Cats and Character Arcs

I posted this pic on Twitter and Facebook yesterday, so apologies if it’s a repeat for you.

It’s a good example, though, of what I let Isabel get away with. No, of course I can’t work very well like this – but do I scoot her off my desk? No no no. One sleepy stretch and contented purr and I’m putty in her so-fuzzy paws.

Part of this is because Isabel has never been a lap cat. In fact, we’ve taken to calling her Nearby Cat. She likes to be close by – e.g., where my keyboard should be – but rarely actually on us. Another favorite position of hers is to lie on the back of the chair or couch and put one paw on whoever is sitting there. Nearby cat.

But Isabel is changing as she gets older – a personality evolution that’s fascinating to observe. She turned six recently and is now a fully adult cat. Maine coon cats are different than many breeds in that they don’t get their full growth until about five years. Isabel is the baby of the family, too, and we still call her the Kitten. She came into our lives at a very dark time. We were in the middle of winter, our five-year old cat had just died of cancer and we’d also had to put down our ancient border collie. Isabel the Kitten brought much-needed light and life for all of us. So, though she’s adult now, compared to our 11 year-old border collie and 16 year-old senior cat, she’s a baby.


See, this is the interesting part. You’ve seen those videos where the kitty-cat chases the bear away? (Here’s one, if you haven’t.) Well, since we moved to Santa Fe, to this rural setting where coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions are part of the landscape she’s moved into a new phase of herself: Guard Cat.

She, the smallest family member, is the self- appointed protector of the entire household. She prowls the property lines. She watches out the windows. When she spots a coyote, she comes to tell us, tail-lashing with indignation.

Then, yesterday, senior-cat Teddy came to lie under my office chair while I was working. I didn’t know she was there. And I have a chair with wheels and a brick floor. Yes – I ran over Teddy’s tail AND caught some of the fur up in the bearings. If you’ve ever stepped on a cat’s tail, you can now hear the caterwauling that ensued. Before I’d managed to do more than stand, Isabel had bolted into the room, quivering, eyes dilated, ready to defend Teddy. By then Teddy was fine, but Isabel had to sniff her over and then prowl my entire office, checking security.

I have never had a cat like this.

More, Isabel never used to be like this. I wonder where it comes from, since she’s not learning it from the other animals. It’s something in her, some dormant instinct, perhaps, welling up to meet the challenges of her life. Along with this change has come the increased affection. She seeks me out for this together time and I find myself unable to deny her.

I’ve been thinking about long character arcs. I’m mulling over the next books in A Covenant of Thorns and thinking about the long-term journeys of the characters. More than just solve the immediate problem (run off that coyote) but how that changes the person over a lifetime (greater vigilance, protectiveness, affection).

After all, if a cat can change so much, how might a human grow?

Of course, it could be just that Isabel is an unusual heroine.

13 Replies to “Cats and Character Arcs”

  1. Isabel IS a most unusual heroine!

    We have a couple of guard cats at our house, who watch the windows and chatter at the squirrels and ravens. Not much gets by them. The other night, the neighborhood tomcat came by to visit, and Piper went berserk growling at him through the glass. He was lying down with his belly up, trying to flirt.

    Funny to have such atavistic little presences in our houses.

  2. Awww, how cute. You know, my dog is doing something similar. Those that know me know I’m forever bad mouthing my crazy German Shephard. Why, because she was an annoying puppy and I still hold it against her :-).

    But over the last 2 years or so, I’ve noticed she’s become a guard dog of the highest caliber. At one time, she would willingly abandon me whenever a stranger came over to lick, sniff, and play with them. Now, even if someone she knows comes over, she lays by my feet and shadows my every move.

    She still annoys me to no end, but I guess I love her… 🙂

  3. We have two cats. They are wonderful creatures! We have one who turned from a suspicious, don’t touch me cat to a cat that has to lie on my lap and get his tummy rubbed every night.

  4. Could the shift from urban cat – Laramie – to suburban cat – El Dorado – account for the change? Perhaps the real and perceived threats have impressed their seriousness on her (a good student of the wary and the wild).

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