FULL KITTEN UPDATE: Moving Forward. January 3, 2016

Mr. Captain reminded me that in a week or two, Bumble and Bother have to go to the vet to get fixed. The time is flying! It’s time for a FULL KITTEN UPDATE, everyone!

I like that they still cuddle up to sleep.
I like that they still cuddle up to sleep. (Bumble is the boy and he’s on the left; his sister Bother is on the right. You can tell which one’s Bother because her nose is clean.)

If it wasn’t for photographic evidence, I’d hardly even believe how big these two kittens are getting. Bumble has in particular become a stereotypical teenage boy. I will now make my case for this observation:

Your witness.
Your witness. Jeez, his ears are huge! He’ll be crying himself to sleep tonight on his huge pillow!

* He’s lanky, seems like he’s all ears, tail, and legs, and trips over his own feet sometimes.
* He is weirdly fascinated with strange things.
* He gets embarrassed by his own voice sometimes.
* I’m not the boss of him; he’ll go where he likes.
* He doesn’t notice or care about having goobers in his nose.
* He’s starting to notice girl-cats (which unfortunately means his sister, which is why his neutering won’t be happening a moment too soon).
* We need to have the “deodorant talk.”
* He eats his body weight every hour on the hour and is not exactly selective about what constitutes “food” in his world*. (Pizza crusts stolen out of the trash? Let him at ’em! Sack of potatoes hidden in a closed hamper? Not for long!). He will also do absolutely anything for cheese.
* I have fished him out of the refrigerator twice now this week. I mean he was standing IN the refrigerator: all four feet on the shelf while he sniffed around the cheese drawer.
* He’s figured out how to turn a key to open the liquor cabinet. I’m not kidding. He’s done it twice now while I watched in astonishment.

The last one is what amazed me the most. It reminded me that cats exist in a strange zone between wild and domesticated.

This is what I woke up to this morning. That's their favorite toy.
This is what I woke up to this morning. That’s their favorite toy; they drag it everywhere. (Bumble, on left; Bother on right.)

The Dawn of Domestication.

In 2015, we found out that dogs may have been domesticated much earlier than we’d thought. A 35,000-year-old wolf bone discovered in Siberia is shedding new light on just when dogs diverged from wolves. Before this find, we’d thought that dog domestication happened between 11,000 and 16,000 years ago, but now we’re thinking it happened between 27,000 and 40,000 years ago. Little wonder dogs are so thoroughly incorporated into the human experience!

Bother, totally sacked out.
Bother, totally sacked out and suckling in her sleep. PAWS PAWS PAWS PAWS.

Cats are relative newcomers, by contrast. We initially thought they began the process of domestication 7-8000 years ago, but we keep finding older sites with cats and humans living together (mass hysteria!). Now we’re thinking that their domestication began more like 12,000 years ago. That’s about when humans began exploring agriculture, so it makes sense that we quickly figured out that cats were great at hunting the vermin that liked the grain we were working so hard to grow and safely store. Yes, that sorta throws a huge monkey wrench into Young-Earth Creationist claims, which put the Earth at somewhere between 6,000 years and 10,000 years old–and puts a burden on them to explain why the Bible used by most Young-Earth Creationists doesn’t appear to talk about cats at all when it really should know about them (and one could argue that the Catholic Bible doesn’t either).

When I was Christian I wondered why the Bible never mentions cats. Most likely, the people who recorded the initial myths and stories in the Bible hadn’t brushed up against them quite yet. We know that the supposed “captivity” of Jewish enslavement in Egypt never actually happened, any more than the 40-year wandering of the Exodus did or even could have. So though cats were a very well-known creature around Egypt, the Jews may well not have seen a lot of them at the time the Old Testament got written.

Bother not only didn't mind being Chessie'd out, but Bumble jumped up and sacked out on top of the shirt right after I put it over her.
Bother not only didn’t mind being Chessie’d out, but Bumble jumped up and sacked out on top of the shirt right after I put it over her. What was I going to do, NOT take a picture?

Further, very mobile human populations–like hunter-gatherer groups and shepherds–would have gotten a lot out of having dogs to help them with hunting and defense, but anybody who’s been around cats knows that they’re not thrilled about moving to new locations all the time. They prefer to stake out territory and stay there, and they’re not exactly herd animals. For cats to make permanent friends with humans, they’d need those humans to stay more or less in one place. The Jews were largely nomadic shepherds for a while there, so while they were moving around they probably didn’t attract cats or see the point in keeping them as pets or utility animals. It’s not that they didn’t farm at all or know about it, but one gathers the impression that when the myths were first laid down, they hadn’t quite gotten rolling on that yet.

So I’m not very surprised that though humans generally have appreciated the help of cats for 12,000 years, Jews were not among the people who immediately picked up on the idea.

12,000 years is still way, way past dogs, and as long a time as it sounds, it might not be long enough quite yet to finish their domestication!

They’re Smart; You Just Can’t Prove It On Paper.

Most people are well aware that cats and dogs are very different. One reason we’ve had so much trouble testing their intelligence is that they are solitary predators by nature–so they don’t really care about pleasing humans without a good reason to do so. Though they have a sort of hierarchy of their own when thrown together, humans don’t figure into it much and there’s always a bit of jostling anyway. That makes testing their intelligence and cognition incredibly difficult.

Their individualism poses other problems for researchers. Just as cats don’t generally care about what their owners want them to do, they also don’t generally care what scientists want, either. Once we do persuade them to participate in the test, we discover that they are quite intelligent–just about as smart as dogs, though in different ways–but getting them as far as participation is a crucial first step that many scientists don’t ever complete. And that’s why there’s a hell of a lot more research on how dogs think than on how cats think. The Smithsonian piece concludes,

So far, the research on cat and dog cognition has confirmed what pet owners already know: dogs are attentive and responsive (and needy); cats don’t care what you want, and they don’t want your help.

(Maybe these scientists just need to try bribing their kitties with cheese. I recently taught Bumble and Bother to stand on their hind legs for this ultimate of all treats–and even to hop a short distance up into the air for rewards. Cats are trainable as long as they can be bribed. The older cats, Monster and Lord Snow, never learned to eat anything but kibble and occasional canned food, so they never learned to recognize reward foods. Monster had only just begun to like cheese and peanut butter by the time she died, and Lord Snow has only just figured out, as in today, that rotisserie chicken tastes good.)

For a long time, we thought that only humans and higher-level primates like us could use tools, but we’ve been finding out that tool use isn’t quite as unique as we once thought. We’ve found that not only primates but crows and, weirdly enough, dolphins possess this extremely sophisticated skill.

Cats, too, may also be capable of using simple tools to achieve their goals, but we haven’t tested that idea extensively yet–and probably won’t for a while, for the reasons stated above.

Longkittens. Bumble below, Bother above. Again, check out the noses. I wasn’t kidding.

And They’re Still Weird Too.

Most cat owners are used to their cats being weird and doing weird things. I haven’t met many cat owners who’d say they had basic cats that lacked even a few oddball quirks. Indeed, most housecats seem to have at least a few odd habits and traits. I used to think they were a little neurotic, but now I’ve started thinking that maybe they’re just half-domesticated–moving from the dim wildness of memory into uneasy domestication. I never noticed any of my family’s dogs doing anything as weird as cats manage–dogs are pretty easy to understand overall, and the stuff they do doesn’t tend to be that bizarre. But every cat I’ve ever had has been weird in some way. I’ve found myself thinking that their strange behavior is a reflection of their still-transitioning minds, which goes a long way toward explaining why it’s so hard to understand what they’re thinking and why they do what they do.

I’ve had cats that drank straight from the tap (and waited for me to turn a tap on for them every morning). Another would walk around hacking and coughing till I picked him up and held him over a trash can to barf into. Another collected and incubated Koosh balls. Two of my cats thought it’d be awesome to fling their little bodies at drapes and shower curtains like a movie pirate using a knife to slide down a ship’s sails until they just got too big for their claws to handle their own weight; they’d hook their claws in and slide on down, turning all of the fabric into vertical blinds (which aren’t nearly as effective at keeping water off the floor as one might think). Another had her own cardboard box full of sheets of clean packing paper that she could tear up into hamster bedding. And another still liked to sit on my hip if I laid on my side to read or watch TV–but only then. When I was a kid, I had a cat that loved to walk outside on a harness and leash–and who let me put costumes on her, including pointy princess hats. And these are just cats. I’ve heard about even stranger behavior out of rats and ferrets. They’re not weird the same way dogs can be idiosyncratic; with few exceptions, dogs’ quirks are pretty understandable to me. The further we move away from full domestication, the weirder it seems to me that animals act when made into pets. YMMV–feel free to share weird pet quirks in the comments! (And photos of course! I love them!)

At least it’s generally funny as all get-out when we encounter a pet’s quirks. One of Bumble’s biggest is his love of boxes. I showed y’all one of these sorts of photos a while ago, but it bears repeating because it’s hilarious:

I still can't believe he likes doing this.
I still can’t believe he likes doing this. I find him like this all the time.
This is no longer my chair.
This is no longer my chair.

Yesterday, I threw him an empty box that was only empty on one end. He tried to muscle his way into it, but discovered it was closed on the other side. Curses! He rammed the box all the way into a wall, unsuccessfully pawing at it from the inside to push the other side open, before losing all interest and huffing off with his tail lashing angrily back and forth. I picked it up, opened the other side, and tossed it back on the ground; ten seconds later, he was giddily flinging himself into and through it over and over again.

A while ago I threw him an empty saltines box–they’re smaller than the tomato boxes. He tried to ram himself through it and got his head and shoulders in before realizing it was too small. I wish I’d had my camera handy! But if looks could kill…..

Dere's something wrong with dis box.
There’s something wrong with this box. (Bother on left.)

Bother is still a delicate, sweet little princess with slender, well-manicured little paws. You can tell the difference between her and her brother much more easily as he fast-outgrows her. (He’s finally growing into those huge paws!) She’s still a pillow kitty, and even when she’s completely activated she doesn’t bite or get too rough with the humans’ hands. She promises to be quite the demure little ladycat.

I’m so amazed at how fast they’re growing. The time has just flown past. Even Lord Snow is more or less acclimated to them, though he has begun reacting with less patience when Bumble bounds up to him. He’s a lot happier with Bother, who he’ll allow to sleep right next to him and hang out around him. And all three of them will happily take up positions on my easy chair (which I am seriously never getting back, I suspect).

Ahhh. That’s better.

I’m content. And amazed to think of the serendipity that led to them joining my life. I hope your new year is going well so far, friends, and I hope you enjoyed today’s FULL KITTEN UPDATE! Next time we tackle trickster gods. See you Tuesday!

* Foods Frick & Frack will do anything for: Cheese, crackers (incl. graham crackers), cheese, peanut butter, walnuts (but not pepitas, which they both wrinkled their little noses over), cheese, French fries and tater tots, cheese, any cooked poultry, cheese, any dairy product whatsoever, cheese, dried cranberries, cheese, and roast carrots. This is a partial list only.

Related: This satire site explains why cats were not created by the Christian god at all.

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