K., is to teach them not to be afraid of humans any more.

  7. I have a new kitten. My companion of nearly 18 years, Marsha my female cat, died of liver complications in July.

    He has complete access to the outdoors at 14 weeks. All my previous cats, and there were quite a few, were completely free all their lives. None died from animal attacks. A cat that is used to looking out for its self should never fall to a dog or coyote as long as there are trees nearby.

    Very old or young Mountain Lions are usually what becomes problems for humans. The rest are far from humanity. Both the young and very old are forced out of the prime areas and end up down the mountain trying to get by. The young will try to fight their way back the old will die. They get darker as they age, I had a nearly black one in my back woods when I had my place.

    I have had amazing animals. My cat Monster Boy used to roam far and wide and going down to the farmyard to dominate it, was a 2 mile walk. He knew I walked all through the bush and I’d find small dead animals left where he knew I would walk. I guess he did not want me to go hungry.

    Damn the kitten is perched on my shoulder watching me type. ;)

  8. “Where I live, cats are prey to Bobcats, Cougars, Coyotes, Owls and Red Tailed Hawks.”

    We are snow/sun birds, living half the year in NW MT, and the other half by Phoenix. About the 1st of Sept someone had a big cage with Siamese hybrid kittens outside the grocery store. My wife really needs a companion, and was a cat lover, so I pointed out the cage, and everything is history, except that she may no longer be a cat lover. They were barn keep teens, which meant that they had worms and mites. Asked the vet, the only small animal vet in the county, whether he had seen any similar looking kittens. He said no, so we can spect that the worms probably got the siblings. We got a male, and kinda wished we’d gotten a female too for companionship.

    She prefers Siamese cats, and this one looks pretty Siamescat a distance, but closer up you can see some tiger stripes around his eyes, etc. It’s their personalities and intelligence that she likes, except this one is still a month away from getting fixed, and that means that he is getting increasingly aggressive, and so with her, a female. I wear at least one glove (including now as I key this into one of my iPads) pretty much all the time out of the house. I put the second one on at night or when sitting down. She hates hates and gloves, so her gloves sit unused. We were in Scottsdale yesterday to buy her a new ring, and I saw her hands up close for the follow rest time in awhile, and they were seriously scarred up. She seems to be going through most of a box of bandages a week. I told her awhile back that we have good taxidermists in MT, and we could get him articulated so she could pose him wrapped around her neck for awhile, then in his Egyptian goddess pose. And he wouldn’t bite or claw her.

    Anyway, back to the preditors. Here in suburbia, his biggest threat is probably bigger male cats. But MT is quite different. His predecessor (by a couple of decades) got owled whe he strayed from the German Shepard he had grown up with. Her husband at the time had wrapped the cat tight in a towell, and they raced 20 miles to the nearest vet, who sewed the cat back up ($1,500). Cat promptly ran away when they got back to Phoenix that fall. That county has all of the biggest US mainland preditors, though brown bear and wolves are just recently returned. They stay high up, as the mountain lions mostly do too. Black bear are prevalent down in the valleys, even through our neighborhood, as well as coyotes. That cat survived an owl attack, probably being too big to carry off. But we have an eagle’s nest maybe a half mile from the house, and the adults are big enough that they could abscond with a cat. Still, I would bet on the coyotes.

    So, we are trying to teach him to stay indoors, for when we go back up to MT for the summer. It isn’t going well. The little shit, at maybe 5 months, is faster than greased lightning, adamant as only Siamese can be, and too smart for his own good. At two months, he had figured out how to push his cat house around. He uses the same technique to open our sliding glass door. By watching, he figured out how to work the indoor door handles, which means that he can open any inside door in the house that opens the other way (she locks her door now, to keep from being clawed over night). Luckily he hasn’t figured out how to open the ones that open towards him, and the outside doors are too heavy. First thing that I do when we get back up to MT is to finally get a sturdy bear proof screen door for the front door. We have been talking about it for some time, but really need the extra protection. Wish we could do something like an airlock, esp like the one at the local gun range here, with an interlock so that one door doesn’t open until the other is closed. Wife, a former interior designer, thinks that my idea of sacrificing several feet of the front porch for this is idiotic. Or, mostly just won’t look good. Or maybe even the entire front porch could be screened in. I have suggested that she may need to decide between esthetics and the cat. She is undecided right now, but with her clawed up hands is tending towards esthetics. Until, like yesterday, with that trip to Scottsdale, she has been away from the cat too long, and is worried about him.

  9. “Damn the kitten is perched on my shoulder watching me type. ;)”

    As if that were my big problem. Ours likes the visual effects of walking over iPads as I try to type. And computer keyboards are almost as bad. I will take wrapped around my neck any day (probably too big now to perch there like yours does), though it doesn’t work that well for me when he perches on the top of my head to get a higher vantage point. Luckily he is asleep still, locked in the bedroom next door. Expect to head back there shortly, where he will alternate between intense affection, and attacking any skin he can find, to punish me for leaving him alone.

  10. “I have had amazing animals. My cat Monster Boy used to roam far and wide and going down to the farmyard to dominate it, was a 2 mile walk. He knew I walked all through the bush and I’d find small dead animals left where he knew I would walk. I guess he did not want me to go hungry.”

    My wife’s mother grew up on a ranch, and so doesn’t believe in fixing animals, or keeping them inside. Wife’s second cat growing up was a monster big Siamese hybrid, and he somehow surmised that her mother liked little presents. So, he made it a practice of dropping (dead) birds and the occasional mouse at her mother’s feet. Not apparently what any sensitive young girl wants to find lying around her house.

  11. Patchie my tortie used to leave her evidence of prowess on my bed. Nothing says a cat loves you like hopping in bed and finding a mangled bird under your pillow.

  12. Nothing says a cat loves you like hopping in bed and finding a mangled bird under your pillow.

    I spent a year in New Hampshire back in 1994-95 and acquired a black six toed cat back there. He grew into a big cat and got along famously with my golden retriever. They would even eat from the same bowl. Sunny, the dog, ate faster and I eventually had to put Bill’s food in the basement. When he was hungry, he would hang out by the basement door and, if I walked past, he would grab my legs and hold on until I opened the door and let him go down there. Bill was a great cat but hated the car. I would have have brought him back to California but there was no way the two of us would both make it. I gave him to two friends who were going to live in Connecticut. Kathy was a classmate at Dartmouth and John was a PhD post doc in Pharmacology.

    I visited John and Kathy and Bill a couple of years later when I was in New Jersey on business. Bill would bring Kathy presents of half rabbits.

    My next cat was Meow Meow, when I was back in California a couple of years later. My 18 year old daughter was living with me by that time. Meow Meow one night brought a live but wounded rat into bed. It was 3 AM and I was sound asleep when a commotion in the bed woke me up. I turned on the light and the bed looked like the horse head scene in The Godfather. There was rat blood everywhere. The rat was still alive and when I roared at the cat, it took off under the dresser. I eventually chased them both out of the house and then had to change the entire bed including pillow cases.

  13. If you take the time you can train a cat to be gentle. It involves acting hurt and surprised when they stick a claw in you or bite too hard. It takes a while but most cats can be gentled. I say most, because my son’s female is awful and he has scar tissue all over his hands.

  14. “Adios, el gato”

    Heh! Otherwise known as having a hunting accident.

    I put considerable effort & expense into my many plots of native wildflowers
    and 10 bird feeders/watering locations. The wildflowers are my crops
    and the birds (including carrion eaters) and my cat are my livestock.
    I don’t mind weeding and culling as necessary to maintain the enterprise.

  15. Poor Pinky – not a happy cat, and the Animal Welfare officer isn’t real happy, either! Tranquilizers might have been a good prep for his big moment on video…

  16. I’d be inclined to adopt Pinky, provided I had access to shark proof gloves, elephant tranquilizers, medieval suit of armor, and a ballistic shield

  17. One of our previous cats was named Ninja, so named because if you petted him absent-mindedly and he did not agree with your technique, you would find your wrist slashed. He was very smart and aware of the correct way to do things.

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