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OWNING A CAT: THE CAT AT HOME

For those of you who have never had a cat before, what is it like to
own one, or more than one? Does the experience differ from owning a dog
or another pet? What is unique about a cat? Are there any emotional
problems that might develop between you and your cat? Is there such a
thing as voice and body language in dealing with a cat? Are there mysteries
into which cats can enter, but not you as owner?

We can answer many of these questions. But for those that remain
unanswered, we advise you not to fight against the "will" or determination
of your cat unless it is in matters of safety and training. Let your cat be it-
self. This point holds whether you have a pedigreed or common cat, a long-
hair or short-hair, a male or female.
If you do have a pedigreed (a very small percentage of cats in this
country), there may be temperamental differences between one and an-
* other. Consider cats as part of a large family in whom certain traits overlap,
as they do in people, but then consider the different breeds as you would
different nations or races, where certain characteristics predominate. For
example, the Rex is as slavishly devoted to its master or mistress as any
dog; it is oriented toward people rather than to itself or other cats. The Abyssinian dislikes being enclosed, is very active, and enjoys roaming free.
The Siamese, if unaltered, will be especially demanding sexually, and both
male and female will demand to be mated.
What about the well-known "independence" of the cat? Are cats really
that separated from the human world that they can ignore people? Many
people judge cats from what they know of dogs; even-one knows that dogs
are companionable and wT
ill, with few exceptions, devote themselves to
their owner and family. Cats are not so openly companionable, but they are
affectionate and they do indeed enjoy attention. A cat that is ignored as a
kitten will develop much more slowly and may not develop fully. They do
not, however, ordinarily enjoy the company of other cats and may, in fact,
be quite jealous if attention is paid to another cat in the household.
In another respect, cats differ from one another considerably they
are not stamped uniformly out of a machine. Each cat has its own personal-
ity, so that some enjoy people more than others; some hold back, some
must be enticed with voice or with gestures. They react often as people do,
but there is in cats a core of independence that does create some reserve.
Cats will not always be ready for play, as dogs are, and they are not always
prepared to give of themselves. When they feel like it, they will respond to
you and respond very affectionately, but they do have their own sense of
when and where. Rather than calling them "independent/* I would label
them individualists, and each has to be treated on its own terms. Go along
with your cat, except in matters of health and safety, and do not attempt to
make it into something foreign to its nature.
When mothering, cats are not selfish. They will take care of every
aspect of their kittens* needs, and they will make sure that none of the kit-
tens is lost. If one of the litter is defective, the queen will often lie on it
and thus kill it, somehow sensing that the kitten is not normal and will not
develop normally.
Unlike dogs, cats can make a great variety of sounds. Although it is not
well known, they have a double set of vocal cords. One is called the "supe-
rior," or "false/* and the other is the "inferior," or "true/* With these
cords, the cat can make a sound that is an inaudible (to people) purr; and a
loud noise that sounds to us like a scream or shriek. In between, there is a
krge variety of sounds, from the calling that the female does when in heat
to the purr that is characteristic of a cat we assume is satisfied. Often the
purring of the nursing queen is a homing device a calling
in of the kit-
tens. There may be as many as seventy-five
to a hundred different sounds,
a range that is second only to ours.
Part of the reason we think of cats as independent is connected to their
ability to adapt very easily. Whereas the puppy has to be led along, on themodel of the infant child, the kitten moves into its life with a minimum of
difficulty. It can be litterbox-trained by the time it is weaned and seems to
know exactly what it must do to survive. A kitten that has to fight for its
place in the litter will make the most rapid progress; an orphaned kitten
will be somewhat slower. What this means is that the closer the kitten and
cat come to their natural state fighting
for their rights the more rapidly
they will come along.
Since the cat has such a unique personality,
it has always posed a
challenge for the owner. To live with it and relate to it is a distinct experi-
ence. Voice, gesture, body posture, manner all these come into play
when you try to relate to a cat. And you can take very little for granted.