51: Slow Learner

51: Slow Learner

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: I Can't Believe My Cat Did That!

Slow Learner

Most cats, when they are out want to be in, and visa versa, and often simultaneously.

~Louis J. Camuti

When Bandit and Smokey came to live with me, they seemed happy with their new surroundings except for one pesky fact: whenever they were inside they wanted out, and whenever they were outside they wanted in.

This was problematic when I spent long hours at work and they were stuck where they didn’t want to be, but evenings were even worse. I would sit in the kitchen grading papers near the sliding glass door. As soon as I got situated, one of the cats would come around, either pushing his nose to the glass from the outside, wanting in, or circling my legs and meowing, wanting out.

My new charges were driving me crazy! When friends suggested getting a cat door, I went deluxe and ordered a door that would be installed into the wall. I chose a model that consisted of double flaps, so that the cats had to go through the first flap, pass through a small tunnel about five inches long, and then through a second flap. This would prevent cold air from entering the house on winter days when the cats were particularly adamant about going in and out.

The next week a man named Jack came to install my door. As he sweated profusely in the August heat, the cats showed great interest in his enterprise, watching every movement. I was pleased with my sleek purchase. Having a cat door would simplify my life!

Jack warned me that it might take my cats a while to get used to the door, but he assured me that most pets adapted within a couple of weeks. As soon as he left, I nudged Bandit towards his new escape route.

Nothing happened. Bandit merely looked at me.

I placed him right against the flap.

“Come on, Bandit! Once you’ve mastered this, you can come in and out any time you like! You’re going to love it!”

But Bandit squirmed when I tried to push him through the door, and Smokey got so scared watching me torture his brother that he hid behind the couch.

Despite Jack’s reassurance, I was afraid I’d just wasted three hundred dollars.

When I came home from school the next day, I worked with the cats, pushing them through the cat door while holding the flaps open. None of these efforts appeared to make an impression on Smokey or Bandit.

About this time I met Fred. When he came over for coffee, he complimented my fancy door.

“It’s a waste of money,” I declared. “My cats won’t use it.”

“Sure, they will! But you have to train them. Come on! I’ll stand outside and help push them in and out.”

For the next half hour, Fred stood outside the house and I stood inside as we awkwardly passed the cats back and forth. They made piteous meows, as if the cold plastic flaps were painful to the touch, and sometimes we had to chase them down so that we could try again.

After Fred went home and I went back to doing homework at the kitchen table, they appeared, one by one, wanting out, wanting in, and I struggled to keep my concentration even though I was interrupted every few minutes.

For the whole next week Fred and I worked with the cats, but they didn’t learn a thing. I resigned myself to the fact that I’d bought a useless door and stopped worrying about it.

One Thursday a month later, my afternoon meetings got cut short and I came home from school a couple of hours early. Although I knew darned well I’d locked Bandit in the house that morning, when I got home he was outside in the yard! He’d used his cat door! I hugged him and praised him. He had finally caught on!

“You’re a good boy,” I told him as I scratched his ears. “Now, be sure to explain all this to your brother. I’m afraid he’s a slow learner.”

Indeed, despite my best efforts to force Smokey through the door at least once a day, he resisted bitterly, meowing the whole time. I kept reminding him that these actions were for his benefit, but he didn’t seem to care.

Several weeks later, I came home one day to find Smokey lying peacefully on the front porch basking in the sun even though I knew I’d left him inside on the couch. I was thrilled!

“You good boy!” I told him. “You finally did it! You’re no dummy after all!” I picked him up and hugged him, twirling as I did so.

At that point my neighbor Matt stuck his nose over the wall. “Dancing with your cat?” he asked.

I was so happy that I ignored his taunts. “Celebrating! Smokey finally learned how to go through the cat door! I’ve been working on this for four months! Finally he won’t be stuck inside when I go to class.”

“You leave him inside when you go to school?”

“Oh, yes. In case he needs water or something.”

Matt looked down at his feet, and I wondered if his tennis shoes were too tight. “I’m not sure how to tell you this.”

“What? Is something the matter?”

“Nothing’s wrong. But when you’re gone, your cats get lonely. They over come here all the time.”

“But . . . I don’t understand.”

“Your cat door,” he said softly. “They’ve been using it for months. They figured it out right away.”

“You’re kidding!”

“As soon as you leave, they come over to visit me.”

“You’re telling me that these cats have known how to use this cat door since . . .”

“Since the week you got it.”

That night when I sat at my table doing my schoolwork and the cats pressed their little noses against the sliding glass door, I gave them a stern look and continued what I was doing. No matter how hard they meowed, I refused to get up from my chair.

I may be a slow learner, but eventually, I do manage to learn.

~D.R. Ransdell

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