Mr. Darcy, our cat has always been somewhat special. About eight and a half years ago I finally prevailed on The Mister to let me get a cat. He is not, bless him, an animal person, though he has nothing against them. But if you’ve never grown up with a pet it’s hard to understand the desire to share your home with a furry creature. Until Darcy, I had not had my own cat since I was eight years old, but once you have one in your childhood, it’s impossible to forget.
After a goodly amount of nagging we came up with a compromise. The Mister agreed that we could get a cat, but it was my cat, and therefore its messes were my messes.
I could live with that.
The next step was to convince the landlord because I wasn’t going to go do something daft like sneak a cat into a rented apartment. I developed a plan of attack, and approached our letting agency with a well developed request supported by a number of undertakings I was willing to make to protect the landlord’s investment (ie the furniture). I must have sounded really convincing because as much as I had hoped, I had also prepared myself for rejection. The answer however, was quick and easy. Permission was granted provided I adhered to everything I had promised, which included keeping the leather furniture covered and staying away from adopting exuberant kittens that were more likely to try climbing the curtains.
That’s how we ended up with Darcy. I had asked the shelter to suggest a laid back cat that was on the mature side of things. I wasn’t particularly enamorued of the tuxedo colouring, and there were felines that appealed to me more, but I minded my promise when he was offered as a good match. He seemed gentle and willing to be petted and I then heard that he had been at the shelter three months already, overlooked routinely in favour of younger and smaller kitties. As he wasn’t sharing a sleeping crate with another cat, I didn’t really appreciate his size during our first visit. It’s only when I went shopping for all the necessary accessories and was shown my very first cat carrier that I realised Darcy was somewhat unusual. For starters, he would never comfortably fit in a normal sized cat carrier. Sure he could manage a short trip to the vet in one, but I couldn’t imagine trying to squeeze him into one, especially under protest. We ended up purchasing something that was labelled a medium sized dog grate (though I equally questioned the industry’s definition of a “medium” dog too).
At home Darcy had more surprises for us. He was not a lap cat. I felt a little cheated at first, but then I grew used to his stand offish ways and soon realised that while he may not desire to be held or sit on my legs, once he got used to me he began to show affection in his own way. The Mister informed me that the cat quickly adapted to my schedule, and would wait at the door for me to come home if I was running late. He would also follow me around from room to room, always keeping me at arm’s length but in sight, and settle down a few feet away from me on the other end of the couch when I sat down. Sometimes he’d even let me cuddle with him for a while, though those were rare enough occasions.
He ignored most cat toys. And he hated being groomed. For a while I called him my alien in a catsuit as he really shunned much of the more common cat sterotypes. He didn’t bite or chew cables (thankfully) and while he had excellent hearing when it came to the sound of a tin being opened, his actual sense of smell seemed to be less developed than expected. And unless instilled with the fear of the vaccuum cleaner, he didn’t explore his territory vertically with the usual feline dedication. We did have to chase him off the table sometimes, but for some reason the kitchen counter held no interest even when food was left there. His begging for food often involved simply falling over sideways in an uncanny imitation of a fainting goat. Nana once said that she thought he was “on the spectrum” if such a term is ever applicable to a feline. He was certainly unusual.
He also never seemed very smart. He chased his own tail like a dog, and even caught it a few times. Once, he bit it, and ran across the flat like lightning trying to flee from whatever it was that attacked him.
He tried hunting a spider crawling along the floor once in my presence, but seemed to not have the notion of using his paws, attempting instead to lick the spider to death. Unfortunately, but the time he got his face close enough to lick, he would be too close to the floorboards to be able to keep a line of sight on his eight-legged victim, and continuously ended up licking the floor, following the spider across the room this way.
Despite being a large-sized creature (7 kilos at his healthy weight, 9.1 at his heaviest) he couldn’t seem to grasp the notion that most doors in the apartment could be pushed open with his face or body. Instead he sat on the other side of the door meowing until someone opened it for him. When he did try to interact with a door himself, he inevitably ended up sticking his paw around from the wrong side, pulling the door closed on his own limb rather than pushing it open.
He did eventually learn how to push open a door. From watching my son do it when Hawkeye was in his crawling phase.
So I think it’s easy to understand why I never really believed him to be blessed with an overabundance of smarts. He did not behave like an alpha cat. The neighbour’s chihuahua, at a fifth of his own size, scared the ever loving daylights out of him (though I couldn’t really blame him for being afraid of that creature. She scared me with her loud ferocity as well). He sought food and quiet company and little else.
When we bought our house, there was no way to securely let him out in our backyard and that also meant we couldn’t keep our back door open during the hot summer days. It also made it difficult to leave windows upstairs wide open when home. He did manage to escape once, being found 24 hours later in a yard four houses down, which appears to be the only one on the block to also house other cats. Unfortunately, they were all outdoor, street-smart cats that shunned the new interloper. When we retrieved them he was off on the edge of their territory, alone and looking anxious, but also refusing to leave. I joked that he ran off to join the neighbourhood cat gang but they wouldn’t have him. I brought him back home and didn’t think about letting him out again for months.
Eventually however, we got the rear of our property fenced off, and earlier this year I got around to block off all the gaps under the fence. I knew other cats could get in right over the fence but I had seen no evidence of Darcy’s desire to scale their heights, and recently I finally gave in to the temptation to let him wander outside our yard.
Darcy seems to have taken to being out of doors rather well, starting to become demanding about going out in the evenings. I knew it was a calculated risk but I figured that with his background, the chances of him figuring out how to scale the fences vertically were smaller. The only place where there was an easy staging point half way up was the deck of the shed. Which we finally covered up with netting.
However, Darcy has truly truly surprised me in his golden years. It’s not that I didn’t think cats could do it in general, but I was counting on his long history of not showing much willingness to scale anything vertically without an assist from some platform in the middle. He has always been conscious of his size.
It seems however, that he has finally figured out how to be a cat and explore away from home anyway. My only consolation therefore, is that he has also learned to eventually come home for dinner.