Ambivalence in Loving a Feisty Feline, and Her Human Equivalents
This article is part of the CelebrEighty series by Judy Katz…Some people are born with a difficult temperament. Often their angry disposition is the result of a difficult upbringing, and a nurturing environment can soften even the feistiest human at their edges. Then why has this not happened with Raina, my rescue cat?
Raina can’t sit on a therapist’s couch and tell us what happened to her before I discovered her in that tiny cage at PetSmart. She can’t relate to us what happened to her when she was wandering the streets. Would that she could, so I could know why she’s not a sit on your lap and purr kind of cat. She has never purred, not once. Instead, she tries to bite your fingers off if you pet her.
Almost three years ago—just before the pandemic began—I was wandering through PetSmart. At the back of the store was an adoption area for cats. I had no interest in adopting a cat—I love cats, but with two small dogs in place, that was the last thing that would have occurred to me. But suddenly, I stopped in front of a tiny cage, which held a gorgeous all-white young cat with emerald eyes. The cage was so small she could barely turn round, with most of the space taken up by her kitty litter box that had to be smelly and uncomfortable.
I went home, trying to put that kitty out of my mind. After a restless night, I called PetSmart and asked for the manager. “Don’t you have a larger cage for her?” I begged. He told me he did not and that I should take up any issues with the cat rescue woman who had brought her for adoption. I called the woman, whose name was Joan Victor. She said Raina was very sick when they found her and reported that Raina was not a “nice” cat. She had what one would call “anger issues” and was always on high alert and ready to fight.
With no other remedies in sight, I offered to foster the cat until they could find her a forever home. That first night Raina hid behind the toilet in the guest room. We put a kitty litter box in a convenient spot and a distance away, food and water. The next day, she seemed rooted in place—but the food was gone, and the litter had been moved around. Layla, my computer genius, set up a private Zoom meeting that ran all night so I could connect to it and check on her. I watched her move around in the middle of the night. Raina had come out from her hiding spot in the dark of night, ate, drank, used the litter box, and then walked all over the guest room, inspecting every corner. There was an obvious intelligence to her graceful wanderings, and I had to admire her.
Over the next few weeks—weeks that turned into months throughout the pandemic, no one stepped up to the plate for this particular feline. Raina became a part of our little family. The relationship with my two small dogs, Sophie and Bindy, was not close or affectionate, but they ignored each other. I also discovered over time that Raina did not allow anyone to pet her, and if you tried, she would swat your hand away at best, and if you didn’t move away fast enough, she would bite or scratch you.
There was no gratitude or even evident appreciation of the myriad cat toys I bought her. The window perch. The two high carpeted cat trees for climbing, with places to hide and posts to scratch. She had the best food, filtered water, and a superior litter that was odor-free. She had 2,000 square feet to wander around in and a terrace carefully retrofitted for her safety that she spent hours out all day long—if she wanted to go out and that door was closed, she would come up to Layla or me and meow until we followed her to the door and opened it. She knew what she wanted at all times and knew how to make those stupid humans follow her commands. She seemed to be living the good life—one might have at least given one appreciative lick or even a purr, but no. Not Raina.
We were devastated when Sophie died of liver and brain cancer at age ten and a half. Most devastated of all was Bindy: she had just lost her soulmate. She was so sad for so long that after some months, I finally put myself out there to find another Chihuahua. About three months after Sophie left us, I saw an ad on the Next Door app from loveofalldogs.com for a tiny eight-year-old Chihuahua named Lia and her sister recently rescued from Puerto Rico, in need of an adopter or a foster. They brought four-pound Lia to me at midnight, and the moment I held her in my arms, our eyes met, and that was it, done. Finished. My four-legged soulmate. And guess what: another diva. Lia immediately knew I was her person and decided she would run the household. The moment she spied Raina, it was war. Any progress I had made with Raina dissolved with this new enemy in residence.
I have people in my life that are feisty. They are also not the purring, sit in our lap kind of people and have Raina’s entitlement attitude. Feisty humans are more difficult to deal with because they don’t bite or scratch when feeling threatened, frustrated, or fearful. They act passive-aggressive or just plain aggressive—and often you feel guilty, even though it’s on them, not on anything you did to provoke them. Or at least nothing so big or wrong that it should have elicited their reaction.
I had a boss like that once—I’m not going to name names—it was in my early days. Think The Devil Wears Prada, with me as Anne Hathaway’s Andrea Sachs to Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly. Here’s the thing: like Andie, I learned so much from my “Miranda.” I also realized—not while working for her but a bit after—that she had a high opinion of my writing, researching, and “thinking” talents. When I fell short, she felt let down and disappointed. She thought her tirades would awaken me. I’m afraid I have to disagree with her style, but if I’m being honest, she helped bring me to a higher level of performance.
I’ve also had a few feisty clients who didn’t hesitate to tell me harshly when they expected more of me than they felt they were getting. While most people are much more “political” in their criticisms or requests, I learned more from those who are honest, if sometimes too harsh, in their delivery. I have come to understand that when you scratch the surface, most people want to bring out the best in us and don’t know a better way to ask for it.
That’s Raina too. The Universe—or whatever guiding forces are at play—placed those two feisty four-legged creatures, Raina and Lia, in my path, and I seem stuck with them. What’s so interesting is that Lia and Raina threaten each other whenever they pass—Raina hisses, bares her teeth, and her fur goes up like a Halloween hellcat as she reaches out a paw to swat Lia, whose sharp barks send her scurrying away. But when I leave them alone, even for some hours, surprisingly—and thankfully—nothing happens. They both go to their respective “corners,” so to speak. However, the moment I’m back, it’s World War Three again. They may be jealous and vying for my attention. Or perhaps they are just bored, and this is the play they put on for me when they have me as their audience. No matter. There are two French expressions I am fond of: Les jeux sont faits—the chips are down, and Les dés sont jetés—the die is cast.
The die can be cast with feisty people too. You have a choice when it comes to dealing with them. You will likely not change their behavior—that’s too often a fool’s errand. You can choose to learn something from them, as I did from my boss. Perhaps their brutal honesty will bring out your best work, as has happened a few times with prickly clients. But you can also choose to step away from them if their anger becomes a toxic force in your life.
No matter how much she hisses and scratches, I’ll never step away from Raina. She is one of my fur children. Together, we form another dysfunctional but devoted family.
Can you feel me, pet lovers? What’s your story?