Unhappy cats make their moods known only too well

May 9, 1999
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@dcn.davis.ca.us

The cats are not happy.

Construction is taking place at home and the back deck, THEIR deck, has been removed. The porch is gone and so is all the star jasmine that used to provide them with fragrant hiding places and cool resting spots.

The railings on the deck also are gone and that means no more cat perches from which to launch attacks on the unsuspecting. That also means no more mile-high food stations. And those damp earthen hiding and sleeping spots under the deck are gone, too. Everything is different.

If you know anything about cats at all you know that if there's one thing they hate above all it's CHANGE. Of any kind. Ever.

In response to these rude environmental disruptions, Wolfie, the gray cat with yellow eyes, has disappeared. I think he'll come back, but he's letting me know how very unhappy he is. Tres miserable.

Shug, the elder statesman, is so upset that he's taken to his bed on the front porch: a box lined with newspapers and an old towel. He's spending all his time there in silent protest (when he's not eating 12 small meals a day in the kitchen).

Gizmo and Fred are aimless, restless. In a word, stressed. The front of the house sees a lot of traffic, relatively speaking. UC Davis students park there and pedestrian traffic can be heavy at times. The back yard was a sanctuary and now that has been destroyed, at least temporarily.

"Have faith," I tell them. "Peace will be restored. You will find new and better places for sunning yourselves when it's cool and cooling yourselves when it's hot. Your hiding/sleeping/command posts will be returned. Haven't I continued to feed you? You're not on short rations, are you?"

My attempts at reasoning with the cats are rebuffed. They mill around the kitchen looking up at me, wordless. Anxious. They don't cry. Their accusatory expressions say it all: You have changed the way things look around here and we don't like it AT ALL. Our food dishes aren't in the normal place. The water dish is gone. The recycle bins, which we prefer to nap in, are nowhere to be found. Exactly what is going on around here? Do we have to move out completely to get a little respect?

Only Georgie, the youngest, is unfazed. In fact, he is so well-adjusted I should have named him Strider. He is a poster cat for self-confidence and good mental health. He is the cat who never cries, who comes when he's called, who eats anything and everything, who sleeps at night, who plays during the day.

Nothing ruffles Georgie's even temperament although he was quite puzzled the first time he saw spring hail on the back deck. He pawed the icy white pellets cautiously and then went on about his rounds, unperturbed. When called for dinner, he rushes inside the house and takes his place at the feeding trough like he owns it. Why not? He does.

He is a little too busy in the normal course of his day to be overly affectionate with his owners. But at night he becomes as malleable as an infant, cuddling happily and purring loudly.

He thinks the disturbance and commotion in the back yard is fabulous: New places to play, new territory to mark, new things to be happy about.

I've observed the way in which each cat reacts to stress and I've determined that Georgie has the right attitude. You can run away, take to your bed, wander aimlessly or you can be like Georgie.

He's willing to share his philosophy of life, which is quite simple: Assume everyone loves you. Carry yourself with confidence. Always be ready to play. Sleep well at night. Don't be a finicky eater. When in doubt, wash. Live and let live, unless you're a rat. And when everyone around you is going crazy, remain calm. There are good times ahead.

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