Cats seem to live a whole secret life sometimes, apart from us, full of their own rituals and behaviours. It is something I have taken a long time to realise but they truly are not just eating and shitting machines with fur.
Years ago, I had two rescue kittens. And a new lounge suite. A certain amount of panic set in.
All however was well. My lovely new wine red lounge suite remained intact, with two two month old, then three month old, then four month old, then five month old, then six month old kittens.
Oh how sweet they were. I cried buckets when we finally found them a home. When packing them (and their favourite toys) up, I noticed two toy mice were missing. As mine had been in and out babysitting, I assumed that they had appropriated the mice. When I came home, after a lengthy journey and a rather tear-streaked, snotty farewell, I cleaned up.
I found the mice. Neatly hidden, with several pawsful of biscuits, behind a panel of the sofa. The sofa in question having a very neat slice down the side of it, so neat in fact I didn’t notice until I moved the sofa to hoover underneath it. A little den they had made, just the right size for two kittens (and two toy mice and some food).
Part of me screamed as the other part of me went awwwww … deprived at the start, they were probably stockpiling just in case food ran short again. It was no surprise to see photos a year later of two very shiny-haired large cats, both clearly keen on their noms. And their behaviour was totally understandable but …
Now in her 19th year, with not a single tooth missing and in perfect shape, Felix has, for the past two years, demanded warm water to drink. Not cold, not cool, but about the temperature of a baby’s bottle. I think it started because my downstairs kitchen cold tap died and I one day gave them lukewarm water instead of cold. I used to give my cats filtered water but those days are gone as Felix refuses to drink it. She wants out of the tap, warm water, none of that fancy bottled bullcrap thank you very much.
I thought she might have teeth problems and the warm water was kinder than cold. However, a full check up showed not a thing wrong with her, except for her studied malice for the vet and a demand for exactly the right temperature of her drinks. Woe betide me if I get it wrong so for months now, each water bowl has gone out using the elbow test which, years ago, I used to use for my brother’s and then sister’s bottle feeds (if you can feel the temperature of the water on your skin it is either too hot or too cold).
One of my cats insists of taking a poo in the bathroom, right next to the litter tray. It doesn’t happen every day so I assume they take a crap normally on most days. It is not one of the “outdoor during the day cats” who might have the opportunity to poo elsewhere. I have never caught the cat in question but I suspect Guinevere, for good reason.
Ever since I have had her, she has always had fastidious litter tray habits. Capable of holding it in, she will wait until I get home and clear the tray before using it. When young, she would also tear up bits of newspaper and put the pieces over her poo. I have never seen her do it but have worked it out through process of (haha) elimination.
Guinevere kept up the newspaper habit for years and years, even after I stopped getting free newspapers through the door. I am convinced she had a secret stash of newsprint. Once again, it didn’t happen every time, just on odd occasions and on occasions where I could have sworn there was not a newspaper anywhere in the house. As the stash must have dwindled, so did other paper come into play – kitchen towel and tissues retrieved from the bin.
My inclination to think my carpet-pooer is Guin, is that whoever it is, will insist on covering it up. With a book, with shampoo bottles and when nothing else is available, with the bathroom mat.
But what happened the other night was just weird. I use quite a bit of kitchen towel at home. I also recycle religiously. I put the recycling out but forgot I had an empty cardboard tube from the kitchen roll. As it was late, I popped the tube into a bag with a few other bits of paper and hung it on the inside of the front door.
The next morning, I got up and there was the poo-next-to-the-litter-tray. I looked at it, it looked me and lo and behold, on top of it was an empty kitchen towel tube.
Cutting a long story in half, yes it was the tube which had been in the plastic bag hanging off the front door. You might be able to understand my incredulity when I took everything out of the bag to check …
So a cat had seen me put the kitchen towel tube into the bag, later had a poo and decided that the thing to do would be to come back downstairs, retrieve the tube (which would have involved a delicate journey to the top of the baker’s rack next to my front door, fumbling about, extracting the tube), then carried it upstairs and gently placed it on top of the poo?
No, I didn’t believe it either.
But there it was – the tube was missing from the bag and there was a tube on top of the poo.
A little more freakily is the hair thing. Arthur and Merlin have soft, soft fur, Arthur in particular. He has the softest fur I have ever stroked. So for years, whenever I have combed them (which they need regularly, being long haired cats), I have kept their fur.
Not the shitty bits or the lumps but the pure fur which they shed. I always thought about making something (a scarf?) out of it but have not managed to collect enough. Also, the twin boys’ hold on life has always been a bit tenuous, so their fur is pretty precious.
So here I am, keeping their fur. And here I am with long hair. And here is my partner, with long hair. As you can imagine, hair is huge in my house (I have pretty much given up trying to remove it all), with 8 cats, two of them long-haired and two others with thick white coats that shed everywhere, and mostly two adults, both of them long-haired.
The Stalker and I generally share a hairbrush in the “oh my god it’s past wake-up-and-go-to-work-’o-clock-hours”, neither of which we are good at. And every couple of days, I clean the human hairbrush and put the hair in a bin. Depending on where I am, it goes in the bedroom bin or the kitchen bin.
Twice a week, I hoover (more if circumstances like an overturned litter tray demand it) and once a week I do a complete clean. Imagine my surprise (and slight creepiness) a couple of weeks ago to discover, under the sofa, a bundle of his and my hair. And under my bed, another bundle. And in the spare room – yes, another bundle.
Yes, that is right – whilst I have been collecting cat fur, they have been collecting bundles of human hair. I am kind of hoping they have been playing with it rather than just … being weird but the hair doesn’t look like it has had a cat use it as a substitute mouse. The bundles look just like they did when I put them in the bin … maybe they hold midnight rituals to the moon with human hair … the cats are very attached to the Stalker so perhaps they just bring them out to cuddle when we are not home … either way … :-O.
And then there is the queen cat thing. I am not sure I really buy into the theory that in a multi-cat household, there is always one, usually female, the most powerful, who rules the roost. In my experience, things are a little more fluid than that, with some cats taking the lead in certain situations and relinquishing power in others. An example of this is with Guinevere and Kitty.
Guinevere came into my house when the boys were about 9 months old. I had my heart in my mouth about whether they would accept her but my worries were completely unfounded because they took one look and fell in love. I have written before about the way they taught her, cleaned her, fawned over her … And this never happened again until Kitty arrived. Arthur, who is always attentive, loving and kind towards any animal in my house, outdid himself. Merlin paid her attention too.
Guinvere, who lived upstairs, moved downstairs.
In a very short space of time, I was seeing the same behaviours from all of the cats that they display towards Guin. Kitty then started taking advantage (she is a shockingly single-minded little thing). Arthur was the one who went to chastise her. Whilst she still can be obnoxious as hell, frightening the living daylights out of Oscar, who is four times her size, and not averse to a scrap, she has started to learn the ropes.
She and Guin ignore each other completely.
The only cat willing to take her on is Felix, who is grumpy as hell anyway and even she gives way, albeit grudgingly.
Which brings me to my next thought – are Queen cats born, not made? What was it about Kitty (who was thin, ill and quite frankly, not what I would have thought of as a Queen), that made the others recognise her? I have a remarkably peaceful house for one filled with 8 cats. Guin rules downstairs and Kitty appears to rule upstairs.
Kitty decides if she wants to lie somewhere and she does, no matter who might be lying there first. She decides whether she is going to sleep somewhere, walk somewhere, do something (normally something like chew wires, claw the Stalker’s rucksack, handbags etc). She is completely besotted with the Stalker, often ruining his night’s sleep to snuggle her face into his repeatedly, chew his hair, scratch his stuff, you name it. If we are sitting in the bathroom having a late night ciggie, she bursts in and demands to be cuddled.
Any cats in the bathroom at the time are encouraged to make a quick exit whilst she turns her attentions to my boyfriend. She tolerates me. When he is not there, I am the focus of her attentions. But only upstairs.
Guinevere on the other hand, rarely interacts with anyone. She has a spot on the old sofa and when she wants a cuddle, she asks for it. I do cuddle her outside of this and she enjoys it but she is apparently more interested in ensuring that everyone behaves themselves. She can do this with a look and rarely needs to extends a paw or a hiss.
So not only is she convinced of her superiority downstairs and Kitty of hers upstairs, but the others buy into both totally. Why is that?
Time, love and watchfulness have shown me that over and over again, cats have their own lives. They may live with humans, cuddle with humans, ask for noms and plays and outsides and indoors (sometimes simultaneously) but in truth? In truth, they live their own lives with their own rules, outside of us and it is a world that we can’t hope to understand or inhabit … but just is.