I hate my cat!

We saved this day-old kitten from certain death, and now, three years later, he's our worst nightmare.

By Cary Tennis

Published June 1, 2007 10:20AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

My fiancé and I adopted a cat about three years ago. We found him after he was abandoned by his mother. He was only about a day old, eyes still closed, umbilical cord still attached, and we couldn't bear to leave him alone to die, so we took him home. We did research on raising abandoned kittens, fed him with an eyedropper, cleaned him and did everything we could to make sure he grew up as normally as possible. We never expected him to make it, but Oliver is still alive and well, a huge, full-grown beast.

The trouble is, we have grown to detest our cat. He is not normal. Let me explain. Any time we have visitors over, he becomes very aggressive and protective, hissing and clawing and generally just being a menace. We can't have anyone come to do maintenance on our apartment without being there to lock him up. We have received several notes from our maintenance men after they have tried to enter the apartment without us being present. The highlights include: "Please detain crazed cat and work will be completed tomorrow" and "Could not enter apartment: Cat was TOO MAD!" If no visitors are present, he is not aggressive but only very annoying, constantly knocking things off of shelves and countertops, going to the bathroom on the floor when there are perfectly clean litter boxes to be used and banging on cabinet doors constantly.

We try to play with him with the hundreds of cat toys that we have purchased for him, but he only watches us play with each other. We have tried to let him go outside, but he just torments the neighbors. If we let him stay outside, I have no doubt that animal control will be called on him. When taking him to the vet, we have to sedate him so that the vet can give him his shots, and even with the sedative, it's still so dangerous that they have to use shoulder-length leather gloves to treat him. We have taken him to three different vets and they all say that he is physically fine.

It has gotten to the point that we really just want to get rid of him. I've called all of the pet shelters in our area and told them about Oliver, but they of course are not willing to take him because of his aggressiveness. They say that they will never be able to find a home for a cat with such a disposition. I won't have him put to sleep because I think that is unacceptable, but I am at a loss for what to do next. I have considered trying to find someone who lives out in the country where he could roam and play, since he still has his claws, but I think that might be less humane than having him put to sleep, since he has never been outside and has no idea what to do, how to hunt for food or climb a tree or anything. I'm sure a lot of those things are instinct. I just don't know if he would make it out there in the great outdoors. This cat is making me miserable!! HELP!

Feeling Catty

Dear Feeling Catty,

The Humane Society of the United States, in its Web site entry on feline aggression toward people, says, "Seek professional help. An aggression problem will not go away by itself. Working with aggression problems requires in-home help from an animal behavior specialist."

I think that is what you need. Whatever it costs, I suggest you do it.

This sounds like a solvable problem. It also sounds like an important problem, a big story in your life. You rescued and nurtured a defenseless newborn animal. You cared for the animal and made it a part of your life. This indicates that you have compassion, and that you and your fiancé are capable of nurturing a creature together.

But something has happened. Now you face a crisis.

You started out with goodness in your heart, and now you face a difficulty you had not anticipated. You have thought of some options, but one option will result in nearly certain death to your cat. Another will create a lifelong mystery. You will never know what happened to your cat if you let him loose in the wild. You will always live with that. It will be a failure for you.

That is why, even though this is about a cat, this is also a turning point in your life. It is about whether you can follow through in a tough situation and do the right thing when the wrong thing would be easier in the short term. It's about whether you are living your life with deep seriousness.

And it's about whether you cringe with shame or beam with pride when you think of this years from now.

We often get ourselves into situations out of the goodness of our hearts and then face difficulties. What makes the difference in life is how we handle those problems.

Take my own situation, for example. Not with how the dogs run our lives, which is another story, but with the house. I got this warm fuzzy notion a couple of years ago that we would remodel our house and make it a beautiful place. I figured, let's just go for it. Borrow the money, hire the people, do the work and figure out later how to pay for it.

Now it needs to be paid for. So this is one of those situations that you live with, knowing there's a solution but not necessarily seeing it yet, having ideas but knowing they have to be implemented, detail by detail ... and just now the dogs were barking and I was walking through the house wondering what was going on and I felt very keenly in that moment that what I was walking through was my own ongoing incompleteness, the dark and tangled fruit of my creative, optimistic nature.

So we get ourselves into these things and we deal with them.

But we're still scared. We're still scared, walking through the woods. When you're scared you just want to do something -- run, scream, throw things, blame people. Just get out of that uncomfortable situation.

So in the midst of all this fear, it occurred to me that the solution would be to buy a sailboat. That's an idea! Buy a sailboat and ... what? Ah: My forefathers went to sea when things got tough, did they not? That's how they ended up in America in the first place: Things went bad so they got on a ship. Not that they didn't also have grand optimistic visions of a new world! But those things work together, don't they -- the grand, optimistic vision of a new world and the unstated desire to block out uncomfortable reality.

We run from things. Of course we do. We're like animals when we're trapped. If we can't run we start doing crazy stuff. So you're trapped with this cat. And you're thinking of doing crazy stuff. And the cat is trapped with you. But the cat isn't thinking about buying a sailboat. The cat is just trying to ... I don't know. I'm not a cat. That's why you need the animal expert.

I found this cat behavior specialist on the Web, who says, "By the time cat owners consult with me, they have tried everything and are very discouraged." I know nothing about her beyond what her Web site claims. But she's the kind of person you need: Somebody who says, Yes, I know what this problem is about, and I can help you solve it.

If it turns out she can't, then you have to keep looking for somebody who can.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

What? You want more?

  • Read more Cary Tennis in the Since You Asked directory.
  • See what others are saying and/or join the conversation in the Table Talk forum.
  • Ask for advice or make a comment to Cary Tennis.
  • Send a letter to Salon's editors not for publication.

  • Cary Tennis

    MORE FROM Cary TennisFOLLOW @carytennisLIKE Cary Tennis

    Related Topics ------------------------------------------

    Noble Beasts Since You Asked