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Penkava: Why cats do not need nine lives

Published: Friday, March 7, 2014 11:46 p.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, March 8, 2014 12:02 a.m. CDT

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I admit that at times I get jealous. I’d love to be Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks for just one game. It sure would be cool to be James Taylor for just one concert. And I could only imagine what it would have been like to be Mark Twain for just one novel.

I suppose those thoughts are more fantasies than jealousies, but when I contemplate the self-indulgent lifestyle of our 16-year-old cat, Mowgli, I cannot help but envy the furry contentedness that characterizes his life. Somehow this mammalian freeloader has parlayed his feline charm into a 24/7 bed and breakfast existence, with my wife and I cast as his gullibly willing domestics. It’s like “Downton Abbey” with fur.

Mowgli became part of our family when he was a kitten. Back then he was an intrepid explorer with a voracious curiosity. How entertaining it was to watch him attack a dangling string or chase a laser pen light. But now, as I look back, those snippets of energy were short-lived. It was merely part of Mowgli’s master plan: Capturing our hearts first with the higher purpose of ruling over them later.

I cannot pinpoint the exact moment when Mowgli transformed himself from pet to potentate, but that doesn’t matter because as long as he has lived in this house we are the ones who have been paying the mortgage. We keep his water bowl filled with fresh water and his dish bowl overflowing with diet-sensitive nibblets. Our bed has become his giant divan and he has priority seating on every piece of furniture.

And, speaking of sleeping, he somehow manages at least fifteen hours of catnaps a day. Scientists tell us that cats are hardwired to give chase and hunt at night. Mowgli, however, has seemed to be hardwired for sleep, period. The only hunting he does at night is finding the spot on our bed that will make us the most uncomfortable.

Sure, we enjoy his cute meowings and purrings. But even those seemingly innocent behaviors have evil intentions. Cats can learn to adjust the pitches and tones of their meows to manipulate people into doing what they want us to do. One study showed that their vocalizations can actually mimic the frequencies of the cries of a human baby so as to get our attention. We humans then quickly react to their subliminal tactics like first responders to a fire alarm.

And what about when they come up to us and rub their head and body on our legs, giving us that precious little kitty hug? Well, guess what? That so-called display of affection is simply a cover-up for its way of putting its own scent on you. In cat language, that means, “Oh, by the way, I own you, pitiful human creature.”

And don’t think your cat is so concerned about personal grooming when you see them licking their fur after you hold and pet them. That’s just their way of removing your scent from their bodies. In other words, I’m sorry to tell you, but to them you kinda stink.

Now, I’m not saying that we should not love our cats. Mowgli is a cherished member of our family. But let’s face it: while dogs have owners, cats have staff. The ancients treated cats as gods, and Mowgli and his species have a good memory.

So, Mowgli, don’t talk to me about your nine lives. You don’t need them. Your current royal life is more than adequate. After all, you’re the one who always lands on his feet anyway.

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. He computed that of his sixteen years, Mowgli has been asleep for almost eleven of them. Geesh. He can be reached at mikepenkava@comcast.net.

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