The cat who ate spaghetti, the dog who chased cows

SOME people like cats more than dogs. I don't commit myself either way, because this issue can burn with more prejudice than when a Democrat turns up at a Republican family picnic. There are distinct differences between dogs and cats and consequently differences between dog owners and cat owners. So if one said he didn't like cats, it's almost the same as saying he didn't like people who like cats. However, it doesn't work quite the same in reverse. One can say he doesn't like dogs and nobody cares. I suspect cats know this, which accounts for their somewhat superior attitude.

There was a time in our family's less disciplined days when we had two smallish children, two medium-size cats, and two dogs of varied size. One dog was a terrier and the other an Irish setter. The cats were named Topsy and Saucy, the terrier's name was Skipper, and the setter was Daniel of Killarney.

Looking back on it now, I guess the animals were better trained than the children. Anyway, the children were required to eat their meals off dinner plates at the dining room table, while the animals were forbidden to do so. They weren't even allowed in the dining room during mealtime. In strict obedience to the letter of the law, cats and dogs would line up in the kitchen doorway about a quarter inch from forbidden territory, which meant that anyone attempting to go from kitchen to dining room would have to step over a formidable line of patient animals.

Dinner guests were amazed at such perfect behavior. Once when a guest commented on the well-behaved menagerie, my wife said, ``Oh, Kin [that's what I am called] trained them not to bother us at mealtime.'' Whereupon, filled with modesty, I added, ``They won't come in until I tell them it's OK.'' Of course at the word OK, bedlam was released and cats and dogs bounded into the dining room like the Red Sea falling in on the Egyptians.

There is something I must add to this. While generally the animals were respectfully obedient, about twice a month without warning, Saucy the cat would suddenly streak through the dining room into the living room to hide under the sofa. The next day, however, Saucy would take her place at the kitchen door as if nothing had happened.

Cats are either overestimated or underestimated when it comes to intelligence. Either they are dumb, or they are smart enough to pretend they are dumb. For instance, when the dogs wanted to come into the house they generally went to what was called the river door, which led into the living room. When they barked briefly for admittance I would say, ``Go to the kitchen door.'' They would then promptly circle the house to the kitchen side.

But not the cats! The cats would stand in what appeared to be a sort of mental fog until the world came to an end, or until friend wife would come mop them with a towel.

The dogs and cats were respectful of each other. The cats knew they belonged, and although terrified of other dogs, they sought safety in the genial tolerance of Skipper and Danny. Topsy would even curl up next to the warmth of Danny's soft, red coat and Danny, embarrassed, would reluctantly allow it.

Danny was the same with crawling babies, who in play would often hit him too hard. Topsy and Saucy were not so trustworthy.

The animals were considerate of each other's food dishes and were fairly neat eaters. The exceptions were when the dogs had a bone, they had to take it out to the backyard and not wrestle with it on the kitchen floor.

In the case of Saucy the cat, she had a rather vulgar way of eating spaghetti that held the whole family spellbound. She would suck the long strands into her mouth one at a time so that the very end would slap around before disappearing, leaving the nose and face covered with meat sauce. It was a better performance than Morris ever did with 9 Lives.

Habits varied with the different animals. When Danny was very young he had an impulse to chase cows. Neither the farmers nor the cows saw the fun in this that Danny did, so Danny had to be quickly trained to respect a cow's indolent chewing. If temptation ever seemed about to overpower him, it was enough to say, ``Danny, don't chase the cows.'' Cows weren't bothered by the cats. The closest they ever came to a cow was a saucer of milk.

So, cow-chasing as a sport came to an end. One morning, however, I looked out the window and Danny was chasing a deer at the upper end of the property. No one had the foresight to include deer in the list of unchasable items, so I didn't know what to do. On impulse I went out on the porch and shouted, ``Danny, don't chase the cows.''

Well, Danny stopped, but I never saw a more indignant dog. He knew the difference between a cow and a deer but evidently people didn't. I tried explaining it to Danny, but I had the feeling I had failed an IQ test.

Afternoons, Danny and Skipper would hear the school bus coming far in the distance and would race to the stopping place to greet No. 2 son with joyful leaps and barks. Neither Topsy nor Saucy knew a school bus from a garbage truck, but they would dutifully rub an ankle once the child was in the house.

Whenever I had problems to solve I would go out beside the rushing river just to think. The cats understood meditation but Danny didn't. Anyone standing silently was too much for Danny. He would circle around me, trying to detect the game, then would start barking furiously for me to wake up. Because of this it has always been difficult for anyone in our family to sit silently without someone's barking at him.

Some people prefer cats to dogs. Some prefer dogs to cats. And some people just prefer people. In our case, when people, dogs, cats, and children gathered together of an evening, there were no favorites.

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