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.

Except…

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.