He lies chilled out across the table, his paws resting on the keyboard and his head jammed halfway under the monitor. He studies me intently, occasionally blinking or yawning, then his eyes slowly close and with a satisfied sigh he falls into a pleasant sleep. What is he thinking while he does this?
I often wonder exactly how Fister regards us. Since he was feral the first year of his life, he wouldn’t have just regarded us as “big cats”. No - we were these huge , noisy, clumsy giants that were potentially dangerous, and unpredictable animals at that. But - we could be of great use when scavenging food. After all these years, we have, of course become his very best friends, and he obviously loves us dearly. But what are we? Are we huge deformed cats to him? Are we just unusually nice bipeds? He doesn’t seem too sure himself sometimes, and gets quite frustrated when we don’t appear to understand what he’s so intensely trying to tell us. How I wish that I could speak Cat Speak!
He will sometimes come up to me in bed, stand 10 cm from my face, look me straight in the eye and say MIAW very loudly! But which miaw is that? He has so many of them, all slightly different. Some of them are obvious, but there are so many subtle inflections and volumes. The “get your dirty paws off me before you regret it” are obvious enough, but he is usually very polite, and his vocabulary has now developed far beyond this.
It is said that wild cats don’t miaw, due to the danger of giving away their position to potential predators. This certainly fits with Fisters’ behaviour in the first few years that he was with us, he practically never said a word. (Then it was just body language. But that is a whole subject in itself, and easier to interpret.)
Can’t you see I’m trying to tell you something?
When he came back from a particularly traumatic experience at a cat pension with an incompetent vet, where he had been summarily planted together with about 15 other very noisy cats, he certainly showed us what he had learnt. He wandered about howling at the top of his voice as soon as anything displeased him, and became a real menace. But within a week, he seemed to have forgotten it, and reverted to his normal quiet, reserved self. Other trips to cat pensions didn’t seem to have the same effect on him.
Then, this spring, we sent him to a really luxurious cat pension, very classy and stylish, and he re-learnt all those lessons. He has since become the most amazing chatterbox, commenting on nearly anything that we do, and complaining regularly and loudly all the time.
He will now sometimes make a CHRONIC NUISANCE of himself at about 4 o’clock in the morning, when the spring sun first appears over the horizon and other cats begin to appear in “his” back yard or on the road. He shouts and howls in the living room, and will even jump up on me in bed, wander restlessly about on my chest (8 kilos!), and get very pushy indeed.
He will also often find it necessary to tell us all about his experiences on his latest trip to the cat litter, and if he’s just a tiny bit hungry, we are left in no doubt at all!
So he has certainly learnt a thing or two, but how “intelligent” is he? This is a difficult question to answer, especially difficult with cats I think. He is obviously very “street smart” from his childhood in the yard. When we play with him by dragging a piece of string, he will study it intently, and then try to attack whatever is PULLING the string. The feather or pipe cleaner on the end of it is of lesser interest, it’s the hidden, underlying cause he’s interested in. That shows a certain degree of intelligence, and we have to be very careful that we don’t get severely scratched. He also quickly learnt how he could fool me on the way back from the bathroom at night by taking a short cut down the corridor and attacking me from behind. We never had to house train him either, he immediately understood the cat litter and used it properly, but I suppose that is more instinct than intelligence.
On the other hand, when trying to get into a cardboard box, he can risk standing for an eternity, just scratching and scratching away at the same spot again and again and again. THAT doesn’t seem intelligent at all, and he almost seems a bit retarded!
Come on out, I know you’re in there somewhere!
Doors were also an intellectual challenge when he first visited our home. They were of course completely new and strange to him, and they were so unpredictable! Just a gentle lean up against them and they MOVED! This would immediately send him scuttling for cover, and it took a long time before he began to accept them. He soon worked out that they could be pushed out of the way, but it took him ages to understand that they could also be pulled. He tried to get past a door in the corridor once that was opening towards him. He pushed and pushed and pushed, but the only result was that he squeezed himself more and more and got severely frightened!
And then there’s the “sixth sense” that cats seem to have when their humans are about to go on holiday.
You can’t fool me, I know what’s going on!
We all know this one. No matter how much you try to hide the fact, they seem to KNOW it’s happening. Since Fister has always been rather wild, getting him into the carrier was always a terrific (and often bloody) drama. He always knew something was up, no matter how much we tried to hide it. This last time, since we were leaving early in the morning, we decided to send him off the day before our departure. No suitcases, no talk of leaving, nothing that could give him any inkling of what was about to happen. He was sleeping peacefully on the bed as I went down the back stairs to get the dreaded carrier. No unusual sounds or movements, everything as normal as could be. I walk slowly and peacefully through the living room to the bedroom. Whooom! He’s under the bed. How on earth could he have known? I suppose we give off some sort of vibes that they pick up on. It’s beyond my comprehension. Their senses are definitely much more developed than ours of course, they can hear and see much better than us, and they also have other abilities, such as their sense of vibration and air movement. But this isn’t necessarily intelligence.
But who are we mere humans to try to define “intelligence” any way?