Sunday, August 31, 2008

Herding Cats

You know the expression, "It's like herding cats"?

I know what they mean by that now, because I just tried it.

I trade cat-sitting for plant-sitting with my next door neighbor, Tara. When one of us is away, we email the other one and request services, and the tradition has become to leave our keys in a sealed envelope, taped to the front door of the sitter.

I went in to feed and clean the litterbox of Tara's cat, George, today.

George is a very sweet cat. He's dark grey and very soft. And very affectionate. Within 30 seconds of me opening the door, he is flopped on the floor, awaiting petting.

Which is all well and good, except... I'm not a cat person.

I think they're cute, I think they're soft, but I don't understand them. Maybe it's because they act too much like women. (!!!). They are unpredictable. I never want to pick one up because I'm not sure whether it's going to go limp or flip it's head and bite me or scratch me. I didn't grow up with them in my house; I grew up with dogs everywhere (to this day, everyone in my family except me has a dog). Their food stinks way worse than dog food, even the more natural stuff that isn't shaped like Jesus-fish. Their litter stinks: I'd much rather pick up a dog's warm poop outside in a plastic bag and dump it in the next garbage can than have to go mining for clumped litter next to my toilet. Plus (and this is the most important reason), whenever I am around them for more than a few minutes, I start wheezing and can't breathe anymore. I can't even stay at a house where there is a cat, even if the owners promise that the cat "never goes into that room". BS. Fur gets airborne. The most vivid recent example of this was when I stayed with Daniel at his parents' house. It's a nice big, warm house, don't get me wrong, and his parents were really kind and generous to let us stay there, but they have two cats. His mom told us that the cats hadn't been in the bedroom we were staying in, but there was fur pretty much everywhere. I spent the whole time doped up on pills, and I still had major allergy problems. In fact, during my stay, I relegated myself to the one part of the house that had hard floors and the least amount of upholstery in the house: the kitchen. As a result, I generally make a point to ask if people have animals, and if they do, I solve my own problem and get a hotel room.

Anyway, excuse the digression....

So, sometimes George gets out of Tara's condo. It's only happened a couple of times, and it was always out of the front door, which leads to an enclosed hallway. The first time it happened, I was really scared because I thought George would take off sprinting for the Great Beyond, and I'd have to call SPCA or something, and hope to hell he had a chip in him.

George got five feet away from the front door and flopped over and started rolling around on the carpet.

Today, I went out the back door to water Tara's plants. George uncharacteristically made a break for it out the screen door. And he went further than usual. He started eating a clump of what looked like blue Mondo grass from someone's pots. He went and sank down behind the next person over's patio set. I wanted to be done with him, because I had other stuff to do. So what do I do?

Like a dog person, I call him.

Yeah. Because we all know that works with cats. "Here, George..." wasn't cutting it.

I brought out toys, trying to entice him back in. I was worried the grass was something he shouldn't be eating. I didn't know if the lady over there used Round-Up on it, or worse. The crinkly-sounding fish toy wasn't good enough. Neither was me making scratching motions on his corrugated cardboard scratching pad. I wished I had stolen some of Tori's catnip.

Then, I sank lower than ever.

I tried to herd George by pouring water from the watering can behind him, then onto the back part of his body.

I seem to have a niggling feeling of learning somewhere that cats don't like water.

Unlike cows and dogs, however, you can't herd a cat by doing something unpleasant in one direction in order to spur the animal to move opposite to the unpleasant activity. (When I was in college, I used to help a friend move heifers around a pen sometimes. The easiest way to do this is to stand directly in front of the heifer and start waving your arms forward like you're directing an airplane on the tarmac. The cow really doesn't like this, and moves backwards to avoid it. So you just have to steer (haha) the animal in the direction you want it to go... I stopped helping after my friend told me that, the day before, a heifer wanted to play and stuck it's head between her legs and catapaulted her up against a fence.) And you can't put a cat on a least, not since the homeless guy's cat on a leash that I saw over at the market last week. And, did I mention that I am afraid of picking up cats and manhandling them? (Yes, even if the cat flips over and starts the "Cats and Racks" routine).

Nope. George just sat there, probably a little pissed because part of him was wet from the attempted water-herding, and ate the damn grass like I wasn't even fuming behind him.

After wandering around in a small circle on the shared balcony for a few seconds, I spied a cat looking out from another screen door on our floor. And the screen door was open! And there was a women inside! Hallelujah! She happened to look out of her door, and I begged her to come help me, telling her I wasn't a cat person, and I was just out there watering the plants, and the cat got out, and could she please come pick him up, and oh yeah, I wasn't a cat person.

The lady was awesome. She came out, clucked at me indirectly for pouring a little water on George, and picked him up and put him back inside. Ten seconds and it was done.

It always seems to happen like that for me. Very similar to the time a bumblebee flew into my 8th floor apartment in downtown Seattle, and I made my friend Mark come down from Ballard to get it out. About 30 seconds after he came in, the bumblebee flew out of the window, of it's own accord. (Now, why bumblebees are flying 8 stories up in downtown Seattle is a mystery I won't be solving anytime soon...)

Tomorrow, I'm going to clean out George's litterbox again, and change his water. But I won't be going out of the back door, I can tell you that.


Piggilicious said...


I"m surprised to hear you cat-sitting! I think to make it fair, you really should grow some poison ivy or giant Venus fly traps.

George knows your weakness... the trick to that is to show no fear! Have you tried herding it by squirting it? It works on Maomao when it's a jet of water instead of a downpour.

Quatzical said...

I can picture George's face as he munches grass with a wet bum!
When I tried to train Meep to stop doing something by squirting him, he would run straight at the spray bottle. At one point I was so frustrated with him, I poured a half glass of water over his head. He shook himself like a dog and kept going.

Mel said...

Yeaaaa that's pretty much what happened here. He could care less whether I wet him or not.

The good news is that George harbored no memory of the previous incident, and was up and rubbing on me as soon as I walked in yesterday.

And the reason I can cat-sit is because I don't spend more than 10 min over there, and as soon as I get home, I do a "surgical-scrub" of my hands, and I take off any clothes he touched...