Herding Cats: An unemployment story

by Mr. Donaldson

Piece of cake


Back before I was “Mr. Donaldson, English Teacher,” I was but a young Fievel–a wide-eyed recent immigrant trying to make his way in America. I wrote many introduction letters to various jobs, but to no avail.

I found one application looking for a personal assistant to the president of a tech company. I’ve never done this kind of job before and I had no chance of ever landing it, but I decided to write them a different kind of letter of introduction.

And I decided this because of the last line of the job application that read “prior experience herding cats a plus.”

Herding cats? I know of such things. I took up the challenge. This is my letter I submitted to [redacted] office of the President:



In my experience, there are two schools of thought regarding the successful herding of cats. The first school can generally be described as a be-everywhere-at-all-times model requiring an almost super-human herder or a united front of like-minded herders. The limitations of this approach are obvious, and the literature surrounding this school of thought has recently devolved into discussions on high-tech surveillance, feline-centric “positive behaviour management” solutions or other more invasive herding techniques (ankle monitors) aimed at keeping the cats in line.

However, with cats being an equal mix of disdain-for-humans, independence, disregard for imposed systems, and evil, the herder ascribing to this antiquated school of thought will find him or herself blowing against the wind. Based on the old principle of “moderate power through strength, supreme power through levity” a new school of thought has emerged in recent years. The basics of this school are simple: have the cats think that the system they are ascribing to is one of their own making, or, ideally, that they do not know they are being herded at all. With overall kitty-order held up as the ultimate goal at all times, the successful herder must employ carefully honed social techniques in order to gather information, set timetables and give each cat the sense that all is right with the world. A cat that knows everything is in order, is a predictable and herdable cat. Predicting cat needs and having them filled before the cat realizes that they need it, is a surefire way to keep Mittens docile and on task, as opposed to up a tree shrieking or leaving a dead critter in your sock drawer.

A successful herder must know that his or her place is in the background of the day-to-day. One good self-evaluation test a herder could run is the “cologne” or “makeup” test. Just like with cologne or makeup, if the herder is obvious, highly visible or altogether making their presence known, you’re most likely doing it wrong.

Lastly, the successful herder is wise to remember that for cats, it is a cat world and everyone else is visiting. Being able to make peace with this concept and realize that you are not the proud cowboy atop a horse, but are more akin to the hockey penalty killer or that guy who has to bunt to advance the runner is paramount for the herder. Cat herding is not for the egotistical, but for the service oriented and organizational freaks which is why it is the traditional employment for cheerful people-people, library lovers and Canadians. If nothing else, the herder can take satisfaction in being that last small piece that makes the machine run smoothly. At least I know I do.

Should you wish to discuss my qualifications (if any) for this position further, do not hesitate in contacting me.


Graeme Donaldson


I didn’t hear back.