CAT WRANGLING

Karina Paape's picture

I’ve been pet sitting since 2003 and have had hundreds of strange and dangerous encounters with neurotic, frightened, and deranged dogs and cats. I’ve been cornered by a protection trained German Sheperd, growled at and bitten (by both dogs and cats) too many times, witnessed a vicious indoor dog fight between two pit bulls, been tackled by an off-leash dog, and even hospitalized with more than a dozen cat bites, all in the interest of minimizing the separation anxiety suffered (the underlying philosophy of pet sitting) by my employers’ pets when they leave town! In fact, one attack was so serious that there was actually a financial settlement.

As the years have gone by I’ve grown far savvier about these fearful and territorial pets (the main factors driving a dog or cat’s bad behavior). Today I can spot a problematic pet from the front door which has significantly reduced the amount of hand-to-paw combat I experience these days. I’ve also gained tremendous insight into why the people who deliver the mail and packages are so wary. I’ve taken care of dogs who have the run of the yard (thanks to an invisible fence) and who so unnerve the package delivery people that said personages simply heave the boxes over the the concrete wall!

For dogs I have a simple test I perform during the initial meet-and-greet. I ask the owner to step outside so I can put a leash or collar or harness on their dog (cats are easier because they generally won’t attack you - they just make a run for cover). By observing the dog’s body language I can tell whether I’m going to walk away in defeat or rejoice in victory, whether I’m going to take the assignment or not. There come times, however, when I feel I should be asking for hazard pay. Fortunately, my worst encounters have been with my own pets, making those with other peoples’ pets tame in comparison.

Many of the pictures in my baby book are of me with puppies crawling all over me while their moms and dads stand watch on the sidelines. My first emergency room visit was when I was only five years old. I loved to sit on our Weimaraner Cindy’s back, facing backward, and using her stub tail as a joystick. My mother warned me a dozen times to stop or I’d get hurt. And sure enough, I got hurt. Cindy gave a warning growl then spun her head around and bit me on the mouth. My father hunted down a plastic surgeon so that today the only evidence of my torn upper lip is a tiny, barely discernible scar.

In the 1960s and 1970s cats and dogs weren’t nearly as domesticated or anthropomorphized as they are today. As a kid I was warned to stay away from packs of dogs because they were wild and would likely attack me. I was also warned not to touch stray cats because they’d give me worms and rabies. In a confusing twist to this dictum was the friendly stray cat who was allowed to come live with us. But then you had to watch out that the cat didn’t suffocate you in your sleep by depriving you of oxygen!

When I was 10 or 11 years old one of our adult cats had kittens while I was at school one day. When I came home we had five newborn kittens, all of whom we kept which brought our feline inventory up to eight. The kittens grew into nice cats with the exception of one, a coal black cat we named “Soot.” Soot lived in our dirt-floored basement behind the furnace (he should have been a Dickens character). He’d sneak up the basement stairs under cover of darkness and empty the food dish.

After school one day my mother announced that the cats all had fleas so she wanted to put flea collars on them, including the un-touchable Soot. Since my mother couldn’t pull this off by herself she pressed me into service. I don’t remember exactly what my role in the process was, I just remember the hissing, spitting, growling, and screaming by this cat as my mother struggled to hold on; she was absolutely hell-bent on getting that flea collar around that cat’s neck!

But the operation immediately turned into a tangle of paws, hands, fur, and flesh; in other words it was a real blood bath. Needless to say Soot lived out the rest of his days as a collarless fleabag living behind the furnace. It was years before I understood that Soot had been a “feral” cat.

These cats’ are taught by their moms to avoid humans. They learn to hunt and move around between dusk and dawn whereas the neighborhood stray allows himself to be seen. In all likelihood you’ve never seen a feral cat. In contrast a stray cat is comfortable around people and will meow to get your attention so you’ll feed and maybe even pet him; a feral cat won’t make a sound. They are all about stealth and avoiding humans. If you corner one there could be a bloodbath as was the case with Soot.

As an adult I eventually found myself the unwitting owner of two feral cats I’d trapped (as a volunteer “feral trapper” for an area no-kill cat shelter) next to the same dumpster in Hideaway, one year apart. “Amanda” came into my household in 2007 and “Tanner” arrived in 2008. I hadn’t planned on keeping either kitten but the circumstances of their status as ‘ferals' compelled me to adopt what were otherwise considered to be un-adoptable cats. Neither had the requisite survival skills to be returned to their original territory.

Amanda and Tanner weren’t interested in my attention as long as I gave them food and water, and lots of distance. Recognizing in each other kindred spirits, they bonded with one another to such an extent that you’d have mistaken them for siblings. They slept together, napped together, groomed one another, and engaged in wrestling matches. It got to the point where I was barely aware of their presence.

I could never get near Amanda and often thought about what I’d do if she ever needed to go to the veterinarian. I was eventually able to pet Tanner although he trembled the entire time. But near the end of his life he was sleeping with me most nights, nibbling on my fingertips. I took it as a sign of love. But it was eight long years before I could even touch Amanda much less pet her.

Last year I decided to move which meant I’d have to get Amanda into a carrier. By this time Tanner was a marshmallow of love. He decided that I wasn’t so bad after all and became a brush-junkie. This was a good thing since he was a Maine Coon cat who had lots and lots of fur. He wasn’t too keen on being picked up, however, but I knew I’d be able to get him into a carrier when the time came.

Amanda, however, was an entirely different story. When the time came, and as directed by my veterinarian, I gave her half of a tranquilizer (ground up in her food) the morning of the move and waited a couple of hours for her to go limp (haha). Then I made my move, scruffed her, and shoved her into the carrier. BIG MISTAKE!

Amanda managed to spin herself around and started biting me before I could get her all the way into the carrier. I had a split second to make my move or else I’d never get near her again and would have had to just let her outdoors to fend for herself. I clinched my teeth against the pain of her biting and tearing teeth, and finally got her into the carrier.

It was an epic bloodbath that surpassed that of Soot’s by about a dozen bites. After delivering Amanda to the new house I went to the emergency room and was admitted to the hospital for three days of round-the-clock antibiotics; the bill was $26,000. Amanda seems to have no memory of the event and now purrs when I pet her (still with just one hand). She was simply acting on instinct. When her pal Tanner passed away at the end of May Amanda started prowling the halls at night crying for him. It was heartbreaking. She has finally accepted the fact that he will never answer her calls.

They say you should never break up a dog fight but what do you do when a dog grabs your cat? This is a true story and happened in the aftermath of hurricane Wilma (October 2005). A lot of fly-by-night contractors who’d flocked to New Orleans to capitalize on devastation wreaked by hurricane Katrina headed to Marco. Remember, 60% of the pool cages on Marco Island were swept away by Wilma and tens of thousands of roof tiles and shingles had been ripped off but he Category 3 winds.

Not long after I got a phone call from a young guy from Texas who’d come to Marco to work on one of the beachfront hotels. He’d driven here from New Orleans in an older pick-up truck and accompanied by his chocolate lab. The Ramada wouldn’t allow pets so he needed to find a place where his dog could stay.

I’d owned labs all my life and figured it would be an easy enough enterprise. What I didn’t know was that this dog was used to farm living and chasing barn cats. I’d just rescued a purebred cat (a gorgeous Egyptian Mau) who’d been abandoned when his owners had to vacate their storm damaged apartment. I had a couple of other cats at the time.

Apparently Hodges, my new cat, liked dogs and walked right up to the dog in an attempt to be friendly. Said dog immediately chased Hodges who climbed partway up the lanai cage, then fell to the deck at which point the lab “retrieved” him. The poor cat was screaming in the dog’s jaws so I grabbed the dog’s head and put my hands between the cat and the dog’s upper and lower jaws. Poor Hodges was biting me repeatedly thinking that I was the dog. Fortunately the dog suddenly let go of the now saliva covered cat and I rushed him off to the vet. He didn’t have a scratch or puncture on him. In fact, the vet was far more concerned about my torn and bleeding hands and urged me to go to the ER. I didn’t have to spend the night but I did require IV antibiotics.

I would love to go on and on but the ideal length of a blog is 1,700 words (for an average read time of seven minutes). If you want to read more about my hand-to-paw combat with some of my feline charges, please check out my previous blog on fear aggression. In the meantime keep an eye on body language: raised hackles and bared teeth are best handled by turning tail and hoofing it to another room!

I’ve been pet sitting since 2003 and have had hundreds of strange and dangerous encounters with neurotic, frightened, and deranged dogs and cats. I’ve been cornered by a protection trained German Shepard, growled at and bitten (by both dogs and cats) hundreds of times, witnessed a vicious indoor dog fight between two pit bulls, been tackled by an off-leash dog, and even hospitalized with more than a dozen cat bites, all in the interest of minimizing the separation anxiety suffered (the underlying philosophy of pet sitting) by my employers’ pets when they leave town! In fact, one attack was so serious that there was actually a financial settlement.

As the years have gone by I’ve grown far savvier about these fearful and territorial pets (the main factors driving a dog or cat’s bad behavior). Today I can spot a problematic pet from the front door which has significantly reduced the amount of hand-to-paw combat I experience these days. I’ve also gained tremendous insight into why the people who deliver the mail and packages are so wary. I’ve taken care of dogs who have the run of the yard (thanks to an invisible fence) and who so unnerve the package delivery people that said personages simply heave the boxes over the the concrete wall!

For dogs I have a simple test I perform during the initial meet-and-greet. I ask the owner to step outside so I can put a leash or collar or harness on their dog (cats are easier because they generally won’t attack you - they just make a run for cover). By observing the dog’s body language I can tell whether I’m going to walk away in defeat or rejoice in victory, whether I’m going to take the assignment or not. There come times, however, when I feel I should be asking for hazard pay. Fortunately, my worst encounters have been with my own pets, making those with other peoples’ pets tame in comparison.

Many of the pictures in my baby book are of me with puppies crawling all over me while their moms and dads stand watch on the sidelines. My first emergency room visit was when I was only five years old. I loved to sit on our Weimaraner Cindy’s back, facing backward, and using her stub tail as a joystick. My mother warned me a dozen times to stop or I’d get hurt. And sure enough, I got hurt. Cindy gave a warning growl then spun her head around and bit me on the mouth. My father hunted down a plastic surgeon so that today the only evidence of my torn upper lip is a tiny, barely discernible scar.

In the 1960s and 1970s cats and dogs weren’t nearly as domesticated or anthropomorphized as they are today. As a kid I was warned to stay away from packs of dogs because they were wild and would likely attack me. I was also warned not to touch stray cats because they’d give me worms and rabies. In a confusing twist to this dictum was the friendly stray cat who was allowed to come live with us. But then you had to watch out that the cat didn’t suffocate you in your sleep by depriving you of oxygen!

When I was 10 or 11 years old one of our adult cats had kittens while I was at school one day. When I came home we had five newborn kittens, all of whom we kept which brought our feline inventory up to eight. The kittens grew into nice cats with the exception of one, a coal black cat we named “Soot.” Soot lived in our dirt-floored basement behind the furnace (he should have been a Dickens character). He’d sneak up the basement stairs under cover of darkness and empty the food dish.

After school one day my mother announced that the cats all had fleas so she wanted to put flea collars on them, including the un-touchable Soot. Since my mother couldn’t pull this off by herself she pressed me into service. I don’t remember exactly what my role in the process was, I just remember the hissing, spitting, growling, and screaming by this cat as my mother struggled to hold on; she was absolutely hell-bent on getting that flea collar around that cat’s neck!

But the operation immediately turned into a tangle of paws, hands, fur, and flesh; in other words it was a real blood bath. Needless to say Soot lived out the rest of his days as a collarless fleabag living behind the furnace. It was years before I understood that Soot had been a “feral” cat.

These cats’ are taught by their moms to avoid humans. They learn to hunt and move around between dusk and dawn whereas the neighborhood stray allows himself to be seen. In all likelihood you’ve never seen a feral cat. In contrast a stray cat is comfortable around people and will meow to get your attention so you’ll feed and maybe even pet him; a feral cat won’t make a sound. They are all about stealth and avoiding humans. If you corner one there could be a bloodbath as was the case with Soot.

As an adult I eventually found myself the unwitting owner of two feral cats I’d trapped (as a volunteer “feral trapper” for an area no-kill cat shelter) next to the same dumpster in Hideaway, one year apart. “Amanda” came into my household in 2007 and “Tanner” arrived in 2008. I hadn’t planned on keeping either kitten but the circumstances of their status as ‘ferals' compelled me to adopt what were otherwise considered to be un-adoptable cats. Neither had the requisite survival skills to be returned to their original territory.

Amanda and Tanner weren’t interested in my attention as long as I gave them food and water, and lots of distance. Recognizing in each other kindred spirits, they bonded with one another to such an extent that you’d have mistaken them for siblings. They slept together, napped together, groomed one another, and engaged in wrestling matches. It got to the point where I was barely aware of their presence.

I could never get near Amanda and often thought about what I’d do if she ever needed to go to the veterinarian. I was eventually able to pet Tanner although he trembled the entire time. But near the end of his life he was sleeping with me most nights, nibbling on my fingertips. I took it as a sign of love. But it was eight long years before I could even touch Amanda much less pet her.

Last year I decided to move which meant I’d have to get Amanda into a carrier. By this time Tanner was a marshmallow of love. He decided that I wasn’t so bad after all and became a brush-junkie. This was a good thing since he was a Maine Coon cat who had lots and lots of fur. He wasn’t too keen on being picked up, however, but I knew I’d be able to get him into a carrier when the time came.

Amanda, however, was an entirely different story. When the time came, and as directed by my veterinarian, I gave her half of a tranquilizer (ground up in her food) the morning of the move and waited a couple of hours for her to go limp (haha). Then I made my move, scruffed her, and shoved her into the carrier. BIG MISTAKE!

Amanda managed to spin herself around and started biting me before I could get her all the way into the carrier. I had a split second to make my move or else I’d never get near her again and would have had to just let her outdoors to fend for herself. I clinched my teeth against the pain of her biting and tearing teeth, and finally got her into the carrier.

It was an epic bloodbath that surpassed that of Soot’s by about a dozen bites. After delivering Amanda to the new house I went to the emergency room and was admitted to the hospital for three days of round-the-clock antibiotics; the bill was $26,000. Amanda seems to have no memory of the event and now purrs when I pet her (still with just one hand). She was simply acting on instinct. When her pal Tanner passed away at the end of May Amanda started prowling the halls at night crying for him. It was heartbreaking. She has finally accepted the fact that he will never answer her calls.

They say you should never break up a dog fight but what do you do when a dog grabs your cat? This is a true story and happened in the aftermath of hurricane Wilma (October 2005). A lot of fly-by-night contractors who’d flocked to New Orleans to capitalize on devastation wreaked by hurricane Katrina headed to Marco. Remember, 60% of the pool cages on Marco Island were swept away by Wilma and tens of thousands of roof tiles and shingles had been ripped off but he Category 3 winds.

Not long after I got a phone call from a young guy from Texas who’d come to Marco to work on one of the beachfront hotels. He’d driven here from New Orleans in an older pick-up truck and accompanied by his chocolate lab. The Ramada wouldn’t allow pets so he needed to find a place where his dog could stay.

I’d owned labs all my life and figured it would be an easy enough enterprise. What I didn’t know was that this dog was used to farm living and chasing barn cats. I’d just rescued a purebred cat (a gorgeous Egyptian Mau) who’d been abandoned when his owners had to vacate their storm damaged apartment. I had a couple of other cats at the time.

Apparently Hodges, my new cat, liked dogs and walked right up to the dog in an attempt to be friendly. Said dog immediately chased Hodges who climbed partway up the lanai cage, then fell to the deck at which point the lab “retrieved” him. The poor cat was screaming in the dog’s jaws so I grabbed the dog’s head and put my hands between the cat and the dog’s upper and lower jaws. Poor Hodges was biting me repeatedly thinking that I was the dog. Fortunately the dog suddenly let go of the now saliva covered cat and I rushed him off to the vet. He didn’t have a scratch or puncture on him. In fact, the vet was far more concerned about my torn and bleeding hands and urged me to go to the ER. I didn’t have to spend the night but I did require IV antibiotics.

I would love to go on and on but the ideal length of a blog is 1,700 words (for an average read time of seven minutes). If you want to read more about my hand-to-paw combat with some of my feline charges, please check out my previous blog on fear aggression. In the meantime keep an eye on body language: raised hackles and bared teeth are best handled by turning tail and hoofing it to another room!

I’ve been pet sitting since 2003 and have had hundreds of strange and dangerous encounters with neurotic, frightened, and deranged dogs and cats. I’ve been cornered by a protection trained German Shepard, growled at and bitten (by both dogs and cats) hundreds of times, witnessed a vicious indoor dog fight between two pit bulls, been tackled by an off-leash dog, and even hospitalized with more than a dozen cat bites, all in the interest of minimizing the separation anxiety suffered (the underlying philosophy of pet sitting) by my employers’ pets when they leave town! In fact, one attack was so serious that there was actually a financial settlement.

As the years have gone by I’ve grown far savvier about these fearful and territorial pets (the main factors driving a dog or cat’s bad behavior). Today I can spot a problematic pet from the front door which has significantly reduced the amount of hand-to-paw combat I experience these days. I’ve also gained tremendous insight into why the people who deliver the mail and packages are so wary. I’ve taken care of dogs who have the run of the yard (thanks to an invisible fence) and who so unnerve the package delivery people that said personages simply heave the boxes over the the concrete wall!

For dogs I have a simple test I perform during the initial meet-and-greet. I ask the owner to step outside so I can put a leash or collar or harness on their dog (cats are easier because they generally won’t attack you - they just make a run for cover). By observing the dog’s body language I can tell whether I’m going to walk away in defeat or rejoice in victory, whether I’m going to take the assignment or not. There come times, however, when I feel I should be asking for hazard pay. Fortunately, my worst encounters have been with my own pets, making those with other peoples’ pets tame in comparison.

Many of the pictures in my baby book are of me with puppies crawling all over me while their moms and dads stand watch on the sidelines. My first emergency room visit was when I was only five years old. I loved to sit on our Weimaraner Cindy’s back, facing backward, and using her stub tail as a joystick. My mother warned me a dozen times to stop or I’d get hurt. And sure enough, I got hurt. Cindy gave a warning growl then spun her head around and bit me on the mouth. My father hunted down a plastic surgeon so that today the only evidence of my torn upper lip is a tiny, barely discernible scar.

In the 1960s and 1970s cats and dogs weren’t nearly as domesticated or anthropomorphized as they are today. As a kid I was warned to stay away from packs of dogs because they were wild and would likely attack me. I was also warned not to touch stray cats because they’d give me worms and rabies. In a confusing twist to this dictum was the friendly stray cat who was allowed to come live with us. But then you had to watch out that the cat didn’t suffocate you in your sleep by depriving you of oxygen!

When I was 10 or 11 years old one of our adult cats had kittens while I was at school one day. When I came home we had five newborn kittens, all of whom we kept which brought our feline inventory up to eight. The kittens grew into nice cats with the exception of one, a coal black cat we named “Soot.” Soot lived in our dirt-floored basement behind the furnace (he should have been a Dickens character). He’d sneak up the basement stairs under cover of darkness and empty the food dish.

After school one day my mother announced that the cats all had fleas so she wanted to put flea collars on them, including the un-touchable Soot. Since my mother couldn’t pull this off by herself she pressed me into service. I don’t remember exactly what my role in the process was, I just remember the hissing, spitting, growling, and screaming by this cat as my mother struggled to hold on; she was absolutely hell-bent on getting that flea collar around that cat’s neck!

But the operation immediately turned into a tangle of paws, hands, fur, and flesh; in other words it was a real blood bath. Needless to say Soot lived out the rest of his days as a collarless fleabag living behind the furnace. It was years before I understood that Soot had been a “feral” cat.

These cats’ are taught by their moms to avoid humans. They learn to hunt and move around between dusk and dawn whereas the neighborhood stray allows himself to be seen. In all likelihood you’ve never seen a feral cat. In contrast a stray cat is comfortable around people and will meow to get your attention so you’ll feed and maybe even pet him; a feral cat won’t make a sound. They are all about stealth and avoiding humans. If you corner one there could be a bloodbath as was the case with Soot.

As an adult I eventually found myself the unwitting owner of two feral cats I’d trapped (as a volunteer “feral trapper” for an area no-kill cat shelter) next to the same dumpster in Hideaway, one year apart. “Amanda” came into my household in 2007 and “Tanner” arrived in 2008. I hadn’t planned on keeping either kitten but the circumstances of their status as ‘ferals' compelled me to adopt what were otherwise considered to be un-adoptable cats. Neither had the requisite survival skills to be returned to their original territory.

Amanda and Tanner weren’t interested in my attention as long as I gave them food and water, and lots of distance. Recognizing in each other kindred spirits, they bonded with one another to such an extent that you’d have mistaken them for siblings. They slept together, napped together, groomed one another, and engaged in wrestling matches. It got to the point where I was barely aware of their presence.

I could never get near Amanda and often thought about what I’d do if she ever needed to go to the veterinarian. I was eventually able to pet Tanner although he trembled the entire time. But near the end of his life he was sleeping with me most nights, nibbling on my fingertips. I took it as a sign of love. But it was eight long years before I could even touch Amanda much less pet her.

Last year I decided to move which meant I’d have to get Amanda into a carrier. By this time Tanner was a marshmallow of love. He decided that I wasn’t so bad after all and became a brush-junkie. This was a good thing since he was a Maine Coon cat who had lots and lots of fur. He wasn’t too keen on being picked up, however, but I knew I’d be able to get him into a carrier when the time came.

Amanda, however, was an entirely different story. When the time came, and as directed by my veterinarian, I gave her half of a tranquilizer (ground up in her food) the morning of the move and waited a couple of hours for her to go limp (haha). Then I made my move, scruffed her, and shoved her into the carrier. BIG MISTAKE!

Amanda managed to spin herself around and started biting me before I could get her all the way into the carrier. I had a split second to make my move or else I’d never get near her again and would have had to just let her outdoors to fend for herself. I clinched my teeth against the pain of her biting and tearing teeth, and finally got her into the carrier.

It was an epic bloodbath that surpassed that of Soot’s by about a dozen bites. After delivering Amanda to the new house I went to the emergency room and was admitted to the hospital for three days of round-the-clock antibiotics; the bill was $26,000. Amanda seems to have no memory of the event and now purrs when I pet her (still with just one hand). She was simply acting on instinct. When her pal Tanner passed away at the end of May Amanda started prowling the halls at night crying for him. It was heartbreaking. She has finally accepted the fact that he will never answer her calls.

They say you should never break up a dog fight but what do you do when a dog grabs your cat? This is a true story and happened in the aftermath of hurricane Wilma (October 2005). A lot of fly-by-night contractors who’d flocked to New Orleans to capitalize on devastation wreaked by hurricane Katrina headed to Marco. Remember, 60% of the pool cages on Marco Island were swept away by Wilma and tens of thousands of roof tiles and shingles had been ripped off but he Category 3 winds.

Not long after I got a phone call from a young guy from Texas who’d come to Marco to work on one of the beachfront hotels. He’d driven here from New Orleans in an older pick-up truck and accompanied by his chocolate lab. The Ramada wouldn’t allow pets so he needed to find a place where his dog could stay.

I’d owned labs all my life and figured it would be an easy enough enterprise. What I didn’t know was that this dog was used to farm living and chasing barn cats. I’d just rescued a purebred cat (a gorgeous Egyptian Mau) who’d been abandoned when his owners had to vacate their storm damaged apartment. I had a couple of other cats at the time.

Apparently Hodges, my new cat, liked dogs and walked right up to the dog in an attempt to be friendly. Said dog immediately chased Hodges who climbed partway up the lanai cage, then fell to the deck at which point the lab “retrieved” him. The poor cat was screaming in the dog’s jaws so I grabbed the dog’s head and put my hands between the cat and the dog’s upper and lower jaws. Poor Hodges was biting me repeatedly thinking that I was the dog. Fortunately the dog suddenly let go of the now saliva covered cat and I rushed him off to the vet. He didn’t have a scratch or puncture on him. In fact, the vet was far more concerned about my torn and bleeding hands and urged me to go to the ER. I didn’t have to spend the night but I did require IV antibiotics.

I would love to go on and on but the ideal length of a blog is 1,700 words (for an average read time of seven minutes). If you want to read more about my hand-to-paw combat with some of my feline charges, please check out my previous blog on fear aggression. In the meantime keep an eye on body language: raised hackles and bared teeth are best handled by turning tail and hoofing it to another room!

Karina Paape's picture
About Karina Paape
Karina grew up in Annapolis, Maryland and is a full-time, professional pet sitter. Karina wrote a column about cats for the "Coastal Breeze" from 2012-2016, all of which can be viewed on this site under "Naomi's Blog."