Man is said to be a reasoning animal. I do not know why he has not been defined as an affective or feeling animal. Perhaps that which differentiates him from other animals is feeling rather than reason. More often I have seen a cat reason than laugh or weep. Perhaps it weeps or laughs inwardly…. A TRAGIC SENSE OF LIFE, Miguel de Unamuno
When Galata first arrived, from the Costa Brava where she had been surviving as a street cat, in her urine soaked travel case, and for a number of months after, she had no discernable personality. There was only one character component, terror. At that point she had snails in her lungs, crystals in her bladder, worms in her intestines and due to a botched hysterectomy she was in a state of hysterical, exceedingly vocal, nymphomania, 24 hours a day. She was one long howl.
Our vet told me she is four to six years old, in other words a grownup. He also showed me her mouth. All the teeth on one side have been broken, she tends to drool a little on that side, and one or two are broken on the other side. She is small and therefore looks younger to the human eye. The friend who brought her to me said that the boys in town would tempt her with food and then kick her when she came to take it.
She ate in huge inhaling gulps. I was afraid she might choke herself so I stroked her while she gobbled saying, “Easy does it. Slow down.” But she was sure some one, some thing was going to snatch her food away. She now eats more slowly, I still stroke her, but any alien noise or movement causes her to run, although not far.
I realized that, although Galata has spent some time in houses, not, I think, necessarily happy time, she is a feral cat because she does not know how to open a door. Any cat who has grown up in a house knows how to open a door.
An injection rid her lungs of snails, an expensive special diet eradicated the crystals, one pill killed the worms but she had to go in for a second hysterectomy. With each treatment she howled a little bit less frequently. It all took about two months but not only is she now healthy, she is no longer pooping in a corner of the living room, on the bare tile and she does not howl.
Galata comes to bed, if I bring her, but at first she would sleep as far from me as she could get. She liked being on the bed but was terrified. She liked being stroked–she purred–but was terrified. She liked being brushed—she purred—but was terrified. Her single expectation of me seemed to be that I was going to at any moment beat her to death.
As she came out of her most primal terror she would let me stroke or brush her but if I exceeded some undisclosed level of intimacy, or sensual capacity, she would, with lightening speed, lift a paw and rake me across cheek or eyebrow. Watching the motion of her tail was useful as an indicator but no reliably so.
The other thing she has done with her claws is turn the slipcover of the sofa bed into shag rug and the complexion of the living room carpet to a case of small pox.
The vet when I told him about the face clawing prescribed Prozac. I gave her half a tablet every day for a month sandwiched in a slice of butter. Our relationship improved. For a month she didn’t claw me. We reduced the dosage to half a pill every other day for a month. All was fine until the end of the second month when Galata reached up and left a bloody track beside my right eye. Having done that, she spent some time looking at me thoughtfully. It seemed to me she was considering that this was not the right action.
After this incident the vet urged me to give her to the cat park near me. I couldn’t do it. It is now another couple of months and her tolerance for intimacy has increased so that I can lean down and giver her a spine scratch without her disappearing from the room. Indeed, in the morning she will back up to me, tail aloft, for a spine scratch, talking all the while in a contralto voice.
For a while she came to bed on her own but only after I had turned out the light, however, she then curled up against some part of me. She has given that up but cold weather, I hope, will change that behavior.
She regularly joins me for breakfast in front of the TV to watch whatever animals are on Arte and try to steal a slice of fuete.
I was brushing her three weeks ago when suddenly she slapped me bloody on my right eyebrow. Again Galata spent time in thought. A few days later when I brushed her she took my hand in her mouth, didn’t bite, but held it there. I thought we might have arrived at an entent cordial.
A few days ago she slapped me across the face twice in quick succession while I was brushing her but her claws were completely sheathed. So, we have figured out how to behave in that situation to our mutual satisfaction.
Cats, unlike dogs who will give up something they want to please you, are the epitome of self-centeredness and cannot understand why you would give up anything you want for any reason. They remind me of my grandson who at the age of five, when I had told him he could not do something he wanted to do said to me as a complete explanation of the situation, which would cause me to reverse my decision, “But Nana, I WANT to.”
Humans are arrogant and apt to believe only they have feelings or the ability to reason. Cats can reason well beyond what one would imagine and they have excellent, memories. They can also be bigots. I had a female who despised human males. She wasn’t afraid of them; she held them in contempt and didn’t want to be around them. If I wanted to be around them that was my choice but she would absent herself.
My friend V had a Maine Coon cat, these are large, heavily furred cats who frequently have loving personalities. Sutton was not one of those. She didn’t think much of V, rather liked V’s daughter and really disliked H, V’s husband. The bone of contention was Sutton’s favorite chair, which H considered his chair. He would push Sutton off it, not lift her off to a cushion on the sofa, just shove her off.
Sutton’s response was to barf in H’s boots, not in his slippers, not in his shoes, all readily available, but always in his boots where he could not see the vomit, just step into it with a socked foot. Sutton did not do this all the time. She would allow long periods to elapse between barfs so H would forget and not look in his boot.
I knew a man whose cat, when he and his girl friend went away for a weekend, would lay a curl of poop neatly on his pillow to greet him on his return. Never did the cat poop on the girl friend’s pillow. The cat knew who was responsible for the absence and only that person was punished.
I had a cat who was home alone when some men broke into my Brooklyn apartment through the fire escape window. When I came home I couldn’t find her in the apartment but that evening, as I was roasting a chicken for my son and myself and mourning her, she came out from behind the stove.
A year later the superintendent of the building took a tenant down the fire escape to help her get into her apartment, which she had locked herself out of. The cat saw the two figures on the fire escape, leapt off the sofa and slithered behind the stove.
My father used to say that our lives are founded on decisions reach on the basis of inadequate information. The problem reasoning cats have is often limited information. My previous cat, Shimi Moto (Cat Motor in Tibetan) observed that I turned lights on and off in the apartment. On a cloudy day in Barcelona she came to me in the library and complained. I got up from my desk and she took me to the other end of the apartment, to the terrace where she sunbathed, sat on the terrace and complained. There was no sun. If I turned on lights in the apartment why couldn’t I turn on this light, which was at the moment off. She did exactly the same routine with her English babysitters who also figured out that she wanted the big light on.
Galata is what is called in the West a calico. In Japan they are called tabi mi-ke, triple fur, and are considered to have vehement personalities as well as supernatural powers. They frighten away ancestral ghosts, for instance. 99.9% of tabi mi-kes are female. All male tabi mi-kes are born sterile. What, I wonder, is that about?
I enjoy watching her personality appear bit by bit. Even though a mature cat, she chases her tail, although she doesn’t understand what toys are. She is beginning to consider my hand under the sheet as a possibly pounceable, fantasy mouse. I don’t know yet whether she has a sense of humor. Some cats do. Although her personal parameters are changing, she definitely has them and therefore doesn’t hide under the sofa bed any more. She has learned to open doors. She is not secure enough yet to consider me staff but that will inevitably happen.
I am glad to have had a difficult cat with an emerging vehement personality during lock down. I am sure she has wept inwardly in the bad past and I hope she will laugh much in the future. Now she has the serenity in which to reason.