How to Pick a Cat

Dogs are easy to pick. You walk into a shelter and all the dogs bark, which is canine for, “Pick me, pick me. Me, me, me.” Then the tails wag, which means, “I’m friendly. I can be your new best friend. Say, have you lost weight? Because you look like you’ve lost weight.” Next is the licking. And ladies, here is the short-skirt warning: Any exposed skin is fair game. So cover any lady parts you don’t want licked. Dog slobber says, “You are mine. Take me home.”

The final step in choosing a dog is to close your eyes and pick any one of them; you can’t go wrong. Now cats are a different animal. While you pick a dog, a cat picks you. You may think you have control of this process, but that’s what cats want you to think. Play along with their grand scheme.

Let’s examine three cats.

Cat #1 is curled into a calculatingly adorable ball, seemingly asleep, but this cat has not entered dreamland. He’s most likely pretending to ignore you. Or maybe he’s actually ignoring you. These two actions are so similar that an untrained eye could miss the subtle differences: a slight whisker twitch, a tiny ear spasm, or an almost imperceptible flick of the tail. This simulated sleep is a conscious effort on the part of the cat to contain his enthusiasm and possible disappointment when you do not meet his exacting standards. If this cat opens his lids and glares at you through half-moon eyes, this is a great show of interest in you. Put this cat on the definite maybe list.

Cat #2 is staring down at you from the highest perch on the shelter cat tree. You may believe that Cat #2 is simply shy, but you’d be wrong. His exalted position is to immediately establish your place in the pecking order. This towering platform also allows a better view of your person to determine how well you fit into his world. Part of his decision is guided by ascertaining if the size and strength of your landing platform—aka, your back—is sufficient to withstand a 100 PSI downward leap with ensuing half-inch claw penetration. This cat may test your suitability. Do not be alarmed. He finds loud screaming amusing, so humor him. Add him to the definite maybe list.

Cat #3 appears to want to be petted, but when you approach, he wanders under a chair. This cat is not aloof; he has been disheartened in the past by potential staff—yes, cats think of us as domestic servants—who are easily discouraged after only ten or twelve aborted attempts at petting.

But do not give up.

Wait until this cat’s melancholia lifts—this could take minutes or hours—and you might be rewarded with the ceremonial flexing of claws into your knee. If so, my heartfelt congratulations. This cat has chosen you—and you alone to spend all nine of his lives with.

Repeat this process with your next cat. Because as we all know, cats are like potato chips—you can never stop at one.