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Do pets feel guilt? A tale of two cats, one human and a very messy kitchen

Meet Bob and Miss Kitty. They're both rescue cats, adopted from animal shelters as kittens.

Bob looks innocent as Miss Kitty tries to escape her share of guilt.
Joanne Eglash

Bob was abandoned in a park when he was three weeks old, then bottle fed. Now that he's a year old, he still likes to kneed on blankets and suck them, purring frantically. Bob is obsessed with his furry toy mice, which he tosses into the air, retrieves when his human tosses them and hides them under the couch.

Miss Kitty is the tidy one, fond of washing Bob's ears until he gets so bored that he pushes her away, at which point a great game of catch-me-if-you-can ensues.

They're both very loving, fond of jumping on their human's lap whenever possible,and purring so loudly at night that they can cause insomnia, at which point they get removed from the bedroom. And it is there that the tale begins.

3 a.m.: Cats have been shut outside the bedroom. They meow to express their hurt feelings, then silence. I fall asleep.

4 a.m. Crash! Slam! Bang! I awaken to hear what sounds like a herd of buffalo ransacking my home. I dash downstairs and find that the kitchen is a disaster. Someone opened up the cupboards, knocking cereal and crackers on the floor.

Someone else (or the same someone?) managed to upset the food bowls, spilling teeny tiny tidbits of kitty food all over the kitchen floor. Some of that food fell into the cat water dish, which someone overturned, leading to a grand pool of water, sodden cereal and crackers, and floating bits of cat food.

And someone ("who me?" asks Bob) trailed the entire roll of toilet paper down the stairs and ended the last piece of paper in the mist of the cat water pool (at this point, I am hoping it is all water pool and not water pee).

In the midst of this disaster sit two cats, looking at me innocently. And thus the interrogation begins.

"Who made this mess?" I ask.

Bob looks at me and purrs. Miss Kitty comes over and rubs against my leg, then pushes her wet paws against my legs. Bob, not to be outdone, comes over and rolls his wet little cat body all over my bare feet.

"Don't you feel guilty?" I question.

The cats purr some more, and both look at the floor, then at me. The message is clear: "Clean the floor, human, so we can start all over again."

When I tell this tail tale to non-pet people, they don't understand.

"Why keep the cats?" they ask casually.

The answer is simple: Unconditional love, happy purring, and a healthy dose of humor with a dash of happiness.

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