How to train your house cat

Growing up, I heard stories of the intelligent and well-trained dogs that both my mom and dad had as kids. I can’t remember hearing even one story about pet cats they may have had. We had our share of dogs when I was a kid, too, but unlike my parents, its the cats I remember the most. One cat in particular holds a special place of honor in my heart and my memories. His name was Sam.

Mom was a busy housewife with a growing number of children (six at final count). As a result, she became to appreciate cats a lot more than dogs. When cats wag their tails, they don’t knock over half-empty glasses of red Kool-Aid onto the carpet. Cats don’t need to be “walked”, they are litter box trained by their mamas, soon after they open their eyes. Cats don’t chew up your favorite shoes. And best of all, cats have a most endearing habit… when they are content, they curl up in your lap and vibrate.

My dad wasn’t as fond of cats as my mom was. One night, my parents grabbed a two-minute opportunity, during an “All in the Family” commercial break, to engage in one of their recurring debates over the intelligence of cats. As always, my mom took the side that cats were at least as smart as dogs, maybe even smarter. My dad gauged the intelligence of an animal by how easily trained they were. Cats, he said, cannot be trained. He bragged that he could teach a dog a new trick in a week’s time.

My mom, on the other hand, theorized that cats prove their intelligence by refusing to cow-tow to a human’s insistence that a four-legged creature fetch the newspaper, when in fact the human, with functioning opposable thumbs, is much better suited to handle the job himself.

At some point, in that two-minute debate, my dad tossed out the challenge. “I bet you can’t teach Sam to learn a trick in a week.” My mom, in a weak moment, accepted the challenge.

The very next day she went about preparing for Sam’s first training session. She went to the grocery store to pick up Sam’s favorite treat, beef kidney. She chopped the raw kidney into small bits, the smell of which enticed Sam into the kitchen. This was a promising start. Mom felt confident Sam would do anything for these kidney bits.

She had decided to teach him how to shake hands. On that first training session, she knelt down to his level, held out her hand, and commanded “Shake.” Then, she scooped up his paw in her hand and, without a second thought, Sam wriggled his paw right out of her grasp. She gave him a treat anyway,

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