CAT KLEPTOMANIA: THE CASE OF THE MISSING PENS
Zeke, the street cat that I nourished back to health must have thought he was starving all the time. Of course, this has some basis in reality, for he was starving when I found him, or rather, when he found me. But he was ALWAYS hungry. One day I was away from my apartment on business and when I returned I found that Zeke had climbed to the second floor and weaseled his way into hole above a closet door. In the closet, I kept large sacks of cat food. Zeke got in and made himself sick. He ripped the bag open and helped himself. When I got home he was still eating, but he was so full he could barely walk. Giddy, his cat companion, would eat a bit and walk away from the food bowl. Not Zeke. He would eat until the food ran out. Since Zeke was just eating more than he was supposed to eat, he was stealing in a general sort of way, but it was pretty obvious that he did not fit the classic pattern of a kleptomaniac. He was driven by hunger and the fear of running out of food. This was a great factor in Zeke's Cat Kleptomania.
Enter the master kleptomaniac.When Zeke died, I got an all black cat named Raven. Now Raven was a kleptomaniac, through and through. She started out stealing my pencils and pens. She would flip the pen about, playing with it as a drum majorette plays with her baton. Then she would clutch the pen in her mouth, holding it crosswise. Holding the pen in her mouth, she would prance about like a superb athlete doing her victory dance.
Raven had a hiding place for her larceny. She was storing her possessions behind one of my filing cabinets. When I found her lair, I recovered the following: pens and pencils of all colors, a credit card, a TV remote, sets of Mardi Gras beads, a pair of glasses that (fortunately) was old and rarely used, a cork from a wine bottle, a bookmark, a checkbook (!) and a corkscrew. I cleaned out her lair, but left a few items which I no longer needed.
What motivated a cat to steal? First off, Raven probably did not think what she did as stealing. The object was not being used, so it was axiomatic that she could play with it. And play, I think, is the essential word. She expressed the sheer joy of play in her behavior. Essential cat behavior! Now, many of my friends have conjectured that Raven was expressing her attachment to me and that cats seek out the smell of their human. So this behavior was easily explained. If this is the case, then the next example must represent an extreme attachement to Raven's human. Such was the driving forces behind Raven's Cat Kleptomania
Inside the Shoe; Cat Kleptomania Gone Wild
The next phase of Raven's kleptomania took this form. She began putting pens and pencils inside my shoes. Moreover, she would try to crawl into the shoe. I should have caught a picture of her crawling inside a shoe and getting stuck...Here was this shoe with legs running about and doing somersaults.
Raven is a great observer. If I turn on a Fawcett, she watches me and tries to turn it on by herself. One day she will succeed and my water bill will go sky high! She is powerful in her leaps. She can jump straight up and do a 360 before coming down. You cannot sleep around her. She, like Zeke, will wake you one way or another: walking over you, bumping heads, ripping the covers off of you.
Giddy, on the other hand, has never stolen anything in my apartment. She seems to be bored with Raven's antics. What does the behavior of cats mean? What drives them and how does one explain the variations? The drive can be sexual as when Giddy nearly tore down a screen door to rendezvous with a male cat outside. It can be driven by hunger as when Zeke thinking he is starving or that the food will disappear, gorges himself on food. It can be biochemical and olfactory as when Raven is attracted to my smell and will do bizarre things to satisfy a craving...behavior more akin to that brought on by strong catnip. It can be the sheer joy of play as when Raven collected an assortment of items to decorate her lair.
Food and Space: What Drives CAT Kleptomania?
When it comes to food and space, cats will sometimes reach a division of rights that is the envy of human beings. For example, my cat, Giddy, eats first while Raven looks out the window. Giddy controls the food and Raven controls space. The role can be switched or reversed also. Forexample, when Zeke was alive he would eat first.But Giddy controlled space. There were areas that Zeke was not to tread upon and it would have been unthinkable for Zeke to have given up food at any time. Lately, I have seen something phenomenal. I see Giddy and Raven eating together, out of the same bowl. How do cats know what will work? Do they negotiate in cat language? Do they challenge via their behavior and sort out the consequences? Do they wait to see what the other cat wants? Or do they assume dominance over territory or food and note the consequences? Is this what is working behind Cat Kleptomania?
I have a friend whose cat will fetch a ball. Ordinarily, this behavior is associated with dogs, but here we see it manifested in a cat. This same cat has knocked over a vase and gone back to right the vase. These behaviors approach problem solving and cause one to speculate on the intent or reasoning behind the behavior. Are cats aware of their actions in any way similar to human behavior? Some animal psychologists think that the way a cat wags its tail is an indicator of the mood of the cat. Do you think the cat knows this?