Trials and Feats of Daring

Our cats Scout and Templeton sniff noses while in our backyard

Throughout history, many societies have made their young people endure trials and feats of daring to prove their readiness to be welcomed into society as adults. These feats could range from the fairly benign, such as swimming across a raging river full of hungry crocodiles with a hunk of meat strapped to your back, to the so-dangerous-it’s-almost-suicidal, such as giving Scout a bath.

Anthropologists have long debated where one such feat fits into this scale of bravery: getting Templeton to take his medicine. The debate knows no end chiefly because it all depends on who is giving the medicine.

If it’s a stranger to Templeton who’s giving the pills, we’re on the nearly-suicidal end of the scale, much like trying to hold Scout while small children are around.

If I’m giving Templeton his pills, however, we fall into the fairly benign category. Much like trimming Scout’s nails, there may be a lot of noise and movement but there’s no real danger.

The little one won’t strike out at me in anger, and the feat of daring becomes more a feat of patience and resilience with a dash of cleverness thrown in. You collect him in your arms and he knows what’s coming. He gives you a look that says “I love you but I’m not taking that pill!” I look back into his beautiful green eyes and answer “I love you and you WILL take this pill” and then it’s on.

Templeton’s defenses come in two main thrusts. His first defense is to keep the pill out of his mouth in the first place, which involves a lot of head turning, a jaw clamped down with all his might, lots of squirming, and flailing legs that try to knock the pill away.

We have a little device that shoots the pill down his throat which has helped immensely. However, this is where his second method of defense kicks in. After you’ve shot the pill a hundred times and missed, every so often you’ll use the force (thanks Obi-wan!) and the pill will find its target. However, Templeton immediately starts to work it back up, and it’s a stunning sight to see how quickly he can spit pills back up. If only there was a way to harness this power for the good of humanity.

Templeton added a new wrinkle to his defenses this last time. He had picked up an infection and needed a pill in the morning for over a week. Once I got the pill down his throat, he wouldn’t try and work it up. He’d just sit there and wait to be released. He’d meow a bit in protest but otherwise was calm and I figured my will had finally overcome his. Feeling victorious, I set him free and he bolted away. It slowly dawned on me that during his meows of protest he had kept his mouth closed the entire time.

He hadn’t swallowed the pill at all! He was going to run off and spit it out when I wasn’t looking! These pills start foaming fairly soon after they come into contact with saliva, however, so he couldn’t get them up very easily and it looked like he was foaming at the mouth.

So if you want to know how I spent each morning that week, you can envision a mighty struggle trying to get him to swallow the pill, then me chasing him around the house while a foamy white spittle is hanging down from his mouth. I’d eventually capture him and get all the foam back inside his mouth (kids, don’t try this at home) and then try and get him to eat since the medicine was supposed to be taken with food.

Templeton would protest of course and not eat anything, even though he was hungry. I know my little one won’t hold a grudge against me for long, though, so I’d just go upstairs and then come back down and he’d usually eat for me right away.

That cat is a little too clever for his own good.

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