I like cats. More to the point, I admire them. Not for their human qualities, for they have few. No. What I admire about cats is their strength of mind. You can see it when they pretend that something never happened. Even when it’s pretty dramatic (like falling down the stairs), they recover, instantly begin grooming themselves, with every gesture proclaiming more loudly than speech that they had done exactly what they had intended to do.
As I said, I had learned to admire that strength of mind. But I did not really appreciate the sheer scope of that it until we received a certain gift. My parents decided to give us a puppy.
We had a cat, Fred, who had ruled undisputed until the day we brought the puppy home. I cannot imagine anything that could have appalled him more. Having an interloper in the house was bad enough. But this particular interloper happened to be a Great Dane. To Fred, even as a puppy, Penny probably looked about half the size of a horse.
At first Fred made repeated efforts, with teeth and claws, to scare her into disappearing. This failed because, a) we intervened whenever possible, and b) because Penny, being as stupid as a brick, thought Fred was playing with her.
Fred had a problem. This walking nightmare introduced into his world stubbornly failed to vanish despite his best efforts. It was Fred’s solution to this predicament that made me begin to appreciate his strength of mind.
Fred simply decided that there was no dog.
Given the sheer size that Penny eventually attained, maintaining this delusion required mental discipline on a pretty high level. The fact that they were alone together on an isolated ranch raised the ante still further. Add in Penny’s continuing desire to play, and it reached the status of mental legerdemain.
To maintain his dignity, Fred sometimes had to follow rather elaborate routes and gracefully levitate to some odd places. To maintain his delusion, he also had to radiate that he was not trying to avoid the dog.
Because…there was no dog.
It was an exhibition of a very high level, which I duly appreciated. But my admiration soared to something else one fateful day.
I was working at my desk at a large picture window. I happened to glance up and saw, all the way to the left of my field of vision, Fred coming out of the bushes. Nothing out of the ordinary there. But I got worried when I saw, five or six feet behind him, the figure of Penny skulking out of the same bushes. She had been following him and was looking determined about it.
Penny was about as noisy as she was big, but Fred, of course, never looked around, because…there was no dog.
But Penny was not content with just following him. She wanted to catch him. I could she had her nose was stuck out and held low down. Doglike, she wanted to sniff under Fred’s tail.
I should mention that Fred was a completely unaltered tomcat. He took any liberties with his nether regions very seriously. Although I could see a real disaster in the making, I was frozen in my seat. Sure enough, when she got close enough, Penny’s nose snaked out, right under Fred’s tail.
Fred did not seem to react and he never looked around, after all, there was no dog. …But he started to walk faster.
This made it a lot harder for Penny. She clearly hadn’t gotten a really good sniff. Given her height, getting her nose that low while walking was difficult. As she speeded up, she just could not keep it both low and steady.
On her next try, she overshot a little and her nose, wet and cold, bumped Fred right under the tail.
Fred was remarkable. He never looked around. He did, though, begin walking faster. Not for any particular reason, of course, but just because he felt like it. After all, there was no dog.
I began to feel sorry for poor Penny, too. She wouldn’t give up, but the pace was pushing her limits. To get low enough, she had to sort of splay her legs out and keep them bent at the elbow. It was a silly posture for a dog and hard for her. Her gait got uneven and her nose, still low to the ground, began pulsing back and forth with each stride.
This had its effect on Fred. On her next try, Penny overshot a bit and shoved her nose right in between Fred’s hind legs. Right in, if I may use the term, strategic territory.
All honor onto Fred. With an instant acceleration, he sped up to nearly a run. But he never looked around. Clearly, there was no dog.
But Penny was made of pretty stern stuff, too. Though under the most marginal of control, she stayed locked on her goal.
As they moved across my field of view, I could see Penny’s nose was getting really wild. Sure enough, on her next trying she missed completely, sticking her nose right through Fred’s back legs, under his belly. To make things worse, as she sniffed she jerked her nose up, catching him in the crutch with enough force that she actually succeeded in lifting Fred’s whole hind quarters clear of the ground, nearly flipping him head over heels.
My admiration for Fred changed to awe. Even then, he never looked around. As they passed out of sight to my right, Fred was going at a dead run, with Penny galumphing after.
But Fred had the moral victory. There was still no dog!