When I met Bitsy, she sniffed my shoes. Maybe that’s a good sign from a cat that G said used to attack her when she visited her mom. She’s a handsome yellow and white cat of some substance. I don’t mean fat either. I mean she has a strong, assertive presence. She feels more male than female and I often refer to her as a “he.” And I think of Elsa, the lioness in Born Free.
When I carried Bitsy out of G’s parents’ home, I heard G’s voice quaver. “You don’t know what this means to me,” she said. I hugged her and said it would be all right. Parents being gone is a big grief even if they die after some years of being difficult. It’s grinding hard to go through things they loved, especially if memories are attached. Our parents were children of the Depression, so they collected china, porcelain figurines, clothes, jewelry. The house where I grew up was full of books and antiques and upstairs rooms full of excess. I was grateful I didn’t have to clear it out. My home is full of books and collections and excess junk in the shed and the next generation is saying they don’t want stuff. Losing a grumpy cat that was tamed by your father is more sorrow on top of sorrow.
Bitsy’s voice sounded more like chirps as I drove away. I told her it would be all right. Bruce and I decided to put her in our upstairs bathroom because it’s one of the only rooms in our house that has a door and there is room enough to move around. It is a light airy room. We put some food down and opened the carrier’s door. The next time I saw her, she was still huddled in the carrier but later that evening she’d disappeared. I looked behind the dryer and saw her backside huddled. Bruce pulled the dryer out and we shagged her out. We put a blanket over the cradle so she had a better place to hide and we plugged the gap between the dryer and the washer so she couldn’t get back there again.
When I got up in the middle of the night, she came out of hiding, looking for company. The first time I sat with her I told her I knew it was hard to lose her people and then her home. Just this morning she came out from under the cradle to visit with me, to be petted. She even walked in her carrier to eat her breakfast while I was there, trusting, because I can shut the door and take her somewhere.
Bruce goes upstairs every evening to say his prayers and sit with her. She likes him better. (G predicted that because her dad tamed her, she’d like Bruce more.) He spends more time with her. When I go in and sit down, the floor is hard, and the dogs and Onyx sit outside the door. Sometimes they protest that I’m not with them. I admire Bruce’s pulling away from the couch and TV to spend time with her and his prayers. Morning has been when I make this practice but I have been too caught up in the morning news and easing into my day, when the morning news does me no good, it’s often afternoon before I get there.
The other day Bruce shut everyone in their crates and let her explore the house. He said she was quite talkative, growling some as she explored. He tried to get her to go outside, but she turned and took him back upstairs to her room. He says she settles on his lap and purrs. There’s something to this for me, that this cat is teaching–that I need to get out with the mares, spend time just sitting with them, doing nothing but being, or reading or writing longhand, away from the internet. Morgen stands at the fence looking for someone to come be with her, do something. But the weather needs to warm up.
One day I reached out to pet Bitsy because I felt obligated. Bruce had just cleaned the bathroom, It smelled like bleach. She hissed and nailed me. My hand bled.
What have I done to bring this creature into our peaceable kingdom where Onyx, Night and Little Dog all get along? Sometimes we hear hissing by the door and Onyx’s tail has puffed up. Will both cats want to share the same lap at the same time? What have I done to add this stress to my life? Sure I wanted to be a good Christian taking up my “cross” by taking in this inconvenient cat and helping my friend with her grief. Sure I wanted to be a hero–have people admire this good thing even though Jesus says no way should we announce our good deeds to the world.)
When Bitsy drew blood, I was pissed for several days. Bully. She’s an F’ing bully. She doesn’t get to bully the dogs and Onyx. I don’t want to lose Onyx because stress can bring on asthma. Philippa quietly said bullying has many causes. I know. I know. It can be born of fear and Bitsy has lost her people and her familiar places, been shut into a bathroom with people she doesn’t know, with dogs (!) and black cat waiting outside the door. (More experienced cat owners have said they’ve been scratched plenty of times. That they’ve been angry at their cats. That it’s pretty normal to be angry.)
I know animals are themselves. They are honest. There’s nothing personal about their reactions. If Bitsy hisses because I’ve touched her when she’s in her private space, or touch her tail and she doesn’t want me to touch her tail, then she has a right to her opinion.
Sometimes blogs speak to the problem and Jon Katz’s Bedlam Farm blog spoke to mine. He talked about how his wife is placing her horse in another home because she is too busy to properly care for her. He reflected on how we don’t have to love every animal. He talked about Homer, a border collie he rehomed, who reflected himself back on himself. Katz says, “We just didn’t click, and almost everything he did annoyed or frustrated me. I heard myself yelling at him one day to catch up with us – he dawdled far behind on walks, poor guy – and I recognized the voice of my father, scolding me for being a sissy and a bed wetter and a crummy athlete.” Katz goes on to say that he needed to “spare him the fate of living with me.” Homer went on to live a happy and long life with someone else. The same week Richard Rohr wrote about how we need to watch for the brace in ourselves, how when we are annoyed with someone else, we need to move through that annoyance quickly. He says, “The natural flow of creative and generative love is largely impossible when we are ‘sucking in’—when we’re stingy, petty, blaming, angry, playing the victim, or in any way offended. When we’re recounting what people did to us or what they did not do for us, we’re pulling back and sucking in. We need to notice when we’re in this constrictive state right away before it takes hold of us.”
I’ve been around people who are whirlpools, sucking, sucking energy down and into themselves. They were physically painful to be around. I wonder if that’s what it means when Jesus told the woman at the well that she could get a drink and never be thirsty, that she could well up with living water, that the life Jesus offers is not full of brace, or bitterness, or unreasonable anger, a suck hole, but water bubbling forth, never ending, pouring out to other people. That’s what I want to be, that well of bubbling water, welling up, washing life and joy and calm over others.
So I put the anger away and sat with Bitsy. There’s something joyous, that lifts up the heart when a reticent animal freely comes to you, lies down next to you, and purrs. Onyx snuck in her room this morning and sniffed her food. There was no growl, no hiss, though I told Onyx to leave and he did.
How have you introduced a new animal to your “peaceable kingdom”? How did it go?