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Learning to Live with Sophie
Guest Writers' Forum Article

By Kelly L. Henderson

Kelly became a cat owner for the first time in January, 2000. She says, "It's been a mysterious, frustrating, educational and rewarding experience." Ms. Henderson is also a technical writer and an adult piano student.

Sophie

Plan Ahead
When I got my cat, Sophie, it was only after months of planning. You see, I'd never had a pet before. I live in a small apartment in the city and I wondered if it was the best place to "bring up" a cat. Not one to jump into anything, I mulled over the idea for a long time. One day an opportunity presented itself: A friend found herself custodian to a stray cat and kittens. The growing kittens were becoming an efficient little demolition crew. They were slowly but surely dismantling her house. It was time for the kittens to find new homes.

Even though I'd planned for my furry new addition, I was unprepared for some of the experiences and emotions that marked our first months together. I soon learned I'd adopted a living, breathing creature with a will and a way all her own. What was even more surprising were some of the feelings I experienced as I assumed my new responsibilities as a cat owner:

Feelings of Guilt
I felt guilty about taking her from her mother and siblings. In fact, I felt like a kidnapper - make that catnapper! It didn't help she spent most of the first night wandering around my apartment meowing plaintively. I put myself in her place: What if I were seized from my home by a complete stranger, put in a carrier - a cage! - and shuttled across town? I reminded myself that cats are capable of bearing several litters of kittens in a year. Surely there is a natural imperative that the older kittens move on to make way for the babies. Surely cats don't expect to stay with their family units indefinitely. Do they?

Furry Alarm Clock
It took about a week for Sophie to adjust to her new routine. It took me longer. You see, my Sophie hits the hay at 2:00 a.m. At 5:00 a.m., yes, just three hours later, she's awake, hungry, and looking for companionship. My companionship. When it's not volunteered, because well, frankly, I'm sound asleep, she gains it by walking over me, sitting on me, crouching on me, brushing her little nose against my face, and burbling over and over something to the effect of "Hey, sleepyhead, let's get this day rolling. The sun's gonna be up in another couple of hours. Time's a-wastin'."

Meet the Litterbox
Litterbox cleaning. Although I knew how essential it was, I was very squeamish about this chore at first. Clumping cat litter made the job easier, but I still had to get down and dirty with my scoop everyday and remove the "leavin's"! Soon I realized how lucky I was my cat had adjusted to her new box right away and used it - no accidents. I got over my willies after awhile. Now when I find those particular bits in the litter everyday I'm glad! It tells me I have a healthy cat with the good habit of using her box when nature calls.

Spay Day
I guess I have my full share of guilt because it clicked in again when it came time for the spay surgery. I know this surgery is routine and recommended but I had qualms about the ethics (wasn't I deciding her reproductive future for my own convenience?) and about exposing her to pain (why, she's just a widdo puddy tat!). We got through it, but on my part there was a lot of emotion at work - a whole lot more than I expected. I was relieved to have it over with and kitty back home. I was further relieved that she recovered quickly and was soon bouncing about as before.

Learning to Communicate
She can't tell me. She can't tell me she doesn't like her food. She shows me by ignoring it. She can't tell me she hates her new break-away collar. She learns how to snap it off. She can't tell me she dislikes her harness and leash. She rolls around on her back trying to dislodge it. She can't tell me she wants to go outside. She climbs the screen door. She can't tell me she's frightened. She runs and hides. She can't tell me she wants a hug. She climbs up on my lap and puts her paw on my chest.. She can't tell me. She shows me.

Bingo!
Finally, I learned - surprise! - she's a cat. She is not a human being. She cannot be reasoned with. She cannot be separated from all her instincts. She climbs. She investigates. She uses her claws. She gets the friskies and charges around the house. She does things and behaves in ways that are inexplicable to me. She has simple needs: A comfortable bed, food and water, a litter box, toys and play, love and kindness. Not so unlike myself. Not so unlike us humans. And she has a few qualities we can admire, or perhaps envy: she lives today, yesterday does not trouble her; she doesn't act out of vindictiveness; and she never holds a grudge.

Kelly

Photos used in this article courtesy of Kelly L. Henderson, used with permission

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