The Secret Lives of Cats

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Most dog owners come into the veterinary office with their canine companions devotedly following them. Tails wagging, the dogs look up at their people with adoring eyes. Most cat owners, on the other hand, wrestle a cardboard box into the exam room, reach in like a magician and pull out not a rabbit, but an angry feline. For their efforts they get covered with furry shrapnel and sometimes raked with claws until their face and arms look like so many tic-tac-toe games. (It doesn't have to be like that, by the way.)

As a lifetime pet lover and practicing veterinarian of more than 30 years, I've noticed a few things about cats. And so for all you cat owners, here's the Secret Code of Cat Behavior (or What Cats Know but Won't Tell You).

  • Strategically place your hairball. If you have to hack up a hairball, toss it like a trophy onto something visible and valuable, like the new leather couch. If you can't reach that in time, an Oriental rug is an appropriate substitute.
  • Know the enemy and embrace him. If mom is entertaining, determine quickly who hates or is allergic to cats, race immediately to that person and leap into his or her lap. Mom's watching, so he won't dare push you off and will even fake affection by stroking you and repeating, "Nice kitty. Niiiice kitty."
  • Wear fur proudly. You must always select clothing in sharp contrast to your own fur color on which to rub, leap or audition for the president of the Hair Club for Cats. Again, dare to share.
  • Be Johnnie on the Spot. As a courtesy, always accompany guests to the toilet. Your job is to sit and stare like you're a peeping-tom cat. If you get some really good shots, post them on the Internet and make a lot of bucks.
  • Let out your cat scratch fever. If someone claims to love cats and that all cats love him or her in return, lull that person into thinking you're a Stepford Cat. When his or her guard is dropped and the perfect cat lover begins to bask in a snapshot moment, show utter disdain, lay claw tracks across the expensive hosiery or silk tie, or turn unexpectedly and give a quick nip deep enough to test someone's blood type.
  • Find out what's behind door No. 3. Never allow closed doors in any room except when you need to trap the dog. To crack open a closed one, stand on your hind legs and jackhammer it with your forepaws, scratch it like you're headed for China or put your paws underneath it and keep pulling. Or just throw yourself against it repeatedly. Once the genie appears and opens the door for you, change your mind and walk away.
  • Play paper weight. If you come across somebody doing homework, paying bills or reading a magazine, settle down on the paper. This may entitle you to flying lessons, but when you get back on the page — and you will — make sure that you take everything with you — pens, pencils, other papers — on your next scheduled flight.
  • Be a knit wit. If mom's into crocheting or knitting, curl up quietly in her lap and pretend to catnap. Then spring into action by grabbing the yarn and causing her knitting needles or crochet hook to plunge sharply like a trophy catfish has just hit the bait. She'll try to distract you and pick up the slipped stitch. Ignore her efforts to calm you, close your eyes again and prepare for strike two.
  • And remember, early to bed, early to rise. Get plenty of sleep both during the day and in the evening, when your people want you to play. That way, you'll be fully rested and ready to rumble with Sleeping Beauty anytime between 2 and 5 a.m.

And never forget the No. 1 rule of being a cat: When in doubt, blame the dog.

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