The shelter is brimming with kittens, younger. Also, unless one observes many kittens, it is difficult to tell an overly active kitten from an ordinarily active one. Most shelters have more cats than will ever be adopted. The cutest kittens win. The others languish until the staff and volunteers face the agony of killing them. A good many people —mostly men, it seems, God knows why—just hate cats.
Cats were worshiped in Egypt, loved in ancient Rome, and loved well into the early years of Christianity in Europe. Then in the Middle Ages cats came to be associated with witchcraft and the plagues, and were widely reviled, tortured, burned. Black cats still spell bad luck to many and are, in fact, adopted less often.
Some people sense a vague sort of evil in all cats. Some people fear them. Karsh writes that on several occasions, groups of workmen were afraid to enter her cat colony rooms, with ten or fifteen cats roaming around loose, until somebody locked them up. Some people hate cats for their apparent disposition not to communicate more clearly a false impression, as we will see.
Many believe them incapable of affection, unworthy of existence. A great many more people love cats. They are by far the most popular animal companion in the world.
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There are ninety-six million pet cats in the United States, ten million in Canada, ten million in the United Kingdom, three million in Australia, a million and a half in New Zealand, fifty-three million in China, ten million in France, nine million in Italy, eight million in Germany, seven million in Japan. Almost all of them are loved, albeit sometimes with a dose of frustration.
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There are more cats than dogs in the United States, but there are more households with dogs. But there are more pet fish than either. Ninety-nine percent of them considered their cats to be a family member. Ninety-one percent believed their cats were attuned to their moods. Nearly half these people reported that their cats had bad-conduct issues of some sort—mainly litter box problems and destructive behavior—but nobody was considering getting rid of their cat.
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They recognize their attachment to the pet and, at the same time, acknowledge that the animal is a source of inconvenience, a financial expense, social concern, or even a physical threat. Your cat appears to miss you when you are away and be happy to see you when you return. And your cat relates to you as an individual in a non-judgmental way, independent of your professional, social, or financial success or failure. But cats come into our lives in many other ways than by rationally decided and planned adoption of a gently fostered kitten of a good mother at the age of at least three months.
Augusta was dumped in the snow and survived a night skedaddle down the driveway. Sometimes your mother dies and leaves you her cats, all three old, one cranky, one sick, and one who hides from you for the first six months. You might see a cardboard box of mewling six-week-old orphans in the lap of a young woman on the sidewalk in the evident grip of despair, probably homeless, possibly a junkie, and on the box are shakily lettered the two words FREE KITTENS. Whichever cat or cats you end up with, however it happens, you will be in for some surprises.
Other cats can open shut doors and get the lids off garbage cans as easily as if they had two hands with opposable thumbs. Some cats are born with unshakably equable dispositions and others are so high-strung that they go all to pieces when a doorbell rings. The cushioned existence of many domestic cats alleviates the constant need for behavior to be continually directed toward catching prey, mating, avoiding predators, and so on. Individuality, thy name is cat.
He would meow that really long and sad meow, and pick them up one by one bringing them up on the bed and laying them down beside me. Then he would lie down on the other side of me. My cats get lost in the house. You have to call out to them so they can follow the sound of your voice back to you. Our cat, Maverick, jumps up the sides of the walls separating our family room and dining room.
Head Trauma in Cats
Shamed by our failure to carry that through, we tried other tricks that our friend, again, assured us we could teach her easy-peasy. You have a bag of little crunchy cat treats, and each time Augusta does something that remotely resembles the trick, you praise her, pet her, and give her the treat, which she loved. We concluded that this was a case of individual variation. Some cats were smart; some were not.
Walter and Penny, the barn cats, obviously had all kinds of things figured out, for example their calm fencepost-sitting when coyotes. It looked as though we had to face the fact that Augusta was just plain dumb. She was beautiful, though! So sleek, so smooth, so black. Everybody said how pretty she was. People do come to characterize their cats on a combination of available evidence and a certain amount of fantasy.
Also Stoopie. Some trials involve swimming, and most subjects perform rather poorly. However, one subject happens to be Michael Phelps, the Olympic record holder. From this, they argue in favor of the aquatic ape hypothesis, which postulates that ancestral humans were under strong selection for an aquatic existence.
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Then tabulate same. Bon voyage! She then moved to the suburban Ambler campus, which had a population of feral cats. She worked with her students trapping them, feeding them, and gradually making them more or less tractable enough to be adopted. She continued teaching until her retirement in , but she no longer conducted formal research. Was Augusta happy?
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We know now that her environment provided the right ingredients. That was luck—living on a ranch, far from the road, no traffic on it anyway, nice dogs, nice horses, nice cats, no nasty predators so far, lots of fascinating habitat to explore. She had owners who loved her and who tried, in their own dumb ways, to make her happy. But I believe that another of her individual traits was an innate happiness, a capacity for joy, which found its incarnation—never for a moment the same yet always the same—in the sun and the grass and the space and the wind of her home in Montana, its plants and animals, water and soil, its whispers and its fragrances.
She was of that place, that ecosystem. Its gift to her—and, through her, to us—was her capacity for absorption, engagement, all-attention. No, those are too small. Call it delight. We recognized it fully only in retrospect, by its absence. When life in my ranch partnership came to be too expensive, I had to sell my share, and we moved to San Francisco. Then we found a sunny flat with an exterior staircase and a back yard separated from others only by cat-climbable fences.
Perhaps this could prove a new frontier—it had texture, complexity, challenge. She was just turning two years old, and brimming with vitality, as well as that feline essence, curiosity. She began to teach us her new needs—new games, new races and chases.
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