A case of mistaken ID and other cat capers

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, May 7, 2003

It's generally acknowledged that nobody ever owns a cat. But does anyone ever really know a cat? That was the intriguing question posed by one of our coffee companions the other day when I answered the phone.

It was Sally Pierce, a cat lover from way back. We had never met before, she said, but she reads this column regularly and thought I might enjoy hearing a hilarious story about something that happened earlier that day involving her cat.

Sounded good to me. So we scheduled a cat chat at a local java joint for the next day.

Sally arrived first and had already picked a table by the cream counter. She didn't know very many people in town yet, even though she had been a resident of Cochrane for two years, the genial Welsh-born 40-year-old said. Till recently, her work as a marketer of high-end tourism packages had kept her on the road most of the time.

Interestingly, by the end of our 45-minute visit, she had met almost a dozen of our other coffee companions who happened to stop at our table. (And what a memory Sally has! I think she correctly remembered the name of every person who joined us, together with something interesting about each one. With a skill like that, I bet she's really good at marketing.)

So, just what was it about her cat?

Well, she lives with two cats, she said: a 12-year-old tomcat, and a four-and-a-half-year-old longhair named Phoebe. As it soon became apparent, Phoebe was the reason for our talk.

Sally had acquired Phoebe as a kitten from a veterinarian in Golden, British Columbia. The black and white female had "a beautiful disposition" and "a perfect white bowtie under her nose," Sally said.

But recently, Phoebe had become quite restless, howling and running after other cats. Not wanting to have litters of little Phoebes showing up around the neighborhood, Sally decided she better see a local vet about having Phoebe spayed.

She dropped Phoebe off at the vet's and went about her chores around town.

When Sally returned to the vet's to pick Phoebe up, the vet and staff met her with uproarious laughter. "The vet said Phoebe was actually a Phoebeaux," Sally said.

"I've always thought she was a girl. The vet in Golden from whom I acquired Phoebe as a kitten gave me papers saying Phoebe was a girl."

But the Cochrane vet proved to Sally that her "Phoebe" really was a boy – "and well endowed, at that." Would Sally like to have him fixed?

When the gang standing around our table finally stopped laughing, a voice from the next table cut in: "Yeah, my husband was at the vet's at the same time and told me all about Phoebe's identity crisis!"

Phoebe's/Phoebeaux's case of mistaken identity reminds me of a similar incident my brother-in-law Art told me about many years ago – only in reverse.

A stray kitten had dashed into a country kitchen through an open screen door. It enjoyed the hospitality so much it decided not to leave. So, assuming it was male, they named it "Ben."

But some time later, when Ben had kittens, they renamed their pet "Ben Her."

While we're on the subject of cats, I thought you'd be interested in some of the cat quotes that are making the rounds these days.

Medical missionary, organist and philosopher Albert Schweitzer once said, "There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats."

Not everyone agrees with Schweitzer, however. There are those who think cats have too exalted an opinion of themselves: "Thousands of years ago, cats were worshipped as gods. Cats have never forgotten this."

To be sure, as one old English proverb puts it, cats do carry themselves about with a certain god-like bearing: "In a cat's eye, all things belong to cats."

And the poet T. S. Eliot acknowledged this when he wrote: "Before a cat will condescend / To treat you as a trusted friend, / Some little token of esteem / Is needed, like a dish of cream."

But woe to those unfortunate souls who refuse to pay homage. As another saying has it: "People who hate cats will come back as mice in their next life."

© 2003 Warren Harbeck

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