Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Baxter's Cat Obsession

Baxter is obsessed with cats. But this hasn't always been the case. When he was a younger puppy, Baxter showed absolutely no interest in cats. We'd walk by them in the neighborhood and he'd either look at them and move on or miss them altogether. That changed when he was about nine months old, after a week at my friend's house. My friend, who is a veterinarian and cat aficionado, offered to sit Baxter while we were away on a trip. What a great deal, we thought. It would be like summer camp for Bax, because between my friend and her roomate, they had two dogs (an older dog and a 3-month-old 1/2 border collie-1/2 pitbull puppy) and five cats. We thought Bax would enjoy the playmates and learn to live harmoniously in a cat-friendly environment.

We were oh so wrong. When we came to pick-up Baxter, he ran frantically to us. Most of his moustache and beard had been pulled out by the over-cranked puppy, whose idea of "play" was continuously jumping up and grabbing Baxter's face in his little vice-like jaws (that's another story). Then there were the cats. I should have known this wouldn't be a lesson in peaceful co-existence. When I dropped Baxter off, he hadn't been in the house ten minutes before I heard a hiss and yowl coming from the kitchen, where one of the cats on the counter had taken a swat at Baxter's head. By the time I picked him up about a week later, he had already developed a love-hate relationship with members of the feline persuasion, and for the rest of his life thus far, he has been obsessed with them.

If he sees a cat on a walk, he practically dislocates my shoulder dodging after it. If he spots one from a car window he starts howling. His vigil at the window is punctuated by fervent, whining annoucements every time the neighbor cat walks along the fencetop. And if he sees a cat set foot in our yard, he goes ballistic -- wild-eyed, running in circles around the room, howling and barking and growling at the door, etc.

On a couple of occasions when my husband spotted a particularly bird-hungry neighbor cat sitting beneath our bird feeder, he deliberately let Baxter out to chase him off. This is quite a spectacle...it involves a lightning-fast burst out the back door, followed by running at break-neck speed and howling all the while. The cat usually makes a beeline for the fence. But I always wondered what would happen if Baxter actually caught a cat. Would he harm it or is this just all in good fun?

We had our chance to find out with Lucky, the neighbor cat who used to loll in the sun on our porch, right outside our back French doors. Baxter would stand at the door silently, trembling and frozen on point for hour on end. Occasionally Lucky would get up and stretch and rub up against the door, right where Baxter's nose was pressed to the glass. Lucky knew he had the advantage. But one day the cat decided to nap under the tree, and when we innocently let Baxter out, he caught Lucky off-guard and trapped him between the tree and the fence. I thought for sure there would be hissing and swatting and Bax would end up with claw marks on his eyeballs, but no. They both just stood there, frozen. I think Lucky was in shock. But Baxter appeared to be waiting for the cat to do something. It was rather like "ok, now what do we do?" Lucky finally responded by wiggling past Baxter and up over the fence. This has happened since then with another cat and Baxter's reaction was the same. It's as if he expects the cat to join in the game, to turn around and chase him for a while.

I think Baxter's fundamental misunderstanding of cats is based on his assumption that cats want to play like dogs do. Of course, this will never be the case, but it doesn't stop him from trying. Perhaps some day Baxter will have his own cat to play with (preferably a kitten who learns how to play with him). But in the meantime, Bax will just have to keep his vigil at the window.

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