It's No Joke That Curiosity Can Kill A Cat

By Bill Hall

The expression "curiosity killed the cat" has a factual basis. It is more than just an empty saying, more than merely wishful thinking by dog lovers.

The truth is that most cats have a perilous failing. They find it impossible to resist crawling into an empty space. You can put a cardboard box on the floor or a paper sack and they will soon be inside it.

We found a lump on the dining room table the other day. The lump was Alfie. He had crawled under the table cloth and fallen asleep, like a rude dinner guest who had consumed too much wine.

They say Nature abhors a vacuum. So does a cat. A cat can't stand to let a vacuum go unfilled. A cat will crawl into any new hole or opening whether it is safe to do so or not. And some cats are a lot worse about that than others. There is sometimes a name for such cats: Dead.

They enter some construction space in the neighborhood that is temporarily open and don't get out before it is closed behind them. We have yet to have a cat expire in that way. But there have been some close calls.

One summer a few years ago, one of our cats vanished for five days. But then he suddenly showed up, looking no worse for wear. The next day a neighbor asked if we had a large gray cat. I said we did. The neighbor had been away for five days. When he returned and opened the garage door, a large gray cat ran out.

The weather during that period was blazing hot. There was no water in the garage. Cats apparently are better at conserving their juices than we are. Of course, we aren't stupid enough to run into the neighbor's garage every time it's open. And if we did we would find a hammer or a saw or a tire iron in the garage and get ourselves out. But this cat was never any good with tools.

Some cats seem especially curious: Nellie, for instance. She is a nice little cat but dumb as a purebred dog. You really have to be careful if there is some construction going on. She is a space addict. She can't resist something like the last opening into a new attic when it is being constructed. She could easily be trapped inside. And some cats are. I knew a couple who had to cut a hole in a new ceiling in an addition built because they could hear a cat crying inside.

Nellie's favorite is something open only briefly -- a closet, a storage room, the garden shed, the greenhouse. About twice a month, she vanishes. We know the drill by now. We systematically search the closed rooms. Eventually we find her in one of them. And she is tremendously grateful, purring and rubbing up against us. But that's odd because she is not normally an especially affectionate cat. I think she's British because, while she seems to care for our company, she isn't real slobbery about it. She does not crawl up on you and snuggle like some cats. She sleeps nearby but without touching. She seems to be sensitive about not invading a person's space.

That's fine with me because cats aren't nearly as clean as everyone thinks. Cats have pretty disgusting ways of demonstrating their friendship to each other. For instance, Nellie will often wash our other cats, licking them all over. Aren't you glad our human friends don't do that? On the other hand, if your friends do that and you enjoy it, forget I mentioned it. It's really none of my business.

We are by now aware of Nellie's curiosity problem so we pay attention when we have the door open to some normally closed space. More often than not we stop her when she tries to run in. But that has made her sneaky. Sometimes she will race silently into the place when we aren't looking.

That's odd because it means she has learned she is not supposed to go into those places, but she never learns that sneaking into such places leads to being locked up for hours at a time. How is it that she has learned she's not supposed to do that but she never learns what happens if she does? Talk about selective intelligence.

On the other hand, Nellie does tend to get locked most often in the storage room where we keep the cat food. May she's a tad smarter than a purebred dog.

However, if the dog yawned, she would probably sneak down its throat.


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