Lessons In Stalking -
Winner of the 2003 Cat Writers Association Humor Contest Division

By Dena Harris

She's stalking us again. It makes me nervous. Not the stalking part, but the fact that she isn't very good at it.

She stalks us right out in the open, inching toward us on her stomach in the middle of the hallway.

"What's she doing?" my husband asks, looking over his shoulder. "Is she sick?"

"Shhhh!" I say. "She's stalking us. Be supportive."

"But I don't want to be stalked," he says.

"She needs to learn. Now act surprised when she pounces."

Attacks are generally mild. A quick paw to the foot, a snatch at a pants leg, and she's off.

Sometimes, she stalks us from behind the sofa. It's not a bad ploy, except we can see her tail sticking out. I draw her attention while my husband sneaks up behind her.

"BOO!" he yells, jabbing at her hindquarters. It may seem harsh, but she has to learn.

We're not her only prey. She also stalks the plaid cotton mice we procure for her. She'll spy one resting in the hall. Every muscle tenses as she flattens herself on the floor, tail flicking. Body rigid, she's a tightly wound coil.

When the moment comes - did the mouse twitch? - she leaps into the air. We watch her descend, fangs and claws barred against counterattack.

Then she's on top of the mouse, spearing it with her teeth, viciously shaking her head. She notices us watching her and freezes. Will we demand part of her captured prey? The cat snatches the mouse and bounds away.

"Well done sweetheart!" I cheer. I elbow my husband.

"Uh, way to go," he stammers. "You the cat." He glares at me.

"She's not going to improve unless she's told what she's doing right," I explain calmly. "It's called reinforcement."

Although the cotton mice are fun, we find that moving targets are better. We discovered this when a fly gets into our home.

The cat is all business. Darting eyes, shortness of breath, bushy tail - as she stalks the fly I think that she's finally come into her own. But then, "Click-aaack-aaack-claaack..." Dolphin-like sounds emanate from her throat, as she sits with arched back, staring at the fly buzzing above her.

My husband comes racing in. "What was that?"

"That's the cat."

"What's she doing?" he asks. "Is she sick?"

"Maybe," I say.

I question whether our cat will ever get the hang of this stalking business. My husband and I grow weary of acting surprised when we're attacked. The fly gets on with its life. My hopes center again on the cotton mice. And I just saw several of them lying, almost hidden, behind the couch.

I think they're waiting to jump out and yell, "BOO!"

This article first appeared in the September 2003 issue of the ASPCA Animal Watch magazine