herding cats

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Until recently, I lived with a hoarder.

I wish I could say he only collected junk. Unfortunately he also collected living beings, the end result of which being that at worst we had six cats in the house at any given time. It wouldn't have been so bad if he'd helped with their upkeep more than once or twice a year. I am not exaggerating. I'm out of shape and have been for years, my core muscles in particular, so being the only one to take care of those matters could be agonizing (the accepted standard is number of cats plus one for total number of litter boxes, and we often exceeded that... ow, SO much bending over), so I didn't keep up with it worth a damn either.

(I know, I know. "Get back in shape." Some of my symptoms have worried me enough that I haven't wanted to put the stress on my core muscles for fear of causing damage to my back. I really just need to see a physical therapist, and have not gotten around to it. Maybe in the next six months or so?)

It is such a relief to be away from the mess -- and I've loved cats since I was very small. I might someday want a cat again. That won't be for a long time yet. I need the break.

It wasn't all bad, though. I learned more about cats in the dozen-ish years I lived with that crazy man than I'd learned in all my life beforehand.

I don't know if you could accurately claim that the domestic cat is a "pride" animal but I suspect it's rather close. Most of us who get cats will get one, or obtain two who are not related to one another, so we don't usually see that behavior but if you raise a little cat family you see the mom is in charge and the daughters are her little sidekicks and the sons get kicked out to go find another family, which is probably why male cats are so much friendlier -- they want to find an "in" somewhere. Very lion-esque. That's probably a pun. I don't care.

Cats will sniff one another's butts just like dogs do. So yes, when your cat sticks its butt in your face, that's what it wants you to do. Nice, huh?

When I was living with Hoarder, we had two cats who'd been caught at various times peeing on various beds. One worse than the other, but I wouldn't chance it when we all moved in together, so I banished all of them from the bedrooms. I don't know how I got onto it, but eventually I came up with this special call for taking them down to the basement at night to shut them in so that they wouldn't meow at our bedroom doors and keep us awake. It was kind of a singsong thing. I swear to Glob they'd hear it at bedtime and they'd all make a beeline for the basement unless one was feeling contrary and wanted to opt out. I could usually talk them out of it. Not always.

I also figured out that if I said each one's name a bit differently, also in a sing-song way, they'd come running when I called them because they recognized it somehow. I don't know where dog people get this idea that cats don't listen. Mine usually did.

They understood a few words -- it differed from cat to cat. The oldest one understood "goosh," as in canned cat food, for instance. But I got their attention more if I said something in a singsong way than if I spoke in a normal voice.

And then it hit me. Cats probably have a tonal language. Like Mandarin.

They learn. When we only had one cat tree, Younger Boycat would try to nap on it and Older Boycat would climb the tree, knock him off, and then do what I called his "victory dance" where he'd lie on his back on a shelf on the tree and then spin himself around. (I will forever regret not getting good video. It really was quite amazing.) Tux Kitty used to watch him doing this, I guess, because one day she was out of her mind on catnip and she started doing it too. Had never even tried before Older Boycat came to live with us.

Tortie Cat wasn't "my" cat per se but seemed to like me well enough, so that if she saw me fuss at another cat for something, she'd go all Deputy Dawg and chase after them and swat them.

Younger Boycat was obsessed with plants and would sometimes eat them. It didn't help things the several years we had a feral catnip plant in the yard. He learned to be excited any time I came through the front door bearing plant matter. He was quite beside himself when I grew a veggie garden one year and would give him radish leaves to play with. For years afterward he'd talk to me any time I came in the front door, just in case I was hiding something from him.

They are very much creatures of habit. I'd clean up a messy room and they'd creep out from wherever they had been hiding to avoid the vacuum cleaner and then look and sniff around on tenterhooks like I'd laid land mines or something. If one got petted every day at a certain time, they'd expect that petting every day at that time, and if they didn't get it they'd pout. (Nothing as pathetic as a pouting cat.) Younger Boycat used to sleep in my lap any time I sat down anywhere, and then we got new living-room furniture and "my chair" changed and he refused to sit in my lap in that chair anymore. No idea why; sleeping in my lap did not involve touching the chair I was in. Cat logic, I guess.

One time my older boycat threw up on his favorite blanket on his favorite pillow on the sofa, so I had to wash the blanket. It was one of those cheap polyester fleece jobs that is super-soft and lasts forever, and I had a couple others of the same fabric so I laid one of those down til his blanket was done. I figured that even with it being a different color, it was the same fabric so he'd still like it.



He refused to walk on it, refused to lie upon it, refused to even be on the same sofa cushion that his pillow was lying upon. He laid down on the cushion next to it instead and pouted and glared at Tortie Cat when she noticed he wasn't on it and took a nap on it herself.

I discovered the pillow needed washing too. He was really beside himself then, because the pillow I laid there in its place in the meantime wasn't good enough either. I literally have photos of him trying to sleep on the arm of the sofa closest to his usual sleeping spot because he wanted nothing to do with the substitute blanket.

Finally everything was clean and put back together and all was right with the world.

Damnedest thing I ever saw. Same fucking blanket fabric.

I mean, it isn't teaching them to play fetch -- though, if the cat is Siamese or has recent Siamese ancestry, sometimes they will do that too -- but they're fascinating little fuckers. And if they like you, they LIKE you. And will show you they do without leaving slobber all over your face.

One of these days. Not now. Still need that break.

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Last updated: 04 December 2021