Intent and interpretation: a cat tale
Posted on May 6th, 2013
or six weeks now, we have been a two-cat household. Five-month-old Lemon, Peaches’ three-legged kitten, adorable in all of the ways you might imagine (and some that might not even have occurred to you yet), joined Maynard, our six-year-old adult female (we thought she was a boy when we named her, alright?) to make a new life of cheerful cohabitation in our split-level home.
From the start, though, it hasn’t been that. Cohabitation, certainly—a reluctant, wary sort of working truce seems to be in play most of the time—but there’s been nothing cheerful about it.
Lemon’s behavior was, in a word, shocking. Entitled in a way only those among us who are both shiny and well-loved can be, she could be seen repeatedly advancing steadily on the sedate and fluffy Maynard. Whether perched on the back of a sofa or on the ledge of an open window, Maynard responded with a hissing retreat when confronted by her tiny, fearless opposite number. One morning, I watched Maynard fall gracefully back out of the window through which she had just appeared, sibilant with indignation at Lemon’s relentless approach. It was just like watching Jason Patric, in the grips of vampirism, flee his family home in The Lost Boys!
“Maybe that’s what you learn in The Joint,” observed Scott, an unkind reference to Lemon’s days at the animal shelter.
So on our first trip to the veterinarian’s office, I told the doctor all about our kitten’s aggressive behavior. We had not expected to see this sort of full-court press by the juvenile interloper on the territories and haunts of our established cat, I told her. I described the way Lemon pursued Maynard, how she couldn’t take a damn hint, how she was climbing up the bunk bed ladder on her three good legs into Marcel’s bed—Maynard’s inner sanctum, the nerve!—and curling up for the night there.
“The kitten’s not being aggressive,” the doctor said. “She wants to play. She’s trying to engage your other cat.”
I know I looked at the vet beneath a tightly furrowed brow (my rude, highly-dubious face), but I was already flipping through the interactions I’d witnessed between the two animals. In those few seconds, I saw Lemon advancing on Maynard without the filter of the intention I’d attached to it laying over top and what I found there was not a single cat fight, no hissing on the part of our juvenile “aggressor,” nothing.
Since that trip to the vet, Lemon has been spotted in Marcel’s top bunk, extending her head up from the covers like that fuzzy picture of the Loch Ness monster. Farther down the bed at the very same time was Maynard, tolerant of the interloper’s incursion. And every day since, I have had cause to think about intention and our interpretation of it—what’s actually happening and what we color into the open spaces that are given to us—and the relational issues (or lack thereof) between house pets are the least of it.∗