11  Cat Toys

At the animal shelters I’ve seen cats playing with nearly anything–they seem so eager for interaction.  All the standard cat toys work splendidly.

One they get home with you, it’s a different story.  They get choosier.  My wife got Bingley a toy that has a wand with a long, thick string attached and a big white feather on the end:  perfect for jumping and catching.

Bingley won’t touch it, even when we swing the feather right over his head.

When he first came home with us, we got him a soft, brown mouse about four inches long.  He loved it and would play with it all the time.  When I’d stop tossing it in the air for him to catch, he’d toss it and catch it himself:  wasn’t sure at the time why a flying mouse was so interesting, but the why isn’t as important as the fact that it kept him interested and active.  Bingley named the mouse Horace, after the Roman poet, he told me as soon as he began to talk.  I’m pretty sure the folks at the shelter didn’t have books of Roman poets for the pets in lock-up to read, so it must have been one of the first books he got into on the shelves in his room here.

Later some friends of ours got him a flat mouse with what looks and feels (and smells) like real fur on it.  That became his new favorite once Horace got too old and chewed up to fly anymore.  He named that one Lucretius.

He also took a liking to strings.  I remember reading a medieval treatise that claimed cats are useful to have around because they chase mice, rats, and snakes.  I assume the writer meant small snakes.  That would explain their interest in strings.

My mother-in-law thoughtfully sent us Bingley’s next round of favorites:  a small, firm fuzzy ball that has just enough heft to roll the length of the living room floor–perfect for pawing and chasing–and a small, soft mouse maybe two inches long.  We tie that one to the end of a string:  best of both worlds, because he can tiger-jump after the string-end (which has frayed into a tassel) on one side or the mouse-end on the other side.  Perfect also for pulling under one side of a towel and out the other side . . .

Once when he was sitting on top of the couch I tossed him the fuzzy ball–green, red, and yellow thread–and it bonked him right on the forehead.  He gave me a puzzled look, then motioned for me to try that again.  I tossed it.  He caught it with one paw, put it in his mouth, jumped off the couch, and dropped the ball by my feet.  “Is that what you wanted?” he asked.

The color of the toy also seems to matter:  he likes green, red, and yellow ones better than any other, though we put a grey mouse on the end of a black string, and that works pretty well, too.  I read somewhere that current thinking on cat vision suggests that they can see green, red, and yellow (and of course black and white and grey).

My wife got Bingley a little stuffed tiger-cat:  it’s about seven inches long and about four inches high and has jade-green eyes like Bingley’s.  The first time he saw it he looked at us as if we had brought an intruder into the house.  We offered it to him, pushing it toward him as he sat looking a little miffed.  His ears went back, and he went right for the stuffed cat’s throat.  He gave me a look as though he might just come after my foot next.  That cat now sits quietly by one of his scratching posts.  It’s still in one piece, but he doesn’t play with it much.  I asked him if it has a name.  He called it Catullus–fine reading for a cat!

We have a Turbo Scratch, a large plastic circle with a channel with a white ball to spin around and a cardboard center for scratching.  For a time he liked to bat at the ball as it swung around the circle, but it has little effect on him now:  he worked out the science and gave up on it.  He has a long, stuffed zebra that he will sometimes bite to get aggressions out.  He likes to try to catch the fringe on my scarf in the winter time, though I try to tell him that’s not a toy–a difficult point to make to a creature for whom everything is potentially a toy.

Just now I turned to ask him what he considers his favorite toy:  he’s sitting in his bed in front of the bookshelves as I write.  He looked at me, and his ears went back.

“You, ” he said, and he trained his eyes on my foot as his tale began to swing back and forth menacingly.  No more blog for now.


12  More about Ducks and Flying

Bingley and I were sitting together, draped over the back of the couch, hanging out like two leopards perched on tree limbs.

Two ducks, a male and a female, dropped into the back yard flapping and squealing.

“How do they do that?” he asked.

“Do what?”

“Fly–fly so high.”

“They’re built for it:  the feathered wings, lighter body than you’d think, the confidence to try–not self-reflective enough to think they can’t.”

He turned and gave me his Mr. Spock look.

“I’ll bet I could do that,” he said, musing and looking back as the ducks spotted us and flew off.

“Maybe,” I said.  I thought he was joking and expected him to burst out laughing, but he didn’t.

Once, when we were trying to catch a fly, I saw him leap after the fashion of his tiger jump.  He sprung off the couch, more out than up, extended a paw, and swatted the fly.  He must have covered about five or six feet in the air.  That may have given him ideas, though he was younger and thinner then.

Later I was sitting on the couch reading with my feet up.

I’m not sure about this part, but I thought I saw out of the corner of my eye an object, about cat-sized, flying through the living room at about waist height.  It covered the length of the room and disappeared quickly into the hallway.

I hopped over to look and saw nothing more, so I went into Bingley’s room, and there he stood bathing himself.

“Did you just see something?” I asked.


“Oh, something flying by, maybe down the hallway?”

“You feeling all right?” he asked.

“Yes, fine, thanks.  So you didn’t see anything?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“So you’re not telling.”

He smiled and continued bathing.

“Test flight?” I asked.

He turned to me and said, blank-faced and deadpan, “You never know.”

He’s pretty much right.  I very seldom know.  Maybe sometimes.  Maybe.


13  Bingley on Politics

One evening we were trying to watch the news, and I got so disgusted with the horrific, mud-slinging politics that I turned it off.

I asked Bingley, “Do you think about politics?”


“Why not?”

“Disgusting,” he said with a sniff.

“Yes,” I agreed.  “Do cats have politics?”


“Like what?”

“Make sure everyone has food and a place to sleep.  Share toys.  Don’t go too far into someone else’s territory, or you deserve to get scratched, unless you’re really really hungry.  Don’t jump on anyone who’s sleeping, unless it’s your brother and he’s just done that to you, or unless it’s your buddy and you want to cuddle.”  He smiled at that last one, because he does it sometimes.

“All that makes pretty good sense.”


“What if someone makes you mad?”

“Stare at him.”

“What if that doesn’t work?”

“Hiss at him.”

“And if that doesn’t work?”

“Growl, and make your fur stand up so you look as big as you can.  If you have to, take a swipe at him.  If nothing else works, pee on him.”

I thought about that for a minute.

“Sounds just like human politics,” I said.

“Mm-hmm.  Not as mean, though.  I’m glad you turned it off.”  He turned around in my lap a couple times and then settled in with a sigh.  Then he opened one eye.  “Can you open the window?  It’s nice out this evening.  We can listen to the birds.”


I opened the window, and right away we could hear several different kinds of birds.  A crow cawed once loudly, and two goldfinches zoomed by, one chasing the other.  A cardinal sat in one of the maple trees pinging.  I was going to ask Bingley about bird politics, but was breathing slowly and deeply and had fallen asleep.

14  Bingley’s translation of Catullus

A couple evenings ago I went into my study–that is, Bingley’s room–to write.  He was stretched out in his bed with a book open in front of him.  He had his eyes closed and looked to be napping.  So I got quietly to my work.

Then I heard a sound–something like “hss sss sss mmm.”  I looked around, and Bingley had his eyes open and a smile on his face.  His tale was flicking back and forth.  He didn’t say anything, just looked up at me, and then he closed his eyes and settled his chin back down on the edge of his bed.

I thought I heard the sound of a page turning, but didn’t look back until a few minutes later I heard that sound again:  “hss sss sss mmm.”

There he was again with a smile on his face.  His tale executed a couple of flourishes.

“What are you thinking about?” I asked.

“Reading Catullus,” he said.

I hadn’t looked at the book in front of him.  I assumed it was something my wife had got out to check a reference and that she had left it there to go back to it.  I asked if I might see the book, and there it was, a collection of Catullus’ poems.

“Cat-like?” I asked.

“Not really,” he said.  “But funny.”

I had been trying to write something for National Poetry Month and had not made much progress.  So I asked Bingley, “Would you like to write something for National Poetry Month?”

“Yes!” he said, and he got up and jumped into my lap to look at the screen.  “Translation okay?”


So he dictated, and I typed.  Here’s Bingley’s translation, from Latin, of Catullus’ Carmen 86, one of his favorites.


Qunitia, “So shapely!” say the many. For me, too,

so white, so tall, so straight she stands. And I confess

the glories of these qualities, each alone.

But I deny that’s beauty: no charm, no grain

of grace dwells in so great a body. Lesbia,

there’s a total beauty: she has stolen Venus’ glories.

Every one!


Though Bingley has, as Jonson said of Shakespeare, small Latin and less Greek, having read that poem I think his Latin much better than mine.

From Bingley to you for National Poetry Month:  best wishes, and enjoy!

15  Bingley at Play

Bingley loves to play.  He’ll chase a string pulled under a blanket.  He’ll leap through the air to catch a tossed mouse.  He’ll dash back and forth the length of the basement trying to catch my foot.  He’ll go round and round trying to stop a light that’s shining on a wall or on the floor.  If he’s up on his catwalk and you sit below him and try to toss a fuzzy ball over his head, he’ll repeatedly reject it, like an NBA center swatting away lay-ups.

He also loves word play, not for its brilliance, but just for the fun of it.

We were sitting like tree leopards, draped over the back of the couch looking outside at the sunshine on the grass and listening to the birds.

“What kind of beer does a duck drink?” Bingley asked.

“Beer?” I said.  “I have no idea.”

“Mallard High-Life,” he said, looking at me out of the corner of his eye.

“Got it,” I said.  I sat up straight so I could listen better, knowing he had more.

“What kind of beer does an owl drink?”

“I don’t know.”



“What kind of beer does a sparrow drink?”

“Couldn’t say.”


That’s a better joke than you may think:  I’d told him how in the Middle Ages people thought sparrows especially lecherous animals.

“What kind of drink does mourning dove drink?”

“Tell me.”

“Coos light.”


“Mmph-hss-sss-sss.”  I didn’t blame him for laughing at his own jokes.

“You know,” I said, “that some authorities on English language and literature consider puns the lowest form of wit.”

“Well,” he said, “what do you expect?  It’s not my first language.”

“Of course,” I said.  “Quite right.  Sorry.”

“No prob’em.”  He was starting to look sleepy and jumped down into my lap.

“Cuddles now,” he said.


16  Chapped Paws

You may recall that I mentioned how my wife has always admired Bingley’s smooth, pink paw-pads.

Last week we noticed for the first time since he’s come to live with us that the pads looked dry and cracked and uncomfortable.

Bingley was walking on the tile floor of the sun room, and when he set a paw down, his leg would shake just a little.

So we looked at the paws and saw how damaged they looked.  I asked him if his paws hurt.

“No,” he said.

“Are you telling me the truth?” I asked.

“No,” he said.

“What can we do to make your feet feel better?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he answered.  “I just keep cleaning them.”

He hasn’t shown evidence of allergies before, but I suppose if his feet feel dry and itchy, even more cleaning would just make them worse.

So we looked online for possible remedies.  We read about coconut oil and olive oil or aloe massages, about fish oil taken orally, about changes in diet or habits or environmental factors that may have caused the problem.  Nothing looked quite convincing.

At first opportunity I called the vet, who suggested fish oil and benadryl doses.  She said they tend to lick off anything one puts on their paws–and, yes, more licking can make them worse.  We confirmed that we hadn’t employed a new litter, nor had we got anything new for the house, though we had given the tile floors a good cleaning (with an environmentally friendly cleaning agent).  No, he hasn’t been outside, but there’s always the possibility that we unwittingly brought something in on our shoes or feet or clothes.

We started the fish oil at his next meal:  sometimes that gets inside, and sometimes it doesn’t.   We haven’t been able to make the benadryl work yet:  Bingley is notoriously difficult to pill.

If you have any ideas, please let me know.

Two evenings ago I was sitting on the couch reading and, once again, out of the corner of my eye, saw something moving through the air at a little more than waist high.  I’m still not sure what that was, but if it was Bingley, staying off the floor or ground is a sure way to keep pressure off one’s feet.  I’ll get back to you on that one.


17  Thinking about fish

Bingley and I were talking, hanging over the back of the couch and looking outside.

“When fish swim,” Bingley asked, “do they feel like they’re flying?”

“I don’t know,” I answered.  “What do you think?”

He moved his paws in a few dog-paddle motions, then shuddered a little.

“I don’t think so,” he said.   “At least not exactly.  A little bit, maybe.”

“Some of them can swim pretty fast,” I offered, “and they float easily enough.”

“Birds always have the air, even when they’re sitting or walking, and fish always have the water–unless someone takes them out.”

He sighed and thought for a moment.

“You like to eat fish, don’t you?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Better than chicken,” he added.

“Yes.  But you don’t like fish as well, do you?”

“Take it or leave it,” Bingley said.  “I like chicken better.  Tuna’s good when you don’t get chicken.  Do you feel bad about taking the fish out of the water to eat them?”

That made me think.  “A little,” I said.  “Yes, a little.”

I didn’t want to ask him his feelings about eating chicken or fish, since by nature he must be a carnivore, while I have some choice.  But I could see his eyes moving back and forth, so I could tell he was thinking about it.  Then he looked at me out of the corner of his eye.

“I don’t feel bad about it when I’m hungry or eating, but it does cross my mind after.  I’d eat more plants if you’d let me.”

Sometimes Bingley will get into one of the plants, and he’ll eat so much of it that it will make him feel sick or clog his intestines–that’s more than you wanted to know, I’m sure.  We still get him catnip, which he nibbles, but seldom do we get the cat grass anymore, because he gorges on it.

“I know.  I’m sorry.  You get sick if you get too much.”

“‘Sokay.  I’m happier with the chicken anyway.”  He thought again for a bit.  “Can you swim like a fish?” he asked.

“I can swim a little, but not like a fish.”

He gave me his Mr. Spock “fascinating . . .” look.  “So a fish can do that, but you can’t.”

“Right.”  I didn’t mention that the very idea of getting soaked appalls him.  “They’ve evolved for swimming.  I’ve evolved for walking or running on the ground.  But I can row.”  Bingley understands rowing because I have a rower in the basement that I use for exercise.  I explained how it works on top of the water, how someone can row a kayak or canoe or rowboat.

“I see,” he said.  Then he gave me the sidelong glance again.

“What would you call a machine designed to move a kayak?” he asked.

I thought about that, and the answer hit me.

“A row-bot,” I said.

“Hss-hss-hss-ha-ha-hmmm.”  He nodded, and his belly shook as he laughed.

Then I could tell that his thoughts changed direction.

“Tuna?” he said.  “Getting hungry.  Time for mmao?”

“Not quite time yet, but I’ll see if we have some of your tuna.”

“Frank you,” he said, licking his lips.

Just then a couple goldfinches landed in the yard, bounced around after each other for a bit, then flew off.

“Or maybe chicken,” Bingley said.  “I can’t decide.”


18  Dreams

Bingley and I play lots of chasing games.  I pull a string under a towel or small rug, and he chases it.  I swing a stuffed mouse attached to a string through the air, and he leaps and runs after it.  I dash off to one end of the basement, and he follows, then he runs back, and I follow.

Often as he sleeps in my lap he will twitch–dreaming, I assume.  Sometimes he’ll make brief sounds, little barks or mews as he twitches.  Yesterday evening he was sleeping in my lap, and he started to twitch.  Shortly afterwards he woke, stretched, and looked at me.

“Were you dreaming?”

“Yes.”  He yawned, his mouth open wide.

“Chasing something?”



“A mouse.”

“Did you catch it?”

“No.  Not worth the trouble.  Could have if I wanted to.”

Then he settled back down with a sigh and fell back to sleep.  After a time he twitched again.

When he woke up, I asked him again what he was dreaming.

“Chasing a cat,” he said.  “Grey and white one.  It was in the yard, and I chased it out.”

“Were you angry?”

“No, just going my job.”

Once more he fell back to sleep, and soon he was twitching vigorously, and he did so for a little while.

He woke and looked up at me.

“Yes?” he asked.







“Did you catch me?”

“Of course.”

“What did you do then?”

“Bit your leg.”

“You did?  You bit me?”

“No.  Just kidding.  I jumped up on your shoulder and gave you a hug.”

Then he turned around, needed my belly a couple times, and threw his paws over my shoulder and gave me a hug.

“Best buddies,” he said.

“Best buddies,” I said.

He settled down once more and fell into a still, quiet sleep.

He may well have bit my leg in that dream, but sometimes that’s what dreams are for–as long as you follow them with gentle, quiet sleep.


19 Making a Living

As I was about to leave for work one day recently, a pretty typical conversation began.

Bingley stopped me as I was putting on my coat, and he said “Don’t go!”

“Sorry:  I have to go.”


“I have to go to work.”

“You did that yesterday.”

“Yes, I have to do that most days.”


“I need to make a living.”

You can guess it:  I got the Mr. Spock look.

“You’re already living,” Bingley said.

“That’s just a saying. ‘I need to make a living’ means I have to work to make money.”

“What do you need that for?”

I was getting just a little exasperated, which finally got me to the point.

“I need to make money so I can get your cat food.”

“You need it for food?” Bingley exclaimed.


He thought for just a moment.

“Better get going!” he said. “You don’t want to be late!”


“Some of us eat to live,” I said, “and some of us live to eat”–I’d forgotten I used that one before.

“Live to eat,” Bingley said with a smile. “Do I get a treat before you go?”


Apologies to anyone who was hoping to keep up on Bingley’s adventures: we’ve had a long hiatus, but we’re back now. Bingley had a scary incident that I’m not ready to write about, and I’ve tumbled through a number of the ubiquitous computer problems. But if today’s posts go up neatly, we’re online again and eager to share more stories. Thanks for visiting us again!

20  Cat People

For my birthday a couple months ago Bingley got me a card–he’s pretty good at that, though I think my wife helps.

The card he got this year has a slightly miffed, slightly supercilious cat on the front saying, “There are two kinds of people in this world.”

The inside says, “Cat people and idiots.”

[Thanks to the folks at Chicago’s PRGCO, who make wonderful cards on recycled paper.]

When I read the card, Bingley was watching, and when I laughed, he made a sound something like “ff ff ff ff ff,” which I think is his way of chuckling. He makes a sound something like that, more of a “FFFffff,” when I use my reading glasses to cast lights on the floor and he’s about to try to pounce on them.

He has never caught the lights, but that doesn’t deter him in the least. He pursues them with his full attention and energy, and I will usually stop the game before he gives up so that I can get a toy that he can catch. Once he has caught the toy, he’ll brush it aside and wait for those lights, worthier game, to return, as if he’s convinced that if I give him enough tries, he’ll wrangle them and bring them under his control.

If you are a cat person, I suspect you’ve played this game before–making the lights dance, that is, not pouncing on them. I don’t know if dogs play a game like this one–I think they prefer toys they can catch and either retrieve or hold in their mouths indefinitely.

I like dogs almost as much as cats. I asked Bingley once if he thinks someone can be both a cat person and a dog person.

He gave me a look much like that of the cat on the front of the card, with the ears pointed back and the eyes just short of glaring.

“Yeeess,” he said, “but don’t overdo it.” He has told me before that he thinks dogs are cool, too. And as I’ve mentioned, he’s a dog-cat himself, so his answer didn’t surprise me.

“They’re not as good at cuddling,” he said, jumping into my lap, settling in, and heaving a contented sigh.