Penny-O has long since recovered, but I'm not sure I have. What happened in that storm sewer on Cloverdale Road in Dale City shouldn't happen to a dog, much less a cat.

But Penny-O was the cat it happened to. She was foraging around in the sewer one day, as cats will. Alas, some person (I use the term loosely) had deposited several gallons of used motor oil in the sewer, no doubt thinking he was getting rid of the stuff.

Wrong. Penny-O became entangled in it. She was soon covered with black, gooey sludge from head to toe. She's a semi-longhair, so the grunge had plenty of places to stick.

"When she came back in the house," recalls Debby Booth, her mistress, "she looked beyond bedraggled. She looked as if she was going to die from fright, if nothing else."

Luckily for Penny-O, Debby thinks straight under pressure. Debby packed her pet into the car and drove straight to the hairdresser's. There, Penny-O got two full shampoos, one right after the other. Her fur looked close to normal afterward. But according to Debby, it took the poor cat two days to stop shaking and cowering in the corner.

So Debby trotted her off to the vet's. Penny-O got a clean bill of health, despite what can happen to cats if they ingest motor oil: brain damage, blindness and/or death.

Still, the tab for the hair treatments and the physical didn't do much for the health of Debby Booth's bank account. The total was a steep $178.

No one saw who dumped the motor oil into the Cloverdale Road storm sewer. But if anyone ever sees something similar in Prince William County, penalties await.

Lynn Fass, the sanitarian in the county's Department of Environmental Health, said dumping used motor oil in sewers is not specifically addressed as a crime. However, it would be covered under a section of the criminal code that deals with health and safety menaces, she said.

The statute doesn't provide for a specific fine or jail sentence, Lynn said. However, "sometimes we can identify who dumped it. We ask them to clean it up or the county will clean it up at their expense."

Lynn acknowledged that county authorities don't spend an awful lot of time worrying about motor oil dumped into sewers. They're more concerned with contamination of drinking water sources. They'd worry more if county residents weren't taking frequent advantage of the used oil collection site at the county landfill, which is open seven days a week.

Lynn also pointed out that Jiffy Lube and some other large auto-service chains will accept used motor oil. However, most gas stations will no longer act as oil banks, if they ever did. The reasons in most cases are hassle and expense.

Debby Booth realizes that Penny-O is lucky to have recovered so fully. But she may not realize that she's lucky too. There's a leash law for cats in Prince William County. So Debby is lucky she didn't get a ticket for allowing Penny-O to roam around.

However, no one would be relying on luck -- woman or beast -- if motor-oil dumpers in Prince William County (and everywhere else) would obey the law. Think of it this way, you sewer-dumpers: Would you like to spend $178 on two full shampoos and a full physical? Would you like to cower in the corner for two days?

Our rubbery business ethics in action:

A reader says he applied to a major local retailer for a job. He was given one of those let's-belabor-the-obvious psychological tests that I abhor so thoroughly. But, hey, if you want a job, you play by the job-offerer's rules. So my reader answered all the questions, including the one that asked if he had ever lied to an employer, or ever would. He answered no twice.

My reader made the initial cut, and was asked to return for an interview the following Friday, between 1 and 4 p.m. He said he couldn't make it at that time because of commitments at his current job.

"Aw, just lie to them and call in sick," the interviewer suggested.

My reader says the old job has never looked better -- and he hasn't looked for a new job again.

Ben Willis, of McLean, says he has concluded that being older is just like being younger, except not quite as much.

A Maryland reader offers this wince-producer:

Q: Why are politicians buried 30 feet under?

A: Because deep down they are pretty nice people.

Jim McDonough, of Ellicott City, insists that he works as long and as hard as ever. But he started worrying when the boss ordered him new memo pads. They read:

FROM AWAY FROM THE DESK OF.