Published on February 23, 2021

Memories are made of this

Our Barney cat was flush with knowledge

By Jan Edwards
The Bulletin

During this pandemic, Roy and I have compared notes on memorable pets we have had. Last week he told you about his most memorable cat, Whiskey Cat. My story is about my most memorable cat from college days. You never know what you will learn from having a pet – or what they will learn from you.

I am normally a dog person and always have been. That just shows you how unusual my relationship was with Barabbas (later changed to Barney).

Years ago, when I was in college, my roommate, Barbara, and I shared an off-campus apartment. It was the lower half of an ancient garage apartment – yeah, we were living in the made-over garage. It had a large bedroom, a bathroom with an old doorknob, a living/study/dining room, and a tempera water-soluble, yellow-painted kitchen. Whoever lived there before us painted everything, and I do mean everything (cabinets, refrigerator, stove, ceiling and floor) with this yellow paint. The more we tried to clean it, the more it bled yellow.

The living room walls had gaps that would let the winter’s wind in, so we wall-papered it with flat bed sheets.

It had its drawbacks, but it met our two basic needs: It was cheap, and it was within walking distance of the campus. The landlady only wanted two things from Barbara and me – pay our rent in full on time and absolutely NO pets. That worked for us.

One day as I walked to class, I noticed a lady giving away a litter of kittens to anyone who passed by that would take one. I declined and went on to class. Walking back from class, I noticed the lady still trying to find homes for her kittens, and they were all gone, except one - the one in her hand. It was without a doubt the ugliest kitten I had ever seen. From its head to its shoulders, it was short haired and gray, and then from its shoulders to its tail, it was long haired and jet black. She offered it to me again, and I was declining it when a dog came running up snapping and wanting to get at the kitten.

I grabbed the kitten from her hand. “I’ll take him,” I said, wondering how in the world I would explain him to Barbara and the landlady. Walking the rest of the way home, I told that cat – I’m naming you Barabbas because I KNOW you are going to get us in trouble.

When I walked in with the ball of fur and told Barbara its sad tale, she was thrilled I took him. She was a cat person and knew just what to do for this little fellow. He was so young that we had to teach him how to drink milk out of a saucer. He learned quickly and soon became a milkaholic. We figured if we let him outside to do his business and not have a litter box in the house, we would not get found out. But Barbara said he had to have a more friendly name – so he became Barney. (This was before the big purple dinosaur).

To my surprise, I liked having the little guy around. He really wasn’t any trouble. He did quite well, going outside to do his business, and we had him fixed so he would not be a bother. Most of the time, when we were home, he was with either Barbara or me. But he had one disconcerting habit. Every time either one of us went into the bathroom, he would follow. Then he would sit on the floor in front of us and intently watch.

He also watched us when we took baths. He would jump up on the edge of the tub and walk back and forth until we got out. Then one day, he decided to find out what we were doing and jumped in. That quelled his curiosity about bathing.

As Barney grew, he ended up looking like a full Persian cat with solid black, long fur and weighing in at about 20 pounds.

He followed us into the bathroom even though we shut the door. He learned to stand with his rear feet on the ground, reach up and surround the doorknob with his front paws, hold on and flip his body weight clockwise to turn the old doorknob, and he’d be in the bathroom. Guests really did not appreciate his interest in visiting them like this.

As time went on, we started seeing Barney sitting on the rim of the toilet staring at it, even when we were not in the bathroom. Then we saw him sitting on top of the toilet, meowing. I went in and couldn’t see anything that should be bothering him. I started to leave, then I looked in the bowl. I noticed some small feces and flushed it. Barney stopped crying and jumped down.

The next few days, Barney and I went through the same process. Then I got it. He was using the commode instead of a litter box and knew it needed to be flushed, but he couldn’t figure out how to do it.

I wasn’t sure that was happening until a few weeks later when I happened to be passing by the open bathroom door and saw Barney flushing the commode. No more meowing on the commode or to go out and no mistakes in the house.

I think that ugly little kitten that no one wanted thought he was human, and he was smarter than the average cat. I never have met another cat like him.

(Write Jan in care of The Bulletin. Email: john.bulletin@gmail.com. Snail mail: The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton TX, 77516.)