A letter from a reader reminded me of a time when I was such a fanatic about my cat’s nutrition that I tried cooking her food myself. I got the idea from The Natural Cat, a book about the holistic way to feed and care for felines.
Ms. Kitty, my cat, was addicted to Tender Vittles, but the book said I should not feed her any dry or semi-dry cat food. When I told Ms. Kitty what the book said, she looked at me with slit eyes and ran to her bowl to eat some Tender Vittles.
Undaunted, I went to the health-food store and bought wheat germ, yeast, bran, lecithin granules, kelp, and bone meal. The book said to toast the wheat germ, which is how I learned that wheat germ burns very quickly in the oven. I wasted a good bit of it before I got it right, and mixed it with the other healthy stuff. Then, feeling extremely domestic and earthy, I put half a cup of lentils and half a cup of millet, a little Wheatena, a carrot, and a few spinach leaves into a pan. I covered it and put it on to boil and drifted into an imaginary scene in which Ms. Kitty and I sat in the vet’s waiting room, she looking incredibly sleek and contented while the other cat-owners looked enviously at us.
“What do you feed her?” they would ask, and I would wave my hand modestly and say, “I cook her food myself.”
That’s when I learned that a mixture of lentils and millet and Wheatena will boil over in an eye-blink and stick like hardened glue to a stovetop. I scrubbed the stove and mixed another batch, which also boiled over. That’s when I learned you can’t put a lid on lentils and millet and Wheatena. If you do, it will boil over. It took a long time to cook without a lid, but when it was finally done I dumped the whole mess into the food processor and whirred it into oatmeal consistency. Then I added some bran flakes and a couple of crumbled rice cakes and stirred in a can of chicken chunks. I spooned serving portions into small baggies and put them in the freezer. The whole procedure had taken much longer than I expected, but I felt extremely virtuous.
Next morning, I defrosted one of the servings, stirred in some of the vitamin-mineral mix, and set it down for Ms. Kitty. I was so proud. Ms. Kitty nosed it, gave me a rude look, and walked away. She stayed outside all day sulking, and in the middle of the morning I threw away her untouched breakfast.
At dinnertime, I gave her another packet with a few pieces of lamb from my dinner added to it. She picked out the lamb and left the rest. I threw it away, but I was a little annoyed. “I worked hard to cook this for you,” I said.
She lifted her upper lip and gave me a hard look.
Next morning she seemed suspicious even before we went in the kitchen. I gave her another serving of the lentil-millet-chicken mixture, and she sent me a hostile message.
“Look here,” I said sternly, “we don’t talk like that in this house!”
She glowered at me and stalked into the living room and pouted while I ate my yogurt and fruit. I sprinkled some of her vitamin-mineral mix on it.
While I was rinsing my dishes, she came back and sniffed at her bowl and made a plaintive cry.
“Oh, all right,” I said. “I’ll give you some Tender Vittles!”
I put some Tender Vittles into the healthy food and stirred it up. When I put it in front of her, she ate just a few bites and then asked to go outside. Just after I shut the door behind her, she made a horrible yowling sound as if she were in terrible pain. I jerked the door open and she deftly threw up her breakfast at my feet.
“Okay,” I said, “you win. You don’t have to eat it again.”
I didn’t think it was a good idea for her to eat for a while, so I didn’t offer her anything else. Besides, I was really annoyed at her. I went to my office to work and after a while she jumped on my desk and looked hard at me.
“I won’t give it to you again,” I said. “But I went to a lot of trouble and expense for you. It’s sort of ungrateful of you not to eat it.”
She leaned over my hand and for the first time in her life bit me. On the wrist. Broke the skin and brought blood. And then she looked at me and blinked her eyes, twice.
I knew what Ms. Kitty was saying. She was saying, “I forgive you, but don’t ever do anything like that to me again!”
It took a while for us to make up. I didn’t give in right away because my feelings were hurt, but for her dinner I opened a can of sliced beef in gravy and gave it to her without stirring in any of the vitamin-mineral mix. Next morning, I let her have her beloved Tender Vittles.
I need to add that since that benighted time, I’ve learned that cats are basically carnivores, and that I was trying to make her eat something that nature didn’t intend. As usual, the cat was smarter than the human.