How I Met My Cats Part 2 (Henry The Cat)
Henry the Cat
When I was planning my move back to Long Beach, I knew that I would be taking Mr. Jones (my orange tabby cat) with me. We were going to embark on an adventure back to the city where we found each other in 2001. However, as I worked to find an apartment, pack and move, I noticed a growth in Mr. Jones's mouth. I took him to the vet, where he was diagnosed with having terminal cancer. Surgery would neither extend his life or make it easier, so I made the decision to euthanize my friend, seeing in him the tiger he might have been in a previous life as he died.
Three months after Mr. Jones's passing and I had settled into a new routine in Long Beach, my apartment manager was looking for someone to adopt her cat, a two-ear-old dark silver-gray and white tuxedo male named Baby Boy. I went to meet this cat, who had a definite personality and was really very funny and cute, and agreed to at least look at him. In my first meeting with the cat, it became clear to me that he had poor social behaviors, such as biting and scratching, and ate canned tuna on a regular basis.
Part of this, I saw, was because his owner was away from home a lot and therefore, felt guilty at leaving him alone. So, rather than punish him or retrain his behaviors, she was very permissive and allowed bad habits to form. I knew that if she could not find a willing and open home for him, she would have to turn him over to the humane society or pound, where he would most certainly face an uncertain fate - he would not be adoptable with his scratching and biting issues.
In the same way that I could not let an elderly street cat starve to death six years before, I did not want to think about what would happen to the gray and white cat if I didn't take him. I took him in and he went from having a practically absentee-owner to one who was home on a regular basis. He also underwent a name change, going from Baby Boy to Henry. It was not an easy adjustment - he knew things were different, he knew that his new person was not the person he was used to, and he was in an environment that was unfamiliar. There were several sleepless nights on both sides, with him prowling, investigating and yowling his confusion and me trying to offer comfort.
Eventually, he began to adapt to his new environment and attached himself to me. I began to observe his behaviors closely - he liked attention and scratching under the chin, behind his ears and at the base of his tail, but would get tense if he felt it was too much and let me know by biting (fortunately, he never drew blood with his teeth). He became insecure if I went out for the day or evening (mostly to go to work or run errands) and was very glad when I came home - I would find him waiting at the window, anxiously berating me for leaving him alone. I learned early on that he liked listening to the jazz radio station coming from the university, so I left it on when I went out. I put him on a diet of regular cat food, using small portions of canned tuna as a rare treat, something he quickly learned to enjoy. He loved it when I crouched next to him while he ate - I could feel and hear him purr loudly. He would even lean against my ankles, which made me think he was reminded of how he ate when he was still nursing from his cat mother.
As I continued to observe him, I began to theorize about why he behaved the way he did. I suspected that he had been taken away from his mother and litter mates too soon, and since he had no other companions other than his previous owner and then myself, his social behavior was limited - he did not know how to behave. So, with patience and time and a squirt bottle full of water, I worked to provide Henry with guidelines to more acceptable behaviors and often used a reward system (catnip and crunchy treats, along with the tuna, were always a big hit with him).
He attacked my ankles on a daiyl basis - he still does, but now I have learned to differentiate between angry swipes (with claws) and when he wanted to play (no claws). In the two and a half years of having Henry the cat in my life, I have noticed some very real changes in him and his behavior. He no longer seems angry or sullen or plain mean. He has mellowed out a great deal, he loves to sleep on his back (paws tucked over his face or on his chest); he patrols every morning (sentry positions include the kitchen window, the porch and the garage); he will nose dive from a sitting position and roll over, swiping at one's feet in an attempt to play; he loves it when I chase him during a brainstorm and he will stand guard while I do the dishes or clean his litter box. He is more friendly with and curious about people and his biting has all but diminished, save for when he is particularly frustrated about too much attention.
Although he is three months shy of being five years old (and in human years, he would be almost 30), he reminds me more and more of a little boy, with his boundless play energy and his silliness.