Honey, did you set the alarm cat?

Cats, by their very design, have many fascinating qualities and talents. We all know about their keen sense of smell, fast (catlike) reflexes, and that uncanny ability to land on their feet if dropped. But did you also know they tell time better than a Swiss watch? It’s true. I see it every day. Every $%#@! day.

Just so you know, Meg and I get up most weekday mornings before 5. Yeah, I know. But we do that so we can get in our morning workout, which is usually a three-mile walk or trip to the gym in inclement weather. I have a very trusty clock radio next to our bed set to wake us up precisely on time to the dulcet tones of whatever classic rock is playing at that ungodly hour. This morning I believe it was the soft warbling of Axl Rose with that lovely classic, “Welcome to the Jungle.”

But before I could even get to Axl’s stirring melodic range, I had been roused by the not so soft meow of Lemon, our 17-pound alarm cat. Lemon was letting us know, in no uncertain terms, that it was time for the humans to get up, get dressed and feed him! If, for some unfathomable reason we’d chosen not to stir, he’d have moved on to phase two, or Defcon Two, as he likes to call it. This consists of hauling his bulk (albeit rather gracefully) up onto the bed, strolling up along my left side, walking across my pillow, stepping on my hair, doing the same to Meg and then sitting down between us and meowing.

Still no response? He hops off the bed and begins to sharpen his claws on the side of the bed or on the floor. This creates sounds reminiscent of some horror film where a madman is tearing up some poor innocent item of clothing or furniture with a badly tuned chainsaw or dull butter knife. Somewhere in here, the alarm (the real one) goes off and we get up, so he just sits and watches till we get downstairs and feed him.

Weekends are the biggest challenge as we don’t set the alarm. Starting at about 4:30 a.m. he’ll wake up and come in to check on us. By 5 he’s getting pushy, so one of us will get up and make like we’re going downstairs towards the fridge. He’ll come dashing out, blow by us on the stairs fast enough to cause rug burn, and we’ll double back and close the bedroom door. After a couple minutes he’ll realize he was faked out, so he comes silently up the stairs, begins to sharpen his claws just outside the door and then reach up and start to try and turn the doorknob. Seriously. We have those antique glass doorknobs that go nicely with our 130-year-old house and he turns, struggles and rattles, but hasn’t managed yet. Darn his lack of opposable thumbs!

Finally, after this has gone on for awhile and the floor outside the door has a three-foot hole from his claws, one of us will get up and feed the beasts. Of course, it’s highly unlikely we can get back to sleep after this, but just in case one would want to try, you get about an hour before he’s back asking for the dry food. We give them wet first then an hour later, dry. So giving them wet is like hitting the snooze button. And if you think mornings can be an issue, just try taking a nap in the afternoon. As we feed them around 4 p.m., if you’re zonked out any time after 3 p.m., Lemon will let you know that the day is waning and you might want to think about getting up and moving. Goddess forbid that he goes hungry for an extra five seconds.

Whether morning or afternoon, his timing is just spot on. And he’s good year-round. Oh, setting the clocks ahead or back does throw him for a bit, but he’s soon back on schedule, just like clockwork (pun intended). But none of this behavior answers the basic question: How in the heck does a large orange and white cat tell time with such pinpoint accuracy? Is there a Rolex hidden under all that fur? Does his brain contain some sort of chronometer the way homing pigeon brains are said to have magnetic particles like little compasses? Is he in contact with some vast, unseen cat atomic clock service? I haven’t seen a bill as yet.

Perhaps we should try to get a grant to study this phenomenon. Imagine if we could harness the time keeping ability of cats. At the Olympics, you’d no longer need precision stopwatches. You’d just bring in a flock of cats. The starting gun goes off, the cats scatter and hide under the bleachers. By the time the race ends, they’ve crawled back out and congregated unerringly around the winner. Maybe in the future if you needed a new clock, you’d just go to the animal shelter and adopt a cat instead of going to the store and buying some mass-produced piece of plastic. The dashboard clock in the car? Nowhere near as interesting as having a small cat riding along with you. And wristwatches? Nope, a cat follows you around all day, letting you know when to do things like feed it, change the litter, get it fresh water, or brush it.

There you have our future. A world where cats let us know what to do and when to do it. Oh, wait. That’s my life every day.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he would have finished this column sooner, but one of the alarm cats kept going off.