Can you have empathy for a cat?
I don’t mean dressing up in pointy ears and whiskers.
That’s not empathy.
That’s a meow for help.
I mean wondering how you might react to circumstances confronting your resident feline.
The cat in our home is portly, middle-aged and set in his ways.
It’s a stretch for me to picture what that’s like but I’ve got a good imagination.
Fate conspired to alter his comfortable world.
My older son is moving and he needs digs to settle his three cats in the interim.
They are a mom cat and two of her remaining kittens, who are rambunctious adolescents.
Back when we acquired our cat, C Web, the nice man at the shelter said he’d “do best in a home where he’s the only cat.”
That was no problem. One cat was felt to be plenty.
Now, years later, we were going to find out if time had mellowed his attitude toward fellow members of his species.
Roughly one second into their introduction, we learned that it most emphatically had not.
He snarled, whined, hissed, and did all those subtle cat things that indicate displeasure.
For their part, the newcomers were bemused.
Their former roommates included two pit bulls. Large, potentially hostile mammals were a way of life.
And they didn’t seem to understand C Web’s attitude.
Particularly the two youngsters, a male and a female. They seemed to think it was simply his odd manner of striking up a friendship. Instead of being driven away, his loud remonstrances seemed to incite their curiosity.
Naturally that made him, in zoological terms, nuttier than a pecan tree.
I worried that his new roomies might take him up on what even a human could interpret as dire threats of all manner of violence.
Besides being portly and middle-aged, he had been declawed by a previous owner.
His threats were empty.
“They don’t know that,” my younger son noted.
Which is true, but what if they figure it out?
This is where some of the empathy comes in. How would I feel, I thought, if I arrived home to find two strapping late teens roaming about my home at will, getting into my food dish?
I’d think: Mickey and Mallory.
And: I’m about to become part of a scene from “Natural Born Killers.”
Too late did I Google advice on cat diplomacy.
In fact, it was roughly about 30 seconds after I mused aloud, “Well, maybe if we leave them on their own they’ll work it out.”
Prominent among the excellent words of advice I found was this, “The worst thing you can do is to leave them on their own to work it out.”
I paraphrase only slightly.
It was also too late to follow other aspects of the excellent advice offered. For instance, we couldn’t keep them separated by a door and gradually introduce them to each other.
Separating them now would only be in an effort to prevent bloodshed.
And, ominously, the mom cat had retired to our home’s second floor, and was not heard of again during that initial 24-hour period.
If the youngsters were Mickey and Mallory, didn’t that make her Ma Barker?
Just what was she up to?
Wareham (Massachusetts) Courier editor Frank Mulligan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Frank Talk: When bad things happen to good cats
Can you have empathy for a cat?