Leo Morris column sig

Pierre the cat was a once-in-a-lifetime pet, and some of you will know exactly what I mean.

He is the one you tell the same stories about over and over to friends more tolerant than they should be. He is the one you compare all other pets to. He is the one that makes you realize each animal might show common species characteristics but also has a unique personality.

He is the one you never forget, and can’t think about without the ache of loss.

It might be because he was my first or perhaps because he chose me. He was a six-month-old stray who wandered in from the alley, ambled up to the group of us sitting on the back patio and jumped right up in my lap.

Whatever the reason, Pierre and I had a special bond I have never been able to duplicate. And there is only one way to describe it. I know those of you who go on and on about animal “companions” bristle at the concept of “ownership,” but, sorry, that’s the way it was.

That cat owned me.

And he did what any responsible cat that owns a person (human companion) would do. He trained me.

That required Pierre to first teach me his special language. It takes patience to make dim humans understand the various feline signals that specify certain demands must be met, but he had admirable persistence.

He was an inside-outside cat, and he had a distinct meow telling me he wanted to go out. It was quite different from, for example, his “move that footstool back where it belongs” meow or his “fill my water dish” meow. It was “meee-row” and it meant, “Open this door, now!”

He had a whole ritual designed to get me out of bed if he thought I was sleeping in too long. First, he would stand by the bed and yowl. When I ignored that, he would get on the bookcase headboard, lean over and smack me on the forehead. When that failed, he’d hop up on the dresser and start knocking things off.

He developed an early warning signal to let me know a thunderstorm was coming. He’d go a third of the way down the basement steps and just sit there, and up to an hour later, the storm would come, even if had been bright and sunny when he started. He never got it wrong. Not once.

He perfected a hissing, back-arching, fur-popping way of telling me I had failed in my responsibility to control the weather, which he deployed with the first snow of each year. He always forgot what snow was, until he meee-rowed the front door open and stepped into it.

He’d let out a “Yeow!” and rush back in, shaking his paws, then run to the back door and demand to be let out there. Surely the awful white stuff wasn’t behind the house, too.

With my education complete, Pierre then proceeded to train me in the retrieval of hamburger balls, the ultimate expression of cat dominance.

One time when I brought home a pound of hamburger with my store order, I pinched off a piece for him, put it on the floor and watched him gulp it down without chewing. It became a ritual after that pound of burger for me, a pinch for Pierre.

Eventually, I started pulling off several pieces from each new pound, rolling them into balls and putting them in the freezer wrapped in wax paper.

Zoom forward a few months, and we had developed a routine that lasted for Pierre’s 19 years in this world.

He’d find me wherever I was sitting and put his front paws on my knees and stare at me until I got up. Then he would lead me into the kitchen and lean into the refrigerator, his paws stretched up to the freezer. I’d get out a hamburger ball while he raced around the corner to the microwave.

He’d sit there until he saw me pop the hamburger in, then run back to the middle of the kitchen right to the spot where he knew I’d place his thawed-out beef.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

I have now reached the point where I’m supposed to tell you why I decided to write about a cat. Public affairs columnists aren’t supposed to just pluck topics out of the air. We’re supposed to engage the reader’s interest by being relevant, which requires us to find a news peg on which to hang our ramblings.

I don’t have one of those, unless it’s a negative one. I just got sick and tired of COVID-19 — reading about it, thinking about it, arguing about it, writing about it. I was especially weary of all the politicians, TV pundits and other deep thinkers pretending to be smarter about the virus than they really were, the more expert they tried to sound, the more convinced I was that many people are, alas, educated beyond their potential.

So, why not a simple bit of whimsy about a creature who knows what he wants, when he wants it and whom to get it from, who is just exactly as smart as he needs to be and not one whit more?

If that sounds selfish, petty, disrespectful and grouchy, just mark it down to my upbringing. Pierre trained me well.

Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer.