JANE: We’ve been chatting about moving with cats. Although my cats don’t go outside, I did have a fascinating experience with just how sophisticated animals can be in figuring out who owns what where. It’s a longish story. Are you up to it?
ALAN: Indeed I am. Go for it!
JANE: It started with a phone call.
“Hey, Dad. A wrinkle has come up in our plans to visit you. We’d need to bring two of the cats. Talli has a U.T. infection and he won’t let anyone but me give him his meds. We’d need to bring Arawn as company for him, because Talli’ll panic if he’s alone.”
Dad grumbled a bit, but said, “Bring the damn cats.”
And so we did… The drive from our part of New Mexico to where my dad lived in Colorado took about eight hours. Jim and I usually started after he got off work, then stayed in a motel overnight, rather than arrive after Dad was in bed.
Arawn and Talli had stayed in motels before, and Arawn in particular was thrilled. At home, he’d always been under-cat to Gwydion. That night, while Talli curled up next to us, Arawn sat in the window, surveying all and pronouncing his new realm Good.
ALAN: Oh yes – I know that posture very well indeed.
JANE: The next day, we completed our drive. Dad lived in the mountains, without another house in sight. If Arawn had been thrilled with a motel exterior, he was even more thrilled with evergreen forest, especially with the gigantic wild turkeys, which he clearly thought were dinosaurs.
ALAN: And who’s to say he was wrong?
JANE: I’m certainly not going to argue, those birds are huge. And, oddly, their footprints do look a great deal like some (only slightly smaller) fossilized dinosaur prints that Dad showed us not very far from his home… But I wander off point.
Talli was also interested in this new place, up to the moment when he was going through Dad’s living room. This had a two-story ceiling with a ceiling fan at the peak. Talli decided that the slowly moving fan was Cthulu, and that Cthulu was going to eat him. He fled, but his choice of refuge puzzled us.
ALAN: Where did he go?
JANE: Rather than diving under something, which would make sense, since he was afraid of a monster on high, Talli fled through the house, all the way back to the mudroom that was the first indoor area beyond Dad’s back door. Although there was furniture to hide under, he didn’t go under anything, nor did he try to get out. Instead, he hunkered patiently in the doorway between the kitchen and the mudroom.
Some hours later, my brother (who at that point lived down the road) arrived, bringing with him his large mixed-breed dog, Otis. Now, my cats don’t have any dogs, but we hadn’t figured there would be any problems with Otis since Dad never let him further into the house than the mudroom.
And, additionally, Otis was a very Good Dog, with a cat of his own, so he knew how to behave around cats.
When Otis came in, we all expected Talli to back off or hide. Instead, he marched right up to Otis and touched noses.
We were astonished. They’d met only once before, in New Mexico, but Talli clearly not only remembered Otis, but also, when he’d needed a refuge, he’d gone to the one room that smelled like the territory of someone he knew.
ALAN: That’s amazing. After years of living with cats, I am quite convinced that they always have their own subtle reasons for everything they do
JANE: I agree. All those generalizations about animals – like “cats don’t like change” or “dogs will chase cats” – are as misplaced as similar statements regarding humans, like “men are…” or “women are…”
You were telling me about your cats getting used to their new territory and squabbling with the cats who have already staked their claim.
ALAN: Yes – we’ve heard a lot of hissing and caterwauling in the night, and Robin has found several huge clumps of fur in the garden. It’s the wrong colour to have come from Harpo or Bess, so obviously they’ve been asserting themselves with some degree of success.
JANE: Knowing that my cats were outside fighting other cats would make me very nervous. My cats are indoor only. I don’t know what the statistics are for New Zealand but, here in the U.S., the average lifespan of a domestic cat drops to under half for outdoor cats. In our neighborhood, where coyotes occasionally dip in for a snack, it’s probably lower. I know more than one neighbor who has become a convert to keeping their cats inside.
Domestic cats are actually a great danger to each other, because their bites and scratches have a great chance of becoming abscessed. I’d just as soon not deal with that – or with the diseases they can pick up.
And then there are cars… Nope. My cats are staying in.
ALAN: Domestic cats are the largest predators in New Zealand, apart from motor cars. So as long as the cats stay away from roads, they have nothing at all to fear. All my cats have always been outside cats and, apart from Eccles who was run over by a car when he was five, they have all lived to a ripe old age. I have only once had to cope with abscessed wounds from a cat fight – poor Ginger had to wear an Elizabethan collar for a couple of weeks to stop her licking the wound. She didn’t like that! But it cleared up without any trouble, By and large, the New Zealand environment is very cat friendly.
JANE: Ah… this raises an interesting thought but, since it’s a pretty complicated issue, I want to save it for next week.
I’d still like to avoid it – but only until next week!