Wednesday, December 27, 2006

All in Their Heads

by Tory Butterworth

As a psychotherapist, I try to get inside people's heads. As much as possible, I want to know how my clients see themselves. While I'm not omniscient, I like to believe that I know a little more about people's internal experience than your average Joe.

As a pet owner, it is tempting to assume I have these same skills with my two Persian cats. What does go on in their furry, little brains, anyway?

At times I feel like I do understand. Cats evolved from cave dwellers. As a result, they feel safe in dark, small places that make most humans claustrophobic. Conversely, the bright, open spaces us humans prefer make them nervous, because they're just the sort of spots where large, winged predators can swoop down unexpectedly.

Ever put a cat in a pillow case? A friend of mine recommended this for trips to the vet or short moves. From a human perspective, it reminds us of death by strangulation. However, anyone I know who's ever tried it with their cats notices how calm they get. Sometimes they even purr!

Then, there's other times, when I realize my intracranial feline perspective is all an illusion. I bought my cats some raw food last year: raw chicken meat ground up with vegetables. Little did I know that health food can be as hard a sell for cats as it is for humans.

Thora (name not changed to protect the innocent) wouldn't try the stuff. Well, that's Thora, she hates anything new. But Pansy wouldn't try it either. So I coated it with a canned, "chicken in broth" cat food. Broth, my foot! It's should be named, "chicken in strange gelatinous substance." That didn't stop Pansy, she loves the stuff.

Thora, despite the fact that she didn't want any, didn't want to be left out. While I fed Pansy, I put food out for Thora with a closed door in-between, so Pansy wouldn't steal Thora's food. After a few minutes, I opened the door and Pansy got whatever Thora didn't eat.

Here's the strange part. Pansy licked the canned food off her plate, but left the raw meat untouched. However, when I opened the door protecting Thora's identical breakfast, Pansy ate everything, canned food and raw meat alike.

So I moved Pansy's unfinished dish next to Thora's. And suddenly she licked her platter clean! What DOES go on between those furry ears?

Here's my advice. Live with them, love them, cuddle up with them at night or in the morning. But don't kid yourself that you really understand what's going on in their heads. You probably don't want to know.


Gina said...

Cats' dirty little secret is that they really do understand English. I've tried to get mine to admit it for years. And if they would talk back, have a real conversation, we could ask all of those questions that we've always wanted to know the answers to, like, "Why is it you guys sleep together all day on my bed, but get into a bed fight with yowling and hissing at 3:15 in the morning?" I've tried to get Dusty and Taffy to speak to me. They could start with simple words at first, words I know they can pronounce. I try to coach them to say "milk," "meal," "out." They only look at me as if I've lost my mind. They know that power requires mystery. Still, they're not above the crudest gestures when they want to make a point. One of them - I'm not sure which, but it was probably a conspiracy anyway -- urinated on my carry-on luggage just as I was getting ready to leave for Mexico last October. I sprayed the bag with cat odor eradicator, but at the airport I was hauled out of line by Homeland Security and frisked because, when they put my bag through the machine, it tested positive for nitrates!!! Does anyone really believe the cats hadn't planned that?

Justin said...

Hey you too have 2 persian cats! Well, I've one persian n a maine coon named Maple

Joyce said...

Layla, my son's cat (but guess who gets to take care of her?), knows the word "hungry." Say it and she starts meowing like crazy. She knows she gets breakfast at 6am, so she's like a little alarm clock. If I'm not up she makes sure she gets me up.

Somehow, she also knows when it's Saturday. She knows I clean on Saturday, so she hides under my bed and up in the box springs to escape the evil vacuum cleaner, well before I even gather up the cleaning supplies.

Kristine said...

I've come to learn that pets have a language all their own but they also do understand basic human commands and actions. I always comment that my dog has "selective hearing."

Anonymous said...

Samantha can say "No, no NO!" quite clearly as well as "now" and "uh oh." But the word she UNDERSTANDS the best is "Tuna Fish."

Tory, back when Fluffy still walked this earth and both Fluff and Sam were on two different diets for two different reasons, Fluff only wanted Sam's food and Sam only wanted Fluff's food.

Fluffy has since passed on and Sam's diet now consists of whatever I can get her eat...usually the most expensive food in the store. And of course Tuna Fish, but only the human-grade. None of that cheap catfood tuna fish for this girl, uh uh.

By the way "uh uh" is another addition to Samantha's vocabulary lately.

Cathy said...

Tory, I'm glad you had the nerve to try the raw food diet. I've wanted to try it for my pets, but I'm pretty sure they won't go for it, especially the 18-year-old cat. Maybe I'll get organized this year. They like the holistic canned food, anyway. Are yours eating the raw stuff now?

As far as getting into their minds, they have a lot more time and energy to figure me out, it seems. I'm perfectly trained by them.

Tory said...

I just got back from visiting my brother in Seattle, and though my bags made it through security okay, I didn't fare as well with my brother's cats. One of his "kittens" (6 months old and therefore old enough to know better) peed on the bed I was sleeping on. Could it be he didn't want any strange cat smells intruding on his territory?

Tory said...

Cathy: I would have given up on the raw stuff long ago except I had to order 8 pound-sized containers. There are still 3 pounds of it sitting in my freezer. You're welcome to have one of those. I've also been told you can buy some form of raw food mix in smaller quantities at Whole Foods, but I haven't checked it out, for obvious reasons.