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( Originally Published 1928 )
WHATEVER MAY be thought of the social status of other animals, there is no doubt that in recent years there has been an enormous advance in the prestige of the cat. In the twentieth century the cat has begun to receive an increasing tribute of intellectual respect; he is the hero of books and stories; Sundaysupplement photogravures display his beauty. There is every evidence that at last the cat is coming into his own.
I view the social rise of the cat with elation, for I have always been an ardent idolater. Idolater is really the accurate word and perhaps only those will understand my devotion, in whom, as in me, the love of cats is inborn.
Many people, I am glad to say, love cats; but has any one had exactly these intimations of felinity in early childhood? The cat is the most beautiful and graceful of all domestic animals. His anatomy is precisely adapted to his needs; and although he takes only a hundredth part as much exercise as a dog, he is always in perfect condition...
When a cat aims at the top of a fence or the surface of a table, he usually succeeds at the first attempt, unlike the dog, who tries five or six times and continues to try after the impossibility of attainment has been clearly demonstrated. The cat's economy of effort is as remarkable as his judgment of distance; you can not persuade him to try for any mark manifestly beyond his reach.
The amazing activity of the cat is delicately balanced by his capacity for relaxation. I believe that every household should contain a cat, not only for decorative and domestic values, but because the cat in quiescence is both a rebuke and an inspiration to irritable, tense, restless, and tortured men and women. In spite of the fact that there are a hundred books published every year in which human beings are told to "relax " - tremendous and continued energy seems to be required in order to keep quiet, very few men, women, or children have mastered even the elementary principles of repose...
Now when the cat decides to take his repose, he not only lies down; he pours his body out on the floor like water. It is restful merely to behold him.
I have always thought it unfortunate that dogs take no interest in washing themselves. It would be a help to them in passing the time. It is a constant resource to a cat. If there is nothing else going on, or if the cat is wakeful, he can always wash himself. To a cat self-washing is a means of cleanliness, an athletic exercise, a pastime, and a fine art. Sometimes it is almost a passion. I have seen a cat go into a frenzy of ablution. And how strange it is that with such a tongue, corrugated like an American niblick, heat should be so unendurable. A cat always waits for hot food to cool.
Cats have a sense of humour, as is shown in their extreme love of play. A middle-aged cat will often play as unreservedly as a kitten, though he knows perfectly well it is only a game. But even a kitten has a keen sense of humour.
It is often said that the dog is more intelligent than the cat because you can teach the former more tricks. The fact is really evidence for the cat. When you command a dog to "sit up," the poor idiot thinks he has to do it. The average cat throws off, pretends to be stupid and not to understand what you want.
He really understands you too well, but he sees "nothing in it" for him. Why sit up?
But it is not the beauty and grace and agility and repose of the cat's body that are most admirable; what is most admirable is his intellectual and spiritual nature. It is often said by those who have no affection for cats that cats have no affection for people; but we who know cats know that this is a base slander. William Lyon Phelps in "As I Like It"