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Cat Lover Has Tales to Tell


It's raining cats and dogs.

More accurately, it's "Cats & Dogs," a two-hour special--60 minutes per species--on cable's TBS channel tonight. Neither bark nor bite, it's lovable and slobbery.

Then on Tuesday comes a special edition of "Rescue 911," animal-advocate Arnold Shapiro's "reality" series whose life-saving stories usually feature only humans. This time the entire hour grants more than equal time to animals, from four-legged patients at UC Davis' veterinary hospital to Wilma the pot-bellied pig in Oregon. Trapped in a burning house, she seems a goner until a cop plucks her from the flames and carries her to safety. She squeals, you squeal.

Always an upbeat series, "Rescue 911" on this occasion emphasizes the unique relationship between humans and their companion animals. And although the show's re-enactments continue to be problematic, your eyes mist as K-9 Officer Duke, a Modesto police dog, appears doomed after getting stabbed while taking down a knife-wielding lunatic. Things are looking grim for the critically wounded Duke until his compassionate partner, Officer Gene Ballentine, starts hanging around and cheering him up, even sleeping with Duke in his hospital cage for seven days. Is this great or what? There on the screen is Ballentine scrunched beside his friend, reading get-well cards: "This says, 'To Duke. . . .' "

Just as emotional is the way Corpus Christi, Tex., citizens mobilize on behalf of a tiny puppy that has fallen into a sewer and is about to be washed away. It's the humans who strategize, but who is the actual rescuer? None other than another dog, Annie Fannie, who's lowered into the sewer, crawls into a 10-inch drainpipe and returns with the puppy in her mouth.

All this fuss for a 2-pound animal? "A life's a life," someone says.

The point gets a big, bold exclamation point in tonight's "Cats & Dogs," whose first hour is devoted to canines. You're reminded, among other things, that Frisbee's best friend is dog.

And this program is a dogophile's best friend. From snooty dogs to sooty dogs, they're all here. There are foxhounds who (thankfully) never catch foxes. There are dog-show dogs, ugly dogs and therapeutic dogs that make hospital calls to sick kids. There are sled dogs, a snoring dog, a sheepherding dog and silky coated bluebloods that patronize the Taj Mahal of kennels.

The segment's occasional human voice-overs for dogs should have been cut off at the larynx, however, and let's be candid here: This is very lightweight stuff--a toy poodle, a Chihuahua. But how many more documentaries about lions eating wildebeests can you take? And for animal lovers, substance is not always necessary. Just the sight of animals doing nothing in particular is joy enough.


Speaking of joy, there's the hour on cats, in which animal expert Roger Caras mingles mundane tips (if you have a cat, "love him") with an important message about spaying and neutering. He also provides a pretty fair definition of living with domestic felines, comparing the experience to going to a French restaurant: "You're going to be overcharged, you're going to be insulted. But somehow to you, it's worth it."

There are all kinds of cats and cat people here. Just look at poor Mingis the cat, who becomes an emotional wreck when the husband of the house leaves each day for work. So bring on the cat therapist: "What I'd like to do is tape this session. . . ."

You see cat-obsessed eccentrics, too, and the latest in catwear, including a kitty biker jacket and kitty yarmulkes, or skullcaps, for devout felines of the Jewish persuasion. But when you see cats being walked on leashes, you begin to wonder. I mean, where does this happen, on Pluto?

But enough of these programs, which I chose to review only so that I could tell everyone about the cats in my life. Blabbing this kind of thing, as many of you will recognize, is the cat lover's compulsion. We can't help ourselves. We're driven to it.

Sheba, Dickens, Sheila, Blue, Otis? Forget 'em. They're the dogs on our cul-de-sac, nice pooches all, but completely eclipsed by Tiger Hoser, Cutie, Nick, B.C., Smokey, Mitten, Murray and, of course, his black magnificence, the maestro of the chaise longue, Sport Burns-Rosenberg.

Ah, yes, the hyphenate. While we were grieving for Snoopy, our 14-year-old Tabby who died of cancer, our neighbors, the Burnses, granted us proprietary rights over Sport, which was nice because Sport was already living on our patio near Woody the guinea pig. We accepted, because our neighbors already had three cats. Knowing a good deal when he saw one, Sport now comes in when the sun goes down. He's a great cat.

Even though I was her personal serf and pleaded for her affection, Snoopy despised me. Go figure. But Sport worships me. To him, I am an icon. He looks up at me as if to say, "When I grow up I want to be just like you." Actually, I say it for him, in baby talk. If the walls could talk. . . .

Sport hated Snoopy, and vice versa. He hates B.C., too. For some reason, he doesn't hate Nick or Cutie, who is the brother of Murray. Sport does hate Murray, a big, furry, orange prowler who is the cul-de-sac bully. Except that in his own home, Murray is dominated by Mitten, whose son, Doodles, disappeared a few months ago. We still scan the horizon, hoping to see Doodles returning. But no luck.

Then there's Holly the pot-bellied pig. But that's another column.

I could go on forever. But I'll end this with a quote. In tonight's TBS special, a man says lovingly about his family dog: "He's the vice president of our company." See, that's the difference. A cat would never settle for the No. 2 job.

* "Cats & Dogs" airs today at 5:05 and 9:05 p.m. on cable's TBS. "Rescue 911" airs Tuesday at 8 p.m. on CBS (Channels 2 and 8).

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