“In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.” — Terry Pratchett
I live with three cats. I love them, and I have good reason to love them. They are demanding, sometimes needy, sometimes not needy. Cats are social animals, and after my observations, based on the driving curiosity I have for everything that surrounds me, I’m certain that cats have the ability to plan, manipulate, and generally get anything they want. Especially when they live with a person who loves them. They are highly intelligent.
My cats play games, do daft things like walk along the bookshelves elegantly, and fall off. Then stand up, shake their head and act as if they meant to do that. Of course, they did.
They offer me warmth and comfort which is friendly and chummy. Sometimes they want to climb up into my arms, snuggle down and sleep — while I’m writing. That never works, but it’s always a temptation to give them five minutes of my time.
My 17-year-old tom cat acts like a kitten. He owns about ten variations of mouse, hedgehog, stuffed elephant, a shaggy looking sheep, a mousey toy stuffed with cat-nip, and most importantly, the very first stuffed toy he received after being rescued from under the hood of a Porsche Targa 911. “Lion” a small but impressive looking lion that he treats with the utmost respect. Lion is his best friend, playmate, and ersatz kitten. At night, Balthus, searches the apartment for Lion and takes him to bed with him, he checks on him regularly and makes sure he hasn’t fallen out of bed. Once, Lion accidentally fell off the window sill and into a patio, Balthus sprang out of the window and saved Lion from the ravishes of the big-outdoors.
The other toys are for battles, throwing around the room, placing on the bookcase, and general fun activities like practising the instinctive behaviour observed in real Lions and big cats, grabbing the prey by the throat, and using the back feet claws to tear the stomach out before sitting down to eat them. He looks so sweet when he does this.
My three cats are beautiful, but I always like to remember that they are also hunter predators. Projecting wild-assed ideas about cartoon characters onto them doesn’t help me understand their real needs. And bearing in mind that cats are the only domestic animal that domesticated itself, I better respect its intelligence in survival techniques. We build homes, cats move in. That was their first plan. It worked.
Have you ever come across a kitten in the street, apparently lost, separated from its mother, or dumped by some muther?
The kitten has an in-built instinct in how to manipulate you. Firstly, you start to speculate on how it ended up in the street, it will mimic your facial expressions of sadness, and your watery eyes, and reflect all that back at you.
If you are normal, you can’t resist. I’m convinced that cats mimic our behaviour to test out various methods of control. How to get food when they want, how to get warmth and how to make you stop and massage their tired backs, rub their ears, and generally praise them to the heavens for being such sweet innocent companions.
You really want to leave, go to work, go shopping, or whatever it was you were really going to do. But the lost kitten has got you by the short-and-curlies, already.
You lift her up, look at her belly and discover it might be a he, or you can’t tell. The kitten’s face is close to yours now, so it knows it can put part-two of the plan into action and do close-up manipulations.
Quick successive squeaks of a baby that needs feeding, intermingled with hot kitten breath in your face causes you to draw her close to your chest. You cuddle her, and the kitten now knows that you are more or less committed to looking after her for the next 18–20 years. No big deal.
This happened to me three times, many years ago. I don’t regret making the decision to take the little blighters home, I did a good thing; they remind me of that each day.
Felinologists and zoologists, know that cats are nocturnal predators, their eyes have evolved into night vision goggles that put modern technology to shame. They can see your every movement as you get up in the night, wander into the kitchen and get yourself a chocolate biscuit and a drink. Nothing escapes a cat in the dark.
Cats adapt to human behaviour. I have experienced how my three cats have changed their routines to sleeping at night with occasional breaks to wander around the apartment knocking books off shelves, investigating the trash bags, or staring out the window and watching drunks stagger home at night.
Miss Dickens, my posh cat, loves to watch people passing on the street below. Her small head bobs about, she squeaks, stretches forwards to get a better look, as if she’s horrified at the behaviour of some of the passing bipeds.
Stubbs, the youngest at 14 years old, can sleep all night, next to me on the bed, then get up and follow me into the kitchen where I want to make coffee and generally wake up. I stop making coffee and do what she wants, make her a bowl of food, some biscuits, try to get on with making coffee, but now she needs a morning cuddle, so at some point later, I finally do get some lukewarm coffee.
I said that I don’t “cartoonize” my cats with silliness, that’s true. But I do see their characters, how they really are, and I can’t resist adding a little narrative to their nutty behaviour, sometimes.
Miss Dickens loves the bookshelves, she wanders along, stopping next to Shakespeare, or a large sized book about Picasso or Pissarro. She has a liking for art, loves to swish around in fine dress materials, conducts herself with elegance and pride. Sometimes, I wake in the morning to find she has organized my notes. Maybe even done a good edit. Scratch marks across passages, several sheets of ideas thrown to the floor — often, everything on the floor. Obviously an opinion about my ideas.
Balthus and Stubbs are both easy going cats. They want nothing more than to be pampered, fed when they say so, food changed when demanded — even when the bowl is still a quarter full, it’s not full. Back rubs regularly, ear rubs all the time, and if you have been sitting in a chair, warmed it up with your body, and you get up and go to the kitchen, then return and it’s been taken, tough luck. You move, you lose.
Cats are beautiful, fun and full of surprises. They work hard at educating humans.