My cats are both about 13 years old, which means that they’re getting on in years and should be slowing down. But from what I can tell, they’re just as energetic as ever, with the exception of when they were kittens. For instance, my cat Paul is so spry and lively that she could be mistaken for a much younger cat. I’ve begun to fear that she will never die.
After all these years, I sometimes delude myself into thinking that I’ve got my cats figured out. But that is not the case. Paul has recently developed a new annoying habit of bolting outside whenever the front door opens, and sitting in the window meowing to go out after I capture her and close all the doors. (I usually leave the door to my apartment open so that my cats can run around the hallway.) What mystifies me is the sudden fascination with the outdoors. Since I rescued her from an alley in Birmingham, Ala., this cat has spent very little time outside. Now she decides to protest her imprisonment?
Every time my landlord enters the building, Paul launches herself out of the apartment and into the hallway like a comet, and races outside before my landlord can get the front door closed. After my landlord retrieved my cat for the fourth or fifth time, I started to feel a bit embarrassed. “I have no idea why she’s acting this way,” I said. Back inside, Paul’s obsession continued unabated. She climbed onto the windowsill and began meowing, stopping every once in a while to stare at the large tree on the sidewalk. After a while, the noise stopped, and I glanced over at the windowsill. She was gone.
She hadn’t gone far: She was pacing around in front of the tree. Somehow, she had managed to squeeze under the open window, climb over the half screen resting on the windowsill, and leap to freedom. I closed the windows, went outside and retrieved her. Once inside, she immediately ran to the windowsill, looking alarmed when she realized I had closed off her new escape route.
For about 30 minutes, she prowled around the windowsill, meowing and occasionally standing on her hind legs and stretching out her front paws, as if feeling around for a new opening. It was like watching a feline Houdini. I got sick of the meowing and carrying on, and locked her in the bedroom, hoping that a change of scenery would bring her obsession with the outdoors to an end. Also, I wanted to teach her that actions have consequences — that if she kept trying to break out, she would be exiled to the bedroom. “Actions have consequences,” I told Paul. But she just stared at me, looking angry. And determined.
This battle of wills reinforced something I learned long ago: My cats are smart. But I’ve come to realize that there’s no advantage to having smart cats. I can see the advantage to having, say, a smart dog. A smart dog can be trained to pick things up, or herd sheep, or save Timmy from the well. But a smart cat? I cannot think of a single useful thing my supposedly smart cats have ever done. They’ve figured out how to pry open doors, enabling them to get into rooms where I don’t want them to be, and they’re constantly developing new techniques for waking me up in the morning. Now Paul has figured out how to sneak out through the front window. I’m reminded of a friend’s observation about an old pet beagle: “He was a very smart dog, but instead of using his powers for good, he used them for evil.”
Life would be a bit easier if my cats were dumb, and never learned new tricks. But it’s too late to trade them in for less intelligent models. I’m stuck with my smart, evil cats. They might not understand that actions have consequences, but I do: I adopted these animals, and now I’m stuck dealing with their crazy behavior. I don’t know what they’ll think of next, but if they keep trying to escape from the apartment, it is going to be a long summer.
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