I had this sort of staring competition with Pusia the other day. It was a bit unsettling, actually. I'd given her some really special food and she'd tucked into it. I presumed she was starving because I'd been out all day. She deserved a special treat and she got it. Lovely prawns in jelly - her favourite.
Having devoured the bowl of food with those adorable slurping and munching sounds she makes, the ones that turn your insides all gooey and warm, she moved to a space in the carpet and sat minding her own business. I clicked my tongue, ready for a bit of intimacy. Then Pusia just looked at me. You know, the "look."
We tend to imbue our pets with anthropomorphic qualities. I could read all kinds of things into this look. It says, you got to be kidding. It's aloof. It's moody. My neighbour has even asked me if Pusia has selective deafness. She hears the rustle of the cat treat bag from 300 metres but when my neighbour tries to shoo her away from the bird table Pusia calmly sits just out of reach, admiring the view with her back to the offending human.
Oh no, I hear you say. Don't be ridiculous. She's just a cat. There's no intrinsic meaning. So I click my tongue again and make encouraging noises. I clap my hands on my lap a few times just to get the point across. And then she does this.
And so the games begin.
The Look of Love
With that one look I know that I'm in the dog house. We're in for a frosty evening of coolly ignoring me. She may get up and walk upstairs but should I follow her then the silent treatment will continue. It may even intensify as she finds a point on the wall so much more interesting than anything I have to offer.
I'm painting a bad picture of Pusia. She's a darling, sweet hearted cat who is my biggest pal. Most of the time she'll be delighted with my company. Pusia is actually slightly more vocal than the non-vocal students I work with as a music teacher. In fact, she has just burst into the kitchen with the hind quarters of a mouse sticking out from her mouth. It's dead, I'm relieved to say, but her calls and delighted screeches are a sound that I've become so accustomed to that I know their meaning, instantly. It's party time!
In truth, if Pusia thinks I don't understand what she's trying to tell me then she will go to incredible lengths to get her point across. Take my early morning wake up call...
Pusia expects to be fed about 6 o'clock each morning. I hear her stirring sometime around half past five and then she steadily ramps up the pressure. I can either react or choose to ignore this at my peril. She may move around the bedroom a bit. Then she'll do a bit of scratching just to make sure I'm awake.
If all this goes without any reaction from me she'll mount a full on assault. I feel the bed judder as she jumps onto it and within seconds she's prodding me in the face and climbing all over me, doing what I now know (thanks to BBC Horizon's wonderful documentary) is the elicitation purr. I mean, how about that? Cats have two distinct purrs. One says "I'm happy and relaxed, thank you very much!" and is the non-elicitation purr. The other has a slightly different timbre and pitch to it. It works in cycles and if you listen you'll actually hear a slight hiccup in it as the pitch momentarily jumps up. This says, "I'm hungry! I want something! Feed me...Now!"
Food Glorious Food
Admittedly, most of Pusia's language revolves around food. Sometimes I get this wrong. The other day, for instance, I interpreted this look as a demand to be fed.
In my ignorance I assumed it said, "I wonder what exciting and tasty treats you have in store for me now!" I tried giving her a few different flavours of food. None of the food offered met with her approval. Instead of walking airily out of the room, something she is wont to do on such occasions, she continued to follow me around. It was freaking me out a bit. It's like a baby that can't tell you how they feel. I knew she wanted something but I couldn't tell what.
I sat down at the kitchen table to do some work. I felt exasperated. Then Pusia leapt onto my lap and settled down for some strokes and cuddles. That's all she wanted.
You Scratch My Back
What I should have realized is that Pusia has developed this intricate system. Had I had my wits about me I would have realized that she wasn't scratching anything. When Pusia installs herself at the indoor scratch post it's a sight that fills me with such pride. It's also a sign that she wants food.
She changes from this cute little furry animal to a powerful tigress. She ploughs her claws into the wooden post and literally tears strips out of its surface. She has refined this food ordering system to the extent that if she's not happy with what she's got she'll return to the scratch post and give it another seeing to. She'll repeat this until she gets something to her taste.
She's a clever little cat. She knows exactly how to get what she wants. Perhaps all cats do. But, living in such close proximity with Pusia, the experience seems to be intensified. She's very responsive both to her own needs and my own. That last bit amazed me.
I Am Not a Number
Recently I had to make an unpleasant call. I knew it was going to be unpleasant as I'd had a voicemail message left that virtually described exactly how it was going to go. To be honest, I had expected the worst for a while. My tension was tangible. Pusia seemed wary of me. She kept a respectful distance away and sat on the bed as I started dialling the number.
I won't go into any details about the call but suffice it to say that it was official and that it became rather heated on both sides. It took me a lot of effort to remain calm. Just as I was about to lose it I opened my mouth to let rip. Pusia suddenly appeared on my lap. I'd been so engrossed in the unpleasant call that I hadn't noticed her creeping up on me.
I don't know if she could sense my anguish. I've had similar experiences with a dog when I've been upset about something. The effect she had, however, in that moment when I most needed it was that she totally diffused any anger or frustration I was feeling. As she rubbed her head against my face and purred like a motor I simply couldn't feel anything other than pure joy.
I recently wrote a post about keeping cats to keep calm. It's scientifically proven that keeping a cat keeps you calm. She's adorable and she does a bloody good job. And she keeps me very, very calm. This communication. It's a two way thing and we definitely talk to each other.