Tag Archives: bad cats

Animal Personalities

17 Dec

About a week ago, I got bit by a cat at work. It was one of the few times where a cat managed to get its teeth into me, and it was the strangest. I’ve been doing this for four years, and I have seen my share of bad cats, and I’ve learned a lot about the behavior to look for in a cat that is getting upset. Other than the obvious hissing, growling, swatting, I watch for the subtle tail flick, the slow movement of the ears to a flatter position, the dilated pupils. But this cat betrayed nothing.

The cat’s name is Gypsy Rose, and she had B.C. written all over her chart, our secret lingo for aggressive animals. It stands for “Be Careful.” But the cat just seemed nervous during this particular visit. So we figured we would handle her the way we do most nervous cats, we’d go slow and keep a close eye on her. Cats love to hide when they are scared or nervous, and a great restraining technique I use is to let them bury their head in the crook of my elbow. So for the entire exam, Gypsy Rose sat still with her head tucked away, secure in her feline head that she was safe and no one could see her. At the end of the exam, after the nail trim, the injections, the abdominal palpation, she brought her head out of my elbow nook, looked at my arm for a second before opening her mouth and biting me. No warning, nothing bad was happening to her. I pulled my arm back and announced to the room that I’d been bit. The veterinarian and other vet tech were incredulous. I was stunned. I thought Gypsy Rose and I were cool with each other. And if we weren’t, the least she could have done is give some sort of behavioral signal that she wasn’t. When we thoroughly checked her record, it seems she had done the same thing to a technician before, bit without warning or cause.

Here’s an unpopular opinion: some animals are straight-up jerks.

I can hear the gasps of shock that friends and family have given me when I say this. “Don’t you love animals, though?” they ask, their eyes wide with bewilderment. Of course I do. You’d be hard-pressed to find a vet tech (underpaid, overworked, smelling like wet dog) that doesn’t adore animals. But we see them every day. Hundreds and hundreds of cats and dogs. I’ve been doing this for years, so I’ve probably even crossed the thousand threshold at some point. And, yes, some animals are jerks.

For all the anthropomorphizing our culture does to animals, to the point of dressing them up, making them the stars of children’s movies, we gloss over the fact that they have a wide range of personalities as well. I think we can all agree that there are a lot of people out there who are jerks. Black, white, christian, muslim, gay, straight, blonde, brunette, bald. Whatever the case may be, jerks can be found in all of these demographics. I believe in the goodness of humanity as a whole, but working in the Upper East Side, I’ve seen my share of people who are downright nasty and selfish.

Animals can be that way too. I love getting to know an animal’s personality. Some are dull, some are curious, some are cuddlers, and some are hyperactive and easily excitable. But this doesn’t mean that they are all perfect little angels. And I’d argue that some of it is genetic. We have a number of lovely owners who had amazing pets. They then adopt a pet who is a jerk. A dog that growls and bites them, that pees on their bed in spite. A cat that claws them, even when they aren’t doing anything to bother the cat.

Of course, though, just like people, I believe animals can change for the better. Even though we have domesticated animals over the centuries, they will always be a different species than us and that much more difficult to understand. We can’t communicate with them as well as we’d like, never able to grasp what exactly they are thinking. I admire training clips I have seen where behavioralists are able to turn a cat or dog’s personality around, but a fair amount of editing goes into these shows. I’ve first-hand seen a lot of these trainings fail and the animal goes on being a jerk.

I don’t know what the solution is with these little sociopaths. I do see that even despite their bad behavior, people still adopt them into their homes and find themselves loving an animal that will not love them back, or maybe they aren’t able to show it. It’s important to not give animals carte-blanche. Cute as they may be, you still have no idea what is going on in their little heads. We have to remember that even the furriest, fluffiest little nugget might just have a dark side.


24 Apr
2013-04-10 14.16.59

The Classic Lion Cut

I used to hate cats. It wasn’t so much a hatred as a deep fear. Being in the same room with one would give me anxiety. If one walked on me or touched me, I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. Everything about them freaked me out, from their long, curling claws to their rubber-band like skeletons.

Then, during a particularly rough time in my life, I met these kittens. They were so helpless and adorable. We kept them at the clinic for a couple of months, as I watched them grow from innocent kittens to adorable, gentle cats. It somehow helped me break through the fear. I still didn’t LOVE cats, but I was no longer panic stricken by being around them.

My boss sat me down a couple of months ago for my performance review, it was a rave review…except for one little thing. Cats. I don’t handle them well. As a vet tech, my greatest struggle is dealing with cats. I believe that there are two types of people in the world. Dog people and cat people. I don’t know whether it’s nature or nuture or divine providence, but everyone has a preference, whether slight or definitive. I will always sway towards dogs. Two of my co-workers (a vet and a fellow vet tech) are both avid cat people and are consistently trying to change my mind, to teach me to love cats. Their guidance has helped me a lot in learning what to look for in an angry cat (tail flicks, low ears) and how to coax a cat into calming down. I’ve become my clinic’s resident expert on the lion cut (see picture) where I shave matted cats. I love doing it. Something extremely satisfying about getting those matts off and exposing the skin beneath. I can entertain my inner perfectionist and spend long periods of time getting the shave perfectly even, leaving a poof tail and “Ugg” boots.

But on the other end of the co-worker spectrum is Darryl, who shares my history of cat fear. Every cat he sees, he eyes sideways, mumbling to himself, “I don’t trust him.” He uses a harsh scruff to restrain, and there are usually beads of sweat dripping down his brow by the end of the exam. My cat-loving co-workers tell me not to listen to him, less restraint is better. But somewhere deep inside of me, I don’t trust any of those cats either.

I’ve worked hard to suppress my inner-Darryl and have even recently gotten a pat on the back from my boss for handing what we call a “cat rodeo.” This is when a cat loses its shit at some point in the exam. As a technician, the only thing to do is hold on to that scruff and ride it out. Grab a towel with the other hand, grab a knock-down box with the other hand, but above all don’t let go of that scruff. Because once that cat is out of the staff’s hands and on the ground, it becomes nearly impossible to get them back into a safe restraint.

So last week, I’m holding a fat orange cat named Mama Rose for Dr. L. The cat was calm and didn’t seem bothered. I even was teasing her, calling her “a whole lotta woman.” Perhaps my fat joke went too far, because the cat spontaneously lost it. No warning, just decided to fling her body off the examination table. I lunge for her scruff, trying to stop her. But because she’s fat and had a jump start on me, my grip is weak. She flips herself in the air, contorts her body around, and slashes my hand and wrist. Dr. L in the meantime had grabbed a towel to wrangle the cat.

I yell a couple of expletives and feel searing pain in my hand. There’s blood dripping down my wrist from those cuts, but it is nothing compared to the pain I’m experiencing in my hand. I can’t feel my pinkie or ring finger, and the gash into the meat of my hand goes deep. I rinse it under cold water and try to calm myself down.

“That’s not enough, Chris,” Dr S says, pulling me toward the surgical, scrub sink. “Those wounds in the thick of your hand are the worst and will get infected.” He hands me the rough bristled brush that the doctors use to scrub in for surgery. “You need to scrub it with this for at least 10 minutes. And you need to make it bleed.”

I can’t tell you how difficult it is to roughly scrub an already painful, open wound. But I did, and I watched the blood ooze from my hand. I opened the wound wider, to expose the torn layers of flesh. Digging deeper in there to pull out any remnant of cat germs.

And now I’m back on the Darryl train of thought. Never trust a cat.