Saturday, 7 September 2013

Catty Cat or Foxy Lady


     Out in the country there's a different approach to things. The unfortunate recent financial mess in Ireland has resulted in a spate of houses being repossessed. It's even happened just at the end of my lane. The house has been in the family for four generations and there's been a massive amount of negative reaction to the repossession.

     I drove past it two days ago to see that the bank had put up a 'For Sale' sign. By the time I drove back a few hours later the sign had disappeared. This ritual takes place every few days in an attempt to ignore the reality of events. Or is the sign being torn down the reality?

     I suppose the thing is that there are rules and there are the things that actually happen. So today I want to talk about some of the rules and some of the things that happen with Pusia. She gives me the impression that we must just be ourselves. We can be a rock in the storm and be the thing we want to be as long as we stay focused.

     This is how I saw it unfolding, graphically, one day!

Know Your Boundaries

     I don't mean that you should let people know how far they can push you. I don't even mean that you must be firm with your personal limits. What I actually mean is that you need to know that the ground you occupy is the ground where you belong.

     Each night Pusia goes through the same routine. She'll eat something and then about 6pm she ventures outside. I hadn't watched her before a couple of nights ago. When I took the time to see what she does I saw an intricate system she employs.

     Pusia goes outside the front door and sits on the step. She sniffs the air, testing to see if there are any interesting or strange smells. When she's satisfied then she sets off on her patrol. She patrols the garden, moving to its extremities. At key points she stops and takes in her surroundings for a moment. I don't know whether she's checking to see if anything's changed but it's a good two minutes in each spot.

     What's really striking about her at these moments is that she's totally in control of the situation. This is her patch. As she looks out over the neighbouring ground she's alert and in charge. It may be a prelude to hunting but primarily it's a tactical exercise to ensure that there aren't any intruders about.

Drawing the Line

     The reason I know she's alert to intruders rather than hunting is that she's in a totally different mindset. If you're wondering, can cats have different mindsets, then I can assure you that they do! The mindset of a cat who's irritated and a cat who wants food are two explicit extremes. A friend of mine who has owned hunting dogs has told me that even if a hunting dog gets the better of a cat, the cat will do a frightening amount of damage to the dog. When a cat is with us it's not generally in a defensive or aggressive mindset. There are even psychological tests that determine the character of a cat! But science has shown that cats are incredibly mischievous creatures that will only perform on their own terms. So we can't really trust the results because it depends on the mood of the cat.

     When Pusia is hunting, however, she has different and clear body language. She has a lower profile and she searches rather than surveys. I watched her hunting a few weeks back. She constantly scans the ground she's hunting. As she stopped at her various observation points on patrol she sat proudly and confidently at her full height as if to say, "Come on then! Have a go if you think you're hard enough!"

Repel Boarders and Repair Borders

     This is why I was so confused the other day when I saw her crouching in the lane outside the house. I imagined she'd seen a mouse. Then I saw a fox sidle coolly into view. This worried me.

     I know that foxes can be very fierce and, as far as I'm aware, the rules say that a fox is a real danger to a cat. I was watching from indoors and could hardly believe my eyes as the reality of the stand off unfolded.

     First of all the two animals stared at each other transfixed. The cat was crouching so I assumed she was granting the fox dominance. This was very bad news. A fox is not the kind of animal to accept the dominant position without attack and was staring at the cat which is a very challenging and dominant pose. I didn't want to let the scene out of my sight and I knew there wouldn't be time for me to rush downstairs before anything happened.

     I also knew most worryingly that this lane is part of Pusia's territory. It's the extreme border of one side of my land and an area where Pusia causes havoc amongst the mouse population. This, I deduced, created something of a diplomatic conundrum something along the lines of Germany invading Poland as a prelude to World War II.

     Pusia remained low to the ground as the fox started to move closer. Having feigned its superiority something spooked it. Instead of approaching Pusia the fox cautiously stepped around her in a wide arc, as if it was avoiding land mines and trip wires!  Maybe the fox was unsure of how to handle a cat. Possibly it had sensed a defiant look in Pusia's eyes.

     In a surprising twist Pusia launched herself at the fox and landed on its back with a screech that chilled my blood. The screech came from the fox! It was so startled that it rolled over desperately trying to shake Pusia off its back. As the two fell apart it was Pusia who assumed the dominant position, standing firmly on all fours and hissing dangerously close to the fox who was cowering low to the ground.

Never Smile at a Crocodile

     Seeing their uneasy standoff I decided there was time for me to get outside and intervene. I've read recently that cats hiss because they have such a narrow vocal range and their only hope of vocally scaring a predator is to imitate a snake. Hissing is, apparently, the inter species sound for danger and under these circumstances it certainly seemed to be effective.

     The fox was understandably shaken by the aggression the cat had shown it. As I emerged from the house the fox was already disappearing through the hedge in a state of whining confusion. My appearance only served to hasten its departure and was, in all likelihood, entirely surplus to requirement.

     Pusia let me know this by calmly licking her fur and ignoring me. When she decided she'd restored order she trotted up to me and sweetly purred at my feet. I considered her angelic demeanour and surmised that had I not just seen her confrontation I would have had no inkling of the adrenalin that must have been coursing through her at that moment.

     Equally I think the fox will probably think twice before trusting the Trojan Horse manoeuvre in future that Pusia had employed so efficiently on this occasion. Another thing I've read is that cats are amazing plotters and, by George, I saw that in action. I'm almost certain that her subdominant pose was a ruse to launch her attack.

     Since the incident I've heard from the farmer that Pusia has been seen up to a mile away from the house! Her territory is a lot more extensive, it seems, than I had ever dreamed. For the record, she's also defied the scientific thinking that has determined that a female cat's territory radiates no more than 50 meters around her home. She's becoming quite the celebrity locally and can often be seen wandering the fields in search of a tasty tidbit.

     The reality is, I suppose, that Pusia is a really wild animal. I hallucinate that she needs my protection but she's capable of looking after herself. There's no point in my being over protective because she has no concept of being vulnerable!

     I learnt from her that our attitude towards a situation is key. A dismal alternative to taking this aggressive approach to life is to listen to how people suppose things should be and to accept other people's expectations of us. On the contrary, we have to know that we have the power to overcome any obstacles in our path or, at least, to treat them with the contempt they deserve. 

     Pusia wasn't aware of the danger of confronting the fox but because no one has convinced her otherwise she believed in her own ability to prevail. If we confront our challenges with our all and believe that the best outcome is possible won't it be harder to give up in the face of adversity? It's funny because she's given me this inkling that perhaps I don't display enough "fighting spirit" a lot of the time. It's certainly something to meditate upon...