Sunday, 18 August 2013

Guantanamo Bay for Cats


     I once saw this video diary of a cat. Every day had a voiceover that described some aspect of its incarceration. The saucy and sophisticated French accent described the frustration at being allowed to look out through a window without having the freedom to roam or hunt. It riled at the human taunts and ridicule that the cat had to endure on a daily basis.

     I didn't have a cat at the time. Since adopting Pusia I've come to see that video in a whole new light. I realize that whoever devised the clever little take from the cat's point of view had some secret insight into the way a cat thinks and behaves. Or maybe it was actually written by a cat!

     I've now seen the way Pusia feels when I bundle her into the cat basket for a trip to the vet. I too have been witness to the way she tolerates the tickles and strokes I rain down on her as she tries to sleep. I've also seen the way she attempts to make sense of the world I inhabit.

     And now I've come to realize the significance of the various landmarks in our shared world. Nothing is simply as it seems.

Alien Abduction

     I was once told that a cat needs to be familiar with their cat transporter. You need to put it in the living room and let her explore it. You can get her to associate it with pleasant things, such as a favourite toy or snacks that are placed inside it. Ideally the cat shows no signs of distress in its presence.

     I have tried all these things. They didn't work.

     In fact, when I left the cat cage in the living room I came back 40 minutes later to find little Pussia hissing at it and batting it with her paw!

     Who could blame her? This is a painful reminder of the two hour journey we made from Kerry to Cork when I adopted her. Its association is one of being bundled into it like an exposed Nazi war criminal in transit under the attentive and loving care of MOSSAD. It routinely means episodes of being manhandled by a vet and its use mysteriously coincides with puss feeling under the weather.

     Transporting Pusia in the cat cage is never an easy or pleasant thing to attempt, as a result. Even the vet had trouble getting her back into it on our last visit. Having assured me it would be a simple maneuver, the vet wrestled with a spirited Pusia who did marginally less damage to the vet than I'm certain she intended. The vet just looked at me, puffed out her cheeks and said, "My goodness! Your cat has character!"

40 Days and 40 Nights

     I often find myself wondering where Pusia is during the day. She has many places to hide but she rarely takes refuge anywhere other than upstairs on her cushion. This, I think, represents normality and security. It is the known known that she yearns for when it all gets too much. She has the option to leave via the cat flap if she wants. Or she can slumber in relative security if the mood takes her.

     As she's a cat, however, I like to stroke her! A cat psychology book I read recently (I know, I know) said never stroke a cat when they're trying to sleep. How is that possible? I can't resist! And cats like being stroked, right? My heart melts every time I come across her lazing on her cushion and I have to give her a little tickle.

     It's got to the point now where Pusia alternates between periods of sleep that remind me of Steve McQueen in the cooler in The Great Escape and moments of wary alertness as she hears my soft footfall approaching. To Pusia, I'm sure, it can only mean more poking and prodding. Although my intentions are purely to give her pleasure (maybe reduce my blood pressure a little, too) this, in fact, is tantamount to another night of sleep deprivation with the stereo playing full blast in feline Guantanamo. I'm sure it wouldn't surprise Pusia one bit if I started yelling "Who are you working for?" repeatedly.

A Bird's Eye View

     Like all good internment camps, our feline Guantanamo Bay has its watchtowers. Cats, I'm told, like to have a height advantage. This is certainly true of little Pusia. Give her a perch and she'll watch all manner of threat indignantly. I have even come across her out in my wanderings and seen her dash into a clump of trees only to appear from a rustling branch at the top of one of them, surveying the surrounding countryside.

     Pusia's most favourite vantage point is the top of the ladder she uses to enter and leave the house. From here she can observe the postman coming and going. A jeep can roar down our lane with little effect. Even a complete herd of cows will be unable to faze her! She can also keep a watchful eye on the group of feral cats who enviously covet her privileged existence.

The Wall of Silence

     Don't ever look at a cat on a wall and imagine for one moment that it's just a wall. Our Guantanamo has walls, of course, and those walls mark our boundaries. The boundaries, however, are more an indication of where the serious cat business begins than an obstacle to prevent the feline leaving the premises.

     The other night I was outside collecting the washing at dusk when Pusia appeared at my feet. These jailbird chores have to be done and she's always willing to lend a hand. Halfway through she suddenly became alert. Her ears pricked up and they started rotating wildly on her head. Some poor rodent had been picked up by her early warning system. 

     Without warning she darted away from me and started leaping around under the trampoline. I don't use the trampoline, you understand. It was already in the garden when I arrived and the cats get far too much pleasure out of hiding under it for me to move it. But on this occasion it became Pusia's hunting ground.

     She didn't manage to catch whatever it was but I decided it might be fun to accompany her on her hunting trip. She seemed happy enough so I followed her patiently. This is when the meaning of the wall became so apparent.

     Such a seemingly innocuous structure has special significance in feline Guantanamo Bay. She led me to it and took up position. This is the place that the interrogated becomes the interrogator. This is the place where the cat gets to regulate her own surroundings.

     I murmured something to Pusia and she gave me a sharp look. "Be quiet!" it told me. So I stopped talking and observed her scanning the landscape for the various sounds and tell tale noises that helped her identify her prey. The wall gives her the added advantage that she can patrol its length to survey an even greater hunting area.

     It was amazing to watch those ears homing in or anything that even resembled more than a rustling blade of grass. The tension was palpable and neither the cat nor I could hardly breath with the excitement in the air.

     Finally, like a shot, she tensed up and darted off the wall into the field. A few moments later she emerged triumphantly with another poor mouse dangling from her jaws. 

A Hard Day's Night

     I do feel sorry for the mice that Pusia catches and kills. The farmers tell me that she's doing an important job. My neighbour tells me that she's evil. But at the end of day she's a cat and she's doing what us humans have bred cats to do for millennia (it took me half a dozen attempts to spell that word correctly!).

     I think that mousing is something that Pusia thrives on. It helps keep her stimulated and healthy. She's also very good at it which can spell disaster if I'm away from the house for more than a few hours. There's little more satisfying than seeing a cat in the natural surroundings of a farm and doing its job so well. I probably shouldn't admit to that...

     Then again, she's only doing what any cat would do in her position. After all, wouldn't you go out mousing if you'd been abducted by aliens, subjected to mental and physical torture and deposited in Guantanamo Bay for cats?