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The utility of cats

When the earthquake hit, I was sitting at my desk contemplating a timeline of American Puritanism. If there is an optimum time for the earth to move, this is not it.

My first thought had something to do with Cotton Mather, but then good sense and our entire IT department intervened, and we all went outside to see which piece of heavy equipment had broken loose and hit the building.

Alternatively, we wondered if perhaps the library had exploded, as they so often do. 

An earthquake was not high on our list of possibilities, and this is not exactly a column about that. It’s really about the utility of cats. 

The late Diana Vreeland, the undisputed doyenne of over-simplifiers, always divided the world into two groups. I think in one case she might have been right; there are dog people, and there are cat people.

I am unabashedly a dog person. If I want to be ignored by animals, I’ll have children. Before I get a lot of hate mail from cat people, however, let me say that I once had a cat that I loved dearly. She was a lot like a dog. 

We tried to raise our children to follow in our footsteps and be good dog people, but something happened to one of them, and now she has cats, two of them.

They drop onto the heads of unsuspecting guests. They regard their food dish as a kind of miracle vessel that automatically refills itself.

They have been known to crash headlong into a plate glass window in pursuit of a bird outside, and they will wack out on catnip and race through the house pursuing imaginary prey.

The rest of the time, they sleep, sometimes in the bathroom sink, which makes it a little difficult to brush. Clearly, they would only be interested in you if you were a salmon steak covered in catnip salad. 

When the daughter was in the process of moving recently, her cats locked themselves in the bathroom, as cats often will, in a fit of pique.

Since they cannot grasp knob technology, they did this by the simple expedient of pulling open a vanity drawer and blocking the door with it. It goes without saying that the hinges are on the inside of this particular door.

Four adults spent the best part of two hours getting the door open, because the cats kept swatting the implements the humans were using to push the drawer back.

The cats also sat IN the drawer while this was going on, doubtless wondering where the catnip was and whether someone would be along soon with snacks.

Rescuing the cats finally involved violence, such that the drawer was jarred loose from the vanity, and the cats peed on the bathmat in panic.

From a strictly utilitarian point of view, I’ve often felt that the average cat owner could get the same satisfaction from a Yugo and a sharp stick. This changed on Tuesday, however, when I had a revelation about the utility of cats. 

My daughter told us that, pre-earthquake, the cats had been sleeping on the couch, an activity that occupies fully 92 percent of their days.

When the ground started to shake, they leapt up and sped off, wobbling and spinning on the quaking floor. They dashed under the bed, where they stayed until the shaking stopped.

In fact, they stayed put until a can of tuna magically appeared nearby. It was described to us as, “total cat freak-out”

It was at this point that I realized the utility of cats. They’re like ancient Chinese dragon jars – earthquake indicators!

Cat owners do not ever have to worry that we’ll have an earthquake and they won’t know it. If the cats are under the bed, there’s been an earthquake. If they’re locked in the bathroom, it’s just another day.

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