Saturday, April 17, 2010

Timon Cat: A Friend's Decline

By KJ Hannah Greenberg

Timon was born in the fall of 1981, in Iowa City , Iowa . His initial human caregiver was a student in my officemate Jerry's class. I had been urging that officemate, a young fellow who had helped me secure a space in his rooming house, to adopt a pet. I believed a pet could help Jerry be less introspective. Timon, I believed, would socialize Jerry.

I adored Timon. Often, I would knock on Jerry's door to invite Timon to my room for a visit. In addition, I readily volunteered to watch Timon whenever Jerry went out of town.

While I was becoming enamored of that feline, Jerry, too, was experiencing love. Not only had he begun to engage other folk in conversation, but he also acquired a girlfriend. Ironically, his newfound darling despised the very kitten that had helped Jerry become available to her.

Jerry made plans to move out of the rooming house and into his gal’s apartment. I made plans to adopt Timon.

While I prepared papers for my Master's tutorials or assessed my students' work, Timon grew. Having never owned a cat, I raised Timon as I had raised puppies. Consequently, Timon greeted me at my door when I returned from classes. He slept with me, shared my food, and enjoyed the company of my housemates.

The following year, when I married my husband, an East Coast fellow I had left behind to pursue my education, Timon and I moved east. Interestingly, although my mate had grown up with cats and knew how to coexist with them, Timon continued to select only my lap for comfort. Accordingly, we adopted a second cat, Cleo; it was important to have marital harmony.

Timon and Cleo seemed to like each other. They groomed each other, slept as a single ball of fur, and otherwise practiced mutual destruction of our small plants and delicate objects. Yet, Timon continued to sleep only on my pillow.

Meanwhile, we erred. In our misguided attempt to successfully integrate Cleo into our family, my husband and I admonished Timon for not sharing food or other important elements of his territory. Later, we’d repeat that same mistake when introducing CDR into our small, domestic pride.

CDR, too, was a potpourri cat and, like Cleo, incommoded Timon. Beyond annoying our original familiar by constantly trying to snuggle with him or to otherwise bond with Timon, CDR was an intruder.

In the interim, I wrote my dissertation. Timon’s neurosis emerged.

His first abnormal behaviors were his seeking out my husband and his spurning me. When those actions failed to capture my attention, he took to overgrooming. Several vets later, we concluded that our “first born” had no physiological ailment, but rather was despairing of receiving enough of my time and energy.

The overgrooming was a destructive, but self-comforting action. Timon would lick a spot on his body, usually one of his inner thighs, until that spot was denuded of fur.

We tried to deter our cat’s self-destruction by applying ointments to his legs, but our cat gave little regard to those potions’ supposedly bitter taste. What’s more, though I meant to give him more time, I failed since I was juggling a full-time job, a dissertation deadline and personal issues.

Despite Timon's reflected dissatisfaction, he remained a fiery Tom. Once, when my sister mistakenly let our indoor cat out, he treed four of our neighbors’ fully clawed felines. Thereafter, he attacked another neighbor's collie.

When, at last, I completed my degree, I accepted my first "important" position. Sadly, Timon continued to groom and Cleo began her own deviant behavior; she began to pee on select spots in our livingroom. Likely, the cats sensed my work-related tension; by year’s end, I resigned from my job because of sexual harassment. The subsequent litigation and mediation sapped my energy and further pulled me from our cats.

Eventually, the legal battles ended. I found a new job, enjoyed the publication of an academic book and received a significant academic award. My husband, our cats, and I relocated. In our new town, we continued to seek help for Timon and Cleo's behaviors.

One vet's suggestion to dose our furry children with semi-lethal chemicals sent us in a new direction. We hired a holistic animal doctor. Timon (and Cleo’s) behaviors did not improve, but they ceased to worsen.

A short span later, we purchased our first townhouse. Each of our cats selected a site within our home that suited him or her. We had long since stopped trying to making our pets abide by human or by canine rules for interaction.

Thus, we were amazed when the three cats seemed to peacefully share the sunlit portion of the carpet on the diningroom floor. As the amount of time during which my husband and I ran no interference grew, Timon even began to tolerate CDR's unflagging affections. Two years later, though another interloper arrived.

All three of our cats watched our oldest child’s homebirth. Timon and Cleo snuggled with me when I used the "nursing chair" with Cleo usually purring loudly. The cats maintained their destructive ways, but did not increase them.

When our second child was born, the dynamics again shifted. Whereas Cleo still purred and snuggled while I nursed and CDR continued to try to nap with the baby, Timon had become dispassionate.

At about that time, our oldest offspring became sufficiently developed in cognitions and motor skills to learn how to gently pet the cats. First Timon, then Cleo, began to snuggle with her. Soon, Timon was found on her bed as often as on mine.

When our second child also became a toddler, he, too, learned how to gently touch the cats. Timon sometimes tolerated our son’s ministrations.

By the time that our third child arrived, Timon was increasingly keeping to himself. Moreso, during that span, whenever I was stressed by personal or by professional issues, Timon became "bouncy" as well as overgroomed.

I took meditation classes to help me regain my center and to aid my unhappy cat, but little else seemed to enhance his serenity. It was as though his feeling of safety had completely vanished. Timon lost much of his body weight.

Perhaps age was a contributing factor to his decline. Perhaps he was shrinking because of his prolonged, over almost a decade, experience of vomiting up the hair he ingested while grooming. Perhaps he faded away from grief.

We gave him enzymes to help him digest his food. We gave him purposeful attention. Time passed. Another child joined our family.

Timon seemed temporarily interested in our last baby. He even: experienced intermittent perky periods, tried snuggling with my husband, and began to chase imaginary critters. During his final weeks, he even took a passing interest in a piece of string. At seventeen human years of life, however, he died a sad cat.

KJ Hannah Greenberg and her hibernaculum of imaginary hedgehogs fly the galaxy in search of gelatinous monsters and assistant bank managers. Although Hannah had worked as a rhetoric professor, she gave up all manners of academic hoopla to raise children. Evidence of that endeavor can be found in Oblivious to the Obvious: Wishfully Mindful Parenting (French Creek Press, Spring 2010).

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