Fair Weather Cat

Eschewing food and other cat toys, Marrakesh opts for the one that’s barely there.

Marrakesh is a cat who does not hesitate to let you know when he is not happy. He spends a lot of time sleeping, but when he is awake, he is frequently not happy — and we get to hear about it.

He only likes eating food out of a full dish. This definitely pegs him as a pessimist: if the dish is half-full, it might as well be empty. He wants to be scratched, but only in certain places in a certain way we have yet to figure out. If he had his way, the world would be one giant doorsill and we would all hover on it so that we could be both inside and out at the same time.

But we would only do this in temperate weather, and despite the mild winter we are having, with far less snow than we need, let alone want, and only one day of minus 20, Marrakesh is not happy with winter.

Not that we are happy with his proclivity for going outside, particularly out here in the predator-filled wilderness, but that’s the way he came to us: semi-feral, purportedly previously living outside in a shed with a man who had no more home than that.

He did this living in Montrose, a far more temperate place than Gunnison, and he still seems to harbor a catlike umbrage toward the weather when I open the door and he discovers it’s cold outside.

Occasionally he tries the “this door must surely open to warmer weather” tactic at the front door, only to inevitably be disappointed that the weather is not, in fact, any warmer out front.

On the rare days he does try that, he ends up trekking through the snow to get to the back door to be let in, but in general if he goes out in January it’s only to sit on the deck and look rather miffed at the snow hindering his mobility

Inside, then, this leaves him more restless and out of sorts than usual. We have tried an assortment of cat toys to entertain him, most of which are not up to Marrakesh’s exacting standards. He did spend most of one day with a little paw-sized plush stuffed with catnip, but even the thrill of drugs wore off after a day and Marrakesh just said no.

Last winter I happened across the notion of cat wheels, the feline version of the same exercise wheel one provides to a gerbil. But cat wheels are big enough to take up furniture space, and commensurately costly, and that seemed like a big gamble.

We asked his veterinarian about it, and she knew people here in the valley who own these wheels, usually in conjunction with Bengal cats, giant cats with an equally outsized need to exercise. She wasn’t sure we’d get Marrakesh on one.

Given the cost, Marrakesh’s disdain for all toys of all types, and the space a cat wheel would take up, I dropped the notion. But this did not make Marrakesh any less unhappy with life this winter.

Until one organic day when Lynn, undergoing her own surgically-induced boredom, turned in desperation to house cleaning. She figured she could vacuum one-handed, and maybe she could, until she vacuumed up a cat toy.

We have two largely unused toys that consist of a bendy fishing rod attached to a string attached to a clump of feathers, I suppose meant to simulate birds. Na Ki’o, whose eyesight likely is not getting any better, used to like to play with them, sort of, but Marrakesh was far more indifferent toward them. Until Lynn vacuumed the feathers off one.

Because we — or at least me — never throw anything anyway, we set the rod with its string now ending in a couple of metal clasps on a two-drawer file cabinet that isn’t supposed to live in the great room but has for many months.

And then we started hearing the rod clatter around. Not by itself, of course, but Marrakesh would yank it down and use it in some wild game that resulted in the rod sprawling across rucked-up carpet in the hallway.

Finally — they don’t call us stable geniuses for nothing — it began to dawn on us, and one night I picked up the featherless toy and dangled it above Marrakesh, who became an active, engaged and even enthusiastic participant in cat games for the first time ever.

I have no idea what the attraction is with this thing that looks like a barbless fishing lure, but he will follow it anywhere in the house, sprinting, turning, going on the attack — and whoever is at the other end wears out long before Marrakesh does.

I can’t begin to explain the appeal, particularly since the one with feathers still intact warrants no attention at all. Na Ki’o, completely disinterested, sits nearby and watches — with disdain or myopia, it’s hard to know — and it offends Oz’s sense of order as Marrakesh leaps and spins in pursuit of this dangling piece of metal. But it’s certainly entertaining one of the three of them.

While I don’t understand the attraction, I’m glad of it — something to keep Marrakesh occupied during the Time of Inhospitable Weather. And when all we had to expend was some of Lynn’s effort to misplace the vacuum, it makes me several hundred dollars worth of glad we didn’t try a cat wheel. Not when all it takes to make a cat happy is a piece of string and some bits of metal.

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