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( Originally Published 1936 )
Cats are such unobtrusive creatures that never, except perhaps in ancient Egypt, have they had the honor that is due them. Yet consider what they do for us. They kill the rats and mice that would destroy our food, our clothes, our libraries, and our homes; and what does it matter if, as their critics say, they do it because they want to and not because we want them to? The point is, they do it. But this service shows only the practical side of the cat's character; what cat-lovers really treasure them for is their charming adaptability as pets.
Modern life has crowded many people into city apartments, but it has not killed the human desire for a pet around the place. Occasionally a reformer announces that pet animals must be banished from cities, but one can imagine what a riot there would be if he tried to do it. Now cats, though they are essentially liberty-loving animals, can be kept healthy and happy in an apartment. They are naturally clean, they can get sufficient exercise inside four walls, and they have a philosophy that enables them to get endless entertainment from just sitting in a window and watching what goes on in the street.
Cats are dignified, and they will not truckle to anybody. That is why undiscerning persons consider them-deficient in sense and loyalty. But take a cat and give it good care and sympathetic companionship, and unless it is an uncommonly inferior specimen it will reward you by being very much of an individual, loving and responsive. I used to know a black cat in Sutton Place, New York, originally an alley kitten, but so improved by prosperity that he was called the Sultan of Sutton Place. For eight years he shared the home of his mistress, a businesswoman. Then she died, and from that hour he refused to eat and fell into such a pitiful state that he had to be destroyed.
It is not true that cats love places better than people. There are many homes where the cat is merely tolerated-fed when the owner thinks of it, but seldom noticed. So what is there for the cat to be attached to but the place that shelters it? And to the cat, as to the dog, it means a great deal to have a place of which it feels, "This is my home, this is where I belong." However, cats can make excellent travelers. One of the characters of the suffrage campaign was a cat who toured the United States by automobile for "the Cause." The women whose mascot he was called him Citizen because he belonged to the sex which had the vote, and during the entire trip he lived up to his position with great dignity, riding on a specially constructed seat in the car, and watching the crowds at the street rallies without a trace of nervousness or fear.
There are various ways of acquiring a cat. Frequently it is thrust upon you. You are walking along the street, and you see a forlorn kitten, one that has probably been dropped by some heartless person, and you take it home, intending to turn it over to a humane society immediately. But the poor mite laps up the food you give it so gratefully, it finds a spool and plays with it so amusingly, it curls up on your knee and goes to sleep so confidingly, that you put off sending it away, and before you know it you own a cat.
Such waifs may be healthy and of good blood, or they may not, but right feeding and regular grooming will do wonders. People who have frequented recent cat shows in New York will remember Sarah and Jane, two white cats who never failed to carry off prizes and were said by the judges to be remarkably good in build, coat, and intelligence. Yet they began life as flea-bitten kittens abandoned in a garbage can, from which they were rescued by a small boy who had heard in a "kindness to animals" talk in school that all homeless cats and dogs should be taken to the nearest humane shelter.
If you set out to acquire a kitten, choose it with care. If you wish a thoroughbred, Persian or Siamese or Manx or pedigreed short-hair, go to a reliable breeder. A good honest alley cat is better than a doubtful thoroughbred. But wherever you get your kitten, see that it is healthy and well formed. Select one with bright, clear eyes, for weak, watery eyes indicate a cold, or distemper, or congenital eye trouble. Make sure that the baby's bony structure is good. Each breed has its own standards as to shape, but whatever the breed the bones should be firm and well knit. A normal kitten is eager for play, and its breath is sweet.
Avoid taking a kitten from its mother until its strength and its ability to eat are well established. The longer the baby is with the mother the better start it has in life. There is some magic in the maternal contact for which no amount of care from the owner can make up.
Right feeding is the most important point in caring for a cat. Wrong feeding is at the bottom of many diseases, both digestive and of the skin. There is a superstitious belief that meat makes cats vicious. That is nonsense. Cats are carnivorous animals, and though some will adapt themselves to unsuitable diets, the cat that eats raw beef, varied by cooked lamb and fish, non-starchy vegetables, milk, and stale brown bread stands the best chance of attaining a ripe old age.
A cat needs some attention beyond feeding. It should be groomed every day, else in cleaning itself it will swallow hair, which will form balls in the intestines. If kept in an upper apartment it should be protected from falls by screens at the windows. It needs a log on which to exercise its claws, growing grass to nibble, fresh water to drink, and love and petting. If sickness develops, a veterinarian should be consulted. Unless you are able to give these attentions to your pet, do not keep a cat.