Thursday, August 31, 2006

Herding Cats

Australian Shepherds require a job of their own. Preferably that job is herding sheep, but if that duty is not available, and herding other livestock like cows is also not an option, the under-employed Aussie will find solace in herding people, inanimate objects, and most enthusiastically, cats. Some cats take this wrong.

But Mooka is not a very threatening foe. What her stumpy, lopped tail lacks in length, it greatly makes up for in a wide range of expression that even the semi-conscious cat can easily read. There’s the forceful, deliberate wag when she senses the Frisbee might soon be thrown; the wide side-to-side I’m such a jolly girl wag combined with a forced panting grin used for begging; a quick, low, subtle wag that can be seen on approach when you’re about to pet her, and the frantic, high-speed, I’m herding the cat wag, usually accompanied by whining.

Frieda toys with her by tempting her to lean in for a hearty butt sniff, then wielding her mighty paw in the air with a menacing flat-eared glare, causing Mooka to jump several feet in the air backwards, skidding over throw rugs. Then the game starts over and Mooka looks for a different angle to lean in for a sniff opportunity. It’s hard to tell who’s having more fun, though Mooka’s tail wags the hardest. The game usually ends when Popsey (yes, his pseudonym has changed slightly), starts bellowing about scratches on the wood floor and throws the critters out of the house.

As darkness approaches and we become aware the cat isn’t in the house and may fall prey to the hungry coyote at any moment, we all go into full cat-herding mode. Mooka sees the Pounce canister come out of the pantry and punches in on the time clock for some serious work. She's very talented at the job, though her understanding of "the point" could be disputed, as more often than not, she herds the cat AWAY from the house, not into it. We're working on it though.

I realize a lot of people may be under the impression that trying to outsmart cats is futile due to their superior intelligence. But I’m here to tell you, it can be done.

The nightly cat-herding process has been causing us mounting levels of frustration. We search, call, and shake the Pounce can harder and harder, to no avail. The problem seemed to be getting worse by the night. Finally we decided to take action. The cat food bowl was “disappeared” after about 10 am. By 8:00 pm, Frieda was paying a lot more attention. She seems to have realized that the food is a privilege, and not something we owe her 24 hours a day due to her elevated station in life. When we finally bring the food out after dark, cat-herding is no longer a problem. I was concerned Mooka would be at loose ends without her extended nightly duties, but she seems happy to be having more success on the job. Ranch-morale has lifted.

Can we go to work now? Now? How bout now? There's the cat. The cat. Right there. The cat. Now?

P.S. This picture made me wonder about something. Why do dogs have serrated lips?


  1. Dogs *do* have serrated lips, don't they? Weird.

  2. Anonymous12:00 PM

    It could be a place for the drool to drip off.

  3. Brilliant hypothesis, Anonymo! That certainly could be it.

  4. We have a winner in the dog-serrated-lips quiz! Anonymous is RIGHT. After careful observation of drool pooling into the sides of Mooka's mouth and draining through the serrations, I conclude that the serrations are indeed an important part of a dog's healthy drooling habits. Anonymous, pat yourself on the back.

  5. Anonymous8:55 AM

    Why, thank you...I'll take my prize money in cash...