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Willow Wood, Chapter 11... How to Train a Cat

Updated: Oct 24, 2022

It wasn’t long after we brought Lewis home that we realized he was in no way, shape, or form, an indoor cat. He had the energy of a stick of dynamite and tiger-ish propensities. In fact, he seemed to be under the impression that he was a tiger. He always carried himself as if he were five times the size that he actually was, and he was born with this permanent, cocky look in his eyes that makes you feel you ought to run for your life.

He was still a kitten, though, and I worried about how he would do in the outside world, so I kept him inside. We used a feather on a fishing pole to help with the outbursts of energy, and tiny, crumpled-up paper balls that he used to fetch like a dog, or just run around the house with them in his mouth. But eventually, his need for entertainment (often at our expense) grew to be too much. Even while we were gone, he managed to find trouble. He used to sneak into J’s room and hop up on the desk, knocking everything he could onto the floor. Then he would move on to the closet where he would knock all the clothes down to the ground and leave the room in shambles. J tried closing his door, but the latch wouldn’t latch all the way, and Lewis soon found out that he could get in by getting a running start and ramming his face into it.

So one day, I took him outside. Like everyone tells you, you need to adjust your cat slowly to the outdoors. Let them sniff around in the safe confines of the yard for a while, then take them inside, and repeat several times in longer and longer amounts of time. Lewis was intimidated for the first five seconds, and then he was prancing around like he owned the whole world. He seemed to be doing just fine. After the first several times being outside with him, I let him roam on his own.

For a while, he was content with staying in our and the neighbor’s yard. But after a week, we learned that Lewis also fancied himself a wanderer-adventurer. He left one day and we didn’t see him for another three. I was worried sick that something may have happened. What if he’d been hit by a car? What if some hawk or owl got him? What if he was lying somewhere, injured, and… agh! I couldn’t think about it. I walked around to all the neighbors, asking if they’d seen him, but no one had.

Three days felt like three years, but finally I got a call from the animal shelter, who said that someone had brought a cat in that they had found meowing on their doorstep, and the chip in his neck had pointed them to me. They had brought him home with them because they liked his company. So I called them and went over as soon as I could, and there was Lewis, happy as could be with more food than was healthy for him and a couple who doted on him like royalty.

“What a sweet cat!” the woman said as she put Lewis in my arms and handed me the toys they had bought for him. “He was so good the entire time, and he is just the sweetest thing! We didn’t have any trouble.”

I didn’t ask if he had knocked everything off their bookshelves yet, or kept them up till all hours of the night running back and forth with a paper ball, or tried to eat them. They were sorry to see him go, and despite his multivarious bad habits, I was relieved to have him back.

“Okay, buddy,” I told him as I deposited him safely back inside Willow Wood. “That’s enough ‘outside’ for you for a loooong time.”

Well, a loooong time only lasted until he got antsy enough to start being a terror again.

Illustration of cat

So I compromised and bought a collar with a tag that had my phone number on it, then let him back outside again. He kept wandering after that. I would get texts all the time asking Your cat is at [address two blocks away]. Is he lost? And I would respond No, he just likes to wander.

Oh, okay. He’s playing with my kids right now. What a sweet cat! Is it okay if we play with him for a little while?

He was such a mooch. Sure, no problem.

Sometimes he’d be gone for a couple days, but he’d always wander back. I’d be upset with him for a couple days and keep him inside, and then he’d race and meow and attack and knock stuff off shelves and out he would go again.

Another thing we discovered about Lewis is that he is a very social cat. He likes company, and the more the merrier. Sometimes, only having the two of us was not enough. He took to visiting neighbors. The first few times, they brought him back home.

“Is this your cat?”

“Yes, that is my cat.”

“He was meowing at my door, and I wondered if he lived around here. What a cute, sweet cat!”

I smiled.

“I gave him some food. I hope you don’t mind.”

And they would then hand him over, him behaving like a sweet, little orphan cat with owners who don’t feed him enough. After a while, the neighbors learned that Lewis, the sweet cat with the button nose and blue collar, belonged to us and just liked visiting people, and they started ignoring him. He didn’t take well to this. One time, he stood meowing at the door of a neighbor until they opened it, thinking one of their cats had gotten locked out of the cat door. Lewis darted in before they could react, and it took the better part of an hour to catch him.

The best thing that ever happened to Lewis was making a friend.

Now, I was not aware before this happened that cats could have friends. I always pictured them as aloof loners. Solitary figured destined to be alone due to their own weird nature. But perhaps not. The first time I noticed the grey cat was an evening in May. He was a rough-looking, pale-grey tabby with half an ear missing and a scar on his nose. He was sitting across the yard, grooming himself serenely. I’m always curious about cats, so I walked over to say hello. I wasn’t fifteen feet away when he saw me and startled, darting away like I was a monster.

The next time I saw him, I was sitting on the porch while Lewis napped nearby. The grey tabby walked up to the yard, then sat down and waited. Since I’d found he didn’t like company, I kept reading and paid him no attention. Lewis woke up and saw the tabby then got up and started walking towards him. I tensed. This was going to be trouble. They were likely going to get into a fight. At the very least, the tabby was so shy it would probably run away.

But Lewis walked right up to him, they sniffed noses, then pranced off together like long-lost brothers. I raised my eyebrows and watched them go, torn between being happy that Lewis had a friend, and wondering if that was the type of friend I wanted him running around with.

That summer, the grey tabby would come over every morning at 7:30 and meow in the yard while Lewis waited patiently at the door for me to let him out. I’d open it and step onto the porch while Lewis bounded over to the cat where they had a good-natured tussle and scampered off into the trees. They would be gone all day and when Lewis got back in the evening, he would fall asleep the second he landed on the couch.

The grey tabby did teach Lewis good survival skills. After that, Lewis was such a good hunter that, after we’d installed a cat door, we had to keep it locked at night if he was out, or he was certain to bring in a live mouse, bird, or rabbit (he almost never brings them in dead, and I assume it’s because he wants us to join in the fun of chasing them so we can have a good romp together – I’ve tried to tell him it’s not appreciated, but it’s been difficult to get him to understand). The grey tabby also, unfortunately, taught Lewis how to be rather tough. After Lewis and he stopped hanging out, Lewis would go out in the evenings and invariably end up in a fight. I suspect he is the one that picks them. At least twice a week, he comes home with cuts on his ears and scabs all over. That naturally cocky look in his eyes only got more and more cocky. In fact, his whole bearing tells you exactly what will happen if you mess with him. And so we don’t. Most of the time.

But the problem is that Lewis is adorable when he gets angry, and he can’t differentiate between the feelings “I’m angry and I want to maul you, now” and “I’m bored, do you want to play?”. Sometimes all it takes it touching him once to ‘light the fire’. His ears go back, his eyes dilate and slant, he stares at you like you’re dinner – it’s both terrifying and hilarious. And usually after that, we kick him outside to burn off the steam. And lock to cat door to keep him from bringing in a mouse.

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