Some cats don't know the rules. And make no mistake about it, the conduct of cats and other animals follows a few basic rules that a person can normally count on to avoid unpleasant run-ins with fuzzy strangers.
For instance, a dog won't normally bite you if you show no fear, if you turn toward the dog and speak softly to it. Most dogs really are all bark and no bite. They are just yelling at you, making a show until you get off what they perceive as their turf. Sometimes they are like cattlemen who perceive their turf as everything in sight but they won't usually bite anyone who doesn't bite them first.
As a general rule, if you ignore a dog, it will not go to the extreme of tasting your leg. The tricky part is the exceptions. Dogs are like people in that some of them are crazy. A couple of times in my life I have had dogs keep on coming straight for my throat even after I had turned toward them and said something soothing like "Please don't hurt me."
Similarly, there are rules around horses. You don't walk up behind a horse unannounced. You don't want to startle a horse, especially back there where you may get more of a kick out of the horse than you bargained for.
In that same vein, a few simple rules will normally save you grief with a cat. You can't just reach down and pick up a strange cat without putting it at ease first. If a cat doesn't want a stranger to pick it up, the stranger is well advised not to proceed because cats have several effective ways of making that a costly mistake. Cats are armed.
However, it isn't normally an issue because a cat that isn't game to be picked up by a stranger won't normally go anywhere near a stranger. Conversely, a cat that will let a stranger pick it up is normally a safe cat for you to pick up. Those are the cat rules. Abide by them and you and the cat can be close friends -- or enemies from a distance. The cat will decide.
From time to time, a new cat will show up in our neighborhood. If it is a stray, a wild cat, it won't come anywhere near. And a good thing, too. Because if you could grab it and sort of force it into your arms, it would react pretty much the same you would if some jerk grabbed you and forced you into his arms.
On the other hand, new neighborhood cats have shown up in the past who are thoroughly domesticated and partial to people. If you talk to them and pet them, they will not resist if you pick them up.
But there are exceptions. Munchie, for instance. Munchie is a large friendly looking blob of a cat who started showing up in our yard some months ago. When I bid him welcome and called to him, he came right over, gladly letting me pet him.
He didn't resist when I picked him up. But after letting me hold him briefly, he began to try to get down. I thought he was a little nervous and would settle down. I continued to hold him in my arms.
He kind of nipped me lightly on the hand, but gently, the way a cat will when it's playfully roughhousing with you. So I continued to hold him.
Then he calmly reached out and sank his teeth into my hand all the way up to his gums.
I put him down.
I went to the doctor. The doctor told me it was good thing I came in because cats can have some kind of microbe in their mouths that will rot out your nearby joints and leave you with a permanently stiff finger, an unhandy device if you are a writer. He gave me a stiff round of antibiotics.
I don't know the cat's real name but that is why I call him Munchie. The odd part is he didn't snarl and growl and bite me viciously. It was all quite clinical. He gave me a warning nip and then, getting no results, methodically reached out and told me he meant it.
To this day, he comes in the yard and gives me a pleasant look, almost a smile. But I won't go near him. There's a crazy edge to his smile. I wouldn't take a nap out in the yard with Munchie on the loose because I'm afraid I'd end up with a stiff neck.
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