Tag Archives: cats

Not all dogs

Not all dogs outside are free to just run at a cat. Not all dogs would, on getting to a cat, savage it. But some do. I’ve heard awful stories of cats killed outright by dogs, and cats left with lifelong injuries after dog attacks. I’ve been there for times when loose dogs ran at my cat. It isn’t friendly, it’s frightening.

We’re used to dogs dominating in public spaces. So many people treat dogs chasing cats as normal, natural behaviour that they clearly feel they should make no effort to deal with it. Not so long ago I watched a loose dog in a park hurtle off after a cat and chase it out onto a road. Luckily no one was hurt.

Not all dogs bite people. Most don’t. But the dog that runs at you may be big enough to knock you down if you are small, or your balance isn’t good. You don’t know, as it runs at you, whether it will bite you, or your cat, or if it might gouge your flesh when it jumps up. A large dog scrabbling at your body can tear clothing and draw blood.

Loose dogs in public spaces are normal. Dogs that seem aggressive to people who do not know the dog, are among us. Dogs whose behaviour is problematic for people, and cats who also want to use the space. But the aggressive dog paired with the indifferent owner can and will dominate the space and as a worried person, or a cat, you can run away or try to protect yourself, but what you can’t do is demand that the space be made safer for you.

The gender parallels are pronounced. To be in a public space with a female body is a lot like being a cat. To be gender non-conforming, to stand out in some way, to be unusual, is to be a cat. Not all dogs will go after you, but you can’t always tell by looking. 

I think the majority of people reading this blog would find it easy to understand why dogs need to be kept under careful control. I don’t think anyone would imagine that being a cat somehow makes it ok to be chased, frightened, bitten or maybe killed. But we still talk about female safety in terms of clothing choices, and not going out at night. Having a female body is not so very different from having a cat body – neither body is a justification for violence. Neither body is asking for it, ever.


Witchtober

In previous years I’ve tried my hand at Inktober – an October art event where you aim to do an image a day. There are however issues with the person behind this event, and it’s made me not want to engage. This year I’m doing Witchtober instead and I’ve taken my prompts from Jacqui Lovesey and Saffron Russell –

I’m adding black cats, because they’re cute. I’m not great at drawing, I’m a better colourist, but its fun to play and to do things for the joy of it rather than with a work hat on all the time.

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for more of this sort of thing!


Cats and cars

Poking about on the internet, it looks like on the average day in the UK, 630 cats are hit by cars. As far as I know, cars are the major killers of cats in the UK. For the cat who goes out unsupervised, there’s also the risk of getting injured in fights with other cats, catching diseases from them, getting lost, getting stolen, getting mistreated by humans… a cat out alone is facing a number of risks.

Cats aren’t great for the local wildlife, killing birds, small mammals, amphibians, slow worms… I’ve lived with cats who hunted, and the amount of wildlife a young cat can get through, is troubling. Keeping cats inside at night really helps with this and means you will never face surprise entrails first thing in the morning.

The cat who goes out on a lead, with a person, is a lot safer than the cat who goes out alone. The cat on a lead also has very little scope for killing wildlife. It’s also a lot of fun, and gives you meaningful time with your cat. I don’t know why people assume cats want to be independent – in my experience, cats love attention and often like doing things with their people. If they aren’t bored, they aren’t so motivated to hunt or get in fights.

I routinely encounter people who tell me either their cat would never put up with a lead, or that they tried it once and it didn’t work. Cats are complicated creatures, but mostly it comes down to which one of you is most determined. Cats can be trained, because they can be persuaded that something is in their interests. Given how dangerous cars are for cats, I’m surprised there aren’t more people exploring leads for cats.

Cats of course are only a percentage of the number of creatures killed on roads every day. Cars take a terrible toll on wildlife and domestic creatures alike. The RSPB reckon cats kill 27 million birds a year in the UK, which is appalling, but they also say that there’s no real evidence these deaths contribute to bird population declines.  More over here if you want to dig in – https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/gardening-for-wildlife/animal-deterrents/cats-and-garden-birds/are-cats-causing-bird-declines/

Cars also kill about 30 million birds a year, but these are likely to be healthy, active birds while there’s reason to think cats tend to take birds who weren’t so viable anyway. 

In both cases, these are causes of death that have everything to do with human choices and human behaviour. We could do a lot to reduce cats killing wildlife, and cars killing wildlife.

Speed is a major factor here. It always is when it comes to road accidents. At a slower speed, you stop in a shorter distance. You’ve got more time to notice and avoid hitting someone. At a lower speed you do less damage and the impact is more survivable. Cars kill and injure a lot of humans, too. 

So many drivers routinely treat getting there a bit sooner as more important than the risk of death or injury to themselves or others. I see it a lot as a pedestrian. No doubt sometimes this is because of the pressure people are under, and the dire implications of not being on time – lost jobs, benefit sanctions etc. But none of this is really necessary. So many road deaths and road injuries should be avoidable, if only we had a culture that put care first.


Teaching Cats

In the last six months or so I’ve seen a lot of people talking about the impossibility of teaching or training cats. You certainly can’t train a cat the way you would a dog. However, cats learn all the time, and there’s a lot to be learned from that process.

We often underestimate the impact of our own expectations. If we think a cat can’t learn we won’t try and engage with them in that way. It’s worth watching out for the limitations you may unconsciously impose on cats, yourself and other humans.

Cats learn from their environments. They learn how things work, they pick up a fair few human words. Cats are interested in their own comfort, amusement and wellbeing, and will tend to do the things that please them. They respond to discipline with resentment, a perverse desire to do more of the thing they aren’t supposed to do, or if they get sufficiently unhappy, they leave. Attention can be a reward, and we forget that a lot, in our own interactions and around how we raise children. Attention can reinforce behaviour we don’t want if we’re dealing with a being who is hungry for attention. Those of us with abuse backgrounds can have really problematic relationships with attention, too.

Cats are most likely to learn what you want them to learn if they are happy, and have a vested interest. Mr Anderson has learned to walk on a lead because he likes going out and having adventures, and going out is conditional to being on a lead. Once out, it is in his interests to be cooperative because he has a nicer time if we’re all pottering around together. Cats respond well to positive feedback, verbal praise, affection, treats and so forth. Reinforce the behaviour you want to see by giving the cat more of what they want, and the cat will learn how to milk that for all it’s worth. Everyone wins.

It is easier to coax a cat round to a different behaviour with lures and treats than it is to get them to stop doing something they thought was interesting. This tends to be true for people as well.

Cats are never going to do your bidding. They can however learn to be cooperative members of your household. I think there’s a lot of similarity between raising kittens and children. Yes, you can focus on obedience. Yes, you can frighten them into doing and not doing things. No, they will not be happy, and they will get out and stay away as soon as they can. When teaching is about living cooperatively, cats can and will learn. When what we mean to teach is that we have all the power over them, most creatures won’t find us tolerable.

Teaching is not about making someone do stuff. Put that idea down, and all manner of things become possible.


Cats and Comfort

Cats have always been a tremendous source of comfort to me. My experience of cats flags up many of the things I find problematic in my dealings with people.

Most cats are really uncomplicated. If you treat them with care and affection, they will reward you with care and affection. And sometimes leave mice in your shoes. Cats have never been bothered about my face, or my body shape, or how I dress. They just want to snuggle, or play, or eat my toast. When I have been sad, the cats in my life have generally been inclined to comfort me. They bring their warmth and their purrs. When I have been ill, they have sat with me. When I’ve been unable to sleep, they have kept me company.

Cats just respond one body to another, one living being to another. There’s a beautiful simplicity to it. In that gentle acceptance, I find peace, and I get to feel a bit better about myself. Cats generally find me ok. They find me adequate and tolerable and reasonable. I know many people have similar experiences with dogs, and horses and other creatures.

I wish humans were better at being creatures together. I wish we were more straightforward about needs, and the need for comfort. I wish we cared less about appearance and more about closeness and what we can share. You won’t impress a cat with a fast car – rather the opposite. So long as there is food and shelter, a cat really doesn’t care about your bank balance. It is not that difficult to be a good enough person for a cat to like, or love.

Animals generally aren’t interested in the kind of posturing humans go in for to try and impress other humans. They’re much more accepting of our diversity than we are. They are entirely willing to find us good enough, regardless of age or wrinkles, or how well we conform to human notions of beauty. They aren’t afraid to be excited when they are pleased to see us. They ask for food, and walks and affection and so forth with the confidence of beings who know these are needs that should be met and that asking is fine. And we don’t mind them asking, where we might feel put-upon or otherwise uncomfortable if a person asked us so bluntly for things they needed.

Creatures we live with are quick to forgive us our shortcomings and mistakes. They don’t bear grudges very often. They don’t save up grievances to air at some future date. What they want from us is simple, and they express it as clearly as they can. There’s so much they generously do not care about that we take such issue over when dealing with other humans.

If I was a cat, I would not need to ask for your attention or affection. I could just climb into your lap, and the odds are you would be pleased, in a really uncomplicated way. You would feel warmed and affirmed by my presence, not uneasy, compromised or threatened.  I wouldn’t seem difficult, even if I wanted a lot of affection and attention.  We don’t second guess cats. We don’t worry about their motives, or what they might expect from us.

If only we better knew how to be creatures for each other, how to accept each other and take joy in those small interactions.


Cats and Comfort

I learned this week that seeking comfort from adults isn’t automatic in children. It’s a learned behaviour, and you only do it if you get chance (more here – https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/07/can-an-unloved-child-learn-to-love/612253/ ) It was something I’d suspected because when my son was born, I noticed that he didn’t find touch automatically comforting. It took a little while to build an association between touch and comfort.

I realise that I don’t seek comfort through human touch. I am not actually comforted by people touching or holding me when I am sad. It’s something I’ve tended to go along with when on offer because I don’t want to be weird with people who care about me.

It’s one of those curious coincidences that the article about Romanian orphans turned up in the same week as a kitten. I’ve been without a cat for a few months now. I note with interest that purring has a significant impact on my emotions, and how much distress I feel in my body. Having a cat sit on me, climb over me, even biting my hands, is immensely comforting. I seek comfort from contact with cats, not humans, and I’ve only just realised this about myself! Which frankly feels odd, but is useful.

Bodies are strange things, full of chemical reactions that we have set off by experiences, or we learn, or we come to associate with some stimuli but not others. We can end up learning very odd things. For my next adventure in body chemistry, I want to see if there’s anything other than preposterously long walks that kicks off a response from my reward centres. Hopefully there will be something other than walking until I can barely stand up that gives me those feelings. I’ll see what the kitten thinks…


Lessons from Old Cats

For a while now, I’ve been taking in old cats – one at a time. Old cats are not easily homed – they come with short life expectancies, likelihood of expensive vets bills, and distress. If your old cat has spent its life with one family or human, the loss of them will likely grieve them. An old cat who has been rescued will likely have been through some shit and may have issues. Old cats, much like old dogs are slow to learn new tricks.

There can be no messing about when taking in an old cat. You know they might only have a year or two with you. So you have to be willing to love them as wholeheartedly as you would a young cat who might be with you a decade or more. You have to love from a basis of knowing you will lose them and that the more you love them the more that will hurt. But, they need you, and they need to be cared for and they need it to be ok that they will shortly break your heart.

They teach patience and compassion. They teach it as their minds and bodies fail. They teach it with their incontinence, their deterioration, their fragility and vulnerability. They teach you to think about what your own body might be like as it ages, and they help you face up to that.

Old cats brings lessons in ruthless pragmatism. They are going to die, sooner rather than later. There is nowhere to hide from this. You will have to make decisions about when to go to the vet, and when to let go and have nature take its course. They cannot live forever. They cannot always be fixed. They teach a person how to examine their own selfish urges to hang on, and how to think better about suffering and quality of life.

They teach acceptance, and trust. They bring you their fragile bodies, and their purrs, and their need for care. The ones who have been mistreated may show you their fear and you get to work with that and maybe win them round and perhaps you can teach them that the world isn’t such a terrible place after all. And whatever life has done to this point, a few good years, or even just a few good days, are still well worth having.