With our nation polarized as it faces multiple crises, I wanted to write about something light and non-political that would not cause me to lose any friends. Maybe something about family matters.
The following story is true but, alas, it seems like everything these days has a political aspect to it. And this tale does make a point relative to the Black Lives Matter movement and anti-police protests taking place around the country.
About a week ago I was working in my yard when I noticed my dog Bandit over by the fence repeatedly poking at something then jumping back. I thought he might have encountered a snake, so I decided to check it out. The “snake” turned out to be a tiny grey kitten about two weeks old. The back of our house is on Highway 378 and apparently someone had just dumped it off on the side of the road.
Bandit is a 100-pound Boxer and the kitten was terrified, so I scooped it up in my hand. That was a mistake. The kitten began trying to bite me and eventually broke through my skin, causing me to have to get a tetanus shot.
I took it into our house to get it away from Bandit and put it in a large cardboard box thinking it was not big enough to climb out. That was also a mistake. It franticly clawed its way up the side of box and escaped into our kitchen.
Not wanting to get bitten again, I got a towel, cornered it, and scooped it up in the towel. But it managed to squirm free. I chased it around the house, but it was too fast for me and darted down the hallway into our bedroom, where there are all kinds of hiding places.
So, I simply closed the bedroom door and called my wife, Cathy, who was at her dance studio, and informed her there was a kitten hiding in our bedroom and she would have to help me catch it when she got home. She was not happy. When she entered the house that night, she immediately declared: “We are not keeping the cat! When we catch it, we’re putting it out the door and it can find some other house to infest.”
It took us three hours to catch that kitten. (I’m not exaggerating). Under the bed, behind the dresser, in the drapes … Every time we thought we had it cornered it would dart away and find a new hiding place. “You are a dead cat walking,” Cathy declared as she pursued the kitten. When we finally corralled it, it was raining outside so Cathy allowed me to put it in the garage.
When we let Bandit into the bedroom, he began acting very strangely. I first thought he could smell that a cat had been in there, but he seemed more interested in something outside the house. Then it occurred to me that abandoned kittens usually don’t come in onesies, they come in litters. I took Bandit outside and he made a beeline for an air conditioning unit.
Sure enough, huddled behind the unit was a tiny yellow kitten, soaking wet, shivering and meowing loudly.
Cathy came out and scooped it up in a towel. “Aw, the poor little thing,” she exclaimed. “It looks just like a little tiger … and it’s purring. It’s so happy to be out of the rain.”
“Well, put it in the garage with the other kitten,” I said and went back to my office.
When Cathy had not returned after 10 minutes, I went out to the garage to see what was going on. There was Cathy in her bathrobe with tears in her eyes.
“It was so precious,” she said, “when I put down Tiger he began meowing and Flash began meowing back like sonar. They were so happy to be together, they touched noses and began licking each other.”
“The cats now have names?” I asked.
“Well the yellow kitten, he looks just like a little tiger, and Flash, I think that fits her because of the way she kept escaping from us.”
“How do you know their sexes?” I inquired.
“Yellow cats are almost always males and calico cats are almost always females,” Cathy explained.
“Can I google that?” I asked, “I think there might be some gender stereotyping going on here.” (I googled it later and it turns out Cathy was right: a cat’s gender is closely related to the color of its fur … Google knows everything).
We have now been foster-parents to these two kittens for three weeks and their behavior is vastly different. Tiger explores around the garage (which has way too much junk in it), comes immediately to eat when we feed them and even lets us pet him. Flash, on the other hand, stays huddled in her hiding spot and darts away if we make the slightest move or sound.
I am not a cat psychologist. Perhaps this behavior is gender-determined, but I suspect it has more to do with how they first encountered us. Flash was terrified by Bandit, then chased all over the house by me and Cathy. Tiger, on the other hand, was rescued when he was cold, wet, and all alone. (I Googled it and found that a properly socialized cat, male or female, will display a friendlier attitude than one that has never been held by a human.)
What does this have to do with the current protests over police behavior? Maybe nothing at all; people are not cats. Still, I keep thinking that the way one encounters the police and/or stories one may have heard from others about the police has a great deal to do with how they react to the police and how the police react to them.
What our nation needs right now is constructive dialogue on race relations and the policing of our communities. It should not require a militarized police presence to keep our communities safe. If that is the case, then the great American experiment will have failed.
Expressing our views through peaceful demonstrations is part of the democratic process; rioting and looting are not. It adds nothing to the dialogue and merely reinforces our prejudices and fears.
Moving forward together to achieve the American dream will take more than words and symbolic gestures. It will require understanding, empathy and trust.