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So you think you can submerse me, human?

So you think you can submerse me, human?

Don’t listen to the Internet. It is notoriously full of bad advice, especially when it comes to cats and baths. Tire him out? Trim his nails? Lure him in to the lukewarm tub with his favorite toy? Oh yes, by all means talk to him in a soothing voice as you douse his head. Better just stuff him in the toilet, slam the lid, and flush. You’ll be done faster, and your bathroom will look the same when you’re finished.

For your normal, everyday house cat, here’s all you need to know about the dreaded bath:

1. Don’t do it. Cats, like most ovens, are self-cleaning.

Spy cats are a different matter. The job requirements of a feline secret agent take us places no tongue should venture. Garbage cans. Other cats’ litter boxes. Factory farms. The disgust issue aside, spy cats may encounter toxic, deadly substances. Once I almost took down a bioterrorism ring—or at least I think that’s why that belladonna plant was being cultivated in the neighbor’s garden (they don’t call it deadly nightshade for nothing).

Sometimes, only soap and water will suffice. In that instance, refer to this handy step-by-step manual.

How to Bathe your Spy Cat:

1. Remove all leather tool belts, spy cameras, and external electronic devices. These hate getting wet almost as much as cats do.

2. Any implanted electronic devices (listening electrodes, GPS trackers) may stay, provided the wound is well-healed, ideally at least 72 hours post surgery with no signs of drainage or infection.

3. If your spy cat’s fur has come into contact with toxic substances, instruct him not to lick. This is important. Even if your cat knows a bath is forthcoming, the urge to groom is often overwhelming. Sometimes brushing stray furs into place so he feels clean, at least while the tub is filling with lukewarm water, can help.

4. Speaking of tubs, have you checked with Animal Poison Control to make sure the suspected toxin is water soluble? Call (888) 426-4435. The $65 consultation fee will be reimbursed by your CIA handler.

5. All clear for soap and water? Just…make it quick.

6. A word about hair dryers: Don’t go there. We are formidable, not fluffy.

7. Someone once posted that putting a towel over a pet’s head and seeing how long it took the pet to shake it off was a test of intelligence. This is not funny. When your spy cat just sits there with the towel on his head, I assure you he is very intelligently plotting your demise.

8. Clean up. It’s your bathroom, human.

How NOT to disguise your spy cat

How NOT to disguise your spy cat

continued from It’s good to be a spy cat (Part 2)

Field Journal Day 76


In position outside Lilibeth’s abode. Suspect…er, subject has been home all night. Houses in this neighborhood are lined up like boxes of cereal on grocery store shelves. The front yard is about the size of a minivan, so finding cover was a challenge. The ideal stake-out location ended up being the plastic castle that surrounds the sandbox. Considering it takes up half the yard, it’s quite roomy. There’s even a drawbridge.

Horgan has infiltrated the house in his guise as “guest”. Lester and Pfizz stayed in the truck. They’re monitoring my GPS tracker and the communications system. My mission today: plant tracking chip on subject.


Subject is identified, witnessed leaving through cat flap in the garage.

Interesting. She looks leaner than I recalled. Her formerly white fur is…dusty? That doesn’t make sense, not with the Lilibeth I’d met last year—she’d dressed up for dinner with pink bows in her shiny white coat.

What has she been up to?

Before I can cross the moat, she disappears into the neighbor’s yard. I move to follow and intercept, but she’s fast. Really fast. I can’t even see her tail.

Which way did she go? Darn. The plan is already falling apart.

A bzzt in my ear from my headphone. Lester’s voice, breathless. “Timber, she’s three houses to the right.”

“Which right?”

“Your right.”



“I mean….”

“Just go!”




Still no sign of subject. I’ve jumped fences, darted under porches, peeked in windows, hopped up on cars, startled babies, and annoyed one Labrador retriever. My black hair dye has left streaks across four yards. I’ll never find her this way, but I’ve left a trail three blind mice could follow.

I stop next to a stunted tree in the yard of a blue house. I must be four or five houses away from Hannah’s by now. I should climb the tree for a better view, but that leaves the embarrassing problem of getting back down. It’s tempting to give up and go back for breakfast. But Horgan hired us for a reason. There’s a certain amount of pride in knowing that he thought only a spy cat could crack this case. That he picked me to track Lilibeth.

Sometimes, the life of a spy cat is all “Stay under the couch, Timber,” and “Blend in with the llamas and see what you can hear, Timber,” but every once in a while, it’s actually exciting.

I won’t give up so easily. It’s time to start thinking like a cat. What could she be after?

She’s lost weight—so she’s not moving into another family. There’s nothing like new cat infatuation to bring out the tuna. And her normally pretty coat was in horrible shape, which means hair bows have been replaced by something else on her priority list.

I recognize the signs. She’s on the hunt. She’s going after something more important than food, than comfort.

If I don’t know any better, I’d say she’s acting like a spy cat.

That’s when Lilibeth pounces on me from above. “Who are you and why are you following me?”

“BlaaaaaaaaarcK!” I jump high enough to latch onto the tree’s lowest branches. My front claws stick. I dangle there like a drying fish, which is a ridiculous pose for a furred creature, but it seems safer than putting myself in her reach. “Don’t DO that!”

She sits below me, the picture of innocence. Until she reaches up with a claw and pokes me in the butt. “Talk, Oh Fluffy One. Or I bring out,” she unsheathes the whole paw-ful, “the rest of them.”

What am I doing, taking this from a little thing like Lilibeth? She weighs half of what I do, soaking wet. And I’ve got gravity on my side, plus the grenade launcher. Which is snugged around my waist, out of reach. She eyes it suspiciously.

Gravity, then. I swing my back legs, aim, and launch myself at her. I’m intending only to smush and startle, then interrogate. It seems a reasonable plan.

I land, instead of on her, on her back paws, which knock my breath away and catapult me over her head. She wrestles the tool belt off, easily loads the grenade launcher, and pounces on top of me. She wields the cardboard handle in one paw. The launcher’s rubber band is pulled back and aimed at my head.

It’s not too late to turn this around. I have a feeling I know what she’s been up to, and how I can get out of this compromising position.

“Well done, Lilibeth. You’ve passed.”

She drops the launcher. “You mean…you’ve been watching me?”

I knew it. “Yes. And the CIA is very impressed.”

“It’s real, then? The feline espionage program? It’s not just a children’s book?” She stalks off my belly and sits on the ground. Shakes her head. “I can’t believe it. I was hoping, of course…”

“That’s how I got my start, too. The Manual of Feline Espionage—not many felines see it for what it really is. Er, not many cats know how to read.”

“Hannah reads it to her daughter at night.”

Of course, Horgan got the book for his niece last Christmas. “It’s a great book,” I say.

“But I kept thinking, what if I could be a spy cat, too? So I’ve been practicing.”

I look at myself, splayed on the ground, taken down my a civilian. “It shows.”

That explains the sneaking out, the change in behavior.  But on the way back to Hannah’s, I realize recruiting a spy cat is not a trivial matter. How much would Horgan want to tell his sister? Would Horgan even want another agent? We are obviously worth it, but secret agent cats aren’t cheap.

For instance, I want bacon for breakfast.


When I’m back within headphone range, I hear a Bzzt. Lester comes on. “Where have you been? Did you find her?”

“She’s here. And she’s onto us. She’s been practicing being a spy cat.”

A rustle. A deep grunt. Horgan’s voice. “You were not authorized to reveal any classified secrets, agent.”

“She figured it out first!”

“The goal is secrecy, Timber!”

I reach Hannah’s driveway and see Horgan sitting behind the steering wheel, Lester and Pfizz in his lap, all of them wearing headphones, the computer propped on the dashboard. “Um, have you looked in the mirror?”

Hannah comes out the front door in her bathrobe, two steaming cups in her hand. At the sight of Horgan in his pickup truck, she stops, wide-eyed. Then she notices Lilibeth wearing the grenade launcher slung over her shoulder. My hair dye must be running, because she blinks at me and says, “Timber? Is that you?”

In all the excitement, I forgot I wasn’t supposed to talk to Hannah. “It’s a long story,” I say. Horgan hears me through the headphones, and I hear his voice snarl “Timber!!” in my ears.

“Well, you might as well start now,” she says. “I was wondering how to tell you guys I learned Cat a long time ago, but you know my brother. He loves his secrets.”

Horgan sputtered. I heard Lester chuckle. “I told you it wasn’t hard.”

Honestly it was a relief not to be hiding things from our hostess. I was hoping this meant I could eat breakfast in the house. So I turned to Lilibeth. “You’re going to love working for Horgan. You can share a room with Cleo.” Her whiskers perked up with pride.

Hannah blinked. “Wait, what?”

Horgan coughed. “Wait, what?”

Some days, it’s good to be a spy cat. We solve all kinds of problems for people, and they don’t even know it.

How not to be stealthy when you're driving spy cats to the job

How not to be stealthy when you’re driving spy cats to the job

Continued from: It’s good to be a spy cat (Part 1)

Black is not my color. But it has some advantages I have come to appreciate. Slipping through shadows. Stealth entrances. And sneaking up on Pfizz.



“Boys!” Horgan yelled above the noise of the open window. “This is supposed to be a stake-out! Can’t you at least pretend to be quiet?”

We were in the back seat of Horgan’s pickup on the way to the “assignment.” His sister lives in Cheektowaga, only a short drive from Horgan’s butcher shop in East Aurora. It was blistering hot in the cab of his truck, which didn’t have air conditioning.

I was supposed to infiltrate his sister Hannah’s yard as a “stray cat”. Unfortunately, her own cat, Lilibeth, had met all of us at Thanksgiving—that’s why I needed the disguise. According to Hannah, Lilibeth had been acting strangely. Spending lots of nights away from home. Coming home once with another collar. Hannah tried to keep Lilibeth inside, but she kept getting out. Once she put up signs around the neighborhood, and Lily was found three miles away. Hannah was worried another family was going to steal Lilibeth forever.

I asked Horgan why Hannah didn’t just ask Lilibeth what was going on. “Teach her how to speak Cat. Then she can ask Lilibeth herself.”

Horgan sputtered. “That’s classified information!”

Lester and I shared a look. “It’s not hard,” Lester said. “Most people could do it, if they tried.”

“Yeah,” I added. “It’s mostly about understanding eyebrows and whiskers.”

“And tails,” Pfizz said. “Oh, don’t forget claws.”

“Purr frequencies.” Lester demonstrated with a loud, fast, happy blurt. “Mraow pitch.” A warning rumble.

“Shredding patterns.” Pfizz marked Horgan’s seat with an intricate wavy line of scratches. He tilted his head to look at them. “Although that’s more cryptography than linguistics.”

“What?!” Horgan cried. “That’s enough! Learning Cat is for CIA operatives only—it’s one of our most treasured secrets. I can’t just walk in and start talking to my sister’s cat. That’s what you’re for. My sister can’t know why you’re there.”

Typical. This was such an undercover case, the person I was working for didn’t even know it. Spy cats solve all kinds of problems for humans, and they never appreciate us.

“What am I supposed to do, then?” I asked. “Follow Lily? What if I get trapped in this other house forever?”

Horgan snorted. “Not likely. The reason you’re taking point is you’re fluff–er, long-haired enough to hide the GPS tracker, a spy camera, and a tool belt.”

Now he was talking. I checked the tool belt, which lay underneath Lester’s tail. Lockpicking kit, mini-grenade launcher, and three pebbles for ammunition. I should be fine.

I wondered what Lilibeth had gotten herself into. Hannah kept a fine home, for a human. Clean enough litter box, plenty of kibble, evan a cat flap in the garage door.

Why would Lilibeth want to leave?

to be continued…


Lester, sneaking up on me: “Timber, I’m worried about you.”

Me, closing the laptop: “What do you mean?”

Lester: “You’re taking this new role a little bit…seriously, don’t you think?”

Me, sitting on the laptop…which just happens to still be warm: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Lester: “Is this your Dropcam project again? Spying on the pets of the world? Looking for new recruits?”

Me: “Ha! Like you’re any better. Mr. ‘SpyCatNumberOne’ on Tumblr.”

Horgan: “Boys, what are you arguing about? Do I need to take your computer privileges away? Again? Get back to your Russian language lessons!”

Us: “Yes, Boss.”

Journal–If I COULD get a Dropcam pet monitor in every home, how easy would recruitment be?? Maybe there’s room in the CIA budget.


Let’s face it. Cats make great spies. We’re quiet and sneaky. We travel well (as long as it isn’t in the car). We adapt to many environments (though we prefer sunbeams and a gentle breeze).

What could be better than a spy cat? I made the mistake of asking Horgan one day.

“Dropcam,” he said.

Horgan is a Covert Animal Handler, but he does love his gadgets.

I sniffed the camera he was reverently removing from its packing material. “You’re not going to put that on me, are you Boss?” It looked heavy. I’m a big cat, but stealth would be difficult dragging something the size of a grapefruit.

He slipped it into a ceiling mount that hadn’t been there yesterday. “Oh, no, this is something better.”

Oh, no, that was worse. It was a spy camera. I backed under the kitchen table. He hadn’t even had his coffee yet—when had he had time to do all this?

He saw my reaction. “I’m not going to spy on you, Timber. I’m just testing it.”

Uh huh. The way he was just testing the Wii, or the Xbox, or the GoPro. I’m sure that’s why he aimed it’s deceptively cute little eye at the living room, where Pfizz was practicing karate and Lester was looking at Facebook.

I nudged Lester off the computer and looked up this “Dropcam”. It was worse than I imagined. Giraffes. Turtles. Adoptable cats. Maybe even…you.

See for yourself:

TreeHouse Humane Society (Lester says he wants to live there. I had to explain to him what a Humane Society was, even one as nice as this one. In the mean time, he borrowed Horgan’s credit card and placed an order for some stairs and shelves to decorate our walls.)


Peninsula Humane Society – Cat Room (Pfizz has a theory. Put spy cameras in ALL the humane society cat rooms, and monitor them to see which cats are most successful at their escape attempts. Recruit junior feline agents. I think he’s onto something. The only problem is, these rooms look so nice, none of the cats seem interested in escaping.)


Dropcam Virtual Zoo (Horgan overheard us. He insists the CIA is not monitoring the Giraffe house to recruit new agents. But he never said anything about the Cheetahs.)


Dropcams: They’re sleek. They’re quiet. They’re everywhere. Maybe they’re better than spy cats.

But do they keep your toes warm at night?


Today I stumbled on a corner of the Internet devoted to the humiliation of cats and the barbaric practice known as “cat shaming”:



Why, Internet, why? What would drive cats to such depths? We stalk the countertops and toilets of the world with pride. I know no cat, ever, driven to offer such a depraved confession as I encountered on this site. Dropped a sock in the litter box? So what! Peed on a hamster? What else are they good for!

Some of these cats’ confessions seemed a bit too…contrived. Conveniently placed. There were pictures with incriminating glimpses of human hands. Some of these signs were—you’re not going to believe this—tied with string around the cats’ necks.

I told you it was hideous.

So I did some research.

Ironically, the whole thing started with dogs in August of 2012.  

Dog shaming may have started out as a cute human trick— who hasn’t poked fun at dogs now and again?

But it’s gone too far. It’s time to take a stand, felines—don’t let them put words at your paws. Using my secret agent skills, I snuck into a local home and interviewed four cats. Here’s what they REALLY want to say.


All responses were reported with NOTHING BUT PRIDE. Nothing but pride, felines.

Even the pooping on the rug thing.

Image“Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days” — Benjamin Franklin

Horgan’s sister came to visit for New Year’s. She smelled fine, kept to herself, and didn’t ask questions about the cache of weapons under the guest bed. This post is not about her.

It’s about her cat.

It started the moment Aunt Helga arrived, fluffy white cat in hand.

“You never told us she was bringing a cat,” I hissed at Horgan.

“Timber, this is Lolita. Be polite. Lolita, this is Timber. He’s not usually like this.”

“Do I have to share the litter box?”

“You share it with Lester and Pfizz already.”

Actually, I didn’t. Being former barn cats, even in the dead of winter, they still went outside. It was one thing to lick your own poop off your paws. But a stranger’s?? How could I make Horgan understand??

The white ball of fur hopped to the floor, looked me up and down, and stuck her tongue out. She disguised it as a lick of her paw, but I knew.

Because she ran under the bed and hid for the rest of the day.

On Day One, she left a hairball in my water dish. Was it because Helga forgot to pack her food? Did our diet not agree with her delicate stomach, as Horgan suggested? Try to be patient, Timber, he said.

On Day Two, she stole my tuna.

“She stole my food, Boss!”

“She hid all day yesterday. She was probably hungry, Timber.”

On Day Three, I woke up and she was sleeping on Horgan’s bed. In my spot. And he was petting her.

On Day Four, she had Lester and Pfizz teaching her how to shoot a pellet gun.

By Day Five, she still smelled no more like a mackerel than she had on the day she arrived. I was very relieved when Aunt Helga announced they would be returning to Minnesota that afternoon.

Lolita licked me goodbye. “Thank you for everything, Timber. I was really scared about this trip, but thanks to you guys, I had a really good time.”


“Not every cat is a secret agent cat,” Horgan reminded me. “Most of them are just cats.”

“For a regular cat,” I said, “I suppose she was okay. Even if she didn’t smell like fish.”

Horgan is one of the world’s only Covert Animal Handlers. He is an expert on cats. He’s a great boss. But there are some things he will never understand.

Horgan: “Why are you always leaving hairballs on the kitchen floor, Timber?”

Me: “Would you prefer I stopped taking baths?”

Horgan: “How about you stop eating things with backbones? I can’t tell you how many tiny skeletons I’ve cleaned up this week.”

Me: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Horgan: Disgusted sigh.

There’s a simple answer to the mystery of why cats throw up hairballs:

Because they are there.

But is it ever that simple?

According to Wikipedia, a hairball is a collection of fur that is vomited when it becomes too big. (Yes, Wikipedia has an entry on hairballs.) I’ll spare you the picture and the video; anyone familiar with cats can bring to mind the unique sounds and motions that can only indicate the return of that which cannot be digested.

A hairball, when placed properly, can mean many things:

– Your offering of food, though generous in portion, was unpleasing to my palate. I was bored, so I ate it anyway. But don’t think I liked it.

– Your offering of food, very generous in portion, was extremely pleasing to my palate. Unfortunately, it was too much for my stomach, which is a bit upset from a romp with the catnip. You should have anticipated that.

– My long, luxurious coat is shining, but the residual layers are accumulating in a packed cylinder near my pyloric sphincter.

– The natural diet of cats, which includes a variety of small mammals with indigestible bones and fur, relies on hairballs. No hairballs, no more room in the stomach. Please understand this, and feed me the occasional vole.

As a secret agent cat, I have needs. They aren’t elaborate. They aren’t complicated. Litter box. Kibble. An open door policy with my employer.

As a covert animal handler, Horgan is a good boss. Generous with the bacon. Attentive with the litter box scoop.

My only complaint is about the bathroom.

Me: “You’ve been in there for, like, fifteen seconds already.”

Horgan: “Timber, privacy, please.”

Me: “MRAOW!”

Horgan: “Get your paws out from under the door! Don’t you have documents to translate?”

Me: “Lester’s on the computer.”

Horgan: “What’s he working on?”

Me: “No, he’s ON the computer. Taking a nap.”

Horgan: A deep, profound silence, followed by a prolonged exhalation.

Me: Scratching at the door. “It’s been SIXTY SECONDS, Boss! I can’t stand it!”

Horgan: “The cat flap is open, Timber. Go outside if you can’t hold it.”

Me: “It’s not that.”

Horgan: “What is it?”

Me: More scratching. “The DOOR. It’s…it’s…CLOSED!” SCRATCH SCRATCH SCRATCH.

Horgan: “TIMBER! It’s not too late to have you declawed!”


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