Feline Schadenfreude

January 25, 2011

I always feel badly laughing at cats when they’re recovering from sedation. They wobble. They fumble and stumble. They refuse to sit, or to curl up and sleep it off. It’s only amusing because they are normally so graceful, so agile and precise in their motions.

Mostly, though, the laughter reflects the eternal envy of the have-not for the have. I love the elegant grace that fills a cat’s every motion, even when they’re playing or eating. So small, yet filled with indomitable spirit. And this is not anthropomorphizing. I can’t imagine being so stoic with three teeth that are eroding. The vet said this cat had to have been in great pain, and she was still reacting to the pain even under anesthetic. And yet I had no idea she was suffering. She ate, played, lap-sat, purred: all with normal energy and behavior.

Yes, this is survival – you eat even if it hurts because you must survive. Show no weakness, do nothing that would indicate you are in less than top condition. But as her human caretaker, I wish she’d allow me a hint.

This cat is one of those ‘true cats’, very particular, very willful, very independent (according to the vet, tortoise-shells are the epitome of the domineering, uncompromising feline). She used to own my son. When he moved out, she shifted to my husband and my daughter. My only consolations are that I’m the one she obeys, and that both the boy cats prefer me to anyone else. With her decidedly opinionated personality, I dare not try to examine, let alone clean her teeth. And thus we end up with the annual dental exam and unpleasant surprises.

After being at the vet all day, I brought her home. She hissed at me as I lifted her from her carrier, and immediately ran to my husband. When she saw me walk towards her, she scuttled clumsily into a bedroom to hide, to come out only when my daughter came home, to follow her into her room for a lap-sit and purr session. I was allowed to offer food, though.

So perhaps there is a touch of retaliation in my schadenfreude. She scorns me; I laugh at her. Oh well. Tomorrow things will be back to normal. Everything as above, except that she won’t run from me, even though I will occasionally have to wrap her in a towel and dose her with antibiotics and pain meds. She always, graciously forgives me for my misdeeds. She trusts me, even if she gets annoyed that I subject her to these indignities. A state of truce.

The joy of cats. Not your masters, not your servants. They wouldn’t worship a sadist who kicks and beats them, as I’ve heard dogs will. No, cats require respect, the basis of any real relationship. Humans can learn tolerance, and dignity in suffering from them; it would do us all good.

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