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In Our Own Backyard...Cats have a paw in two different worlds

Some cats are born to be lions, some are born to be alley cats. We have one of each.

It was difficult to tell just what we were getting when we went to the animal shelter a couple of years ago. All of the cats looked so endearing -- and so needy. I almost had that sense of playing God, deciding which one I would bring home and save, and which ones I had to simply wish well and leave behind.

There were some whom I simply couldn't resist picking and up and holding, just because they looked like they needed a good cuddle, but I steeled my resolve to pass by many others whose eyes followed me beseechingly as I walked along.

I first noticed Mufasa (whose shelter name was Woodstock) because he fulfilled both my self-imposed requirements -- he was orange and long-haired. But when I stooped down to meet him eye to eye through the grid of his enclosure, he didn't meow or poke his paw through the bars in order to get my attention. Neither did he hiss or cringe in fear as I opened the door to his crate and tentatively reached for him. Instead, his cool green eyes studied me with a calm dignity that said, "Pick me up if you wish, but don't expect me to lower myself to simpering or groveling."

When I held him in my arms, I realized how big he was, and his paws were like miniature snowshoes. He uttered only the quietest of purrs, as though he only did it because that was what was expected of cats. He gazed around regally, as if he was mildly indifferent about whichever way his fate was about to go.

I gently set the big orange cat down on the floor and bounced a catnip mouse on a string in front of him. He gave me a look that said, "You'd don't really expect me to play with that, do you?" And then he walked down the hallway, plumed tail held straight up over his back, hind legs somewhat knock-kneed, and head turning from side to side to survey what it was like in the world outside his cage.

When my husband and I brought him home the following day, he showed only passing interest in the food we poured into his bowl, and he gazed with barely veiled disdain at the velvet bed we had gotten for him. Instead, he walked with that same odd gait up and down every hallway, upstairs and down, and surveyed every room in the house. It wasn't until we went to bed that night and shut out the light that I felt the soft thud as he jumped effortlessly onto the end of our bed, circled once and went to sleep.

I didn't hear him get up or run around during the night, but the next morning we found a dead mouse in the middle of our bedroom floor. It was then we knew that Mufasa -- our own "lion king" -- had officially accepted us into his life.

It was an entirely different story with Sunshine. When we decided we wanted a second cat to keep Mufasa company, I once again started frequenting the animal shelter. The day I found Sunshine (whose shelter name was Alice), she was in the kitten room frolicking around with her sister Amara and a handful of other playful kittens. What struck me about her, other than the fact she crawled right up the leg of my polyester dress pants and presented herself to me -- was her very loud purr. With every inch of her body language, she seemed to be saying, "Pick me! Pick me!" She was as bold as they come, and charged at the other kittens in an effort to get them to play. I knew she'd grow up to be neither couch potato nor shrinking violet.

We brought her home and introduced her to Mufasa during gradually increasingly long periods of "supervised probation." Mufasa managed to maintain his dignity in the presence of the flamboyant kitten, but we soon realized he was almost too laid back for his own good. When we fed the two of them, he would eat slowly and purposefully, preferring to stop after a couple of minutes to use his litter pan, take a little rest and then go back. But right from the start, Sunshine has had the instincts of an alley cat. She races to her bowl as soon as I rattle the bag of cat food, and as soon as I pour it out she cuffs my hand with her paw to make certain I don't try to take it away. Then she gulps it down and races over to Mufasa's bowl and gulps his, too, unless we manage to get it away. She always acts as though she's starving to death and doesn't know where her next meal is going to come from. And while Mufasa remains the perfect gentleman, more often than not, Sunshine forgets her manners and does something highly inappropriate that gets her into trouble.

One morning last weekend my husband was cutting up cooked chicken and celery to make chicken salad. I'm certain Sunshine must have smelled the chicken with her finely tuned olfactory nerves. Acting at the speed of light, she made the forbidden leap to the counter, grabbed a piece of chicken like an alley cat stealing a fish out of a dumpster, and began to bolt it down. My husband was both caught by surprise and outraged over her defiant behavior. And so, he did the first thing that came to mind -- he swatted her off the counter with a head of celery!