Sunday, January 16, 2011

Go Cat Go !

Every winter, the Iditarod dominates the pet networks with detailed news coverage of an assemblage of championship dogsled teams. It's always, "Dogs do this, dogs do that," but never a mention of other pets. Cats for instance. Imagine how cats must feel while catching glimpses of a bunch of network-heraldic dogs barking their way to glory across the ever-larger television screens in North American living rooms.

Dogs are fun and loyal, but my feeling is that they may, in fact, be over-rated in this event. At the very least, it's time to give the feline world a chance at the much-coveted Iditarod trophy. After all, this is a new world, a world of equal opportunity, and there's no reason a team of qualified cats shouldn't be allowed to compete. So I put a call in to the Iditarod headquarters in Wasilla, Alaska, with the subtle intent of not taking "no" for an answer:

--Gwen: Iditarod headquarters, Gwen Crilly speaking.
--Me: Hello, Ms Crilly. Id like an application to enter my sled-cat team in the Iditarod.
--Gwen: Sure, I'll be happy to send one out to you.
--Me: Is there an entrance fee?
--Gwen: Yes, there is a fee.
--Me: Is it based on the number of cats?
--Gwen: Cats?
--Me: Yes, is the entrance fee based on how many cats are on the team.
--Gwen: This is a "dog only" event.
--Me: Isn't that pet discrimination?
--Gwen: This has always been for dogs only. It's a tradition.
--Me: Oh, like "White Only" drinking fountains in the 1950's. That was a tradition, too. But as a society, we've moved beyond that backward concept.
--Gwen: Don't make me laugh.
--Me: Those dogs won't be laughing when they get passed by a team of highly trained sled-cats.
--Gwen: Is this Eldon?
--Me: No, this is Dale from Illinois, home of the Expeditious Sled-Cat team, and we're ready to compete.
(An uncomfortably long pause).
--Me: Is there a limit to how many cats per sled?
--Gwen: Same as dogs, I suppose, twelve to sixteen.
--Me: That hardly seems fair, given the size difference between the two animals.
--Gwen: That's the rules; take it or leave it.
--Me: OK, I'll hire a little person to man the sled. That'll cut down on the weight.
--Gwen: Can I have someone call you back?
--Me: What for, so the dogs can surrender now before the race has even begun? The cats want to race for this trophy, fair and square.
--Gwen: This is a little out of the ordinary.
--Me: I'll tell you what this is: it's big, and it will turn the dog world upside down. The Expeditious Sled-Cats will beat those dogs at their own game.
--Gwen: Just so you know, there is a urine test required for the musher as well as every animal.
--Me: Are you suggesting that my cats have a drinking problem?
--Gwen: This is Eldon, isn't it?
--Me: I'll be waiting for the application. Just tell those dogs to be ready.

A line in the sand has been drawn and I've begun working with some head-strong, but energetic house cats. So far it has not been easy. It seems that cats are very independent and have difficulty running in the same direction at the same time. Whenever I yell "mush!" they each run under a different piece of furniture, tangling the harnesses something terrible. It's really havoc. Last night, it took over an hour to untangle the twisted mess.

So I'm working on coordinating the somewhat self-centered efforts of the cats. As I've tried explaining to their furry selves, this is a team, and there's no "I" in team. Fortunately, help arrived with an idea from Sue "Wizzy" Zirwizzy, the woman who crocheted the cat harnesses. She's going to run ahead of the team while dragging a feathered chew toy. This should get those sled-cats cooperating in unison. I've checked the rules; there's no rule against running ahead of the pack while training, unless the participant barks loudly; that's not recommended. And I've already mentioned to Wizzy that she shouldn't be offended when I yell, "mush." She knows I'm not yelling at her, just the cats.

The cats have been bulking up on Kibbles and Bits (a potential sponsor if all goes as planned), and a few seem to look forward to the training sessions, or are at least enthusiastic about the team's dietary plan. I'm strict about one thing: there is no sleeping on the couch during training. That is the rule. We're working on bonding; our rallying cry is "Go Cat Go!" which, hopefully, will endear the team to the often-overlooked beatnik community.

We've already chosen our lead cat, the ever-panicky Miss Pickles. She's afraid of everything, and with all those dogs giving chase, she'll guide our team lickety-split to Nome. Come March, the Expeditious Sled-Cats will be at the starting gate in Anchorage, ready to make history by crossing the finish line before those headline-grabbing dogs. To quote our team's motivational songstress, Karen Carpenter, "We've only just begun."