The care and feeding of cats

Even though I have three, I’m not sure I understand the point of owning cats.

They seem like such an arbitrary choice for domestication in our homes. How exactly did they win out over every-bit-as-good choices like ferrets, muskrats, weasels and other ungrateful groundlings? Can the beaver not catch a mouse? Can the squirrel not meow loudly in response to be a natural gas leak in your house?

OK, maybe not meow, but they could chirp and throw acorns.

It’s said that the cat is a fastidiously clean creature, however that’s only because they seem to be licking themselves every time you turn around. I’m sure some of this is done in the pursuit of cleanliness and I’m just as sure some of it is done for purposes of self-gratification. Where they really need to clean themselves up — in the crevices of their paws where soiled cat litter tends to accumulate — goes virtually unattended. That only seems to come loose when they leap unauthorized onto the kitchen table, hopping over my cereal bowl of granola and making it a little more crunchy than I’d prefer.

I do appreciate how they virtually house-train themselves in proper user of the catbox. I look out the window on wintry days at some of my dog-owning neighbors, gingerly carrying their poodles and miniature dachshunds into small snowfields, and placing the animal down to do his business. The dog looks up at its shivering master, as if to ask “what am I supposed to do with this?” They sniff the ground for a while, perhaps paw it once or twice, then refuse to cooperate. Meanwhile, my cats are in our warm, cozy utility room, peeing like there’s no tomorrow.

Not far from their catbox sits their dinner bowls, in what would be a highly questionable bit of feng shui to those of us higher up in the animal kingdom though perfectly acceptable to my cats. I guess they like the convenience of managing input and output functions in such close proximity to each other. And there’s also the fact that their food smells only slightly better than their waste, so why not lump it all together in the same room? They may have to leave the vicinity to barf on the couch or your favorite throw rug. Other than that, though, they’d probably be just as happy to spend most of their waking hours sharing quarters with the washing machine and the dryer, especially when the dryer is running at a low, warm purr.

Ever since my wife began working nights about a year ago, I’ve taken over responsibility for the evening feedings of our three cats, Harriet, Taylor and Tom. They’re on a twice-a-day meal schedule, as is the tradition with household pets. (How they ever got screwed out of lunch remains a mystery). Having enjoyed their first meal of the day shortly after I get up around 6 in the morning, they have become plenty ravenous by the time evening arrives.

Using passive-aggressive techniques that can’t have worked very well in the wild, they emerge from their various sleeping positions and slowly gather around as I sit in my easy chair watching TV. There are no overt requests at first, just a kind of assertive loitering designed to remind me they are creatures who require sustenance, and they require it pretty damn soon. Taylor sits erect on the back of the couch next to me, trying to appear as obvious as he can. Tom takes up a position on the floor nearby, ready to jump up and rub against my leg if I head anywhere near the utility room. Harriet, the oldest and boldest of the three, leaps onto my lap to cuddle.

These food-gathering techniques can’t have worked very well 10,000 years ago just before they gave up the wild for domestication. I can’t imagine their original prey grasping the subtleties of the small desert carnivore who patiently requests that they give up their bodies for meat. I’m eventually guilt-tripped into feeding them but I doubt the rats and insects of ancient Egypt had a similar capacity for sympathy.

If I’ve become too engrossed in the Xavier vs. Western Kentucky basketball game playing on ESPN (hey, it could happen) and don’t notice their sudden desire to be close to me, it’s usually Harriet who takes the request to the next level. She moves from my lap up onto my belly and begins a steady round of loud, nasal meowing. If that doesn’t work, she starts rubbing her wet nose against my arm, which she knows I hate. That’s the point where I usually give in and make my way to the big bowl of cat food.

All three leap up in excitement, making a beeline for their pre-assigned dining positions. Tom has to dine separately in the sunroom because he has a tendency to overeat his and everybody else’s food, born of his early desperate life as an outdoor kitty. He heads for that door while I play the role of the maitre d’ escorting him to his alfresco seating. I then serve the other two in the utility room before returning to Tom with his cup of Meow Mix. “Will the gentleman be having cat food this evening?” I’ll joke with him, though cats — especially hungry ones — usually don’t appreciate my wry sense of humor. (I’ve tried to tell them about the success of my humor blog, but they just look at me with a blank stare. They’re not much for the Internet, I guess).

They hunker down for some serious eating, tails straight out behind them as they crunch their way through the dry pellets. This is perhaps the only time during their day they act with such intense purpose, and it only takes five minutes or less for them to wolf down their meal. Freshly energized, it’s then time for a session of what we call “the rips,” where they take turns running up and down the hallway. This soon exhausts them to the point that they’re ready to settle down for another episode of the twenty-hour-a-day sleep schedule they need to remain fresh.

It’s a pretty easy gig for me, and I really do enjoy having them around the house. For a relatively low amount of maintenance, my family and I get to enjoy watching them doze, drawing inspiration from their ability to relax so effortlessly. When I arrive home from work, tired and frustrated from a long day on the job, I can take one look at the lump under my bed covers and know that Taylor lies therein. He’s not worried about mortgage payments or the upcoming tax season; he doesn’t even care if he gets enough air to breathe. His indolence inspires me to take a nap free of guilt.

I doze fitfully for perhaps 45 minutes before I feel a slight commotion at my feet, followed by the lightweight footsteps of Harriet up my back. I try to pretend I’m still unconscious and unable to respond to her, until that becomes virtually impossible when I sense her breath on my cheek, followed by a nudge of my shoulder, followed by that nasal twang that passes for a meow.

It’s getting close to the time, she reminds me, that we begin our routine once again.

Before dinner, it's time for the cats to make themselves known

After dinner, Harriet (top), Tom (left) and Taylor (the undercover lump at right) begin another round of snoozing.

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2 Responses to “The care and feeding of cats”

  1. deyank Says:

    They are definitely a joy, aren’t they? I’ve had quite a few cats; most of them lived to be over 18 or 19. My oldest remained fairly active until she was 24. I just have one now, Cami, who is just a kitten really; it’s I that have grown old I guess.


  2. Paul Dixon Says:

    In the wild, cats pick on anyone smaller than they are. In the home, since they’re smaller than their ‘owners’, more subtle techniques of ever-increasing coercion must be employed.

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