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Charming tabby gives her newly selected family little choice

By Courtland Milloy
Washington Post

A stray cat showed up at our home in Fort Washington, Md., during the holidays, just an ordinary-looking gray tabby with a furry white chest and feet. She’d sit outside our door, her tail curled elegantly around her front paws, then meow whenever the door was opened.

My family had been thinking about replacing one of our two dearly departed pets – the cat or the dog. Two recent pet studies were tilting the scales in favor of the dog.

One of them claimed that dogs were able to feel “love” the same as humans do.

“The ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment, would mean that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child,” Emory University neuroeconomics professor Gregory Berns wrote in the New York Times in October.

The other concluded that cats could be stressed out by petting, of all things. Daniel Mills, a professor of veterinary behavioral medicine at the University of Lincoln in the United Kingdom, added that “cats who tolerate, rather than enjoy or dislike being petted, seemed to be the most stressed.”

Who’d want to get stuck with a cat like that?

Then up pops the stray, her purring so soothing that only a baby’s cooing could top it.

The tabby had apparently seen my youngest son pull into the driveway and hurried over to meet him as he exited the car. Then she reared up on her hind legs, grabbed on to the pockets of his jeans and stretched up even higher so he could pet her head.

A cat that could also behave like a dog, this tabby had talent.

She also performed a shoulder roll onto her back and gave him a look that said: Tummy rub, please. She was irresistible. She got that tummy rub, and then he poured her a bowl of milk.

With a cold front moving in, we lined a cardboard box with towels and put it outdoors where we could see if she stayed the night. She did.

“She’s wearing a collar,” my wife said.

Put there perhaps by the cat’s original owners? “It’s an old collar,” my son observed.

It was also too tight. So we bought her one that fit.

Kitty makes the call

A veterinarian, Rhya Marohn, stopped by to examine the pet. The veterinarian said the cat is probably about 2 years old, judging from the teeth. We’d been calling the cat “kitty,” so when she asked for a name, we just capitalized the K.

“Listen to her purr,” Marohn said, marveling at how contented the cat was even after receiving three shots.

When the temperature dropped below freezing recently, we bought a heated canvas pet house and set it out on the porch. After Marohn gave Kitty a clean bill of health, we let the cat come indoors, then go back out as she pleased.

Outdoors, she behaves like a tiger. She weighs 13 pounds and is deceptively quick. She has twice camouflaged herself under a pile of leaves in a nearby wooded lot to catch a squirrel. One of them she caught after climbing – more like flying – halfway up the trunk of a tree.

She is, quite frankly, awesome – except for the times when she brings her kill home to show off and play with.

To get back indoors, she will sit with a plaintive expression by the door, rocking ever so gently from side to side, lifting her front paws as if marching in place.

Once inside, she becomes a civilized housecat again. She has a favorite rug for catnapping and enjoys tummy rubs and rubbing her face on stocking feet. She doesn’t claw or chew furniture and faithfully uses the litter box.

Dogs should be so smart.

We didn’t even have to decide whether or not to get a dog. The cat had made that call.

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