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Peterson: Kitty works magic, finds way to train human

Published: Friday, May 10, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

The last time I wrote about cats, a humorless reader objected and used my name in the pejorative sense in her reply.

It was probably 25 years ago, but I learned my lesson: You don’t make light of cat people or cats. Because cats have feelings. Or cats are people, too. Or cats are superior to people. Or something like that. And cat people? I’m afraid to go there.

Maybe smart cats can read. Or they understand when they are read to. And they are mostly humorless. It’s hard telling with cats. They’re pretty good at masking their emotions. As if they could really give a hoot.

I’ve always considered myself a dog person, and right there, that gets you in trouble with cat people because they think dog people are needy – as in they need their dogs to express affection, or at least be happy when you come home. Cats? Well, it’s hard telling. Indifference is big with them.

I really should be considered a hamster person because that’s the first pet I had, and I’ve probably have had more hamsters than any other kind of animal. Hamsters are pretty mild, they have a sense of play, but they aren’t very smart. So you have to be careful with them. But hamsters don’t live a long time, maybe two or three years, and then they die, and that’s always kind of sad. After a certain point, the pain isn’t worth the pleasure. Nor is the cleaning of their cages.

The major pets I’ve had have been dogs, and I like dogs, and dogs like me for the most part. They crave attention. They want to play. They like to go for walks. They like to be petted. They don’t question your motives. They don’t think ill of you. They’re not prone to indifference. After a certain point, they like to sleep. If you treat a dog right, it will be your friend forever.

But I have had cats, too. Two of them, I think. And we got along well enough. But cats have an independent streak that dogs don’t have. Cats don’t need people, unless you feed them and give them water and clean their litter boxes. And, despite their independence, once you feed a cat regularly, it will at least expect that much attention. Fill the dish. But don’t get any closer, please.

I don’t know what it is about petting an animal, but it is soothing to the human and the beast. Animals like to be petted more than people like to be petted, as far as that goes. An animal receiving pets doesn’t expect anything in return. What the human gets out of petting an animal is pretty hard to pin down, but you really should wash your hands afterward.

The last cat I had – this was about 30 years ago – slowly ruined the edges of my album collection. It would stretch itself on the albums, and for the longest time, I didn’t notice anything, until one day it dawned on me that I couldn’t read the labels anymore, and it was because of the cat. I still say dang when I thumb through my albums.

We have a cat staying with us temporarily. It’s a gray-and-black female tabby that has been declawed. Her name is Kitty, and she almost has me wanting another cat. I don’t have to clean the litter box, so that might have something to do with it.

Kitty is pretty independent, but for a cat, she is friendly enough. She meows when she wants to be petted, a lot of times just beyond the reach of your hands, but eventually she will get close enough. She really likes her throat to be rubbed and her ears to be scratched.

Sometimes she meows, I think, for the sake of meowing. We’re not really sure what she wants other than attention, but the attention, we have deduced, must come from a certain person. And if that person isn’t around or is sleeping, well, Kitty can’t be satisfied.

All Kitty has to do is grace you with her presence, meow once, and you’re pretty much a lock to pet her. “She must like me,” you think to yourself proudly. And you don’t want to waste that sentimentality. You stop what you are doing and pet for a few minutes.

Then Kitty will wander off.

Kitty must be a bit older than a kitten because her favorite pastime is sleeping, 18 to 20 hours a day, I would guess. But when Kitty is awake, you want Kitty to come to you to be your friend so you can obtain all the satisfaction that petting allows.

It doesn’t take much to train humans. Kitty knows that.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate, freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at dickpeterson76@gmail.com.

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