I hate to be critical of one of my own cats, but the truth is the truth and I could say a lot worse about Lyle right now.
Lyle is an involuntary conehead because he began gnawing the fur off one of his front legs and now has a cone on his head to keep him from doing that.
I can't tell you exactly why he was behaving that way. After all, Lyle is just a cat, not a person. That means he can't tell Tuesday from a can of Spam, let alone tell the vet or me why he was gradually gnawing the fur from his own limb.
We do know that he recently turned up wet and battered with that front leg swollen. I'm pretty sure from the way he was drenched with rain that he was unconscious for a time. I don't know any other way a cat could get that wet unless he was washing himself the way cats do and suffered a sudden overdose of spit.
Originally, I considered the logical explanation that he had been run over by a car or a bike or a drunken jogger. But another theory now asserts itself:
Several times before this all happened, Lyle got stuck on the roof overnight in a couple of cases. He can get onto the roof from one side of the house where the top of a fence comes near an eave. And he finds his way across the ridge of the roof to the other side, where it is a 15-foot drop to the deck, and 30 feet to the ground if he misses the deck.
When he gets over on the side with the big drop, he forgets that the way down is back across the ridge line to the other side of the roof where the fence is. But he has a way of getting down, nonetheless:
He yowls mournfully until the idiot who lives in the house gets the ladder and reaches up and pulls him down, often being rewarded for his trouble by having some of his own fur kicked off the top of his head by a cat who panics while being lifted off the roof.
Naturally, I am slow to rescue Lyle, both because I do not relish his way of thanking me as I snatch him from the roof and because I hope, if given time, he will learn to find his own way down. Cats usually do. You hardly ever see a dead cat under a tree.
But there is a difference here. We have a steel roof. And one morning I saw him on that frosty steel roof as he lost his footing and skated all the way to the edge, catching himself in the gutter. (But he did it with such style and technical merit that I gave him a 5.9 and a 5.8.)
Not long after he hurt his leg probably from sliding off the roof I wrote a column remarking on how difficult it is to tell much about a cat's injuries because he can't take his clothes off and show the doctor where the bruises are.
Whereupon Lyle immediately began gnawing his fur off, starting with that injured leg, as if trying to prove me a liar.
My first thought was that there was a torn patch of fur and he was, in the manner of animals, merely tidying up the wound.
But he didn't stop. Within three or four days, he removed 25 percent of the fur on that leg. I guess I was a little slow to wake up to what was happening but it never occurred to me that a cat would take all his fur off. However, as he kept plucking himself, I realized he was overdoing it and that a skinned cat would make a disgusting pet.
So it was back to the vet. And the vet's best guess, since Lyle still can't talk, is that there is some nerve damage, maybe some tingling, that is causing him to try to chew off the offending flesh. The vet said that animals have a greater capacity than humans for self-mutilation (thereby proving that he might know cats but he doesn't know much about the Democratic Party.)
And so Lyle now has a cone in the shape of the top of a funnel on his head, with the small part around his neck and the large part flaring out around the top of his head and ears. He can eat that way, but he can't reach his naked leg.
It gives him an odd appearance like somebody who has been rammed head first into the small end of a funnel. But it's working so far. The naked leg shows signs of growing a new crop of fur.
Meanwhile, it makes us kind of proud to know that Lyle has found a new way to skin a cat.
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