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I gave in. My kitten's piteous whining while I was in the bath was more than I could take, so I closed the closets up tight and let him run around in the front hallway during my bath. He wasn't interested in the front hallway. He was interested in the bathroom. In fact, in the bathtub. Which was full of water. And me.

Every cat owner has the experience of noticing a cat do something precarious and ... waiting. I think the perfect example of this was shown on America's Funniest Home Videos. Some cat was striding back and forth along the back of a couch, waving his tail around. Past a candle. The owner sat there patiently with his video camera on, awaiting the inevitable. I'm not saying it's funny when a cat's on fire -- the cat was fine but for some singeing on that swooshy tail.

Cats have good balance and coordination, and they are expert fallers. It's true that they always land on their feet, as long as they have a critical distance within which to right themselves. Cats are famously more likely to survive a fall of a dozen stories than two -- something about the way they process their position as they fall. They flip right over when they fall from a table or a counter, though, at least as adults.

Kittens, like all juveniles, are often at their cutest when they are falling over. They throw caution to the wind in pursuit of the bait at the end of the kitty fishing line. They land right on their bums when they lose their balance and tumble off your lap. They capsize while they are just sitting there, washing their back feet. So it's pretty unrealistic to expect a fascinated kitten to keep its balance on the edge of an enameled tub.

He did a great job for a while, walking back and forth, a look of abject horror on his face (whether at the sight of all that water or the hideous naked monkey sitting in it, we may never know). He reached out several times, a tentative paw tapping the surface of the water. He wasn't totally incompetent -- he fell backward, onto the bath mat, several times.

Even if he were the most exquisitely controlled Siamese in all the world, I would still be wary of a set of 20 claws flirting with roiling terror in proximity to my fragile skin. As he made the most uncertain part of his journey, at the end of the tub, I scrunched at the opposite end, not wanting to play a game of "keep pushing the kitten away" but also wanting very much to have a buffer zone in case he did slip.

And slip he did, backward of course, as he balanced on a narrow bit of enamel between two perfectly kitten-sized flat spots at the corners of the tub. I was ready, and I plucked him out, curling him up to protect myself from his claws, and stepping out of the tub to grab a towel to wrap him up. He was trembling and crying, and I figured that this was a valuable lesson.

My hair was still shampooed, so I got back in the tub to rinse it. Apparently the lesson was not valuable enough, because guess who was on the edge of the tub within seconds. I'm not sure what the logic was for him, if any. Maybe all that running up and down my surfboard (which has a terrycloth cover, great for traction) has turned him into Crazy Sports Kitty, and he is addicted to danger.

I let the water out, and he followed the dropping level and noisy drain with interest. I will need to wash him (in clean water, no shampoo) once a month for my allergies, and I figured that if he wasn't frightened, I should take advantage of it. When the water level was down to a couple of inches, I picked him up and placed him gently on the floor of the tub. He was not enthusiastic but not overtly frightened. He jumped out, but soon after he jumped back in again.

Cats aren't accustomed to being soaking wet, and kittens are vulnerable to cold. I wrapped him in a towel again and helped him while he dried himself off. Those of you who have washed cats know that they are often squirmy when soaked and would usually prefer to hide somewhere while they go over their fur. The kitten sat in my lap, reasonably calm if not actually purring, while he tended to his paws and his tummy and I blotted his back and sides.

He's cheerful now. I held him until he was completely dry, my tea steeping an extra hour while he snoozed in a small sphere in my lap. He followed me into the kitchen when I finally got my tea, and then trotted back out with me and hopped back into my lap. No hard feelings, and it looks like the monthly clean-water wash will work. But I think I'll let him cry the next time I draw myself a bath.

July 19, 2002