Sunday, November 4, 2007
Someone at a party told me that when cats feel relaxed, they lick their paws. So if you move to a new house, for example, and you want your cat to feel comfortable in its new surroundings, you should butter its paws. That encourages licking, which, in turn, supposedly triggers relaxation. The feline psychology equivalent of electro-magnetic induction.
That all sounded great to me. I had a new cat, Himalaya (pictured), and an old cat, Galaxy (not pictured in order to respect her privacy) who weren't exactly bonding the way I had hoped. Partly because Himalaya was a couple of pounds of puppyish idiocy with an annoyingly operatic meow, whereas Galaxy was a quiet, timid cat who enjoyed closets and blanket tents.
I figured butter was the answer. If butter could get a cat to lick its own paws, I postulated, what might it do for two cats who just want to pee on each other? The problem is, cats don't lick each other's paws, no matter what the attraction. I would have to apply butter on more accessible areas.
I couldn't find Galaxy, so I started with Himalaya. I sliced off a pat of butter and went to work, rubbing behind her ears. Himalaya, when fully grown, weighed only six pounds (about half the size of an average cat). At the time, she was a 2-pound kitten.
It turns out a pat of butter really goes a long way. Whatever, the more for Galaxy to lick, right? So I kept rubbing. Sides, back, paws, chest, belly, tail. The cold butter started sticking to her fur in unspreadable chunks. Also, she seemed annoyed.
At that moment, my best friend dropped by from across the hall. "What are you doing?" she asked.
I looked up, stricken. The butter hypothesis is difficult to explain under the best of circumstances, and currently the project wasn't going well. Himalaya had turned into a greasy ball of fur. Nothing could explain that away. I did my best to act like this was an old, tried-and-true cat owner's trick. Wendy saw right through me.
She punched my theory full of holes.
"But...just because they lick their paws after they're relaxed, doesn't mean that licking their paws relaxes them."
"And just because they lick their own paws doesn't mean they'll lick another cat's paws."
"And you're buttering your entire cat. Not just her paws."
Goddamn critical thinker from a fucking Jesuit college.
I never could capture Galaxy long enough to spread butter on her, and she pretty much ignored Himalaya, who smelled like movie popcorn for the next couple of weeks. Himalaya herself, who generally wasn't bothered by stuff, walked around shaking her paws and looking sort of damp and depressed. Although in later years I could feed her cheese, she never accepted tastes of butter from me again.
Wendy was like a one-woman reverse 911 system, informing all my friends of what became known as the Buttering Incident. You'd be surprised how often a casual conversation topic acts as a natural introduction to the subject of buttered cats. To this day, it comes up at parties, get-togethers, even innocuous trips to the grocery store. (Well, especially there, what with the dairy case and all.)
And this morning during what otherwise would've been a delightful Sunday brunch, my friend Jackie revived the anecdote.
"Janet, why don't you blog about that time you buttered your cat? I think people are always interested in that story."