The Ins - And Outs - Of Cats


November 21, 1991|By ALICE STEINBACH

A FEW DAYS AGO, to my great surprise and dismay, I discovered that a highly marketable idea of mine had been stolen right out from under my nose. Pilfered, as it were, by a group of big-business types at a British firm called Reilor Ltd.

There it was, in the Sunday business section of the New York Times under the headline, "The Latchkey Cats." A cheap knockoff of my almost-patented idea for a cat door that can be opened only by a key-carrying cat.

Not since my idea to manufacture tiny leisure suits for off-duty lab rats was snatched away from me by Wee Rodents Clothiers, Inc., have I felt so ripped off.

Sure, there are a couple of minor differences between the corporate latchkey-cat plan and mine. For instance, their plan calls for the cat to wear a collar "key" which opens a small electronic door through the transmission of high-frequency radio signals.

Mine, on the other hand, is based on the human model. It requires that a cat be taught to insert a regular key into a regular lock and then turn a regular doorknob.

And their plan -- quite foolishly, in my opinion -- is based on the assumption that you can teach your cat to push against the electronic door at the sound of a loud click. The New York Times then tries to rush past this sticky little detail by optimistically declaring: "A short lesson should suffice to train your cat."

Yes, and I am the Queen of Romania -- as Dorothy Parker once remarked in the face of a similarly absurd supposition.

The fact is: Anyone who knows anything about cats knows that you cannot teach a cat to do anything it does not want to do.

To be perfectly blunt about it: Cats are to people what hammers are to nails. We, the people, exist for the sole purpose of being used for whatever purpose they, the cats, decide is in their best interest.

Unlike dogs -- who live to roll over, catch Frisbees and leap for joy when you enter the house -- cats simply are not interested in such sycophantic activities.

When, for instance, was the last time you saw a cat on the "David Letterman Show" doing Stupid Pet (read: Pet Owner) Tricks?

And when was the last time you saw a cat wearing a bandanna and marching in a charity parade? Noblesse oblige is simply not their thing.

Although, come to think of it, I do recall hearing of a group of Beverly Hills cats who are organizing a Plastic Surgery benefit, the proceeds of which will go to Siamese cats who desire more occidental features.

But generally speaking, cats have only one interest: self-interest.

You can see it in their faces whenever you approach them. Their eyes say: If I do what she wants, what's in it for me?

Of course, the seasoned cat owner knows this. And knows how to trick a cat into, or out of, certain behaviors.

Take, for example, the real life case of a cat I know, name of Max. Max is a cat who likes to run into the garage every time the electronic door rolls up. He is also a cat who likes to position himself right under the 300-pound door as it comes rolling down.

This is not good. But alerting Max to the dangers of such behavior was not easy. In a situation such as this, one is confronted with the task of how to go about teaching a cat the basic metaphysical concepts of Life and Death? Cats, after all, do not know they are alive. Or that they are going to die.

Step One in my plan consisted of placing a small audio tape of "Death as I See It: A Roundup of the Views of Nietzsche and Kierkegaard" under Max's pillow while he slept. When this did not produce the subliminal effect I hoped for, I went to Step Two: The "Crush the Stuffed Toy Cat Under the Garage Door" lesson.

Step Two: With Max sitting right in the line of the closing garage door, I placed Fou-Fou, the stuffed cat, next to him. Then, in the nick of time, I snatched Max away, allowing him to see Fou-Fou as he went bye-bye. Fifty dollars worth of stuffed cats later, I gave up on Step Two and moved on to Step Three.

Step Three: I turned off the electricity and now crank the garage door up and down by hand. It worked. Max no longer is interested in the door.

Which brings me back to doors and those Latchkey Cats. It occurs to me that neither plan -- not mine nor the other one -- will work. Why? Because your cat is not interested in opening the door for himself.

That task, in his opinion, is just one of the duties to be performed by the tall, two-legged, strange-looking cat he allows to live alongside him.

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