Confessions of a Florentine Pet Sitter

Evil Green Ball

I just don’t want to play ball anymore, okay?

I threw the green tennis ball so it would bounce once lightly and then roll on across the living room with Simon in fast pursuit but it bounced up and came straight down on Simon’s tiny head. He looked stunned, wobbled a bit, and shook his head, much like my St. Bernard did when the postman hit him on the forehead with his baseball bat. Taurus’ head dropped so low to the ground, I’m sure he saw strange stars floating in the blackness. Stunned, forever changed by that incident, Taurus hated all postmen, but he hated that particular guy with a vengeance even when he saw him from a distance.  Even when Taurus was inside my VW bug, that man’s presence on the sidewalk sent Taurus into a tizzy of barking and growling and throwing himself at the windows of my bug turning it into a rockin’ car. How he could tell it was the same guy, I don’t know.

The stunned Simon was not rockin’, but running. He ran as far away from that green ball as possible. Can’t say I blame him. Nobody likes a ball landing on his head. Before that incident, he had enjoyed the game for about five minutes, and then he would tire of it and plop down on the floor in his regal lion pose as if to say: Okay, I’ve done my work and my exercise for the day. Leave me in peace, now.

After that incident, if he saw the green ball anywhere on the floor, he gave it a wide berth. He avoided the green ball at all costs. It even superseded the evils of the dreaded the vacuum cleaner. He sidled up next to the baseboard, skirting the perimeter of all rooms rather than walking close to it. When I picked it up to show him it was harmless, he ran from me. He never wanted to play with it again. The green ball was pure green evil in his eyes. So I put it on a high shelf where he would never have to see it again.

I was hopeful I hadn’t done irreparable damage to him and that he hadn’t come to the conclusion that all balls where evil, even our big round ball called earth. So, I bought a different ball at Freddie’s, a white light-weight plastic baseball with holes in it for kids to play with when indoors. It was so light Simon could’ve caught it with one claw. If it landed on his head, it would not have hurt. I threw it once. He ran after it. On the second try he got tired and plopped down on the floor: This is not a good game anymore.

While he reclined on the floor one sunny day holding his head in that famous lion pose, looking content, I placed the white ball between his front legs under his chin, hoping he would take more interest in it and begin to playfully bat it around as cats are wont to do with balls. Or, perhaps he would let it remain there long enough for me to photograph him. Loving to pose for the camera, he didn’t get up to run from the ball nor did he play with it; he laid there with his head slightly cocked, his once smiling half-closed eyes now in a wide-open stare. With broken contentment, annoyed with me and the ball, he looked as if he wanted to say: I just don’t want to play ball anymore, Okay?

I had to accept that.

I felt badly about the ball bouncing off his head, about destroying his love for balls and the chase. When the green ball landed on his head, it frightened him.  It scarred his psyche for life. I had scarred his psyche for life. I robbed him of this fun activity and again, had destroyed his trust in me. What a bad cat sitter I was.

The other time I destroyed his trust, was when I was hauling groceries, laptop and other things into the house from the garage and tripped over him as he was herding me around the corner. Due to my long skirt and my arms full of stuff, I didn’t see him. I tripped, stumbled and unable to catch myself fell first onto the massive knob of the high-backed Spanish-style dining room chair, and then fell against the edge of the heavy wooden table, and finally, landed on the floor, curled into a ball rolling back and forth, writhing in pain, not sure if I was even able to get up to call for help.

I saw Simon cowering near the end of the sofa about 6 feet away from me hunkered down with his ears flat. He hadn’t run away. He was watching me. I felt his concern. I sensed he wanted to come over to comfort me, but was too frightened. I thought perhaps I had injured him with my feet, but as soon as I managed to get on my knees, he wandered over. Scared timid, but as far as I could tell, physically okay.

Everything I carried in my arms went flying. The floor, littered with stuff—papers, books I was carrying, my laptop and brief case, and groceries—looked like a tornado had torn through the room. My laptop crash landed on the other side of the room damaging its monitor, but I was able to salvage it for two more years of use until the lid finally became unhinged and separated from the base of the computer. I thought maybe I had unhinged my shoulder too or broken my collar-bone, but I managed to survive the fall with only an ugly baseball-size pink-to-deep-purple bruise on my upper arm. Ugly bruise, changing kaleidoscopic colors on a daily basis. thankfully I too suffered no broken bones. We were both alive!

After this bad fall Simon’s behavior changed. He became more aware of my feet when I walked. I noticed Simon stopping now and then to look under my long skirt. Rather than charging along in his attempts to herd me as usual and trusting that I would go where he wanted me to go, he stopped periodically to look under my skirt to check on the location of  my feet. It was like he had drawn the logical conclusion that he’d have to change behavior in order to avoid being stepped on. Okay, time to check on pet sitter Sue’s feet again.

I changed, too. I became more aware of where he was when I moved around the house, especially when I wore long skirts and when I was carrying things. It was interesting to see him become as aware of his movement in relation to my feet, as I was aware of my feet in relation to him as we moved about the house together. We both became more careful as a result of that accident.

He used to come into the kitchen when I was cooking and sit very close to my feet, never uttering a sound, or at least one that I could hear. Often, I didn’t even know he was there. I understood this behavior pattern to be normal for him; this is what he did with his people. A couple of times I stepped on his little paw as I moved from stove to sink. After the major tripping accident, when he came into the kitchen to sit by my feet, it seemed like all I had to do was think about moving and Simon would give me a faint meow to let me know he was there—an act of self-preservation!

How he sensed that I was getting ready to move was a mystery. Perhaps cats have an uncanny intuitive feline sensor, much like a sensitometer for the measurement of sensitivity of photographic film to light, only for Simon, the sensitometer sensed the intention of movement, measuring silent, unseen, but felt energy. It was a watershed moment for me – one that I will always treasure as the purest kind of communication between creatures.

© 2011 Susan Canavarro. All Rights Reserved.

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