Smart kitty

Friday, February 25, 2011

Here's something we can all agree on:My children/grandchildren/pets are cuter/smarter/better than yours.

Which leads me to Miss Kitty's latest accomplishment, proving the point I just made above.

You already know that Miss Kitty, the calico cat of enormous proportions who generously allows my wife and me to live with her -- and feed her, and pet her, and pamper her, and take her to the vet when needed, and bathe her, and provide laps for sleeping, and make sure the heating pad under her sheepskin sleeping mat is on during cold weather -- is an above-average animal.

Miss Kitty is, quite simply, the smartest cat in the world.

Look, any animal that can lead the life of luxury she enjoys without being in the Mafia or using blackmail has to have something on the ball.

Speaking of which, Miss Kitty does not play with toy balls or with any toys we know of, except the clod of dirt she keeps outside to chase around on the patio bricks. Occasionally Miss Kitty will play with a live mouse she has captured in the ivy tangle under the lace-cap hydrangeas near the privacy fence in the backyard. But while Miss Kitty is an excellent hunter, pouncing on rodents does require a certain amount of physical exertion, and Miss Kitty avoids anything smacking of exercise.

This winter Miss Kitty has adopted another "toy" in the kitchen. Our house is about 50 years old, and it has metal grates for the heating/air conditioning vents. In the middle of each vent is a small chain, like the ones used for key chains, that can be pulled to open and shut the vent. The chain dangles in front of the vent. One such vent is under the breakfast-bar counter under the window that gives us a view of our backyard flower beds and the bird feeders.

From time to time, Miss Kitty has batted the chain with her paw and has tried to pull the chain using her teeth. We've always thought she liked the clicking/clanging noise she made.

This winter, though, it finally dawned on us: Miss Kitty has a purpose for playing with the vent chain.

We came to this discovery during the coldest weather of the winter. Miss Kitty likes to jump (with an audible grunt) onto one of the stools at the breakfast bar. The stools are right in front of the vent, and the counter helps trap the blowing hot air. It is a perfect cat environment, particularly when it's below freezing outside.

One day we were watching Miss Kitty play with the vent chain and trying to figure out why she would play with that but not any other toys except the aforementioned clod of dirt.

My wife figured it out. Miss Kitty would play with the chain when the furnace blower was off. As soon as the blower came on and hot air swept up under the breakfast bar, she would jump onto a stool, curl up and go to sleep.

Quite simply, Miss Kitty was -- at least in her mind -- turning the furnace on and off. And because the furnace was cycling on and off to maintain the heat level set on the hall thermostat, she was being rewarded frequently for her efforts.

Then we had the warm spell last week. The furnace hardly came on. Monday morning Miss Kitty was twisting on the floor and grabbing the vent chain with her paws. Nothing. She pulled on the chain with her teeth. Nothing. She butted the chain with her head. Nothing.

At last, Miss Kitty saw that we were watching. She stood up and slowly walked to her cushion in the wicker chair in the family room. There was no way she was going to let on that her powers of furnace control had, for some reason unknown to her, evaporated.

We're just thankful Miss Kitty hasn't figured out how to open the refrigerator door. Yet. We're keeping our eyes open.

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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