Amblin’ Alameda 1/6/18
We recently lost a cat to “septic abdomen”. Leon the cat was one of two littermates who had lived with us for ten years and his loss, which was sudden, had a profound effect on his sister Bessie. Leon, being the male and the larger by several pounds, bullied his sibling, pushed in to be first at the food dish, teased her whenever he was bored and generally made her accommodate his ego’s needs. Not that she was timid or cowed by him but that she accepted his larger size and learned to carve out her own space including driving him off when his attentions became too onerous.
One of Leon’s most egregious forms of bullying was his domination of my sweetie’s attentions. When she sat down in her easy chair to read he was on her lap or on her bosom almost at once and clearly was there to prevent Bessie from accessing the Mother of All Things Good. Bessie, for her part, would make do with second best, namely myself. She soon found there was an advantage to this choice as I am the better petter. In my hands she was stroked, massaged, chin rubbed and generally induced to purr loudly and long.
Leon had a keen understanding of the dynamics and when Bessie jumped down from my lap he would often run over to get his share of pets. Bessie would take the opportunity to go to my sweetie’s lap and get her share of loving. This always produced a sense of Leon being pulled in two directions at once. He wanted to run back and chase her from Sweetie’s lap but was reluctant to give up the good petting he was getting. What a dilemma.
When Leon died Bessie became the Cat Queen of the household and has been gracious about it all. The first day or two she looked over her shoulder whenever she approached the food dish still reflexively wary of being pushed away but that habit was quickly dropped. She became more vocal than she’d ever been, a little more demanding of attention and her coat became much sleeker. On that last point I theorized that she was no longer producing hormones of anxiety with the source of anxiety gone and that produced a sleek coat along with a more expanded personality.
Nowadays she gets plenty of loving from my sweetie but still comes to me for deep petting and massage. She jumps onto the arm of my easy chair and head bumps me, a signal that she’s ready for my attentions, then steps onto my lap and settles down with a definite air of “you can begin petting me now.” Hard to resist.
When petting I think about the exchange we are having, Bessie and I. It’s the most basic of exchanges between living creatures, that of touch. She gets the sort of stroking that satisfies the body deeply, unknotting muscles, smoothing fur and skin and conveying the feelings of safety and belonging that all creatures need and desire. For my part I get the satisfaction of her purring and appreciation and the satisfaction of providing touches that are wanted if not occasionally craved.
As much as she likes being petted I like petting for the visceral satisfaction that rises from my palms to the dopamine producers in my brain. Our hands, especially our palms, are exquisitely sensitive to touch and good touch can be a source of intense pleasure, as in sex, or as in the case of cat petting a source of satisfaction.