By Deb Gauthier. This column appeared in the Metrowest News.
My oldest granddaughter Sarah is afraid of cats, and with good reason. When she was 3, my cat Snickers bit her ear and drew blood. How do you explain to a terrified 3-year-old old that the cat didn't mean to hurt her? The answer is, you don't.
You encourage a visit to the pediatrician, adding to the child's trauma, check the cat's records to make sure the shots are up-to-date, and try to make amends. For the next three years, the first thing Sarah asked upon entering my home was, "Where's Snickers?" And she wouldn't relax until she saw the cat locked in the basement.
Sarah is calmer around Snickers lately, but gives the cat a wide berth. She's also afraid of her own cat, because of mine. Poor Fidget is an old, arthritic cat that spends most of her day hiding from the humans in her world, probably because four of the six humans sharing her world are 9 and under. The littlest is 3 and hasn't yet learned that old, arthritic cats don't like to be chased and certainly don't want to play rough.
So Fidget rarely makes an appearance downstairs until the sun goes down. To make that appearance, however, she has to pass by Sarah and her sister Isabelle's bedroom and occasionally detours into the room just to see what there is to see. She is a cat, after all, and even old cats are curious.
But Sarah doesn't want Fidget in her room, so if Sarah is to relax enough to sleep, the bedroom door must be closed. Fidget likes to lay at the top of the stairs in the afternoon sun, but Sarah won't go upstairs if she has to pass the cat. It's a problem and it's my fault. It became apparent soon after Snickers came from a shelter to live with us about 14 years ago that he was an aggressive animal. If he wants attention and is being ignored, he'll pounce and swipe and gently bite until he gets what he wants.
He'll snuggle. He'll cuddle. But pet him one second longer than he likes and he's not above biting the hand that feeds him, not hard enough to draw blood, but hard enough to say "enough."
I suspect that's what happened with Sarah, and try as I might, I can't convince her that cats are usually gentle creatures. Sarah's upbringing is far different from that of her mother, and in many ways, that's a good thing. I shamefully admit that when Sarah's mom was around 10, our three female cats had litters at the same time. The 16 kittens slept together in a large box and the three mother cats shared the nursing duties.
The kittens were gorgeous and fun to watch as they scampered around the house, but their mothers were spayed that summer. I'd crossed the line of common sense.
It's unfortunate, though, that Sarah and her siblings have never held a newborn kitten nor had the joy of watching a kitten grow into a cat. By the time Sarah was born, Fidget was 8 years old, and by the time Sarah was at an age when she might have bonded with Fidget, she met the sharp teeth of Snickers.
The answer, of course, is a kitten for Sarah. But my daughter is reluctant to bring another cat into the home for a couple of good reasons — she doesn't want Fidget to feel like she's being replaced and she doesn't want the kitten terrorized by a 3-year-old.
There will be a kitten in Sarah's life one day, but not until Fidget is gone and her sister is older and understands the fragility of little kitty bones.
In the meantime, I'm still trying to make amends.
A few months ago, I took Sarah and Isabelle to a cat shelter where a good friend of mine volunteers. We got the grand tour. Sarah was brave, but not comfortable until she met Jack, a gray tabby.
Jack took one look at Sarah and started to purr. He rubbed against her legs and jumped into her lap as soon as she sat down. At first, Sarah was afraid, but it wasn't long before she realized Jack wasn't going to hurt her. The girls knew the visit to the Milford Humane Society wasn't to adopt a cat, but to adopt a cage, a cool program where you pledge a few dollars each month to help support the cat that calls that cage home.
Jack won Sarah's heart. And when I babysat last Saturday, Sarah didn't ask me to shut her door when I put her to bed.
Deb Gauthier can be reached at email@example.com.
Donations to Milford Humane Society's cats would be greatly appreciated.
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