Sunday, July 5, 2009

Cat cognition, mouse saved by yoghurt. Happy 4th July!

Those lucky people that are owned by cats often are accused, by those less fortunate, of interpreting the Resident Feline's moods, actions, and predilections, as being like our own human ones. We are told that cats are cats, not humans.

As one who has the company of a Resident Feline, I know I do tend to enthuse at the RF's language skills, patience, gentle disposition towards humans, physical agility, and wholesale enjoyment of games, food, and sleep.

Enshrouded as we are in an envelope of winter grayness, our fire, our food, and our roof become sanctuary to humans, a cat, and..., other smaller animals. The RF has bagged 4 mice and one rat over the last 3 or 4 weeks. I am actually quite impressed, as previous RFs have shown no abilities at all in the hunting of wee furry things.

The tally is as follows:
1) Mouse: DAR (dead after rescue) this one expired after I released it outside.
2) Mouse: DAPP (dead all parts present)
3) Mouse: DEY (dead eaten yuck) The RF ate all but the top of scull with eyes and nose intact.
4) Mouse: L&R (live and rescued)
5) Rat: DAPP Thank the Lord that it wasn't DEY!
6) Mouse: L&R

It is number 6 Mouse: L&R that caused me to reflect about feline cognitive difference, which is a nice way to say, that in some small areas, our RF may be differently abled. In other words, a DARF.

The RF is DARF as follows.

Yesterday the RF alerted me with finely vocalised howls and yowls that would have been the envy of Pavarotti, to the fact that he had caught a mouse, and that he had it bailed up in the hall. All this was communicated efficiently by the aforementioned vocalizations so that I could come and witness the fine prowess of gladiatorial skill by the RF from a ringside seat. Thus I arose from my chair, strode to the hall door, opened said, and gazed as the RF proudly played ping pong (or squash) with an unfortunate soggy ball of Angry Small Mouse.

Whilst demonstrating a particularly difficult backhand with three full rotations that was worth 30 points, the RF stumbled slightly and the ASM made a dive for freedom beneath the closed kitchen door. A gasp from the crowd, consternation from the gladiator. On flinging open the kitchen door, I spied a likely hiding place behind the door for the ASM, and (my need to witness horror and mayhem being more than sated) I made a clumsy attempt to effect a rescue. The RF was faster however, and sprang ahead of me and launched into an enthusiastic series of left and right jabs that had the ASM tumbling and spinning across the floor. With jaw dropping swiftness, I yanked open a cupboard, hauled out an empty plastic yoghurt pot from the top of a collapsing pile, and flung it over the mouse which was literally right in front of the RF's nose.

Silence, stillness, confusion. A look of puzzlement from the RF. A jerking of the head right and left. The RF had no idea where the ASM had gone, and it was there in front of him disguised as a Plastic Yoghurt Pot.

The RF started to pace, then retraced his steps around the room to the former ASM hiding place behind the door. No sign of the ASM. Baffled, the RF investigated the hall as I quietly carried the ASM out of the house in the PYP.

The point of this little account is that cats do have different cognitive abilities to humans after all! The RF had no ability to solve the problem of where the mouse was, even though he witnessed me putting the PYP over it. To the RF, the ASM had to be somewhere else. In this the RF is clearly a DARF.

There are other situations where similar processing differences are shown. Most cats that I have observed have little interest in mirrors. Unlike a budgie, they will not spend all day having a hilarious relationship with their reflection in the mirror. Cats hardly seem to see anything there at all (do let me know if your cats behave differently in that respect).

Interestingly this RF did find my computer monitor fascinating one day when I was watching a little video of Jim Gottuso trimming a foot ring of a pot, the RF thought that the little twitchy bits of clay that spiraled off the pot were a string game. The RF hopped up on my lap and got between me and my monitor, peering at it closely with great excitement. I had to remove the RF in the end, lest his poor brain be fried with gamma rays, or whatever emanates from my CRT type screens.

I have also been curious about games with string. The RF loves playing with string, and I enjoy playing with him, I am interested to note how he seems not to associate my end of the string with what is happening at his. The string, for him, seems to exist mostly at his end. This is helpful in playing the game as, imagine what would happen if the RF decided to attach itself to my hand to stop me twitching the string, rather than just follow the other end!

To the picture at the top of this post...., yes, that is me showing interest in my reflection. On my shoulders is the RF, who has a thing about climbing onto shoulders and..., staying there whilst one walks about the room.

Anyway, Happy 4th July to those of you in America!

To the poor person that wanted some helpful information about wood fired kilns, sorry about the continued delay, I haven't forgotten, and it will be arriving on my site soon.

For those lost in the jungle and in fear of being eaten by a large cat, it may pay to have with you a really large metal trash can. If threatened, simply remove the lid, jump into the can, and replace the lid. My research with a small cat reveals that your actions are very likely to confuse the big cat, and you may well be safe in the can.



Linda Starr said...

Ginger is one cat to keep around. If she were not there you would be overrun with critters it seems. Most cats I have known do not look in the mirror, but dogs on the other hand have sometimes barked at themselves in the mirror. Walking around with Ginger on your shoulders may give you a stiff neck; I know it would me.

Arkansas Patti said...

Wonderfully funny story Peter. I am so impressed that you rescue the unfortunate mice. I don't want mice but have known to do the same. Cats do tend to play with their food.
Will keep the garbage idea can in mind if ever stalked by a "big"one.

Peter said...

Hi Linda,
You are right about the stiff neck, cat on shoulders can be endured for a short time only, but it is funny whilst it lasts! Dogs certainly seem to view the world differently than cats, and many seem to do so with an abandoned and wild enthusiasm (such emotion is normally kept under tighter controls with cats!).

Hi Patti, the truth is that I do feel sorry for the mice, and ... I'm not overly fond at the thought of actually killing one!

The garbage can idea could have commercial spin offs. If it actually provides a safe environment for humans who are at risk of being eaten (as my research proves to be likely), then cans with wheels (rather like suitcases at airports) could be made for those unwilling to carry such things all day. If the can actually proves to be more of an invitation to the preditor than a sanctuary to the one that is perceived as a walking meal, then a range of lables for the cans could be provided that are frank about contents, country of origin, calories, sugars and saturated fats, so that the preditor can chose their meal wisely!

Jewels said...

I have often wondered if it is egotism that leads people to be blind to the similarities we have with other animals. I get rather enthused myself with Brandy’s ability to communicate and am continually touched by her compassionate and loving nature. We are lucky!

Ginger looks as if he is very much aware of his charm. Adorable picture of you two! It reminds me of how peculiarly attracted cats were to my husband. Even the most aloof cat would climb up on his shoulders upon meeting him (usually causing him to wince in pain as their claws dug into his flesh).

Glad to say we don’t have rats here nor have I ever seen one. I took my car in to the dealer for a 100,000 mile maintenance check a couple of weeks ago. The mechanic said my car was still in very good condition but I had a rodent problem. Apparently mice are eating the underside of my car and are on the brink of reaching the electrical wiring. I find it all rather humorous except for the problem of me not being willing to kill the little guys. A friend told me peppermint oil will repel them, so I purchased it and am crossing my fingers that it will work.

Best wishes to you, Laura and Ginger!

Pat - Arkansas said...

Loved your post, Peter. I'm owned by three cats, one of whom (personification) will leap to my rounded shoulders any time I bend over, and has to be coaxed off onto some other surface. My shoulders and back have some interesting cat claw patterns on them; she does know how to hang on. So far, I've escaped having rodents indoors, so I don't know what they would do with one, but they do love to chase moths or other bugs that enter, and they don't really care how many lamps, vases, books, etc., they knock over in their pursuit; the hunt is everything. Keeps life interesting, for all of us.

quiltcat said...

Hilarious and intriguing post, Peter! I was drawn here after Ginger made such an interesting post on Jackie Morris's cats' site. About cats and mirrors: I have/am owned by four cats. All of them noticed themselves in a mirror the first time they walked in front of it, but weren't much interested. Louie, however, uses the mirror to make eye contact with me...he stands next to my feet and looks up into the tall bedroom mirror, knowing that i will look into the mirror and look at him. I think he's a very intelligent cat to have figured it all out!

Peter said...

A big thank you to Jewels, Pat, and quiltcat for your comments. I have just tried 3 times to reply and my efforts seem to just vanish into thin air when I go to send them. For some reason I suddenly don't seem to be able to leave a comment on my own site. This is by way of a further attempt which I will try with another browser. If it gets through, a really warm welcome to quiltcat, and also to Docks Pottery that I see has started to follow this blog. P.

Peter said...

Ah, at last... success with Konqueror, but not with Firefox it would seem!

Hi Jewels,
I think that the idea that humans are different and superior to animals is something that has been part of education and culture for an awfully long time. It is well beyond my knowledge to be able to say if this is a peculiarly “Western” or European way of looking at life, or if it is universal. I am sure that this false notion of human not being animal has permitted much of the environmental damage we see around us and cruelty and harm to other animals.

“Adorable”... well, Ginger knows that he is the most adorable person in the photograph, which is why he has taken his place at the top. I am merely a mobile chair!

Rats...., they can be a real pest in this part of the world. Another introduced mammal to a land that had mostly birds. Rats do compete with birds for food, eat bird eggs and chicks, and are associated with some nasty diseases. Rats do provoke a “RATS....EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” reaction in many people. When I carried out the rat that Ginger had thoughtfully brought in to share for supper, I was struck with just how beautiful it was. The rat had short grey fur that looked tidy, well maintained, and warm. It had the sweetest ears that you could imagine, with crinkly edges, and every part made as fine and as delicate looking as a rose petal. The tail was enormously long for the size of the animal, and I imagine must prove useful in climbing trees and shrubs. Fortunately the rat, though dead, was not badly mauled.

I have heard of rats nesting in cars, but mice.... If we lived closer I am sure that Ginger would love to help sort out your problem as he is becoming something of an expert! Not sure if peppermint oil will help, but it will give the mice nice breath!

Hello Pat,
I think a web page should be started for the Cat Owned to be able to share the “tatoos” that their cats have lavished upon them. A pooling of photos of cat decorated back, shoulders, arms, and legs, might open up new pathways into human/feline understanding. It is possible that there may be a common thread between the “tattoos”, and messages may be revealed. Who knows!

Fortunately, Ginger has not “modified” my drying pottery as yet when moth hunting, it sounds like your cats are heavy footed!

Hello Quiltcat,
thank you so much for your comment, welcome to my site. Ginger was probably naughty hijacking my computer like that and posting a message. It is amazing just how fast he can type using all four paws...... the moment my back is turned, there he is pounding away on the keyboard! Thank you for the information about how your cats treat mirrors. The example of Louie is really fascinating and quite thought provoking. I have wondered at times if cats just see a mirror as an almost flat rectangular object that has surface decoration of some kind, but the mirror is not a threat or source of food, and therefore can be ignored. However... Louie provides a much more intriguing view.

Now..., let's see if I can actually post this comment from Konqueror (I used Linux by-the-way, so some browsers and things have different names).

Best Wishes to you,


Dad said...

Hi Peter, How amazingly hilarious! Why not send it to the ODT?
Thinking of oddities, I'm sure you remember our jointly owned Differently Abled Feline Tabby DAFT],'to wit': Charlie X-ray Uniform [CXU](or should that be abbreviated to 'twit'?). He took 5 months to travel 3-4km home - but then I attribute that to memory loss due to his tail being shortened in a door when he was a kitten. After all, eels are stunned by banging their tails aren't they? Perhaps feline memory is stored in the tail. Would anyone do some research on this I wonder?
Of course you would also remember CXU's brother Sanballat, who took up residence on a farm when we moved. Now he showed exceptional feline attributes. Not only did he did he do his bit to control the local mouse and rat population, but got his entertainment of an evening by watching TV through the window!
Both felines also showed uncanny language skills. Mother told them that we were going to be away for a few feeds, but that 'next door' would feed them. They consulted together then marched round 'next door' and inspected the probable feeding site. This entailed a degree of intrepidness on their part, as prior to this they had been made to feel MUT[Most Unwelcome There]!

Peter said...

Many Thankyous Dad for your amusing contribution. Thanks for the reminder about Sanballat. I had forgotten about the TV watching exploits of Sanballat. I wonder if watching TV through the window without the dubious benefit of sound actually improved his IQ? Possibly cat memory is largely pictorial, so... he may have got all he needed to out of the pictures without having to listen.
As to the possible location of Feline memory, it could well be that the tail is important, but not quite in the way that you postulate... The movements of the tail, the swishings, conductings of unseen orchestras, the coilings, and tappings, could all be part of an elaborate aid to memory that the cat uses in a very sophisticated way. To remove the tip of the tail is to put a dangerous stress on this system, which might explain some of Charlie's other eccentricities!
Best Wishes, P.