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THE CASE AGAINST CAT ETHICS
July 9, 2004
 
Thanks for your help, I say. Now, could you please go somewhere else? Noodle is crouched in the crook of my left arm, lying in wait for a A,S,C or D to appear in my essay -- she loves to pounce on my fingers when they dance over toward that side of my laptop, making my prose stutter suddenly through a string of D's or turn suddenly Dutch, three or four A's in a row.

She ignores my request -- I don't believe Noodle understands English -- unlike What's-Her-Name, who knows when we're going to take her to the vet even if we tell each other about it in French. To the best of my knowledge, What's-Her-Name has never even been to Canada.

Soon, though, the pouncing ends: Noodle has discovered what's on the screen, and she moves to a perch on my shoulder to see the show better. There's a lot to see: she especially enjoys it when I open a window, but she also likes it when I delete things and they disappear. Noodle would love popup ads, but I am not willing to endure them for her sake. I make a mental note to have Rosie find me a screen saver with cats on it, preferably one that moves a lot, so I can hypnotize Noodle with it when she gets to be just too much.

Changing colors, boxes that open and close, letters that march by magic across the screen -- we forget how fascinating the hardware of our lives is until we have a chance to see it through the eyes of an animal. Or of a human child: the light bulb, the table leg, the box in which an expensive dress only a grandmother would ever buy arrived, the crinkly tissue paper with which it was surrounded in transit, a spoon, an empty plastic bottle -- anything can fascinate. Coins delight them -- not because of what they will buy, but because of their delightful clink. And watch your keys.

I wonder -- is it possible that Noodle stole my missing datebook? That she picked it up and took it somewhere? She has enjoyed watching me flip frantically through its pages on occasion. I'm not sure she could lift it yet, small though it is, but I certainly wouldn't put it past her. I do think she has been spending entirely too much time with What's-Her-Name -- I must separate them until Noodle is old enough to make what passes for a moral decision in cats.

Actually, nothing does. They have no ethics. God has left that uncomfortable gift entirely to us, apart from certain striking altruisms one sees in some animal species relating to the survival of the group, and the animals don't puzzle over such self-sacrifice, don't turn it over and over and examine it, don't struggle to overcome their fear. Animals don't struggle with ethical choice. Animals just do it.

But we suffer with our decisions. Worry about their rightness. Work toward a fairness that will always elude us in the end, hoping against hope that what the animals already know might somehow not be true for us: life is unfair sometimes, joy and pain unevenly distributed in a way unrelated to our virtue or lack of it. That we might cause another person pain and be unable to avoid it. That the best of our actions is muddied with our conflicting motivations, and may carry consequences we did not intend.

Now Noodle is asleep. She drops off so suddenly, exhausted from her fun. The sleep of the just, one might call it. If such a concept applied to cats.
Copyright © 2018 Barbara Crafton
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