As I write this, it’s the unholy hour of 2 a.m. About 15 minutes ago, I was awakened by a wet nuzzling on my cheek. It can’t be my wife, as she’s working nights right now. It can’t be a dolphin, or there’d be the smell of fish. Then I hear a loud meow directed straight into my ear, and I realize it’s a hungry cat.
About six months ago, I took over the chore of keeping our three kitties fed. For years, my wife and son had maintained a routine of twice-a-day feedings: a dry mound of colorless veterinarian-approved senior formula around 7 in the morning, then at 9 in the evening, just for a little variety, a dry mound of colorless veterinarian-approved senior formula. Everybody was fat and happy.
When I took over, the gravy train started slowly going off the tracks. I’d prepare my turkey sandwich before work each morning, and toss Harriet, Taylor and Tom a scrap of lunchmeat. When I’d get home from work around 1:30, they’d recognize me as that big, awkward human who was an easy touch, and would circle my legs, their faces plaintive and irresistible. I’d succumb and offer up a few morsels of cat treats, then repeat the same ritual several hours later. Discipline and order were spinning out of control.
This was turning out to be a bad role for me. I pretend not to care whether other humans like me, but I always felt I had a special bond with the animal kingdom, that my simple nature and base instincts gave us a common bond. We don’t have dogs, yet most of those I encounter on the street like me enough to repeatedly bark “hello” when I jog past their homes. Birds and squirrels seem to regard me as a kindred spirit, at least when I’m not accidentally running them over with my car. I have an innate confidence that if I ever encountered a bear or wolf or tiger out in the wild, that they’d like me too, and not just for my well-marbled meat.
So now the cats are spoiled, and think they can demand food from me at any hour of the day or night. The trio is led by Harriet who, at age 14, apparently won the job of chief beggar by virtue of her seniority and her more piercing meow. I’ll be under a blanket taking an afternoon nap, and suddenly feel a commotion working its way from my feet toward my upper body. She starts by rubbing my shoulders with the side of her face, a move I resist by turning over and snuggling deeper into the blanket. Little vocalizations follow – nothing too disturbing, mostly just a polite announcement that she’s a cat and not a home invader and, if it’s not too much trouble, would I be kind enough to hand over all the cat food. When this fails, she resorts to the wet nose.
As much as I like animals, and as much as I acknowledge the cat’s reputation for cleanliness despite the fact they bathe in saliva and tromp through a litter box every few hours, I can’t stand to feel their spittle on my skin. Harriet knows this, and so saves her ultimate weapon until the nudges and over-dramatic purrs have failed to rouse me. I burrow deeper into the sheets, trying to keep every square inch of my body covered. No matter how thoroughly I try to hide, Harriet always manages to find an exposed elbow or finger, and starts lapping away.
My wife enjoys this show of affection, and can lounge for long moments while Harriet or Taylor methodically work a small patch of skin, searching for what she claims is love and I contend is salt. (Tom, who’s only been indoors for a year, prefers a more fang-based interaction with humans). I, on the other hand, can’t stand it. Maybe it’s the constant drumbeat of mandatory safety training at work that puts bodily fluids on par with nuclear waste or Newt Gingrich as a hazardous material. Maybe I need to distinguish between the lick, which involves simple saliva, and the nasal nudge, which involves mucus. Maybe I need counseling to realize that animal slobber is a natural and organic thing, soon to be available in health food stores.
So when Harriet announced herself at my pillow early this morning, I took the easy way out and got up to feed her. She may have had a legitimate point in this one case. For their actual dinner hour, I’ve started recently to give them only a half portion around 9 o’clock and the other half about 45 minutes later. Taylor has taken up the sport of competitive eating, and will wolf down a full portion so rapidly that he ends up “refunding” (look it up at ifoce.com, the website for major league eating, if you dare). Last night, I dozed off before I could offer up the second course, so her complaint was a valid one.
Still, I need a solution to this problem that doesn’t require any responsibility or self-control on my part. And I may have found it.
During a recent visit to the vet, we picked up a brochure from the makers of Invisible Fence. For those of you not familiar with this product, it involves burying a small power grid around the perimeter of your yard which transmits a mild electrical shock to a collar worn by your outdoor dog when he tries to pass over it. It’s basically a self-tasering device that eliminates the need for ugly chain link to surround your property. After a few jolts to the throat, even the dumbest dog learns to avoid the invisible fence.
The concept is a very clever one, and it didn’t take long for the sales folks at IF to come up with some other applications. My first choice for venturing outside the doggie market would’ve been electric collars to keep weak-willed humans away from bars, fast-food establishments, pawn shops, me and the like. Perhaps the company thought that metallic chokers with a transmitter attached would not be an acceptable fashion statement, though a visit to any high school could’ve convinced them otherwise.
Instead, the Invisible Fence people are now offering an option to keep cats geographically controlled. And it somehow works not only out in the yard but indoors as well. The brochure doesn’t explain this in any detail, so I’m left to assume they won’t be digging up your living room and sinking high-powered cable around your sofa, but instead employ computers and perhaps a GPS connection to track your kitty. When Puff jumps onto the dinner table and starts gobbling your chicken — as shown in one picture in the brochure that’s captioned “does this look familiar?” — a geosynchronous satellite is duly notified and space lasers offer a virtual “no!” from 150 miles above the Earth.
Not sure how Harriet, Taylor and Tom would react to that. You could make a strong argument that the punishment is a bit harsh for the “crime” of curiosity and hunger. Electrocuting your pet for the slight annoyance they occasionally cause doesn’t seem to give them enough credit for that whole love and companionship package they offer. But those wet noses sure will help with the conductivity.