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Morris came to town the other day. And "in cat" he is just as dignified, just as independent, just as wonderful as he is on TV.

You may recall that Morris was running for president, stumping on such pawlicies as "making sure the world doesn't go to the dogs," "just say no to Catnip" and "walk softly and carry a big can opener."But Morris has officially pulled his paws out of the presidential race in order to devote his full time to being spokescat on other vital issues: health, nutrition and the problems of the homeless.

September has been designated Cat Health Month, and Morris was in town to remind all cat owners that pets can't survive on their own these days. Urban society has brought increased hazards; diseases and pests are a continuing problem. Cats need care and attention, just as humans do.

Sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association for the third consecutive year, the public service campaign points out the importance of proper health and nutrition care for cats, says Laura Pasten, Morris' consulting veterinarian who came to Salt Lake with the cat.

Approximately 40 percent of all cat owners never take their cats to the vet, she says. "And 20 million cats suffer and die prematurely because they don't receive proper care."

Veterinary visits are essential, says Pasten, because it's not always easy to tell when a cat is sick. Cats are independent creatures and often hide their illnesses. Sometimes only an examination or laboratory test can definitely reveal a cat's health problems.

Vaccines are available for many diseases that affect cats, says Pasten. "But it's important to remember that vaccines are a preventative measure. They are not effective once a cat has become infected. Through a regular schedule of check-ups and immunizations, beginning in the early stages of kittenhood and continuing throughout a pet's life, a cat can be protected from infectious diseases."

The number one killer of cats is Feline Leukemia. In 1984 a vaccine for this disease was introduced and has been effective in reducing the number of deaths. In fact the technology used to discover the vaccine was considered such a breakthrough that scientists think it may help in AIDS research. There is absolutely no connection between AIDS and Feline Leukemia, points out Pasten, but the technologies for vaccines may have similarities.

In addition to health care, diet is an important consideration for your cat. Look for commercial cat foods labeled "complete and balanced nutrition for all life stages" or "meets or exceeds the minimum nutritional levels established by the National Research Council for growth and maintenance."

These foods give the cat nutrition it can't get from home-cooked meals. "Don't get in the habit of feeding your cat table scraps," says Pasten.

A complete, balanced diet is very important. One of Pasten's clients brought in her cat to have it put to sleep because the cat was blind. "She was very distressed because she had recently lost her husband and a pet dog and now was losing her cat."

The woman said that after her dog had died, she had had dog food left over, so just fed that to the cat. Pasten discovered that the cat had a taurine deficiency, which leads to blindness. It is a condition that is sometimes reversible - and in this case it was, much to the woman's delight. "She was able to keep her cat. But it points out the importance of making sure your cat gets the nutrients it needs."

Neutering is another important concern and vital in preventing cat overpopulation. "Neuter is neater," says Morris. Overpopulation and homeless cats are a concern close to his heart - after all, he came from an animal shelter.

This is actually Morris II, and when Bob Martwick, his handler, first saw him, Martwick knew this was the next Morris.

Morris has been a spokescat for 9 Lives for eight years now, and has made 30 different commercials. "He's a very steady, socialized cat." says Martwick. Morris travels about three months out of the year - as spokescat for the Adopt-A-Cat program, for Cat Health Month and other civic causes. For the rest he leads an average life, playing with his catnip toys, chasing a piece of string, hiding in paper bags - and catnapping.

"He loves to chase a flashlight beam. And we found out recently that he likes olives. But he's basically a normal cat."

Normal, perhaps, but with that little somethingextra that makes him quite wonderful.


For a free copy of "The Morris Prescription: A Guide to Cat Health Care," write to: The Cat Health Information Desk, P.O. Box 599012, Chicago, IL 60659.