Thursday, January 24, 2013

The cat who does not walk by herself

Our cat Red has become the talk of the neighborhood—she's the cat who goes for walks along with the family dog. People are always asking me, "Is that your cat?" and, "How did you get her to do that?" The answers are "Yes," and, "I didn't—it was her idea."

Princess Red is our newest cat, but not our youngest. She used to belong to our neighbors, who got her from a shelter. When they moved to an apartment that didn't take cats (or so they said), they asked if we would take her. After all, we already had three cats; obviously we were cat lovers.
Four cats seemed like verging on crazy-cat-lady territory... but we hated the thought of her going back to a shelter. And that was right when the economy had hit a point where there were news stories of shelters being overrun with pets from people who'd lost their homes to foreclosure. So we accepted her.
The neighbors had complained that she would "get in your face." Well, she does—but only when she wants some petting. If I'm sitting in the recliner, she'll climb up onto my chest—yes, her face in my face—and purr and purr and insist on being petted. However, if I give her what she wants, after a few minutes she's contented and jumps down. She just knows how to ask for what she needs.
I know she's had at least two owners before us... possibly as many as four. She was six years old when she came to us. She's had several names too. The neighbors called her "Lady," which was appropriate, but my husband didn't like it and came up with "Red." I'm the one who added the honorific "Princess."
Soon after we took her in, she started following me and the dog, Butch, when we left for our walks. At first she didn't follow very far. The neighbors had kept her inside, so she didn't know the neighborhood. But I thought it was cute, so I would encourage her and call her and slow down the dog as far as I could coax her along.
Gradually, she followed us farther and farther. Sometimes she fell behind early, if something scared her—a dog, children, lawn equipment—but one day she followed us on our entire walk. And soon after that it was so routine for her that she was waiting at the front door for me to get home from work. Walk time!
Like everyone else, I wonder why she does it. Sometimes it's a real workout for her—her legs are so much shorter than mine and even the dog's. Cars and kids and dogs frighten her along the way. But still she persists.
Naturally I've gone pop-psych and speculated that she has abandonment issues and doesn't want to be left behind. She cried so piteously the first time I took her to the vet, I was sure she thought I was returning her to the shelter. Especially when she didn't cry at all on the drive home.
But maybe that's anthropomorphizing. You would think she'd have gotten over it by now, more than two years after we took her in. And that wouldn't explain her clearly anticipating the walk when I get home from work.
Red is at least part Maine Coon, the first cat I've ever had that wasn't a domestic shorthair. I've read that they're more sociable than the average cat. Maybe that's part of ittoo muchshe wants to be included in the fun.
A vet once told me that there as many cat personalities as people personalities. All I know for sure is, Red just wants to go. She'll fall behind, but then she'll run to catch up, darting under the dog's leash and letting her tail brush it as if it's a finish line tape, and then she'll roll on the sidewalk for a tummy rub.
I guess she just got the cat personality that likes to go for walks. Maybe that's all the "why" I should ask for.