In honor of National Pets day, which was Tuesday, today’s post is about Herzog – Herzog the cat, not Herzog the German director known for probing the existential depths of the human soul. Although Werner Herzog is tops, too. After all, my cat is named after him.
This is Herzog.
- Neutered male tabby, 15 lbs, about 40 inches long, age 8.
- Long enough to stand on his back legs and pull things off table tops or the kitchen counter edge.
- Very good health.
- +5 Lung capacity for extended caterwauling sessions at 4 AM/PM.
- +10 strength – can pull me while wearing his harness if I am on wheels.
- Does tricks – Sit, Lie Down, Roll Over, and Up. Recognizes ‘Bedtime’ means it is time to go to bed, ‘Blender’ presages a loud sound such as a blender, garbage disposal or vacuum, and ‘Hop Up’ warns that I am about to get up and he must vacate my lap.
- Will not perform ‘Speak’ on command; never shuts up otherwise.
- Alternate names: Bubs, Bubbins, Mr. Mittens, Mr. Muffins, Mr. Meowsers, Fiddles, Cuddles, Cuddle-Bear, Snuggle-Bear, other nauseatingly cute things.
Food. Herzog loves leafy greens such as kale, beet greens, brussel sprouts, swiss chard, and baby spinach. He will allow me to cut his claws if I give him spinach – my best time was 30 seconds for both front paws. Although he will steal anything from my plate whether he should have it or not, he is a spinach connoisseur. He receives a pair of baby spinach leaves every day, and the baby spinach must be perfect. It must be dry, not soggy or damp. It must have no hint of sliminess. It must have the texture of fine suede or velvet. This from a cat who will eat grass from the yard, old yarn, pieces of cardboard, or fossilized popcorn he digs out from under the couch, much to my concern and continued efforts at keeping my house immaculate. If I offer him sub-par spinach, he will let me know how disappointed he is in my bad choices. Despite eating all this weird stuff, he is very rarely sick. Some cats I know barf if you even mention the wrong food in their presence; Herzog seems to be half garbage disposal. Sidenote: I’m aware of the long list of what not to give him and am fanatical about it. If I give him meat, it is cooked to medium, lean, seasoning-free, and smaller than a postage stamp.
Cuddling. Although he doesn’t always cuddle other people, he loves cuddling me. He will sprawl across my lap for Netflix binge-watches, or nest there while I am trying to write or eat (Sidenote: a big cat is more effective at restricting circulation than a tourniquet. After ten minutes, my brain thinks my feet have ceased to exist). While I sleep at night, he lays across my torso in a position I like to call ‘the dead cowboy,’ as he resembles the part in Westerns where a posse brings a dead guy back to town slung across a horse. Herzog is more likely to cuddle women than men.
Playing. I’ve heard of cats that sleep 24 hours a day. I do not have that in my life. Herzog does sleep about 16 hours a day, but he does this while I am asleep or at work. The rest of the time he is awake, demanding attention, twining around my feet, following me around the house, or playing. He is a most social and borderline needy cat.
Traveling. When I visit my parents, Herzog goes with me. He goes into his carrier with little fuss, and sleeps while I’m driving. He only cries if I slam on the breaks or get off the highway and make a lot of stops or turns; otherwise he is quiet. He loves visiting my parents because they spoil him rotten and he has a new house to explore.
Intruders. Most cats I know hide if a guest comes over – Herzog wants to know who you are and why you are in his house. If you’ve already been introduced, you are fine. If you come in the house when I am not home and he does not know you, get ready to fight. For example: on two entirely separate occasions, friends offered to look after him while I had to go out of town. I gave them the key and left, thinking all would be well. All was not well. He trapped one friend in the bathroom, and the other he would not let leave. She had to distract him and escape. Luckily he did not scratch or bite either of them, but it was a close thing. Now I board him, or make sure he knows the person catsitting and has a good relationship with them. This is an embarrassing detail of my life that I am sharing with you*.
Other Cats. Although I am hopeful that someday I will be able to introduce another cat into the household to keep him company, evidence points to that never happening in a thousand years. On his few encounters with other cats he has growled, hissed, and become violent. Once while he was outside (he’s permitted very short, supervised forays into the yard to eat grass, watch birds, or play), he caught scent of another male cat and absolutely lost his mind. I had to pick him up and carry him inside. The screaming, violent fit he had left me bleeding and bruised.
Closed Doors. If you have a cat, you never use the bathroom alone. When he was very young he would get in the shower and sit in the corner beyond reach of the water. If I take a relaxing bath, I have to leave the bathroom door open lest I want to hear him crying and scratching the door. Then he sits on the side of the tub and gets mad when I won’t let him drink the bath-salt laden water.
Certain Procedures At the Vet. Generally, Herzog doesn’t mind going to the vet. He’s not thrilled about being stuffed into his carrier, but he will put up with it. The vet techs actually like him because when I board him there, he is sweet-natured and cuddly and likes to play. Also, I always leave him with a bag of spinach as a treat, which they find hilarious. He will also put up with most of the non-invasive parts of the examination. What he doesn’t like is having his temperature taken, receiving shots, and he really didn’t like giving a blood sample. For this last, they took him out of the room and wrestled him into a cat muzzle. In a scene straight out of a movie, I could hear him rage-yowling over the sounds of a scuffle and cries of vet techs. One of the techs returned, blood trickling down her arm, and asked for his carrier as he wouldn’t let her carry him back to the exam room. On another occasion, a vet tech said: “This is a big cat. He could fuck me up pretty bad, so I’m going to go get some help to hold him down.” I appreciated the tech’s honesty and professionalism. My vet has a sign up asking that we pet owners please do not interfere with their handling of our pet, so I only hold him if they ask for help.
In June of 2009, I was struggling with a deep depression. I was unemployed and working as a freelance writer in a very toxic job. I was facing down my 30th birthday later in the year, and felt like a failure. Staying alive was becoming harder and harder.
One day my half-sister called to tell me two 8-week-old kittens had shown up on her back doorstep. She lived in a rural area, and couldn’t find the owners. The kittens were house-trained and very socialized. The female had already been homed, but my sister wanted to know if I might like to adopt the male.
I told her I couldn’t afford a pet, but that I’d come see him. I drove up to her house fully intending to tell her no. Nope! No pet for me! I can’t afford it, I can barely take care of myself, etc. Male cats spray, they are aggressive, I had never had one and wasn’t sure what kind of witchcraft care they required. But on the drive there I bought a pet carrier, food, food and water bowls, and toys. But I wasn’t going to adopt that cat. NOPE.
Four seconds after meeting Herzog I knew he was coming home with me.
Getting a pet forced me to learn how to manage my depression and not be so self-involved. Through years of a bad relationship, I had trained myself to ignore other people’s feelings and rationalize anything I did. But I couldn’t do that with a pet. I can’t ignore an animal’s needs the way I can a human’s because domestic animals can’t take care of themselves in human environments. Learning how to take care of him helped me learn to take better care of myself, and in time, take care of other people. I’m not saying everyone needs a pet in order to be emotionally well-rounded, but I certainly did. I’m also not saying people with depression are selfish – this narrative is completely based on my own experiences with depression and personal growth. My depression might look completely different from someone else’s.
Naturally, settling him in took a lot of work. People think of cats as completely self-sufficient, and sometimes they are. It just depends on the cat. Some cats need training, socializing, and the establishment of routines and expectations to be a successful part of a household. I heard horror stories about people’s cats peeing on things out of spite, or throwing up in their shoes, or taking a dump on their pillow, and I knew I wasn’t having any of that. So I looked up some articles and videos on how to train cats. The secret is repetition, and having different expectations than if you are training a dog.
At night, he slept next to my neck, in the crook of my arm. Sometimes he would wake up and nurse on my earlobes (YES I KNOW IT IS WEIRD). When he began teething, he chewed on the many earrings I wore. Since this was painful, I took them out. I was fastidious with his care and feeding. I leash-trained him. Sometimes I took his care to hysterical lengths. I recall seeing blood on his little male cat-nipples and spending a drunken night crying and Googling ‘Can male cats get breast cancer.’ Turns out he just groomed them too hard with his sandpaper tongue and I am neurotic.
Now Herzog is a cat of solid middle age. I know he sounds like the original Cat From Hell, and he can be a huge pain in the ass sometimes, but he’s generally a good boy. He very rarely knocks things off the table, and I can leave my food unsupervised around him without fear of theft for up to five minutes. He almost never scratches or bites company, and if he does he doesn’t break the skin. He’s literally remarkable, as everyone who comes to my house remarks upon his appearance or behavior.
I know that pets aren’t forever; a cat’s life is short compared to a human’s, and we only get to enjoy their company for a short time, relatively speaking. But Herzog has brought so much joy and triumph to my life, I don’t believe I would be the same person without having known him. I drove myself crazy, but caring for him drove me back.
So here’s to you, Bubs! You’re the best boy, Mommy’s furry little chainsaw, and you drive me bonkers sometimes, but I wouldn’t have you any other way!!**
*Although having a guard cat is an entertaining novelty, I worry that someone will break in, Herzog will try to attack and get shot, tazed, or punted into a wall. And then I will go full John Wick, but without the Italian suits and high-end weaponry. NO. MERCY.
** I’m lying. I would totally be cool with him biting and scratching me less.