Cats are not like dogs, nor are they like people. Yet if you had to choose, and if you’re honest, you would say that cats are more like people than dogs. I don’t mean that they are like people because they have three names (at least respectable cats do) or because they often find their sole and singular name, the one that they don’t actually go by, to be the one that they love—not even the best of names, like “Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat, … Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum” to quote Eliot. And Eliot is right about that. T.S. Eliot, I mean, who knows that the true name of the cat is not effable. It is what the cat dwells on when he sits there thinking, pondering, primping and pruning himself.
Now this refers of course to “domesticated” cats, who love to be called this because they defy that status daily. But what about undomesticated cats? They have no name, they live in the open, sans house, sans cat bed, sans scratching post, sans litterbox. They are feral, wild to the core, wilder than any wild dog. How so? No wild dog looks innocent. Wild dogs are wolf-like, rabid with a small (if not a capital) R. But feral cats, particularly feral kittens, look so innocent. But they are not. They scratch, claw and bite. Why? They have no name to contemplate, no post to scratch, no master to enslave, no cat-lover to force to obsess over their every need.
“Elaine’s memoir is full to the brim of wit, humor, and magnificent storytelling.” —Authors Talk About It
“The need for fat storage first became apparent, though subtly, with the gradual disappearance of the cat’s tail. The tail, I should say, never fully disappeared; there was, even at the end of my beloved cat’s life, at least a little bit of that tail protruding from the massive lump of fat that constituted the cat’s rump.” —The Curious Autobiography, p. 197
Elaine Jakes, the less-than-famous but worthy-of-being-read autobiographer, did that very thing—obsessed a bit—with her cat, Baby 81. She named that creature after an interstate, which is one reason why you should read the book, or at least the story of Baby 81 on pages 194ff. Yes, it is a true story; I knew the cat, I saw Elaine feed it Gerber baby food. But I leave that aside to speak about feral cats and the lesson learned about them not by Elaine but by a young woman, a cat lover of the same magnitude as Elaine, whom she has gotten to know and will continue to get to know through the Curious Autobiography. Indeed, they would have loved each other, had they met in this life; but they shall in the next, in some part of heaven quite near Cat Heaven. Like Elaine, she was petting a cat, this time a feral cat, or rather a cute innocent looking kitten, but one sans name. And that cat, that lovely, innocent looking cat, And that fact that lacked a proper name, an ineffable effable name, bit her. That’s the reason, no doubt, that it bit that young woman, ever so slightly, ever so lightly, just enough to puncture the skin, setting off a chain reaction—a visit to the emergency room, the need for rabies shots—yes, rabies—and, yes, shots (plural). Five of them to be precise, five painful, doleful, grief-causing and ultimately laughter-engendering shots. And that is how this blog will end, with a lesson to all you cat lovers: don’t pet the feral cats Instead, give them a name—actually three names, however challenging that may be–and if you can, get them some shots; better they than you! For, to quote Eliot again:
“The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.”