Oct 4, 2023
Why Harold Had So Few Friends
On the several occasions Harold’s doting owners traveled together, their beloved tabby would make himself personally available only to sink his teeth into me. In Harold’s contrary world there were two kinds of people: the owners who loved and accepted him and the soft targets who visited. Among the latter group he was known as Horrible Harold.
During the meet & greet the owners kept Harold out of sight to prevent his asocial behavior from ruining their chances. It was true Harold could be unpleasant, but to them he was a dear family member.
Like protective parents they offered an airbrushed version of Harold’s misdemeanor assault record, sharing humorous anecdotes of dinner parties and holiday gatherings interrupted by yelps and family first aid. I laughed along while taking a mental inventory of the heavy footwear and hiking socks in my closet. By all accounts Harold preferred ankles, followed by fleshy palms. But only if a visitor was foolish enough to pet him.
We agreed to consolidate pet needs in the kitchen, steps away from the front door. And so it was with jangled nerves I arrived in Timberland boots to care for a 6-year-old cat with a long history of biting hapless visitors.
STEALTHY AND SMART
I was beginning to think Harold would be a no-show when I saw a pair of hazel eyes peering at me from the hallway. After a few taut moments he approached to headbutt my leg. I dared to hope. Then he began rubbing his furry head against my booted foot, his eyes closed, looking completely at ease. I felt my anxiety slipping away as I prepared to pop the lid on his breakfast. At a minimum I should be barely tolerable.
I jumped when Harold attacked my boot with teeth and claws. He may have heard me squeal. Harold struck again, a little higher, and got a mouthful of hiking socks and denim. Now frantic, I looked around the kitchen for a pan, a pot lid, anything, to use as a shield. But Harold had already disappeared around the corner.
After that jolting initiation I marched in place, tapped my shoes, anything to prevent the headbutt, lull, bite sequence from gaining traction. But Harold was just as determined to collect a blood sample. Even when winter pavement was dry, I wore boots and knee-highs for protection. As the weather warmed, I would sit on the front steps and pull on leg warmers before entering the house. Harold’s teeth would pinch but the knitwear absorbed the worst of his efforts.
On the first sultry day of sandal season, I blocked the kitchen doorway hoping to discourage Harold. He could have gotten over my flimsy barrier but when he didn’t try, I assumed he had wandered off to sulk. Perhaps he did and then reconsidered, because several minutes later, a flying fur ball jetted toward me via the pass-through above the kitchen sink. Miraculously, I was using the sink sprayer to rinse his bowls and swiftly turned it toward Harold. He somersaulted in midair, bounced off the ledge, and landed with a soft thump on the dining room floor. Gratefully, Harold never tried that again.
Seven months later the owners packed up Harold, along with their print of the kitten in a ladle, and moved away from the city. The owners chose this photo to hang on their kitchen wall because the kitten’s demeanor and coat pattern so closely matched their cherished Harold. On every visit I would gaze at that kitten and wish Harold could lighten up.
Did you know?
From the tip of its nose to its little cat toes, the domestic house cat is a small predator that really, really likes to hunt. For most cats the stalk, pounce, kill sequence is intensely pleasurable. There are cats that exhibit little to no hunting instinct beyond the juvenile stage, but they are the exceptions. If natural talents and tendencies are directed with abundant play, cats are less likely to pass the time with unwelcome pursuits including knickknack hockey, toe pouncing, hand batting, paper shredding, and ankle biting.
For years Harold was let out at dusk to prowl his neighborhood, always returning for breakfast, sometimes with a dead offering. Harold hunted for the exhilarating thrill of it all. Until one day he showed up battered and bloody from a fight. His owners had him patched up and locked the back door. No more night prowls for Harold.
So what is a well-fed cat with finely honed hunting skills to do with all that extra time on his paws?
Harold redirected his frustrated predatory needs at people’s ankles. He no longer had to search for prey. The prey came to him. And when ankles gathered under a dinner party table, he could take his time selecting the juiciest. By the time I met Harold, his bad kitty profile included dozens of successful ankle attacks.
Like all of Harold’s victims, I was neither friend nor foe. I was occupational therapy.
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