WASHINGTON -- This just in: A new sociological study concludes that cat owners are, on the average, less happy than dog owners.
I read this with some amusement. I don't question the truth of it, but I do question its newsworthiness. It would be like a survey concluding that people with hemorrhoids are less happy than people without hemorrhoids.
I do not mean to denigrate cats. I am sure there are some deeply worthy cats, brave and affectionate companions, who have rescued children from burning buildings and whatnot. I am, however, influenced by a recent experience that resulted in my being in my backyard, in 45-degree weather, at 4:45 in the morning, for 45 minutes, wearing only underpants, shedding a tear.
I know what you are thinking. You are thinking I have no shame. What kind of person tells this story about himself, even if it is true? The answer is: A desperate columnist, on deadline. And it is true.
You are also thinking: Wait a minute, that's not so bad! I mean, let's say this happened to Ryan Gosling: Unaccountably, Ryan finds himself in his backyard, wearing only his underpants, at 4:45 in the morning, crying. So what? Worst thing that happens is that some insomniac paparazzo neighbor captures this on his cellphone and shares it on Instagram. No big deal. It's Ryan Gosling in his underpants. People would pay to see that. He'd probably get residuals. But I am not Ryan Gosling. I am pretty sure no insomniac paparazzo neighbor took pictures of me that night, but if one did, I would have had to kill him, confiscate his phone and flush it down the toilet, just to be sure.
What happened was that at 4:43 a.m., my elderly dog, Murphy, had to pee. As a fellow senior citizen, I understood and sympathized. Murphy is a reasonable individual. Unlike my cat, Barnaby, she behaves in rational ways.
Barnaby has four scratching posts, which he ignores in favor of two handsome leather chairs, which he has shredded like cabbage. He attacks Murphy, who could eat him in one gulp, because he knows she won't. He will poop outside his litter box, but do it furtively, in crevices, so weeks will go by before I find it. He likes to knock fragile things off counters. He is, in short, a cat.
Anyway, on this morning at 4:44 a.m., Murphy -- the sane and stable one -- panted really loudly in my face until I woke up. This is not ideal behavior but is within the ambit of normal obnoxious doggery, and certainly nothing to make a dog owner unhappy vis-a-vis the survey mentioned in paragraph one. Then Murphy led me to the back door and asked me to open it. I did. She went out and was back in 30 seconds. No biggie. Until the cat ran out, bursting for pay dirt like a tailback.
This left me with a problem. I could have run upstairs, put on pants, and gone out to look for him, but Barnaby has the urban awareness of Mr. Magoo. His immediate impulse, on the rare times he has actually escaped outside, is to locate the nearest moving car and be squashed by it. The only reason this has not happened is he is incompetent at that, too.
By the way, I love him. So I burst outside, just as he had. But there was no way of finding him -- he is black as the night. So I just sat there for more than half an hour, until he showed up wondering if it might be time for breakfast. It was nearly 5:30 in the morning, not time for breakfast.
A few hours later, Barnaby leaped onto my crotch from the table beside the bed, an act he has determined can reliably wake me up in a flash. It was now definitely time for breakfast. I took a photo of him at that moment and texted it to my daughter, Molly.
In the photo, Barnaby looks quite pleased with himself, though he was voluminously yawning. It had been a good, long night, full of adventure involving serious catting, attempting to find ways to kill himself. But now he was tired. His open mouth seemed enormous, exposing his fangs. He looked like a staple remover.
Molly did not know what had happened overnight, but she is a veterinarian, and she looked at that picture and saw into his soul. She instantly wrote back: "Holy [bad word]. Kill it with fire and salt the corpse, just to be sure."
Gene Weingarten can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @geneweingarten. Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon Eastern at www.washingtonpost.com.
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