Column - Young cat teaches old dog new tricksOne of my cats is trying to train me, and she’s having some success. Tiny, age 2, has loved to play “fetch the mouse” since she was a kitten. It was a delightful daily game between me, the fetcher, and her, the fetchee.
By: By Dennis Dalman, Echo Press Columnist, Alexandria Echo Press
One of my cats is trying to train me, and she’s having some success.
Tiny, age 2, has loved to play “fetch the mouse” since she was a kitten. It was a delightful daily game between me, the fetcher, and her, the fetchee. Lately, I have become the fetchee.
Let me start at the beginning. About two years ago, I found a red pipe cleaner on the living-room floor. Where it came from I had no idea. In the coming weeks, I kept finding more and more red pipe cleaners here and there, like those multiplying fuzzy “Tribbles” on an old episode of Star Trek.
I was utterly mystified, knowing I’d never bought red pipe cleaners in my life.
One day, while cleaning my office, I noticed that a large vase, given to me by an artist friend, had been tipped over. While uprighting it, I noticed something red inside. It was a single red pipe cleaner. Ah-hah, mystery solved. The artist had been using pipe cleaners, apparently, for some kind of art project. The snoopy kitten had discovered them.
One afternoon, Tiny brought me one of the pipe cleaners, one that she must have hidden somewhere after I’d thrown the rest away. She dropped it by my feet as I sat at the kitchen table. She whined. I threw it; she brought it back. I crinkled it up so I could throw it farther. She brought it back again and again. Little did I know a ritual had begun, a ritual called “fetch the mouse.”
I’ve since had to buy packets of red pipe cleaners. The older ones get lost or frazzled, and Tiny (wouldn’t you know?) likes new ones best.
At least once a day, we play that game. I’ll be sitting at the kitchen table, reading newspapers or magazines, when I hear a pathetic mournful meow. Looking down, I see two big green-gold eyes staring at me intently. If I ignore Tiny and continue reading, I will suddenly feel gentle but insistent paw strokes on my legs. There, by my feet, is a crumpled pipe-cleaner mouse. As I pick it up, Tiny stations herself mid-kitchen, her body crouched to spring, her eyes wide like those of a midnight predator. I throw the mouse; she leaps to catch it; then dashes into the living room to retrieve it. She picks it up in her mouth, pauses, quickly looks one way, then another (to protect her treasure), and then she prances proudly, head held high, back to me and drops it again at my feet. This can go on for 10 minutes or more.
It is so comical I can never resist. As she prances across the kitchen, Tiny looks like Marilyn Monroe, reincarnated into a cat, with the crumpled pipe cleaner clamped in her mouth resembling big red movie-star lips.
In recent months, however, tables have turned. Instead of bringing the mouse back to me after I throw it, she bats it around in the living room for awhile, then she slinks like a hungry lion cub, mouse-less, back to my table where she whimpers and whines.
“Go find the mouse,” I say, pointing. “You know where it is.”
Finally, I give in.
“OK, let’s go find the mouse,” I say, as she follows me.
Returning to my chair, I sit down and toss the mouse. Tiny leaps and the chase is on. She never drops it at my feet anymore, except for after the first toss. I have to go find it.
It took me awhile to figure out I am now the one who is fetching, not Tiny. She probably thinks I need some exercise. Smart cat! Her mother, Sheba, older and wiser, leaves me alone. She knows you can’t teach this old dog any new tricks.
The fetch-the-mouse switcheroo is only one example of Tiny trying to train me. She climbs the Christmas tree and basks on a high limb near the star, knowing I won’t chase her down as I did last year. She sneaks under my feet into the food pantry (the off-limits room) and stays there with defiant looks until I pick her up. Demanding attention, she sits like a stubborn anchor on my reporter’s notes while I’m trying to write a story. (In fact, as I write this, she is sitting next to my keyboard, nuzzling my left hand, like a combination of inspirational muse and whiskery nuisance.)
Cats are a lot smarter than you think. A lot smarter.
Old Sheba has given up on me; she knows better. Not young Tiny. She still has hopes that I can be motivated and improved – trained to her satisfaction.
Dennis Dalman, a former reporter for the Echo Press, is a regular contributing columnist to the Opinion page. He is currently the editor of the St. Joseph Newsleader. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.