The cat’s meow

Thursday — 17 December 2015 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — Pope Francis’ birthday (1936)

You know me, dear readers. I find words fascinating. We wordsmiths owe a debt of gratitude to that prolific producer of slang, the American cartoonist Thomas Dorgan (d. 1929). He’s credited with such immortal words and phrases as “dumbbell,” “for crying out loud,” “cat’s pajamas,” “busy as a one-armed paperhanger,” and “Yes, we have no bananas.” Where would modern linguistics be without him?

Tad Dorgan also bestowed upon our civilization that famous phrase “the cat’s meow,” the title of today’s column. The phrase became popular, I remember, in the Roaring ’20s. Back then, we used the word “cat” and “flapper” interchangeably. Weren’t those flappers something else? Remember the day that cool cat, dressed in her yellow silk pajamas, strolled down Fifth Avenue in New York City? She thought she was the cat’s pajamas, didn’t she? Those were the days.

Synonyms for “the cat’s pajamas,” if I recall correctly, were “the bee’s knees,” “the bomb,” and, of course, “the cat’s meow.” These all meant the same thing — something amazing and very desirable. 

At any rate, according to multiple news sources, this Christmas there’s a new twist to the old phrase “cat’s meow.” The cat’s meow is now computerized. In fact, so is the cat. Yes, dear readers, for only $99 (plus tax), you too can own your very own fur-covered robot. It looks like a cat; it acts like a cat; it purrs like a cat — but it’s not a cat. Will wonders never cease?

The robotic cat is the latest brain-child of the technicians over there at the Hasbro Toy Company in Pawtucket, R.I. This is the same company that gave us Cabbage Patch Kids, Mr. Potato Head, G.I. Joe, Easy-Bake Ovens, and Transformers. 

We’ve come a long way since the pet rock fad of 1975. Sony had a robotic dog (now obsolete) back in 1999. Hasbro introduced its line of FurReal Friends in 2002. There have, therefore, been robotic pets for some time. The problem is they were all intended for children. 

The target market for the Companion Pet Cat isn’t children. It’s the growing number of elderly. 

Your new feline friend may look like a real cat, but it brings none of the responsibilities of keeping a live pet. No need to worry about pet food, veterinary bills, kitty litter, or squeaky toys. It’s called “VibraPurr” technology. No, really. Just remember to change the batteries in your pretend cat — perhaps when you replace the batteries in your smoke detectors. 

I once stopped at a restaurant which, to create a homey atmosphere, had a blazing fireplace in the dining room and a house cat curled up in the lobby. On my second visit, I noticed that there was also one of those plush toys, covered with rabbit’s fur, displayed on the hearth next to my table. “That thing sure looks a lot like old Fluffy,” I said to the waitress. “Where is Fluffy, anyway?” “Oh, that’s Fluffy,” the waitress responded. “She died of old age and we had her stuffed.” I lost my appetite. 

Now, there’s no need to go through all the expense and trouble of taxidermy when you have your very own Companion Pet Cat. It comes already stuffed. You even have a choice of three faux furs — tabby, grey, and white. But wait. There’s more. Companion Pet Cat is interactive. That’s right. Your new fake cat will respond to your every touch. It has imbedded sensors. It will meow and purr and roll upside down. It’s the perfect pet for your carefree lifestyle — and so convenient. Companion Cat is available in toy stores everywhere. Not found on TV. 

Who knows? Maybe techno-pets will become all the rage among my aging Baby Boomer generation. If so, the pet industry in the United States will not be pleased. PetSmart is worth more than $8 billion; Petco, $4.5 billion. And that’s not the half of it.

Although many senior living facilities worldwide recognize the mental and emotional health benefits of pets for the elderly, some places (I hear) still do not allow them. As I approach the age of retirement, I have to consider these things. I could never feel at home in a place where absolutely no pets were allowed under any circumstances. I’ve lived with animals all my life. 

Maybe Companion Pet Cat is the solution, but, somehow, I think not. I’m not especially fond of cats to begin with. Then again, maybe Hasbro will expand the line to include other pet companions — like mechanical greyhounds, for example. I’ve already seen robotic greyhounds on a far-out TV commercial for vodka, but I suspect these were computer animations. 

Still, the possibility is worth considering. Can I imagine myself sitting in a rocking chair on the terrace of a retirement home with a greyhound robot lying beside me?

Are you kidding me? Call me old-fashioned, but I’m just not cut out for this new-fangled technology. 

I hope Santa doesn’t bring me a Companion Pet Cat for Christmas. I’d rather get a lump of coal. 

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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