If your house is uncommonly chilly these cold days of winter, you had better check for cats.
Several problems can interfere with the proper functioning of a heating system - clogged filters, a power outage, heating oil selling at the price of liquid diamonds. But many people are unaware that cats can plug up your heating system.
I was among those unaware that cats can interfere with your heating system. At least I was until my daughter told me what cats did to her during a binge of record cold where she lives. The temperature dropped far below zero and she quickly learned to keep the cats out of her two-year-old son's room because the cats used up all the heat.
But it wasn't what you might think - that the cats would sit on the kid to get warm. They would sit on the heat vents to keep warm, plugging the only vent into the small bedroom and robbing the room of heat.
But not robbing the cat of heat. The cat was sitting, in effect, on a large blow dryer. The cat was warm as toast and happy as a clam - kind of a hot clam on toast.
It was my grandson who was cold - because a cat was soaking up his source of heat. If my daughter hadn't noticed what was going on and pried the cat off the heat vent, my grandson could have become a grandsicle. So the ugly truth is that cats can kill.
This is another wrinkle in that old wive's tale that cats steal the breath of babies. That stems from the fact that cats, if you let them, love to sleep on a person's chest, breathing in his face. I don't care for that under the best of circumstances. And if the cat has been eating garlic mice, it can be murder.
I think it's some kind of compliment when cat's do that. Cats do that to each other. I don't mean they sit on each other's chests. That would be ridiculous. But they do breathe into each other's faces. They sit there with their noses almost touching, breathing on each other.
People don't do that. People give each other a little space. You don't sit and talk to your co-workers with your nose half an inch from their noses, breathing hard. Your co-workers don't appreciate that kind of conduct. It makes them nervous.
But cats like to breathe on each other. I don't know if it's something kinky or it just stems from some practical need not to let all that warm air go to waste.
Whatever the reason, it is natural for them to sit on the chest of a baby, whether the baby considers it natural or even tolerable. Sitting on a baby is simply the handiest way for a cat to share hot air with the child. It's meant to be friendly.
But for centuries, parents who would enter a room and see a cat sitting on a baby did not consider it friendly. They considered it an invitation to use the cat for a football.
No wonder cats started using heat vents instead of babies to keep warm. They had developed a reputation for being evil creatures who stole the breath from babies.
However, cats do not suck the breath out of a baby. They suck the heat out of a house. It is not generally known but cats are heat sponges. Somehow they have the ability to suck in heat and not let it out. That's why you see a cat in summer - even while wearing a fur coat - go out in the sun on the roof of a car and throw its legs open, bathing it's belly with heat. It is storing heat in its body for use the following winter.
And when that winter turns unreasonably cold - using up a summer of stored heat too soon - the cat has to replenish the supply. To do that, it has only two choices.
Sit on a baby and get kicked.
Or sit on a heat vent.
So cats prefer heat vents. The cat doesn't get kicked that way. And heat vents don't smell like sour milk.
On the other hand, a lot of kids like being sat on by a hot cat, especially in cold weather.
And cats miss sitting on babies. A heat vent never grows up enough to pet a cat and hug it in return for all those warm nights together.
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