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Sputnik has Landed

By Dave Fox
Seattle, Washington 

Rhonda is my Graphic Design Therapist. She listens patiently as I share my anxieties about website design and she nods sympathetically. Then she tells me my problems are easy to solve; all I have to do is spend months mastering highly complex computer software like she has. “You really should learn these things,” she tells me.

Tormented by a blurry graphic on my homepage, I broke down last week and begged Rhonda to just fix it for me. I offered her money, but we agreed on beer and bratwurst instead.

So I fired up the grill Friday night. Rhonda was in my den, working on my computer. I was in the kitchen attempting to locate barbecue tongs in one of the black holes I commonly refer to as “kitchen drawers.” Rhonda glanced up at my cat, who was just sort of hanging out in the living room. Rhonda shrugged. The cat shrugged. They both went back to what they were doing.

It was a modern Norman Rockwell kind of a moment. There was just one small problem. I don’t own a cat.

The intruder had invited himself in through my patio door, which I had left open while I rummaged for tongs. As I looked up from my kitchen and saw him standing there, a simple thought echoed through my brain: “There’s a strange cat in my home who has absolutely no concern for what he does to my carpet.”

Now, you and I both know the cat did not enter my condo with the specific intent of peeing on the floor. He came in following a different basic instinct: He wanted a beer. And he must have heard me (cats have extremely sharp senses of hearing) cracking open a bottle of Bass Ale, which led him to enter my abode.

Well I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of cats always coming to my door begging for beer. Beer is bad for cats. I know this from the surgeon general warnings on the bottles. Furthermore it makes them urinate a lot, which is a bad thing if they are standing on your living room carpet. So I was not about to give this cat a beer.

Instead, I did what any modern-day-Norman-Rockwell character would do. I yelled, “Get out of here!” and ran toward the cat, tongs in hand.

Running toward a strange animal is frightening. You never know if they will run away from you, or attempt to bite you in certain unmentionable body parts. But this cat fled – out the sliding glass door and onto the cement slab that spans the back of my building.

I followed, adrenaline surging. The cat stopped and stared me down.

“Okay, I’m out,” the expression on his face said. “You’re not really going to use those tongs on me, are you?”

He was a skinny cat with no tail and no collar. He blinked his hungry eyes at me.

“Stop that!” I commanded.

He blinked again.

“You’re not getting any beer!” I scolded.

“Okay, okay,” his expression seemed to say. “I don’t like Bass anyway. I was hoping for a Guinness. But how about some food?”

Cats extort food using powerful mind control tactics. Here, Sputnik demonstrates the "looking cute while emitting a hypnotic glare" technique.

I know what you are thinking. Don’t ever EVER feed stray animals or they will never leave you alone. I’ve known that since I was a child. But this cat was using powerful mind control on me. Cats do that.

I broke down. I fed him roast beef. I was now his slave for life.

Rhonda named him Sputnik as we sat down for dinner. I wanted to name him Dave, but decided that would be too confusing when people telephoned.

Sputnik eyed me suspiciously at first, then wolfed down his dinner. He spent the next three hours trying to pry my screen door open.

Sputnik has been coming for dinner every couple of nights for a week now. He’s a smart cat. He knows when I’m on my patio. He knows the smell of lighter fluid, and he shows up meowing before I even have the coals lit.

We have learned important lessons from each other. He has taught me never to leave my screen door open again. I have taught him that coming inside my condo is a waste of time. He has trained me to bring his food out to him.

We have not yet reached the game-playing stage like I have with other cats. I once took care of Bagheera, who played a game called “Run Around Under the Covers All Night Long while Dave Tries to Sleep.” And I cat-sat for Boxer, who played, “Meow Really Loudly at 3 a.m. until the Strange Man in my Bed Wakes Up and Plays with Me.”

People don’t own cats. They own us. And Sputnik has adopted me. But we have not started playing games yet because I am reluctant to bring him inside.

The truth of the matter is I’ve wanted a cat for years, but my travel schedule makes it unrealistic. If anyone in the Seattle area is interested in adopting or sharing Sputnik, he is young and friendly. He needs some basic veterinary attention that I’ll happily help pay for in exchange for visitation rights. He likes Ocean Fish Flavor Friskies and the scent of lighter fluid. But please do not feed him any beer. The surgeon general has determined that it impairs a cat’s ability to operate heavy machinery.

Published on Sunday, July 22, 2001

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