As a child it was my dream to put the family’s pure-bred, tortoiseshell Himalayan cat on a leash and parade her around the neighborhood. Unfortunately, this cat’s Siamese-influenced DNA and generally grumpy disposition meant I could barely pet, let alone catch, hold, and harness her. A few feeble attempts left me morose. As a consolation my mother gave me Tricks Your Cat Can Do, an early ‘90s pub that offers advice on how to train your cat to do six “spectacular” tricks. In retrospect, offering me this book was not unlike gifting a person with Celiac disease a bread-making cookbook; however, the book’s instructive photos and straightforward prose entertained me as I lived vicariously through Gilbert Langley’s magical Tricks Your Cat Can Do.
I recently rediscovered the book on my parents shelves as I helped them pack for a move, and I noticed some things my younger self had missed…
For starters, Langley wisely titled his book Tricks Your Cat Can Do. “Can” being the operative word, of course. Your cat can also throw up on the hardwood floor instead of the expensive rug; can be a faithful companion; or can leave the dead mice outside. But can doesn’t equal will. Even if you can teach your cat the Drink Trick (materials include “a fun-loving cat”) why would you want to?? The book states, “This is a popular trick for kitty. When you have guests at your home and kitty places his paw in someone’s drink he will impress everyone. To be able to order your cat to do something so alien to his nature surprises people.” I beg your pardon, Gilbert, but what surprises people is why you’re urging your cat to stick his fresh-from-the-litter-box paw into your guest’s drink! That’s what surprises people!
But this 95-page book examines cat psychology, not human psychology. Therefore the whole thing could have been cut down to a 1-paragraph brochure stating, “Only exceptionally smart or exceptionally hungry cats are eligible to submit to training, which is a waste anyway because you cannot train your cat. If the feline in question happens to do a trick–even repeatedly–it is only because both of your motivations happen, at that moment, to coincide. Do not be fooled into thinking you have succeeded.”
Despite these criticisms, one must congratulate Mr. Langley on his good humor, photography skills, and willingness to exploit both his children and cats:
“Hey, sis! Jump through this hoop or Dad says you’re grounded.”
“Yea…I’m a cat. And I’ve got a car…no big deal.”
“Look Ma, no hands!”
In the end, the multiple photos of cats in toy cars compelled me to take up the leash, having hung limp for more than a decade, once more and see if I couldn’t have better luck with my own cat in performing three of Langley’s six tricks:
Trick 1: Sit. “Cat will go to specified location, and sit when the trainer gives the signal.”
Trick 2: Up. “Cat will sit like a groundhog (up on back legs with front paws up) when you give verbal and hand signals.”
Trick 3: Through the Hoop. “Cat will jump through a hoop held between platforms when given a hand signal and command such as ‘jump, fool.’”
I could be bitter that my childhood dream was deferred only to be reignited by a book and then ultimately crushed. But the reason I continually fail in my cat-training endeavor is exactly why I love the species and how Langley concludes: “There still remains a goodly part of Cat that is beyond our understanding. He may have indulged us in some of our follies by jumping through the hoop when his needs could be met, but he remains uniquely a cat.”
(No animals were harmed in the making of this blog post. Although the human sustained minor injuries.)