Our cat Zippy, while often a pain in the you know what, is a good cat. It doesn’t take much to be a good cat because, as near as I can tell, the bar is set fairly low for felines. Even ardent cat lovers would have to agree, dogs are usually held to a higher standard.
Dogs must demonstrate specific skills before earning the title of a good watch, hunting, and shepherd dog. Some dogs are efficient assassins when it comes to catching rats, some are world-class frisbee-fetchers, some are trackers with keen noses, some can pull loads for miles and others can be trained to do multiple tasks to aid those without sight or mobility.
Dogs can even be bred just to be nothing more than “good dogs,” becoming therapy dogs and lap dogs that will dutifully follow their owners in faithful companionship. Yes, dogs are versatile in every sense of the word, but our expectations in their performance are high. You’ve heard it before, “Yup, ol’ Dodger here lets us know when somebody’s at the front door but after that, he’s inclined to hand over the keys to the house to any crook who’ll pat him on the head. He ain’t much of a watch dog.”
I ask, is it fair to expect a dog to discern someone with criminal intent from your brother-in-law, thereby tearing one to shreds while politely encouraging the other to just go away? Indeed, in some cases, performance is so important that dogs are forced to retire from duty due to advanced age. Such is the case for police dogs as well as other service canines.
Cats, on the other hand, are another story. Our Zippy, to qualify as a good cat, and I said she is, faithfully uses the litter box. She can be left alone for several days without too much consequence and she doesn’t bite in anger. That’s all a good cat at our house has to do. I could go on for a while on how she attacks furniture (she prefers sofas and reclining chairs in tight knit fabrics but is not above ripping into canvas), how she whines every morning to be fed or how she yaks up an occasional hairball.
She growls at the grand kids but doesn’t harm them. Rarely does she leave the house and when she does it’s for just a few minutes at a time. Sometimes I think of how nice it would be if she’d take off for a few weeks now and then, so we could catch up on cleaning cat fur from her favorite sitting spots. And while some of these traits are grating, she is a good cat because she likes us. We don’t expect much else.
Maybe the best cat I ever knew belonged to my Aunt Lily and Uncle Bill who lived in Orr. We’d go to their place for the holidays, and many points in between, and the highlight of the visits for me, besides Lilly’s cooking and watching trains go by, was their cat, Peter. Peter was cherished by my aunt and uncle who didn’t have children of their own, making him not only their surrogate child, but also my only cousin on my mother’s side of the family.
He was an enormous orange tabby, a man about town, that always looked as if he had just run through a hundred yards of razor-wire fencing. Pieces of both ears were missing; fresh battle scars adorned his nose and missing tuffs of fur peppered his hide. If cats have nine lives, Peter looked to have been on seven or eight most of the time. As we’d visit in their comfy living room, Uncle Bill would be holding Peter and he’d say in his soft, slow delivery, “Our Peter was out visiting with the neighbors again, but they must have had a serious disagreement” and he’d laugh as he sat back on his chair with Peter in his arms.
Eventually he’d ask the question my sister and I eagerly anticipated, “Would you like to hear Peter speak?” Then Uncle Bill would face Peter and say, “Speak Peter. Come on now, speak.” Usually Peter would reply with an anemic “meow.” Then with a firmer tone, Uncle Bill would press his face closer and say. “Oh, but you can do better than that Peter, now speak.” And low and behold, every time Peter would faithfully answer with a fang-bearing “HISSS” which was rewarded with a loving embrace as my uncle chuckled with joy as if every time was the first. It was a moment that brought down the house, as they say.
Peter is the only cat I knew to have a skill beyond catching mice. I have no dreams of Zippy coming up with a skill that will surprise us anymore, but then who knows? She’ll do whatever it is she wants to do, so nothing is off the table, so to speak. That reminds me of yet another bad habit Zippy has, but I won’t go there.
Leo Wilenius lives in rural Cook, MN, with his wife Lindy. He is retired from Lake Country Power in Mt. Iron.