Cleo was a beautiful cat. She was part Norwegian Forest Cat, a long-haired tuxedo with a tail like a giant feather-duster. Cleo was also a skittish cat. She was Boss Cat in a two-cat household (Tiger Lily was her underling), but to anyone other than myself and my girlfriend, Daphne, she was Run-and-Hide Cat. Even to visitors she had known or lived with before, it still took an hour or more for Cleo to remember that and show herself. The only person ever to have Cleo come see her during a first visit was a neighbor named Angela who cat-sat for us several times. Angela (who had many cats of her own) just came in, sat down, started reading, and after about 30 minutes Cleo came out to say hi.
As with many cats, Cleo and I developed a sort of play ritual — and this is probably the weirdest of rituals I’ve had with a cat. Every few weeks, Cleo would get agitated at something. Thing is, she would get agitated at nothing. Which is not the same as getting agitated for no reason. Cleo had a reason — her own internal kitty-brain reason. Cleo would literally get agitated at nothing. She would run from nothing. It would last sometimes for half an hour or more.
Before you skip the comments and give me a diagnosis, let me tell you what it didn’t look like. It didn’t look like an anxiety disorder. Daphne has twice witnessed what she believes to be episodes of hyperesthesia syndrome in our current cat, Thomas, and it’s a frightening thing to behold. (Thomas is doing much better now — his episodes came a couple of years ago, during a time of great change for him.) With Cleo, there was no excessive licking, no excessive scratching, no ripply skin, no self-assaults on her tail or rear quarters, as are reported with hyperesthesia. Cleo’s activity level was otherwise normal, as were her litter-box routines. Cleo’s little freak-outs seemed harmless — and kind of fun to watch.
So I kept watching. After a while it looked like she needed something to run from. With an alarmed look that could be described as cartoonish, she’d fly across the living room and onto the couch, for example, and then she’d look back expecting to see something. But nothing was there. Her look was almost one of disappointment. Then she’d try it again, with the same results. Run, jump, look ÔÇª nothing.
I developed a theory.
What if, I thought, Cleo did need something to run from? What if, during these times, she just needed a good scare to “blow out her carbons” in a physical and psychological sense? What if she had amassed so much energy that not all of it could be worked out through playing, eating, sleeping, or batting Tiger Lily on top of the head? What if she needed me to scare the bejesus out of her?
I had to try.
I figured if I did try, and it scared her worse, I’d stop.
The next time Cleo acted up, I walked toward her. I stared down at her, made my eyes go as wide as I could, opened my mouth, put out my tongue, opened my hands, and put them in the air.
I then let out a head-shaking, tongue-flapping wail reminiscent of Large Marge in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. I raced toward Cleo, full bore, sending her out of the room and under the bed as fast as a bullet.
I waited for the results. I walked over and talked to Daphne. We continued making dinner, talking about whatever it was we’d been talking about. Within five minutes, Cleo sauntered out of the bedroom, calm as if she’d just woken up. She regarded us with a look that said, “Hey. What’s up?” Then she got on the couch and went to sleep, carbons blown out, mind and body reset.
It seemed to have worked.
So a few weeks down the line, the next time Cleo ran from nothing, I did it again. And again I got the same result: calm cat. And so it went, ad infinitum. Cleo, it seemed, did need me to scare her.
Under the circumstances, it was fun — a different way of playing with my cat and being utterly silly in the process. I didn’t investigate it further or ask a vet about it, because, well, why?
How about you, faithful Cat Dandy readers? Have any of your cats run from nothing in this way? Have they needed to have the wits frightened out of them? Do you have any really weird play rituals in your past? Tell me in the comments!
The Cat Dandy is scary only when his kitties need him to be:
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About Keith Bowers: This broad-shouldered, bald-headed, leather-clad motorcyclist also has passions for sharp clothing, silver accessories, great writing, the arts, and cats. This career journalist loves painting, sculpting, photographing, and getting on stage. He once was called “a high-powered mutant,” which also describes his cat, Thomas. He is associate editor at Catster and Dogster.