Celebrity Pets: The Cats Behind “Dilbert”

In Scott Adams' popular and long-running "Dilbert" cartoon series, the evil human resource director, a feline named Catbert, routinely devises new ways to torment employees and keep them under paw.

With two cats sharing his rural home, one may be tempted to think Adams is drawing from real life. No way, he says. Catbert isn't modeled after an actual cat, much less either of his own. Quite the opposite, in fact. While his two companion felines don't directly influence Adams' everyday work, it's clear that their companionship and very presence enrich his life in myriad ways, every day.

His two indoor-only cats do interfere with getting his work done on deadline, however. Sarah, a retiring 10-year-old with charming tuxedo markings specializes in reducing Adams' productivity. Staying just out of range, explains Adams, Sarah will knock things on the floor, disarrange items and otherwise make minor trouble – just enough to make him stop working. But she doesn't want to play or even be petted; she just wants, in quintessentially mysterious feline fashion, to keep him from getting anything done.

Sarah indulges Adams in one respect: when he whistles, she stops whatever she's doing, runs to him, lays on his chest and purrs, no doubt making up for any amount of lost productivity. When visitors arrive, Sarah quietly withdraws to a safe corner, preferring to observe rather than participate.

Two-year old Smokey is another story entirely. "He's a dog in a cat outfit," laughs Adams. Rescued as a barn feral at just a few days old and hand-raised by Adams, Smokey loves everyone, lavishly and indiscriminately. When guests, visitors or business associates arrive, Smokey comes running – standing up on his hind legs in greeting, affectionately wrapping his silvery gray arms around necks, nuzzling and smooching. Though much younger than Sarah, he's twice a big – and clearly the dominant cat.

Busy with his popular cartoon and other projects, Adams is seldom able to take time off. So Smokey and Sarah provide him with "mini-vacations": brief, restorative breaks in his working day. These breaks often include their special "hand-wrestling game," which Adams isn't sure whether he taught them or they taught him. This highly ritualized game involves special rules, allowed and disallowed holds, feints and tricks.

But there are no Dilbert-like cubicles for these lucky felines. Smokey and Sarah enjoy all the amenities a successful and doting owner can provide: each boasts a personal climbing tree, scratching pyramid, heated cat bed and plenty of toys. Adams recently constructed a screened-in porch right off his studio, so the cats can bask in the sunshine, savor the fresh breezes and keep an eye on the local birds – from hummingbirds to wild turkeys.

It's not clear who's luckiest: two cats whose best friend stays home with them all day and is always willing to forget about a deadline for a few moments in favor of a wrestling match – or the cartoonist and writer whose studio is infused with that special, intangible spirit of creativity that only the purrs and presence of cats can summon.