…to never write about cats or sports. I’m writing about animal behavior. It just happens to be my cat’s behavior. Totally different! No, really!
I like pets. In addition to dogs and cats, I’ve had fish, reptiles, frogs and toads. My family briefly had a canary. Kids have had mice and hermit crabs, and I’m sure I’m forgetting something. So, pets, yes.
I like dogs and cats, but like cats more because a) I find their ‘personalities,’ such as they are, more interesting, and b) cats are a lot easier to care for than dogs. Your mileage may, of course, vary.
One thing is clear: virtually all discussion of animal intelligence is projection. Dogs and cats are intelligent, in some sense, but not usually in the senses people seem to think. Both are predators but of very different kinds, and have ‘intelligence’ that reflects how their ancestors stayed alive in their environments of evolutionary adaptation. At least, that’s the party line among evolutionary biologists, and seems to me to account for the vast bulk of Fluffy’s and Fido’s behaviors. There’s behaviors around the edges, such as cats attacking dogs who are attacking their humans, or dogs standing watch over the graves of their former owners, which are harder to explain, or rather, the explanations come off as egregious ‘just so’ stories.
Yet on the whole, our furry pets’ behaviors seem to make sense, once you think of a dog as a pack animal, and a cat as a largely solitary hunter. Dogs, like people, ‘know’ instinctively that their survival depends on belonging to a pack/tribe/herd. Belonging is survival Job 1, and so dogs are forever seeking affirmation, showing submission (or dominance, if poorly trained), and trying to engage you in play of some sort. They also really have a hard time with the ‘my food/your food’ distinction unless you are there to enforce it. In the dog’s world, the alpha should simply never walk away from food he still wants.
A cat, on the other hand, will leave you a present. That dead rat, mouse or bird on the welcome mat is a gesture of affection perhaps even more profound than a dog’s leaping up to lick his master’s face. This is food we’re talking about – life and death. You ‘share’ cat food with the cat, which in some ways must blow his tiny mind. They must really like you to share back.
We are currently down to one pet, a cat. Our cat is a Siberian. Unlike other breeds whimsically named for exotic places, Siberians are called that because they come from Siberia. They look the part, with the thickest, softest fur, suited for a place where it gets really, really cold. They are also large – helps with heat retention.
Siberians are most well known for low levels of allergens in their saliva, meaning that people with cat allergies can tolerate Siberians better than most other breeds. (1) Everyone in the family except me and the Caboose are allergic; we all went to the breeder’s house together and spent an hour there, and nobody reacted very strongly – and so I paid actual money for a cat, something I’d never done before.
They are also known for their strong ‘personalities’ – they tend to be smart, playful, athletic and fond of their humans. They can also have a mean streak: our son very presciently named his cat ‘Razor’. He’s a nice cat, usually, just don’t cross him. Sharp claws and teeth, and he does not hesitate to use them.
So, anyway, here’s the interesting situation that occasioned this post. The Caboose is the cat’s human; I am the number one back-up. In general, this means that when the boy is sitting around playing video games or watching something, the cat can most often be found draped on him. When his boy is not available, he wants my attention.
This cat’s idea of getting attention is to act like a toddler: he will follow me around, and any time I stand still, he will put his front paws on my thigh to get me to pick him up. Usually, I obligue. When I don’t, like when I’m up early and trying to make some coffee and breakfast, the cat generally gives up after a few tries, and then maybe tries again when I’m done eating.
Well, his boy has been on three one-week Boy Scout adventures this summer so far, and the cat is not taking it well. When I get up early – almost every day – and the boy is not around (2), the cat freaking panics. He doesn’t just follow me around, meowing, and putting his paws on my leg, he freaking chases me down if I try to walk away. No amount of ignoring him will get him to stop. I finally had to put him in another room and close the door just so I could have a cup of coffee.
By now – 2:00 p.m. – I’ve picked him up and held him and petted him for a bit at least half a dozen times today. He finally went off to nap somewhere, meaning I can type this. His boy got up mid-morning (hey, he’s 15, it’s summer) and that helped. But it didn’t fully end it.
This behavior seems much more dog-like than cat-like. I certainly have never seen it before. I’m trying to map it to ‘solitary predator’ behavior, and it ain’t working. What is up with this crazy cat? I’m sympathetic and all, but it’s also driving me nuts. What will happen when our son goes away to college in a few years?
The Caboose is scheduled to be home for the next few weeks, then is heading off for another one-week Boy Scout gig. Sure hope the cat figures this out on some level, or he’s going to be spending alone time in closed rooms.
- All this means is that for people with allergies that are not too severe, jut having Siberians around will likely be tolerable. If you hold them and play with them for extended periods, are bets are off. Works for us, anyway.
- We all keep our bedroom doors closed at night, as the cat will otherwise decide he needs to work on his prowling and pouncing skills at some point during the night, or needs some petting at 2:00 a.m. or other such nonsense. So he really doesn’t seem to know who is home and who isn’t until we get up.