How to Pet a Cat
Posted by wendiwendy
You know how they say that no two snowflakes are alike? The same goes for cats. We have four, and woe unto you if you try to approach and, consequently, pet them incorrectly.
Maxie is about nine years old, we figure. She was as wild and feral as they come when we trapped her in the spring of 2006, nursing her two kittens who, we found out later, weighed just a pound or two less than her. All these years later, she’s mellowed out and is the most approachable of the three.
To pet Maxie, just hold your hand out to her. Let her approach you, sniff your hand. I keep my fingers curled in toward my palm; it seems to be less aggressive. Maxie will take the reins; she likes to decide where she wants to be petted. If you move your hand toward her, she’ll get a little nervous. If you take it a step further and start petting her any which way you wish, she’ll duck her head out from under your hand with a little look of annoyance. Hold your hand still. Let her come to you. First she’ll rub her cheeks along your knuckles; every now and then you’ll feel her teeth scraping too but don’t worry, she won’t bite you. Then she’ll duck her head down and push it against your hand; at this point it’s permissible to run your knuckles from her nose up between her ears. Bring your hand back and hold it still. Always remember, Maxie likes to be in control.
Maxie has two daughters and they both live with us. We originally thought Alice was the runt; she was so tiny, much smaller than Grace, and seemed to constantly be the last to eat. She was the most shy of the three, running from the room every time we entered. Even once the other two girls were comfortable upstairs, where we spend all our time, Alice would lie flat on the top step, peeking over the edge. She’d observe but never participate.
Then Alice found her voice. She grew. And grew. She outgrew her sister, then her mother. Now, at seven years old, she’s muscular, sleek and beautiful, a true tuxedo cat with the longest tail we’ve ever seen. And that voice! After we heard her meow, we wondered if her dad was Siamese. Her meow is loud and piercing, and she’s persistent.
Alice, or Ally-Kat, is always just out of reach. She’ll come up to you, meow loudly, wind in and out of your chair leg as you sit at the computer. When you reach down to pet her, she’ll step just far enough away that your fingertips can’t touch her. If you stretch your fingers, she’ll sidle further off. To pet Alice, you have to move. You’ll end up crouching over, following this cat as she constantly steps just ahead of you but meows as if to say, “Why aren’t you petting me?” Petting Ally-Kat involves a workout.
Her sister, Grace, was a spitfire as a kitten. And I mean that fairly literally; at one point I was just sure we could tame these wild little balls of fur, and I sat in an enclosure with her. I crooned and beckoned, trying to get Gracie to sit with me. Instead, she backed into a corner, back arched, fur at attention as if she’d been shocked. She hissed and then she spit at me. I’d heard the term ‘hissing and spitting’ before but never, EVER have I had a cat actually spit at me. I was so scared of this little kitten that I had tears in my eyes; I couldn’t get out of that enclosure fast enough. I was sure she’d claw my eyes out.
When we took her to the vet just a week later, the vet tech swooped her up and pressed Gracie to her chest. “Oh, but you have to cuddle them!” she crooned, as Gracie froze in her hands. I had to turn away; I couldn’t watch this poor girl get ripped to shreds. Luckily, the unsuspecting young lady set Gracie down before she got her wits about her; she’d been so stunned by being picked up that she was temporarily immobile (and docile).
Gracie, or Baby Grace, was such a ball of fur that she looked much bigger than her sister as a kitten. Over the years, she’s stayed small and petite; she still looks like a kitten, really. We took to calling her Baby Grace because of her size, and it stuck. She’s been the most suspicious of the three, the longest to hold a grudge. If you reached your hand out to her, she’d bat at you (and sometimes connect … those claws are sharp). For the longest time, the easiest way to pet her was to approach her when she was on top of our armoire. It’s in front of the window in our bedroom, so she’d shrink against the window as she got petted. She wouldn’t run away, and sometimes she’d start purring, but she always seemed nervous.
Baby Grace is the only one that still runs away when we come into a room (although if she’s sleeping on our bed, she’ll usually stay there). If she’s at the patio door watching birds or squirrels, and you come into the kitchen, she’ll run off with her tail held high. She’s getting better, though. Sometimes I can crouch down and call to her, and she’ll stop in mid-run. She’ll turn and look at me, think about it for a minute, then saunter back toward me. She’ll rub her side along my leg, sometimes let me pet her. Then she’ll head off again, at a slower pace.
There are two times of the day I can pet Gracie: first thing in the morning, and at bedtime. It’s a little ritual now; when she sees me get into bed and grab my Nook tablet, she joins me. She cautiously walks up toward my face, then rubs her head against the tablet. Then she goes a little crazy, head-butting my hand, purring; I can pet her with abandon. She ducks her head down, as if she’s going to do a somersault; sometimes she stretches out along my leg, and I periodically reach down to scritch her under her chin (her favorite). Baby Grace is a love bug during those two times of the day, and I’m waiting hopefully for her to realize she can get petted like this all day long if she wishes.
Our oldest cat, Sabrina (Beanie, aka Beanie Baby) was in residence for about ten months before the girls joined the household and rocked her world. Beanie is the sweetest, friendliest cat you could ever hope to meet. If you come to our house, you’ll meet Beanie. She’ll stomp toward you on her squat little legs, look you right in the eye and meow softly. She’ll stare at you, wearing you down, until finally you give in and pet her on the head. Beanie loves being petted, even on her stomach. She’s so docile and loving; sometimes she purrs so loudly that we have to turn up the volume on the TV. (If we’re watching TV, she’s almost always sitting with or on one of us.)
Beanie’s a little weird about sniffing your hand, though. She seems to have a sensitive sniffer, and often seems offended by smells; she’ll recoil at an extended hand. This is a common thing to do, offer your hand to an animal so they can sniff it first, and it might look like Beanie is slightly repulsed by your presence. Don’t be fooled, though; she loves everybody. She just doesn’t necessarily like the way they smell.
Beanie often seems put out by the fact that she’s so far below us, walking on the floor when we’re apparently up in the heavens. She’ll follow us around and meow pitifully, or sit on the floor in the bathroom while I do my makeup or brush my teeth, staring at me sadly. Finally, I give in and pick her up; I carry her around the house with me, or I put her on the counter so she can watch me. She settles in happily and starts purring; no more meows, no more sad looks. Beanie really needs to just be carried around the house in a sling, the way I used to carry the kids when they were babies. To make Beanie happy, all you have to do is pay attention to her.
And don’t make her sniff your hand.