Confessions of a Florentine Pet Sitter


The Pissing Game

By Susan Canavarro © 2010

I’ve decided today that the nature of human and animal creatures is to always be in some sort of pissing contest on a very minute local level as well as globally.

I am caring for Simon the Great this week. Although he is a biter and does not tolerate petting by strangers particularly on certain parts of his body, he is a people cat, loving to be around people and always managing to be the center of interest. And he loves the camera.

However, after years of being an indoor kitty, he was fearful when finally let outside. He was afraid of the tiny birds that were protecting their nest under the eves. The birds played their own pissing game by dive-bombing him after every turn in the air above the house. Forced to take refuge under a juniper tree, he hid there for hours at a time, watching with a wary eye the birds swoop in and up again. He was also afraid of deer, dogs, cars and neighborhood sounds. He hung around the deck areas, always within distance of his owners and the open door to his safe haven. Until one day he wandered down the road about three houses away.

And on that day, he became the victim of a large Shepherd who chased him down the side of a house in the direction of the cliff overhanging the beach, the dog in fast pursuit, barking. The dog’s owner finally located her dog down on the beach below, but I could not find Simon. I walked the neighborhood calling for him. No response. I hiked down to the beach with a cat carrier, hoping I’d find him down there. No Simon. I did not know if he was up a tree or at the beach, if he was alive or dead. I was frantic. The cat for whom I was responsible was suddenly missing. Should I worry the owners with a phone call, or should I wait, remembering that cats, if they are at all able to move, will eventually find their way home.

 I decided to wait, although it was a frantic worried wait. I would call his folks in the morning if he did not come home. It was growing dark. I turned on all lights, opened all doors, and every fifteen minutes I called into the dark night for him from the backyard. I stood quietly, listening for faint meows of pain and fright. Nothing.

Simon’s fearful run from the big dog had begun at 3 pm that afternoon, and at 7:30 pm when I went out one more time to call him, there he was, marching with steadfast determination across the yard straight to the back door. Bedraggled, limping on muddy paws, his tail dragging, ears flattened, he was clearly in pain and very angry. Once in the door he did not stop. He had only two things on his mind: food and water. He marched right by me, gobbled up his dinner, and then proceeded to lick his paws clean. In his struggles. he had lost a claw.  It took him days to recover from the ordeal. He flinched when he heard dogs barking on the television or distant barks in the neighborhood. He was ready to run again.

Then a year or so later a new neighbor moved in next door with four cats. Simon slowly developed a friendship with most of them, becoming more courageous with every meeting. He would wander off to the wilds of the lot across the street, get chased up trees by other dogs, lose his collar, and come home in the wee hours of the morning, the worse for wear. And now there are two stranger cats that are hanging out under Simon’s back deck. Where they come from, nobody knows. The huge black one has been through a lot of battles. His face has a two-inch battle scar running beside his left eye; his coat, scruffy. Tattered looking, like my old T-shirt, he’s definitely been around, more worldly and battle-worn than Simon. A sleek dark tabby also frequents the under-deck. He looks younger and is less haggard and war-torn, but he is the one with whom elder Simon initiates fights. They have a routine of taking the Sphinx pose or a great lion king pose close enough to each other so that they are on guard, wary of the other, now and then letting out a low growl. Waiting, watching, tempting. Flipping tails, twitching whiskers.

There are maybe 6 to 7 cats in the neighborhood who roam together: a big fluffy red, a dark tabby, a Maine Coon tabby, two short-haired orange and white kitties, a big black tom, and Simon, a part Siamese seal-point. One of the neighbors in a house up the street saw Simon and several other cats in her yard one day; said they were each taking a turn at spraying her plants in the back yard. The Meow Gang had wandered far and was having a pissing contest for territorial rights. Call it Feline Colonialism.

For Simon, a senior neutered cat who never sprayed before, this is a big deal. There is a theory that once you let a cat out who has been inside for much of his life, he slowly changes. The call of the wild rings in his ears, bones and muscles. Instinctual, the call is too powerful to resist. So, by his roaming with the meow gang, he was reintroduced to his cat instincts: meowing, territorial spraying, climbing trees, growling and howling stand-offs, fighting, and hunting. As well as the plants outside, he took up spraying everything within his home, too. Walls, bookshelves, books, windows, glass doors,  all in his catdom would be safe and remain his territory.

He has also picked up a bit of the wanderlust. He wanders away from his safe haven to unknown places and doesn’t come home for hours. Cat wanderlust is a casualty of  house cats that suddenly are allowed a taste of freedom. They wander, and some, not all, may find another home they like better and decide to settle in for a while. They may never return home.

He has also become the instigator of fights with two of the cats, letting them know he is the top cat, the Boss of the Meow Gang. This once fearful cat has, in a period of two or three years, turned into a wild thing. Of course, with his age now, he comes home from a cat fight dragging his butt and sleeps for two days solid, letting his little body heal itself. He is learning there are drawbacks to being a tough kitty. But the learning is short-lived for his fighting instinct hasn’t been mitigated by all of his aches and pains. He’s got a tough and entrenched sense of territorial rights to his home.

Simon - The Really Cool Top Cat

Simon – The Really Cool Top Cat

This morning, there were about four cats in Simon’s yard, ready and waiting for him to come out for a roam. A Roam is also a place, either physical or state of mind where cats collaborate on projects and exploration of new areas. It is serious stuff yet it is also a place for having fun, cat fun.

As I watched them, I suddenly got the idea that Simon is very popular among the neighborhood cats and he is the one they look to for fun and excitement. They meet at his house, waiting for him to come out. Even though I am not letting him outside, they come by everyday. I see them wander around the yard, front to back, back to front, up on to the decks, waiting, watching, wondering where he is. I do not let him outside. His gang looks lost and forlorn. For about an hour or so they wait patiently for him, and then they leave, returning in the late afternoon. According to official cat sources, the hunting and roaming instinct kicks in during the wee hours of the morning and the late afternoon.

The gang misses Simon when he does not go out. He is their alpha cat, the King of the Pride, the one and only really cool cat – Simon the Great! Simon the King!

The image in my mind is slowly taking shape. I envision Simon, pacing back and forth, talking to his gang gathered in a group in front of him on the front driveway. “Okay, guys this is what we are going to do today. We are going to hit my yard first, then we’ll go across the street to the empty lot, then back to Duke’s house, north to Sammy’s, and then we’ll wind our way back to my place through the backyards for a little rest in the shade.”

 The big black cat, who has taken up residence under the back deck yawns and stretches during Simon’s directions. The tabby, with whom Simon fights, looks over at that black cat and rolls his eyes as if to say, “I agree with you Blackie, let’s get this little shindig over with, boring as hell.”

The big fluffy long-haired red Duke sits there twitching with excitement. He can hardly wait to get spraying. The others sit calmly, passively waiting for the fun to start.

Blondie, always the late-comer wanders over to the group with a red ball stuck to her chin, “I brought the ball!”

The tabby rolls his eyes, “Oh Luddy, what have we here? Ain’t she a dollface?”

Plan in place, they march off to the nearest Rhody.  Of course, Simon, the cool top cat, has the final spray. They make the circuit around the house and on to the next project. The pissing game begins again for one more day.

And so it goes around the world, one pissing contest after another. Small battles, big battles, lots of piss and vinegar claiming the rights to ownership of land, people, ideas, religions, armaments, and power; everybody wants to be the top cool cat, or the most powerful Gang ever.

Update: July 1, 2010 ~ Simon’s owners told me he passed away. He had been very ill for the last 6 or 7 months. They will have his body cremated, and later they will sprinkle his ashes around the yard under his favorite “spray” shrubbery. Simon will have the last spray.  He would’ve wanted it that way. He would have enjoyed it. The Meow Gang has not returned to see if Simon could come out to play.

© 2010 Susan Canavarro  ”The Pissing Game” – All Rights Reserved. No copying or use of text or images without written permission from the author, Susan Canavarro.


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