Friday, September 3, 2010

"Sorry, A Cat Is Biting My Elbows"

For those who aren't aware of this, my previous employer (I'm an electrical engineer) shut down the plant I'd worked in since 2002 a while back. Hence, 2010 has thus far been the Year of the Job Search.

So, what does this have to do with cats, you may ask? Well, today I had my first-ever phone screening interview. And at one point during the conversation, Nikki jumped up on my lap and proceeded to bite my elbows. Repeatedly. Not enough to be really painful (no blood was drawn), but enough to be surprising.

So there I am, trying to keep up with the interviewer's questions about analog design and decibel conversions (a feat in itself, given my auditory processing difficulties, which the phone really tends to exacerbate), but also having to pause and apologize for being distracted because one of my cats has decided to chew on my arms.

Thankfully the interviewer seemed unfazed by this. I have an in-person interview scheduled for next week!

But what was Nikki trying to tell me with the elbow-biting? She has never, ever done that before. Did she just want attention? Was she trying to get me to stop doing whatever I was doing, as it was clearly making me agitated? (Again, it was my first phone interview and I was straining to parse the interviewer's words the whole time, so I probably looked pretty tense).

Honestly, while I don't like to over-interpret in light of only minimal data, I would lean toward the latter. Nikki is one of the most empathic cats I've ever met.

She and I sometimes get into these "loops" wherein I'm stressed about something (but don't entirely realize it), and then Nikki starts getting agitated, and I'm all focused on trying to figure out what is going on with her, until finally I realize that the agitation started with me. And so I calm down. And then she calms down. It's very interesting when this happens and it definitely suggests to me that cats can be really adept at "reading" and responding to human affective states.

So, while again I don't know FOR SURE what Nikki meant with the elbow-biting, I'm darn certain she meant something. I mean, it's not like I'd been dousing my arms in salmon juice!


  1. Lilith, my Siamese mix, (who admittedly had an aggression problem as a younger cat) has done that too. I still have a bit of a scar from a place she attacked my arm - she had been sitting on the sofa next to me while I had a big fight with my boyfriend over the phone, and then she just got up and went after my arm using all five pointy ends. Using them like she meant it, with her tail fluffed and her pupils dilated like saucers.

    The bright side is, I was so scared of spending the night alone with her after that, that I called Boyfriend back and asked to stay at his place, and as a result we talked things out and are still together. I probably would have stewed and gotten angrier otherwise.

    Another bright side: Lilith seems to have outgrown her aggression.

  2. Ha, wow. Some cats simply will not be ignored, apparently!

    Nikki is not what I would call "aggressive", exactly, though she is what I would call "intense". She pretty much always has a reason for what she does, and she's extremely insistent. Determined, too, as she will never just back off, not until she's gotten some sort of reaction.

  3. Oh yeah, and if Lilith's pupils were dilated that actually indicates *fear* rather than angry aggression in cats. Angry cats who are "on the offensive" will generally have very small pupils. (Random factoid; I just learned this recently myself).

  4. It could be that the intensity of my upsetness was frightening to her and she had to defend herself. I was really, really upset; this was one of those either we fix this or we break up kinds of fight.

    Lilith, I think, definitely was aggressive as a younger cat. Not surprising, really, considering how some of the people who were in my life during her early life behaved towards her. I would describe her personality, before age mellowed her out, as belligerence covering up fear. Poor girl. She's still a bit suspicious, and tends to hiss first and sniff later, but at least she doesn't follow up every hiss with bloodletting.

  5. Oh geez yes. Seeing their human in such an extreme emotional state would quite easily scare a cat, particularly one already high strung to begin with. :/


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