Saturday, November 3, 2018

Grave Considerations: Butters


Here’s something a little bit different. Not really a review per say, not a thinkpiece-y entry that the things that usually fall under this category are, but something different. I’m going to review our beloved cat, Butters.

Butters is a 4 year old male, white and black domestic shorthair, although there has been recent speculation that he’s actually a domestic mediumhair, cat who came home to live with my wife and I almost two whole years ago. His last two trips to the vet have him weighing 9.2 pounds, despite the near constant shared worry that we overfeed him, or give him too many snacks, or both. We found him at a wonderful animal shelter called Felines and Canines, for any readers in the Chicagoland area. We’d been talking about getting a pet for a while beforehand: and in early December of 2016 when we settled on getting a cat, and our plan began to take shape.

We wanted to adopt an animal when our semester was over, so that we’d know we had time to be home and attentive to a new addition without having to be away for several hours each day, leaving a new and unadjusted animal by themselves. We set our target adoption date right after the start of 2017. I think we got back from Colorado very early on the morning of January 3rd, and later that day went to a pet store and bought a litter box and some food and some toys, general cat accoutrement, so that when we brought someone home, they’d have things of their own immediately. My wife bought a Dyson vacuum as well, the special pet hair model, foolishly thinking at that time of youthful naiveté that this tool would help maintain our apartment as an animal hair-free place.
Finally ready for his photo shoot.
The next morning, we went to Felines and Canines and told them we were looking to adopt a cat. A woman took us upstairs to the cat floor (seriously, Chicago readers, if you’re looking to add someone to your family, check out Felines and Canines. –mr) and brought us into a small room that contained a cat tree and one solitary cat. She said, “Let me introduce you to Butters,” and then told us a little bit about the little black and white cat that was pacing around this room, all by himself. Butters, it turns out, was rescued from an animal hoarding situation, and because of this, he wasn’t the most comfortable around other cats. That was why he was in a room by himself, as apparently some of the other cats at the shelter would hassle him. This was also apparently a reason that a lot of other potential families passed on him. Now, I’m an emotional guy, and my wife and I were pretty much on the verge of tears as this woman told us about Butters’ past, but this thing about other cats giving him crap made me angry. As the woman kept telling us things about this seemingly friendly little guy, my wife and I knelt on the floor and gave him pets and let him smell us and everything. We returned to attention when she asked if we wanted to see other cats. My wife and I looked at each other for the briefest of seconds, and as we both turned to the woman, at the same time said, “we kinda like Butters.”

As a backstory-providing aside, Butters was something of a favorite among the staff at the shelter. The woman who helped us adopt him got emotional when we signed the documents, and maybe a week after he came home with us, we had to take him back to the shelter for some shots; when we told a different staffer who we had adopted, they were both happy and surprised. Happy for Butters, and surprised that someone adopted him. I used to think this general affinity was because of his sad story, but as we got to know Butters better as a family, I knew it wasn’t that. People didn’t like him because they pitied him or felt bad; they liked him because Butters is a really friendly, really fun cat. We got a whole ton of stuff for him when we left: the shelter gave us a litter box and a bag of litter and some food, a cat carrier and a bunch of toys. But we’ll talk more about that when we start looking at Butters’ features.

Cat, mint in box.
I stepped out of Butters’ room with the staffer to fill out paperwork, and my wife stayed inside the room to spend a few more minutes with our newest family member. As I stood there waiting, I looked around the room full of other cats who weren’t bothered in the slightest by my presence, and thought “you’re the little bastards who’ve been hassling my cat, huh?” I was honestly pretty mad, and because I’m essentially just a large child who often has difficulty processing his emotions, I looked at every cat who was looking at me and thought, “We’re going to give Butters the best home ever, and you’re not invited to come hang out with him.” I’m sure they were devastated.

In his natural environment: sleeping.
I’ve already said I wasn’t a cat person. I wasn’t the happiest about getting a cat, but my wife wanted a cat, so I was in for a cat. But man, I don’t think Butters was home with us for twenty minutes before I was totally, totally smitten, a fact that my wife often reminds me of as though I were supposed to be embarrassed by my change of heart. We had read all this stuff about how cats take like two weeks or something to get acclimated to a new home, but not our boy. We brought his carrier inside, put it on the floor, opened the gate, and he walked out like he owned the place. He walked around, sniffing things, and we followed after him and told him that he was in his new home and gave him the tour. He was keeping a slight distance from us at first, but later that evening he jumped right up on the couch with us as we were watching TV, and if my memory serves, at some point that evening he began kneading my wife’s arm or leg or something.  I had to tell her that was a good thing. Later that night, because we initially tried to keep Butters out of our bedroom, we said goodnight to him and went to bed, closing the door behind us. He meowed all night long. The entire night. We would keep the bedroom door closed for a few months before we just started leaving it open, but every so often, I remember his first night with us and I feel really bad. Maybe he thought we left him, or maybe he thought that he’d finally found a family, only to have it disappear.

But that’s not true. We call Butters our son, and he is every bit a person and member of our family as my wife and I.

Let’s talk about Butters’ features for a bit here. He comes with all the standard cat points of articulation, and is very flexible and poseable. Shoulders, hips, knees, waist, an ab crunch and a fully articulated tail, movable head and opening mouth. He has retractable claws in all four paws, which allow him to hold on to things as well as scratch and climb. He has a fully functioning sensory array as well: his eyesight is good, his hearing is excellent, especially when it comes to the opening crack of a can of wet food or the shaking of his treat dispenser, and he is always sniffing at things. His excellent senses occasionally mean he gets jumpy when neighbors are coming home from work or if the garbage truck is in the alley, but they also give him the ability to track birds and squirrels outside the windows. He is very mobile, as he demonstrates several early mornings per week when he jumps up into our bed and demands pets, a demand he signals by headbutting us or pawing at my face. Butters also has removable hair, which he leaves everywhere and on everything. Just last weekend we bought a new chair for our apartment, and left for a few hours after its delivery. Butters at first seemed oddly suspicious of this new furniture, but when we returned home, we found plentiful evidence that he’d made himself comfortable on it, despite his initial trepidation. He engages in a process that we’ve come to call “hairing up the place,” where he sheds what seems to be an inexhaustible amount of fur wherever he is.

In his most natural pose: waiting for dinner.
Butters is incredibly friendly and inquisitive. Unlike many cats who shun strangers or guests, Butters will walk right up to company and rub against their legs or try to get them to pet him; most of our guests are happy to oblige him, and we always get comments about how friendly and awesome he is. At times where we’ve had to have the maintenance man do something in our place, Butters has tried to get right up in the business, smelling and looking at everything. We usually have to put him in another room and close the door so he doesn’t get in the way of whatever is happening.

Sleepy from playing.
We have bought Butters a ton of toys, and he particularly enjoys these colorful felt balls. He’ll chase them all over the apartment, and when he catches one he’ll usually bring it over to one of us so we can throw it so he can chase after it anew. His attention drifts from toy to toy, so he occasionally gets really excited over these fabric snakes and birds and feathers that dangle from the end of plastic rods. The rods are shaken, causing the object on the end of the string to move around, and Butters will leap at and after them until he catches them, usually then licking or biting or kicking whatever it is. He also enjoys large sheets of paper, the kind that may come as packing in a box, mostly because it makes that crinkling sound when he paws at it or attacks it because a ball has gotten underneath it.  He has two designated cat beds, two fleece cat blankets, a cat mansion (apparently it’s actually called a cat tree. –mr)  and a little tent, but he generally lays down on whatever he finds comfortable. He occasionally sleeps on our bed with us, especially around this time of year, when the weather grows chilly and the heat hasn’t come on fully in the apartment. It also seems that he always takes my spot on the couch, should I get up for a glass of water or whatever. Despite all of the things we have bought specifically for him, Butters is often drawn to things like plastic bags or cardboard boxes for entertainment instead.

During our move earlier this year, Butters got a little stressed.
Butters is an outstanding companion. He follows us around, and even comes to meet us at the door when we come home. Doesn’t seem like very cat-like behavior, but it’s pretty awesome. He’s also very talkative, and both my wife and I talk with him when he’s being especially vocal. I can’t speak for her, but many, many times, Butters and I being home alone for a little bit, I will have a full-blown conversation with him. He is really expressive, something that I didn’t think really applied to cats and honestly forming part of my previous general disinterest in them. He spends quite a bit of time laying sprawled out on his back, stomach in full view, a posture which indicates comfort and a feeling of safety on his part. If I get up early or go to the gym before work, he will often jump into bed with my wife to guard her. He’s not the biggest fan of sitting on a lap, or of being picked up and cradled, or of having my wife get all in his face to kiss him, but after his almost two years of being with us, he’s gotten used to the fact that we are going to give him affection and attention, so he’s just gotten used to it.
But he adjusted to our new home pretty quickly.

He ain't scared of no monstrous toy!
I know that people usually say this kind of thing about their pets, but Butters isn’t just a cat or our pet: Butters is a member of our family. He’s our son, a fact that we tell people all the time. I refer to myself as a cat dad whenever students ask if we have children, and there have been several instances where I’ll be talking to someone about my son and will find myself having to clarify for people that my son is a cat. We’ve gone on trips and left Butters at home, only to spend a large portion of the trip worrying that he’ll be mad at us when we get back. That happened this year, in January. My wife and I went to Munich, Germany right after Christmas to spend New Year’s there, and left Butters in the care of his uncle, who came and stayed at our place. When we returned, Butters was mad at us and distant for like three days, making it known that our travel displeased him. I still feel bad about that. That, and that first night he was with us, make me feel bad every time.
Butters is truly an amazing cat, a real 10,000/10 on the traditional ranking scale. But the truth is, Butters can’t be ranked or judged in any serious fashion, as he’s the best boy, so there aren’t numbers large enough to accurately gauge him.  

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