Sunday, January 16, 2011

Big cats in the closet

We have three cats.  Two - tabby sisters - were the original fur babies.  Not in the dress them in outfits and never let them outside kind of way.  It was more a thirty-something flirt with nurturing.

I did buy them a collar each, for the birds.  But unlike the pedigree Siamese of my childhood (extreme hunter, think Bantams), the tabbies were not enamored with such impediments and lost two collars each in a month.  I decided to heed David Attenborough and let nature take its course.

Until the Burmese.  The Burmese is, quite simply, superior.  She arrived as a tiny cream bundle of fast-twitch muscle and within days had run rings around the spinsters (tabbies), the dog, and us.  Nearly three years, one car versus cat, one  MIA, and multiple vehicle stow-away adventures later, she still is.  And all the while resplendent in her collar.

She has sprayed on every wide screen and mirror in the house, in fact, most surfaces.  (It's a thing she has about the spinsters.)  But if caught short inside, or during inclement weather, she pees in the kitchen sink.  She is hell bent on sleeping with the baby, necessitating the rather extreme measure of locking her in the garage during the boy's sleeps.  She chases the dog for recreation and hunts the spinsters for sport, and watching her during a nor'west wind is a window on crazy.

Giving the Burmese the slip before our daily stroll.  Needs work.

At times, my husband has threatened her with a one-way trip to the vet.  But she was a birthday gift (as much as a cat can be) for our eldest daughter, which in itself trumps any ethical or moral pondering.

You may well think I'm the quintessential cat person.  This is quite a ramble.  But the truth is, I prefer dogs.  And the hurtful truth is, ever since I've had three children, my patience with the felines is tested.  On occasion, I "shoo" them with gusto.  I am rather fond of the Burmese though.  Anything that intelligent with a head that size deserves respect.  Besides, she's convinced you adore her so it's hard not to play along.

Joanna Lumley: Catwoman

Joanna Lumley, on the other hand, is a cat lover turned cat detective in her two-part series, Catwoman, for ITV1.  Exploring our ancient and unique relationship with cats, Joanna unearthed some wonderful, weird and frankly, disturbing stories.

She visited actress Tippi Hedren's big cat sanctuary Shambala Preserve, home to more than 60 big cats confiscated or rescued in America.  An enormous liger came to Shambala after the owner decided it was getting too big to keep.  A magnificent male lion had been kept in a basement with a family (including children).  One woman kept her black panther locked in a closet after it chewed one too many Jimmy Choos.  Seriously.

Unfortunately, these animals and approximately 10,000 more are bred in the Unites States each year to feed the demand for the ultimate animal accessory.   Meanwhile, we're running cheetahs, lions and tigers out of their natural habitats and into the firing line because farmers, villagers, communities no longer tolerate sharing the land.  And as we encroach further into natural environments, extinction (in the wild) becomes a very real possibility for several of the big cats.  

Of course, it's all very well for me to express moral outrage.  I live in a country renown for flightless birds and sheep - not exactly overrun with large predators, obviously.  And we have our own conservation fish to fry, so to speak.  But if we can assign various natural and man-made wonders World Heritage status, then I think we can agree how essential global bio-diversity is, tricky as that concept is juxtaposed with global economies.  

Speaking of which, here's another example of market forces at work.  If the big cats as pets thing is patently too ridiculous for you, but you want to mitigate some of the baser habits of the domestic variety before you agree to cohabit, then you should know about Soft Paws.

With non-toxic, silicone claw shields of every colour, even two-tone and glitter, you can protect your soft furnishings while stylin' your cat.

Another benefit is injury prevention.  This is important in America given the health system and the litigious nature of society.  Here, we still tend to believe a quick raking of the family cat's claws across the leg or hand of an offending toddler is an adequate lesson in injury prevention, not to mention co-existence.  

The fact is, though, veterinarian Toby Wexler developed Soft Paws because so many domestic cats owners in the USA want their felines de-clawed.  Any product that circumvents that practice has to be good.  Although at US$18.95 for a 4-6 month supply, Soft Paws ticks all the marketing boxes, not only 'social responsibility'.  

As Joanna Lumley noted, we are drawn to live with cats but seem, increasingly, obsessed with modifying them to suit.

Personally, I don't think you should get a Himalayan if you're not keen on long-haired cats shedding or the regular grooming required.  But if you must, I'm sure there's someone out there willing to make your fluff-ball resemble a poodle; for a price.

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