Herding Cats

I’m back from an excellent long weekend on the Jersey shore (the Gaslight Anthem show was fantastic, by the way, even though they didn’t play my favorite song, “I’da Called You Woody, Joe,” a.k.a. the finest tribute-in-song to Saint Joe Strummer ever written), and am reporting for guest blogging duty once again.

I mentioned in the comments section of my last post that for my next post I might attempt to describe the outcome when Kirby, our born-to-herd English shepherd decides that Monty, our cat, is in need of herding.  Excuse me a moment, Monty is asking to be let outside.  Back in a sec.

Sorry about that.  Where were we?

Right, herding cats.

I should probably introduce them properly before we go any further, huh?


(L to R) Kirby and Monty

That’s the best picture I have of them both together (as seemed appropriate for this particular tale), and if I was going to write a caption, it would probably be Kirby’s: “What?  I wasn’t gonna do nothin’, honest!”  If you’re so moved, do feel free to share your own caption in the comments.  (He said, fully expecting that Monty will end up with all the best lines.)

So, yes, a herding dog who is often powerless to resist his natural herding instinct, and a cat who, simply put, is not to be trifled with.  If the phrase “hijinks ensue” comes to mind, it’s with good reason.

Picture, if you will, me and Amanda relaxing on the couch in front of the TV while Kirby’s over there on “his” couch, and Monty, as is his wont, is doing his own thing elsewhere in the house.  Until, that is, he decides to wander into the room with the rest of us, at which point Kirby’s herding-sense starts tingling as he swiftly raises his head from the couch, swiveling it in Monty’s direction with great purpose.  Perhaps he glances over at us, as if to say, “He’s taking a liberty just strolling into the room like that unannounced, and I can’t have him taking a liberty, can I?”

Monty meows as he takes his next step into the room, and this is simply too much for Kirby to bear, and he’s off the couch like a shot, herding Monty out of the room at top speed.  Amanda yells, “KIRBY!  Leave him alone!,” but it’s useless, for Kirby is fully possessed by his breed’s herding instinct at this point.

While they’re out of the room, let’s pause for a second to assure everyone that Kirby intends (and will inflict) no harm; he’s merely moving Monty from point A to point B because his brain is hard-wired for herding.

They’re out of the room for, say, ten seconds, and then we hear the ruckus which heralds Kirby’s return (also at top speed), followed a split second later by the sight of Kirby racing back into the room, hurling himself at his couch and turning around … because this time it is Monty who’s in hot pursuit, having once again successfully turned the tables on his “little” brother.

Monty then returns to whatever it was he had originally intended upon entering the room (probably jumping onto Amanda’s lap), as Kirby looks around as if to say, “wanna go again?!”

I mentioned in my last post how much I’d like to capture this scene on video someday, but it’s an infrequent enough occurrence that it’s highly unlikely to ever occur.  Upon consideration, however, what I’d really like to see captured on video is the moment (unseen by human eyes to date) where Monty realizes that it is he who truly wields the power in this relationship, suddenly stops running, and turns towards his pursuer with a wicked glint in his eye.

Now Playing: Introducing Gentleman Jesse, by Gentleman Jesse and His Men.  I love me some power pop, and this terrific outfit out of Atlanta serves up some of the best (and hookiest!) I’ve heard in recent years.  If you, too, are a sucker for the power pop, I implore you to hit their MySpace, drop the digital needle on “All I Need Tonight (Is You),” and get ready to be happy.

21 Comments on “Herding Cats”

  1. The solution is obvious. You must wire the entire house with wireless camera that digitally record every moment to a multi-terabyte server array. In HD of course.


  2. I herd cats. I’m an expert. Apparently, Kirby needs a course in herding cats. Cats can be herded but you must make them feel it’s their idea. You can do this with a little patience.

    1. You act nonchalant (As the trainer you must master this 1st lesson.) You don’t act like you care that they learn anything at all.

    2. When they do learn something that you wanted them to do you act very happy. You reward your cats with treats. (Dogs can’t give the cats treats so you do this)

    3. Repeat, repeatedly. Cats have a short memory span.

    4. Have faith that your repeated attempts to train your cat will work. Pray to the cat gods.

    5. After prayer, repeated simulations, treats and stress, you might get the result you want from your cat.

    There. It’s easy.

  3. geekygirl602 @3: there is a much easier way of herding cats: laser pointer!I’ve yet to meet the cat who isn’t fascinated by the moving dot of light and won’t try to hunt it.

  4. You mentioned monkey conspiracies earlier. I think there is a hidden writer conspiracy where the word “cupola” has to appear in almost every novel I read.

    I have never heard a single individual utter the word in my life, but it appears in almost all novels. What gives?

  5. Oh, bless your naive little hearts…

    One does not train a cat. A cat trains you. And the best bit is when they get you to think that it is all your own idea.

    I mean, think about it. A creature that has made a niche for itself in the modern world that consists of being pampered and adored, and your reward for doing so is that…it makes a pleased noise that makes you feel good.

    You really think they are dumb enough to fall for the whole praise/reward schtick? It was never Pavlov’s Cat.

    (Also, there’s a reason Schroedinger’s Cat is only a ‘thought experiment’. I mean, would YOU want to be the one to open the box after shoving a cat in there with stuff that could kill it?)

  6. @ SpaceAnJL:

    As far as the book What is Life: Spirit and Litter informs us, Schroedinger put the cat in the box, the cat got very angry inside, so he decided not to open the box anymore afraid that the cat might kill him.

  7. If you trained Kirby properly for sheepdog work then you would be able to control his herding impulse with a single whistle. Surely someone has designed some kind of android sheep for home training? Run, bleat and avoid dog should be simple to programme.

  8. Kirby is gorgeous and Monty’s not too shabby, either.

    We have four Shetland Sheepdogs (Shelties) and four assorted (Siamese and non) cats. Considering the herd drive of the Shelties (they even try to herd each other) and the reluctance of cats to be herded, we have our own entertainment system.

    Paul, the English Shepherd is the direct ancestor of the “show” Collie and the Border Collie. I wouldn’t be too surprised to hear that it is an ancestor of the Sheltie, too.

  9. “…Monty realizes that it is he who truly wields the power in this relationship…”

    Monty already knows that; there’s no “realize” in this situation. When he walks into the room and meows, he’s luring Kirby to his doom.

    Cats are so deliciously evil, in a cute way.

  10. You saw Gaslight Anthem?! I’m so jealous. The Stone Pony is only twenty minutes from my house but I found out they played the next day. So mad.

  11. A little less white fur and that picture could be of my mostly lab Bailey and grey cat Violet–oh how I can relate to your post! I don’t know if Bailey has the herding gene in him, but he definitely has the “Play with me! Play with me! I’m only 50 pounds bigger than you!” gene. I do believe the cat enters the room knowing full well the dog is going to chase. Cats are always in control.

  12. Gaslight Anthem are an excellent band. I’ll have to take your music suggestions seriously now. Now I have something to do instead of working!

  13. I grew up with a sucession of border collies. When I was little, I was the sheep – to be protected, herded and watched after. When I was older, I was a playmate, to be chased, be chased by and teased.

    My latest furry friend just passed away. I miss him, and his teasing. I swear he laughed at me when he would pretend to give me the ball and then dash away wagging his tail!

  14. Saw the Gaslight Anthem here in Amsterdam last month and I’m pretty sure they played I’d a called you Woody, Joe.
    It was a pretty good show, making me stay all throughout the show even though I was running a fever high enough to fry eggs on my forehead…

  15. I have two cats, and they have become well-trained. I purchased these little plastic thingies that go on their collars, and I have a remote control that allows me to cause these thingies to beep. The plan was to train them that beeping means I will give them food, so they should come to me. This will allow me to be more secure about their going outside, as I can cause them to come home at any time at will.

    It has taken several months of careful training. Beeps and treats, beeps and treats, repeat ad naueum. And they are fully trained!

    They are trained that when their collar beeps I will bring them a treat. I have seen this in action, as I hid in the bushes and beeped the collar they both looked around expectantly for a few seconds, then looked disgusted when I did not magically appear with treats.

    Yeah. *sigh*

  16. Love Gentlemen Jesse & His Men and was very much looking forward to his tour stop thru Denver on August 25th….and then my favorite band, The Dollyrots, announces a gig the same day in Denver. I need two of me.

  17. Paul – with thanks to Gregg Bender for having already helpfully provided an answer to your question (and for the compliments!), I’ll also add that when researching breeds, our research turned up a quote that went “an English shepherd is a border collie with an off-switch.” My wife and I have joked for years now that we’re still searching for the promised off-switch.

    geekygirl602 and TPRJones – When in earshot, Monty actually comes when called by my wife so he is actually semi-trained in that regard. Oh, and Kirby has trained him to drink from the toilet bowl. I think Monty may secretly want to be a dog.

    Tax Lawyer – I think you’re confusing me with “The Other One” … but I think he’s onto something with that Shared Monkey Theory!

    Chris – argh, I tried to give you advance notice in my post last Tuesday that the Gaslight Anthem were coming to the Pony on Thursday! You’re from Gaslight Country though, so you’ll have lots more chances … me, I’m still waiting for another D.C. date. They’ve only played here once in 2+ years, hence my road-tripping to see ’em … and not for the first time either (or even the first time at the Pony, for that matter).

    Cassie, Kirby loses interest in balls quickly, but he’s a frisbee champ.

    Nick B – Are you down with Against Me!? For my money, their latest, White Crosses, complements American Slang beautifully. It’s almost pavlovian for me at this point that, after listening to one, I almost always immediately reach for the other.

    Aurian – I wish there were something I offer more than my sincere sympathies. I’ve got to figure that it’s as hard on a border collie (or any herding dog) to leave their charge behind as it is for the one being left behind … after all, you are (we are) their solemn responsibility. Cherish the memories of your time together, and keep your strength.

    Theyis – I love it! That’s dedication!

    And a general thank you to everyone for your comments, all of which are appreciated, and many of which made me laugh. Cheers!

  18. Upon consideration, however, what I’d really like to see captured on video is the moment (unseen by human eyes to date) where Monty realizes that it is he who truly wields the power in this relationship, suddenly stops running, and turns towards his pursuer with a wicked glint in his eye.

    From my experience it looks like this. Cat gets twice bigger then normally. Then comes hissing, pawing and if that’s not enough the cat lands on the dogs head with all the claws outstretched. This usually gets the work done.

    At least that’s how my cat deals with strange dogs. It’s always fun to watch him attack dogs trice his size.

  19. John – Of course, Against Me!’s White Crosses is an excellent album. They came out just a week apart, if I remember correctly, so that and American Slang have been in constant rotation. I think both albums had a lot to follow up on, but were very successful in my book. Two of the better albums so far this year.

    I’ll see your White Crosses and raise you a My Dinosaur Life by Motion City Soundtrack. I’ve been a fan of them since I Am The Movie, but their latest blew me away. The tightest and catchiest songs are the ones that you have to sing even when there isn’t any music playing. My wife can attest to how often I’ve sung Delirium out loud. Too much fun. I haven’t been that surprised by a band since Saves The Day released Sound The Alarm. Not really a huge change in sound, but a perfection of what had come before.