Today I hit one of those turning points in pet ownership where I saw a vastly different side to my two lovable, pudgy felines. I know lots of other people – including a few of my friends – see cats as sinister spawns of Satan that are always plotting to end your life by sucking your breath while you sleep. I always rolled my eyes at what was clearly a blind prejudice based on hype and urban legend, likely started by Rush Limbaugh when he found out cats were pushing for the “Paid To Get Spayed“ bill.

This is my Buddha. I snapped this mid-yawn a while back. He's actually quite friendly. I swear.

But today I witnessed it for myself!! My adorable, furry cherubs mutated into hostile, hissing heathens. It was a performance that will surely land them a starring roll in the next Pet Sematary 3. I’m sure most men can relate it to the first time they cracked a joke to their significant other during the wrong time of the month. It was scary to be sure, but you probably thought, “Hey, it’s just once a month. I can handle this.” And I hope I’m not being just as naïve when I think along the same lines. It’s just once a year, I can handle this.

I’m talking about the yearly check-up with the vet. This was the first time my cats had gone in together. I’ve always opted to hang out in the waiting room, but this time I took the vet up on her offer to enter the examining room.

You know, whenever I‘d hear a mother exclaim, “But MY child wouldn’t act like that!” Or the owner of a mean dog (*see note at the bottom) say, “But he’s NEVER bitten anyone before!” I would always feel the slight pinpricks of irritation at how guileless they were being. But there I was in the vet office, listening to one cat groan like an angry badger in heat while trying to shake the other cat out of the carrier and saying, “They NEVER act like this, I swear!”

I know it’s actually quite cool of the pet hospital to allow me back there but I think there are some things squeamish pet owners like myself are better off not seeing. No matter how gentle the vet is it always seems too rough to you. Mugsy likes his ears gently twirled, not folded back and prodded!!! I also finally understood the true meaning behind the expression “then the claws came out” when the vet tried to take their temperature in the most unpleasant of ways. And throughout this whole growling, spitting, head-spinning-like-the-exorcist exam the vet and her assistant are smiling and making cooing comments to the cat like, “Oh, you didn’t like that, did you? But it’s allllllll over. Aren’t you a cutie!”

So if you’ve never been behind closed doors at the pet hospital, just know that when the vet comes back from the exam room with your pet and says with a smile, “She did great!” You know “great” really means, “She snarled, snapped and pulled out a knife and tried to stab everyone in the room, but my five assistants were able to hold her down long enough to give her the vaccines!”

The ride back was one of quiet reflection for my cats. The meowing ruckus they made on the way there was silenced. At home they crawled out of their cages and slinked to their usual resting spots. They were pensive and dispirited; they felt victimized. They were home but things were different. The cozy blinders of ignorance had been lifted revealing a world that was much, much bigger and scarier than the cush confines of an air-conditioned condo. They ran from my efforts to pet them and gave me a wide berth, avoiding me the way men avoid the obnoxious drunk girl at a party.

I guess if I were to look at the bright side of an expensive, yearly vet visit – in addition to the fact that the ungrateful little bastards are healthy and vaccinated – a shared traumatic experience always brings those involved closer. Slowly they made their way to each other, seeking the comfort I had clearly sought to destroy. They wanted to be held but not by me lest I swoop them back up and force them into another carrier. They finally saw each other as more than just rivals for wet food or pillow space; they were kin. And for the first time since they met… they hugged and cuddled.

They'll come back to me when they're hungry again.

* Author’s note: When I say “mean” dog I am by no means insinuating any specific breed whatsoever. I do realize that owners of some breeds are a bit sensitive about their dogs’ reputations and any hint of stereotyping, even if in jest, is quickly met with a barrage of comments and emails so angry and vicious that even their breed of dog would be proud.

** Author’s second note: I’ve never actually heard the groan of an angry badger in heat, but I imagine it sounds pretty dramatic.