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August 29, 1997

The subject of cats came up in casual conversation the other day, and so, as a long-time lover of those regal, enigmatic feline creatures, I immediately found the dialogue more interesting. That's how it is if you are a captivated fancier of these paradoxical, enigmatic animals. The mere mention of their name sends a shiver of excitement along the spine and you lean forward in anticipation of sharing your experiences with them.

Our new pastor at the Presbyterian church, the Rev. Tim Boggess, has been on the job here only since Easter Sunday, but in that brief interval he has acquired a lovely Georgia girl, Heather, as his bride and they are settling into married life as young newlyweds in the church manse on Lakeview. The household also includes Tim's dog and cat. I hesitate to call them "pets," because that implies a degree of docile servitude which I have never observed, and which his animals apparently also do not possess.

Tim moved the pair here from his former home in rural Georgia. Such adjustments usually are traumatic for humans as well as the animals they care for, and so it has been in this case. Tim himself has not suffered unduly, if you don't count the long-haul trip in a rented van, and Heather is becoming more comfortable with her new surroundings day by day, but the experience is causing serious emotional problems for the animals. The dog was accustomed to the freedom of open fields at his former abode, and the fenced yard at the Perry manse seemed to be puzzling and downright inhibiting at first. He appears to be accepting it now. The four-year-old male cat simply has not adjusted well at all, however. It is losing weight and exhibiting a listless mien to the point where Tim is considering consultation with a veterinarian -- perhaps one trained in counseling or dealing with the psyche.

We have never made a long-distance move involving any of the dogs or cats who have lived with us through the years, but we made the short switch from North Ninth street to Park Lane several years ago, and it was a serious blow for Checkers, our cat of many years. She was used to having a protective fence around the back yard at the home we left, whereas the new location was open to every stray dog, not to mention armadillos, squirrels, rabbits and other unfamiliar creatures. Checkers was so stressed that for the rest of her life she rarely set paw off the patio attached to the back side of this house. She had been accustomed to ruling the Ninth street neighborhood undaunted by humans or other animals, knowing that her fence provided a safe haven against all of them.

After delivering her first litter of four kittens one Fourth of July morning, Checkers was spayed, and I think the transition was a relief to her. She nursed the little ones faithfully until they were weaned and we eventually found homes for most of them. She did not seem to regret their departure at all; they were becoming a threat to her domain. However, one, a female, stayed with us, and she soon presented a litter of grandkittens to Checkers, but the new Grandma absolutely refused to accept them. On her own, she moved to a neighbor's home until her daughter and those kittens were placed in the care of others, who incidentally were glad to receive them. Checkers then came home.

A popular magazine (Reader's Digest) carries an article this month which discusses the question, "Do Animals Fall In Love?" It is an interesting piece about signs of family life in the wild kingdom, but I would add this comment to the opinions and conclusions described in it. I think animals develop a tolerant attitude toward those humans who feed, house and groom them, based on dependency. But for cats, at least, I think they only love themselves. Centuries of domesticity have failed to extinguish their haughty air of condescension and this leads them to view themselves as the masters, not the obedient pets we want, in whatever household accommodates them.

Still, in our case at least, it is impossible to ignore the soft cudliness of these unsmiling stoics. Even though most of ours have been unwilling to spend more than an occasional few moments on our laps, we still covet their silent company. They are adorable and irresistible in spite of themselves.