An Allegory for Life on the Dirty Paws of A Cat
Animal Control doesn’t handle cats. This is what I learned first as I stood, phone to ear, staring the orange mass of grime and fur moaning under a white Cadillac.
“Pontiac,” I corrected myself to the man on the phone.
Further: Rescuing an animal and bringing it to a shelter was the bureaucratic equivalent to adopting it. That means fees. “It would cost you $35 to get the animal checked out,” the 311 man said. I frowned.
The cat moved, darting under the nearest vehicle, a white van. It mewed as I followed it, a long, drawn out and tortured feline cry that nibbled at my heart. I crouched down to eye it further. It didn’t seem to notice me over the din of passing cars, of their horns and squeaking breaks. Its eyes were wide, its pupils dark slits in pools of green.
My mother, in those years during which I was a sponge for advice and admonishment, advised me most clearly to stay away from strange animals. Strange animals meant rabies, and rabies meant something horrifying and unimaginable – certainly sickness, likely death. I stood up. This mangy cat would not be the death of me.
It’s next movement brought it to the sidewalk, where shocked and frightened pedestrians slowly avoided it, mouths open and eyes wary. It ran down the block, away from me and towards groups of people who had apparently never seen a cat before. They started and flinched, some walking in the street to avoid it. The cat kept moving, veering directly into the open door of a pharmacy.
I could hear the screams before I saw who was making them. The cat had parted the crowd and was in the process of being aggressively prodded by a broom. It was unperturbed and trotted behind the counter, causing the woman operating the lottery machine to topple off her stool and onto the floor.
An old man beside me poked me with his cane, telling me in a very surly Spanish to get the damn animal out of the store. Apparently, this was now my cat. This wasn’t too much of a logical leap, I realized, considering that I was the only one actively moving towards the animal. So I did as the man said, walking behind the counter, grabbing the cat, and taking it outside. This might seem like – and, granted, likely was – a bad idea, but the animal, seemingly calm and decidedly healthy by most metrics, didn’t seem all that dangerous. So I took the plunge.
What this plunge involved, essentially, was being insulted and berated as I attempted to get the cat into some sort of container. First, I attempted my backpack, which struck me as a good idea only because it was the only idea I had. In any case, the cat hated the idea, and splayed its legs out in order to make itself impossible to maneuver. This was a big cat, I realized slightly belatedly.
The animal, however, made no attempts to scratch me – and that, frankly, is the most amazing thing of all. Throughout the whole mess, wherein backpacks gave way to boxes, and boxes to slightly larger and more porous boxes, I felt not a single bit of the cat’s claw. We had a mutual understanding. What we did not have, of course, was an agreement as to what that understanding was. What did I really plan to do with this animal?
The idea dawned on me as I was squeezed under the tables of a nearby nail salon, my face and tongue and nose covered in fur. I would make the cat mine. I would name it Fuzz, or perhaps Ginger, or maybe something less creative and more trite than both of those names combined. Fluffy. Yes, that’s it. I would call her Fluffy.
People really didn’t like Fluffy. In the nail salon especially Fluffy was an unequivocal ambiance changer. “Get that damn cat outta here so I can get my nails did,” one woman told me, eyes blazing. I didn’t pay her much mind because I was mentally working on the containment portion of my plan. I needed a box.
…which, apparently, are somewhat hard to come by in New York City. People are very protective of their boxes (but not their cats.) In any case, the boxes that Fluffy ended up failing to be stuffed in came one by one. The first seemed suitable initially, but a misplaced bowl of water rendered it a soft and mushy mess. The second box had a big hole in it. The third seemed perfect, but before long, and after me and two others lined the surface of the box in two different brands of tape, Fluffy had torn free, poking her paws through the box’s holes and her claws into the hands of a lawyer who had stopped to help. (“Okay, I’m done. I’m finished. I fucking hate cats,” he said before stomping away.)
So the box plan failed. The final attempt at saving the animal involved “locking” in it a nearby apartment building’s courtyard until later that evening, where schedules were free to take it to a shelter. Predictably, however, when five PM rolled around and I revisited the area, Fluffy was nowhere to be seen. She had run off, or was rescued by someone else. Or she just went home.
And it was here that I learned a few things, foremost among them that cats can be really stupid sometimes. People too, perhaps more so. Because even while you are trying to do a good thing, you can still be the Bad Guy to the thing you are trying to help and the people who are looking on. And there’s nothing you can do about it. You hear that, Mr. President?