Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Do Not Open This Door, No Matter What Happens....

 (LOLcat, courtesy of http://icanhascheezburger.com/)
Handling animals is a skill learned over time. I’ve got plenty of old scars to prove it. 
Cats, when perturbed, can be the most difficult to get a handle on. I’ve got a couple of examples: 
I was working at my first job in a clinic when I was a kid, about 14 or 15 years old, in the not-so-bustling metropolis of Coldwater, Alabama. If you don’t know where that is, it’s right next to an even less bustling metropolis called Eastaboga, Alabama, which is my hometown. 
Every summer, the vet I worked for conducted a mobile rabies vaccine clinic. The vet arranged a time to be at a place (like a school or park), and people drove out to meet him there and get a rabies vaccination for their pet. My job, as his assistant, was to do two things: draw up piles of vaccines on the drive between stops, and hold animals while they were injected by the vet. The difficult part of it was that we were outdoors. There were no walls to contain an animal that slipped the owner’s leash or bolted out of a carrier. They were just gone, unless we got lucky enough to catch them.  
That particular day was a beautiful day to be working outside. Fresh air, no telephones, and bright sunshine. Nothing could be better. 
We had worked our way through a couple dozen dogs and cats when a very nice older couple walked up and asked if we could vaccinate their cat last, because it was extremely afraid of dogs. Sure thing.  After everybody else was gone, they dragged a terrified black and white tomcat out from under the seat of their Cadillac. I asked the owners if I could hold him while we gave the shot, and they were more than happy to hand him over. I was holding him at about hip level (we didn’t have a table to work on) as the vet gave the injection. I heard two things next. One was the click of the cover going back onto the needle as my boss capped it, and the other was my boss saying “Oh no…” 
I turned, thinking that he had stuck himself. Wrong. As I looked down, I saw that a stray dog had walked up on the scene to investigate the cat I was holding.
The stray looked up at me and saw the cat in my arms. His ears perked up, and you could see the thousands of years of cat-versus-dog animal instinct take control. He took a step forward. "WOOF!"
That was all it took to change the cat I was holding into a chainsaw.  The fear-fueled feline dug in his claws and spun on my hip, then clawed with all its might around my waist and up my back to get away from the dog. The vet was doing his best to frighten off the stray, and the cat was doing his best to get on top of the tallest object around.
Unfortunately, that object was my head.
I still had a grip on the cat, despite the fact that it was trying to remove my right ear. My boss was yelling at me by this point: “Let it go, son! Let it go!”. 
I have to level with you: I’m pretty sure that I couldn’t have let go of the cat if I had tried. Instead, I staggered toward the Cadillac and (ahem) asked the couple to open it up. For some reason, they didn’t open the door- they opened the trunk. That was fine by me; I was in no position to be selective. I bent over into the trunk and peeled the cat off, flinging it inside. I reached up and slammed the trunk lid shut just before the cat could turn around and escape.  
Then I saw my bloody handprint on the Cadillac trunk.  I was bleeding badly enough from the various wounds that my boss put a towel under me on the truck seat to keep me from bleeding on his seat covers on the ride home. As teenagers are bound to do (so that they can tell the story on the internet 20 years later), I went home and counted the wounds with the help of my mom. She could see behind my ear and the back of my head, and I couldn’t. The tally was 72 punctures from toenails and teeth, and 36 claw marks. Yeah, I was on antibiotics for a little while. 
A more recent event: 
The other day, a feral cat was brought in for me to neuter as part of a Humane Society program. Standard procedure when these guys come in is to check to see whether they are boys or girls before anesthesia. Apparently, this cat found that objectionable because he slashed my hand and ran out of the cage in a blink.  He headed directly for my open office door (the same one that used to have the Justin Bieber poster on it, from an earlier blog...).
I shut the door behind him, knowing that he was bottled up and couldn’t escape. I grabbed a leash and went inside, telling the rest of the staff not to open the door no matter what. They were more than happy to do just that..leaving the cat and I to battle it out. 
My office is not usually a tidy place, to say the least, but it’s amazing what a 5-minute cat rodeo can do to wreck a small space. I chased him around the office, where he showed off his Tony Hawk-like moves: frantically clawing his way up bare walls, then doing a 180 and waiting for gravity to return him to Earth so that he could do the same on the opposite wall. He ran across bookshelves. He turned over the computer monitor and wrecked potted plants. He basically knocked any object that was on a shelf onto the floor, then scrambled them all as he came through that area again on his many successive victory laps of the room. 
Eventually, I captured him when he tried to hide behind a stack of post-it notes. From my perspective, the entire affair was a lot like the proverbial knife fight in a phone booth. It must have sounded that way to the three staffers who waited outside my office in the treatment area, if the looks on their faces when I came out were an indication.
I don’t take it personally when a cat wrecks things, because that’s what cats do. However, the destruction in this incident was epic. Want proof? You can ask the staff what my office looked like (they’d love to tell you), or you can look at this picture of the aftermath taken by my wife:  

Despite his formidable escape efforts, the cat was captured and had surgery later that day.  My office also ended up getting the cleaning that it needed. And I didn't even have to go on antibiotics this time.