Saturday, March 07, 2009

Field Report: One Week With A Cat

One place where I am drawing a line in the sand is that this will not be a blog about my cat. At least not after this one post.

Alert readers will recall that a week or so ago, during an unseasonably late snow in Atlanta, a cat who had been loitering around my house came running in out of the cold. I fed him, gave him some water, and put him up for the night. He's stayed ever since, and I've named him "Eliot," after the poet.

Wanting to make sure that I wasn't imprisoning a cat, I opened the door for him several times to allow him to escape. Each time, he would walk halfway out, look around and sniff the cold air, and then turn back into the house. Can't say I blame him - it was cold out there.

But Wednesday morning, as I was leaving for work, he saw a bird and darted out. The bird escaped unharmed, but Eliot wouldn't respond to my calls to come back in. Eventually, I drove off to work, leaving him locked out of the house for the day.

When I got home, he wasn't waiting on my front porch as he used to before I took him in. But when I called his name in my back yard, he came running and meowing, purring and rubbing against my leg before heading for his food dish.

Pretty much the same thing happened on Friday. He again spent the day locked out of the house, but this time when I got home, he came running up the stairs in front of my house, returning from whatever feline adventures he had been off on.

I had given him ample opportunities to leave, so I'm convinced that he's now here on his own volition. And who can blame him? After all, here he's got constantly full bowls of food and water, occasional cat treats, warmth, affectionate companionship, and plenty of soft and safe places to sleep. And since I know he comes back home from his escapades outside, I've opened up the little trap door that the previous owners of this house had conveniently installed in the back door for pets. Now, Eliot can freely choose to be inside or outside the house, and he comes and goes as he pleases.

He's a good cat - he immediately understood the purpose of the litter box and he doesn't claw the furniture. He quickly learned the meaning of the word "no" (it took only one squirt from a water bottle) and he knows to leave me and my food alone when I'm eating. He is not overly needy for affection. In fact, although he likes being petted and purrs whenever touched, he doesn't like to lie or sit on me - he seems to prefer sitting next to or near me but not on me, allowing me my freedom to move about the house as I please. As I write this, he is sleeping in the sunlight on the window sill next to my computer.

Shunryu Suzuki once said, "To give your sheep or cow a large, spacious meadow is the way to control them. So it is with people: first let them do what they want, and watch them. This is the best policy. To ignore them is not good; that is the worst policy. The second worst is trying to control them. The best one is to watch them, just to watch them, without trying to control them."

So it is with cats. To keep him imprisoned does not feel right; to keep him as a castrated housepet and mutilate his paws so that he can't claw the furniture seems like the worst policy. His spacious meadow is access to my house when he wants to share his company with me and access to the outdoors when he wants the company of nature. That feels like the better policy.

When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.
- T.S. Eliot


Mettai Cherry said...

How about a photo of Eliot?

Shokai said...

If I posted a photo, then this would be a blog about my cat, which I'm trying to avoid.

Besides, my camera's broken.