Saturday, October 22, 2011

Herding Cats

Herding cats is difficult on a good day. Problems arise due to the disconnect between a person’s desire to communicate and have their needs understood, and the cat’s utter ambivalence to the very existence of the human. Because of the complexity of the human emotional mix it is often easier to experience emotional validation from a pet cat than to get it to travel as a member of a pack towards a waiting cat trailer.

Perhaps it is the loneliness of the open prairie or the confined cat-smell of the great feline holding pens of the Midwest, but men’s minds wander while out herding cats. The concepts of personal validation get mixed with more tangible expressions of understanding. Did kitty refuse the tinned catfood because she dislikes tuna-seafood offal surprise, or is my sofa throw too frayed? Cat herders begin to imagine feeling and reason behind the spindle-shaped cat pupil. Die-hard cat herders blur the line between manipulating the behavior of cats and their own moral condition.

“Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly committed themselves to herding cats. Those who do not are people who cannot or will not completely focus themselves on the task of cat herding, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing the deep understanding of cats which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average. There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them can herd cats if they have the capacity to be honest.” – Manual of Cat Herding 1st edition

The inability of most cats to follow direction is immediately obvious to those who work amongst them. Over 10,000 people go to the emergency room every year due to cat-related injuries; most of these are caused by tripping over the cat. Do cats trip humans on purpose? Some believe so, but how can one tell?

There are two cats that live in my house. By repeating my mistake of regularly feeding them I prevent them from running away. That is where the control ends. Every morning I shuffle out to the kitchen in the pre-dawn dark; every few months the household is awoken by a terrifying squeal. If the cats are attempting to channel my activity they are doing using what appears to be an unacceptably dangerous method. I think it more likely that the cats are acting out independent of the possibility that they might be irreparably stepped upon.

It is easy to convince oneself that there is comprehension in the activities of many things in our lives. The best measure we have for how comprehension works is our own mind. This leads to false conclusions.

On October 22nd 1901 Annie Edson Taylor put her cat in a barrel, and threw it over Niagara Falls. It took a while to retrieve the barrel, but the cat was generally unharmed. Annie decided it would be safe to go over Niagara Falls herself; in the same barrel. Unfortunately for Annie the sounds of impending death coupled with the erratic movement of the plummeting barrel took hold of her sanity. In short it scared the bezeebus out of her.

“If it was with my dying breath, I would caution anyone against attempting the feat... I would sooner walk up to the mouth of a cannon, knowing it was going to blow me to pieces than make another trip over the Fall.” -- Annie Taylor, shortly after being removed from her barrel

Annie, despite making a living as a clairvoyant in her later years, was unable to see terror in her cat’s eyes. She made the mistake of thinking that her trip would prove as inconsequential as her cat’s.

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