Wednesday, July 27, 2005


Some of you might know that I am an evolutionary biologist who is currently unemployed. While I continue my two-year long job search, I have been trying to survive by working as an Adjunct Assistant Professor at a local college, a job that barely pays my rent, and as a freelance writer and an animal care provider, in an attempt to pay all my other bills. Most of my animal care clients are cats, although I do care for some dogs and, when I am lucky, even a few parrots.

This week, I am caring for a certain feline whom I will refer to here as HellKitty* while her human vacations in a remote region in China. As her pseudonym implies, this cat is the most miserable and hateful creature I've ever met. HellKitty is hugely overweight, can barely walk and apparently spends all of her time sleeping or eating. Because HellKitty was recovering from anesthesia the day when I first met her, I was blissfully unaware of the depth of her passions. It turns out that she had visited her veterinarian (whom she also despises) earlier that same day, and he had trimmed and filed her claws smooth and had shorn off all of her long, thick fur, exposing her 22 pounds of righteous outrage to the world.

She looked ridiculous and she knew it.

Initially, during our introductory pre-cat sitting meeting, HellKitty gave me a friendly and interested sniff but, quickly realizing her mistake, she immediately set about correcting it by hiding under the bed, growling and hissing ferociously. HellKitty's human slave, whom she apparently only tolerates, feigned confusion about her "uncharacteristic aggression", blaming the anesthesia. I was clearly too astonished by her behavior to correctly read the warning signs and back out of this job before it was too late.

Usually, feline personality disorders such as these are not a problem for cat sitting, except in those rare cases where the cat sitter is required to routinely violate the cat's personal boundaries. Unfortunately, HellKitty is a rare case because she suffers from diabetes mellitus and thus, must have insulin injections every 12 hours, or she will die. This of course means that the cat sitter (me) has to touch her twice per day. My mistake; HellKitty never gave me permission to touch her and there was nothing I could say or do to convince her otherwise. After working with HellKitty for four days, I have concluded that she is not especially bothered by the insulin injections as most people might suspect, but instead, she simply hates people and she especially hates to be touched by strangers.

When I was a very young kid, I was attacked by a cat as I took the garbage out. It was a warm summer evening, and I remember seeing a beautiful Siamese cat sitting on the back porch looking at me as I walked to the compost pile. I reached my open hand out towards the cat and suddenly, I found the cat hanging off my left arm by its claws, its teeth moving up and down my arm like a cartoon chicken pecking its way up and down an ear of corn. It seemed that I stood there for at least an hour in horrified fascination, watching this cat's teeth punching their way through my flesh like twin sewing machine needles and seeing red, red blood spurt in all directions. It was like watching a movie.

I heard the plastic bowl containing the garbage drop to the cool green grass with a soft plop as I reached out my right hand to slap the cat, startling it such that it went flying from my arm and ran into the alfalfa field a short distance away. Much of the rest of that day and the next is a blur, but I do remember sitting in a hospital room being questioned at great length by medical doctors, veterinarians and animal control officers about the cat. The Cat, The Cat, The Cat.

I remember telling them that it was all my fault, that I should not have tried to pet The Cat.

I also recall that the result of this discussion was that I almost was subjected to rabies vaccinations -- they were described to me as having a foot-long needle jabbed through your belly button and into your spine once per day for 30 days. I remember trying visualize in my mind's eye what a foot-long needle might have looked like, what it could have felt like as it poked through my guts and finally pierced my spinal cord. I realize now that this vision gave me nightmares for years afterwards. In view of this, it's odd that I am not afraid of cats (nor needles), that I am actually quite fond of cats (and I tolerate needles).

So here I am, a few decades later, trapped in a tiny Manhattan apartment, facing down a partially shaven cat who is screeching like a mountain lion while I hold a teeny-tiny needle in my hand. After I wrapped a thick towel around HellKitty's body and pinned her down so that I would not be bitten, I injected her in the scruff of the neck with the life-saving insulin. I then released her and jumped back as quickly as possible, watching her struggle free of the towel, screeching madly all the while.

As I left the apartment, I found myself sweating and shaking uncontrollably, feeling faint. Inexplicably, I could smell sweet green alfalfa ripening under the summer sun and I could hear the distant echo of a screeching cat as it methodically bit its way up and down a tanned child's arm, leaving scars that I carry to this day.


* Not her real name, although it ought to be.

NOTE: the picture (above, top) is not HellKitty, it is an imposter. But it gives you an idea what HellKitty's haircut looks like.

This story was included with the 71st issue of The Carnival of Cats,
"Best of Cat Blogging".


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

17 Peer Reviews:

Blogger Pinky said...

Oooooh, eeeevil cats.

Good idea with the towel, BTW. I've also heard that a pillow case (if you can get them in there) also works.

I hope this trip to China isn't a long one!

5:43 PM  
Blogger penn said...

hopefully, they are also paying you *quite* well

6:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A big towel is good! Cat bites are bad news.

tough job!


9:28 PM  
Blogger Rexroth's Daughter said...

Great post. I can't imagine having to work with a hellish screaming cat, especially one you have to get close to twice a day.
I had an experience with a cat that was similar to yours when I was very young, under the age of 5. I called "here kitty kitty" to some cat in my grandmother's neighborhood. It came over and scratched the hell out of me. I had to go to the hospital and get a tetanus shot. I haven't thought of that in years.
I wish you good luck, and calm spirits to invade that demon of a feline. Maybe a little valium with that insulin is in order.

10:58 PM  
Anonymous C. Corax said...

You're a brave woman, GrrlSci!

I once (before my back got screwed up) spent a day volunteering for "Feral Spay Sunday" sponsored by a local shelter. The shelter loans live traps to area farms not more than two days before the event, they catch as many cats as they can, then they bring them to the vet's office. I was in the sedation/vaccination room. We processed (vaccinated, then neutered) 53 cats that day. They are actually sedated while still in the traps, but it doesn't mean they don't fight like the devil. One cat in particular was so aggressive, he ended up with about two and a half times the normal amount of sedative before he went under.

Cats can do a lot of damage when they want to. I don't envy anyone who needs to give a cat shots on a daily basis.

10:29 AM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Pinky: This trip to China lasts one week. I hope that we all survive the experience!

Penn: the cat slave is not paying me well .. I mean, she is paying my going rate .. which normally, I think is generous (to me), but in this case, I am earning every penny, and then some.

Dawn: yes, I am currently using two beach towels on her because she is so heavy and strong that I am a wee bit afraid that she will bite me. Yesterday, she scratched my hand and the day before, she scratched my shoe and made a hole in the leather upper. This is not as bad as it sounds because my shoes have holes worn through the soles anyway, so I have to replace them before winter.

Rexroth's Daughter: it's so good to see you here! I believe I was five when my cat attack occurred, so we were close to the same age. Oddly, I can't remember if I got a tetanus shot as a result of that cat encounter, but I sure do remember the shots that I never did get!

10:35 AM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Wow, that sounds like quite an adventure, Corax! It would make a good story written for a blog or told over a round of beers, but the original experience sounds kinda scarey. After my cat attack, I no longer view cats as "little fuzzy sweethearts" even though I do love cats (well, all animals) and am certainly a GREAT cat sitter, too. What ever made you volunteer doing that? How did you find out how to volunteer doing that?


10:40 AM  
Blogger Alon Levy said...

Look at the bright side of this nightmare, Hedwig: it will encourage you to continue applying to every university against all odds until you finally get a tenure-track job.

That said, it's a horrible way to encourage you to do that - I'd be much happier if universities started looking for more molecular biologists researching bird evolution.

10:56 AM  
Anonymous C. Corax said...

I found out about it because the woman who started the program was still working at my vet's office at the time. I also support the shelter financially, so I get their call for volunteers in the mail.

I wasn't the person giving the shots; that is done by a vet tech.

The towel is an essential part of the process. The tech opened up the towle and draped it over her hand, carefully opened the cage door and like lightening smooshed the cat against the back of the cage with one hand, pulled the cap off the needle with her teeth, then reached around to the cat's butt and stuck the needle between the bars of the cage. It was not easy, but she was really good at it and had the patience of a saint. Macho cat, however, couldn't be pinned for safety reasons (the tech's safety), so she just tried poking through the trap's bars repeatedly until she got enough juice in him to knock him out.

The program has made a noticeable difference in the feral cat population. All meds are donated, vets volunteer their services, and clinics host the monthly event on a rotating basis. There might be info about it on the shelter's site, for those interested:

12:04 PM  
Blogger MichaelBains said...

About a year ago I tamed my wife and s-daughters cat Caesar. I won't go into what that entailed but he is now, for the first time in his four years of life, a pettable, lovable member of the family.

It wasn't pretty but, though he is beautiful like a Siamese, he is not one of these most beautiful demons ever to evolve. They are quite plainly untameable and good for little more than pretty Pit Bull Kibble. (not that I'd exaggerate or anything...)

Hats off for your effort.

Good luck the rest of the way.

2:28 PM  
Blogger roger said...

and i thought that milking the neighbors goats twice a day while they were on vacation was a lot. to be fair, they minded a lot of animals for us when we went away.

don't tell the cat owners about your blog.

how about a picture from the side of the animal.

3:11 PM  
Blogger Tabor said...

Good thing I am allergic to cats!

5:03 PM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Oddly, Alon, I was offered an Evolutionary Biology Adjunct position at a local private university today. Not that I want to be an Adjunct when cat sitting pays better, especially when this potential position comes with a pay cut from my current wages at a better-respected school, but .. this position sounds like a step closer to what I wanted for my life before I became disillusioned and depressed and gave up on all my dreams one month ago.

Thanks for the information, Corax. Hopefully, I will one day earn enough that I can afford to volunteer to do things that I think are worthwhile, instead of constantly trying to scrape together a living (of sorts) from nothing.

Taming a feral cat is quite an amazing accomplishment, MBains. I think I can safely use "cat taming" as a way of gauging my current state of insanity.

Even though I have no desire to be publically dissed in the NY Times, I might tell this one particular cat owner about my blog, Pirate-man, just so I lose this one particular job. One the other hand, she will probably like it so much that she will hire me again, and I, being broke, will be powerless to say no.


6:47 PM  
Blogger Rexroth's Daughter said...

The pirate man (speaking through his wife, Rexroth's Daughter) says, "Charge twice as much, then! What's the expression 'All the traffic will bear.'"
Good advice, I think. You might as well be paid ridiculous sums of money for doing this job. Why not? You are worth it.

10:15 PM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

I agree, RD, especially after this morning, when HellKitty greeted me by pooping under the dining room table .. on a white carpet! I spent my morning crawling around on the floor in this sweltering hot apartment, trying to clean up this very stinky cat poop. What's worse is that the poop looked solid enough, until I tried to pick it up. I am so disgusted, and I feel like I am covered in cat crap, too. Ew, ew, ew!

I am definitely NOT bering paid enough for this!


12:22 PM  
Blogger José Ames said...

Why has the poor devil been shaved?
It turns a beautiful animal into a pitiful one.

4:09 AM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

The owner told me that the cat is shaved every summer when it is hot because the cat doesn't take care of his fur, so it becomes terribly matted. (The cat is ill, after all). Given how matted the fur on the cat's unshaven paws was, I believe her on this matter!


9:51 AM  

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