By Tracy Ahrens
Tucked beside my mom’s refrigerator is a yellow, wooden yardstick. It sees a lot of use, but not as a typical measuring device––it is a retrieval apparatus to gather cat toys from under kitchen appliances and a storage cabinet beside the fridge.
What strikes me is how nearly every cat in my mom’s house will come running to the kitchen when they hear that yardstick tap the linoleum floor. They know that it marks retrieval time and they must observe.
I find it entertaining to embark on the retrieval process with a flashlight lying on the floor shining under the cabinet, and the yardstick in my right hand. I rest on my knees and have to put my head on the floor to see what I’m searching for. When I look up, observing cats surround me. Some of them rest their chins on the floor to look underneath of the cabinet with me.
They must watch this process to see what toys are unearthed. Once toys are gathered in a pile, they conduct a visual inventory.
I have heard from ferret owners that ferrets act this way with toys, too. They like to take things and hide them under sofas, chairs and beds. It seems that my mom’s cats are much like ferrets. The kitchen floor linoleum adds an extra-special slippery surface for them to zip the toys with a bat of their paw into these dark, confined hiding places.
They’ll flop about on the floor trying to reach under cabinets and appliances with their front paws and legs to get to the toys they hide. When they no longer can retrieve a toy, they find another toy to hoard in the same places. This game can last for hours.
Some of the notorious toys they prefer to hide include plastic spoons, straws, 1-inch sparkly craft pom poms, felt or cloth mice, rubber balls and the little plastic rings found at the top of milk jugs. Snap one of those plastic rings off of a jug and drop it onto the linoleum and cats rush from unknown places just to retrieve them.
Several years ago, on Christmas Day, my mom told me that she heard something hard being batted around on the kitchen floor early in the morning. She also noted that a new plastic apple-coring device had vanished. I embarked on an expedition in the kitchen to find it.
That morning I found the apple-coring device under the kitchen storage cabinet along with 15 sparkly poms and several stuffed mice toys. I brought the stash into the living room and left it in a pile on the floor. Multiple cats followed me and sorted through the treasures, taking each item back to the kitchen and sliding it back under the cabinet. My mom and I laughed at them while preparing dinner.
One of her black cats, Iris, has a particular liking for these sparky, 1-inch poms. They fit just right in her tiny mouth. She is one of the primary hoarding culprits. I watched and laughed one evening as Iris carried a stash of poms one by one from the dining room back to the kitchen cabinet and batted them back under. Red pom, green pom, orange pom – she walked to and from the dining room with one sticking out of her mouth until her mission was complete.
As I observed the cat’s love of these little poms, I started buying the poms in packages and sending them by mail to cat owners I know. Inexpensive, these poms were a hit with other felines who also embarked on hoarding crusades.
My mom and I also crochet around the plastic milk jug rings, leaving a tail of yarn to make the toys a bit more enticing.
My latest toy search happened by chance. My mom needed her refrigerator vacuumed underneath. While doing so, not only did I find enough fur and dust to create a life-size rabbit, I started sucking up milk jug rings. I paused to extract evidence from the fuzz: two plastic spoons with long handles, one drinking straw, six felt mice toys, six pom poms and 12 plastic milk jug rings. Including the ones I sucked into the vacuum, there had to be close to 20 milk jug rings under the appliance. I took the bounty to the living room and placed it in the middle of the floor.
That evening, Iris sat and picked up each item in her mouth, testing them to see if they were satisfactory.
Hours later, every treasure was gone, taken back to secret feline hiding places.
Recently I came across a funny photo on the Internet of a cat sitting, facing a basket of expensive toys. It was looking for that one treasured toy that cost nothing – the milk jug ring. The words say, “They threw away the milk ring. Now I have nothing to play with.”
So true! Simple things like drinking straws, milk jug rings, paper wads and pom poms become their prize possessions.
That’s why you’ll see me or my brother on our knees often at my parent’s house with a yardstick in one hand and a flashlight in the other on a search-and-rescue mission to make the felines happy.
Tracy Ahrens is a veteran journalist, author, artist and mom to three rescued cats and one dog. See her web site at tracyahrens.weebly.com and add her book, “Raising My Furry Children” to your collection, raisingmyfurrychildren.weebly.com.
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