Furry Cold War
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Furry Cold War

The year is 2002 and it is spring on the west coast. We had just returned from Scotland where we married after a brief courtship. We settled back into our lives at home in Vancouver, happy that we had found lifelong love and sealed it with vows. Then we did what any self-respecting couple in love did to complete the picture. We adopted a kitten. Both self-professed cat geeks, it was only inevitable.

Hamish, our nine week old Norwegian Forest cross (with some moggy rendition of Sylvester the cat), wriggled his way into our life and there was no turning back. He was comically cute to the point that what was supposed be just a viewing turned into a commitment on the spot. Both of us had enjoyed long relationships with cats most of our lives and this one was, without argument, the Humphrey Bogart to our Lauren Bacall. Our little family was complete. For now.

In 2003, we welcomed our son and felt as blessed as any newly married couple could be. After a few days in hospital, we prepared to bring him home. We had researched how to do this ahead of time so that Hamish would not feel threatened or angry. My husband brought home a piece of clothing that the baby had worn to introduce the scent first. The day we brought him home I felt an exhaustion that I did not know existed, but I will never forget that feeling of the four of us together for the first time. Exalting and sublime, we felt like we had it all.

At this time, Hamish was tipping the scales at around fifteen pounds. Twice baby’s weight. Photos show the baby in a bassinet and the cat nearby, the scale like a loaf of sourdough next to a full grown raccoon. That is where the food analogy ends. Not once did Hamish make any play of aggression or other negative behaviour. He quietly observed and was slightly curious but otherwise nonplussed. The first months that baby was swaddled and held, and otherwise completely dependent on me, were harmonious and lovely. Hamish was known to partake in licking fruit and we have one photo of the baby breastfeeding while I was holding an apple core at arm’s length for Hamish to lick. Everybody happy.

Then the Cold War began.

Baby started to crawl around nine months old and that is when our story takes a turn. Hamish was not threatened while baby was immobile. The moment he started locomotion changed life at the twelve inch altitude. What was once an easy and relaxed household became a backdrop for chase scenes rivaling The French Connection. The pound to pound ratio was now even. It got to a point where baby would not even have to be moving on his own for Hamish to sprint in any direction away from baby. If one of us was carrying him and Hamish caught sight or scent of him, he high tailed it out of the room even if he was in the middle of eating. Our home at the time was not sprawling so there was not a lot of escape routes, so the best he could do was get a wall between them. The few times Hamish cornered himself, baby just hyper-snuggled him which caused no physical harm, but he made cat faces so hysterical, I don’t mind telling you one of us might have peed our pants just a little bit. We tried very hard to monitor things between them so that Hamish’s stress was minimized. He was, after all, the first one there and a member of our family.

Not once during any of baby’s raucous pursuits did this cat bear a tooth or claw. So what prevented him from defending himself? It was as if he understood the baby was not cognitive in his actions and that he was vulnerable, but more importantly, part of our family. Cats are not pack animals and do not follow an alpha hierarchy as dogs do. Animals do not have to be pack animals to have social adaptability. We had only about a year and a half alone with Hamish before we introduced this invasive, noisy, grabbing pasty-fleshed creature. Surely he must have been cursing us for upsetting the perfect apple cart we had forged together.

He was visibly irritated to be sure, and if a cat can give stink eye, I was in his cross-hairs on many occasions. Years went by and eventually our son was old enough to take the shunning personally. We were ecstatic that Hamish had never been aggressive or harmed him in any way, but this was not enough for our son. He wanted the close-knit relationship that allowed him to pet Hamish and cuddle during movies. No matter how quiet and gentle, slow and passive he was, Hamish was holding a grudge and there came a time our son thought the ice between them would never melt.

We tried getting him to feed Hamish to show that he was not a threat, and also a source of food. We tried all of the protocols to minimize resentment, build trust and a feeling of safety. He was desperate to win the cat’s affections but more years past and Hamish was relentlessly aloof. He took the cold shoulder to the cold war and it was heartbreaking.

Finally, one day not so long ago, for whatever reason, the ice thawed. After almost ten years, Hamish started to show trust and affection. Perhaps the years of tenacity and patience from our son wore Hamish down. I wish it had not taken so long but am grateful that our son finally has the chance to forge a bond with this special beast. I cannot remember a day without a cat in my childhood and though this relationship was hard-won, it is sweet and meaningful. Hamish now prefers our son’s bed as his preferred sleeping quarters and often jumps into his lap on movie night to settle in for a long love-in.

Hamish will turn twelve not far into the New Year, and despite his dodgy hip joints and mild heart condition, with loving care he could live several more years. He has been with us longer than our own son. The love we have for our son and our cat is different but equal. This does not diminish the love we have for our son, but exalts the love we have for Hamish. So to witness a deep bond develop between two beings that consume our hearts independently, is overwhelming. The Furry Cold War is over and love reigns supreme.


Street Talk

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