Joe, a Golden Retriever, arrives at the dog run. His pal Max, a German Shepherd, trots over to greet him. They sniff each other.
MAX: Hi Joe. How’ve you been?
JOE: Great. Glad to see you brought your ball. My person forgot my Frisbee.
MAX: Yeah, I know. They get distracted easily. Watch out for that teacup Chihuahua by the tree over there. She’s been biting our ankles this morning.
JOE: Again? One of these days I’m gonna stomp that bitch. Grab the ball, Max, let’s go play.
And whoosh – they race off together toward the far end of the fenced-in run.
During the many years I lived in Greenwich Village, one of my regular stops was the dog run in nearby Washington Square Park. Although I’ve never wanted to own a dog, I generally like them and I like to watch them in groups. It’s fun to imagine what what they would say if they could speak.
Dogs, left to their own devices, are social animals usually eager to find common ground – unlike cats who generally spit and growl when they unexpectedly encounter another of their kind who is a stranger. But not in all circumstances.
For the year I’ve lived in this condominium compound of 12 two-story, eight-unit buildings scattered among winding paths with trees and shrubs and lawns in between, I’ve come to know, more intimately in retirement than I would if I went to work every day, the six or eight stray/feral cats who make their home here.
Although they tolerate one another, it is at a distance. Each seems to have staked out personal territory and regular pathways. When they use the same paths, it is at different times of the day. I have never seen any of them together.
I put out food for the cats, but only two visit my patio to eat – always at different times of day. Here is the stray I used to call Blackie but have changed his name to Grumpy – he always looks mildly pissed off.
And here is the little cutie I’m thinking of adopting (if she’ll ever let me get close enough to touch her) hiding among the table and chairs.
Ollie the cat (my indoor pet) often sits in the dining room window sill to watch Cutie and Grumpy at their meals outside. Occasionally, each of the strays glances at Ollie, then gives the feline equivalent of a shrug and continues eating.
All has been quiet and congenial among them for months – until three days ago.
In the afternoon, I was working on my laptop with my back to the window when all cat hell suddenly broke loose: paws banging on the window along with multiple screeches and yowls.
Turning to investigate, I found Ollie standing tall on his hind legs on the window sill having a conniption fit while outdoors, a gigantic, orange-and-white cat I’d never seen before was banging back, hissing and growling at Ollie. It was a monumental cat fight in which at least an ear would have been torn had not a pane of glass separated them.
As soon as they saw me walking toward the window, Ollie jumped down from the sill (all puffy, twice his usual size) and the other cat – let’s call him or her Big Red – was nonchalantly trotting away without a backward glance.
The next afternoon about the same time, same circumstances, Ollie and Big Red suddenly went at it again. Screeching and yelling and growling and spitting as they pounded at each other on the window. And again, it stopped abruptly when they spied me walking toward them.
On both days and since then, Ollie has sat calmly in the window ignored by Cutie and Grumpy when they stop by for their morning and evening meals.
So, apparently, social rules are more complicated than I suspected among cats. Since my back was turned when both cat fights broke out, I don’t know who started it, but I can’t see a reason for Big Red to interrupt a free meal for a cat sitting quietly on the other side of the glass.
If I am correct, then Ollie is making a distinction between cats he recognizes and one he doesn’t; two who belong in his world and one who doesn’t. Which doesn’t mean he approves of Grumpy and Cutie. Invariably, after I come in from filling the patio bowl, Ollie plops himself in front the door – looking eversomuch like a furry doorstop – as if to keep me from going out again.
It would be so much easier if cats behaved like Joe and Max.
[By the way, this is what passes for excitement these days Chez Bennett.]
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary B. Summerlin: Bathrooms