Spud - Aloof Feline He's Not

IN light of his personality, Spud's recently exhibited musical properties aren't surprising. And none of his traits are remarkable, considering the singular way, several years ago, that we came to be Spud's. Henry, who in those days lived across the street, had raised Spud from a kitten. But that didn't stop Spud, after a wife, another cat, and a golden retriever puppy joined the household, from abandoning Henry and adopting us.

We thought little about what started off as Spud's visits. He ate food placed on the patio for our own cat, but so did a family of raccoons, and they didn't linger. He dozed under the Cokinos' hedge next door as often as ours. But Spud gradually began to prefer our premises.

As that became evident, our embarrassment and Henry's chagrin grew. Only meanness on our part would have kept Spud away, but it wouldn't have kept him home. So we did nothing to deter him. Instead, we put up with smirks from the neighbors, who thought us somehow guilty in the affair and joked about whether attorney Henry would call down the law on us for ``cat-napping'' or alienation of animal affections.

In the end, we and Henry talked things over and Spud officially changed abodes. It made sense: Our own cat had disappeared, and Spud would neither stay in Henry's house nor out of ours.

That settled, we were to find out more of Spud's uncommon behavior. No aloof feline, Spud comes at a gallop when called, feeding time or not. He answers when addressed. And he chases dogs. Once he and I were busy by the driveway when Henry's retriever, then a great big puppy, headed our way. I put the cat up a tree branch to keep him safe. But Spud hurtled down like an avalanche and put to howling flight the canine 10 times his weight. I'd have passed it off as an anti-Henry gesture but for the other dogs Spud vanquished.

We had an uneasy moment when Henry's other cat seemed inclined to test our hospitality. But we needn't have been concerned: Like sheep dog and sheep, Spud herded the other cat all the way home.

In most ways, Spud is fearless. He loves it when we pick up his towel and swing it like a hammock. He hangs his head over the edge and watches. Spud enjoys almost anything that requires no exertion on his part.

My guitar, though, used to spook him. Its appearing was his signal to scurry, bug-eyed, under the bed. Was it my playing? No, merely seeing was fleeing. Perhaps he equated guitar strings with violin strings, for which he'd have a natural revulsion.

Just lately, Spud seemed to acquire an interest in my music. All aversion vanished. He'd sit at my feet, facing me while I played. He'd stare at my hands, or jump up on my right knee in mid-song, and curl one white paw inside the guitar and rub his whiskers on the strings.

During one such practice session I figured it out. Spud was jealous. Just as he came to us when he stopped being the center of attention at Henry's, just as he chased away visiting dogs and cats, Spud was seeking to recapture the spotlight. To his eyes (and maybe to others' ears) my hands weren't playing the guitar, but scratching it as if it was an animal, like he likes to be scratched.

Interesting thought: instrument as animal and animal as instrument and music from either. I put the guitar in its case and the cat on my knees. I scratched his chin and his ears. I rubbed his back. Sure enough, Spud purred in perfect pitch.

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