YOU CAN'T DO THAT WITH A CAT - CAN YOU?
Sitting in my vet's crowded waiting room the other day (I'm sure I must have qualified for my own personal chair - actually I think I must have bought the waiting room this year!) with Sorcha in one travel box (she doesn't agree with sharing, especially with her pip-squeak grandson), Jasper in another and the dog struggling to find a space to lie down, the lady sitting next to me said "I like dogs, but I don't much care for cats - they're too independent and they don't do what you tell them". I immediately got out my soapbox to enlighten her on the finer points of cats who do do what you tell them and who behave very much like dogs.
On the way home I began to think of all the other comments people make about cats that have consistently amazed me since I got my first cat. It's surprising just how many people comment on cats being more independent than dogs and this is the most common reason dog lovers give for not liking cats, because dogs are more dependent on people, they see them as being more loyal. Yes, cats are more independent than dogs, inasmuch as, if a cat is deprived of sufficient food, it will go out and hunt for its own. Remember Desmond Morris saying that man has successfully removed the wolf from the dog, but will never completely remove the wild cat from the domesticated one? Cats are great hunters and nothing will ever change that - it's instinct and irremovable. There is also occasionally, the cat who, unhappy with its home life, will go off and find a home it prefers and that also gives rise to the belief that cats are more independent than dogs - a dog would very rarely ever do that. However, there is little evidence to prove that a dog is more loyal than a cat, it is simply that a cat has a different way of expressing itself. As far as not being able to make cats do what you want - I'm sure most of you agree that you can get your cats to do what you want, not always willingly or immediately, but with firmness, cats can be obedient.
Another common complaint against cats is that they don't answer to their names. That I can most definitely refute - all our cats know their names and all our cats answer to their names, without exception. Years ago, apart from working dogs, i.e. sheepdogs, guard dogs etc, dogs were kept simply as pets, but most cats were looked on as being kept for a purpose - to keep mice out of the home and I think a lot of these particular misconceptions come from that time. Quite often the cat was never called by its name, but always referred to as "puss", especially when being called into the house and the fact that many of these comments are passed to me by older people confirms this to me.
Another question Im regularly asked that surprises me is "Does the dog get on all right with the cats - don't they fight?" Of course our dog gets on with our cats, why shouldn't he? All our animals get on well together - goodness me, our rabbit thinks she is a cat! It really is an old wives tale that dogs and cats fight and anyone who has both knows that. Before we got our own cats, Leo was found guilty (and suitably chastised) of occasionally chasing cats who crossed his path, but when Pasht crossed his path in his own living room, he just looked on him with great interest as a new playmate. Naturally, Pasht did not share the same enthusiasm and retired to the back of the settee for about 5 days! However, they soon became firm friends and Leo regularly had his feet washed when he came in from his last walk of the evening if the grass had been wet. In fact, when Pasht had his freedom, he often used to come on those walks with Leo and I. We've never had a problem introducing a new kitten into our household and the dog, strangely enough, always takes it upon himself to protect the newcomer from his own feline family rather than the reverse. Consequently he very quickly earned the nickname "Nanny Welsh" and it has stuck ever since. He is extremely watchful of the kittens and always separates them if he thinks their play gets too rough. When Pasht and Merlin's play gets too rough, he stands over them growling, unfortunately they tend to resent his interruption and turn their rough play onto him and he often walks away with a cat strung around his neck!
Barry and I had always had dogs and when we bought Pasht, our first cat, we simply decided that we would treat him in the same way as we treated the dog and we've never had any problems. When we take the cats anywhere in the car they are never confined to a travel box and therefore they all travel quite happily in the car.
However, the misconception that surprises me most of all - and this comes from cat owners also - is the surprised look we get when we mention that our cats go on holiday with us. As we have always treated our cats in the same way as we treat our dogs, it never crossed our minds not to take the cats away with us, our dogs had always gone, so why not? We usually rent a cottage somewhere on the west coast of Scotland and the only one who doesn't come with us is the rabbit - there just simply isn't enough room in the car for her hutch! Our cats are all extremely good travellers. Once the car is loaded up (and I mean loaded!) the cats find spaces wherever they can - on the floor, the seats, someone's knee, on bean bags, coats and even on the box of groceries. Once settled they seldom move until the car slows down - they seem to detect a decelerating engine and assume that we must have reached our destination and five heads immediately pop up to have a look, which often causes quite a stir if we happen to be stopping for traffic lights in a village street! Also, before we began breeding and the boys had their freedom they were always allowed out on holiday, without any problems. Everyone I tell this to looks at me with amazement and asks if they didn't get lost and the answer is no! We've never used any of the tricks I remember my mother doing to our cat when I was a child, like putting butter on their paws or feeding them immediately on arrival at a new home. All we ever did was to keep them indoors for the first day or so, to let them get their bearings and from then on they were allowed out. A lot of people think that a cat taken to a strange house will return to its old one and I know some cats do this, but I've always felt that our cats belong to us and not our house and therefore, wherever we are, the cats want to be and in the 4 years of being neuter-only owners, we never had a problem on holiday. In fact our Havana used to go out on picnics with us - we simply pulled up at our picnic site, opened the car door and he and the dog would just jump out, have a look around and sit beside us and he never showed any desire to wander off.
Our holiday this year was spent in the far west coast of Scotland. The humans joining us were Emma Hutton of the Emanan Somalis and our 21 year old son, who decided he fancied a spot of fishing! The animals were our resident 4 adult cats, Snickles, our new Oriental Loudmouth kitten, Vienna, who was in the process of having her leukaemia vaccination, her brother Jasper who hadn't a home to go to (aah!) and Leo, who is a very large German Shepherd Dog - all piled into my Peugeot 405 estate car, which was no mean feat!!! Barry has become very adept at packing cars for holidays - he's had to be! The journey was over 300 miles and we arrived at our cottage at 12:35 in the morning! We took the cats inside, as per our normal routine, left them in the living room while we unloaded the car, allowed them the run of the house to explore while we made the beds and then we all collapsed into them (cats and all) and the kittens, at only 14 weeks, took it all in their stride. So don't be put off taking your cats on holiday - it's no more difficult than taking a dog - in fact, I think it's easier.
I remember the year we went to Dumfriesshire We were staying on a chalet park containing about 40 identical chalets and so I impressed upon the family that Pasht, (at that time our only cat) who was having his second holiday away from home, had to be kept in for at least 2 days, to make sure he got the scent of our chalet, because if he went out, how would be know which chalet was ours to come back to? I soon realised what an insult to his intelligence that was! On the first night I woke up at about 2:00am in terrible pain from a tooth abscess and went downstairs to take a painkiller. By the time I'd put the kettle on I realised that Pasht hadn't materialised - very odd when anyone was in the kitchen! A thorough search of the house revealed that he was missing and the open window in our bedroom revealed how. In a state of major panic I searched and called outside the house, waking everyone in the process, but there was no sign of him. Over an hour later I gave up and went back upstairs to bed, eventually falling asleep. I was woken about an hour later at dawn by the sound of a crow squawking. I rushed over to the window and there he was on the window sill waiting to me to open the window fully to allow him to jump back in. He had been in the house less than 8 hours, had gone out in the dark for at least 4 hours, if not more, obviously travelled far enough away not to hear my voice calling him and found his way back, seemingly without any problem.
So now you know that I share none of these misconceptions. I think "free spirit" is a term that suits cats and sounds much better than "independent". We love our cats and flatter ourselves that, free spirits though they are, they love us. They respond to both Barry and I when we call them or tell them to do something (not quite so enthusiastically, when we tell them not to do something!) . They obviously enjoy their lifestyle, they love going out in the car and, as far as we are concerned, they really enjoy their holidays and never at any time have they given any indication of being unhappy in a strange house.