Diary of a Cat Walker, #38: Walking through a Pandemic
It's been a while, hasn't it? A lot longer than expected. Let me try to explain. During the pandemic (I know, it's far from over) a couple things happened. First, and probably most important, the pandemic supercharged my already significant introversion. The pandemic gave us all a reason to cave, and those of us prone to it, an excuse. Second, it afforded me a little more time to cat walk, and so I did. I'm writing this post from a park I've labeled "Lizardlandia" because, as you've no doubt guessed, it's full of lizards. Gloria loves the park...partly because of the lizards, but most importantly, because of the ground cover. Not being totally exposed always makes her feel comfortable here. It's her home away from home, and she's just as likely to explore as she is to sit and take a nap. Depends on the day and the time of day. So that's really all I've been up to these many months... caving and cat walking.
Not much time was spent on writing, strangely. I don't know why, either. Maybe it felt too much like exposure during a time when it was finally okay to internalize and seek comfort in the predictable and familiar. In a way, writing felt like a denial of that. A pulling in of the outside world, and honestly, I just couldn't handle it. Having been fully vaccinated for a couple months now, I'm trying to let the world back in, but it's a slow and painful process. A part of me feels that that old person who could be social even when he didn't feel social has been locked away for good. I worked so hard on nurturing that guy, on developing him, that I don't want to lose him. So little by little, I'm sticking my toe back into the deep end of the pool and hoping for the best.
Other than the fact that I've continued to cat walk on a nearly daily basis throughout the worst of the pandemic, I haven’t shared much of it other than random pictures and short pieces on Facebook. That ends today. I think. As I write this, seated at a picnic table in Lizardlandia with Anderson Cooper between me and my laptop, it made me think about my own issues and how they dovetail with Anderson Cooper's. I've been taking Anderson Cooper out for walks fairly regularly over the last year. Unlike Gloria, development has been slow. Really slow. I can't really say that she's made much progress in the last year, yet here I am. I've decided to temper my expectations even more. I no longer encourage her to walk when we arrive at the park, I leave it up to her. When we arrive, I put her on the ground to see if she wants to walk. When she stops, rather than coerce, I pick her up and carry her to a nice spot where we can sit down and enjoy the surroundings. I’ll leave it up to her to either explore the area or sit and just take in the sights, sounds, and smells. At this very moment, she's perfectly okay with just sitting with me. This park isn't well traveled, so it's perfect for her. She still has a stranger-danger response when she sees people though. If she spots someone 20-feet away, she stops what she's doing to stare. If they're heading in our direction, she'll often flatten herself on the ground until they pass and the coast is clear again.
Sounds like she hates these outings, right?
You'd think so, but no, nothing is further than the truth. Because I generally take one of the cats out at lunch time, they anticipate my actions and run from my approach when it’s time to go. They'll run behind the couch or under the bed in the master. Within minutes, though, they reappear, only to run from me again when I approach them. On days when I leave without taking them, as I reach the car and look back at the house, they're often sitting in the window, watching me. Gloria will often walk around the house crying when I leave her behind.
Believe it or not, they want to be caught. They want to be driven to a park and face the world. If it's a place they've never been before they need time to suss out the situation before we move on. They want to push themselves. This is one of the hardest things to impart to people just starting out on this adventure, as most people who provide advice on cat walking tell you to only do it if your cat wants to do it. Well, there’s the rub. They ALL want to do it, but most don't know how to get over their fear of the big wide world. They need you for that. How do I know this? Put a cat tree or install a window perch where they can look out at the world and tell me how much time they spend doing that? Proof enough? Trust me, even the most fearful of cats wants to go out there, chase things, smell, scratch, explore. They want to feel the sun and the wind on their coat. They want to soak up some vitamin D. They want to live. The window is your sign of how much they desire this.
Anderson Cooper is nestled in the crook of my right arm as I type this. About 20 feet away, a guy blows leaves with a gas-powered leaf blower. It catches her attention. Sounds like this, as long as they keep a respectful distance, grab but don't hold her attention. There are hundreds, no thousands, of sights, sounds, and smells impressing upon her. This one, while more insistent than the others, keeps pulling her back, but each time she pays less attention. Earlier I bemoaned the fact that during this pandemic year, she's made little progress, but that's wrong. Her world has broadened. She's learned about machines and lost her fear of them. She's less likely to flatten herself on the ground when strangers are near. She's more aware that she's safe with me and the likelihood that she will get hurt has lessened dramatically. And some of the stuff I attributed to fear was merely caution. She just
needs more time. She needs to dip one claw in at a time. Just like me.