Monday, 9 December 2013

Cats Bringing Us Down to Size


     I've spoken on here about how our interpretation of senses differs from a cat's senses. If you missed that one you can read about it in Heaven Scent! How Not to Offend Your Cat's Senses which comes in two parts.

     A cat does, of course, see hear smell and feel things very differently to us but there's something else that's crucial that makes cats so appealing to all us cat lovers. They also react to situations very differently to us.

     In most situations where we would be scared, offended or run for the hills, a cat manages to achieve a total air of unflustered indignation.

You looking at me?
     From a safe distance a cat can maintain this aloof air. When things get up close and personal, however, it's a different story.

Close Encounters of the Human Kind

     Cats are intelligent creatures. They can learn tricks, just like dogs, and they can manipulate us. But it's all a matter of context. Take my Pusia. She's the bravest cat you ever saw when she's out and about on the farm. Give a her a strange encounter within the security of the house, on the other hand, and it freaks her out!

     Just the other night my neighbours arrived from the UK. Dave is a big hulk of a man who enjoys pottering around the grounds. He's also a cat lover and when Pusia comes across him outside she'll tolerate a little stroke before moving on to more important things.

Dave loves to be busy around the place!
     The other day it was a different story. Dave had popped in to say hello and was standing in my kitchen. He laughed and pointed to the window where Pusia had appeared outside meowing to be let in. In her enthusiasm to get at the food she leapt through the window and came face to face with Dave who stood there towering over her with his head nearly touching the ceiling.

     To say she doubled in size is an understatement. She puffed herself up and cowered beneath him. Her tail stood erect and took on all the characteristics of a toilet brush! This encounter was not something she was accustomed to in her own house!

Under Normal Circumstance

     Usually Pusia is quite a confident cat. She knows her territory and she knows most things about it. Whenever she sets off on one of her 'Search and Destroy' patrols she steps out of the house with the air of a Second World War Ace stepping into his plane for another dogfight! The local wildlife population better beware.

On her territory Pusia is the Mistress of all she surveys!
     Change some of the known variables and things start getting a little more uncertain for the cat. Take the first time she ever encountered cows in the field. The house became a safe spot from which she could watch the situation unfold. I have to say that she braved it out for quite a long time before she turned tail and leapt onto my lap for a little assurance that the world was still spinning on its correct axis.

Cows are life but now as cats know it!
     It all becomes a matter of relativity...

The Feline Theory of Relativity

     Size does matter, it turns out after all. Pusia can cope with just about anything up to her own size. I'm rather proud of the fact that she has caught a rat almost half her size - she had quite a job getting it through the cat flap but she did succeed. At first I thought she had a pigeon! When it comes to small furry rodents which are considered vermin in these parts, she has no fear and will almost always prevail in these situations.

Pusia is a prolific mouse catcher.
     Pusia has even attacked a fox - a beast that was equal to her in size and quite possibly more vicious. I shudder at the thought but if you want to read more about that particular incident then you can do so in Catty Cat or Foxy Lady. Instinctively, however, she senses the dangers of something larger than herself and seeks the comfort and reassurance of familiar surroundings.

There's No Place Like Home

     A kitten learns about the security of home from a very young age. They freeze instinctively when their mother picks them up by the scruff of the neck. She does this to deposit them safely in a new nest. Kittens become reliant on this safety net and a cat maintains some of this artificial reliance into its adult life if it's lucky enough to live with a caring human.

A kitten becomes accustomed to its familiar surroundings.
     We tend to extend this sense of security and attachment into a cat's adult life by continuing to treat it with the care and attention it received from its mother as a kitten. It's a two way transaction. We get the sense of love and significance from making a fuss of our cats.

Making our cats feel special makes us feel special too!
     It's easy to forget, though, that the scale on which we do these things can be daunting for a cat.

Being Swept Off Your Feet

     Take, for example, picking a cat up. Beata has a gorgeous Ginger calico Tom called Geshe. He's adorable and affectionate but he's also pretty wild. I'm guessing he wasn't exposed to humans all that much when he was very young because when you try to pick him up he's not that happy about it, much though he obviously adores Beata!

Geshe doesn't really like to lose control.
     I was reading the other day that this sensation for a cat is one of the most terrifying ones they can have. Just imagine having all your arms and legs simultaneously swept off the floor! You've lost control, you're in an alien situation and there's not much prospect of being able to do anything about it. Add to that the difference in size between a cat and its loving human and we can start to understand how much of a part this plays in the experience if a cat is not used to being picked up. There are ways of getting a cat more accustomed to being picked up but it takes time.

     I always think that this kind of experience for a cat must be a bit like when I hug a horse! I am in awe of the magnificence of the size and power of the beast. At the same time I'm slightly nervous of what it could actually do to me if it got the notion that things should be different.

Think what it's like hugging a horse.
     In fact, there has been a time when I was caught in the crossfire between a couple of horses and I can tell you it can get pretty ugly and very frightening.

Levelling the Playing Field

     In the end it's all a matter of how we relate to our animals. We need to find the balance between what we want and respecting the animal's needs: it's about communicating on the same level, literally. With an animal like a cat this is particularly important if we want to cement our relationships. The most important thing is that we acknowledge the threat that our size presents to a cat.

     We need to get down and dirty on the same level. Coming down to greet a cat without towering over it or surprising it with sudden movements is much more likely to give it a sense that there's a social interaction happening.

     The cat wants to sniff you before proceeding. He or she may also simply not be in the mood so if the cat doesn't seem interested then we shouldn't force ourselves on the cat. How would you feel if you woke up suddenly from a deep sleep to find your partner standing on a chair next to the bed and reaching down to tickle you with a feather duster? Actually, don't answer that.

The Boss!

     When it comes to my interaction with Pusia I have no doubt who's the boss. The other day I nibbled her tail and she swiped me with her paw. Luckily she had retracted her claws so it was a friendly little thump but at least that shows that we have an understanding.

     Overall I try not to give her any nasty surprises and probably the thing she values the most is that whenever she's in the mood to come up to my level then I'm nearly always ready to give her the attentions she needs.