The Undomestication of Jasper
Our family pet is a cat named Jasper whom we rescued from an abandoned storage shed when he was an infant, much to my husband’s chagrin. Dan is not a pet-person.
The fact that Jasper is still with us (by “with us” I mean in our house, but also ALIVE), is a testament to Dan’s great love for me. And the fact that Jasper came with us from Alabama to our new, smaller home in Georgia means that Dan will never, ever leave me. Our relationship has been pushed to the brink and has survived.
Jasper has endured some difficult days over the last three years; living with Madeline will do that to you. There was the time he almost hung himself in the blinds. And the time Madeline drug him around the house in a shopping bag. And the time she pulled him into her bath by his toes. And the time she grabbed him by his haunches, dragged him into the hallway, and forcibly kept him there during a tornado drill (by laying on top of him).
But Jasper’s greatest challenge happened over the course of the last two months when we made the decision to transition him from an exclusively indoor pet to an indoor/outdoor dweller.
As Jasper never had a cat-mom, he doesn’t really know how to be a cat; he had no proper parenting. For the last two months I’ve watched what I’ve dubbed “The Undomestication of Jasper.”
It’s a saga, really – a bit like the movie Madagascar, where you get to watch Alex the lion grow wilder and wilder by the minute. And it. is. hilarious.
It is important to know that up until this point, Jasper spent 80% of his waking hours trying to get outside. (The other 20% were spent eating and being drug around in shopping bags.) He used to crouch by the front door every evening, poised and ready, and as soon as Dan turned the knob, Jasper leapt up, hissed, and – while a startled Dan was shouting “WE ARE GETTING RID OF THIS CAT TONIGHT” – shot out of the crack in the door and hid in the bushes.
You see? Dan’s love for me is unshakable.
It all started the first time I let Jasper outside here. He crept out s-l-o-w-l-y, tail between his legs, looking over his shoulder at me suspiciously like, “Am I allowed to do this?” I’m sure he thought it was entrapment; that as soon as he stopped looking sorry I was going to snatch him up, pop his nose and close him in the laundry room for a time-out. I sat outside for a minute while he sniffed around, then came back in and closed the door. His response was a full-blown feline FREAK OUT. His eyes tripled in size, he pinned his ears back, stood up on his hind legs and tried to paw his way back through the glass door. He made noises I’ve never heard a cat make – howls. He circled the house, stopping to moan at every single door and window.
I decided perhaps a gentler approach…
The next day I left the sliding door open and my pansy of a pet spent 9 hours laying on the rug without so much as the tips of his paws crossing the threshold – as if there were a force field between him and the great outdoors. I moved his food onto the deck and he just SAT THERE and WATCHED while a stray cat ventured up and ate the whole bowl.
After two days of feeding 4 different stray cats, I decided enough was enough. On the eve of the second day I plopped Jasper outside, closed the door, and went to bed.
He cried all night long. At 5:00 am he hopped up on our windowsill and moaned like,
“Guys! Hey guys! THERE ARE NO BEDS OUT HERE.”
But I’m happy to say that Jasper’s progress has been remarkable. A couple of weeks ago I caught his very first jump off of the back deck. He was teetering on the edge like a little kid mustering the courage to jump off a diving board. He stuck his neck out to peer over the edge, and it was just enough forward momentum to tip the scale; he was going over and he couldn’t recover. His hind legs did roadrunner-circles trying to back-paddle, but he couldn’t fight it – he officially flopped out of the nest.
Today, he is leaping up on the railings and pouncing at my birds, all tiptoes and shoulder blades, like a pro – very Simba and Zazu. He’s also eating my pansies, which I greatly prefer to him acting like one. In fact, I just looked outside and saw him prowling the front yard with a leaf stuck to his butt.
Welcome to cat-dom Jasper. You’ve arrived, big man.