Since the felines did not agree to be interviewed, we talked to the humans who live with them. The resulting portrait gallery is bound to be flawed; important details are likely to be distorted. Even the most ardent catlovers are subject to anthropocentrism -- our mistaken tendency to see things through human eyes. Sad to say, we still have not rid ourselves of the chauvinistic notion that man is a measure of all things.
They are named after English kings, and Sharon Lendvai describes them as "muscular and graceful, with hind legs taller than their front legs, and magnificent and absolutely gorgeous."
They are typical Burmese, Lendvai explains, and the Burmese are the most affectionate breed of cats, bred from Siamese. "All the sharp edges of the Siamese were bred away in the Burmese: the pointy face, the sharp voice, the sharp personalities."
Lendvai says that just when she and her husband, both in the audiovisual business, decided to spend a lot of money to buy Burmese cats she heard an announcement on an AM radio station she doesn't usually listen to: Burmese cats free to a good home. She stopped at the next public phone and called the number. The lady who answered explained that she was to leave for England and she decided to give them away rather than keep them in quarantine required by law. She then interviewed the Lendvais, along with other applicants.
"I am so glad we were selected," Lendvai says. "But they are not my cats. We feed them. We are pals. But cats can't be owned."
'I am in awe of cats," Mo Sussman says. "I firmly believe that they are reincarnated humans. They are definitely on the human wavelength. They know everything, but they don't want human beings to know that. They are afraid of becoming celebrities, having to do tricks like dogs are made to do, or to go on road shows, to give interviews."
Sussman theorizes that dogs may know 400 words, but cats know the whole language. "If cats had a vocal apparatus," he says, "they would sit down and have conversations with humans."
Zsazsa is Sussman's first and only cat -- a neutered female, white with blue eyes. "She is half Persian, half something else," he says. "Mother was a Persian who mated with her own father. But the other parts we don't know. She probably goes back to a tomcat wandering about the neighborhood. I am a firm believer in letting cats roam. We let Zsazsa out two, three times a day."
For Sussman, owner of a downtown restaurant, having a cat around means "solace, real peace. Cats are unlike any other animal. A human being is lucky to come back to earth as a cat -- just stroll around, get fed and petted, find a sunny spot and sleep. No deadlines, no work. It's heaven."
'What does a rabbi need a cat for?" Rabbi And rew Baker asked himself many times since he got married last year.
"For marital tranquillity," was the answer he finally arrived at.
His wife, Christine Richardson, had always had a cat. So this past Hanukkah, Baker went to New York's East Side and purchased two cats, sisters subsequently named Duchess and Gleamer. Their ancestry is mixed: Persian and Siamese.
"I think of cats as cat companions," Richardson says. "Theirs is a separate life from my own, a parallel life.
"Duchess walks with authority -- nothing timid or tentative about her stride.There is a deliberateness about her movements -- she knows where she is going. She hasn't got that stumbling quality kittens have -- and she is still a kitten. She always keeps her footing."
"I surprise myself," Baker says. "I like our cats. My personality has changed: it has become more akin to cats. Compulsiveness has come to the fore. Cats are more conducive to compulsiveness. Dogs are big and sloppy -- at least the kind of dogs worth having -- and you have to make time for them. Cats can entertain themselves. They have a sense of order and independence.
"Duchess is regal. She likes to perch on top of the clock radio, underneath a lamp. She poses -- that's the New York in her."
Another New York thing about Duchess is that she likes bagels, Baker says, and she finds it hard to adjust to the nation's capital where it is tough to find a good bagel.
Baker cites a medieval painting of King Solomon with a cat at his side. "That association, plus her New York origins, should be ample Jewish roots for cat ownership."
'Morris knows life is a merry-go-round," Eva Vibert says of her cat of 8 years, a 14-pounder with a predilection to bite people who try to pick him up. As a kitten, Morris was called Princess and belonged to another family that later moved away. Early in his life when he was first taken to a veterinarian, Princess was discovered to be a male and was promptly neutered.
"Basically, Morris is an alley cat who has bettered himself," Vibert says. "He has become a suburban cat who is taken care of. But he knows that he is not an adored cat."
In the Vibert family, Morris is tolerated. "He is okay," is the most positive comment from husband Frank Vibert.
"Morris makes the best of any situation," Eva Vibert says. "He is always kindest to the person who will feed him next. And he always knows who will feed him next.
"When his feelings are hurt, he goes away for as long as three days. We have a strong suspicion that there is somebody else in his life -- someone in the neighborhood who takes care of him at times like that.
"When he doesn't like the food we put on his plate -- and he is a very finicky eater -- he refuses to touch it for days. After he is convinced that he won't get anything else, he'll eat what's on his plate -- by then all dried up and disgusting.
"If we moved, that would be the end our relationship -- Morris knows that. He is aware how precarious his position is. He knows how precarious life is. He is a realist.
"Just like myself."
The most unusual thing about Memphis Blues is that he uses the toilet.
"I never taught him," Nora Pepper says. "He only pees in the toilet, and he doesn't flush. And he never taught our other two cats -- his mother and a brother -- which I hold against him."
Memphis Blues is 7, a neutered male. "He is a real mellow dude," Pepper says. "Laid back. Also talkative -- not like other Siamese. He and I communicate a lot.
"He barks. It's not quite as menacing as a dog's bark, and it's an ugly sound.But it's a bark. He has an intense relationship with Ruffles, our poodle. Every night, for about 45 minutes, they engage in a heavy play session. Ruffles drags him around by his tail. Memphis loves it, and initiates it if Ruffles doesn't. If Ruffles doesn't do it by 9 p.m., Memphis will take it upon himself to bother Ruffles.
"He is tuned in to me.He doesn't ignore my husband, but he chooses to sit on my shoulder. He is a heavy load -- 12 pounds. He'll sit across my shoulder as I make dinner. He'll stay there, totally balanced, as long as I can stand him."
'Isis is a funny, fat, raucous Jewish grandmother," says Laura Lawson. "She is a total extrovert. Dumpy too -- she doesn't at all look like an Abyssinian is supposed to. She has a round head and a kink in her tail.
"She is a factory reject -- a clown. A klutz. She falls off the sofa, and when she jumps for the kitchen cabinet, she ends up hanging by her claws because she misjudged the distance.
"She is adventurous. She'd love to go out into the hall -- we live in an apartment building -- and once she did sneak out. Several hours later I discovered her, some 50 feet away from our door, unable to find her way back. She was miserable, and I think this proved to her that the outside world was not for her."
Lawson says that at times Isis gets annoyed at her and takes her revenge. She jumps on top of the kitchen counter, waits till Lawson looks at her, and then bats off something light. "She has broken plates and glasses, and a saltshaker," Lawson says. "But she knows that if she broke a crystal glass she'd be in real trouble. So she breaks little things. And she doesn't get mad very often."
Judith Jancek's cat looks like an ordinary red tabby. He origins can't be traced farther than two blocks down the street, where his part-Angora, part-alley-cat mother lives, roams and mates with anonymous tomcats.
But to Jancek, a tough businesswoman when not around her cat, Timothy Tigre "truly belongs in Africa. He looks like a tiger. He has big bones, thick legs and a beautiful face. He is just stunning.
"He is most affectionate, He puts his face under my chin; he lies down on my back if I sleep on my stomach. The children wear him around their necks. He is like a rubber band.
"He greets me when I come home. When he hears the car going into the garage, he comes to the garage. We call him and he comes."
A meticulous housekeeper, Jancek has no objection to Timothy Tigre's habit of sleeping in a chest of drawers. He also likes closets. In the kitchen he will tap on the cabinet door to show he is hungry. On occasion he has opened the door to get to his food.
Timothy Tigre is jealous, Jancek says. Typically, he positions himself on the couch between Jancek and a male visitor. "He makes his point," Jancek says. "I have great respect for him. Seriously, I am not at all sure he is a cat.