Ev’rybody Wants To Be A Cat

I don’t know how it has escaped me all these years, particularly when I studied Film Noir at TAFE and at university, but today I suddenly realised the connection between Film Noir and cats.

It’s as simple as this: a cat is a classic Femme Fatale. This is true regardless of the gender of the cat in question, although I can only use my own cat as a example, and she is a female.

Femme Fatale is the mysterious and seductive woman whose charms ensnare her lovers, often leading them into compromising, dangerous, and deadly situations.  The tradition of the Femme Fatale has a long history in literature and art, going back to Medea, Cleopatra and other like-minded, strong-willed gals who just wouldn’t do what they were told.

39-Joan_Bennett

Like cats, Femme Fatales can’t decide if they want to go in the door, or out the door.

Pic: Indieflix

In the American Film-Noir of the 1930s and 40s, the Femme-Fatale was often the driving force behind the narrative. In some of the classic Noir films, such as my all-time favourite, Double Indemnity, the film begins with the hero (or anti-hero) dying, dead, or if he’s lucky, maybe just locked up – and narrating the story of his own downfall in a long flashback. That device gives the story a sense of ill-fatedness right from the beginning. (Another well-known example where that device is used is Sunset Boulevard.)

Lo and behold, sooner or later, the hapless hero will meet a woman, and it usually turns out that this dame will be behind his fall-from-grace/death. Sometimes that may not have been a direct intention of the Femme Fatale, but one thing she will never do is show any regret: if the hero’s demise is what it takes, then that’s how it has to be.

So, that’s the Femme Fatale and where she comes into contemporary film history, in 100 words or less. (or more, give or take.) Now, before any film students dismiss the notion that there is a link between cats and Femme-Fatales, consider the adjectives that are used to describe the Femme Fatale:

narcissistic

manipulative

deadly

mysterious

villaneous

morally ambiguous

Dominating

destructive

unrepentant

I feel confident that anyone who has a cat will be nodding their head in recognition at this point, but for those who don’t, let me run you through some examples.

Manipulative? Hell yeah! I’ve already described in another post how my cat will sit at the door, 3 feet away from the cat flap, and meowing plaintively to be let out. If we don’t respond, this will often be followed by the sound of the door rattling as she pushes against it, or, if outside, dramatically throws herself at the screen door and clings on like a flying possum. Is there a cat anywhere in the world that merrily goes in and out the cat-flap by itself, if/when there are human beings in earshot?

(If you have such a cat, please send a photo to the P.O. box address at the top of the page.* We will send you a $5 coupon to cover the cost of postage, and throw the photo in the recycling bin.)

Villaneous? I call meowing loudly and adamantly at 5am in the morning for about half an hour, and then stealthily disappearing, (making the point that there was no reason whatsoever for the meowing, except to disturb and distress the humans in the house) akin to torture. Clearly it’s a plan to ensure that the humans are in a half-dazed, sleep-deprived state throughout the day. Villaneous? Oh yeah.

Unrepentant? You betcha. The disinterested stare is as emotional as it gets.

Destructive? – My sad and sorry couch is ample evidence of the destructive effect on upholstery that being scratched with claws daily – or sometimes, in manic periods, at 5 minute intervals – will achieve over a period of 7 years.

Dominating? If the above has not already answered this for you, let me fill you in on the meowing that goes on until any current need is satisfied, whether that is the need to be fed, the need to be let out the door, the need to come straight back in the door again, or the need to be picked up and patted, but only, of course, until the cat has had enough patting. You better be sensitive to that mood-swing or you’ll find out, via a sharp scratch as she decides to get the hell out of your arms after all.

If you ask her to untie you, a Femme Fatale will stare into the distance looking pretty bored, just like a cat would if you asked her the same thing.

If you ask her to untie you, a Femme Fatale will stare past you with bored disinterest –  just as a cat would, if you asked her the same thing.

Pic: Matt DeRody

Deadly? Witness my cat, out in the garden, her body flattened down as low as it can go, creeping through the grass, commando style, eyes fixed on some point about 6 feet away. I can assure you, she is not tracking the wild-life with the same intent that David Attenborough has when he behaves in a similar fashion. She is mostly unsuccessful with birds, but regularly brings live skinks into our house, (minus their tales, which must prefer to stay outside), presumably to play with until they die of fright. We have to catch the poor little things and set them free.

Morally ambiguous? Surely anyone who does all of the above and then sits around looking like the cat that got the cream, clearly has a different moral radar than the rest of us. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her look regretful for a moment. Conveniently for her conscience, the moment after she has exhibited any “bad behaviour” she is compelled to sit down and engage in an intense cleaning session, which is clearly so absorbing and distracting that in another second, she has forgotten what just happened.

What? What happened?

Whatevs. Great cream, btw.

What is the problem? Great cream, btw.

Mysterious? Indeed. Take a look at her when she is sitting in the sun, eyes squinting but still slightly open, as if keeping watch in her sleep. Who ever knows what a cat is thinking, or when they will decide they’ve had enough patting and need to swipe at you to let you know that?

In short, if you come across your cat reclining elegantly in a dark corner, lit only by slits of light coming through the venetian blinds, looking blankly towards you with those half closed eyes, beware. Be particularly cautious if she is smoking a long-stemmed cigarette. There is probably a gun somewhere under that innocent-looking fur.

Having established the link between cats and Femme-Fatales, I thought it would be useful to review some famous Film Noir titles, as they would be if cats were given proper credit.

The Long Meow

The Slow-Roasted Falcon

Ninefold Indemnity

The Big Sleep That I Ended

The Big Steal, or, The Chicken Vanishes

Farewell, My Lovely Skink

The Lady (Fish) in the Lake

You Only Live Nine Times

In A Lonely Place (At the Top Of A Tree)

Tight Spot (At The Top Of A Tree) (the sequel)

A Touch of Evil In The Dog Next Door

There we have it. So, students of Film-Noir, take note. Many books and articles have been written analysing Noir films, but I have as yet to find any that take an in-depth look into whether cats were the original inspiration for the Femme Fatale. It’s a PHD just waiting to happen.

*

*There is no P.O. box address at the top of this page.

Consulted in the course of writing this post, with apologies to those sites. If you are interested in the topic, they will give you a far more indepth look at Film Noir than I have:

Wikipedia

Indieflix Blog

Film Noir Studies

Matt deRody

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110 Comments

  1. Spot on! This was a great post. I really need to watch more film noirs (films noirs?) – maybe one day my life will resemble that of a cat more… 🙂

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    • Haha! I like “Films Noir” – but not sure what’s correct. Here’s hoping your life comes to resemble that of a cat/ Femme Fatale as soon as possible. If you haven’t seen Double Indemnity, start there – Phyllis is a great role model.

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  2. That was very amusing and very true! The cats I used to have were certainly like that.

    I would like to be a cat but not for its femme fatale qualities (I’m not a femme for a start), but because they spend a lot of time sleeping and eating, both activities which rather appeal to me 🙂

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    • Oh I agree! Life is pretty relaxed for my cat, most of the time – apart from at 5am, of course, when she gets lonely & anxious for some company.

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  3. Yeah, cats are definitely femme fatales. They also make great villains. I’m surprised that cats don’t have those twirly mustaches that indicate a villain wanting to tie someone down and put them on railroad tracks.

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    • I think cats would fit that moustache twirling, “pantomime villain” type except that they are too lazy to. They require an obsequious assistant to do their dirty work for them. That’s where humans come in! Thanks for reading!

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  4. Reblogged this on muhamdsoliman.

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  6. Love these films. One even has Ralph Meeker as a private dick looking for, wait for it, uranium for a bomb. It is a blast of a film. At the end one girl gives new meaning to a femme fatale torch and the actor goes to the ocean to avoid radiation. It is really a weird scene.

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  7. What you have there is not a villainous cat, what you’ve got is a well-trained human.

    Five in the morning may be sleep time for you but dusk and dawn are prime hunting times for instinctual felines. Early risers are healthier in the human world, too. Maybe your cat is trying to tell you something: “Turn off the evening television, go to bed early, play with me in the morning, and we’ll both be happy.”

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    • I see – the cat is still on pre-modern time. I’m afraid I don’t think I’ll ever be someone who rises voluntarily at 5am. (Shudder!) So the ongoing conflict will continue……
      Thanks for reading!

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  8. Republicou isso em VIVIMETALIUN.

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  9. shinobiswordsman

     /  February 7, 2014

    This is excellent. Would you say that they both purr to get what they want? Anyway, congrats on being Freshly Pressed

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  10. LOL at the cat flap scene you portrayed. That happens in my house daily. Lovely post, I’m a cat person and mystery lover but had never realized the connection between cats and femme fatales.

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    • I hadn’t realised it before either. If I’d put more time into that post I could have made a lot more direct comparisons – as another astute reader has already pointed out, both purr to get what they want! Thanks for reading!

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  11. While I don’t really watch the femme fatale movies, I definitely know the character and know my cats as well. Nothing quite like your cat meowing for attention then sitting three feet away from you, back to you, ignoring you as if scorning your existence. Until you bring out the tuna that is. Awesome post.

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    • Thanks Heather! If you happen to watch a Film Noir I’m sure you will spot some very similar behaviour from a Femme Fatale: meowing for attention but then sitting 3 feet away from the hero, ignoring him. (until he brings out the tuna.) 😉

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  12. No, have to disagree on that.
    My cats are not femme fatales, neither the female nor the male. They know very well that they have misbehaved, when I catch them at it and they look concerned as I am making a lot of fuss about it. Well, the male more so.
    I am still their servant, but I have learned to ignore the meowing at 3:30 am … They are deadly, yes, but that is specific for those little specialised predators they are.
    And the most convincing reasons why my cats are not femme fatales:They are not smoking (I’d smell that!) and there are no guns in my house.

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    • Perhaps, like many Film Noir heroes, your cats currently have you fooled into thinking they have no hidden motives?!
      Then again, maybe some cats don’t fit the stereotype – just like humans! Thanks for reading.

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  13. Reblogged this on hjbeedle.

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  14. It’s always nice to find an interesting and fun post. I enjoyed reading it and love the 1931 Maltese Falcon.

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    • Thanks Kevin! Any film with Humphrey Bogart in it is always good fun. I just watched Casablanca again recently and enjoyed it more than ever! You could also try The Big Sleep – from memory it’s a little confusing, but so full of witty lines between Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart that it really doesn’t matter how it ends.

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      • Hello , I’ll try The Big Sleep thanks, I’ve not come across that one. The Bogart version of the Maltese Falcon is 1941 and I was thinking of the same film with Bebe Daniels and Ricardo Cortez that came out ten years earlier. Either one, what fabulous way to spend an hour or more.

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  15. Indeed, cats are certainly femme fatales. They also make great villains. Great post, enjoyed reading this!

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    • Thanks Paul. When they are not inside in a dark corner being femme fatales, they are outside, being villains. “Villains” is more of an outdoor, chasing-the-birds kind of persona. When not being either of those things, they are generally asleep.

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  16. Please tell me you’ve seen Cat People (the 1942 one, not the 1982 one).

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    • Oh dear – I don’t believe I have seen that one (either version)! It sounds like compulsory viewing – sounds like I better find a copy!

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    • My immediate thought as well. Blathering, please watch “Cat People.” Great movie, and the heroine is at first sight innocent but also a femme fatale because of her ability to transform into the cat (black panther to be exact). So it matches your idea perfectly!

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      • I am convinced! It’s probably available free online somewhere by now surely? I will def check it out.Thanks for reading!

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  17. Cory Jeanine

     /  February 7, 2014

    I love the part about the “intense cleaning session”….so very true! Great post, wonderful sense of humor.

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  18. Hey Doc, but i want to be a rabbit. Can or not?

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  19. Wonderful post! We have 1 male & 2 girls. Lately the male has decided to meow loudly around 2:30am…these are house cats so no need to go out. Drives us crazy & all of a sudden he quits! No ryhme or reason. The cat flap we have is for the basement “bathroom” & they all fly thru it like their tails are on fire. Can’t live without them, tho.
    Congrats on freshly pressed!

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  20. missyoungyoo

     /  February 7, 2014

    What an interesting post, not to mention, with great humor! I’ve never considered the connection between cats and femme fatal, thank you for the insight 😉

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  21. Reblogged this on sinclairgordon2012 and commented:
    Everybody wants to be a cat.

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  22. This is hilarious! One more thing that is similar between cats and femme fatales is that they are so fabulously irresistible – you know they can be bad for you, but you can’t say no to them : )

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    • Haha, very true Angelina. It was actually a hastily written post, but now that it’s been FP’d of course I keep thinking of other things I could have included. The list of adjectives should have included “seductive”! So much so that you will pat them even when you know you may be in for a harsh scratch. (that’s the cat.)

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  23. incaunipocrit

     /  February 7, 2014

    Reblogged this on The International Blogspaper.

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  24. lol so true! I’m a cat lover and agree with their femme fatale character!

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  25. We mustn’t forget either that Cats are normally the preferred Familiar of Witches.
    Femme Fatales put you under their spell do they not?

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    • Absolutely. I can see why witches choose cats as their preferred companions! So stylish yet so intimidatingly disdainful to others! Thanks for reading!

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  26. Having just shared your clever post with my felines, I’ve been asked to tell you, “Hiss. Hiss. Hisssssssssss.” Apparently, they’re unhappy that you’ve exposed the strategy that they’ve been using to control Mankind for thousands of years. You might want to consider moving. They’re scratching at the door, demanding to be let out. I fear they’ve picked up the scent of your mustaches.

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    • Hee,hee, halarious comment! Here’s hoping I can withstand their wily ways, if they get this far. Hmmm…”Wily ways” sounds more like a villain in a kid’s book than a Femme Fatale, doesn’t it? Maybe don’t tell your cats I said that. Say that I have already thrown myself in the pool, and am floating face down like the hero in Sunset Boulevard. That should put them off, as they won’t want to get wet.

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      • I really wouldn’t worry. It’s not like they have thumbs.

        No joke, as I wrote that, one of our three cats was stabbing me right between the shoulders with one of his claws. I actually grimaced as typed, it was so painful. Hubby said, “Oh, is Magellan massaging your back?” I replied, “More like ‘mauling’ it.”

        Perhaps you should keep the windows and doors locked. And consider investing in body armor. Ciao!

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  27. Very true! Love this post

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  28. radicalenthusiast

     /  February 8, 2014

    Meow!

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  29. But does a square with a horn make the average femme fatale wish she weren’t born? That is the question.

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    • If we are talking averages, I reckon that the square with the horn will come off rather folorn, and even in some cases, lose his horn. (metaphorically speaking.)

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  30. cupofkt

     /  February 8, 2014

    Reblogged this on cupofkt.

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  31. Reblogged this on Aiden Sirius.

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  32. Reblogged this on Ianne is Blogging OMG… and commented:
    Cats… Sophisticated and mysterious.

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  33. Awesome post. Thanks for sharing.

    http://tshirtlegend.com/

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  34. Reblogged this on luvsiesous and commented:
    Friends,

    This post is much better than most Freshly Pressed posts …. I hope you enjoy it, it is a funny look at cats and film noire ….

    And it was funny.

    Don’t you agree?

    Wayne
    Luvsiesous.com

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  35. This I enjoyed 🙂 Thanks!

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  36. Reminds me of Augustus, who makes an appearance in some of the Bertie Wooster memoirs.

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  37. This is great post! Makes total sense to me. I’ve also noticed the consistent low-angle lightning my cats receive since they tend to relax on the highest possible elevation in our house.

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    • Thanks Todd! Great observation – clearly their choice of elevated positions must be in order to be seen in an angular light, & have a good vantage point if they need to shoot. Whereas their other favoured position – underneath things – is is order to eavesdrop, spy, & snooze on the job when needed.

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  38. i wanna be a cat

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  39. I doubt any film students will laugh you out of the room for such a notion as connecting cats to film noir, as cats are used as a symbol *in* film noir. ‘The Strange Love of Martha Ivers’, for instance, has the femme fatale protecting her kitty from her abusive relative, to the point of murder.

    Let us not forget the other term used for cats: “pussy”. Cats often symbolize the sexual prowess of femme fatales, as it does in “Martha Ivers.” Forget connecting the adorable/dangerous actions of cats, films have been using them as symbols for decades.

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    • Great to hear! Perhaps there was a unconscious recognition of that in my mind when I thought of the link between cats and femme fatales, rather than connecting, say, horses and femme fatales, or cats and Jerry Lewis movies. It is fascinating how much symbolism there is in Film Noir, as a result of the strict codes they had to follow about what couldn’t be said/shown. Thanks for reading and for your comment!

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  40. Hey Blathering, nice work on getting FP! Please loan me your femme fatale for an hour… we lost our 18-year-old cat on Friday 😦

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    • Sorry to hear that! For all their faults they manage to fool us into being very attached to them – I’d be sad to lose ours despite all her shenanigans.

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  41. very well work done…keep going…i liked it…its nice…as am a new blogger in this world and i wrote just 1 blog (story) (http://mindtechnorms.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/when-god-granted-tittus-to-go-to-earth-for-1-day-part-i/) and unable to find my viewer as like you, can u please help me by reading my 1st blog what wrong with my writing…is really something wrong with my writing or am just expecting too early…your helpful comments will really inspire me… and please follow me…

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  42. elliott001

     /  February 21, 2014

    Really funny! I would like to be a cat for agility more than anything. I would love to be able to jump that high and be that quick!

    Visit New Gen Journo for unbiased opinions on everything

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    • I would like to be a cat for sleeping, more than than anything.;-) Of course when they feel like it, they can jump high and be very quick but I find that I rarely need to jump really high. I suppose the quickness would be handy when I’m running late for work, which is pretty much every day.

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  43. This article made me think only about one woman: Scarlett O’Hara – Gone with the wind… I think she is one of the best examples of “cat woman” 🙂

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    • Aah, Scarlett O’Hara….I’ve never actually watched through the whole of Gone With the Wind, but from what I’ve seen and heard of the character, that sounds like a very apt suggestion! Thanks for reading!

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  44. Hahaha…made me remember a cartoon I saw when I was a kid.

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  45. You’re a genius!

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  46. I love this post. I’ve been trying to decide which femme fatale my cat is and think I’ve landed on Mary Astor’s character in Maltese Falcon: good with the histrionics and woe-is-me bit to get more food….and sneaky.
    Leah

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    • Haha, great idea! I should do a follow up – “which femme Fatale is your cat” I think most cats have mastered the art of sneaky!

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  47. LOL. Cute, but my kitten barely makes a sound. She’s too busy playing with her toys, trying to kill the glass patio door, and hiding whenever her name is called, unless she hears that food is involved.

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    • Well, at first that sounded all very cute and innocent, but then I couldn’t help but notice that you used the word “kill” to describe her activities relating to the glass door. I think that says it all.

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      • LOL. As much as a 7 month old kitten can “kill” glass. She is definitely the most complex feline I have ever had in my life, that’s for sure.

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