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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

CAT INTELLIGENCE


Tapo and Caterpillar napping



I stopped by to see Harry, who is living in Jr's house now, and we ran our mouths a couple hours as fast as we could go. I'd just come from several hours with my friend Carole at Stratford, and stopped in to see Harry a bit. It felt good being in Jr's house again. We went in through the big opening in the basement by the water stove and spent some time in the basement cleaning the laser eye on his cd player with a cleaner thing I had that I thought we'd try as first possibility to eliminate in a search for why the cd player is skipping. If it works, it works, if it doesn't, something else is the problem. It worked. He put on the cd of Jr with Green Mountain Boys taped around 1990. It brought Jr back instantly, hearing GMB and Jr's banjo, his tenor singing. We went upstairs and had a couple beers jabbering til our jaws were about run out, like an old dog that's run all night.



A cat he named Maryland took up there a few months ago. At first, we were leaning against the front of the car looking out over landscape with the first beer, sipping like Jr and I did, in no hurry, occasional sip to enjoy the taste. Maryland came walking over and took up about 10 feet from us. Harry noted the cat always runs when anybody comes round. I took it to mean the cat is wary, which in this world a cat needs to be. I left her alone, letting her come to me in her time if she wanted to. She stretched out on the grass and watched us and the landscape listening to our voices talk that strange way humans do. They know we understand each other, but to the cat it is the same as us listening to Chinese. We tend to talk to them in single words or short phrases repeated every day, words they knew the meaning of while they were kittens. They understand quite a lot more of our language than we allow. They don't get complex sentences, but phrases and simple sentences they catch onto when they hear them repeatedly.



I have learned that my cats understand what I'm saying to them when I talk in sentences and explain something. Like the time Tapo was depressed and mad because Caterpillar pounced on her, picked fights with her several times a day. With her on my lap I talked to her and told her when Caterpillar jumps on you, roll over on your back and rip her guts out with the claws on your back feet. She'll leave you alone in a hurry. Within an hour, Caterpillar jumped her. Tapo rolled onto her back and let Caterpillar feel cat claws raking her belly. Caterpillar hopped off of Tapo in one bound like she'd hit an electric fence. After one more time, Caterpillar got it and left Tapo alone.



Caterpillar played the intimidation game after that with her eyes. She'd drill her focus into Tapo's eyes and set Tapo to hissing and growling. A few years later when Caterpillar's intimidation was getting out of hand, like the pouncing before, Tapo came to me depressed and mad. I said, You don't have to be afraid of Caterpillar. You go and pounce on her and start a hissy-fit fight and see what Caterpillar does. She won't fight you back, she'll get out of there as fast as she can git. Next time Caterpillar drilled Tapo's eyes with her threatening stare, I saw she was projecting something mentally to Tapo that Tapo was getting. I imagine it kind of a cat version of a bully picking on a kid saying things like, I'm going to kick a mudhole in your ass and walk it dry, you squirmy little shrimp! Probably not the same words, but the feeling she projects is the same. Tapo pounced on Caterpillar, grabbed hold and started a screaming catfight. Caterpillar struggled furiously until she was able to break free and scram. She was like somebody ejected from a mosh pit. People sent sprawling out of a mosh pit often go back for more. But Caterpillar had enough for the day.



Most of all she was befuddled. This had never happened and it had been going on so long it was natural behavior for Caterpillar. Then one day it didn't work anymore, and she didn't know what to do. For several months after her learning she was afraid of Tapo. When Tapo would be on the footstool and saw Caterpillar coming in the door, she'd give Caterpillar a look that said, One more step and I'll make hamburger outta your face. Caterpillar stood stone still watching Tapo, growling, hissing, and very deliberately turned around, alert in case Tapo attacks when she's not ready, to exit so slowly as not to trigger a cat's automatic response to chase something moving. She'd move so slowly, like Tapo did, like TarBaby did, it wasn't like moving at all.



Caterpillar went back out the door feeling intimidated. And Caterpillar was not used to being intimidated. She did it to them, but they didn't to her, because it was her right as top of the pecking order. Time went by and Caterpillar went way out around Tapo. If she'd walk by within reach, Tapo would swat her when she hurried by. And Caterpillar would act like it was the worst insult she could take, swatted by Tapo. Gradually she became less afraid of Tapo and went back to her status as Top Cat without bothering Tapo anymore. They continue to eyeball each other and act like they're going to do something, but that's just cats being cats. Especially since TarBaby has been gone they are actually civil to one another. Either one of them would have preferred to grow old with TarBaby, but it wasn't to be. These changes came from talking to Tapo in sentences like I'd talk to a person. She couldn't know the words, but I'm suspecting very strongly the words spoken, when the cat knows you well, send pictures telepathically. I imagine it's something like the Chinese language written in pictures. I don't know that there are verbs. We know cats are teleptathic, so I take it that's the only way it could be. It's often they amaze me by their awareness and understanding. Tapo knows I'm writing about her. She's rubbing her neck on the back of my left hand and purring like she's smelling catnip.

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