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Son of Mehitabel


Harry Buschman

Either you like cats or you don't ... period. There's no two ways about it. Cats are not like dogs, they don't herd sheep, they don't put their ears down and cower if you raise your voice to them, and under no condition will they bring your slippers to you after a hard day at the office.

They're cute when they're kittens, but then, all warm blooded animals are cute when they're young -- I'm willing to wager Saddam Hussein was cute as a toddler. But when kittens grow to be cats they become aware of their unusual power, and that's when you either like them or not. Furthermore, they don't give a damn whether you like them or not. They'll walk out on you if they can find better accommodations elsewhere. If you have a dog, particularly a large clumsy dog with uncouth habits, they may well decide to pack up and leave unless, of course, you have a canary or a bowl of goldfish.

Some people will tell you that cats are smart -- I say hogwash! Any animal that decides to live with people should know instinctively that people demand love and affection ... yes, and obedience from their pets, too. These are things a dog gives his master in abundance, regardless of how little his master may deserve them.

Our brown and white cat, Felix, spent long hours atop our canary's cage reaching in vain for Pinky. We grew accustomed to it and rarely bothered to swat him off unless we had company. Pinky grew accustomed to it as well, and in time paid no attention to Felix. He thought all canaries lived with a cat hovering above them, he would sit at the bottom of his cage and sing the old canary songs he taught himself as a nestling, oblivious to Felix's outstretched claws. Felix was no more successful with our bowl of goldfish. I suspect that canary cages and goldfish bowls are designed in such a way as to protect their inhabitants from household cats. If such is the case, it may go a long way toward explaining why cats view their human hosts with a suspicious eye. Think how you'd feel if your supper was always out of reach behind bars or deep in a bowl of murky fish water.

They say if a cat is spayed it will grow gentle and home loving. Not so with our Felix! He was infuriated, and because it was I who brought him to the vet, he nursed a life-long antipathy towards me that occasionally spilled over into blind cat-spitting rage. When he was in such a mood he would plant himself on our widest window sill and stare glumly at the squirrel tracks in the snow outside. At such times Pinky and the goldfish were free to explore their habitats to the full.

Women seem to get along with cats better than men do. Men prefer dogs because they feel superior to them, and it is very difficult for a man to feel superior to a cat, (or a woman for that matter). Women, while feeling superior to dogs, have their husbands and children to feel superior to as well, and are more ready to accept cats as equals. A cat will watch a man and his small sons rough-house on the front lawn with mild contempt while sitting next to the mistress of the house as she peels potatoes for supper. A dog will join in and make a fool of himself in front of the neighbors.

It is my firm belief that since the dawn of time dogs went out to hunt with the men and the boys. They've never forgotten that, and in the back of their minds while they're chasing the ball or fetching the stick, they still feel useful, just as men and boys do when they're shooting baskets. In the world of today however, mother is the huntress, she tracks her prey through the jungle of the supermarket, she bags her buys-of-the-week, clips her coupons and runs her charge card through the computer, while the man and his dog are at home playing catch or washing the car, unaware that the real business of life is going on without them.

My dog Patsy and I would investigate the bags upon my wife's return. Our interest would wane after we'd sniffed the meat and checked out the cookies. Felix, however, left no package unexamined, the soap, the paper towels, and the bird seed all got a thorough going over. At such times I have watched my wife and our cat together, and it was plain to see they were cut from the same warp and woof.

Felix was conservative and fastidious to the core. His eating habits were without reproach. He washed after every meal and had his own sanitary facilities in private behind the furnace. In this regard he considered himself far superior to Patsy who had to go outside and pee in the snow. Patsy would occasionally be filled with an uncontrollable excess of affection for everybody and everything, at such times his tongue would work overtime and he would lick anything in sight, but he was always careful to give Felix a wide berth. Felix would have none of that nonsense.

His favorite dish was freshly roasted breast of chicken; fresh salmon and tuna were also acceptable, but under no condition would he condescend to eat food from a can. Patsy would not dare trespass on his private dining area in the kitchen and if we fed them both at the same time, Felix would wait until Patsy had finished slurping and slobbering through his meal before entering the kitchen. Patsy's table manners were appalling, he would keep one foot solidly planted in his bowl to keep it from slipping on the tile floor.

Dogs and husbands are similar. They will eat anything, and on the whole they are obedient and faithful. They provide an insignificant, and to a large extent unnecessary measure of protection from whatever imaginary dangers threaten the family unit. They offer this service without asking or knowing why. Wives and cats have learned to live with the offer; although I am told, if a suitable alternative presents itself they are apt to give it careful consideration.

Felix outlived Patsy, the goldfish and the canary, and he showed no visible sign of remorse at their passing. There were times we thought he would outlive all of us. From the lack of activity and competition for affection he became nearly as wide as he was long. One winter morning with squirrel tracks clearly visible in the freshly fallen snow outside and a chicken in the oven he followed Patsy, Pinky and the goldfish without so much as a "by your leave." It was plain to see he did not die, he simply decided to go away and leave his body behind. He left it in mint condition and perfectly preserved. Fur slicked down, claws fully retracted and whiskers crisp and even.

©Harry Buschman 1997

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