Dogs eat. Cats dine.
The first two pets my wife and I had were two female kittens, sisters we named Nip and Nap. Both were short-haired tabbies. Nip was mostly gray with a touch of white on her chest and Nap was tiger striped.
They both liked food with a strong aroma, preferring the tuna we ate to the tuna that came as cat food, because they could smell our tuna when we were serving it. If Nip and Nap smelled something you were eating and they wanted in on the fun, they’d hit your leg with a paw until you got the message that they were demanding a taste.
The aroma didn’t necessarily drive both of them to the table at the same time, however. Sometimes the scent of a certain food only appealed to one and not the other.
Nip, for example, was more of a meat eater and got very excited the first time she smelled pastrami. For the rest of her life, Nip always strolled over to the table for some hot pastrami every time we served it. Another dish that got Nip’s senses going was fried chicken. She loved it, including the crust.
Nap was a big whipped-cream fan, which had nothing to do with getting a whiff of the smooth treat. We discovered her attraction to this whipped delicacy when I left an ice cream sundae on the table, unattended, and Nap, still a kitten, jumped up for a taste of the dessert. That was before she’d learned her table manners, but after that we would give her a little whipped cream whenever we had it in the house for holidays and special occasions. The whipped cream would often get on her nose and she’d walk away from her bowl to a quiet corner to deftly clean off her face with a paw. Whipped cream must have agreed with her because she lived to the ripe old age of nineteen, and she never stopped craving it. A dairy enthusiast, Nap also liked cheese — various kinds — and eggs, too.
Nip never went after whipped cream or cheese. She was more of a carnivorous type. The only cat food Nip and Nap both loved was mackerel. The mackerel came in a can and had a pungent odor. My wife and I could hardly stay in the kitchen when we opened a can of mackerel for them, but both cats came running. For them, it was like ambrosia. We, on the other hand, had to get the empty can in the outdoor garbage right away and wash the cats’ food bowls as soon as they finished eating.
Aside from that, Nip and Nap both preferred people food to cat food throughout their lives. They were always hanging around the table when something smelled good.
But Nip had an absolute favorite — hot dogs. She didn’t eat much of a hot dog. A small piece, cut up in a bowl, would do it for her, yet she did relish them. But not just any hot dog would do. She liked a particular brand — kosher, no less — and if I didn’t buy that brand she wouldn’t eat it no matter what. When we cooked other brands, she would race into the kitchen and she’d nag us for a piece, the fragrance promising a taste of heaven. But when we put it in her bowl and she got a good whiff of it, she’d simply turn around and ignore what, for her, was nothing more than a cheap imitation.
And she wouldn’t just walk away. She’d have this down-in-the-dumps, dour look on her face. She was showing sheer disappointment, even disgust, that you’d tried a bait-and-switch stunt, tantalizing her with something scrumptious and then offering something that didn’t meet her standards.
Even though these hot dogs tasted pretty good to me, Nip would have none of it. So I always went out of my way to buy the brand of hot dog she liked.
When Nip and Nap got a bit older, a butcher shop opened near us and happened to carry the brand of hot dogs Nip liked. Through the years, I always bought my hot dogs there and Nip was very happy.
When you get hot dogs from a butcher, they are not prepackaged with a brand name. They come loose, wrapped in butcher paper, and are very fresh. One time, however, on a busy holiday weekend, I purchased some meat from the butcher, hot dogs included. That night I made some of the hot dogs I’d just purchased and put Nip’s portion in her bowl.
One sniff and she walked away in a huff. I thought she might be ill. I tasted no difference in the hot dog. The next morning, I called the butcher and asked him what brand of hot dogs he’d given me. He said that, because of the holiday, he’d run out of the brand I always bought but he’d given me a brand that was equally good.
“Honestly,” the butcher said. “I don’t know how you could even tell the difference.”
I told him I couldn’t tell the difference, but my cat certainly could. After a brief silence, he said, “Your cat? Your cat knew I gave you a different brand of hot dogs?”
“That’s right,” I said. “My cat knew it. Picked up on it right away. She loves the particular brand of hot dogs I always buy from you. She won’t eat another brand, no matter what. Well, she wouldn’t eat these hot dogs I just got from you yesterday, so I knew you didn’t give me the brand I always order.”
“This is your cat we’ve talking about,” the butcher said, “who eats the hot dogs?”
“Well, not all of them,” I said. “But she does eat the hot dogs and she’ll only eat a certain brand.”
A bit bewildered, the shop owner said, “And this cat knew these hot dogs were a different brand by…?”
“Smell,” I said. “You see, I put a piece of hot dog in her bowl and she sniffs it. If it doesn’t smell like the one she likes, she won’t eat it. Won’t even try it. It’s that simple, and that’s what happened. If you saw how disappointed she gets when it’s the wrong brand, you’d understand.”
“Yeah, I’m sure I would,” the meat man said sarcastically. “Look, is there anything else you buy from me that the cat eats? I wouldn’t want to disappoint your cat again.”
“No, just the hot dogs,” I said.
“Well,” the butcher said, “the good news is I’m getting more of the hot dogs your cat likes later today. Come down — I’ll give you some for her on the house. By the way, I’m just curious. Does the cat use mustard on the hot dog?”
“That’s ridiculous,” I said. “Who ever heard of a cat eating mustard — even on a hot dog?”
“You’re right,” he quipped. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”
— Robert Grayson —