Call it "cage rage," a deep-seated desire to slip the surly bonds of a cramped enclosure or some inner calling to serve his fellow felines but Radish, an imprisoned 8-year old Orange Tabby, just wants to get the hell out and he makes his intentions quite clear to all within earshot.
Radish currently calls a local animal shelter home. It's a good shelter, trying to do the right thing by its rescued denizens, but like so many shelters is forced to triage new animals by health and disposition. In Radish's case it seems that he was a lick too aggressive and nipped a worker forcing him on to a so-called bite hold list -- the shelter equivalent of Buddhism's "bardo" state -- pending a decision if and when he'll be dispatched to the Rainbow Bridge via euthanizing injection.
My wife, holistic cat behaviorist Layla Morgan Wilde and a shelter volunteer, believes there are no bad cats -- a foundation principle for her blog, catwisdom101, and was immediately drawn to the meowing feline plucked from a sad life of wandering the streets. During their initial encounter Radish seemed eager to prove his catishness, jumping out of the cage and into her lap. His reported bad behavior, my wife concluded, was simply a desperate cry for help. He purrs loudly between the meows - in fact it's decibel banging --and contrary to what a lot of folks think purring can be more than simply a sign of contentment. It's also a method of self-soothing for felines in pain and begged an obvious question: what's the source of Radish's discomfort? Given the diagnosis of aggressiveness the shelter was loathe to spend any money for anesthesia; a prerequisite, they argued, for any vet exam.
Orange and Cream tabbies have a reputation for calmness, intelligence and trainability. Think Hollywood's first bona-fide cat celebrity Orangey -- the "poor slob without a name" -- who shared the spotlight with Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard in Breakfast at Tiffany's. Orangey had an illustrious, lengthy Hollywood career (Rhubarb and This Island Earth among his feature appearances). He also walked away with major pet accolades including two "Patsy" awards in 1951 and 1961 but, alas, like all divas he did have another off-screen persona; one studio executive called him the "world's meanest cat." It seemed Orangey failed to suffer fools and may have nipped a few who invaded his back-stage space while he prepped for an upcoming scene.
"Come check out Radish," was my wife's mantra for several weeks. I was reluctant. Frankly, I can't stand passing cages of imprisoned felines. Visiting animal shelters brings back unpleasant memories of a 1984 film, Man's Best Friends, produced by my company, Pacific Street Films, for the PBS Frontline series. One of the first documentaries to examine the issue of animal rights it took a hard look at their use in lab testing and medical experiments. One scene left a long lasting impression. A local Humane Society official took us on a tour of an antiquated shelter in Washington DC. As we walked past the cat cages several of the felines stuck front paws through the bars in an imploring gesture asking, no doubt, to be set free.
I finally gave in and made the trip. Entering the shelter's isolation room Radish caught me -- trapped me -- in a wide-eyed glance. His meowing kicked in with an intensity comparable to the sound machines now employed by cops for breaking up demonstrations. He diverted momentarily after my wife offered treats but returned to pacing and vocalizing which ramped up considerably as we made our way to the exit. Yes, Radish, really wanted outta there.
But he had already worked some sort of mesmerizing magic, so much so that we decided to aid and abet his escape. But first, the vet examination, including the anesthesia, and who would cover the considerable cost? Taking the cat by the whiskers, so to speak, my wife appealed for financial help to her network of feline lovers. They generously responded, allowing us to bring in a good vet to perform a full battery of tests and procedures while Radish languished, temporarily, in dreamy, dreamland.
It turns out he has more than his share of medical problems. A thyroid condition, enlarged liver and heart are the most pressing, requiring immediate attention. His chompers aren't in good shape either (he's missing a few teeth) but there's nothing, according to the vet, that warrants an immediate ticket to the Rainbow Bridge.
After a few days of recuperation we'll take him home to join our current brood that includes one blind Siamese, Merlin (halfway through his twentieth year); one former feral, Domino, who came in from the cold after seven years; a muscular one-eyed hunter, Odin (featured, along with my wife, in a Daily Show routine ) and a recent foster, Nou-Nou, another plug-eyed youngster.
It's a shame that so many millions of felines are put to sleep before given their chance to shine. After nearly fifty years of cats I can say with some authority that every critter seems to crave the limelight and they all seem to have some purpose -- companionship, inspiration, therapy - even guard duty as one cat, Tara, highlighted awhile back. Then there's the overworked and overwrought genre of You Tube cats all competing to become new royalty a la Grumpy Cat and L'l Bub.
I often daydream about an alternative universe, full of cats -- part Kliban, part Hemingway -- cats as far as the eye can see; a veritable carpet of felines ornery as only a cats can be replete with bites and nips, all the stuff that cats have done since the dawn of time.
That place, for me, would be a true paradise.
Joel Sucher is a filmmaker/writer with Pacific Street Films.