Zora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria. Or Something.

So our cat Zora is crazy.

I mean more than normal-cat-crazy. More than just chasing nothing in particular around the house, only to then turn around and be chased around the house by nothing. More than just deciding that on top of a pile of CDs or hanging halfway across the keyboard is the most comfortable place in the house to sleep. More than deciding that 3 am is really the best time to chase each other across the bed. No, no; those behaviors are normal in the cat universe. I mean crazy even for cat standards.

She has behaviors that I think might best be explained by the theory that she's a crack baby, except for the fact that I have trouble visualizing a cat lighting a tiny, feline-sized crack pipe without opposable thumbs.

Zora's twitchy. I was trying to take pictures of the cats the other night, because I was thinking about writing this week's column about them. The camera is a tiny little digital camera (thanks to my father!) and it has no flash, so pictures taken inside are a bit on the grainy side. It doesn't deal so well with movement in low light either, so I was waiting for the cats to sit still for a couple seconds before I took their picture.

Tista, standing still.

It took two minutes to get five or six good shots of Tista. He was in a mellow mood, walking slowly and sitting down for a moment here or there to rest from the labor of cathood.

What's that thing you're pointing at me? Lemme look...

No such luck with Zora. It took about half an hour to get five decent photos of her, and one of them involved me holding her in place. She jumped on the table, jumped off the table, rolled over herself to scratch the scratching post (which is pretty much her favorite thing in the entire world), got up to look at a bug, jumped in a box, got bopped by Tista and jumped out of the box again, ran underneath the table (where it's way too dark to take a picture), sniffed the vacuum cleaner, ran away from the (peaceful and unplugged) vacuum cleaner, inspected the computer, and so forth.

Zora, as her standard, usual upside down blurry self.

The only way I could make her settle down was by getting out the flea comb.

Right. The flea comb. Did I mention she's crazy?

Zora loves the flea comb. It mystifies me, it mystifies my boy, The One And Only, and it sure as hell mystifies our vet. When we got our cats from the foster home, they had fleas, so in addition to buying various anti-flea products, I flea-combed them every day for weeks. Then their fleas were gone, and logically enough, I stopped the flea combing.

Finally sitting still. Presumably because in that mess, it's hard to walk.

Zora's got the longest hair of any cat I've ever seen. As soon as the flea combing stopped, the matting started, so I went and got a brush.

Silly me. She hates the brush.

Instead, all I have to do is sit down on the floor and take out that flea comb, and there's Zora, in my lap and purring, pushing her head at the comb. If I pull out a dreadlock, she just purrs harder. The vet's never heard of anything like it.

And then there's her fear of The One And Only.

The One And Only - henceforth, TOAO - is her dad. We were living together before we adopted the cats, so it shouldn't be an issue of jealousy. And sure, when we got her, she was scared of everything. And I mean everything. She spent the first three days hiding behind the books in the bookshelf, sneaking out in the dead of night to get food. A few weeks later, I started a find-and-pet campaign, which involved tracking her down, grabbing her before she could run, and restraining her so she'd hold still while I petted her.

After a week, I'd still have to catch her, but once on my lap, she'd stay. A few weeks later, she'd not only come up to me if I was sitting, but she'd actually come when I called, which, given she's a cat, is just further proof she's certifiable.

Now we've gotten to the point where she only runs away from me when I'm walking, and then only half the time; the other half of the time she throws herself down on the ground and shows me her tummy, which she would like me to rub. No, I have no idea what makes her react which way. Who knows how the neurons fire in that little brain of hers.

But she still runs away from TOAO. He's tried the find-and-pet, never with any continued success. There were moments of détente, when Zora would come over to him, but largely, she avoids him. (I've suggested he rub himself in tuna, but he points out that projectile vomiting would probably scare her off.)

The Zora floor-sprawl is why we need a steam cleaner. Hair everywhere.

Not that TOAO is the only one she's afraid of. Those friends who've actually seen her live and in person have rarely seen more than a brown blur rushing from kitchen to bedroom at what is a remarkable speed given that she is pressed close enough to the floor to get rugburn on her belly.

Now, mind you, don't confuse this behavior with wimpiness. Because this is the same cat who, if there's a strange cat outside, will actually bust through the screen door to throw herself on said cat in an angry puff of fur, without a second thought. The other day she threw herself at a window - a closed window, and not a particularly clean one either, so it's not as if she didn't know it was there - because she was trying to get to the cat outside.

Of course, as soon as the other cat runs the hell away, Zora cringes in a corner of the carport because the world outside is just so... big.

Ten minutes later, that paper was half gone.
No, really.

Her other favorite hobby is ripping paper to shreds. Yes, I have a cat who would, if given the chance, actually eat my homework. And with a roll of paper towels, she's in heaven, and the floor is full of shredded tissue.

To see her throw herself at the scratching post with utter abandon, of course, you'd never guess any of this.

On the left: Zora, in motion.
On the right: The scratching post, the love of her life.

A friend told me today that her cat had mellowed substantially around about age two; Zora's a year and change at the moment, so that made me hopeful. On the other hand, I'm not sure how much I want her to change.

Yeah, less running away would definitely be nice. Her making friends with TOAO would thrill me. But on the other hand, I'd miss hearing that little "bonk" that tells us that there's a cat outside and we remembered to lock the screen door.


3. October 2002


 

Attempted Catfighting

So we're sitting there in the living room. It's remarkably cool outside for a Texas summer.

As a result, the windows are open, as is the back door. We don't have a screen door on the front, and the cats don't really get to go outside, so we keep the front door shut.

When the windows are open, you can be absolutely certain that's where the cats are. (The only exception? If there are strangers in the room. Then you can be absolutely certain Zora is nowhere to be found.)

They love to sit and watch the world go by. They watch pretty actively, too - they get up when things get exciting, and Zora paws at the screen. On occasion, she hooks her front claws in and hangs down, as if she's trying to crack her back.

Things get exciting when there's anything outside moving around. People not so much (and Zora seems to understand the concept that, as long as there's a screen between her and them, she's safe).

Unless those people are me and Dennis. If either one of us is outside, Tista hangs on the window and meows loud enough that our neighbors probably think we abuse our cats. When I was painting the trim on the windows, he followed me from window to window, and if the blinds were down, he'd shove his little face through them, stare at me, and meow. It was adorable.

If there's a squirrel or a bird in the yard, we know. We know not so much because they start moving around to see better, but because Zora opens her mouth and makes a noise like a muted woodpecker. "Eh eh eh eh eh eh eh..."

But if there's another cat around, beware. Especially our neighbors' cat, Zena. Zena likes our house. We've catsat her, and she's an utter sweetheart. Tista seems to like her fine. But Zora...

Zora's territorial. An odd quality for a cat who mostly defends her territory by running away, but there you have it.

And in spite of never really having been outside, Zora's pretty clear on where her territory begins. If she can see you, you're on her turf.

So Zora follows Zena from window to window. And if Zena takes the turn toward the carport, Zora throws caution to the wind, jumps over whoever happens to be in her way, and ...

Smack!

That's the sound of the door hitting her on the way out, when we haven't locked the door. We didn't start locking the screen door until this happened the first time, because neither of the cats has ever tried to open it, and occasionally, we still forget.

Zena takes off as soon as the door opens. And Zora? She doesn't follow. She's like those dogs who chase cars. I don't think she'd know what to do with Zena if she caught her.

But there's no danger of that. The carport is scary. There are no walls. The world is enormous. In her right mind, the outside world isn't even a place she wants to visit.

Open the door for her, step aside, and she'll slink back in, belly to the floor.

But by the next time Zena comes around, Zora's forgotten all that, and we run to make sure the screen door is locked.

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