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IN our family, when we meet someone who seems particularly difficult, we recall an old cat that lived in our neighborhood when I was in sixth grade. The lady next door warned us to stay away from it. She said it was wild and would attack anyone who came near. My sister and I regarded this admonition as a challenge and immediately set about trying to cultivate a friendship with the cat. Eventually we succeeded in getting within arm's length of the pitiful, emaciated creature.

Its terrified eyes seemed to signify a need for help, rather than an intent to harm, but it wouldn't eat any of the food we offered. It would sniff, make deep guttural sounds, and gaze at us with a desperate look.

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Our soft, coaxing words slowly built up enough trust so that one day we were able to touch and then carefully gather the gaunt creature into our arms.

Upon close examination, we discovered something clamped in a corner of the cat's jaw, so it was unable to open its mouth. With the help of Mother, we determined that the cat's upper and lower teeth were embedded in a chicken bone. By working carefully, Mother was able to free its jaw. The poor cat seemed to understand we were trying to help and tolerated the efforts. It gave us a look of gratitude, stretched its mouth and tongue, shifted its jaws, and then turned to the dish of food.

That ``wild'' cat became a friend - still a little wary, but in no way did it ever lash out or harm us.

So today when we encounter a person who seems unfriendly, we try to see if there's a ``chicken bone'' that can be removed. Betty Quinlan, Oklahoma City

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