The boss cat

Friday, January 21, 2011

On an a cold, wet, gray morning this week, Miss Kitty is curled into a tight ball -- about the size of a basketball -- in her wicker chair in the family room, the wicker chair with the soft cushion and a towel neatly arranged to collect whatever Miss Kitty sees fit to remove from her fur during the course of a day.

The wicker chair is human-sanctioned cat territory. When Miss Kitty first arrived more than five years ago, she was strictly an outdoor cat with food, water and a heated bed in the garage. She also was extremely affectionate and very skittish. The slightest noise -- even a leaf rustling on the patio bricks -- would cause her to hunch into attack mode, often anchoring herself by sinking needle-sharp claws into your thigh. We teased her about the Leaf Monsters that kept Miss Kitty on the alert.

Then came the day Miss Kitty was invited indoors. Just for a short visit, mind you, out of the raw cold of that first winter. She was, and still is, aware of the boundaries inside the house. She knows there is a No Cats Beyond This Point line where the tile of the kitchen floor meets the carpeted hallway. She knows the wicker chair is her chair. She knows she is welcome in my lap, if I'm sitting in my La-Z-Boy. And if I'm there, so is she. She knows that she can visit either of the tall kitchen stools if no humans are sitting in them.

And she knows darn well that the oval oak table from the kitchen in the house where my wife grew up, now used as a desk in the room we have designated our office, is way, way, way off limits. But these days it's a pretty sure bet that if Miss Kitty isn't in the wicker chair or my lap or on the kitchen stool, she will be found on the office desk keeping track out the window of the birds and squirrels and rabbits in that portion of the neighborhood she can see.

As time goes by, we have become more lax and Miss Kitty has become more bold. The cat is quicker to realize our laxity than we are to catch on to her pushing the envelope of acceptable cat wandering.

This winter has presented a series of territorial victories for Miss Kitty, who is forever stretching the limits when the least opportunity arises. As a result, she is spending much of the day and evening inside, becoming an "outdoor" cat for a few hours while we are asleep.

Miss Kitty does not always want to go outside when we want her to. If we leave the house during the day, we put her outside. She doesn't actively resist, but she indirectly makes known her feelings. She does this by going to the nearest exposed dirt at the edge of the patio and rolling in it, filling her fur with dust and dirt and twigs and leaves. All the while, she watches over her shoulder to make sure we see what's going on.

It is easy to fall into the anthropomorphic pit of attributing human characteristics to furry animals, but I'll swear Miss Kitty, like many a 3-year-old, has learned which of our buttons to push.

And she has learned that the parents of two grown sons and the grandparents of none are soft touches when it comes to the cute category.

I predict Miss Kitty will be spending the night indoors, especially as late January and all of February bear down on us in full force.

And if you go looking for her, look first on the office desk. She will probably be there, being cute. After all, cute, cuddly pets rarely suffer much for their pushy behavior. We humans are so easy to figure out.

Joe Sullivan is the former editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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