Since I brush both my cats every day, I can’t help but notice the difference in the texture of the fur that each of them produces.
Quint is a domestic short-hair and his fur, though soft and very pet-able, is noticeably coarser that Hedge’s. The length of Hedge’s black fur falls somewhere between a long-hair and a short-hair. Hedge’s fur is quite silky to the touch, especially right after he’s been brushed.
There is a notable difference in the weight of the various types of hair around our house. Everybody sheds, people, dog, cats – everybody. People-hair is relatively heavy and falls right to the floor. Quint’s fur is lighter and falls more slowly drifting on the air currents in the house for a while before it comes to rest on every exposed surface. Hedge’s fur is, I believe, lighter than air. Everywhere he goes he is surrounded by a nearly invisible cloud of black cat fur. As he walks through the house he leaves behind him a cat hair “vapor” trail that drifts through the air and gradually disperses into the atmosphere. Over time, every object in the house turns slowly darker as it is covered with very, very fine black hair. The effect is so gradual that you don’t notice it until you start dusting, wiping or vacuuming. Your dust cloth, sponge and vacuum cleaner are soon filled with back cat fur and the color of everything inside the house is sudden much more vivid. It is truly remarkable how quickly after a thorough cleaning the house is again covered in fur.
I believe that most of the protein we feed them in the form of cat food and treats is almost immediately converted into fur. It has to be that way. How else can you explain the quantities of fur that these two cats produce. If an acre of farmland was as productive as a square foot of cat, we would have long ago been buried in fresh produce. I could brush them all day and they would still look exactly the same. And they would still have surplus fur to shed.
The mystery of cat fur is just another facet in the enigma that is a cat.
A few years ago, someone gave us a set of small glass fish suspended from little glass balloons. The idea behind them was that you were supposed to float them in a decorative bowl to create a care-free “fish” bowl. They were quite pretty, the little blown-glass fish, and we liked the concept, so we bought a small spherical bowl, filled it with water and added the glass fish. We put the bowl on the cocktail table in the living room. It was pretty.
Since the cats must explore, analyze and approve any new addition to their environment, the bowl can under immediate scrutiny. Quint sniffed at it, put his paw in the water and stirred the little glass balloons around. When he determined that the bowl was filled with clean water, he put his head inside the bowl and got himself a drink. From that moment on, the pretty, decorative “fish” bowl became the Kitty Water Bowl of Choice.
Every few days we would find the glass fish resting on the bottom of the bowl because most of the water had been consumed by the cats. Hedge, being the copy-cat, saw Quint drinking from the bowl and joined in the fun. Carol and I found the whole thing quite amusing. If this was a where the cats wanted to get their water, we were only too happy to accommodate them.
Sometime later, we tired of the tedious task of cleaning all the little glass fish whenever we cleaned up the bowl. Instead we floated some small rubber ducks in the water. Now, before the cats drink out of the bowl, they will put a paw into the water and gently move the ducks to the side and take their drink.
We still keep the water bowl that is next to their food bowls clean and filled. Sometimes, on a hot day, we’ll even ad an ice cube to that water bowl. The cats do drink out of that bowl, sometimes. Their favorite drinking bowl, though, is the one in the living room where the rubber ducks float.
I was thinking, the other day, about why my cats, especially Quint, but Hedge as well, are different than other cats I have encountered both in real life and on the internet. I came to the conclusion that each cat’s unique characteristics are a product of his companions’ expectations of him (or her). In other words, our cats live up or down to what we expect of them.
If I expect Quint to be engaged, active, capable, curious and friendly, then that is what he will become. Part of the reason for that is when he does something that I like, I will reward him for it, sometimes simply with praise or a quick pet, sometimes with a treat if I am being more pro-active about it. Another aspect of Quint’s living up to our expectations is that being in an environment where one is expected to excel will cause one to rise up to a level of ability and awareness where one does just that. If you are around purposeful, enthusiastic people all day, you, yourself, if you weren’t to begin with, will tend to become purposeful and enthusiastic as well. The opposite, of course, is true as well. If you are expected to be a useless lay-about and are surrounded by people who are uselessly lying about, you will live down to that expectation.
If you as a cat are surrounded by people who consider you “just a dumb animal,” you will act as if you were a dumb animal. The longer you are in this environment the more of a dumb animal you will become. If you are treated cruelly, you will tend to respond in kind. The same goes for living with someone who is always angry, the emotional atmosphere will permeate everything within it. Sometimes the only thing you can do in such a case is to escape and go look for a new home.
On the other paw, if you are treated as a contributing member of the family and expected to do your share, your options and your horizons become nearly unlimited. Really, the only thing holding you back is an annoying lack of opposable thumbs. The devices and conveniences in the human world were just not designed for manipulation by a paw full of claws. Still, ways can be found to do your part and those cats who are lucky enough to live with people who have high expectations for them can and do find unique ways to contribute.
As I said, it really is largely a matter of expectation. If you want your cat to do great things, he’s more likely to do so if that is what you expect of him (or her). And, as I mentioned, you can also use this technique with other humans. And, now that I think about it, cats could use this technique on their human companions as well. Encourage your humans to play with you, to pet you and take care of your teeth. Expect it of them, and then be sure to reward them with a purr and a little warble when they perform the desired behavior.
Use caution when practicing this technique. Remember the admonition: Be careful of what you wish for, you may get it. Properly applied, this is a nation changing, a world-changing technique. What would happen if each and every one of us expected everyone around us to be respectful and civil to each other, to listen to each other, to help each other, to consider how our actions might affect others? What if we all considered it our responsibility to pull each other up? What if we are all expected to be kind and considerate and a credit to our profession? What would happen? For one thing, we’d all have amazingly capable cats. From there, who knows how far we could go.
If chickens can have a pecking order, then cats can certainly have a purring order. Mine sure do. Quint is Top Cat. Hedge gets whatever Quint doesn't want or need. Hedge goes out of his way to find places to nap and relax that Quint never uses. Never uses until Hedge occupies the space which then instantly becomes desirable space and Quint must have it. If there was a pile of rusty nails and broken glass in the house, which there isn't by the way, and Hedge was laying on it, Quint would kick him off the pile and take possession of it like it was an invaluable dragon's horde. If I am brushing Hedge in the morning, which I often do, Quint comes in the room, jumps up on the bed and watches to make sure Hedge doesn't get too much attention. No wonder Hedge is a shy and reclusive, what with Quint constantly upstaging him. Hedge takes it all with his good, sweet disposition undiminished.
Lately, though, there has been a subtle twist to the game. Quint has this refillable, catnip mouse which he carries around the house and then drops in whatever room his people happen to be occupying, or in our path so we can't miss seeing it as we move about. Hedge, sometimes, when the mouse has been dropped on a small rug, will fold the rug in on itself and bury the little mouse. Last evening Quint dropped the mouse in the hallway and Hedge immediately proceeded to bury it. This annoyed Quint so much that he paraded around the house meowing at the top of his lungs.
I warned Quint a long time ago that if he kept up his bullying it would come back to him. It seems that it finally has.
Since Hedge came to live with us very nearly two years ago, he has gradually become more and more social, at least as far as humans are concerned. He couldn’t help but have some sort of interaction with Quint, who thinks of himself as Alpha Cat. Hedge’s strategy in dealing with Quint has been to be non-confrontatory, submissive you might think. I thought so too at first, and perhaps he was submissive when he first arrived. As time has gone by and he has grown up into the handsome fellow he is today, I’ve seen Hedge emerge from the shadow of Quint as his mentor and dominator to become a clever, crafty and personable (catable?) member of the family.
It has been fascinating, and quite rewarding, to watch Hedge slowly figure out how to overcome his fearsome and humble origins and establish for himself a definite role in the group. He is still as cautious as ever when it comes to new people and situations, but with each encounter, he observes, he retreats, he thinks, he decides and he establishes protocols to help him deal with the situation as he sees it. Instead of submission as standard operating procedure, he will now stand up for himself so as to get what he needs and wants. He’s very considered in his choices of importances. For example, at breakfast and supper times, we feed a small quantity of canned cat food in two different bowls, the same food and quantity in each. Quint considers it his right to sample the contents of both bowls and lick up whatever juice or gravy there might be in each. He will then eat a bit of the food from each bowl and leave the rest. Hedge allows this, unless the proffered food is especially to his liking, in which instance he will pick a bowl, stand his ground and consume his share, gravy and all. Most of the time, Hedge is indifferent to canned cat food, so he lets Quint have his way, but Hedge is more than capable to moving in and taking his share. Hedge has taken his time, studied the situation and evolved a policy for getting his share of his favorite foods.
Recently, Quint has taken to kicking Hedge out of whatever bed or space that he has chosen for his afternoon nap. If Hedge wanted to nap in the bed under the window in the northwest corner of the living room, Quint would go over and kick him out of the bed and take that space for his nap. Hedge would then have to find some other less-preferable spot. Today, I noticed that Hedge has formulated a workable strategy for dealing with this most annoying problem. Instead of starting his afternoon nap in the spot that he would prefer, he lays down somewhere else. Quint, of course, kicks him out of that space and Hedge then happily moves into his preferred space and has his nap. Quint has no idea that he has just been outmaneuvered and is content to believe he has won. If it didn’t know better, I’d suspect that Hedge has been reading my copy of The Art of War.
Hedge has also observed that Quint is able to get our attention by vocalizing and then leading us to where he wants us to go. If Quint wants to go for a ride in his cat stroller, he will meow at us and then herd us over to the stroller. Hedge seeing this, decides that he, too, can “talk” us into something he wants us to do, that being petting him. Thus, he now squeaks at us whenever he wants to be petted and only stops when he is satisfied with the result.
It’s quite interesting to watch these two distinct cat personalities interact, adapt and cooperate in their efforts to get their needs met by the two distinct human personalities that they live with. It’s a daily dance with the four of us coming together in constantly changing patterns, leaping and whirling and pausing and touching. There is dialog and silence; there is laughter and contemplation; there is conflict and cooperation. What binds it all together is the love, respect and communication which we share. That’s what makes us a family.
I am an artist, a husband, a friend, an avid reader, a shade-tree mechanic, a photographer, and a conservative. I love my wife, my cats, most of my family, my tools, a couple of my guitars, almost all of my books, and my friends. I take way too many photos, and spend too much time reading. My book collection is taking over my house, and I need to sell a couple of guitars.