Thursday, 21 April 2011

A Case Of Mistaken Identity

Our cats, Mitzi and Maverick, are both completely black. When we first got them, the woman who gave them to us pointed out that Mitzi has the tiniest fluff of white on her chest -- so small that you can barely see it. At first we were entirely dependent on that tiny white patch to tell the two cats apart.

After a week, we had no trouble distinguishing them from each other. Mitzi is smaller than Maverick, and more nimble. Her face is flatter and wider, her eyes are cannier, and she is a natural-born climber and jumper. If you walk into our kitchen and there is a cat on top of the highest shelf, it is Mitzi. Maverick has a skittish, skulking, humbled air about him. He's also klutzier and heavier than Mitzi. If you're in the kitchen and a cat takes a flying leap to the top of the table and misses, it is Maverick. Mitzi is noisier and she is a restless spirit: even after she has been fed, she will roam from room to room, meowing plaintively, for all the world as though something vital is missing from her life. The first week she was here, we wore ourselves out supplying her with more water, more food, and attention whenever she yowled. Nothing worked. Now we just tell her to shut up. Maverick, though big and fierce-looking, has a tiny little voice that he saves for emergencies: a hailstorm, a big dog in the garden, a stuck cat flap.

Last month, one of the cats started spraying. We never caught them at it, but the evidence was plain. Even people like me who are passionate about cats hate the smell of cat pee. Cat urine is so awful that even Einstein had something to say about it: A man has to work so hard so that something of his personality stays alive. A tomcat has it so easy, he has only to spray and his presence is there for years on rainy days. Almost all days are rainy days in Scotland. When strangers came by, we didn't need to tell them we had cats.

We shut the cats out. We yelled at them when they sidled up to the furniture, took to feeding them on the porch, and would not allow them into the living room even on the coldest, rainiest days. I scrubbed the smell away (to little avail), sprayed lemon perfume about, and ground pepper into the corners. Then one day it hailed and the wind blew fiercely. We took pity on the cats and let them into the living room where we could keep an eye on them. Mitzi was sitting on my lap, purring away, when all of a sudden she stopped and began to growl. She stood up and her tail inflated to twice its size as she stalked across the room, arching her back and hissing. I followed her out -- and found a well-fed, furry tomcat in the act of spraying our staircase.

I have a very good sense of smell. I can smell the difference between Mitzi (wet fur, spice, and crushed flowers) and Maverick (wet fur, leaf mold, and tuna). But Mitzi had been able to smell a strange cat from a distance of 50 feet.

I felt so guilty, I gave our cats extra food that night and let them both sleep in our bedroom. In no time, the bedspread was covered with bits of black fur.

A few weeks ago, the cats started acting weird. Maverick would come into a room Mitzi was in and she would fly at him, hissing and snarling. Once, she came into the kitchen where he was eating, and flew at him, sending him running. Maverick started to meow more too, and he lost his skulking air. Instead of flattening himself against the wall when somebody walked past him, he strutted proudly.

At first, I put this down to the catnip I'd just planted. Not all cats react to catnip, so we were thrilled to find that Mitzi and Maverick were both susceptible to it, behaving in the kind of outlandish ways it is so entertaining to observe. Just as people react differently to certain drugs, cats react differently to catnip. Could it be that the catnip was making Mitzi paranoid and freeing Maverick from his usual inhibitions? It seemed to be making them hungrier too: both cats, especially Maverick, were suddenly ravenous, begging for food even after they'd been fed.

We scolded Mitzi for being so unkind and Maverick for being so greedy.

Then last week, Maverick followed me into the kitchen. As we walked in, he let out a low growl and backed off, his face a mask of terror. Mitzi was in the kitchen, on top of the refrigerator, glaring down at a black cat who was gobbling up her breakfast. This cat was identical to Maverick in every way. Except, of course, for his smell -- and his personality.

We shooed the extra cat out -- he is well fed and well groomed.

Needless to say, our bedspread is now covered in cat fur.


Murr Brewster said...

Perhaps you could paint the offending cat in some way so there would be no mistaking him. Something in a white stripe, perhaps?

That reminds me--time to work on my indoor-cat post.

Robert the Skeptic said...

We really loved our little female cat, Angelina. She was completely attached to Nancy and would sit where ever Nancy sat. Nancy NEVER ever picked up Angelina, but the bond was strong.

We missed Angelina when we had to put her down due to age and illness. However, I must confess it was nice to finally take the blankets off of the leather sofa and fabric chairs. And oddly, my asthma seemed to disappear.

Bish Denham said...

The case of mysterious extra cat. How weird! Now you know to listen to you cats, to pay attention to their behaviors. They are trying to tell you something.

Robin said...

I don't want to alarm you or anything, but keep your mind open to the possibility of alien pod cats multiplying and trying to take over Scotland.

Luckily, there is no dog dumb enough to impersonate our dogs. There would have to be a stray labotomized Japanese Chin roaming about. And there is absolutely no sense in labotomizing a Japanese Chin.

Anonymous said...

Drat. Robin beat me to it, except I was going to blame the extra cat on a hant! How do you suppose it is getting in?

Angela Ackerman said...


Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Falak said...

Mistaken identities :D Too bad about the bedspread though!

Kim Ayres said...

Alien pod cats - definitely...

Adrienne said...

How funny. Cats are so sneaky - I wonder how many of them manage to have multiple owners.

anna said...

Such an interesting and lovely post for a fellow black-cat-in-residence reader of your blog! What complex creatures they are. I adore mine but I always have the feeling there is a lot about her life that I will never know or understand.

Anonymous said...

Maybe use different colored collars.

My two indoor cats are very distinct. I live in a building and don't deal with neighboring cats.

When I lived in a house and had outdoor cats I would get confused with the strays in the area mingling with my cats.

Mary Witzl said...

Murr -- Next time I'm out there with a paintbrush, I'm going to be so tempted! We thought about putting a note on the offender -- "FEED ME MORE SO I WON'T SPONGE OFF OTHERS" -- but he doesn't wear a collar. Our cats go through collars so fast we're not thrilled with the idea of buying somebody else's one.

Robert -- Like those apologists for the nuclear energy, I'm always tempted to argue that exposure to a little cat dander makes your lungs stronger. But I've seen asthma sufferers practically go into seizures the minute any cat strolls past.

For what it's worth, I can't imagine having a sofa without a blanket on it, and the idea of a leather one with our cats is just ludicrous.

Bish -- It is true: they are trying to tell me something. It's just that I don't always want to hear it, especially not at four in the morning.

Robin -- Ha! I could pit your dog against a couple I know here; it would be interesting to see which one came out tops. Maverick isn't a very bright cat, but Mitzi is scarily intelligent. I see her watching me, a certain judgemental look in her eye, like she's thinking, "If I had opposable thumbs, I'd do a lot more with them."

Anne -- Sigh...through the cat flap. We used to have one that was operated by magnets, but gave this up after the eighth (expensive) collar had been lost.

Angela -- It's not us, though -- it's them!

Mary Witzl said...

Falak -- We have a beautiful new white bedspread that would have worked with our last cat, who was snow white. Now, there's no way we're getting it out.

Kim -- I wish they ate alien pod tuna, bought by somebody else.

Adrienne -- Yes, cats have a real racket going. My mother used to feed a cat who made the rounds of the neighborhood, in California; in Cardiff and Tokyo, my husband and I routinely entertained and fed cats who led us to believe we were the only ones who gave them a square meal. (But they were all charming and cute. That was the important thing.)

Anna -- Welcome, fellow cat supporter and enabler! ;o) Yes, cats are all pretty secretive. I catch mine coming out of other people's gardens, or walking down their drives, and they always have furtive, guilty looks on their faces -- "Oh crap, she SAW me!" But their mysteriousness is all part of the allure, isn't it?

Medeia -- The problem is, our cats keep slipping their collars. Between them, they've lost EIGHT so far, so buying them the expensive magnet-door type is not an option. We are now wondering if the other black cat's people haven't been removing Maverick's collar, thinking he is their cat. If they have, they owe us a LOT of cat collars.

angryparsnip said...

about your comment to Murr about the feed me more note...
When I was a student at the University of Arizona years ago two Basset Hounds would cross at lest one major street with stop lights and come over to the Art Department and mooch off of anyone with food. (I thought they came to work with a teacher or student ?)
One day they appeared with signs on their collars, Please Do Not Feed Me. Just the opposite of your problem. So I am thinking it was someone who worked at the Art Department but I was told they lived nearby.

cheers, parsnip

Lily Cate said...

We have a Generic Black Cat as well, and since he was raised in apartments, he's strictly and indoor fella. I know most of the neighborhood cats by now, too, but every once in a while someone new shows up. We have a lot of loud dogs on our street, so our backyard seems to be the place to relax and watch the birds. Our old female would never allow any of them in the house, tough. She gets pretty offended when they just come up and sit on the deck.

Vijaya said...

Aw, Mary, to think M&M were innocent ... but I figure they've done enough naughty things to warrant the punishment. I'm glad all is well. Have a beautiful and blessed Easter season.

veach glines said...

Followers of the US TV show Fringe will understand why this "new" cat should forevermore be referred to as: Doberick.

Dobre - 'double' in Galician