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Feline Bucket - "How To Be A Cat!"

Website: Columnist Jon Carroll (San Francisco Chronicle, USA)

(Reprinted with express permission.)

Archie, Bucket & columnist Jon Carroll

Left to right: Archie, Bucket and columnist Jon Carroll.


I think Bucket is taking a correspondence course in "How to Be a Cat." Archie more or less took up all the cat room available in the home when he was alive, leaving Bucket to sulk around the edges, very occasionally seeking bonding opportunities, during which she drooled copiously. When we made overtures of friendship, she usually ran away. Very disheartening.

But Archie's been gone for nine months now, and Bucket is assuming the role of Cat in the household. Unfortunately, she has no idea what the job entails, and she's had to follow her instincts. Her instincts are unreliable.

As an example: Most cats will initiate a rub-and-purr session by jumping up on an available lap or bed. I think Bucket maybe saw Archie do that, and so she's trying it out, sort of. Sometimes, she stands by my chair and looks up. Sometimes she meows.

"Come on, Bucket," I say. "Come on up. That's a girl. Come up. You know you want to. Come on." And Bucket stands there. She's racked by internal doubts. Is it safe up there? It's been safe the previous hundred times, but that does not mean it's safe now.

"Come on, Bucket. Up you get. Come on. Such a good cat. Come on, Bucket."

Still she stands. She tilts her head quizzically. Sometimes she walks around in a small circle. She weighs the options. A car door slams far away, and that distracts her. By this time, I am getting tired of trying to persuade a cat to experience bonding pleasure. She doesn't want to get petted, fine. Go your own damn way, devil cat.

And sometimes she does. Nothing happens. There's a lot of rejection in the Bucket experience. Of course, all cat owners experience rejection; that's what sets them apart from dog owners. But this scenario of permanent hesitation is way too tedious. It's against the Cat Code.

And that, of course, is the problem - Bucket has not read the Cat Code. She never got a copy. She knows she's supposed to do something, but she's damned if she can figure out what that is. And she won't accept my help because I'm not a cat. Oh, I could make her such a cat. I could be Pygmalion and she could be Eliza Doolittle. But that is not to be. Doomed to selling flowers in Covent Garden! Poor Bucket!

Bucket's indecision is not confined to human interaction. She will stand in front of the cat door for 10 minutes before going out. There's a great big window next to the cat door, so she can see pretty clearly that nothing is lurking outside. Still, she temporizes. She frets. And when she finally departs, she scurries through the hole like a ferret chasing a rat. Then she stands on the deck breathing heavily, having cheated death one more time.

If Bucket were indifferent to us, that would be one thing. But she's not. Occasionally she will join us on the bed and start to purr and knead like crazy. She will stand on my chest (or Tracy's chest; she doesn't seem to have a favourite) and push her forehead into my chin, and eventually I will have to put her down because I am, damn it, trying to read. Archie understood about reading. Cuddling up next to someone was fine with him. Bucket doesn't have that part down yet.

Finally, maybe, Bucket will settle down for some companionable nestling. She spooks easily, however. The following things will cause her to leap from the bed and disappear down the stairs: a cough, a sneeze, the turning of a page, a laugh, any noise outside the house no matter how muted or distant, body movements of any kind. She can also become alarmed by events inaudible and invisible to humans. Marley's Ghost has come again! Flee!

Bucket also doesn't grasp the difference between waking humans and sleeping humans. That should be covered early on in the course, because a sleeping human suddenly wakened can be dangerous to cats - indeed, it is their only indoor predator. Bucket will leap up at 3am and start purring furiously and walking in circles, often choosing the tenderest areas of the human anatomy. Then there is conflict, and Bucket's view of the world as a place of lurking dangers is confirmed.

However, she now has rubbing against the legs down. That must be Chapter 1. She can do the front rub, the back rub, the figure eight and even the difficult walking figure eight. She can rub inanimate objects to indicate how very much she enjoys rubbing. She can now purr loudly enough to attract attention; she can also manage the clever little "murp" call often utilized by experienced cats.

I can't wait until she masters Chapter 2, whatever that is.

As any cat can tell you, all change is bad. Even changes for the better are bad, because they're still changes. Flexibility - not that much fun.

This country is hard on people. Hard and crazy. Got the devil in it, yet folks never seem to hold it to account. You can't stop what's coming.

Copyright © 2008 - Jon Carroll (Columnist)

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