Upon getting my first cat—after four decades of dogs—I immediately set about teaching him to come when called while simultaneously imbuing him with a love for travel. When the going got tough—45-seconds into training—I found encouragement in envisioning a rewarding future in which I would say, “Brewsky, my boy, jump in the car and take a ride with your dear old Pappy,” after which Brewsky would leap onto the front seat and slobber on the window while his striped tail beat a happy cadence on the seat-back.
Sadly, the nearest I came to success was manhandling Brewsky into the car, after which he would cower beneath the seat until I manhandled him out again. After 82 months of frazzled nerves and growing exasperation, I tried to spur his manly resolve by mockingly asking if he was ready to give up and stay home. Imagine my surprise when he said, “GOD YES!” Aghast, I stalled for time by asking, “What say we sleep on it, and talk again tomorrow?” “That will not be necessary,” he responded soberly.
As my inventory of cats increased like mateless socks, I took a more successful stab at teaching cats to come when called. What follows is my patented method: (1) Inform cat of his or her name; (2) In a masterly voice, command cat to stay; (3) Walk three rooms away; (4) Call cat by name while shaking treat jar. (5) When cat has learned step 4, summon cat without shaking treat jar.
Each of my cats learned the come-when-called trick with breathtaking speed, although one of them—my svelte tuxedo-girl, Scully—would arrive with the enthusiasm of a hungry schnauzer only to leave with equal enthusiasm upon receiving her treat. She would then repeat this behavior until the treat jar was empty, at which time she would resume her engrossing hobby of sitting alone in an empty room and staring at the wall.
Aside from Scully, the come-when-called classes were so successful that I convened a family meeting to announce that, the trick being mastered, treats would no longer be distributed, although a far greater reward—the pleasure of my company—would await all who obeyed my summons. The five of them kept their silence as they looked at me blankly before looking at one another blankly, prior to looking at me blankly (cats don’t lack emotion, but they do lack the facial muscles to show it).
Harvey, the attorney for the Cat Side of the Family responded less favorably than anticipated. In fact, he called my plan cananine** and insisted that my expectation that cats “come for nothing” was insulting. He even said that if I were really so stupid as to withhold treats, that I could call cats until my ____ head fell off for all anyone cared. Blindsided, betrayed, mortally wounded, and mildly disappointed, I didn’t mince words when I said that they were the ones who were stupid if they really imagined that I was so desperate for affection that I would attempt to buy the “love” of a lower species. Harvey grimly replied that what cats require in order to love a human is inconsequential compared to what humans require to love one another.
Rather than admit that he was right, I shouted the cruelest thing that came to mind: “You, my friends, might soon find that you are playing games with the wrong human because I have the power to starve every last one if I so please, and if you withhold the freely-given love that I demand, I will so please.” Brewsky (the revered patriarch of the Cat Side of the Family) quietly said, “We’re done here,” and the five of them filed out with their tails raised like a phalanx of missiles and their anuses pointed like a battle-line of howitzers. An hour later, I walked through the house handing out treats.