Bathing A Stray Cat

“A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.” –Mark Twain

Back in the early seventies, we lived in a quiet bedroom community in a college town, and life was simple.  Well, simple enough by some standards: we had no children yet, and no dawgs or cats.  The few Guinea pigs that lived with us at the time were fairly low maintenance as was our lifestyle in general.  We didn’t even have a goldfish.

Earlier we had attempted a few pets.  Our tastes ran in the direction of unusual at first: I had a raccoon named “Stumpy”, and we’d made several attempts to domesticate some pigs from a nearby farm.  The raccoon was easier to housebreak, but he found a girlfriend and ran away.  The pigs were fun, but trust me–they soon get too big to stay in the house.

After I decided to go back to college, we both agreed to keep things simple for awhile.  After all, we could budget for simple–or at least thought we could.

One evening as we were finishing dinner, we heard a noise outside.  We investigated.  The disturbance seemed to be some disgruntled complaints coming from a stray adult Persian tomcat.  We didn’t know the animal; had never seen it before.  At first we just figured it was out trying to beg a meal, and was about to give it a saucer of milk when I noticed its odd appearance.  The cat’s fur was all matted in a particularly awful cosmetic arrangement: it was sporting several layers of thick grease and oil–not just a little bit, but head to tail.

I figured it was a service station cat.  It evidently stayed under the hood of someone’s car or truck.  It looked as if it had just finished a double shift of assisting with lube and oil changes, and had not bothered to clean up.  Some effort would be required to give it a fair appraisal.  In the condition it was in, we couldn’t tell by looking at it if we intended to keep it around, or not.

I decided it was my Christian duty to give it a good bath.  I have often made those kinds of decisions.  I thought later that being back in college might offer some hope for me in that respect if I was to become an educated man.  Years later I realized that such an education as I received that night would not be improved upon or amplified in any way should I attend every college and university in the world.  Mark Twain was right.

As for “Christian Duty”,  I suggest going on a crusade or something will be safer than bathing a cat.  But if it counted for anything at all, I’m all caught up as far as duty is concerned …paid in full, so to speak, as I thought surely I was going to die.  But I didn’t.  Since I did not become a martyr, they will not  canonize me.  I felt like something similar had happened though, and with the use of a real cannon.

The cat was trusting enough at first that I should pick it up, but when we walked towards the back of the house leaving a coveted saucer of milk behind us, protesting began.  The Persian tomcat began giving little hints that this procedure was not going to be a simple thing, and that it was possible that regrets could develop.

We didn’t own a cat at the time, and I’d never bathed one in my life.  In this state of inexperience I figured about the only way to bathe such a mess would be to get in the tub with it.  Brenda thought that would be a bad idea, and the cat was very vocal implying it agreed with Brenda.  It is my custom to seldom heed warnings in life.   But this time I did take note that unless I intended to ruin my clothes, I should take them off before attempting to bathe that oily, greasy cat.

I closed the bathroom door and stripped down to duty status.  This was a mistake.  Not only should you wear clothes, but very thick ones at that!  It is conservative to say you should wear armor–at least welding gloves and a football helmet.  The birthday suit is improper attire for such sport.

I turned on the water, and the fun began.  I didn’t know I was so flexible.  I assumed positions and executed physical maneuvers that would no doubt have met the criteria for any position on any professional sports team in the world.  Had judges been there to observe, I’m sure I would’ve qualified for several Olympic events.

I don’t know who was screaming louder–me or the cat, but the acoustics in the bathroom boosted the intensity of our stereophonic concert.  We sounded like a fire alarm.  The bath was not nearly over when the cat decided he’d had enough.  The mountain of soap suds added to the oil and grease made it difficult to hold onto the cat.  The cat, however, had no trouble holding on to any part of me it wanted to, but momentarily let go of me altogether.  Evidently, the door was not closed as well as it should have been.  He got out of the tub and left the bathroom in a hurry.

Brenda almost herniated her giggle box that evening.  She lay on the floor kicking, pounding her fists on the rug and laughing as I ran naked through the house chasing a greasy, soapy, wet cat.  The shower curtain was history.  Cat was fine, but I dammed near needed stitches.

It took some doing to corral that wild animal and give it a quick final rinse.  It also took a lot of will and determination, and healthy amount of a thing called “gumption” to drag that beast back under the spraying water. The rest of the cat cleaning would have to be done with a couple of old towels we were willing to throw away.

Whatever weakness that may have caused me earlier to consider keeping the cat melted away leaving a resolve that would have flattered Attila the Hun.  Besides as I’d mentioned, our household pets at the time just consisted of a family of Guinea pigs.  There were sure to be issues.  Differences of religion and politics might be unresolvable.  While diverse communities elsewhere might make do, Brenda and I both knew this was not going to work out–at least not for that cat.

A phone call was made to a dear friend and neighbor who had no pets at the time.  When I told him about bathing the cat, curiosity got the better of him, and he came right over.  The tomcat jumped into his lap to escape me, and the bond was sealed.  My friend adopted the cat, which was a good thing: if it had stayed at our house I would have killed it–or it me!

The cat found a good home: my friend and his wife enjoyed the company of “Persia” for quite a few years.  In some ways, Persia enjoyed a life of luxury most people cannot imagine.  Whenever we would go over for a visit, the cat would usually leave the room as soon as it saw me.  It didn’t bother me that he would do that, because I am used to that kind of treatment and it occurs often in social situations to this very day.

All that was about fourteen years ago, but I remember it as if it just happened: the mark is indelible in my mind (and other places).  We now have a dawg and a cat, but we’ve trained them to generally keep each other clean.  Now and then I’ll wash the dawg because he doesn’t know how to climb trees.  The cat has a climbing gear and my skin is no match for the toughness of tree bark.

What made me think of all this today?  Well, I came home to find my two youngest sons (Nathan and Mason) have decided to disassemble an old lawnmower.  It will never again shorten so much as a single blade of grass.

Filthy, greasy parts were all over the back yard.  Judging from the mud on my boys’ pants and shoes, they must have gone down to the creek for awhile before starting.  David, the older brother may have been involved in the project earlier, I don’t know.  He was not at the scene of the crime.  He’s at the age now where a lawnmower that works is more valuable, because you can use it to make money.

Their industry and curiosity amazes me sometimes.  I reckon I’ll go look in the garage for a couple of old towels we’re willing to throw away, and I hope Brenda is willing to see to the bathing of these fine young mechanics.  If not, you can bet I won’t get in the tub with them, as I’m sure some kerosene and a wire brush will be needed.  That would be too much like bathing a cat.


14 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Robin on February 11, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    Our first girl cat came due for rabies shots. So Kate and I tried to get her into the travel cage. I still bear the scars. I finally decided that since she was an “inside” cat, she would never be exposed to rabies, so she would never have to go to the vet again. Ever. The money I saved on the vet could be used for my own stitches and antibiotics. She remained an inside cat until the day our house-sitter left the door open and she streaked away, probably not to the vet’s….


  2. Ah, such a simple time when we had no worries except how to clean up the bathroom after such an episode. Thanks for the memories!


  3. Posted by Lt. D. Company on February 13, 2011 at 2:30 am

    This happened and yet you still had children. There’s a bit o luck in that.


  4. (From e-mail) Hey, Van! Great story. I knoooow what chu talkin’ ‘bout! I had to catch an old stray one time…had him hemmed up in a small room. He was not a bit too friendly and was a mite concerned about my intentions. I DID wear welding gloves but I can tell you with certainty that if you don’t hold ‘im real good and he gets loose…that climbing gear he’s got can give you a whole new perspective on climbing. He can even climb upside down…got reverse, too…leave ripped up hide in places you can barely reach. Yessirree, I knoooow what chu talkin’ ‘bout…


  5. Posted by Betty on February 14, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    (From e-mail) I think I’m glad I never had the urge to bathe a cat!!! I can’t eve bathe Smokie! That’s OK, though, as the groomer does a good job.


  6. Having had at least 1 cat since I was 6 (or was it 4?), I know how to bathe a cat. When I read of you stripping down, I began to deeply, deeply, cringe…


  7. Posted by Helen on May 7, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    You obviously never bathed a cat when you were a little girl. You take “kitty” by the scruff of the neck and put in the wading pool in the backyard and hold it under the water until your mother comes outside to see what all the yowling is about. She then tells you that “kitty” is clean enough and you should let “kitty” go. “Kitty” will still play dress up and ride in your buggy. Especially if you tuck the blankie around it REAL tight.


  8. I wouldn’t even attempt it – it’s as much action as I need trying to stuff one in the basket for trips to the vet!


  9. OMG. Even if you’d never had a cat, I don’t know what possessed you to try that without full body armour.
    I once had to give a cat pills twice a day for a month. The first two went in with a little difficulty, but I reckoned that by the end of the month I’d be an expert.
    Actually, at the end of the month the cat was an expert in spitting them out. Top tip: mash them up then mix them with cream cheese. Then smear the cream cheese all over your fingers. Then invite the cat to lick it all off. Alternatively, don’t have a cat.


  10. I love it, Van. I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time. I’m going to share this one.
    I had a cat when I was a child. While walking along the edge of the bathtub when I was taking a bath one day, he slipped and fell in. I’ll tell you, you couldn’t measure the short amount of time it took for him to take off.

    I had a neighbor once who had a cat. It took the two of us to get her into a carrier to go to the vet’s – if she didn’t get under the bed first. And the ride down the elevator caused such a shriek from her it sounded like a human was being murdered. She didn’t much like the ride in the car, either. And when she needed medication – liquid shot in with a syringe – well, that was a challenge like no other. I would wrap her up in a large towel up to her neck. Regina would attempt to get the syringe far enough back in Baby’s mouth to shoot in the medicine. Somehow her feet would escape as she squirmed and fought to get free, and she would turn her head away, but finally got the medicine. When she needed hairball medicine, Regina would smear it all over Baby’s paws and she would have to lick it off. That was much easier. She didn’t like it and tried to shake it off, but it didn’t work. You have to develop a specialized ingenuity where cats are concerned, and it doesn’t always come without consequences.

    Thanks for sharing this story.


  11. Posted by Jane Leonard on September 9, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    Listen to Brenda!!!


  12. Posted by Nancy K Kemp on September 9, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    Okay, this one hits close to home and with claws. Our daughter gave us a kitten she had rescued and I could have SWORN she said she had bathed it successfully. Didn’t work for me… either time I tried. But we found it a good home and by the time our other daughter was given a ginger kitten, I’d pretty much gotten the first completely out of my system & brain… bath disasters included.

    So, to rid the new kitten of her thick coating of fleas, I bathed her. Three times I subjected myself to a scratching, clawing, biting dervish of a tiny cat and finally not only conquered the fleas, but managed to totally divest myself of any future idea that bathing a cat or even a kitten sized one is a good idea.

    That ginger kitten is now 14 years older, still residing in our home, still no fleas, and still looks at me with murder in her eyes… except when she’s hungry.


  13. Posted by MaryRuth Blackstock on June 26, 2014 at 12:41 am

    My husband had an experience with bathing a cat. Terry came out a little bloody and the cat was probably dizzy from running around the walls(not the floor). I enjoyed your story. It brought back those memories for me!


  14. Van, I just watched this video of cats and bathtubs. I thought you might enjoy it.


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