If you’re in the area, I hope to see you on Thursday night at the Wisconsin Humane Society for a fund raiser and talk, “Dogs Have Owners, but Cats Have Staff.” I don’t get asked to talk about feline behavior as much as I’d like to, so this is a special treat for me. I find it interesting that although cat lovers love their cats dearly, in general, as a group, they tend to be less likely to read books about their behavior or go to talks about cat behavior. However, I hear that almost 150 people are signed up, so join me and others to celebrate all things feline.
Willie and I were reminded of the importance of reading feline postures and expressions just a few days ago. We were visiting my yoga teacher Scott Anderson, to get some exercises for Willie (more on that later!), and Scott’s 2 cats were in the room. “No problem,” Scott said, they’ll leave the room when Willie comes in.
The cats apparently hadn’t read that particular script. Buddy, an orange tabby laying a few feet from the entrance, went stiff and still as Willie and I walked into the room. Running up the stairs away from Willie was apparently not in his playbook. We walked past him without incident, and focused on the greeting between Willie and Scott, who acted like long lost friends re-uniting after an extended absence. It was the yowl from a second cat that caused all three of us to turn around. And there, like characters out of a movie, stood two cats in full attack mode, bodies like inverted U’s, fur raised, and pupils dilated. They both stared straight at Willie, yowling like animals in a horror movie, and began advancing toward him with their heads down, and their eyes laser focused.
People don’t seem to believe me that one of the most frightening cases I’ve ever had as a behaviorist involved cats. Not Rottweilers or Dogos or “Pit Bulls”, but two little cats who behaved exactly like the two described above, except in that case they were after me. The hair went up on the back of my neck as they stalked toward me with the hair-curling yowls that only cats can produce when they are angry. Very very angry. I picked up my large canvas briefcase and held it between me and the cats as I exited the living room. Rarely have I been so sure that I was in serious danger.
Willie apparently felt the same way. Although Scott got the cats out of the room as quickly as possible and they never got within ten feet of us, the cats literally scared the crap out of Willie. While licking Scott’s face after he returned from removing the cats, Willie’s back began to round in that “Oh-my-god-he’s-about-to-shit” kind of way and I ran him outside and within seconds he spurted diarrhea within a few feet of the door. Poor Willie. We did a series of exercises that helped to relax him and he seemed none the worse for wear that evening.
But what a reminder how important it is to be able to “read” an animal. I have to admit, the aggressive yowl of a cat is hard to mis-interpret. There’s little that can get your attention better than that. But here’s another feline vocalization to get your attention. This video of a cat being brushed is, at the moment, my all time favorite cat video ever. And I’d love to hear your opinion of the emotional state of this cat…
What about you? Ever had a use it’s “yowl” vocalization on you? I’m happy to say that I’ve never heard Sushi come even close. Just like most dogs never go hard in the eye and threaten us with the potential of injury, most cats don’t become as aggressive as the one Willie encountered. Let us know, a few readers asked for more conversations about cats, and I say “Meow” to that. (Sorry.)
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Willie had a set back last week that was tough for all of us. Back on the leash and in the crate all the time, after working his way up to a few hours loose in the house in his hobbles. The good news is that he is better after 3 days of rest. The bad news is that I am still struggling with the opinion of his surgeon and physical therapist that Willie simply will never be a sound dog. The surgery repaired his bicepital tendon, but he has two medial ligaments that were badly damaged, probably years ago in another incident, and he’ll most likely always have trouble with them. I haven’t given up on more treatment, whether it’s Reiki or Laser or, or, or ….. But right now I can’t add anything else to our treatment plan; we spend 2 half days a week going for PT and underwater treadmill work, his PT at home takes a long time each day and if I told you what I was spending on him right now I’d have to kill you.
So we’ll go one day at a time. After all, I have some physical issues that will never be “cured” that I manage, so Willie and I will just do the same thing. Willie got to be off leash in the hobbles last night for 2 hours. Granted I spent all the time on the living room rug cuddling with him to keep him relatively quiet, (it was a sacrifice) but still, one step forward. I was hoping to let him start working sheep by mid November, now it’s by the end of the year. And the first day I can bring out a toy? Oh my, be still my heart. Sushi, on the other hand, has loved Willie being on leash for all these months. Maybe she’s sneaking in when I’m gone and opening his crate door?