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April 21, 2003
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The H.R. Cat

The HR Doctor recently received an e-mail from a regular reader (one of the 11 around the country) telling me how much he enjoyed the articles, but also sharing with me the serious concerns raised by his pet cat, Allie. It seems that Allie also reads the HR Doctor articles. Allie was disturbed about my frequent references to Kamala, the HR Dog. She hoped that the exclusion of cats was neither intentional nor a commentary about the role this species might play in public administration.

Allie, let me assure you that I mean no disrespect to members of the sharp- clawed feline species. In fact, there is an HR Cat named Nimbus occupying major portions of the Rosenberg home (and I mean occupying in the military sense).

Certainly, no history of public administration is complete without noting the exalted position cats have played in what is arguably the oldest documented, well-organized public service Ñ that of the pharaohs in ancient Egypt. It is also important to note that cats outnumber dogs as the pets of choice in American households.

There is a saying that "dogs have owners, cats have staff." This must refer to the fact that dogs are inherently eager to please. They demonstrate that by standing ready at a moment’s notice to do something that their owners request of them. The more aloof cats are far less predictable and far less trainable. They appear more detached, self-centered and regal. Perhaps those are the qualities most admired about them.

In the case of Nimbus, the HR cat, he generally stays to himself, other than at meal times. He doesn’t appear very interested in public service or discussing matters of policy or staff development with his owner. He also doesn’t do well on a leash. Nor does he wish to be restrained in any way, also not unlike his owner!

So when this public administrator needs a friend to go on long walks with him, and to share his internal debates about which policy would best serve the community or the staff, it is no wonder that Kamala, the HR Dog, is the one on station, ready and eager to be part of the process. Perhaps that is why Harry Truman said that in politics, if you want a good friend, you better buy a dog.

Cats, however, also serve public administrators well as role models. Besides the behavioral characteristics already described, there are times and decisions which can best be taken in quiet reflection alone. There are times when all of us just want to retreat away from clutter, noise and disruption. We seek out a small place, preferably near a window with the sun shining through, to relax and reflect. Cats are certainly management’s role model for how to relax and how to enjoy private moments.

Every elected and appointed official knows that our world is full of dogs and cats, and that this statement holds not only for actual pets we have at home, but also applies to the behaviors we see at work and in ourselves. The aggressive displays, the moments of self-grooming, of cuddling, and of nipping and hissing, may be witnessed at board or commission meetings as well as in the world of household pets. The same is true of friendly, deferential behavior when there is a treat to be had!

So, here is a scratch behind the ears to Allie and Nimbus, with the hope that they can someday meet and say "hello" in person. I can only imagine the wild tales (or is it "tails") they will tell about their owners, Larry and Phil.

All the best,

Phil Rosenberg

The HR Doctor

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