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Tamed/Untamed

Sorry, you just can’t stop cats from clawing up everything

Shutterstock/Maria Weidner

I once saw a photo of an enormous mound of fluff piled on someone’s lawn. I had no idea what it was, then learned it was a sofa belonging to a veterinarian whose cats had destroyed it.

Most of us who live with cats have noticed that they like to sharpen their claws, and will do this on whatever is handy, especially if it’s made of fabric or paper, more especially if it’s stuffed with cotton batting, and sooner or later will reduce the object to the condition of the veterinarian’s sofa. So how to stop them?

Alas, you can’t stop them. If you see them clawing and yell, “STOP STOP!,” they keep right on clawing because sharp claws are more important to them than your whims. Certain people have their cats declawed, meaning that the tips of the cats’ toes are cut off. This is harmful, especially if the cat goes outdoors. It might need to defend itself or climb a tree if threatened by something. A cat is unsafe without claws.

The way to handle cat vandalism is to accept it. Our four cats are more important than our sofa or our papers or pillows or curtains or wallpaper or that beautiful china cup made by a famous pottery artist in Prague or the 400-page manuscript I was planning to send to my agent. The destruction of the cup resulted from another form of vandalism — the desire of cats to jump into cupboards (if the doors are carelessly left open) and to sometimes push things out. Most of our cats can jump from the floor into a high cupboard, land on their feet, and disturb nothing, so they seem to push things out on purpose, perhaps to watch them fall.

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As for the manuscript, its destruction was unintentional. While watching a chipmunk through a window, a thoughtless cat stood on my computer keyboard with his hind foot on the “enter” key until the manuscript was 5,000 pages long. To delete the extra pages one by one would have taken days and would have been boring — you can’t do anything else while you’re pushing the delete key — so I had to delete the whole thing and start over. I had a copy.

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Our sofa is leaking fluff at the seams, the screens in our windows have holes in them, and we no longer have curtains because when the cats climbed them, they came crashing down, torn curtains, bent curtain rods, and all. And our hallway is hung with shredded wallpaper torn from the baseboard up to the height of a cat on its hind feet. That’s the downside.

The upside is that higher on the wall the paper is smoothly in place showing charming scenes of an old-fashioned village. If visitors are disturbed by the shreds, they can look up to where the ceiling meets the wall.

Actually, the vandalism is in our eyes only. The cats are indifferent to the appearance of our house. They hunt mice, which is good, and the mice live in the basement, so the cats catch them there and bite off the heads, leaving the bodies where they fall. Our basement has been called the Mouse Mausoleum. I go down with a rubber glove and a plastic bag and pick them up.

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Sometimes the destruction is caused by us (although it’s a cat’s fault), especially when a cat brings a chipmunk indoors and lets her go so he can chase her. Then the race is on, the chipmunk in the lead, the cats right behind her, and the people right behind the cats, all running as fast as we can while our remaining possessions come crashing down around us.

The cats are motivated by excitement, the people and the chipmunk are motivated by fear, and it all ends when we manage to throw a towel over the chipmunk, pick her up, and restore her to her safe home in our stone wall.

Our reward for the destruction is purring. No sound in the world is as soothing or as pleasant as purring. The cats sit on our laps while purring, and we relax. Peace and happiness fill our hearts as we stroke their heads and behind their ears so they keep on purring. We so enjoy the sound.

Oh, and as for destruction, as cats grow older they don’t cause as much, and scratch-pads sold in pet stores help a little. We saved an armchair by pinning towels around it, and we’ve all lived happily ever since.


Elizabeth Marshall Thomas is a naturalist and author. Send your questions about animals to syandlizletters@gmail.com.