I guess I've always been the curious type. Ever since I was a kid, I've wanted to learn how things worked. For me, it was never really about the surfaces of things—how they looked or how fast they could go—it was more about what was going on underneath. Take cats, for example. Most kids like petting cats or playing with them, but I was always the kid who was sort of off by himself, taking cats apart, familiarizing himself with their bone and tissue fibers, and really learning how each piece of the cat connected to the next.
Even as early as 5 or 6 years old, I enjoyed tinkering around with the insides of cats. I remember I was playing by myself in the neighborhood one time—just kind of entertaining myself like I always did—and I saw this calico in the street. While other kids were more interested in the color of its fur and its whiskers, I just had this compulsion to rip those whiskers right out, understand which facial muscles it used to meow, and figure out what was happening in that cat's throat when it purred.
So I took it home, opened it up, and found out.
Ever since then, getting a partially unconscious feline on a table and watching the heart pump blood throughout its circulatory system has been something that never fails to pique my interest.
I guess you could say I was known as the "weird kid" in high school. When my classmates were playing football or going to the prom, I was the one who was in his parents' basement poking around a cat's spinal cord and seeing which nerve tissue controlled its legs. You know the type, I'm sure. I remember we had the chance to go to New York City for our senior class field trip, and I told my teachers that, you know what, I'd rather just stay at home and chop off some cat tails. They looked stunned, because to them I bet draining cat-tail blood sounded lame compared to New York City, but I was fine hanging back. Truthfully, I didn't feel like I was missing out. The fact is, my next-door neighbor had gotten an Abyssinian and I really wanted to get a good look at it.
I think all this comes down to how I learn. Someone can show me pictures or videos or explain to me how something works, but I won't truly understand it until I roll up my sleeves and really get elbows deep in cat. It's one thing to watch a kitten dart around or leap from the kitchen floor to the counter, but getting up underneath the anterior thigh and getting a good look at all those twitching tendons allows me to really wrap my head around why they're able to do those things. It's just how my brain works.
Did you know you can tell an adult cat from a 8-month-old cat just from the feel of its liver? You can. And sure, everyone knows cats have great night vision, but until you've used a pair of tweezers to remove a cat's eye and have actually seen how the muscles allow the ocular cavity to open extra wide at night, you don't really know why.
As I've gotten older, I guess you could say this hobby of mine has turned into a bit of an obsession. After staring at a computer screen for nine hours a day, all I want to do is go home, take a cat apart, lay out all the pieces in front of me in a nice organized way, and then try to put the whole thing back together perfectly. Sometimes when I'm finished I have a spare innard or two, but then I just put those in the "spares" cooler and move on. The whole process is very soothing.
Right now, in my garage, I have four different sacks containing four different cats I've been dismantling: a tabby cat, an American longhair, a Bengal, and a Chartreux. It's going to be a three or four month undertaking, but the idea is to reconstruct the insides of each cat and then stitch the skins back on so that, for example, the Bengal cat has the insides of the tabby, the longhair has the insides of the Chartreux, and so on. Granted, this particular endeavor isn't so much about learning how cats work as it is my little passion project. But sometimes it's nice to deviate from the norm and try something different.
I'm really excited about it. After all, I just really love cats.