One of the things I love about being a cat sitter is – I learn so much from the cats I sit.
Monkey is a very very smart cat. In fact, she is probably THE smartest cat I have ever met. At least, she is the only one who has successfully tricked me – the so-called ‘cat expert’ – to the point of surrender.
And the thing is, I am sure she KNOWS she is smart and is not afraid to just SHOW YOU.
How smart is she? Remember I mentioned in my introduction that I got trapped in a house for 6 hours? Oh yes, that’s Monkey’s doing…
Monkey is a fluffy long-haired tabby cat with a permanent half-angry face and squinting eyes, quite big in size for a female cat. She carries herself in a conqueror-like manner; she knows she has the whole world and its humans under her paws. Sometimes, she might pity you and come rub your legs shiftily. But once you think she has finally accepted you as her confidant, she jumps back up somewhere high, looks down at you and hisses ‘you are nothing but my humble subject…back off!’ She then paces majestically to her throne (it’s really just a cat bed, but it’s a throne in her eyes) to lie down, purposely staring back at you with half closed eyes that say ‘The Queen needs to rest now, you are dismissed…’
Monkey took herself seriously, yes she does.
And my mistake was, I didn’t take her seriously enough.
On that fateful day last summer, I learned to respect her….the hard way.
Monkey lives with Jake and Freddie, an elderly friendly black cat and a teenage tuxedo cat. They are the poor cat subjects in Monkey’s cat-dom. I was requested by their human to go see them twice a day. Most of my customers ask me to see their cats once a day, but I do have such requests from time to time, usually with cats who have medical needs or are too old or have a very demanding personality. In this case, Jake is diabetic and needs insulin injections twice a day, so I obliged.
I don’t usually like ‘twice-a-day’ jobs because it basically stretches my workday to a 12-hour day. I have to either go home midday or find something to do to occupy myself between the first half of my day and the second half of my day.
But with this family, it didn’t bother me too much. Firstly, Jake, Freddie and, to some extent, Monkey are such lovely cats. Secondly, their most recent booking came during the peak of summer; I got to play outside in the garden with the 3 cats when the weather was lovely. That’s what I call the ‘good bit’ of being a cat-sitter – enjoying the great outdoors, playing with lovely cats and getting paid doing it.
Five days into the booking, I went in to see these cats in the morning as usual. On this particular day, I didn’t have many bookings in the afternoon, so I decided I was just going to hang out with these cats in the garden. My customers are usually happy if they get the ‘extra hours’ of me being in the house with their cats. Contrary to the myth that says cats don’t care about humans, cats do get lonely when their humans are away for too long, and I see this every day. There are cats who go off food, cats who comfort eat, others who stare out the window waiting for their human to come back, etc. These particular humans were going away for 2 weeks to the U.S. to see their family, so extra company for their cats was most welcome.
My instructions were – let Freddie outside to wander around during the day, because he is a ‘punctual’ kind of guy. He always comes home when you call him for dinner, so no worry there. And let Jake and Monkey out to play in the back garden while I am in the house, and get them back in before I leave. Their human figured, since both of them are older and have never attempted to climb the wall to get out of the garden, they would be safe and it should be easy enough for me to get them back in when the session is up.
So I did as instructed.
The moment I opened the door to the back garden, the cats dashed out like three furry arrows, except they stopped suddenly just after they started (like most cats, they get distracted as soon as they are outside and sort of forget they were supposed to dash off somewhere…) and proceeded to smell the ground in front of them. Freddie jumped straight up on the wall and disappeared into the neighbour’s garden.
It was an extraordinary sunny day. I attempted to play with Jake and Monkey a little bit, but they much preferred to be left alone to sunbathe, go to the toilet, smell every single blade of grass in the garden, and do other ‘cat stuff’ they like to do without human interference. So I retired back into the sunny kitchen, sat myself down with a book, being really pleased with myself having the best job in the world, looking forward to a lovely afternoon ahead of me.
Or so I thought.
It turned out to be one of the worst cat-sitting days of my life!
I started reading, but periodically looked up to check that Jake and Monkey are doing fine. Honestly, I shouldn’t need to be bothered. Their human said they never leave the garden, right?
Except this was the very day that Monkey decided to put her long-prepared escape plan into practice.
See? I told you she is smart. She didn’t try on the first 4 days, just so that she could give me a false sense of security. Or maybe she saw that I was reading? Whatever it was in her head, she decided, ‘today will be the day…haha.’
About half an hour in, I looked up again. I saw Jake sunbathing on the grass, taking in the lovely summer. And then… ‘uh, where is Monkey?’
I put the book down, went straight to pat sunbathing Jake, and started to look into the bushes in the garden.
‘MOOOONKEEEEY!!!! What the hell? Did she go back inside the house?’
I went inside to start looking. Maybe she had enough of the sun and went back in. You never know with cats, right?
I went up and down searching the whole kitchen, but honestly there is really nothing to search. The kitchen was one of those modern minimalist kitchens, there is nowhere to hide.
I thought to myself, ‘wait till I find you, I will tell your mom and you will be grounded.’
I went back out to the garden and went on all fours to look behind and under the shed. Jake came over out of curiosity, wondering if I was trying to imitate a cat. He proceeded to headbutt me.
‘Not now, Jake, not now.’
I started to panic, so I called Cat Man.
‘I think Monkey escaped!’ My husband knows all the cats under my care by name, because we talk about them every night. Ah yes, we are boring people.
‘What are you talking about?’
‘Monkey is gone, she’s not in the garden or anything.’
‘Have you tried the house? Maybe she went back inside?’
‘I DID! I tried everywhere!’
Frustrated, I hung up and started calling my customer. She didn’t answer the phone. So I proceeded as per standard procedure, I called the ‘Emergency Contact Person’. (I recommend all my customers leave me the details of an Emergency Contact Person, in case of…well, an emergency.) The Emergency Contact Person didn’t pick up the phone either.
I went to the front of the house and started looking for Monkey in the rest of the housing estate.
I shook a can of cat treats, and went ‘Mooooonkeeeeeey……’ Shook the can of treats some more, and went ‘Moooooonkeeeeeeeey…..’ I went on all fours to peek under all the cars, in the bushes, behind the rubbish bins, everywhere.
Thanks to the panic and the heat of the one hot day in the year in Ireland, I started sweating.
I’m pretty sure I looked like a crazy woman.
One neighbour looked over the fence from his garden, ‘er…hi! What are you doing?’
‘Well, what do you think? I am looking for a cat!’
‘oh…haven’t seen any cat. Sorry, can’t help you. ’
I thought to myself, ‘You know what would help me? Leave me the fuck ALONE!!!! I am shaking a can of cat food, calling ‘Moooooonkeeeeeeeyyyy……’ at 5 second intervals. Sometimes I go on all fours peeking under things. What ELSE can one be doing if not looking for a cat?’
I called Cat Man again…
‘She’s not anywhere!’
‘Okie…um…do you need help?’
‘Come here immediately!’
Cat Man has always been very supportive of my work (note to self: I am a lucky woman), plus he is a great cat lover himself. He showed up in half an hour.
We looked for her a bit more. Exhausted, we sank into the sofa in the kitchen. Jake gave us more headbutts.
You might wonder, ‘why are you guys so freaked out. I mean, geez, it’s not your fault. Their human said you could let them go outside in the garden, well, you did and one is gone, what’s the big deal?’
Well, you are not wrong. I know it sounds cliché but I genuinely treat them as my own during the period they are under my care, so of course I was freaked out that my cat was gone when she never left the garden before!
I tried the U.S. landline number that their human left me and this time someone picked up.
‘Monkey is GONE!’
‘er…since when?’ the human tried to sound very calm, but I knew she was not.
‘For a couple of hours now. I tried ALL your numbers, no one picked up.’
‘We were on the beach. Haha, it’s typical cat, isn’t it. They have to choose the only day you get to lie on the beach to relax with your family overseas to do tricks like this.’ My customers all have a great sense of humour and manage to see the funny side of things.
But then again, if you don’t have a great sense of humour, you can’t live with a cat or they will drive you mad.
She continues, ‘well, she did that before many many years ago in another house we lived in. She has never done that in this house, I thought she couldn’t manage to jump over the wall of this garden…’
‘Listen, I have to go on to my evening rounds for some other cats. If you don’t mind, I am going to leave my husband here to wait for Monkey. He can wait here for a few more hours.’
‘Oh, cool, if he doesn’t mind. And look, if she is still not back by the time you guys have to wrap it up for the day, leave it. I am sure she will wait for you at the door in the morning when she’s hungry. Oh one more thing, don’t try to look for her. The more you try to look for her, the more she will try to avoid you. She’s like that…’
And we just spent the past few hours doing exactly that.
So I left for my evening rounds.
But I called Cat Man every 15 minutes, ‘Is she back yet?’ ‘No.’ ‘Is she back yet?’ ‘No.’ And so on.
At 21:30, ‘Is she back yet?’
By then, it had been 6 hours since the beginning of the saga.
‘Oh well, I guess you better go home, it’s starting to get dark.’
‘Ok…see ya.’ he hung up.
Cat Man is a man of few words and has the patience of a saint with cats.
So we officially gave up. We declared our unconditional surrender to Her Majesty The Queen Monkey.
One minute after the declaration, my phone rang again. It was Cat Man.
‘She is back,’ Cat Man announced calmly. He never panics. I don’t think he has the ability to. I am the one who does all the panicking in the family.
‘Yes. I was going to go home like we said. I opened the front door, she dashed right in. She ran straight to the kitchen and stood in front of the food bowl asking for food.’
Not only did she jerk us around for 6 hours, she now complains the lack of speedy customer service in serving her dinner.
‘Oh well, I have to feed her now. She said she is hungry. I’ll call you back.’ He continues being calm and I don’t know how he manages.
I texted her human immediately, as I knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep that night.
After 6 hours of being trapped in this house waiting for Queen Monkey to show us mercy, here is the moral of the story:
Do not underestimate the intelligence of cats. They can outsmart you easily; they just don’t…most of the days…because they are too lazy.
In case you are wondering, no we didn’t charge the customer extra for all the waiting time involved. We did it out of our own concern. She didn’t ask us to stay and wait, we would have done it anyway no matter what.
Plus, I would like to think in scenario like that, it shows my customers that I genuinely care about their cats and treat them as my own, which I really do.
And guess what? This saga is not even finished yet. Three days later, Queen Monkey gave us more trouble…(to be continued…make sure you ‘follow’ my blog to read the second part of my struggle with Monkey!)