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Michael Perry: Do we play with cats, or do cats play with us? An answer.

Michael Perry: Do we play with cats, or do cats play with us? An answer.


The cat was dancing on the deck, having begged to be let out despite my remonstrations, what with the mercury sludged at twenty-something-below. Half a minute of taking the air, and she was back at the sliding glass door mewling and high-stepping the pads of her feet as if she were a furry little Lipizzaner.

“Tried to tell ya,” I said as I let her in, but cats aren’t in the business of listening, and by the time I secured the latch she was curled up beside the wood stove.

Our cats enjoy cold snaps, because they get upgraded to full time house cats. Usually they are part-time doghouse cats, spending their nights in the old milkhouse which is unheated but insulated, stocked with straw, and coyote-proof. This arrangement also allows us to “exteriorize” the food bowls and litter box, which cuts down on brooming and scooping.

But the main reason for this arrangement — as I have been reminded several times this past week — is that unless you remember to shut him in the bathroom at night, Mr. Big Fuzzy (name changed to protect his neediness) will wait until 3 a.m., then park outside the bedroom door and meow incessantly as if reporting a grave injustice, when in fact he is just hunting a tummy-rub.

Sticking with cats but switching gears, in this the winter of more hunkering down than usual, a public service message: nothing ameliorates cabin fever like two cats and a laser pointer.

Mr. Big Fuzzy will galumph after the scooting red dot a time or two, but then he prefers to sit back and watch the smaller orange cat in pursuit. They are the same age but she has always liked to play more than he. She entertains herself by wrestling the kitchen rug into a ball, attacking the bottommost stair riser (I don’t know what it ever did to her), or endlessly batting the shoestring we tacked up in the living room. When the laser pointer comes out, she goes berserker.

So attuned has she become that I need only switch the pointer from “off” to “on” and at the soft “click” she will appear, head on a swivel, ears at alert, ready to do battle. Sometimes I run the light around the kitchen, as there is great entertainment in watching her try to cut corners on the linoleum. Other times I run the light up and down the stairs and she scrambles in hot pursuit.

After the initial stampeding rush, she settles on her haunches and becomes more selective. If I run the laser slowly across the carpet she will simply watch it. But if I track it so it disappears around a corner, or behind a box, or into the closet, she will stare intently, then gather up her rear gear and wiggle it, then charge and pounce. At which point the red dot mysteriously reappears and goes scooting off around another corner.

We play, then we rest. The cat is good at resting. Last night as she purred on the couch, I scratched her ears and recalled the philosopher Montaigne, who asked if we played with our cats or if our cats played with us; the answer is yes.

An original “Roughneck Grace” column exclusive to the Wisconsin State Journal. Audio versions may air on “Tent Show Radio” ( Read more from Michael Perry at

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