By: Gretchen Harwell, RVT
The veterinary technician program I attended assigns either a cat or a dog to each student for an entire school year. Each student is responsible for monitoring the pet’s weight to make sure they’re on the right diet, to socialize the pet, to give it a physical once a week, and then to either adopt the pet or find it a home at the end of the year. By about two weeks in, most students are in love with their pets and there’s no doubt who will be adopting them.
When we were assigned our pets, the school made us wait a week before we were allowed to meet them, in order to allow them to first acclimate to being at the school. Every day at lunch, I heard the caretakers talk about what a sweet group of cats we had, save one. There was this one tuxedo kitty, who, along with being the most handsome cat in the room (I’m not biased, it’s an obvious fact when you see him), was also the grumpiest. I heard all of this talk and I just knew that he would turn out to be the cat who was assigned to me; I was correct.
On our first day in the cat room, all of the other students were immediately picking up their cats and snuggling with them and giving them names like “Sweetie” and “Honey Pie.” My first encounter with the notorious cat assigned to me was him scratching me very hard across the back of my hand. The next day was the same, as was the rest of the week. Someone joked that I should name mine “Beelzebub,” so I jokingly went along with it but called him B from the start. His good looks told me that he couldn’t be all grump.
When other students recorded their daily interactions with their cats, they wrote things like: Played with Sweetie, weighed her, and let her walk around the cat room. My entries were more along the lines of: Tried to get B out to play but he tried to attack three other cats and then bit me. When another student weighed her cat, it was a simple matter of putting the cat in a kitty carrier, going to our main classroom, weighing the cat, giving her some snuggles, and then going back to the cat room. When I weighed B, it required wheeling the scale into the cat room, weighing B’s carrier, spending forty minutes trying to get B into the carrier and trying to avoid being scratched, weighing B in the carrier, and then subtracting the weight of the carrier. Five minutes for most students, fifty for me. Still, he was super-cute, so I persevered.
About midway through the school year, one of my classmates came to me and handed me what looked like a furry, leopard-print oven mitt. She told me that her cat at home was reluctant to be petted until she brought home the mitt, and her cat loved it. I didn’t have much faith in the mitt, but was willing to give it a try. To my utter amazement, B didn’t just like the oven mitt, he loved it! He rubbed against it, purred, tried to sit on it, and never once tried to bite or scratch me when I had the mitt. I never would have guessed that all we were missing in our relationship was a furry oven mitt!
When it came time for B to come home with us, he still couldn’t be described as friendly, but I could at least touch him without risking bodily harm. My husband, on the other hand, couldn’t get near him, nor could any of my friends. Judging from the sounds that came from B’s room when the dogs got close, I’m sure my neighbors thought I was attempting to wrestle a lion. Slowly, he started to come around. Very, very slowly.
Thankfully, today B is a mostly changed cat. When our old friends come to see us and they see B, they always comment on how they can’t believe he’s the same cat. I feel good about that because it validates the battle stories I tell about our first year together and there are people who saw the scars on my arms when they were still little love-scratches and bites from B. He has bouts of insanity, and he still thinks it’s appropriate to walk up to someone and bite his/her knee when it’s within four hours of dinner time. There are also nights when he gets a case of the crazies at 3:00 AM. We joke about his mystery past and he’s gotten a reputation (both factual and fictional) among our friends, but everyone knows he’s a big lovebug at heart. He’ll get into anyone’s lap and purr as loud as he can and gives insistent head-butts when he feels ignored by the person whose good fortune it is to be sitting beneath him. Every time company comes over, he makes a nuisance of himself in the most adorable way possible and if he weren’t still the most handsome kitty ever, I wouldn’t believe my stories either.