The Cat Who Reformed

We inherited her from my mother – the last in a series of pedigreed ‘apple-head’ Siamese cats owned by my parents – when Mom fell catastrophically one morning in the kitchen of her house in Valley Center, California, and fractured sufficient bones in her upper spine to render her essentially a paraplegic. The house which Mom and Dad had built (the second on that site in Northern San Diego County), in which Mom had lived alone after Dad passed in 2010, had to be sold. There was practically nothing left of the original family relics, after the first house burned in the Paradise Mountain Fire in 2003, so all the furnishings went without a pang of regret from us. Ancestral bits and scraps which meant anything to us all had already been parceled out before the fire anyway.

But that left Mom’s pets; the dogs, which went to my sister Pip – and two cats, Davy and Isabelle, whom my daughter obediently hauled back to Texas from California. Davy was a stray, a bridle and white specimen, fairly elderly at the time when we took him in. He had been dumped in Mom and Dad’s remote neighborhood, escaped being eaten by coyotes, and scraped sufficient acquaintance with Mom and Dad and their next nearest neighbors to be considered for addition to either household. There may have been a coin-toss involved. Anyway, Davy was added to Mom and Dad’s pet collection – I don’t know whether they won or lost the coin-toss. Davy, having remembered starvation and escape/evasion was determined never to be hungry again, and was a hefty chunk-o-cat by the time he passed away of natural old age a year or so ago.

But this is about the other cat-inheritance, Isabelle.

We don’t actually know how old she is. Mom claims not to remember at all. It seems, from the evidence which emerged when my daughter, sister, and brother-in-law went through Mom’s paper bills – that she was the latest in a long series of pedigreed female apple-head Siamese cats named Isabelle. The turnover, as revealed in the veterinarian’s bills, was … rapid. Either that, or female Siamese cats regularly regrow uteri, to be dutifully snipped, rather like pruning a fruit tree. In any case, Isabelle the something-numbered was dutifully carted to Texas to live among our existing menagerie.

She turned out to be … eccentric. Or woefully unbalanced, timid, severely antisocial, and mentally not tightly wrapped. She did not adjust to living in a household with other cats. But – OK. Mom’s cat. I took her to live in the master-suite, sequestered away from the other felines in residence. She mostly hid under the bed, emerging at intervals to nibble from the food dispenser … and to regularly pee in the bedding. That was not appreciated, mostly since I often discovered the fragrant damp spot at the very end of a long and tiring day. Stripping and remaking the bed at that point in my day was not a welcome exercise. When the Amazing Catio was finished, Isabelle was one of those consigned to live in it.

All clear? Good. She settled to live with Davy and one of the others, all in a heavily screened patio, full of shelves and other cat-approved delights. Until the day that … a small dog came among them on a temporary basis. This was a small Chihuahua-pug, christened “Fang” and subsequently re-homed with elderly dog-loving neighbors who had recently lost their previous small dog and who were ripe for considering an addition. Fang was temporarily consigned to the Catio, in lieu of any better and escape-proof place to stash him. The other cats didn’t care – they had their shelves and chairs in that space, far, far above the reach of a small and inquisitive dog. All went well for the first day – until mid-morning, when the most awful canine-feline racket emerged from the Catio; that of a cat snarling through her teeth – teeth which were firmly latched onto the dog’s behind, to which imposition he was objecting, loudly. It honestly sounded like he was being skinned alive. I was on the spot at once, certain that from the sound that one or both animals were mauling each other to shreds – but not so. Isabelle had been sleeping on one of the patio chairs, and somehow her left rear leg had gotten caught between two of the wooden slats, Fang had gotten impertinent, to which she had taken violent objection.

I managed to separate them, and with my bare hands. No – there was no blood drawn in this process, fortunately. The frantic Fang did try and bite me, but not hard enough to break flesh. I pried Isabelle off his behind, freed her leg from the chair, whereupon she levitated straight across the Catio, clung to the farther side with all four claws, then dropped to the ground, and scuttled, limping obviously, to a refuge underneath the other chair in the Catio.

We took her to a local veterinarian, afraid that she had broken a leg bone or something. To the veterinarian’s professional astonishment, she had instead managed to blow out all the tendons around the equivalent of a knee joint – a curious and unusual development, and one which he had never, ever seen before in his practice. The veterinarian consulted professionally with some interested colleagues and suggested that the best remedy was the surgical insertion of a pin through the joint to hold it all immobile, since a cast or a splint and bandages was just not doable for a cat. So it was explained to me, and so I (gulping slightly upon reception of this call the next morning) authorized the surgery, and payment.

The following day, we went to collect Isabelle, her necessary medication, a page of instructions … and the vet assistant at the desk positively gushed over how good and accommodating and affectionate she had been. The Daughter Unit and I looked at each other.

What the hell … what have you done with Mom’s cat? And where did you find a slightly cross-eyed apple-head identical Siamese?

We took Isabelle home, followed the instructions, kept her in a wire crate with a pillow paved with piddle-pads, pilled her, and dressed the small surgical wound every morning … and indeed, it was true. She was affectionate, purring at the most cursory caress. I moved her back into the home master suite … and there she has been ever since. Snuggling up to me, every night, considerately peeing on the piddle pads, eating and drinking from the pet food and water dispenser in the bathroom, vying for mastery of the wicker cat/dog nest under my bed with Nemo the something-terrier … and it’s all good. She purrs like a small motor, when I pet her … it’s all very curious, to my way of thinking. Did she have a temperament transplant, along with the surgical pin in her knee?

Who knows? Comment as you wish.

9 thoughts on “The Cat Who Reformed”

  1. Had something similar happen with a farm cat. Coal black short fur, part Siamese (based on the tendency of her, her mother, and her aunt to throw litters sporting a few Siamese marking kittens from time to time). She was extremely standoffish … until she got caught in a trap. My dad extracted her from said trap. After that she decided people were all right and worthy of her attention and affection.

  2. Stripping the bed in the middle of the night and remaking it brings fond memories of a cat I once had. I’m not a cat person but this one had become a resident when my daughter was home. She was now at UCLA but the cat stayed. I kind of liked it until one night, about 3 AM, it brought as rat to bed to play with. I was awakened by a commotion in the bed. I turned a light on and the scene resembled the horse head scene in the “Godfather.” Rat blood was everywhere, including my pillow. In addition, the rat was still alive. I yelled at the cat and she let go of the rat, which promptly went under the dresser. Long night.

  3. Initial curiosity motivated by the term “Catio”, I find myself, strangely, relieved that I’m not alone. My wife, also, built a “Catio” onto the two-stall horse barn I had built over two decades prior. She had carefully, meticulously, transformed the horse barn, to my astonishment,into a high-end cat shelter, complete with brick flooring, feline climbing apparatus, and “She-Shed” accouterments.

    The cats that inhabit this “Cat House” are feral, free-range predators of high skill, captured in live traps and neutered, and condemned to live their lives within the constraints of the Cat House (complete with the extended Catio), until domestication and adoption occur. Few have attained this lofty goal.

    I have, without any stress whatsoever, accepted this remodel to our farmstead. I consider the ancient Chinese wisdom, the yin and the yang, the duality inherent in our latent, contemporary relationship, and continue to allow myself to be shaped, softened by my wife’s unrelenting waves of family and stability. Of this, I blame advanced age.

    I find solace with fraternity, and I thank you for that.

  4. Oh, yes, Pouncer – “Fang” is a “chug” and his owners love him dearly. He is very, very bright and affectionate. It seems that the pug-Chihuahua cross is a very good one, for two breeds that were becoming a little unstable. They have the sweet nature of a pug, and the athletic energy of a Chihuahua without the snappiness.

  5. Both the OP and the comments (thus far, anyway) comfort me a bit because I see I’ve not the only family insanely ruled by pets.

    18 years ago we lost a cat to cancer. I didn’t ever see her smoking! Took her to her vet. Yep, her vet. We had that relationship. Left her there so that the vet could do an examination. When he called, we returned for consultation. We found her sedated, on a table, with an oxygen tent made of saran wrap. I thought of a granddaughter, whose asthma put her in a hospital were she had an oxygen tent, how that vet had done it ‘on the cheap’, tho I also wondered about the impending bill. (Actually only about $1K, making me wonder about the scores of $Ks for the granddaughter’s bill.) Vet told us about the cancer, that there was nothing more he/we could do, asked if we wanted to take the cat home or leave her with him. Cat ‘belonged’ (as if that is a word for a cat) to our younger daughter, who is handicapped and will never leave home to live on her own. We let her make the decision, knowing its importance to her, and making plain we would go along with her choice. We left the vet without the cat. (And did not tell our daughter what we later learned via phone call: the vet had injected the cat within minutes of our having left.)

    This left us without a cat. But, while at the vet, we had seen two calico kittens, sisters. Don’t recall whose idea it was, but our daughter had an empty space and we decided to adopt them. Phone calls made the arrangements, and we went to the vet to get them after they were spayed. On the way to the vet, we discussed names. Ran thru our remembered lists of historical sisters. Finally, inspired by that poem about what little boys and girls are made of, I suggested Sugar and Spice. Instant agreement. Our daughter chose which kitten got which name. Tho we had no reason to know then, it turned out she picked rightly.

    Never had two cats beyond small kittens before. Enjoyed discovering that having two cats, especially as growing thru kittenhood, but also even later, differs from having one. They do a lot more playing, stalking one another. Sugar turned out friendly, approachable, responsive (for a cat, anyway). Meanwhile Spice hid, reluctantly played, hissed, and did not tolerate petting. Except once in a while, and only from us, not from visitors. We reached a sort of consensus about some of the reasons why: Sugar, just a bit bigger, bullied Spice, took Spice’s food, and in cat play/fights was distinctly more aggressive than Spice. While Spice participated, never gave up, and also hunted and pounced on Sugar, she inevitably lost. Sugar and Spice, with their names and behavior, became a family story.

    16 years later, Sugar, the fat cat (overweight, and walked with a waddle) of the two, died. She joined other pets who over the decades claimed space several feet down in some section of our backyard. Rough reality for our daughter. Reminded us of her older sister, who grieved as hamsters died while she, knowing their approaching end, was tearfully holding them. Spice looked for Sugar, and meowed her mourning.

    And Spice changed behavior. Only slightly, but observedly actually. She tolerates petting, scratching behind the ears, and accepts cat treats, even eagerly letting us know of her interest.

    Now 18, we know from Spice’s frailty of the ravages of age. But Spice and Sugar were good for our daughter, helping her have something that depended on her…and providing more than a few occasions to discuss responsibility to take care of the litter box….

    My wife is not enthusiastic about a replacement when Spice leaves. But I think I know what will happen.

  6. My wife found a feral cat that was obviously injured. He would run away whenever he saw us, but I eventually trapped him with a have-a-heart trap. He went to the vet, hissing and spitting, for emergency surgery to repair torn tendons in his leg, and also had two teeth extracted because of infection plus neutered. All-in-all, he was a very unhappy kitty when we got him back the next day. However my wife started hand feeding him and combing out the many burrs in his coat. He eventually warmed up to us and became the most affectionate of kitties. The vet says it can happen that a feral cat will be “reset” after a traumatic event.

  7. I believe that putting a cat into anesthesia effects their personality. This has happened to my cats after surgeries or a tooth cleaning. I’ve had cats become more affectionate, and we had one ended up being quite stupid afterwards. I am careful to consider any anesthesia since. We no longer use it for tooth cleanings. We take other precautions instead to keep a cat’s dental health.

    It would be nice to believe that they “learn”, but our experience reveals to us that cats can be reset after undergoing anesthesia.

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