vol. 3 #14,
THE MOUSE POLICE
Carl Sandburg says the fog comes in on little cat feet.
Scamper, scamper, plop. thud, crash, tinkle?
Well, perhaps he doesn't know the same cats I do, but in my experience, scamper, scamper, thud, crash, tinkle is the standard transit mode for cats. Yes, of course it's true they can be slinky and quiet, sneaking up on their prey, be it a mouse or your big toe. But the fact is, once they get there, they're noisy, jumpy, jerky, whirling. And sometimes their aim is not all that good. Oh, they'll hit their target when they jump onto your table or desk--it's just that they're likely to slide and keep on going, and those things that were on the table, well, they're not anymore. I decorate my house with cats, real and ornamental, but not with little fragile sculptured cats--they would turn into break-a-brac at the paws of real cats.
I had some elderly cats who went to their reward this past year, and they were a little closer to Carl Sandburg's notion of cats, but not all that often. The Patchwork Girl at least tried for feline dignity. She didn't manage it all the time, though. She liked to stretch out in the sun, and was very fond of one particular narrow windowsill. The only problem was that, as she slept, her center of gravity shifted, her body overbalanced, and she would go fwoomp onto the floor. At which point she would draw herself up in her haughtiest pose, reach down delicately and lick herself, then stare me in the face as if to say "you didn't really see that." Elegance and dignity restored, she would then resume her place on the windowsill, doze, shift, go fwoomp, lick herself, and start all over again.
Kissa, on the other hand, was a bumbler. After an illness left her close to death from self-starvation, her body apparently decided to fortify itself to be ready the next time she tried anything of the sort, so she bore an astonishing resemblance to a gray and white furry basketball on legs. Wherever she leapt, piles of books and mail cascaded onto the floor. That is, on those occasions when she made it to the top. Sometimes she didn't, quite, and scrabbled desperately with her front paws to try to hang on, the only problem being that she didn't have any claws. THUNK.
(On the other hand, I once had a kitten who liked to jump onto people when they were standing at the wall phone, carrying on a conversation. When she aimed for the shoulder and didn't make it, she'd hang on, all the way down. Amazing how many conversations on our phone went, "Yes, right, I can do tha..YAAAAHHHHH!" When people say declawing is cruel, ask them to whom?)
And now I have kittens again, litter mates, accustomed from birth to draping themselves all over and around each other, grooming each other, biting each other, chasing each other's tails. They got names out of Douglas Adams: Offleyhoo, meaning ridiculously overenthusiastic, and Spreakley, meaning unbearably cheerful in the mornings. So far they have lived up to their names. Offleyhoo does not walk, run, or even scamper--she bounds. She has a move Michael Jordan would envy, jumping a good three feet straight up and spinning around while airborne. Spreakley, who feels that I need a professional to wash my face, does this for me every morning at about 2 a.m., purring the while.
When I got them they were skinny and gawky, and weighed one pound each. I could easily pick both of them up in one hand. Now they each weigh five pounds. They're still skinny and gawky, but a lot longer. Suffice it to say that they love the food life at my house, both licit and il. My rule is, "it's not yours til it's on the floor." Their rule is "She might not notice." They have found nothing in my house they do not consider to be edible, including my nose, which already looks quite silly enough without scar tissue, thank you. This is why I have toyed with the notion of renaming them Stopit and Downgirl.
Their mother clearly did teach them the basics of hunting, and anything that moves excites their curiosity. My windows (aka TV for cats) offer a continuing real life National Geographic spectacle of bunnies and squirrels and birds and neighborhood cats, and the kittens sit in the windows and quiver, emitting little whimpering "let me at 'em" noises. No wonder that I occasionally find one of them fastened to a screen (they have not quite mastered the art of retracting their claws). And then there is always toilet paper--in case you've ever wondered, one roll stretches out about a hundred feet, or the complete length of my house and back several times over. Oh, yes, and curtains--they like to play Tarzan, too, swinging from curtain to curtain.
Jethro Tull assures us, "the mouse police never sleep," just cat-nap a bit lest they miss out on interesting skittering things that need to be investigated. And they do patrol the house at odd hours while their humans sleep. But fortunately, they also like warmth. (In fact, you can easily figure out where the warmest places in your house are by watching where your cats prefer to curl up.) The scientists who study animal behavior are not convinced that cats love their pet humans. But there's no question that they love body heat. So when I wake up in the middle of the night I generally find I have a full bed, and a purring one at that.
My mouse police aren't into stealth and mystery. They're noisy, they're destructive, and about as unfoglike as you can imagine. And utterly engaging and lovable and delighted to see me come home. I'll take crashes in the dead of night and stereophonic purring over silence and nobody whose life becomes better because I've walked into the house. It's not a bad bargain, even if Carl Sandburg wouldn't understand it.
NOTE: My thinking is always a work in progress. You could mentally insert all my columns in between these two sentences: "This is something I've been thinking about," and "Does this make any sense to you?" I welcome your thoughts. Please send your comments about these columns to: marylaine at netexpress.net. Since I've written a lot of these, some of them many years ago, help me out by telling me which column you're referring to.
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