Return of the SWAT Team Cat

A calico cat that was the mascot of the Boston Police Department’s Special Weapons and Tactics Team disappeared in November and did not return until January.


                                                                        The Boston Globe



We were sitting around the SWAT Team house, listlessly swatting at things—flies, each other’s butts and so forth—when Officer Rudolph came walking slowly around the corner, a dejected look on his face.

His lips started to move, but he didn’t even have to vocalize what was on his mind—we all knew without him speaking a word.

“No sign of SWAT Cat, if that’s what you were gonna ask,” I said sadly.

“You read my mind,” he said, then plunked himself down on the bench beside me.  “How long’s he been gone?”

“Since late November, so that’s over a month now.”

“Do you think he’s been the victim of . . .” Rudolph began, when Officer Monday finished his sentence for him.

“This is fascinating!”

“Foul play?  More likely than not.”  We all hunched over, our forearms resting on our thighs, our heads hanging down, dejected.  The bond among SWAT Team members is so strong, when one guy dies, or gets fired, or quits, or has to move to another city because he got married, it’s like a death in the family.  Especially, like I say, if someone dies.  And even if, as in SWATsie’s case, he never appeared to give a shit about any of us except when he was hungry or wanted his head scratched.

“Do you think we’ll ever see his cheerful . . .” Rudolph began, when Monday cut him off again.

“Don’t sentimentalize him,” he snapped.  “That’s the problem with cat owners.  They have to gussy their cats up, anthropomorphize ‘em.”

“What does that mean?” Rudolph asked.

“It means you take ‘em to a taxidermist and have ‘em stuffed, right?” I said.

“No, you stupid doody head,” Monday snapped.  “It means you attribute human qualities to ‘em, like reciprocal feelings of love that you have towards . . .”

He was just about to say “them” in the contracted form “’em” when who should come ambling into HQ but SWAT Cat his own, bad self.

“SWATsie—thank God you’re alive!” Monday said, his voice cracking and tears starting to flow.  Ain’t that the way it always is; the apparently hard-boiled guy has a runny center, like a poached egg, or a chocolate-covered cherry.

“We’ve been worried sick!” Rudolph gushed, but it was sincere, heartfelt gush, not the phony kind, like society fund-raising gala gush.

“Glad to have you back,” I said, stroking him under the chin.  I knew I couldn’t top the two drama queens, so I tried to maintain my stoic, business-like façade.

“Thanks,” SWATsie said.  He was looking a little peaked, and I don’t mean like Pike’s.  “Any food in this joint?”

Rudolph rushed to get his two tin bowls, one for water, and one for dry food.  “See—we kept everything just like it was.”

“Iams Low-Calorie cat food in the turquoise bag,” he sniffed.  “I’m taken hostage, you guys don’t rescue me–and I’m still on a diet?”

We three human members of the team looked at each other with embarrassment.  “He’s right,” I said.  “I’ll go get him some . . .”

“Are you making this up?”


“No,” Rudolph said.  “You stay here—you’re the narrator.”

“You’re right,” I said. “I can’t leave you two third persons here by yourselves.”

“I’ll run down to 7-11 and get him some wet food for a change,” Rudolph said, and I was glad it was he who volunteered. I had a feeling we were in for a hair-raising tale of suspense and escape, and I didn’t want him breaking out in a horrified exclamation with every plot twist.

“So what happened?” Monday asked.

“If you really want to hear about it,” SWATsie said, echoing Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of the most difficult book he’d ever read, “the first thing you’ll probably want to know is who kidnapped me, and where they took me, and what my crummy accommodations were like, and all that Patty Hearst kind of crap.”

“Well, yeah,” I said. “Isn’t that the whole point?”

“All right,” he said. “You know that smoothie joint down by the waterfront?”


“The one that has all the add-ins, like wheat germ, and flax, and cocoa nibs?” Monday said.

“Right,” SWATsie said. “And all the men have pony tails, and all the women have preternaturally-healthy-looking skin.”  I was impressed—I’d never seen a four-legged animal pull off a Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance double-hyphenated word.

“But they’re all so . . . peaceful, and mellow,” I said.

“I shoulda known better,” he cracked out of the side of his mouth, like Joe Friday confirming the suspicions of his sidekick Bill Gannon on Dragnet. “They put a plate of milk out for me, and before I knew it Dawn or Heather or Rainbow or Aura or one of the other natural-phenomenon-named chicks had picked me up from behind and whisked me up the back stairs to a windowless room.”

The two of us gulped loudly enough for Rudolph to notice as he ran up with the Fancy Feast Classic Tuna in the easy-open pouch. “What was that gulping sound?” he asked.

“SWATsie here just told us how he was spirited . . .”

“I said ‘whisked’ . . .”

“ . . . up the stairs to a windowless room by his kidnappers.”

“They’re a cult,” SWATsie said as he wolfed down his food.

“You’d better slow down, you’re going to choke,” I said.

“I’ll come up for air to tell you the rest of my story. Anyway, once my eyes got used to the dark . . .”


“Wait a second,” Rudolph said skeptically. “I thought cats could always see in the dark.”

“Not all the time.  And we can never see fine detail or rich color.  We get by on about one-sixth the light a human needs, but it still takes a little time to adjust.”

“Oh,” Rudolph said, a bit chagrined at having been brought down a peg in terms of his reputation as an ailurophile.

“Anyway, once I could see clearly, I looked around the room and saw—little children.”

“So they were kidnapping . . .”

“Actual kids.”

We all gasped—I mean all of the humans. SWATsie had already been through the horror, and seemed a bit deadened by the experience.

“But didn’t their parents notice they were missing?” I asked.

“You know parents these days,” he said, shaking his head. “Always looking at their phones.  By the time they finish playing Words With Friends and Candy Crush their toddlers are tugging on their sleeve to write a college tuition check.”

We knew what he meant. We’d seen children dropped off at the beach or at the mall, while Scandinavian nannies tried to attract junior private equity analysts in the food court.  The kids could wander off for a half hour—who knew what kind of brainwashing they were getting at Orange Julius or Cinnabon?  Then when they came back to Ingrid or Kristin or Helga they’d be programmed to consume branded goods . . . for the rest of their natural born days.

“So the hippies were . . .”

“You got it. They were fighting for shelf space in the grocery store aisles of the consumer’s mind.  Doing the work of a thousand Saturday morning commercials in a fraction of the time, through hypnosis, suggestion and outright Mesmerism.”

“But how long . . .”

Don’t go in there!


“It doesn’t take long to get a kid hooked on hemp seeds, or quinoa, or cacao powder. Just a jolt of superfood add-ins, and the kids will be begging to come back to Rainbow Unicorn House of Smoothies.  Pretty soon you have a national franchise empire on your hands, and the odd toddler you lure into a bead ‘n brownie emporium is multiplied a million fold.”

“So that was their insidious plan,” I said with barely-repressed fury.  “To steal the march on honest, God-fearing manufacturers of consumer products who paid their good, hard-earned money to indoctrinate kids to develop dental carries and diabetes by eating their hyper-sugarized comestibles.”

“What did they need you for?” Rudolph asked.

“They’d brought me in as a familiar, a pacifier, something to keep the kids occupied while they did their dastardly work.”

“So what did you do?” Monday asked.

“I got the lay of the land after a while and figured out that I was just lap candy, that the real business of the place was getting kids hooked on high vitamin smoothies. Once I cottoned to their nefarious plot, I knew I had no time to lose.  I hopped up on the first lap available and started purring and rubbing up against the kids, getting their attention.”

“And then?” I asked.

“When the cult leader came by with a tray of the lethal smoothies, I sprang into action. I leapt up and knocked it over—all of a sudden the place is in an uproar.”

“And then?” we asked together.

“The kids all start crying—no smoothies for youthies–and finally the parents can hear them.  So they put down their compact mirrors and their iPhones and their BlackBerries and their tablets and say to themselves—‘Huh–I seem to recall we came in here with 2.3 children, but now we only seem to have 1.3.”

“So a sudden wave of consternation washes over them?” Monday asked.

“You got it. They’re cutting in line, saying ‘Where’s my Morning Glory Bliss Shake and me four-year-old named Courtney or Evan or whatever.’”

“Gosh,” Rudolph said. “They don’t even know their kids’ names.”

“That’s a hypothetical,” SWATsie said. “They know their kids’ names, just not their Social Security numbers.  Anyways, there’s nothing like a screeching cat to alert the local militia to the need for armed resistance, so about the same time the dads are busting down the door and I’m running for my life from twenty screaming kids the local constabulary arrives to put the collar on the commune.”

“What’s the charge?” Monday asked. He’s like that; thorough, a real professional, an eye for the telling detail and the procedural misstep which, if taken, can undermine a prosecution.

“It’s a felony,” he said, licking his paws. “Contributing to the health of a minor.”


Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Cats Say the Darndest Things.”


Therapy Cat Program Ends Due to Lack of Interest

BROOKLINE, Mass. This near-suburb of Boston is home to a number of hospitals, including St. Roch’s, named after the patron saint of dogs. “Not coincidentally, we’re the ones who developed the concept of a ‘therapy dog,’” says Dr. Charles Pilcaro, referring to the use of a good-tempered canine to assist a patient who is uncomfortable with physical contact. “If my wife weren’t allergic to them, I’m sure I wouldn’t be so edgy all the time,” he adds in a moment of self-revelation.

“Okay–I’ll leave you my assets and cut my wife out of my will.”


But St. Roch’s ran afoul of St. Gertrude’s, a hospital across town that moved to enforce this state’s strict anti-discrimination laws, which forbid the exclusion of any species from the benefits of a program that receives public funding.  “The people over there are nuts,” says St. Roch’s CFO Ernie Glidden, referring to the bean counters at the rival hospital named after the patron saint of cats.  “It’s not that we don’t like cats–although we don’t–it’s just that it was our idea.”

Sparklepuss is really enjoying that.  Not.


And so funding for the 2018 fiscal year was split evenly between the two hospitals, enabling St. Gertrude’s to place 21 mature cats in home settings where the sick, the housebound and the frail elderly could interact with the species that is known for its haughty, almost disdainful attitude towards humans.

“Whoever came up with this idea ought to have their head examined,” says Elsie Freeman, an 86-year-old widow who’s showing signs of dementia.  “That cat couldn’t give two shits about me, but it did.  On my dining room rug.”

A knock on the door is heard and it’s Winifred Glauben, the volunteer from St. Gertrude’s who’s come to pick up Sparklepuss, an 8-year-old tomcat, from his weeklong assignment.  “Hi everybody!” she calls cheerfully as she enters.  “Is Sparkly ready to go home?”

“If he isn’t I can help him pack,” Freeman says as she draws a cigarette from a box of Marlboro Menthol Lights.  Irritable due to a program rule that has prohibited her from smoking during the therapy cat’s visit, she flicks on her lighter and takes a puff, figuring she has nothing to lose at this point.  “Don’t let the pet door hit you in the ass on your way out,” she snaps as she inhales deeply, then breathes a sigh of visible relief.

The conclusion of a peer-reviewed study of comparative results is that cats provide little or no therapeutic benefits once they have grown out of kittenhood and developed as adults.  “Dogs want to be part of your life,” says animal behaviorist Niles Fersera.  “Cats want to be fed, and would like you to get on with your life.”

“I’m bustin’ out of this joint.”

So St. Roch’s is planning to appeal a ruling by the state agency that cut their funding in half, saying all animals may be equal, but they’re also different.  “The empirical evidence is clear that people derive therapeutic benefits from dogs,” says Pilcaro.  “It is equally clear that it’s the other way around with cats.”


Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Cats Say the Darndest Things.”

A Belated Hairball Awareness Day

A chilly, sunny April Saturday. There’s just me and two cats, Rocco and Okie, three sullen males grunting their way through the day–as usual–while the wife’s running errands.

Rocco: “You insensitive clod!”


And yet something’s–not quite right. Okie, the elder cat, seems–distrait. Taciturn. Phlegmatic. And those are just leftover vocab words from my son’s senior English class.

“Just leave me alone–okay?”


He sits on a windowsill, staring off into the middle distance, as if he’s depressed. He’s indifferent to my attentions, or perhaps I should say more indifferent that he–or any other cat–is normally. Rocco’s outside rolling in the dirt, so I amble up to him for a sidebar.

“Nice day, huh?” I say.

“Yeah. I’m going to hassle those stupid long-haired chihuahuas next door.”

“Okay, but get that out of your system early–I want to take a nap this afternoon. Hey–have you noticed anything funny about Okie?”

“Yip, yip, yip!”


“Funny strange, or funny ha-ha?”

“Strange. He seems somewhat–distant today.”

Rocco looks at me with a pitiless expression and shakes his head. “You are so freaking clueless.”


He takes a second to scratch for a tick under his chin. “It’s all about you–isn’t it? You sit there at your computer all day in your own little world. Never thinking about anybody else.”

“Hey–if I don’t sit at my computer all day, you don’t get any Iams Low Fat Weight Control Dry Cat Food.”

“Oh, whoop-de-do! That stuff’s so bad I’d rather eat the bag.”

“You’ll thank me in a couple of years when every other cat in the neighborhood has a gut that’s dusting the floor. But seriously–is something the matter with him?”

“Don’t you know what yesterday was?”

St. Swithin: Peace out, dawg.


I search my memory. Not Arbor Day. Not my elder sister’s birthday. St. Swithin’s Day? Elizabeth Taylor’s wedding anniversary? “I give up–what?”

Rocco closes his eyes, as if he can’t believe how stupid I am. “It was Hairball Awareness Day, you mook!”

I’m confused. “Okie’s a short-hair. Why would he get emotional about hairballs?”

“You are such an insensitive clod,” Rocco says, licking his white ruff. “Hairballs can strike any cat, at any time–long or short-hair.”

“I didn’t know. We get so many solicitations at work. United Fund. All kinds of diseases. You don’t expect me to keep up with all of them, do you?”

National Hairball Awareness Poster Child


“Look–just because there’s no washed-up comedian doing a telethon for Hairball Awareness doesn’t mean you can completely ignore a cause that means so much to someone right in your own home!”


“Ack-ack-ack–it’s the sound of a hairball attack!”


“But I don’t . . .”

Rocco cuts me off. “Okie’s mom died of a hairball.”

Okay. ‘Nuf said. I “get it.” “Jeez–I didn’t realize.”

“You should go talk to him. Maybe buy a bracelet, or at least a ribbon.”

I take out my wallet. I’ve got four ones and a twenty. Stupid cat won’t know the difference.

“And don’t try to stiff him like you do the mini-mites hockey kids who accost you at the stoplights with their coffee cans.”

“You cheap bastard–giving a kid a cents-off coupon for a granola bar!”


“You’re right. I’ll go talk to him.” I go back in the house and Okie’s still sitting where he was when I left, his chin on his paws.

“Hey Oke,” I say, “I’m . . . uh . . . sorry I forgot about Hairball Awareness Day.”

He looks up at me without anger. “That’s okay,” he says. “Who was it that said the universe was indifferent to our suffering?”

Camus: 1951 Existentialist Rookie of the Year.


“I don’t know. Either Albert Camus–or Yogi Berra.”

He lets out a short little sigh. “I think of the poem by Auden . . .”

“Musee des Beaux Arts?”

Auden: “At least this post has a smoking section.”


“Right. How suffering takes place while someone else is eating or opening a window . . . “

” . . . or just walking dully along?” I say, finishing the line for him. Nothing like the consolations of art–their purgative powers–to help one get over sadness.

“I tell you what,” I say. “I’ve got $24–I’m going to make a contribution in your mother’s name to the National Hairball Foundation.”

His eyes mist over–or at least I think they do. “Save your money,” he says.

“But I want to.”

“No–you’re going to need it.”

“Why?” I ask.

“For some Resolve Multi-Surface Fabric Cleaner. I upchucked a hairball on the dining room rug.”

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Cats Say the Darndest Things.”

How to Floss Your Cat’s Teeth

The house is quiet, and so I lie down and try to take a nap. I’ve just dozed off when I feel the weight of fifteen pounds of cat flesh land on my chest. It’s Rocco, the younger of our two toms, looking for a head bonk and a back scratch.

“I was asleep–can’t you meow or something before you pounce on me?”

“What would you suggest–breath mints?”


“That would ruin the element of surprise,” he says, and I catch a whiff of serious tuna breath as he does so.

“Jesus–I hope you guys don’t wonder why you never get laid,” I say. “Your breath smells terrible!”

“It helps keep the coyotes away,” he says. “They think we’re skunks.”

Okie, the elder grey tabby, jumps up to claim his favorite spot, between my legs with his head down at my feet. “What are you guys talking about?” he asks.

“Why didn’t you tell me I had bad breath?”


“The need for a little dental hygiene around here,” I say.

“You do enough for the three of us,” he says.

“I’m serious–if you guys don’t floss, you’re going to get gingivitis.”

“What’s that?” Rocco asks.

“Gum disease. Stevie Winwood had it–bad. If he hadn’t recovered, we might have been deprived of the beauty of his ‘Back in the High Life’ album.”

That brings the seriousness of the disease home to them. “Geez,” Okie says. “I never knew.”

“There’s just one problem,” Rocco says. “We don’t have opposable thumbs. How the hell are we supposed to hold a piece of dental floss?”

“You don’t need to. Cats don’t actually floss, they . . . uh . . . let me see.”

Like many cat owners, we pick up feline health information when we go to the veterinarian, then promptly ignore it. They’re cats, fer Christ sake–they eat squirrel guts.

I rummage through the drawer where we keep their vaccination records and find the brochure I’m looking for–”Dental Hygiene for Cats: A Lifelong Program to Keep Your Kitty’s Teeth and Gums Healthy!” It’s considered a classic of the genre.

Here, kitty kitty!


“Here it is,” I say, showing them the suggestion I remembered. “To keep your cat’s teeth free from plaque, rub them with panty hose once a week.” I look at the two of them, expecting expressions of gratitude, but am met with blank stares.

“You’re kidding, right?” Okie asks.


“If you think I’m going to sit still through a once-a-week panty hose polish job, you’ve got another think coming.”

“It’s up to you. If your teeth fall out, how are you going to eat?”

They look at each other, and appear to realize that they have no choice in the matter.

“Where are you going to get panty hose?” Okie asks.

Montaigne: “Hey–I’m too highbrow for this post.”


I know what Montaigne said: “When I play with my cat, who knows whether she is amusing herself with me, rather than I with her?” But still, it’s cracks like these that make me feel secure in the superiority of the human intellect over that of a cat.

“You fishstick! Where do you think we’re going to get panty hose–on mom!”

“But she doesn’t wear panty hose around the house,” Okie asks.

“She’s got a job interview today.  She’ll be dressed professionally when she comes home.”

“Don’t we have to get the panty hose off of her?” Rocco chimes in.

I check the brochure. “Nope–doesn’t say anything about undressing your wife, girlfriend, date or significant other. Just ‘rub with panty hose.’”

Jesse James


“Let’s hide in the dining room and ambush her when she goes past the door into the kitchen!” Rocco says.

“Yeah–it’ll be like Jesse James robbing the train in Otterville, Missouri!” I exclaim, recalling a favorite highway historical marker of my youth.

The cats stifle yawns–for some reason tales of my boyhood bring on symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome–but they rally and we stake out a position just inside the dining room where we are hidden from the view of anyone entering the kitchen.

We hear the lock turn in the door and, like a precision Swiss clock, our plan ticks forward to its fateful conclusion.

“Ready?” I say as she hits the hardwood floor in the family room.

Rocco hesitates for a moment, then shouts “Now!” and we pounce.

She’s no match for the three of us, and we have her on the floor in a second. I take her legs and stick one in each of the cats’ mouths before she can collect herself and speak.

“What in the hell are you doing?” she screams.

“Flossing the cats’ teeth–this should only take a second,” I say.

She sits up and looks at the three of us, incredulous. I’ve seen that expression on her face before, when she broke up a fight between my kids. Over a Pokemon card. When they were toddlers.

“You have got to be kidding!”

“No, seriously. This is what the brochure says to do.”

“What brochure?”

“The one we got at the vet’s. Here.”

I hand it to her and she scans it while I work feverishly to fight the slow but inexorable advance of cat plaque.

“You didn’t read the warning on the back,” she says with a look that expresses the enduring skepticism she feels whenever I set out to do something around the house that involves practical knowledge and useful skills.

“What’s it say?”


“What happenth if you donth?” Rocco says through a mouthful of nylon.


Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Cats Say the Darndest Things.”

Poetry for Cats

Call me crazy, but I like to write poetry.

For cats.

Cats are a good training ground for poets. They are largely indifferent to poetry, like the overwhelming majority of people, but that still makes them a more receptive audience than my wife, who is openly hostile to the stuff.

Writing poetry for cats is low-level mental stimulation, like doing crossword puzzles or Sudoku, but you make up the problem to be solved, rather than some faceless drone at a newspaper syndicate, so when you’re done you’ve created something. Albeit on a par with a gimp necklace at summer camp.

It takes very little activity, or inactivity, on the part of my cats to serve as my muse. Here’s a cat poem I thought of just last night:

I take my laser pen in hand
and shine it in a circle.
My little cat goes chasing ’round,
it drives him quite berserkle!

Then I take what I’ve written, crumple the paper up into a ball, and throw it across the room. My cat pounces on it, extending our fun, and conserving precious resources through recycling. I’m trying to reduce our humor footprint.

Just because I write poetry for my cats doesn’t mean they’re sissies. They’re both males who will stay out all night, getting into fights with all manner of beasts. They bring us sustenance; field mice, birds, chipmunks. Once Rocco, the younger of the two, horse-collared a squirrel from behind, like a member of the New England Patriots’ defense, and dragged it, dying, to our back patio. As a former high school middle linebacker in a 4-3 defensive alignment, I found this to be a most gratifying spectacle.

Horse collar tackle

T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” is perhaps the most famous collection of cat poems, but it has always struck me as a bit fuss-budgety, like its author, a native of St. Louis who became a British subject in 1927, thereby missing out on seven World Series titles by the St. Louis Cardinals. What a dope! That book, of course, was turned into the hugely successful Broadway show Cats.

T.S. Eliot: And you call yourself a Cardinals fan!


My wife once bought us tickets to see the show for my birthday, assuming that because I liked cats, I would like the show, but she sensed my indifference to Eliot’s work at dinner. As we left the restaurant for the theatre we were approached by two show tune mavens who breathlessly asked us if we had tickets we were willing to sell. We gave each other a look that lasted as long as the flutter of a hummingbird’s wings, then sold the ducats at a premium. This is the first and only known instance of scalping by a Presbyterian woman since the church was established during the Scottish Reformation in 1560.

Cats: Thanks, I’ll pass.


Lots of poets have had cats, chief among them Samuel Johnson, whose cat was named “Hodge.” I had a girlfriend whose cat was named after Johnson’s. When we had her refined friends over she’d tell the story about how, when Johnson learned of a wave of cat-napping sweeping London at the height of the popularity of cat’s meat pies, he looked down at his cat and said “They’ll not have Hodge!” Sort of NPR humor, as Harry Shearer would say–loads of muted titters. We broke up; she got the cat, and I got the hell out of there.

Johnson: How do you know you won’t like cat’s meat unless you try it?


For my money, the greatest of all cat poems is For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffrey by Christopher Smart (1722-1770), from Jubilate Agno. It’s a work that all pet store owners and cat groomers should have on their walls, in needlepoint. Surely you know its stirring opening lines:

Christopher Smart, wearing his “everyday” mortarboard


For I will consider my Cat Jeoffrey.
For he is the servant of the Living God,
duly and daily serving him.
For at the First glance of the
glory of God in the East
he worships him in his way.
For this is done by wreathing
his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk,
which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.

Musk is the smelly substance found in a small sac under the skin of the abdomen of the rodents cats kill, and to “roll upon prank” refers, in a charming 18th century way, to cats’ preferred method of applying it. Yep–that’s a real cat there, not some Broadway-bound dancer-pussy.

Oh–I neglected to mention that when Smart wrote the above, he was a resident of Bedlam, the London hospital for the mentally ill.

Call him crazy.

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collections “Cats Say the Darndest Things” and “poetry is kind of important.”

Cat Fancier Magazine Names “Kitten Stuck in Tree” Top 7 News Stories of 2017

ST. PAUL, Minn.  Cat Fancier Magazine, the leading newsweekly for cat owners, released its annual list of top news stories of the preceding year today, with “Kitten Stuck in Tree” taking the top seven honors.

Daring rescue.


“While 2017 was a year of great upheaval in the realms of politics, the environment and social justice, we felt that stories of kittens stuck in tree outweighed the threat of nuclear holocaust and strife in the Middle East in terms of human interest and newsworthiness,” said Editor-in-Chief Carmella Hewlett.  “Mr. Wifflesworth agrees, dudn’t he?” she adds as she scratches her ten-year-old, fourteen-pound orange tabby under the chin.

In eighth place was “Kitten Rescued From Storm Drain,” followed by “Lost Kitten Returned to Owner” and “Trump Inaugurated, World to End Soon.”  In response to critics who found the list too heavily oriented towards kittens in peril, Hewlett blamed demographics and the changing market for special interest magazines.  “I plead guilty to that one–our readers just find stories about kittens to be more appealing, and we’re a business.” she noted.  “But Mr. Wifflesworth is just as cute as those kittens, idn’t he?” she added as she scratched her cat’s belly.

Mr. Wifflesworth, Jr.


Kittens stuck in trees have been a staple of the news business since the 19th century, when a period of intense competition between the Hearst and the Pulitzer newspaper empires resulted in low content, sensationalist reporting that came to be known as “Yellow Journalism.”  “With the dawn of the internet age the hope was that lower production costs would result in higher-quality investigative stories,” says Floyd Harches, a professor of journalism at the University of Massachusetts-Seekonk.  “The exact opposite happened, with cat videos placing second only to porn as the premier source of on-line banner ad revenues.”

Hewlett notes that a cat doesn’t have to be “fancy” to appear in Cat Fancier Magazine, a misconception she says causes more reputable news outlets to write off her reporting as “fluff.”  “It’s used in the British sense of a liking or a fondness for something,” she notes.  “And it’s not as fluffy as Mr. Wifflesworth, is it snookums?”

As Year Winds Down, Crowdfunding Comes on Little Cat Feet

HAZELWOOD, Mo.  Mark Verblanian is a long-time employee of Applied Widgetronix in this suburb of St. Louis, but he owes his longevity not to productivity–which he admits is sub-optimal–but to his ability to ingratiate himself with a wide variety of co-workers.  “I try to support everybody’s fund-raiser,” he says with the warm, open smile that makes him a consistent runner-up for employee of the month.  “It helps every time there’s a round of layoffs because people can’t imagine this place without me, even though they can’t figure out exactly what it is I do.”

“Wait’ll I tell Mr. Whiskers how generous you guys are!”


But now the shoe is on the other foot as the 29-year-old finds himself in a tight economic squeeze; his 8-year-old cat “Mr. Whiskers” needs an operation, and like most private health insurance plans, those offered by his employer don’t extend to pets.  “I guess I should have paid more attention during open enrollment period,” Verblanian says, an expression of self-disgust twisting his mouth on one side.  “It’s all so complicated and Vicki, the Assistant Benefits Coordinator who explained the different options, had on this really tight sweater that day.”

A young Mr. Whiskers


But the distraught cat-owner–a rarity among single men–responded with a 21st century form of outreach to everyone at his firm, and some beyond.  He started a “crowdfunding” appeal on, which helps those in need raise funds outside normal charitable channels without the benefit of a tax deduction, but also without the scrutiny that organized charities are subject to.

“It’s been a godsend,” Verblanian says, as he posts a daily update about Mr. Whiskers to keep his “page” fresh to potential donors.  “Hey everybody,” he writes, “thanks for all your support to date, we’re at 21% of our goal and momentum is building.”

“You’d do the same thing for us if we had cats with only one liver!”


He leans back in his chair and casts a sorrowful eye at the picture of his cat he keeps on his desk.  “Mr. Whiskers is suffering, but he’s counting on you to help get him through this rough patch of catnip!”

With this update typed Verblanian hits “send” and returns to the backstory behind the looming tragedy.  “Mr. Whiskers was born with only one liver,” he reads aloud over a lump in his throat.  “For those of you who like liver and onions, you know what this means: an inability to cleanse his system of impurities or go to the bathroom or something.  At some point, his little body–which actually is pretty big at twelve pounds but still smaller than yours truly!–will just shut down.  I’d hate to see that happen, when most of the 1% of this country are all walking around with two healthy livers!”

Depleted by the emotionally charged task of composing his heart-rending appeal, Verblanian goes to get a package of Chuckles candy from the vending machine in the employee lounge.  “Hey guys,” he says as he greets Tina Laughlin and Aaron Swelting, the former a “floating” secretary and the latter an in-house accountant, generally known as the company’s cynical office wag.

Mr. Whiskers–after years of suffering.


“I am so sorry to hear about your cat,” Laughlin says, her heavily made-up eyes glistening as she fights back tears.

“Thanks, Tina–appreciate it.”

“How’s it going?” she asks with an optimistic tone she hopes will give her co-worker encouragement.

“Good, good.  Two weeks to go, if I don’t hit my goal I still get to keep the money net of a service fee.”

“Cool,” says Swelting, as he looks through the steam rising off his free but awful cup of office coffee.  “So there’s really no downside for you, is there?”

“I guess you could say that,” Verblanian replies, “although Mr. Whiskers will be taken from me if he doesn’t get the treatment he needs.”

Swelting says “Um-hmm” in apparent agreement, then pokes at his phone to search the internet.  “You know, it says here that cats only have one liver.”

“Really?” Verblanian says, with as much feigned innocence as he can muster.

“Yeah,” Swelting continues.  “So what’s so special about your cat only having one?”

Verblanian’s face clouds over at the question, and the implicit suggestion that his motives are somehow less than pure.  “Did I say liver?” he asks.  “I meant kidney.”