I have never laid a hand on my cat in anger. And I never will. But someone once did. That much is for sure.
I adopted Eli from the Fauquier SPCA when he was two. I’ve had him for eight years. So how can I be so sure that someone harmed him when he was little?
In order to understand, you must first understand the family dynamics at play, and my relationship with Eli. Basically, he’s my best friend. He’s my therapy cat. I’m his “number one person.” He counts on me for everything. Food, shelter, and most importantly, a clean litter box. He trusts me and he loves me. When I’m home, he’s never too far away. He sleeps on my bed at night and on any old t-shirt or pair of sweats that still has a trace of my scent during the day.
When I lived in Virginia, it was just the two of us. That’s when we really established that wonderful bond. But when I moved back home, Eli had to get used to living with my mom, too. It took a little while for the two of them to get to know each other and establish their own boundaries. Now they get along famously. My mother is officially Eli’s “number two person.”
Having said all of that, it’s been fairly easy to figure out that poor old Eli was either abused or lived in a really dysfunctional environment before I got him. I’ve watched him over the years. Here’s what I’ve discovered. He is very sensitive. He runs from anything he thinks he can be hit with — even a relatively harmless toy, like shredded cloth tied to the end of a stick. He is very skittish around some people — especially kids and men. He doesn’t like it when someone approaches him too quickly and he hates loud voices.
In fact, angry voices are definitely a trigger. It doesn’t matter if the anger is directed towards him or towards another person. Either way, it makes him really upset. How do I know? For one thing, he meows. And this is a cat who never says anything unless he’s cranky. If he can’t get his point across that way, he resorts to stronger tactics. He uses his teeth. Yes, he bites.
That’s exactly what he did the other day. I was expressing my opinion about the outcome of a soccer game. And because I wasn’t pleased with the result, I was not exactly speaking softly. The next thing I knew, Eli — who I jokingly refer to as a pit bull in a cat costume — was sinking his teeth into my foot. Repeatedly. And since I didn’t have any shoes or socks on, it hurt. A lot.
I told him, in no uncertain terms, that I wasn’t happy about his behavior. Undaunted, he bit me some more. He even tried to jump onto the bed to get at my hands and arms. I rebuked him again — this time using a sterner voice to let him know he had been a very, very, very bad boy. After a few minutes I walked away and thought about what happened.
“You know,” I told my mother, who was in the room and witnessed the whole episode, “I think he was trying to protect you. I think he thought I was mad at you and that I was going to hurt you. ”
If that was indeed the case, it begs a different question. We all know that abuse directed at our pets takes a huge toll on them. But what happens when they witness humans harming one another? How big a toll does it take on our companion animals when they see us physically or verbally harming each other?
I am sure someone has done some sort of research on this. I’m sure their findings are available in a report somewhere. But to be honest, I haven’t found any information about this issue anywhere online.
All of that being stated, I do know how it affected one cat. That was Tiger. She was my first cat — the cat I grew up with. And she was a peacemaker.
Anytime there was a family argument — and trust me, we had plenty — my tiny, Siamese-tabby cross got right in the middle of it. She would literally stand between the warring parties and cry until she got our attention. Once she had it she would end the debate by giving us the dirtiest look. It’s almost is if she were saying, What is wrong with you? Knock it off. Stupid people!
If that’s actually what she was saying, she was right.