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Thread: Fisters' Journey - Cat Speak & Cat Think

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
    Copenhagen, Denmark

    Fisters' Journey - Cat Speak & Cat Think

    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?

    … sigh

    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?

    Last edited by jonza; 06-26-2003 at 02:06 PM.

    "Peace cannot be achieved through violence,
    it can only be attained through understanding."
    Albert Einstein

  2. #2
    Just this weekend I was reading an article that said it is wrong to compare intelligence across species. That is...which is smarter -- a cat or a dog -- is inappropriate.

    I find it amazing how quickly cats learn. I started letting Edwina go outside with me in the morning while I fill the bird/squirrel feeder. It is only for 2 minutes or so. I hadn't done this more than 2 or 3 times before she was demanding it! As I pick up my gym bag and put my washrag in the hamper she bolts off, races down the stairs, and stands in front of the door leading to the feeder. And she can do all of this starting from a sound sleep!

    Such incredible creatures. I, too, wish I could understand better the inner workings of those brains!

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    What a fine essay (and I love the suitcase with a tail ). I've also wondered about feline perceptions and personality quirks. For instance, Kacey here--who's sprawled across my arm, making typing a bit of a challenge. When I first saw him, he and several other kittens were playing in a glass-walled enclosure at the local shelter. Another person and I were watching the kittens at the same time, but Kacey marched to where I was standing and started trying to climb the glass. Like so many cats seem to do, he chose the person he wanted to live with.

    Kacey occasionaly betrays his ability to understand English. Once he was curled up next to me on the sofa, ignoring the catfood I'd just served. I told him, "Go eat something, Kacey." He jumped off the sofa, sauntered over to the food bowl, took about two bites, and returned to his spot on the sofa, giving me a look that could only have meant, "There. Happy now?"

    And Katie--she appeared at my doorstep, kittens in tow, and literally moved in. I've always assumed she was a stray because she never hesitated to approach me, but if she was a stray and not feral then she must have been turned loose very young. But she zeroed in on me and insisted that I was to adopt her. She spends a lot of time grooming me, as if I'm a particularly large kitten who needs to be kept presentable.

    Of course, the bottom line on feline intelligence is when you look at who's doing the feeding and the cleaning and who's lying on the sofa watching.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    Independence, Kansas
    I think I know what it is our furkids pick up from us, especially whenever we try to do a "quick change" on them. Sometimes I wonder when I'll have to return to central Calif. and retrieve the remainder of my stuff I left there. With that in mind, there are times when I will get myself ready to do some errands around town. But the look on their faces when I leave........apparently they think that I will be gone for over a week! If one can keep a lid on their thoughts and the assciated emotions, then there is a chance of getting away with something. It may be worth a try.


  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Taz is a very intelligent creature.
    When we moved into our new house, the basement window was very high. He knew he wanted to be up there. It took him about 2 months to find a way to get up there to sit in the sill.
    One there, he realized the drop ceiling tiles cam lower than the window. This allowed him about 2 inches to view into the ceiling above the tiles. He, I suppose, saw this creapy dark space as a wonderland.
    It took almost a year, but he finally got a way up there.
    He realized that by jumping onto the shelf in the litter box closet, he could stand on top of his cat carrier. There, he pushed yellow ceiling insulation over and made a hole just large enough for his body. This allowed him access to the ceiling. He now crawls around "inside' the ceiling, above the tiles. It's his secret spot so I can't bring myself to put a stop to it.

    Fister is clearly a very savvy kitty. Love the pic of the tail!

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Feb 2001
    Monessen, PA
    John you are an amazing writer.....

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Feb 2002
    I'm not sure, what day is it? ;-)

    Re: Fisters' Journey - Cat Speak & Cat Think

    Originally posted by jonza

    Can’t you see I’m trying to tell you something?
    Yes Fister, I can tell exactly what you are saying in this picture and I'd love to pick you up and give you a smooch, but you are just too darned far away!

    Another great Fister tail. Thanks John!

    And Tubby, too, has always attacked whatever is pulling the string instead of the string. Unfortunately it took me awhile to learn that and ended up with scars all over my hands.

    He still does that, and when I throw the mouse, he ignores the mouse and looks at my hand and I'm like "No Tubby, get the mouse! The mouse, goofy, not my hand!"
    Spring 1986 - Dec. 11, 2004
    RIP Big Boy
    Fall 1988 - Jan. 24, 2007
    RIP Snotty Girl
    Fall 1997 - Oct. 6, 2012
    RIP Sweet Monkeyhead Girl

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jun 2002
    North Wales, UK.
    Another great Fisters` Journey, I really enjoyed reading it, thanks John.


  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
    Newfoundland, Canada
    Thank you John for a great read. Looking forward to another soon.
    Rosemary, Hayley & Mandy

    Our little angel.

    "A kitten is a rosebud in the garden of the Animal Kingdom"
    -Robert Southey

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Apr 2002
    John, I really was looking forward to this story. You write in the most elegant way about many things I have been wondering too –and of course I loooovvve Fister’s tail and also his relaxed sigh – a sound you can hear from Tigris as well.
    Of course we have wondered often enough how Filou and Tigris see us. I am absolutely sure they are persons and I’m absolutely sure they have intelligence. Most of that intelligence we can only understand if it’s similar to our own.
    E.g. some of you may remember Tigris opening the door. This action is always broken up in the same series:
    Step one: pulling the handle
    Step two: seeing whether the door is open
    Step 3 opening
    Step 4 going in.
    And he repeats part of this series: If step 2 tells him the door is not open, then he goes back to step one –and continues that until he succeeds.
    But there are these strange things: somehow I think Filou identifies with us. He has to check all our food and eats things that cannot be very interesting for him like the famous ripe mangos: they are not fat and they are no meat –so why the hell is this cat interested?
    Another thing: their jealousy: They watch carefully if the other ones gets the cuddles. And it has happened often that Tigris attacked Filou after Filou got petted …. I tend to translate these action into human speak in which they mean something like “Teacher’s pet!”
    It’s all very strange and although I had cats when I were much younger I never knew how much communication there would be between a predator (..that’s where cats come from, isn’t it ) and us.
    I am very happy that Tigris and Filou allow us that experience. And I am glad to be here and meet so many people who share that experience which is beyond our rational control.

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