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Belling The Cat
By Carolyn Allen

Late summer in the Washington, D.C. area where we live means many new neighbors as government and military families with new assignments arrive in time to get settled before school starts.  Several years ago new neighbors in a town-house development around the corner from us had the moving story to end them all.

The new family was anxious to get into the home although repairs were not complete in an upstairs bathroom.  However, the work was scheduled to be completed within 24hours, so the landlords gave permission for the family to move in and spend their first night.

The bathroom’s whole bathtub and shower had been removed, leaving an open hole in the floor.  The bathroom door was kept closed as repairmen and moving men came and went.  True to their word, the new tub/shower was installed by the mid-day. With the hub-bub of moving, kids, and all those moving boxes, however, no one noticed until late evening, after 10:00 p.m., that Shasta, the cat they had owned for 12 years, was missing.

They started calling her name around the new house, then outdoors, calling and calling.  They went to the kitchen and grabbed a stack of cat-food cans and went around the house, opening the pop-top cans, a sound that always brought her running.  No cat, no cat, no cat – just increasing tears and panic from overly tired kids and Dad running around the new neighborhood in his pajamas.  Mom was trying to put the kids to bed and consoling them with her “shh … shh, it’ll be OK” murmurings when 10 year old Zach said, “Mom!  You shhh!  I hear Shasta’s bell!”  “No, honey, she replied – Dad will find her.”  No, Mom!!!”  “Please stop talking and listen.  Listen!”

Sure enough, with everyone quiet, you could hear Shasta’s bell — coming from above them in the ceiling!

The pieces, of course, fell into place quickly.  Shasta had gotten into the bathroom, down the bathtub hole and into the crawl space.  The repairmen, not knowing, had gone ahead and installed the tub and sealed here inside.  So then there were phone calls, apologies, laughter, relief and best of all, a cheerful repairman at midnight to get the cat out ASAP!

In and of itself, that’s a great and entertaining story, but there’s a powerful lesson that’s easily applied to many areas of our lives, including the choices required for a healthy body. That lesson is simply this: “What would have happened if Shasta hadn’t had that bell on?” 

belled cat

Before applying the lesson, let’s do a little research.  To bell the cat means to do a risky deed. The origin of the expression lies in an old fable.  Fables, of course, are usually short tales in which animals or inanimate objects speak and act like human beings.

According to one ancient fable, told in many different versions, a group of mice (or rats) had been troubled by sneak attacks from a cat. The mice held a meeting and decided that there was a simple way for them to receive early warning of the cat’s approach. All they had to do was to put
a bell around the cat’s neck. They were all pleased with their decision till one farsighted mouse spoke up and said that the idea was fine, but who would bell the cat?

The most obvious moral to be drawn from the fable is that a daring plan is useless without a daring person to put it into effect.

Although putting boundaries around unhealthy eating may seem simple, obvious and a no-brainer to many, for those of us who are compulsive eaters or addicted to sugar or diet soda, the word “daring” is exactly right for the power required to take long-term action on bad habits and addictions.

Ten years ago as I was beginning my work as a community weight loss coach, I met a remarkable young woman who had lost over 70 pounds who epitomized my point.  She had grown up in an obese family.  Both her parents were easily more than 100 pounds overweight.  It had always been so.  They had been the “fat family”, and she had vivid memories growing up of huge meals, then an hour later, her father standing at the sink and eating an entire container of ice cream.  Her grandparents were also very large people.

In her 2nd year of college, she and her mother dared themselves to see if the stories they’d been told about their genetic history was true. (It was their understanding from parents and grandparents that their European background as farm laborers pre-disposed them to being big-boned and large.  There was nothing to be done about this but to accept it as true. This was not difficult to believe since most family members on both sides were all large and overweight.) 

The dare:  For six months they would carefully follow the Weight Watchers plan.  If it didn’t work, then the myths were true.  If it did, well … the potential seemed too good to be true!  In those six months, she lost 50 pounds.  Her mother lost a great deal of weight also.  Over the next year, they both reached their goal and put down the falsehoods.  They learned about healthful eating, portion control and exercise. They learned about being honest with themselves and their bodies.

Her before and after pictures are still in my heart and mind.  The first one, sitting in an over-sized baggy dress with her mother.  The second one, down nearly to her goal weight, in white shorts and a red top at a miniature golf course, laughing and smiling.

Back to us … what if there had NOT been a bell on Shasta? The answer, of course, is that she would probably have perished and they would never have known how.  In that light it didn’t seem daring at the time to put on that collar with a bell, yet it saved her life.  Where can we secure bells when healthy choices are bothersome, inconvenient or boring .. .the choices that extend or even save our own lives?

For me, I need my bells to be physical — something to look at to assess where I am and where I want/need to to: 

1. Accountability!  Weekly Sacrament, then yearly Tithing Settlement and other interviews provide necessary accountability. In the same way, health progress and success require some kind of regularly scheduled weigh-in (one that works for you) or regular trying on of “true-test” jeans, slacks or outfit.  No need to wear it, just try it on regularly.  How it fits is a ringing bell.  

2.  Exercise!  An old poster in the gym of my children’s elementary school has centered me through the years:

10 Reasons Why I Love to Exercise:

1.  I have more energy
2.  It helps me cope with stress
3.  It imporves my self-image
4.  It tones my muscles
5.  It helps me lose weight
6.  It increases resistance to fatigue
7.  It helps me feel relaxed
8.  It helps me control my appetite
9.  It counters anxiety and depression
10.  It provides a source of fun and entertainment.

That’s not a bell … that’s a gong!
(I’ve created a mini-poster for you to download:  Click <a href="https://www.” title=”” target=”_blank”>HERE or

3.  An inspiring photo.  Either of you at a realistic weight (please, please please – not overly slender!!!!), or with a cutout from a magazine with your head pasted on, or go toThe link I provided last time:

4.  Your wedding ring, or your heart.  Simply touch your wedding ring or put your hand to your heart as a reminder that it’s not just about you – it’s your family and your eternity that will be blessed as well as your physical body.

5.  And best of all?  As I told a woman who asked me this week:  “What do you think is the secret to lasting weight loss?”  Love, hope and respect even charity, for your body as a precious gift from God.  With that charity will come the drive to find the program and foods that are best for you, as well as the power to apply the answers.  (Click HERE to download another mini-poster)

Moroni 4:45:

And charity suffereth long and is kind, and envieth not and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinking no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.  Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things …”

Can you hear the bells?  If you can’t, go get a few little ones at the craft store and put them on the kitchen window sill as reminders.  Then just listen, they’re there when you when you dare, with prayer, to tie them on.


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