Friday Cat Blogging Short Subjects

Feline Fascination

This may be hard to believe, but I am fascinated by cats. Sure, I—and seemingly the entire internet—am in love with every kitty, but emotionally entwined with my two furballs. However, I find the animal, and its relationship with humans, enormously interesting.

It’s funny, but there wasn’t much research science done on cats until a couple of decades ago. I imagine that was because there were far more pressing areas of research than trying to find out why cats hold humans in utter contempt. Pet cat? Cat scratches. Feed cat? Cat scratches. Give scratching post to cat? Cat continuously scratches anything else but.

Back when I was growing up, no one was really sure how cats purred. I’m sure it was difficult to get a cat to purr in whatever scanning device they’d try to put it in. (Cat scratches research intern.) Now, we’re almost sure about the mechanics behind the purr, but in researching that, we’ve discovered what most veterinarians knew—cats purr when they’re scared or injured, too. They purr at a frequency that makes New Age holistic practitioners jealous, or rather their purr helps them build and repair bone and tissue. This brings up an interesting conjecture. The purr may benefit the lazy lifestyle of a cat, as it can gently keep itself in good tone while its relaxing. Living the dream!

We tend to think of cats as solitary animals, but that’s in a mistaken comparison to dogs. Cats have a very complicated social structure, which makes it difficult to study and understand. Cats tend to not be solitary, just aloof. Feral cat colonies run a bit like lion prides, with similar habits in resource sharing, protection of territory, and community support for raising kittens. Cats seem arbitrary and capricious, and they’ll seemingly turn on their human or animal companions in seconds. This tends to drive non-fanatics crazy, but cat fanciers know that swiping, hissing, biting, or outright attacking are actual moods and understand the triggers, probably better than the cats do. But cats socialize with humans on their own terms.

Researchers wanted to see why cats don’t seem to react negatively to someone threatening their humans. A dog generally dislikes someone who is aggressive with its human. And dogs tend not to forget either, and so will continue to not trust the aggressor. Cats, however, seemingly do not care. If I got punched in the face, my two cats would still react with excitement if the puncher then gave them food. (This is simplifying a bit. If there was a ruckus, both cats would probably skedaddle before the violence went down.) But cats don’t understand human to human interaction. Amongst themselves, cats may act aggressively towards each other, but a lot of it is territorial or mating related. My two cats do not like each other. But they can be in the same room, same bed—I’ve even had them both relaxing on the same lounge chair. But they’ll have occasional spats, and I usually chalk it up to the younger cat being bored and looking for someone to hassle. The howling and pouncing and beatings by paws of fury happen when the female is in her territory (two very specific chairs) and the male encroaches. They know why they hate each other, even though it’s inscrutable to us. If two humans are fighting or getting in each others’ way, maybe cats consider that territorial scuffling.

Sure, I anthropomorphize my cats. We communicate mostly by feedings and lap sittings, with the occasional petting party, the length of which is determined by cat and shall not go beyond. My wife and I talk to them, as if they understood, and as if the male cat weren’t deaf. But this helps our relationship with them. Just like they approach us with their feline outlook, so do we accept them with our humanity. I have to imagine the majority of households with cats in America do not keep them for their vermin catching abilities. Instead, we hire our cats to eat disgusting cans of meat parts that they semi-efficiently turn into poop that we’ll dispose. What’s in it for the humans? We bring our compassion and love and comfort and let them act as furry mirrors for us.

Jinx, the female cat, is currently sitting on my lap, after about a half-an-hour of trying to get me to stop typing out these secrets that cats do not want us to know. She was sitting next to me, meowing with a purring undertone, to get me to pay attention to her, until she gave up and moved to my lap. It’s comforting, although it forces me to sit in an awkward position away from my keyboard. And I love her for it. We communicate with each other, not completely understanding what we’re saying to each other. But the warmth transfers between us, and I pet her, and she purrs, and we’ve told each other all we needed for the moment.

Friday Cat Blogging Short Subjects

The Indignity of Being Jinx

Jinx has suffered a lot of indignities in her life. She’s a largely black cat that suffers from huge flakes of dandruff. She’s a short hair, but her coat is thick, especially on her hindquarters where poop likes to stick. She once broke her tail jumping off our bed, or something… we’re still not quite sure what the hell happened there. But one of the biggest indignities is when you try to pet her. Now, “you” is specific here. Katherine and I pet her, give her skritchy-scratches, brush her, generally handle her in anyway, and she rather enjoys it, unless medicine or the cat carrier is involved. But when you come in to our house, I will say to you, “Jinx will hiss at you if you try to pet her.” And you will try to pet her. And she will hiss at you.

Here’s what is confusing to you. She doesn’t run away when you come in the house. She’ll be sitting there on her perch, an ottoman that we’ve long ago sacrificed as an altar for her Highness, and look at you with calm eyes. She seems so relaxed and is a fluffy loaf, so she’s hard to resist. I understand this, and I will warn you, but this will be like a challenge to you, especially if you’re a cat person and know how to introduce yourself to a cat, so you will put your hand out for her to sniff. She appreciates the introduction and sniffs your hand with no fear or aggression. “Oh,” you will think, “clearly Jonathan doesn’t know how good I am with cats—I am the exception. Jinx clearly wants a pat on the head from me, and me alone.” Then you will attempt to pat her head or pet her, and she will rear back, scrunch her face and open her fanged mouth in the way that has scared humans for thousands of years, and give you a proper hiss. At this point, you will probably curse in fear and withdraw your hand. Jinx, in almost all cases, does not swat (sorry, Melissa), but the hiss alone will scare the shit out of you.

You may feel put off by this interaction, but what I can absolutely guarantee is that Jinx is much more offended by you than you are of her. After all, when introducing yourself for the first time, it’s rather impolite to just start molesting someone with your big, dumb hands, you dumb, stupid human.

Friday Cat Blogging

Indy on Water

Indy has a small, narrow head which helps him drink water from a variety of containers. Katherine hates when he tries to drink her water, having gone to such lengths as putting a plate over her glass when it’s on her nightstand. Indy eventually learned how to defeat this security system by knocking the plate off, spilling the glass and water all over Katherine’s nightstand. This did not embarrass Indy, as it might a more sensible cat. Rather, he lapped away at the water pooling on the nightstand that hadn’t made it to the floor. Katherine has upped her defenses by bring up her nightly water in a container with a screw-top. Indy knows there is water in there, but hasn’t figured out how to get the cap off. Yet.

He’ll work so hard to get my wife’s water despite the full cup on my nightstand that I will freely share. He knows it’s there, and if he comes up to my face, by standing on my chest, I’ll reach over and lift my cup to let him drink. I’m a pushover. Still, Katherine’s water is so very tempting.

I usually don’t find it squicky when he drinks from my cup. I’ll drink from it after he does. This may be unsanitary, but my laziness will win out over any health concerns. There are some limits. He once sneezed into my cup—then kept drinking. I replaced that container. And if I notice him cleaning himself after a litter box visit, I’m not that lazy to ignore how gross that is. Usually, I just don’t think about it, and I’ve been fine except for my almost daily gastrointestinal issues.

We have a small water fountain in our kitchen that continually cycles the water through a filter, and Indy really enjoys that water. He’ll complain if it gets too low or if the water gets stale. I don’t know how, but we usually understand his different caterwauling between water bowl issue, a dirty litter box, and him demanding to know “where the hell are you guys?”

His insatiable love for water afforded me the opportunity to notice that when he drinks, one—or both—of his legs spasm. He doesn’t lose his balance, and if both legs do it, they’ll do it one at a time, one then the other. Which leg, or if both, seems entirely random. If he’s on my chest, or on the floor, or sneaking on the table to drink out of a glass, he does this weird, little kick as soon as he starts lapping at the water, as if he was going to start marching. It doesn’t seem to phase him at all. He’s a bit touched in the head, like all cats, so it’s probably due to bad wiring, but he’s fine with it, and it’s part of his cat-ness that endears him to me.

Friday Cat Blogging

Izzat a tick?

Indy in profile with tick on his jaw
Essays Friday Cat Blogging

Jonny Tewkatz

Writing about my cats is easy. As cats, they have no expectation of privacy, so I can tell everyone their dark, dark secrets. They’re soft and cuddly, and have a built-in audience, slightly smaller than the audience for dogs, slightly more than the audience for other people’s children. And, since I spend an inordinately unhealthy amount of time with them, I know my cats’ personalities better than I understand my own. My cats can’t surprise me, but I often surprise myself.

That being said, a picture is worth a thousand words:

Jinx and Indy together on bed
Jinx and Indy on the bed. Indy wonders what I am doing with that black thing above his head.

Jinx is the larger, black cat. It’s no optical illusion. She’s big. She got up to about 19 pounds, but with a very relaxed diet regimen, we got her to about 16. She’s got huge paws and a huge head, and I believe if we exercised her everyday, we’d probably get her to about 14 pounds, but no smaller. She’s just a big cat.

She jumps, scared, at everything, and walks around the apartment as if she suspects that something will pop out and attack her. The casual observer might think that this has to do with the much more energetic grey cat, Indy. And Indy does actually pop out and jump over Jinx every now and then. But Jinx is a year-and-a-half older than Indy, and she did her creeping and reflexive jumping long before Indy. She’s just a very nervous cat.

Odd, to me, is that she’s friendlier. She hangs out with people and tolerates touching. Indy takes a little bit of time to warm up to strangers in the house. He runs under the bed for a few minutes to make sure that no one else is coming in, then cautiously circumnavigates the room where the strangers are. Eventually, he’ll come up and sniff them. His major sticking point is that he thinks that hands at his level are play-toys, and he’ll eventually start to swat at at anyone who reaches down to him enough. He’s not aggressive though, and his initial swats are without claws. Of course, being a little boy, I will tend to continue to taunt him and evade his swats, so he’ll get riled up and eventually go into that grab with front paws, bite, and rabbit-kick with claws-out back paws thing that cats like to do. My hands and arms are a testament to his perseverance. Because I play with him this way, he does assume that all humans play this way. You’ve been warned.

Jinx plays less often, but she’s always interested in swinging strings and thrown small objects. Both our cats fetch. They will bring back the toy mice or plastic rings that we throw, more or less to our feet, but with random longevity. If Indy is somehow preoccupied, Jinx will fetch for several minutes, but if your throw lands short and is too close to Jinx, she considers the game over; she likes long-distance throws. Once Indy gets involved in anyway, again, the game is over. If Indy is fetching, he usually gets bored faster but has a much faster turn-around time. He can fetch 3 or 4 times in a minute, whereas Jinx usually takes a full minute to chase, then stalk, then pick up, then make sure no one is going to pop out and scare the bejeezus out of her, then jog back, then look around again to make sure that no one is going to pop out and scare the bejeezus out of her, then drop the object and meow that it’s our turn again.

Throw the object into something, and you can really see the difference in their personalities (felinalities?). Indy will jump in or at the object with gusto, absolutely no fear, but if the object isn’t readily available, Indy gives up after a few seconds, and returns, looking expectantly at the thrower. You can deny that you have the object, but Indy doesn’t believe you. Jinx, however, will run up to the place where the object landed and begin to do some detective work. She crouch before the box or chair or where ever the object is hidden, and, with ears back, peer over the edge to see if she can see the object. She’ll pace around the area, checking things from multiple angles. She’ll sniff the air to attempt to catch a whiff of it. It’s highly amusing. If she can’t find it, she will give up several minutes, and usually sit in the box or chair or where ever, and begin to do a sing-song meow that reminds me of [throat singing][1], because it resonates and sounds like she’s trilling.

The photo above shows the two cats in a rare moment of proximity where they are not licking each other or wrestling. They don’t fight that often; although, my wife insists that any time they do is too much. But a couple of times a day, Indy will go up to Jinx and start licking her. Jinx licks back. They do this in an increasingly aggressive way, giving each other dirty looks. I find it extremely amusing to see aggressive licking. It reminds me of two people giving each other increasingly nasty backhanded compliments. If one of the two doesn’t back off, they’ll begin to wrestle. This will end relatively quickly, and the worst that happens is that Indy gets a clump of Jinx’s hair stuck into his mouth. Jinx sheds like mad, and I assume that she uses her shedding ability as an analog to the quills on a porcupine.

As noted, Indy usually goes up to Jinx to start the licking fight, but I’ve seen Jinx go over to Indy and just smack him in the face. She also has this one move where she rears back, hunched on her hind legs and one front paw lifted, and thump rapidly on Indy’s side, one-two-three thumps. I find that one hilarious. These will usually regress into quick wrestling matches and then guttural grows and a pathetic high-pitched meow from Indy. He’s clearly dominant in these situations, but it reminds me of Michael Jackson in the “Bad,” video yelling, “You ain’t bad; you ain’t nothin’!” Jinx finds it convincing, and will roll on her side in a submissive position. Indy, clearly unschooled in the etiquette of catfights, will jump on her. They’ll roll around with Jinx making an awful screech which actually *scares* both cats (and any humans in the area), and they’ll jump off each other with that embarrassed, “I don’t know what you’re looking at” position house cats are so good at assuming.

I do spend too much time with these furballs, but they amuse me endlessly.