Humans: An Owner’s Guide For Cats

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Everything in this blog post was written at the suggestion of this beautiful feline.

Everything in this blog post was written at the suggestion of this beautiful feline.

A new human owner will quickly find that humans have many odd habits. For example, soon after you get your human, it will probably select a random assortment of verbal sounds to use as your name. Your human will probably also make up several alternative names, otherwise known as nicknames, for you. It is up to you to decide whether or not you will respond when your human calls you, but it is generally advised that you only do so on rare occasions. You don’t want your human to think that it can control you. However, when you feel like answering, (for example, if your human is offering you food, or if you want attention) it is perfectly acceptable to come when your name is called.

Humans also have bizarre sleeping habits. Rather than logically napping periodically throughout the day, they have a tendency to sleep for several consecutive hours in the middle of the night. This has a tendency to make them wake up later than they ought; sometimes, your human might sleep as late as breakfast o’clock in the morning. When this happens, you will have to wake it up. Sometimes, it will arise if you gently paw its shoulder and speak softly in its ear. At other times, more drastic measures are needed. Jumping forcefully on its chest is often an effective method, especially if you accompany this tactic with a resounding wake-up call in your best Siamese voice.

RomanaMany humans have a special type of cat bed they call a “laptop”. This laptop consists of a horizontal keyboard and an attached upright screen which sometimes has bright, moving images on it. Frequently, your human will sit down with this cat bed on its lap or on top of a piece of furniture in front of it. It will then stare blankly at the screen. This means that your poor human is bored and lonely and would like you to come keep it company. Out of consideration for your human, you should lie down on the keyboard so that it may admire your great beauty and cuteness. As you lie on the keyboard, your laptop bed may make annoying dinging noises. Ignore this; it doesn’t mean anything, and you wouldn’t want to make your human lonely by leaving.

At times, your human may hold a book or several pieces of paper in their hand instead of holding your laptop in its lap. Books and papers are other types of cat beds. Your human may not know how to hold them properly; you may have to push the book or papers into a horizontal position before lying down on top of them. Hopefully, your human will appreciate your help in correcting this pathetic error.

Your human may occasionally tell you that you should not scratch a certain object, that you should not go through a certain door, that you should not jump onto a certain countertop, or that you should not eat a certain thing that you found. You are under no obligations to obey your human’s rules; it needs to be reminded who is the owner and who is the human.

Bo Thanksgiving 2010Humans are generally capable of feeding themselves. As an owner, it is your responsibility to offer to sample all of your human’s food. If your human declines your offer, repeat it more loudly. It is not recommended to take no for an answer. This is not only for your human’s well-being, but also because your human’s food probably tastes better than yours. If you should find that this is not the case, you are not compelled to eat the morsel that you have obtained, and you should politely request that your human replace it with some other type of food that you prefer.

As a responsible human owner, it is your duty to protect your human from dangers such as evil insects, vacuum cleaners, and running water. When your human is in danger, warn it, and then take the situation into your own paws by killing, destroying, or meowing at something. The exceptions to this rule are if you are scared or lazy, in which case you are not compelled to take any action.

Often, your human will run away from home and leave you alone for hours on end. You will generally be able to predict when this will happen based upon certain warning signs. For example, you may notice your human putting shoes upon its feet or handling car keys. When these things happen, you should tell your human to stay where it belongs, but people are disobedient creatures and are likely to ignore your instructions. Upon your human’s return, tell it how worried you were and admonish it never to do such a thing again. And then tell it how much you love it and curl up in its lap for the rest of the day, because your human is awesome and you’re glad to own such a wonderful creature.

Romana

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My kitten and her laser toy

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laser toyI’m pretty sure that if I was a cat, I’d find laser toys extremely frustrating. You just chase a spot of light, and even if you put your put your paw right down on it, you can’t catch it. The game could go on for hours, but you’d never win. You can’t even make progress, because chasing games are all or nothing; either you catch it or you don’t, and you can’t catch a spot of light. But my kitten doesn’t seem to mind at all. In fact, she thinks it’s a delightful game, and she prefers the laser beam to any of her other toys. When I turn it on, she trills with joy and proceeds to chase it all around the room, bouncing off the walls and doors as it seems necessary.

I admit that sometimes I do a mean thing to my cat. I hold the laser toy with one hand and “catch” the light with the other hand, while turning the laser off so that it looks like I actually did capture it. Then I turn the laser back on as I open my hand. My kitten is completely baffled as to how I can catch the laser light when she can’t. But if I alter the trick and turn the laser off when she puts her paw on the spot of light, and then congratulate her on her victory, this is unacceptable. She will stare at me accusingly, because I clearly cheated. I tried to end the game prematurely, and she wants to keep playing.

Here's a picture of my kitten not playing, because I can't get good ones of her when she is playing.

Here’s a picture of my kitten not playing, because I can’t get good ones of her when she is playing.

As far as she’s concerned, the goal isn’t to actually catch something, anyway. Running around and smashing into furniture is the whole point. Lasers are so much more fun than spiders, because when you catch a spider, it dies and stops running, and when you eat it, it disappears. This ruins the game, and it’s not cool. The other day, she found a frog. I’m not sure how it got into the house, but it did, and my cat found it. She was very pleased for a little while, but the frog wasn’t a fun toy because he kept playing dead. Whenever she started to walk away, he moved and caught her attention again, but when she stared right at him, he held perfectly still. When she lightly batted at him with her paw, politely requesting that he hop away so that she could chase him, he continued to hold still, and if she batted at him a little more forcefully, he actually slid along the floor. It was no better than playing with a fabric toy, so that’s what she did, and the frog got away.

I remember one time hearing about a study that said that people were happier when working towards a goal than they were after achieving a goal. On the one hand, this seems like one of those studies that was completely unnecessary and a waste of funding, because I think most people find that conclusion almost as obvious as my cat does. On the other hand, it’s also a very interesting point. But in the life of a human, I’m not sure if it’s always true. I think it depends upon the nature of the goal. Right now, I’m looking for a job and an apartment, and I find it hard to believe that my life won’t be cooler once I’ve acquired those things. But there are definitely some goals that are more fulfilling to strive for than to accomplish, and anything that exists solely for entertainment purposes falls into that category. If you’re glad or relieved to finish a book or a movie or a game, that probably means you weren’t really having that much fun with it. That’s why it’s so hard to resist watching several episodes of a TV show back-to-back. That’s why it isn’t frustrating to play a computer game where, every time you win, you just start another level that’s more or less exactly the same as the previous one.  That’s why most successful books and movies have sequels, and why those sequels sell even if they aren’t nearly as good as the original.

Glypha IIIBut there’s still some sense of achievement in getting a high score in a favorite game or finishing a long book or a jigsaw puzzle or craft project, no matter how much fun it was. I think most people are goal-oriented, even if the process is what they really enjoy. I think that people need small victories along the way in order to stay interested and motivated, regardless of whether the goal is something important and meaningful, like learning a useful skill, or something fun and comparatively trivial, like a game. This is one difference between the personalities of humans and animals; people like to work towards goals and animals live in the moment and enjoy the game regardless of whether anything cool happens when they win. That’s all for the best, since human beings are the ones who are responsible for running the world and getting stuff done, while animals are either just trying to survive or just trying to enjoy life. (Depending upon whether or not they’re domestic, because domestic animals generally have the survival part taken care of for them) The human way of living is a lot more purposeful, but it’s also a lot less fun.

I’m Basically the Human Version of My Cat

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Our favorite kitten picture of Lysander

Our favorite kitten picture of Lysander

Actually, it’s not all that surprising that I would have more in common with cats than most people do. I was basically adopted at birth by a cat. For the first few years of my childhood, I thought I had three parents: my father, my mother, and my cat. Lysander told me when to wake up in the mornings (although my mother and father tended to disagree with his decisions in that area) and stayed with me when I went to bed to protect me from nightmares. He watched over me when I was sick, worried about me when my mother made me take baths, and was always available for moral support when I was angry with my schoolwork. I think I was about eight years old before I even learned that humans technically run the planet while cats are supposedly just pets. (Unless, of course, they aren’t, in which case they’re strays)

Lysander died of old age nine years and four days ago, and the other two cats that we had when I was little also have been dead for a while.  Now, my family has two cats who are both about eight years old and who both coincidentally look quite a bit like Lysander. It goes without saying that I love them and am very close to them, but I’m close to them in very different ways because they have opposite personalities. Bo is affectionate, energetic, extremely social, and so mischievous that we have to keep an eye on him all the time. That makes him happy; he loves having eyes on him. Bo isn’t exactly a lap cat, but he is the kind of cat who will curl up next to you, follow you around the house, tie himself in knots around your ankles, complain loudly if you leave him alone, rub his face on you, and help himself to your food when your mother isn’t looking. It’s not that he’s misbehaving, it’s just that he expresses his love through obnoxiousness and thievery. Heidegger, on the other hand, prefers to spend most of her time sleeping in places where she hopes that nobody will bother her. She can be sweet and affectionate, too, but when she is, it generally means that her food bowl is approaching emptiness and she’s trying to alert people to that fact.

Heidegger and Bo

Heidegger and Bo

Whenever I’m at my house, Bo and I spend a good deal of our time together, but I don’t necessarily see much of Heidegger. To her, I’m not much better than a stranger, because I only come to her house a few times a year. She remembers me, but she’s usually not entirely comfortable around me until I’ve been there for at least a couple days. Since Bo loves people in general, it’s not relevant whether or not he remembers me. I am one of his people and therefore, I am extremely awesome in his eyes. If it wasn’t for the fact that he likes to run away every now and then, Bo would the ultimate example of the loyalty and love that animals can have for their people. On the other hand, I relate more to Heidegger in many ways because sometimes I see in myself the human versions of many of her personality traits. Basically, I’m like a human version of my Beautiful Princess. Here are some reasons why.

Heidegger1. We both have conflicting desires for privacy and community, which we both resolve by preferring to be near, but not at, the center of attention. Heidegger likes to sit on the stairs or under a piece of furniture so that she is sees and hears everything that happens in the living room, and the sound of human conversation makes her happy. We have to keep doors open for her to go visiting people’s bedrooms when she gets lonely, and we keep the food bowl in the dining room because she likes to eat near us while we’re eating. However, it would not be permissible for anyone to pick her up or to pet her for more than a minute or two. The best way to interact with Heidegger is to sit several feet away and whisper compliments to her in a quiet and calm voice. I think that sounds like a pretty good lifestyle. If I was in a position to completely dictate my interactions with other people, I think I would set them up in much the same way, except with more intellectual conversations and more board games. I definitely agree with Heidegger that it’s often more comfortable to be an observer than to be the life of the party.

2. We both hate being startled, and therefore make a point of being very aware of what’s going on around us.  If we see a movement out of the corner of our eye, we instinctively need to look to see what it is. If we hear a sound, we instinctively turn to see what made it. If we didn’t see anything or hear anything, we instinctively look around us to see what might have happened without us noticing. My sisters tell me that, even when I close my eyes, they can see through my eyelids that my eyeballs are darting around. This amuses them greatly.

Heidegger in her Leave-Me-Alone box, the sanctity of which I defiled by taking a picture

Heidegger in her Leave-Me-Alone box, the sanctity of which I defiled by taking a picture

3. We both need to have some alone time and alone space. For Bo, (and, it would seem, for some people) the idea of solitude for any amount of time at all is completely unappealing, but for people and animals like me and Heidegger, life is overwhelming if you can’t sometimes tell everyone and everything to leave you alone. To this end, Heidegger claims any empty cardboard boxes she can find and uses them as her Leave-Me-Alone boxes. We leave them out for her, and when she goes inside them, she must be left alone. When the Christmas tree is up, she designates it as her Leave-Me-Alone tree, and she must be left alone when she’s under it. Sometimes, if Heidegger is in a bad mood, she demands entire rooms or even the entire downstairs as Leave-Me-Alone territory. When Heidegger wants to be left alone, no one may touch her, look at her, or talk to her, and if they do, she is not to be held responsible for the cat scratches and bites that will suddenly appear on their hands or ankles. Unfortunately, humans can’t insist upon acting according to those same rules. Even if one is fortunate enough to have access to a private place- and I acknowledge that my dorm room does offer me as much privacy as a person can expect to have on a college campus- one still has things to get done and problems to solve. I can sometimes make people leave me alone, but I can never make life leave me alone. I would rather have it the other way around. Still, it is worth noting that, if I had a Leave-Me-Alone box, I would definitely use it.

The Beautiful Princess

4. We both get lonely if people leave us alone too much. Heidegger hates when people are asleep. I actually like when I’m awake and other people are asleep, that’s my Leave-Me-Alone time, but I don’t like the kind of days when I hardly spend any time with other people or when I am not involved in any conversations other than small talk. The sad thing is that, because of my busy schedule and because of the things mentioned in the preceding paragraph, this is fairly normal in my life.

Heidegger taking a nap

Heidegger taking a nap

5. We both wish that life would follow patterns more consistently. In Heidegger’s case, that means that she can’t deal with it when her food bowl gets knocked a centimeter to the side; someone must fix it or she cannot eat. In my case, that means that I must know my schedule ahead of time and I can’t be spontaneous unless I have deliberately put ambiguous plans or multiple choices in my schedule or to-do list.

6. We both like sitting on top of high pieces of furniture, even though neither one of us is as good at getting up there as certain other creatures, such as Bo. Heidegger used to climb the Christmas tree when she was a kitten, but now she satisfies herself with the top bunk of a bunk bed, except when she would rather sleep on the lower bunk or on a sofa. I like to climb on top of my wardrobe. I can’t explain exactly why. It’s just fun to be up there.

7. We both have an urge to spit and run away if someone is annoying us. The difference is that Heidegger can do that because she’s a cat, and I can’t because I’m a person.

She's a beautiful Princess

She’s a beautiful Princess