We lost our 18-year-old cat Miss P a cou­ple of months ago. It was a very sad time around here. But I still think I see her shadow out of the cor­ner of my eye from time to time. Two months later I’m pretty sure some of the pet hair I see on my coat is hers. And I will always have the things she taught me in our time together.

There are many lessons one learns from liv­ing with a cat. Notice that I say “liv­ing with a cat” and not some­thing ridicu­lous such as “hav­ing a cat” or—most pre­pos­ter­ous of all—“owning a cat.”

You can­not own a cat. A cat may con­sent to live in your house as long as you keep the Deli Cat and tuna treats flow­ing. It helps also if you have a sunny win­dow and some fine newly uphol­stered fur­ni­ture to shred when they’re in the mood. But you can no more “own” a cat than you can own the air. Cats will be where they will be. Even cap­tive house cats can­not be told to “be” on the floor rather than on the guest bed silk duvet cover. Try explain­ing rules to a cat and see where it gets you.

Miss P in Pink sm

 

One of the most impor­tant lessons I learned from Miss P is to ignore peo­ple who speak harshly or say mean things. Inter­net trolls cer­tainly fall into this cat­e­gory. So do peo­ple who work at the DMV. And some elderly rel­a­tives whose social fil­ters are break­ing down.

Try say­ing some­thing mean to a cat and see how she reacts.

Gosh, Miss P! Your lit­ter box smells like a third world out­house! What have you been eating?”

Good grief, Miss P! I don’t need another dead mouse! I haven’t eaten the last one you gave me!”

A cat will look at you with sleepy eyes, del­i­cately lick a front paw and go back to shred­ding the taffeta chaise. It would no more occur to a cat to feel hurt or shame than it would for her to take up square danc­ing or col­lect Hum­mel figurines.

Oh, you might be think­ing some­thing all log­i­cal right now, such as “But cats don’t speak English.”

Dogs don’t speak Eng­lish either—or at least not fluently—and you can make a dog feel hurt or ashamed with­out even try­ing. Dogs have very del­i­cate feel­ings. Use a harsh tone of voice with a dog and it can com­pletely ruin her nat­u­rally jovial mood.

If I snap, “Darn it, Sophie! Did you send that fart cloud over here?” Sophie won’t even be able to look at me. She will hang her head in shame, tuck her tail between her legs and blink her eyes in abject apol­ogy. Sophie is obvi­ously crushed that you would speak to her in such an unfriendly manner.

It occurred to me one day when I was observ­ing Miss P that I could take a les­son from her.

I was hav­ing a par­tic­u­larly bad morn­ing because of a snippy email from a client. It didn’t even make sense that I should be upset. I already knew that this client was noto­ri­ously tone deaf to how her email com­mu­ni­ca­tions came across. Other peo­ple had men­tioned how sur­prised they were at this pecu­liar aspect of her char­ac­ter. In per­son she is a delight­ful and warm human being. She will give you a hug if you haven’t seen her in a while. She always remem­bers your kid’s name and asks after him. She is always the first to thank you for a job well done.

But give that woman an email account and she has all the sub­tlety of Chris Christie respond­ing to a heck­ler. Some peo­ple just shouldn’t be allowed to send emails.

Any­way, I was feel­ing injured and ques­tion­ing whether this client even really liked me any­more when Miss P saun­tered through the room. You know that won­der­ful cat saunter? It’s com­pletely noise­less and unhur­ried, with the front feet planted care­fully one in front of the other and the back hips rolling in sync. It’s like a small lion, but with more silk.

It occurred to me then that I could chan­nel my inner Miss P. I could look at the irri­ta­ble email, blink and go back to shred­ding the antique chaise. I could saunter over to the sunny spot on the couch and just rest my eyes and absorb the warmth. Or I could at least not let that poorly worded email launch me toward the cookie jar.

Miss P Walking sm

In my mind I know that an email from a tone deaf emailer doesn’t mean that I am worth less as a human being. I know it doesn’t mean that my work is lousy, that I’m hor­ri­bly lazy, that I should just hang up my hat on my career and try a new pro­fes­sion as a man­i­curist. Or maybe give real estate or multi-level mar­ket­ing a whirl. Log­i­cally I know that noth­ing about me has changed in the 10 min­utes since I read the email. But it feels like it does.

Shame is a pow­er­ful emo­tion. I think that we all walk around in life with a bub­ble of bad feel­ings hid­den deep inside. It’s so easy for some­one to take their sharp words and put a lit­tle nick in the del­i­cate, stretched mem­brane of that bub­ble so that the bad feel­ings begin to seep out, lit­tle by lit­tle, work­ing as a cor­ro­sive on our self-esteem.

Cats don’t have this bad feel­ing bub­ble inside. They were all born bad-bubble defi­cient. As a result, cats never feel shame because they really don’t give a damn what you think or say. Yell at a cat to get off the kitchen counter and she might jump down. But if she does, she’ll act as if jump­ing down were the plan all along.

Cats don’t do shame. They do pride. They are supremely self-confident in their cathood. Noth­ing you can say will make them feel dif­fer­ently about themselves.

Now, thanks to Miss P’s lessons, when I am feel­ing par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble or injured, I pull on my Miss P-like per­son­al­ity. I am con­fi­dent and self-assured like a cat. Like Miss P.

 

Robin
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The story I’m about to tell may make you think dif­fer­ently about me. I feel dif­fer­ently about myself.

It started this past spring. To fill out my coop I ordered six female chicks from My Pet Chicken—two Appen­zeller Spitzhaubens and four Pol­ish chicks.

If you’ve never ordered chicks before, you may be sur­prised to learn that you can order a wide vari­ety of chick breeds online and have them deliv­ered right to your local post office for pickup. Aside from breed and quan­tity, you have two options in order­ing. You can order straight run chicks, which means you take your chances with sex and will prob­a­bly get a mix of male and female chicks. You can also pay a lit­tle bit extra and order sexed chicks, so that you get females.

Any­way, I digress, but this is impor­tant back­ground, as you’ll see.

The chicks arrived and thrived. It wasn’t long, how­ever, before I began to sus­pect that one of the chicks was never going to grow up to be an egg-laying hen. That was an unplanned rooster.

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Lit­tle Man

Roost­erly behav­ior begins quite early. Male chicks no big­ger than a grape­fruit will begin chal­leng­ing other chicks with shoves and chest thumps. By the time they reach the size of a small cab­bage, they are trum­pet­ing their mag­nif­i­cence to the world, begin­ning with hoarse, stran­gled sound­ing vocal­iza­tions. Their gen­eral atti­tude of arro­gance and enti­tle­ment grows until they begin try­ing to fig­ure out the whole barn­yard sex thing.

I gen­er­ally wait to see how chick­ens look and act before nam­ing them because I think the name should describe the chicken. So, for exam­ple, my pretty, round white Wyan­dotte is named Pearl. The creamy, caramel and choco­late Pol­ish hen is named Twix. (You know, the candy bar?) The two Appen­zeller Spitzhaubens seem to be teth­ered together as they cruise around the yard. They are Thelma and Louise.

And the rooster? Well, I named him Lit­tle Man because he reminds me of some diminu­tive men I have known who over-compensate for what they lack in stature with out­sized attitudes.

When it comes to roost­ers, I like to think I have an open mind. I’ll give a rooster a chance to prove him­self and pull his weight around the coop. My hus­band, on the other hand, has decided that all roost­ers are lit­tle sadists just wait­ing to rape, pil­lage and even­tu­ally come after me with their spurs when I am not look­ing. He began talk­ing about the final solution.

Give it some time,” I told him. T. Boone Chick­ens and Johnny Cash were were roost­ers and two of the finest chick­ens I have ever met—not overly rough with the hens and stand­ing tall and alert to the sky while the hens were head-down peck­ing and scratch­ing on walkabout.

On the other hand, Ricky Ricardo was a par­tic­u­larly wicked rooster. Good rid­dance to that bad boy.

What is it about nasty roost­ers that they tend to pick on one hen, in par­tic­u­lar? Ricky Ricardo had it out for Tina Turner and Lit­tle Man hated Dorothy with a passion.

Poor Dorothy could never rest and could hardly eat. Lit­tle Man was always chas­ing her, mount­ing her, peck­ing at her and gen­er­ally mak­ing her life mis­er­able. She had lost a con­sid­er­able num­ber of feath­ers from his attacks. She had become ner­vous and twitchy.

Dorothy 3sm

Dorothy

I felt so sad for Dorothy. She is not a par­tic­u­larly pretty hen. She has a kind of undis­tin­guished brown and white coat and the kind of facial feath­ers that resem­ble a fake Hal­loween beard. But Dorothy has spunk, I tell you. She is always the first hen to see when I am walk­ing toward the coop with left­over pizza in my hands. Dorothy lives for pizza. She is also the hen who would most like to see the world. Chick­ens never stray far from their coop when on walk­a­bout, but Dorothy always walks up the hilly dri­ve­way as far as she dares to go. I often imag­ine she is think­ing, “I won­der what’s over that moun­tain. I will go there some­day and see for myself!”

Sadly, I even­tu­ally came around to Harry’s way of think­ing. Lit­tle Man had no place in our coop.

Now, get­ting rid of a rooster is a prob­lem. You can’t hope they’ll run away from home because they never leave the yard. And you can’t give away a rooster. I have seen many ads on Craig’s List for free roost­ers and no one seems to be tak­ing those ads down. Peo­ple will go to some lengths to re-home a rooster. I once saw a huge road­side sign that said “FREE ROOSTER!” (Aside: I shared the photo on Twit­ter and one quick-witted fol­lower fired back, “Who is Rooster and why is he incarcerated?”)

I decided to con­sult with my very expe­ri­enced and skilled chicken-keeping neigh­bor V. V is a no non­sense per­son. She is not overly sen­ti­men­tal about what needs to be done with bad roost­ers and has become skilled at the task. If I needed to get rid of Lit­tle Man, I could do it myself or she would help. She described to me the method she researched and found most effective—a broom han­dle over the back of the neck and a quick snatch of the head backward.

I did what I nor­mally do in these types of uncom­fort­able sit­u­a­tions. I pro­cras­ti­nated. I kept think­ing that the sit­u­a­tion would resolve itself. Maybe one of the peo­ple I had asked would mirac­u­lously decide to take Lit­tle Man into their coop. Maybe Lit­tle Man would get reli­gion and become a kinder, gen­tler Lit­tle Man. Maybe the Cir­cle of Life would claim him early through dis­ease, injury or stalk­ing predator.

This did not prove to be an effec­tive strat­egy. Day after day Lit­tle Man con­tin­ued to tor­ment Dorothy.

Finally, one after­noon Lit­tle Man pushed Dorothy—and me—just a lit­tle too far. I decided that was his final day.

I took the first step. I went into the house and had a glass of wine. Liq­uid courage.

I took some deep breaths. I put on my Lit­tle Man killing gloves and marched out into the yard with my broom. I could almost hear dooms­day music play­ing in my head. I cor­nered that lit­tle tyrant in the coop. He was vocal­iz­ing and fight­ing like, well, I was try­ing to kill him.

I wasted no time. I took mean Lit­tle Man out­side. “Okay, you. I’ve had enough of you!” I flat­tened nasty Lit­tle Man on the ground. “You do NOT, repeat do NOT mess with my hens.” (I was really work­ing up a head of steam now.) I put the broom han­dle over hor­rid Lit­tle Man’s head. “This will teach you a les­son!” I yanked his despi­ca­ble Lit­tle Man head back with a force­ful jerk. He went com­pletely limp.

That’s it,” I thought look­ing down at my gloved hands. “I have killed with my own hands. Premeditated.”

I put down the broom, with Lit­tle Man at my feet. I stood up to med­i­tate on what my fury had wrought…and Lit­tle Man jumped up and raced into the woods! He wasn’t dead!

Now I not only had a mean rooster, I had a mad mean rooster.

Time to call in the Spe­cial Forces. I called my neigh­bor V. Very calmly she offered to help.

But I don’t believe in wast­ing per­fectly good chick­ens. I can bring him home for dinner.”

She didn’t mean as a guest.

She was here within five min­utes. I explained the ridicu­lous results of how I had tried to do the deed.

That sounds like the first time I butchered a turkey in my basement.”

(Note to self: Do not mess with V.)

By this time Lit­tle Man had made it back to his tor­ture Dorothy location.

V headed toward the coop. I noticed she wasn’t wear­ing gloves, so I offered mine. She took them, but I got the feel­ing that she was humor­ing me.

In no time flat V had snatched up that rooster, held him by his feet, slapped him on the ground, put the broom over his neck and sent him to rooster heaven (or hell). The end.

To rein­force her point about waste, I noticed that V had brought her own garbage bag to put Lit­tle Man in. Really, she could have just car­ried him home by his feet. But I sup­pose the spec­ta­cle of her walk­ing down the road swing­ing a dead rooster by the feet was too much even for V.

So there it is. The story of how I tried to kill Lit­tle Man and failed—and then called in a trained pro­fes­sional for the job.

It’s not how I saw myself behav­ing when I began keep­ing pet chick­ens sev­eral years ago. I am still sen­ti­men­tal about them. I give them spe­cial treats to keep them happy and extra spe­cial treats on hol­i­days. I give them names and mourn when a good hen passes. We bury hens that get sick and die.  I have been known to cry over a chicken.

But now I know when to say “enough is enough.” I know when to pro­tect the good chick­ens from a bad chicken. And now I know how to do it.

You can fol­low Bum­ble­bee and get updates, includ­ing new posts, on Face­book: https://www.facebook.com/BumblebeeLife

 

 

Robin
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