Cat Behavior and How to Tell a Tail Wag From a Purr

I used to think that all cats were very much alike. True, some had long hair, some short. Some purred more than others, some were friendly and some would scratch the devil out of you. A friend of mine taught me that each cat had a definite personality. Actually, my friend thought that each cat had an individual soul and that when they died, the cat-soul went to cat heaven. I wasn't so sure about the latter, but her remarks did cause me to begin observing cats more. And if you are going to study cat behavior, it is a good idea to have a couple cats.

I started with a female cat I named Giddy. With Giddy, I launched my study of cat behavior. She was ferocious until I had her spayed. Before spaying, she would run toward my screen door, scream bloody murder, become airborne and sink her nails into my screen door. After spaying, and for the most part, she stayed to herself. But she let me know what she liked and disliked. For example, she got used to a certain kind of cat litter, and when I substituted the usual litter with a litter that looked like a black powder, Giddy threw all the new litter out onto the floor. This hardly needs interpretation. She was assertive in terms of demanding routines...I fed her on time, let her out at the same time in the afternoon, and played games with her in the morning. She was, however, a bit skiddish. If you reached out to pet her, she would recoil if you moved your hand too close to her head. She would let you pet her on her back and belly, but the head was a no-no. The vet said she thought Giddy had been mistreated and that was why she recoiled from movements toward her head. I did not know her history because she, like Zeke, came to me as a stray.

At night she would walk over my chest and use my chest as a convenient platform for her hind legs so that she could observe the courtyard and guard against intruders. She was a delicate diner. She ate only what she wanted at feeding time and would then walk away. I had been used to dog's woofing down their food in a couple of bites and growling and snapping at you if you got too close to their food. With Giddy, I could pet her while she ate. This was curious to me and my introduction to cat behavior. Giddy soon claimed every square inch of the apartment. She seemed to be more interested in controlling space than in gobbling food.

Enter the Athlete: Giddy Meets Zeke and is Introduced to Novel Cat Behavior.

Zeke adopted me. Every morning, when I got in my car, this straggly skin-and-bone cat that had been sleeping on top of my car would reach down and snag my sweater or jacket. He would follow me in the courtyard, lie before prostate himself before me. So I started feeding him. I took him to the vet and discovered that he had already been neutered. He, like Giddy, got all his shots. We went home and the predictable happened. Giddy and Zeke fought. I placed them in separate rooms. Over a couple of weeks the fights became fewer, but when they did fight Zeke had the advantage in size but Giddy knew the territory. She would defend from the high ground. Zeke would gobble his food as if he were starving and the simple matter is that he probably had been starved. I never knew how he had been neutered and yet running the street. Did he run away from his home? Or was he abandoned by someone who was moving or who decided they would just unload him because he was more trouble than they anticipated?

Zeke demanded I play with him in the morning. He knew I usually arose around 6 a.m. and if I decided to sleep late, I would often find Zeke bumping his head against mine and if that did not work, he would pull the covers off me using his teeth. This fit with Giddy's patterns of cat behavior. About this time I decided it was too dangerous to let them out on my balcony. They could go down to the street and be hit by a car. So I ordered an electric fence. It would mildly shock them if they tried to run past a certain point. They had to wear a collar that would conduct the shock to their neck. Zeke was first to test the equipment. He walked right into the electric field and was knocked back by an invisible force. I did not like the system; I did not want to torture my cats. But Zeke was not giving up. Went back into the apartment and meditated, lying like the sphinx on my bed. He calmly came back on the balcony, took a running start and leapt over the force field. How did he know how high to leap? Somehow he sensed the field and leapt above it. Then Giddy showed her stuff and found a vine that crept along the balcony rail. She used this vine to crawl around the force field. The next day I returned the invisible fence to the company that sold it to me. I got a full refund. Thus, the electric fence experiment turned out to be a phenomenal test of persistent cat behavior. I thought that the experiment showed that cats had a different sense of space than the human and that they manifested intelligence differently from a human being. They had outsmarted some very clever human engineers, the designers of the Electric Fence. Such is the power of cat behavior. That night I gave Giddy and Zeke their favorite cat food and for dessert, their favorite brand of catnip. The electric fence was packed in a box in the living room and Giddy and Zeke used the big box as a platform for leaping onto a ladder that rose to a bookshelf above them. Would they now astonish me with their skills of reading?