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Friday, June 16, 2006

Vote for Cisco!

Back in mid-May, I wrote a story about a South Florida cat headed for the Meow Mix "feline reality show" in New York.

Ten rescue cats are competing for votes and adoptive homes. The voting has begun, and if you go to the Meow Mix site, you can cast yours for Cisco.

To get there, click here.

In the meantime, here's my story:


In his natural habitat - a West Kendall ranch house - Cisco the cat spends his days hiding in an old computer desk or prowling the screened patio. If he feels like it, he lounges on a futon, watching Animal Planet.

And if cat lovers feel like it, they can lounge on their own futons watching Cisco, one of 10 cats soon to star in a webcast being billed as the first feline reality show. If he isn't voted out of the litter box on Meow Mix House, he could end up the last kitty standing.

South Florida, it's up to you.

This is, of course, a massive hype-fest by Meow Mix, the cat food company, albeit with a worthy subtext. All competing cats come from rescue groups, and when the show's over, they'll be adopted. The felines - from New York, Nashville, Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Houston, Dallas and Portland, Ore. - will join Cisco June 6-16 in a Manhattan storefront outfitted with a custom cat habitat, said company spokesman Keith Fernbach.

``Webcams will be positioned throughout the house, 24/7, so you can see what the cats are doing,'' he said.

Which might be a lot of sleeping and licking themselves, except that humans will be there to encourage play and prevent brawls. One cat gets the boot each day, said Fernbach, with the winner becoming ``feline vice president of research and development. He or she will be responsible for taste-testing and offering valuable feedback'' on products.

The potential audience is huge. Cats are America's most popular pets: 78 million compared to 65 million dogs. Thirty-four percent of U.S. households - 35.4 million - include at least one cat, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

Cisco's rescuer, Patricia Murphy, a latent-fingerprint examiner for the Miami-Dade Police Department, thinks he's ideal for the show.

``He's a greeter cat,'' she explained, as the orange-and-white 17-pounder hopped onto the desk and drilled his head into a visitor's midriff.

Murphy, a volunteer with Cat Network, a South Florida rescue operation, got Cisco, 5, as a kitten. He bears the telltale sign of a rescue: the tip of his left ear's been snipped, to indicate he's been neutered.

``I found his mom and his whole litter and found a home for all except him. He's got such a great personality; he deserves a home where he can get lots of attention. I have too many for that.''

Like dozens, give or take the latest litter. And two dogs. So ardent a rescuer is Murphy, 49, that she ceded her master bedroom to the cats. She sleeps in a guest room.

Murphy thinks Cisco is a winner because he's gregarious; a requirement, said Beth Adelman, the certified feline behavior consultant who's advising the show, is ``must play well with others.''

``He's all over me,'' said Murphy, who claims to spend $14,000 a year on cats and, when asked if she was married, rolled her eyes and retorted: ``Of course not!''

``He climbs up me, rolls on my feet, bumps my hand, follows me around.'' On cue, Cisco stuck his face into hers.

``You're the perfect one,'' she purred. ``You're going to beat all those other cats.''

She's not worried about his age. ``Even on Survivor,'' she said, ``they have an old guy.''

In the wild, a ``typical cat on a typical day would conduct 15 to 20 hunting expeditions,'' said Adelman, author of Every Cat's Survival Guide to Living With a Neurotic Owner.

``Obviously, domestic cats don't because we hunt for them, but they do a lot of playing: chasing each other, toys, bugs, sunlight.''

To stave off boredom, ``we'll give them little games and puzzles to solve,'' said Adelman, 48, who will be in the cat house. And to stave off conflict, ``we're planning a very large [vertical] space with trees and platforms, because cats move in three dimensions.''

The humans will watch for aggressive body language and intervene before things get ugly.

``They're like kids in the lunchroom,'' said Adelman. ``You have to interrupt before they start hitting each other with spoons.''

She predicts that viewers of the webcast - and a prospective cable show that Fernbach said is being proffered to several cable networks - will probably see a lot of grooming.

``They like to clean each other's ears. . . . They groom up to four hours a day, which is why a good, healthy cat smells like the afghan that Grandma knit for you.''

Cindy Hewitt, Cat Network's executive director, thinks the show is a great idea.

``Anything that gets exposure for rescued animals and raises awareness of overpopulation is terrific,'' she said. ``What a unique opportunity. It's a really interesting social experiment.''

She claims never to have watched a reality show - ``I have too much of a life'' - though she'll probably tune into this one.

``Watching cats would be fun.''


Blogger Jane Carpenter said...

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If you have a moment, please have a look at my adopt pet site.
Good luck!

1:54 AM  

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