The Intelligence of cats

RUSTY SIMPSON

August 04, 1993|By RUSTY SIMPSON

I'm a dog man. Yet somehow my significant other, Jenny, and I wound up with two useless cats. It's one of those flukes of nature that occur in cities. Cities are too cramped and crowded for proper dogs.

A proper dog is larger than a cat when it enters the world and can swallow a cat in one chomp when it leaves. Unless you're a single female or a K-9 cop, dogs in cities are an inappropriate luxury. Dogs need space, which in cities is a luxury of its own. So a friend pawned some nice-looking cats on us. Some ''friend.''

Dogs look stupid but act smart. Cats are the opposite. When you look at a cat while it appears busy, the cat's facial expression suggests it is possibly contemplating the theory of general relativity or playing chess. Then an airborne insect flies by and all hell breaks loose. For a time, an ordinary housefly will fulfill a cat's rug-worn life, supplanting the food fixation.

We have a simple test: Put a bag on the floor and watch it. The bag almost always outsmarts the cat. I'm sure many cat owners will protest, but first put a bag on the floor.

Cats rely on humans in three ways: feet, for odor so they can find their owner-feeder when they're hungry; hands, for an occasional rubbing, but more importantly to open boxes and cans containing food; and breath, so the beast can determine if said owner-feeder is functional.

Most cats are also critics. For example, if our cats don't like their twice-daily offering of food they cover their platter with a plastic bag. I don't know where they get the bags, but that's what they do. They also scratch the floor next to the bowl as if they're in their litterbox, as if to say ''this is crap!''

Sometimes Kasha, our male, just sits and mews to himself. You get the impression he's disconsolate over an episode of ''Fish of Our Lives'' on the Cat Cable Network. The network carries the Fish Channel, the Bird Channel, the Bug Channel and, of course, the Food Channel, which you have to pay extra for.

You could never underestimate the intelligence of the American public or a cat. Marlow, our ''little girl'' cat, firmly believes that reaching the top of our eight-foot bookcase is equivalent to a high school diploma. Kasha's sole ambition, besides sleep, is to eat a human head.

Water is a cat's best friend and worst enemy. They really don't like it, but they are eager students of the stuff. Mostly cats don't want water on themselves, they just want to know where it goes. Well, it goes home to avoid cats.

We had a team of nine goldfish named Tim McCarver, after the almost-famous broadcaster and former catcher. Marlow drinks from Tim McCarver's tank constantly to the point of making them think her lapping tongue belongs in there. We're down to seven Tim McCarver at last count.

Rusty Simpson is a Baltimore poet.

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