The feline factor

The feline factor

How's life with cats? Very unlike the one you might have with dogs, because you see, cats are not dogs, but are creatures with a (clever) mind of their own.

Sitting by the window sill, on a cosy winter day, lazing in the mellow sunlight and watching the world go by — sounds like a great life, right? Add lots of ‘staring at nothingness’ and plenty of grooming to it. That’s how Mr Garfield’s typical day goes! In the corner of a room, my neighbour’s three-year-old tabby cat watches with disdain, as Pippi walks around our house. If you haven’t already guessed, they just can’t stand each other! Pippi is still waiting for that moment to grab Garfield, who is itching to pounce on Pippi. As soon as I return from Garfield’s house, Pippi shoves his snout all over me to sniff out any of Garfield’s fur that could be lurking in my dress! 

Garfield is fun to play when he wants to, but he has his moods. On some days, he craves for all my attention with incessant meows. On other days, he is aloof and gives a dirty stare if I call him out to play. Worse, in the middle of a play session, he just scratches me real bad and runs away annoyed, as if I intruded on His Majesty’s privacy! If you have a cat, none of this sounds out of the normal. Their antics are fun to watch and that’s exactly why the Internet has millions of cat videos that are viewed over and over again, billions of times! 

Cats have a flavour of royalty and class that you can never miss. In ancient Egypt, cats held a special place among the royalty and were represented as various deities. There are also mummified remains of Garfield’s ancestors. Just last month, in the Nazca village in Peru, researchers found a line-drawing of a lounging cat, etched in a desert, about 2,000 years ago. Fascinating, you say? Well, wait for the intriguing story of how these felines became our preferred pets, next only to our ‘best friend’ dogs.

Unlike dogs, we humans never really ‘domesticated’ cats — they did so themselves. About three years ago, Garfield barged into his current home as a young kitten and made it his own. It’s probably what his ancestors did too. About 8,000 years ago, in the Fertile Crescent, what’s today West Asia, wild cats came in search of mice in areas where humans lived and stuck around. Eventually, our ancestors realised how helpful these cats were in getting rid of the pesky rodents and let them stay. A relationship thus evolved. Most of today’s cats, of course, need not hunt; they are served their favourite food on a platter!

The itch of self-grooming

Did I mention Garfield’s meows, something he wakes up his entire family with, until food falls on his plate? Cats are very vocal; they make an array of sounds — purrs, meows, hisses and more. Have you noticed that some of their sounds are eerily similar to that of a baby’s cry? Well, they indeed are! Apparently, they purr in the same high-pitched tone as that of a baby, grabbing the attention we humans are bound to give, thanks to our instincts. How manipulative, right? I would rather attribute it to their smartness. Poor dogs haven’t progressed much beyond begging!

If you ever journaled what a cat did during the time it’s wide awake, one thing is sure to stand out — grooming — an activity that all felines, including the big cats, enjoy. They have cone-shaped structures on their tongue, using which they nicely iron out the fur with their saliva. It’s a kind of a brush on the tongue. Shiela, Garfield’s mom, often laughs at my struggles with bathing Pippi, for she does not have to take G to the tub. There’s also not much fur on the floor. In my heart, I really envy that! Besides, no daily walks for Garfield. Pippi, on the other hand, starts his morning raga as soon as the day breaks. Never mind his parents’ deep slumber. 

So, how’s life with cats around? It’s a package, says Shiela, of a soft foot-warmer-cum- philosopher-cum-entertainer-cum-stressbuster-cum-...While she went on, I was already bingeing on my daily dose of cute cat videos on the Internet!

Tailspin is your monthly column on everything that’s heartwarming and annoying about pet parenting.

The writer is a science communicator and mom to Pippi, a four-year-old rescued Indie, who is behind her drive to understand dogs better. She tweets at @RamanSpoorthy.