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( Originally Published 1936 )
Put the rubber mouse away; Pick the spools up from the floor. What was velvet-shod and gay Will not need them any more.
THIS VERSE IN A POEM ABOUT a dead kitten, which looked out at me in some forgotten time from the corner of a newspaper, has always stayed in my mind. It says with such simplicity how tragically short the lives of these little creatures are, how willing they are to be happy while their lives last. Even a kitten who grows up to be a cat has a pretty short span, and it is not beneath our dignity, when we keep cats for our pleasure, to make their stay with us as pleasant as we can.
Though cats are philosophical and adapt themselves to apartment life so much more graciously than dogs do, they can be badly bored. They have big bumps of curiosity, and nothing quite makes up for freedom to a being descended, however remotely, from the wild. Since, then, in so many places we cannot allow our cats freedom with safety, let us consider by what devices we can give them variety and a fairly natural, healthy existence inside four walls.
There is no plaything a kitten enjoys as it does small celluloid balls that rattle. Kittens will play with non-rattling balls, either celluloid or rubber, but the rattle fascinates them. I think they cannot figure out how the rattle got inside the ball, and work out their puzzlement in batting the ball. There are shops which have all these balls for sale, and they also have play sticks, flexible sticks with balls attached, which are fine when you want to have a game with your kitten.
Then there are play bags, small cloth bags stuffed with cellophane and catnip, and catnip mice; also rubber mice, and mechanical mice which when wound up run around in a circle. Cats that insist on tearing a catnip mouse apart to get at the stuffing ought not to have them, since they may swallow some of the covering, but most cats are content to bat them about and revel in the smell.
Cats have their own notions about playthings; what pleases one does not always please another. Once a friend brought my Persians a rubber mouse, thinking, because her cats liked rubber mice, that mine would. She set it on the floor; they eyed it; they sniffed at it; then both of them turned tail, scornfully, and walked away. Somewhat abashed, my friend and I went out for a walk, and when we returned, lo, the rubber mouse had utterly vanished, though there was no one except the cats in the apartment. We looked everywhere, behind furniture and in corners, and did not find the mouse, and for days I watched Fifi and Mimi apprehensively for signs of rubber in their little insides, but they remained hearty. They never did tell what they had done with that mouse. A log with thick bark on it is a necessity for an indoor cat. Claws must be exercised and the old sheaths got rid of as the new nails grow, and there is nothing like bark for that. Neglect to provide a log for your cats and they are likely to make ribbons of your upholstery, and small blame to them.
I set a tree in my hall, a maple with a trunk about six inches in diameter, the branches trimmed and the top cut off to fit the ceiling, and my cats had a grand time climbing it. Of course it was fixed to the floor. If you do not care for a tree, then a length of log, cut in half so that it lies firmly on the floor, does nicely. You can easily find the right sort of log in shops where firewood is sold.
Outdoor cats, country ones at least, can find grass when they need roughage in their diet or an emetic to bring up hair they have swallowed, but the indoor cat must be provided with grass. It is easy to grow it. Have three pots of earth, and plant them in rotation, one each week, with oats or rye or birdseed. In this way you will always have fresh grass, and cats love it. My Fifi, when she grew old and lost her teeth, would sit by her pot of grass and wait for me to pull off the tender blades and put them in her mouth.
If cats are not provided with grass they are likely to nip your house plants, which is bad not only for the plants but for them, for the foliage of most plants is too harsh for a cat's stomach. Some veterinarians for this reason advise cat-owners to discard their plants, but I say, give them grass to eat and flowers for pleasure, because many cats have a real aesthetic delight in flowers. Mine, when I brought a nosegay into the house, would walk round and round it, smelling the blossoms with apparent enjoyment. I once saw a dying cat drag itself from its bed and throw its fevered body under the spreading fronds of a potted fern, as if it thought that green tent could give it relief from pain.
You can raise catnip from seed, but most cats prefer it dried. They cannot go on a real catnip jag on the fresh article; it must age, like wine and whisky. Dried catnip can be purchased in drugstores, but if you are a cat-lover you will always, when you are in the woods, keep an eye out for growing catnip, and carry some home to dry for your cat or somebody else's cat, or perhaps for a Christmas gift to the homeless cats in some humane shelter.
Of all the comforts you can give your indoor cat, perhaps a window porch is the most grateful. Cats love to sit in windows, and they are frivolously fond of looking out on life and movement. But an unscreened window is dangerous; as any animal hospital knows, many a cat casualty is due to a fall from a high window. So you must screen yours securely, and while you are about it why not throw out a little balcony from one of them and make a hot-weather retreat for your pet?
The floor should be a board about sixteen inches wide, firmly nailed to the sill and held in place by two lengths of scantling running from its outer corners to the window casing near the top of the lower sash. Stout wire screening forms the front and sides. Of course, the porch should be all put together before being fastened in. With a cushion or two and a pot of grass at each end, this makes a nice place for cats to see the world from by day, and to sleep in on a hot night.
Did you ever hear of a cat commuter from a third-story window to the ground? Recently I was passing a house that stood next a vacant lot, and I perceived a basket, with a large cat sitting calmly in it, descending seemingly from heaven into this lot. The basket was attached to a rope and the rope was being paid out by a woman in an upper window. When the car reached the ground its passenger jumped out and scampered away.
I was curious enough to question the janitress, who was beating rugs at the basement door. She told me that Tommy's mistress was a shut-in, and had invented this way of giving Tommy his outings. He was a model commuter and always returned promptly. Sure enough, while I stood there he trotted back and got into his basket and was pulled aloft.