Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Short Paper on Cat Psychology of the Aging

Kiki is tiny, black, the strong silent type, and smart. She moved in with me after being lifted out of a trash-bin beginning, 2 years ago. Since then, she has: gained equilibrium, attained a soaking-wet weight of 8 lbs., and learned not to react defensively every time someone pets her. She has gradually come to terms with her own survival (happens regularly now), and branched out into intense analysis of my habits. Since we are pretty much in each other's face on a regular basis, it's important to us both to work it out. I confess she spends more time on it than I do. She has ascertained that I am attached to moving body parts which: dish up food, rub behind velvety little ears, and operate the laser-light penlight which boils her blood. So she studies my moves, my haunts, my reactions. She has learned a lot.

Cats like to watch what their People do, and imitate it. They might think Cats are People, or that People are Cats. Or simply understand that they're dealing with an inferior species, as Mark Twain might suggest. Kiki knows that my computer, yoga mat, pillow, and bathroom are important to me.

Kiki knows that when I sit down at my laptop in the mornings, I am going to be there a while. She has learned to walk on the "off" button. The ritual goes: she turns off computer, I lift her off and make annoyed noises, then put her on my lap while I start up again. She turns into a limp, black-velvet laprug until we're done, or until she needs to go elsewhere. Sometimes the 'elsewhere' is the window next to the computer table, where she is entirely cat-like and checks out the bird population (bird watching is an activity we do particpate in together, but she holds the upper hand).

Another activity she has singled out as Very Important to The Hand That Feeds Her is morning yoga stretches. When I pull out my old blue yoga mat, she's right on it. Lliterally. She sits approximately where my feet land when I am in the stretched-out position of the Sun Salutation. She used to nip at my feet when they shot back to her spot, but has come to realize that this is not procedure. Now, she takes up the position until she gets action, and then moves to the side of the mat, where she performs a set of daily/ hourly/ random cat ablutions. Her form of meditative stretches, I think.

When I go to the bathroom, she follows, no matter what it might rouse her from (bird-watching, naps, food). If I am showering, she loses interest quickly. If I settle myself Martin-Luther-style into reading mode on the john, she walks to the laundry hamper, stretches, scratches it up, hops on top, and checks out the adjoining shower niche for anything to curl her paw around and scat to the floor. If I fail to notice and encourage her, she wanders back out. Unlike some other cats I have known, she doesn't care to jump in the shower stall or drink from the sink faucet in emulation of brushing my teeth (which must really puzzle cats). But she always shows up to check out the action.

And what purpose would it serve to have a kitty who didn't curl up cat-like next to me for the sheer joy of having warm, breathing, proximity to another being? Kiki's preferred place to warm up after midnight is one of my pillows, next to my face. But since she has a penchant for biting when startled, we have worked out that she is only allowed on the comforter, preferably below my waist and a safe distance from nightmare-induced defensive cat attacks. If she wanders off in the night to do cat things she always returns post-dawn to wake me up. Her morning spoonful of fattening, soft kitty-food is dished out in the mornings, and she never lets me forget or slack in this area.

Kiki has a fellow cat now, Ricky. (I know, the names are close in sound, but they both discern the vowel diffs, the long "e" and the short "i"--this might be a good topic for a dissertation on human language discernment in cats). If Kiki doppelgangs/ appeals to my hostile, cynical, reserved side, Ricky is our devil.representative. He's still learning the ropes, like: don't shoot out the side door when it opens at night or youre on your own in the scary neighborhood full of evil night creatures. Like: don't ambush Kiki just because she defends her royal dispensation to occupy the comforter at night. Because I have graduated to Second Cat level, a friend bestowed me with my own Crazy Cat Lady figurine, which I proudly display on the wall. I know that the option remains open for me to be the eccentric old woman on the block with snake gourd vines dangling about the yard, numerous brick laying projects continually surfacing, and a growing population of cats.

Its good to have options as you age.