My girls live with me in a reasonably-sized one-bedroom apartment. The living-room has floor-to-ceiling sliding doors which would lead onto a balcony if I had one, but instead are screened and overlook the courtyard. Other than my boyfriend, we don’t get a lot of visitors.
All of which is to say that they live in a very quiet, very safe-feeling space, with one obedient human, and few strangers ever set foot in their demesne.
I worry about this sometimes. If they ever somehow got out of the apartment complex (unlikely, of course — since they’d have to find their way to the elevator and take it to the ground floor — but possible), they’d be confronted with the fact that the world outside their safe little haven is bright, and loud, and full of large moving things and strange people. I worry that they would be panicked and overwhelmed and might rush into the street out of sheer sensory overload.
So I take them, individually, to the pet store with me, where they can encounter other people and dogs and strange noises and smells, and now that it’s warm out, I’ve begun taking them for walks in our apartment compound.
Before I get to that, however, I’d like to make a few notes about their relationship. Molly and Lucy are the most affectionate pair of non-related cats I’ve ever lived with. Most of the cats I’ve known have tolerated their cohabitants, but largely ignored each other. Often, there has been simmering hostility under the tolerance.
Molly and Lucy love each other. They are never fair apart, they bathe each other and cuddle, play together, and work as a team to navigate the challenges of getting to food I don’t want them to have, rescuing toys that get shoved under furniture and so on.
However, like any siblings, they have their moments of jealousy. If I hold Molly too long, Lucy will attempt to climb into my arms, using her claws. If I hold Lucy too long, Molly will squat as if she’s about to pee on the carpet. (Put her down…or the rug gets it.)
When I’ve taken Molly to the vet, Lucy has seemed fine with being alone. When I’ve taken Lucy places, she’s seemed to enjoy having time with just the two of us.
I figured that, like any siblings, they generally loved each other but, as the bouts of jealousy demonstrated, also wanted time to be the sole subject of my attention.
The Trip Outside
Yesterday was a beautiful day, so I decided to take them out to the courtyard. I have taken them out together, but they preferred to huddle in the carrier together rather than exploring the world and chasing bugs as is their birthright. So yesterday I decided to take them out one at a time.
I took Lucy first. She’s still not quite sure what to make of her leash, but once I got her outside, she forgot about it entirely in favor of being utterly terrified. She huddled in the carrier, shrinking back every time a car passed the complex or a plane flew overhead.
I waited patiently for her to come out, and she waited impatiently for me to take her back inside, and finally I pulled her out of the carrier. She made a beeline for the door at the far end of the courtyard.
Until this time, Molly (who was sitting in the open window) hadn’t said anything. But as I soothed Lucy, she must have heard my voice and started meowing inquisitively. It was quiet — little chirps and her distinctive creaky noises.
But then Lucy’s headlong flight to a door that led nowhere near our apartment took us past the window.
I looked up and saw this:
Okay, that didn’t work out quite like I’d hoped. COMPUTER: ENHANCE!
Okay, actually that’s still not what I saw. What I saw was a giant open cat mouth, emitting a deep, throat-shredding howl. Molly had seen that Lucy and I were somewhere she couldn’t get to, and assumed that we had abandoned her, apparently.
The howl reverberated throughout the courtyard, bouncing off the walls until the echoes combined into a throbbing chorus of the damned.1
The children in the pool stopped splashing and laughing and stared. The sunbathing adults looked up and stared. The property manager and the couple to whom she was giving a tour stopped and stared. The people in the apartment below my window opened their sliding doors, came out onto the patio and stared.
One of the children began shrieking in counterpoint.
Lucy forgot that she was terrified and stared up at her sister in astonishment.
Mortified, I frantically tried to shush her, but the tormented wailing continued.
YOU HAVE LEFT ME ALOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONE!!!!!
I bundled Lucy into her carrier and raced back up to my apartment2 , where Molly greeted us with frantic relief. I explained that it was her turn now, and that I had never intended to abandon her, and did she understand the concept of turns?
Unlike Lucy, Molly actually enjoys going places, and has basically leash-trained herself. She’ll trot along next to me, stopping occasionally to sniff something and then looking up at me to comment on it. When I take her to the pet store, people are always amazed to see a leash-trained cat and comment on how doglike she is, how she is constantly watching me and talking to me, and so on.
So, Molly was having a grand old time. And then we walked past my window, where Lucy (who’s just as happy to stay inside and watch, thankyouverymuch) saw her and gave a happy chirp of recognition. Molly looked up and saw that Lucy was back there, in the apartment. Alone. Not with us.
And — I swear, this whole thing took place in slow motion as I realized what was about to happen, dreaded it, and realized I had no way to stop it — she opened her mouth and began to howl again.
We’ve abandoned LUUUUUUOOOOOOOOOOOOOOCY!!!
I took her back inside, where she frantically reunited with Lucy (who was all, “Er, pardon me, but what on EARTH is the matter with you?”), and then the two of them flopped onto the couch, exhausted. Molly stayed awake nervously until I joined them on the couch. Then, satisfied that the family was all together, she went to sleep purring.
There is a moral to this story, and it is this: I am not allowed to take them outdoors separately.
- No animal should that small should be able to make a noise that loud. Just sayin’. [↩]
- Okay, I did snap a picture first. I can’t help it. I am of the Internet Generation. [↩]