I’m not really a cat person…

…or so I kid myself. Cat people have a reputation for being slightly crazy…or at the very least eccentric. Thankfully, my mother and her brothers always had dogs as pets, when they were children, so it was a natural follow on for me and my brother to gravitate toward dogs first as our choice of pet.

Our first dog was a black and tan Manchester Terrier cross puppy that was given to us in the local park by another boy, whose mother had told him to get rid of it. My mother was pushing my brother in the baby buggy (known then, in England, as a push-chair), as I ran on ahead through the park. By the time mum had caught up to me I was busy fussing this cute little pup, and the boy quickly explained that if we wanted it we could have the pup. Me and my brother then pretty much bullied mum into letting us keep it. You know the thing…”please mum let us keep it”…..”No”….”Oh go on mum please”….”No”….”Oh PLEEEASE mum, we’ll be ever so good won’t we Dave” to which my brother nodded so hard his head fell off….Obviously it didn’t, I was just trying to emphasize how hard he was nodding – but, never mind. Eventually after so many pleases and no’s she could stand no further whining from us and gave in. And let’s face it this technique usually works – it’s been passed down through generations…probably in our DNA….we don’t want it to be passed down obviously. We don’t want our kids knowing that continuous whining is our kryptonite do we? No matter how hard we try to suppress it…it still squeezes through, generation to generation.

At the time, the pup was very young and we weren’t absolutely sure if it was male or female. Turn it upside down and everything’s so small…and at that age they all squat to pee. The lad thought it was male so we called it Timmy – after the dog in Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books. Pretty soon it became clear that Timmy was actually a girl, so a quick name change was required and Lassie was decided on. Those of us old enough remember Lassie the collie dog in the movies….”What Lassie? Tommy fell down the well?”

She quickly became my dog and would follow me everywhere without a leash, although I also trained her on the leash and she quickly learned to heel…and not to tug and pull when we went for walks. She was a lovely, really lovely dog. Affectionate, well behaved. Unfortunately one day she, my mother, my brother and me were on our way home from my grandmothers and it started to rain. I had my bike with me so mum sent me off ahead to get home to shelter. The problem was that mum thought I’d stay on the same side of the busy road that they were on. But I decided to cross it as it would be a quicker way home. Mum was distracted, putting the rain cover over the push-chair, Lassie saw me disappear into the distance, ran across the road to try to catch up to me and was struck by a car. We’d probably had her about 2 years by that time and were all devastated at her untimely death. I never stopped blaming myself.

Next, after several years, came Bess. Bess was a brown and white Springer Spaniel who’s owner, a friend of my mothers, couldn’t keep her any longer as they already had another dog and the two did not get along. The lady insisted that Bess, who was about 18 months old, was a gentle, good natured dog and never did any damage or anything naughty. Pretty soon, after a few pairs of shoes had been destroyed and Bess also tried to eat a corner off the kitchen door, we came to the conclusion that we’d been had. After discussions with people “in the know” we were told that first thing is to move anything that the dog can chew, second thing is to smear the door with something pungent or spicy tasting to put the dog off and thirdly to not let the dog get bored.

Hiding the rest of the shoes, and applying Coleman’s Strong English Mustard liberally to what was left of the door, we thought would soon solved that problem. Turns out that our dog loved spicy food. Loved mustard. Could not get enough! Yum, yum, yum…loved it! Bring on the next course….chicken vindaloo perhaps? Fortunately she loved it so much that she stopped eating the door, just licked off the mustard…..and then squirted diarrhea all over the porch where we kept her. You would not believe how much of that stinky, yellow/green slime one medium sized dog has inside it…nor how far a medium sized dog can project it. Thank God she wasn’t a Great Dane or Saint Bernard….imagine it!

I don’t want to go on about it, but I will because I don’t think you can fully appreciate what a mess it was. You know those plastic squirty bottles that hot dog mustard comes in? Imagine a bottle 100 times the size and then picture a hippopotamus or an elephant leaping from a 12 metre diving board onto it. Actually that’s stupid, how would a hippo or elephant climb up there? Imagine it a hippo climbing a ladder…just not possible is it? OK, so imagine then that by some magical way, a hippo…..or elephant is up there on the 12 metre diving board. Maybe a crane – obviously the machine, not the bird….god imagine the bird flapping like mad trying to lift a hippo…just wouldn’t work would it….ridiculous….so a crane put it up there…or helicopter…perhaps, with a harness….then again hippos and elephants don’t have fingers so how would they unfasten the harness once they were up there? Hard work this. Whatever way it got there a very large animal is up there and leaps majestically into the air and plummets onto the squeezy bottle and well, you can guess the rest.

The porch was carpeted too….yes I know….not pretty! Not fully carpeted you understand we weren’t that posh! Just old rugs laid on top of a parquet floor. My dad years earlier had got hold of this old parquet flooring rescued from some wreck of a building or other and being a true Yorkshireman…never wanting to “chuck ‘owt out”….decided to re-lay it over the concrete flagstones in our porch. You know those little gaps between the slats of wood on a parquet floor? Particularly runny diarrhea can find it’s way into any little crack or crevice. There was no way that dad was going to let us destroy his handy-work so we lived with that particular cologne for years…and years. It’s the scent that keeps on giving.

After that, it became my job to take Bess for long….very long….walks to tire her (and me) out so that neither of us were capable of getting up to any mischief. She became a well loved family member. We spoiled that dog….to the point that she became diabetic. Mum would feed it ice cream for gods sake. So yes, she died of problems caused by diabetes.

Next came Baldrick. Named after the unkempt, slightly smelly, rather stupid character from the Blackadder TV series. And to be fair he did his best to live up to the name. Not a very high target to meet granted. But despite this he was still a lovely and loved pet.

Jumping several years and my brother-in-law ended up living at our house. I won’t go into the how, why and wherefores of it, but while me and my wife were overseas on an extended holiday, my brother-in-law and his son either allowed, or more likely encouraged, a couple of kittens from next door into our house.

Who doesn’t think cats, particularly little fluffy kittens are cute….I think it can be safely said that when it comes to a little pussy….we love ’em don’t we? By which I mean a small cat, a kitten.

Well, it turns out that, at that time, I was not like most people and I was annoyed, nay outraged, that our house minders had allowed felines through the door and into my hallowed space. Rather pathetically I tried to barricade the doorway so that the cats couldn’t get in. Of course as they got older and larger, leaping over my version of the Berlin Wall became like a game to them so, in the end I simply gave in, accepted their presence and – what do you know – the little buggers grew on me.

My wife didn’t have my built in aversion to cats, having owned a cat of her own when she was a child. Actually that sentence is ridiculous, as anyone knows who has a cat as a pet…..it’s the cat that owns you!

Anyhow, my wife soon named the 2 kittens – who were brother and sister and incidentally already had other names – Tiberius and Scarlet. The 2 kittens were inseparable during the daytime and were usually to be found in one another’s company, in a sunny spot in the garden. Although Scarlet would usually go back next door at the end of the day, Tiberius….or Tibs as I shortened his name to because I didn’t want to sound pretentious calling him in….”Tiberius, Oh Tiberius, where are you?” – made our home his in a very short time.

Scarlet on the left and Tibs on the right.

Tibs would come and go throughout the day, but at night time, he’d settle down on the couch and that would be the last we’d hear of him until early morning when he’d wander into our bedroom, jump up on to the bed and then settle down on my chest and push his face into mine, just to let me know that he loved me…..actually to tell me to get up and get him breakfast.

We became firm friends. He was my confidante and we had many a long discussion. Well I talked, he just looked aloof, but I’m pretty sure he was listening to every word. Then one evening in January at 10pm, for no apparent reason, he went out the front window and never returned.

Devastated doesn’t even come close to how I felt.

Oddly the very next morning Scarlet appeared meowing constantly, with a little bundle of fluff in tow. It was as though she was saying “I know Tibs is gone, but don’t be sad, I brought you a gift”. That little bundle of fluff became a regular visitor then a permanent guest when we became official carers for him. I would say owners, but we already know who owns whom when it comes to cats.

Scarlet…the mother cat laying on the chair and our little bundle of fluff Hector (yes, of course, named by my wife).

That was almost 3 years ago. Hector is my present confidante and my new owner. He rules the roost, as it were. He’s more of a night owl than Tibs was and is frequently in and out of the cat flap during the hours of darkness, announcing his arrival with a very loud “I’m here!” – or at least I swear that’s what it sounds like. He brings home “gifts” such as dried flower heads, the occasional rabbit…. or half a rabbit (always the bottom half, never the head)….and mice…sometimes dead but more often than not, very much alive. Hector, it would appear, has signed up for the mouse catch and release program. It seems to amuse him to watch me chase the mice around the house trying to catch them again. He thinks it’s great fun.

When he’s had his fun for the night, and a feed, he’ll jump up on the bed and spread out, so my feet are wedged down a narrow strip of bed so as not to upset his highness. He’ll have a scratch, groom himself and then purr himself to sleep….where as I’ll lay there uncomfortable, very much awake and developing a cramp in my crushed legs.

You’d think that this would piss me off….the constant meowing at odd hours of the night….the mouse hunting when still half asleep and bleary eyed…the demands of “feed me” at all hours…..the lack of sleep. Some would call me insane for putting up with it, but funnily enough if I don’t hear those middle of the night calls for attention I lay awake and worry….where is he, is he ok? Crazy or just a softy? I wouldn’t have it any other way. So, when I say I’m not really a cat person I guess what I mean to say is that I wasn’t, but now I most certainly am.

Me and the boss….Hector.

The sum of all things.

As I lay in bed early this morning, having been waken by a combination of our cat Hector demanding attention by mewing by the bedroom door, and the first notes of the dawn chorus of birdsong, all manner of things flood my mind.

My head is literally awash with thoughts all tumbling through with little forethought. Memories, ideas, wishes, and a few regrets, all pile on top of one another in utter chaos that I’m meant to sift and sort through if I’m going to make the slightest sense of them. Are they meant to be made sense of though? Should I simply get a big broom and sweep them all into a corner for Ron….you know, I’ll sort it out lateR on. Or I could sweep them under the rug and forget about them….leave them for Al – zheimers to claim.

But no. What ever these things are – rushing hell for leather through the sometimes dim, sometimes illuminated, corridors of my mind – they are demanding attention…much like my cat Hector is demanding to be fed.

Everyone I’ve ever met, everything I’ve ever done, every smell, every taste, every touch, every sight and sound, every experience – good or bad – every thought, spinning around in a huge tumble dryer falling over and over one another. These are the sum of my life. The sum of all things that equal me.

Another louder, more insistent MEEEEOOOW! And Hector leaping onto the bed and onto my chest mean that my mental mathematics will have to wait for later. The sum of all things that equal me have just been put in their place…..his majesty wants his breakfast.

The difference between Cats and Dogs….and why cats make better bookmarks.

Are you a dog person, or a cat person?

I have always considered myself a dog person, having owned a pet dog of one sort or another since I was a little boy and actually looked upon “cat people” with scorn almost to the point of ridicule. Why would anyone want a cat rather than a dog for goodness sake?

That was then…..this is now. I’ve jumped ships. I’m now very much in the cat camp.

Looking back all my dogs – Lassie (how original right?) the mixed breed black dog with tan markings was my first and was a lovely natured, loyal, obedient, lively dog and a great companion for two young boys (me and my brother) growing up. Her life was taken too soon on a busy road by a car in a hurry – or a driver of a car in a hurry.

Next came Bess – a Welsh Springer-Spaniel – liver and white in colour. Another wonderful dog, and quite intelligent for a spaniel… (she learned to “heel” very quickly and so could be walked almost anywhere off the leash and would stay by my side). I used to walk her for miles through the woodland near our home in Yorkshire – treasured memories. She had a great temperament, so gentle – (we had a budgerigar in a cage in the house – One day it got out and the dog caught it. She just held it ever so softly in her mouth and presented it to me completely unharmed – except for a coating of doggy saliva that is).

Then, after moving to New Zealand and having two small sons of our own…..we thought a dog would be a good companion for them too. So we bought a black and white Springer/Cocker Spaniel cross from our neighbour. He (our first and only male dog) was playful and very friendly – a little over exuberant maybe – even to the point of annoyance – but also…..I don’t really want to use this word, but honestly I have trained other dogs with ease – this one just wouldn’t learn…..he was STUPID. (This is where Forest Gump pops up in my head and says “stupid is as stupid does….that’s what my momma used to say”). I’ve heard some experts say that there are no stupid dogs, only stupid owners……that may be true in 99% of cases ,where the dogs may have had a learning capacity greater than that of a Turnip, but our dog was definitely a few sandwiches short of a picnic. Which is why we named him Baldrick – after the character from the Black Adder TV series.

Finally we come to our last dog, Millie a Jack-Russel Terrier with the typical brown on white markings. She was the runt of the litter, only half the size of her siblings and so my wife took pity on her and, despite my insistence that we were n’t having any more pets, she was soon sleeping in a shoe box, (that’s how tiny she was – I could hold her in the palm of my hand) by the side of our bed. Another lovely, well trained dog with a friendly manner – except she didn’t like very small children – as a result of being poked around by a couple of little ones when she was a pup (no, not our kids). The problem with runts of the litter is that they are not generally expected, in nature, to live to adulthood. Millie did however, but not without a whole raft of medical problems that cost us into the thousands of dollars to combat. She was 12 years old when she died – 74 in dog years according to the latest way of calculating dogs years Vs humans. (15 dog years for the first human year, 9 dog years for the 2nd year and 5 dog years for every human year afterwards – it used to be 7 dog years for 1 human year….things change – must be inflation).

After her death – which was extremely upsetting for us all, we both agreed – No More Pets!

We went away on holiday (that’s the same as a vacation – for our cousins from the former colonies) – leaving our home in the capable hands of my wife’s brother and his son who would house sit for us and keep things ticking over while we were away. On our return I found, much to my dismay that our home was now “open house” for 2 very young kittens who had come through the fence from next door and had had the run of the house almost from day one of our holiday.

“Right” I said “Not having this….we are a cat free house!” – What a grumpy bugger!

I then set about putting barriers across the back doorway too high for the kittens to clamber over. This of course worked for a couple of weeks until they learned how to jump…..something that animals of the feline persuasion do extremely well. In the end I softened my attitude and allowed them back in…for a while….and would then pop them back through the fence to go home. The two kittens, one male and one female -(we didn’t know what names the neighbours had given them so…) – my wife named them Scarlette and Tiberius. Well, Scarlette, as a name, I could handle…..but Tiberius? To me, he became Tibbs or Tibby and as an ardent Dog man, I hate to admit how fond I became of him. He quickly became MY cat….my wife would claim OUR cat….but he was definitely mine – Shhhh don’t tell her.

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Scarlett on the left and Tibbs on the right. 

From being a 3 month old he pretty much took up permanent residence at our place, (we’d been buying food for them both for some time already), though his sister would go back and forth from us to the neighbours. Tibbs would come when called in at night and slept inside – where ever he wanted to. In the mornings he’d come into the bedroom and jump on to the bed and nuzzle me, purring like a motor boat – as if to say ‘Good morning…great to see you!’, before settling down to sleep on my chest. He had a routine. After breakfast he’d go off exploring for a couple of hours before coming home again to check on me, to have a cuddle and some more food before finding a nice sunny spot to settle in the garden…..sometimes joined by Scarlette. They were really good mates together.

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Tibbs using Scarlette as a cushion. 

As I said Tibbs never went far and always came home every few hours, so one day when he’d been missing all day, and didn’t come when I called him in, in the evening – naturally we were worried. Fortunately the next day he turned up, bloodied but otherwise ok. He’d obviously been in a fight, bits of missing fur and tooth marks in his skin attesting to that. After that night, he stayed close to home for a few weeks.

Then after he’d been living with us for about 9 months….it was the 4th January 2017 and we had a houseful of family staying over Christmas and New Year….he went out into the garden about 10pm and that was the last we saw of him. My wife was very upset and I, someone who over the years had often said “I can’t stand cats!” – was devastated. It was crazy. I’d had pets die before…dogs…budgies…goldfish, even chickens, and had been upset, but this was gut wrenching. I was beside myself. I think it was the not knowing what had happened to him that was the worst. Was he alive being looked after by another family, or trapped in a shed somewhere, was he dead….if so had he suffered?

A few weeks prior to his disappearance, Scarlette had given birth to her first litter of kittens. 3 little bundles of fluff. We’d not seen them, but we’d been told by the neighbours about them. The day after Tibbs disappeared, Scarlette came visiting and brought with her the cutest, prettiest looking kitten ever. Now bear in mind that this is someone who “doesn’t like cats” who’s writing this….so the kitten MUST have been extremely cute.

My wife…as she does….named him – yes the new kitten is a him – Hector. And, like his uncle Tibby, Hector  – once he’d weaned off his mother, kind of settled in with us. He’d go for a wander next door to check on his bro’s, but would usually be back in a few minutes.  Other days he’d stay at the neighbours overnight, but mostly spent his time at our house. The youngest boy who lived next door used to come around and collect Hector…who they called Hemi….and take him home to their place. Half an hour later Hector was back with us. Time passed Hector grew and Scarlette had another litter of kittens and so Hector went down the order of cuteness as far as the kids next door were concerned. The new kittens took priority and Hector was no longer wanted.

Long story….already pretty long…but, long story short we had a chat with the neighbours and officially adopted Hector/Hemi to be OUR cat. We took him to the vets, got him “fixed”…..sorry Hector – I feel your anguish and your…loss. AND now I’m going to have to sit with my legs crossed for the next hour wincing in sympathy, just at the thought of it. We bought him a nice collar with name tag and phone number on ….. that’s our phone number not his…..I mean, we spoil the cat with treats but didn’t go as far as giving him his own phone. He settled back in with us despite having him go under the vets knife and except for his tendency to test our love for him……I’ll explain shortly…..everything was going very nicely.

We live on a very busy main road – to the front of the house – with orchards and fields to the back of the house. Scarlette seems to have done a good mothering job in teaching her offspring about keeping off that main road and heading the other direction into the orchard instead. At night I close our big double gates to make the gardens secure for the night…..this, if I am not careful, is where Hector tests our love for him. If he sees me walking down the driveway toward the gate he’ll lay in wait until I have closed one side of the gate and will then run hell for leather out of the open side and lay on the footpath inches away from the busy road and traffic. He’ll lay there and and turn to look at my frantic face as if to say “Well….aren’t you going to rescue me?”.  A couple of times I have walked slowly over, bent down and picked him up….bringing him back on to our property and safety….and telling him not to scare me like that ever again.

Obviously almost giving me a heart attack wasn’t enough for dear old Hector so the next time he was laying beside the busy road and I ever so slowly moved toward him….he thought “lets see how much the old bugger can take” and jumped up and wandered slowly across the road…..somehow dodging the cars hurtling past. He got to the centre of the road all calm and collected and then completely lost control and bolted for the shrubbery on the far side. I was so caught up in watching what HE was doing that I found myself….almost trance-like standing in the middle of the road among the traffic. Regaining my senses, I too bolted for the far side, but restrained myself from diving into the bushes after him. Not only were there bushes and shrubs on this side of the street, there was also a wire fence separating me from him. I got down on all 4’s and peered through the hedge. Hector was there, but wouldn’t come when called and wasn’t quite within reach. I had to go for the secret weapon….the wife!

The idea being that if she couldn’t nag him out no one could……just kidding dear.

Once I’d explained what had happened my wife spiritedly volunteered to go through the wire and shrubbery after Hector. I sort of half supported and half pushed her through the hedge until she was all the way in there except for her feet….which I was gripping onto for dear life. “I can almost touch him…..just a little further” she uttered, and in a flash she had gone….I was left on one side of the hedge my wife’s empty slippers in hand and she was on the other side…..somewhere, barefoot…hopefully with the cat now safely in hand.

Moments later, a rather grubby and scratched face appeared and then some hands and arms came through the branches and leaves – holding a very scared Hector. I took him from her and holding him tightly to my chest – I could feel his heart beating like a machine gun – I got him safely home and gave him some food. Only then did I think of my dear wife…battered and bleeding from scratches….and by now barefoot….on the wrong side of the hedge on the wrong side of the road.

She appeared in the kitchen just at that moment grunted “thanks a lot” at me and then made a fuss of the cat. So all’s well that ends well…..and I’ll make up the bed in the spare room shall I dear?

For the next few months all continued to go well….we got into a routine, as we had with Tibbs. Hector sleeps indoors….meows in the morning to be let out, so we unlock the cat flap (we have to lock it at night to keep the rest of the neighbourhood cats out), and off he goes to return a couple of hours later for another feed or a cuddle or a nap. Like his uncle before him, he doesn’t usually wander too far from home and always returns every couple of hours to check in with us. AND like his uncle he jumps on the bed and nuzzles me in the morning….not every morning, just when HE feels like it. He’s his own man. There is no doubt that it’s he that is in charge and this is definitely Hectors house.

Regardless of what time Hector gets me up to let him out, I always make a fuss of him, stroke him and tell him how special he is….after losing Tibbs suddenly like that I just wanted him to know that he’s loved. (I know I don’t sound like a former hater of cats). Then one morning off he went, 4.30am – through the cat flap into the first dim glow of what was promising to be morning. All through the morning – no Hector….nor the afternoon…nor the evening. I took to the streets checking for any signs…alive or dead…and calling his name. I even checked the shrubbery over the road. Nothing. Evening gave way to the full dark of night. At midnight I climbed into bed – worried sick and fearing for the worst. My wife reminded me that “You’re the guy who doesn’t like cats, remember?”….but by now Hector wasn’t just a cat he was family. We both lay there in the dark, silent…wondering.

Then around 1.30am…a distant Meow….then closer, another….louder. The rattle of the cat flap and a loud MEOW! We leaped out of bed and rushed to the back door and there he was, a little scruffy and musty smelling and minus his collar, but otherwise alive and well. I have never felt so relieved!

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Hector playing with a younger sibling 

He’s back to his old routine. Doesn’t wander far, eats here, sleeps here, gets cuddles here…..plays here, or next door, with his mother and younger brothers and sisters. Yes they have quite a collection of cats next door now after 3 litters of kittens. Some of the kittens have been found new homes but it still leaves around 6 or 7 of our feline friends on the other side of the fence. Of course most of them find their way, at some point during the day, over to our place to play with Hector, to eat his food, drink his milk and of course to dig and shit all over my vegetable gardens. Oh the joy of cats!

I had planted enough garlic in my garden to provide us with a couple of garlic bulbs per week for the whole year…on maturity. Why do cats like to crap in garlic beds? They have dug and shit…shit and dug so much that I’ll be lucky to have a dozen bulbs left come harvest time.

In order to foil their evil plans to do the same to my strawberry beds I have built supports around the garden edges and netted the entire strawberry beds in bird netting – in a bid to not only keep the cats from digging the plants up, but also to protect the ripening fruits from the thieving birds.

The cats and kittens really love the nets. It seems that they make great hammocks….wonderful places to just hang out (literally) and enjoy the spring sunshine.

SO….The difference between dogs and cats. Over all and despite the angst caused by the permanent disappearance of Tibby and the temporary disappearance of Hector, cats in my humble opinion, are far less trouble than dogs to look after. All they ask for is food, water and a cuddle – when it suits them. They clean themselves, take themselves for walks, cover up their own “business” and let themselves in and out via the cat flap. If they are hungry and there is no food out, they will prepare their own meal of rodent or bird (Rat or Tui anyone?- don’t worry, it’s  New Zealand joke).

Following a dog around with a plastic bag in hand, waiting for it to “go to the toilet” – lets face it, leaves a lot to be desired.

They, cats, like human companionship….but only when it suits them and they are not desperately fawning when their laughingly called “owner” (ho-hum) appears in the same room – unlike their canine counterpart, who even if their owner has only been out of sight for five minutes, behave completely deranged when they reappear. Wagging their tails almost off in sheer delight. Man is, without doubt, in charge when it comes to dogs…..but cats definitely rule over men. (When I use the word “man” or “men” I don’t specifically mean a male of the human species –  I use it in the way that we, “the older generation”, used to use the term “mankind”….before we got our wrists slapped and were told it now has to be “humankind”…or even “personkind”)

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Hector aka “He Who Is In Charge”…..but cute with it.

A dog maybe mans best friend and man is, without a doubt, the object of a dogs undying affection….even it seems when the dog has been mistreated. A cat on the other hand may be a loved companion of man (or woman), but man to a cat is just…meh…you can cuddle me when I say you can cuddle me and not a moment sooner…..now where’s my dinner and don’t just give me bloody biscuits!

 

Oh and by the way….the reason that cats make better bookmarks than dogs is that usually, but not always….they are smaller, so fit inside a book easier….and have the ability to lay still for ages. It makes them “purrrfect” bookmarks.