The Old Vet’nary – Cats of Character

The Old Vet’nary – Cats of Character

Which is a silly title because all cats have character in spades but not all of them get a chance to express it.  They say that dogs have owners but cats have staff.  Dogs love to learn tricks to please us and thrive on routine, whereas cats exhibit hauteur, which just means they look down their noses at the world.  I well remember two dogs having a great game with a ball when a cat passed by.  The cat paused, observed, and then went on his way with a look that could only mean contempt for such a childish behaviour.

I knew a cat which exhibited a protective instinct towards a younger cat in the household.  The older cat was out in the garden and the younger was in the house when they received a visit from a Labrador puppy, exuberance personified, and the pup started to play roughly with the kitten.  Suddenly the elder cat came rushing in from the garden and beat up the Labrador as only a cat can.  The same cat embarrassed his owners when they were visiting neighbours.  They were all sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee when this cat strolled in, cleared up the resident cat’s food and then walked upstairs to sleep on the bed.  Their hosts said, “He often does that.  We don’t know where he comes from”.  His owners, to their everlasting shame, said not a word.  Is this starting to give an idea of the character of cats?

Now I know that in Rome there are vast number of feral cats, but I also noticed that in many of the Italian coastal towns there were numbers of well fed well groomed cats lying in the sun, and they knew they owned the place and mere people had to walk around them.  On the other hand I knew a ginger cat who always slept with his owner’s chicken.  During the day he claimed his place in the household, when he wasn’t catching rats or rabbits from dusk to dawn he had his bed (and food) in the henhouse, and woe betide any marauding rat that strayed into his domain.  So you see they are adaptable.

When my daughter visits with her Border Terrier it brings delight to my ginger cat Tigger.  Normally she greets us draped across the hall carpet like Cleopatra welcoming her subjects, but when Twizzle comes in the front door she streaks down to greet her and there is much nose kissing and body rubbing, before they get down to the serious business of mock attacks and all-in wrestling.  Once let out into the garden they hare off with the dog in front and the cat in close pursuit; but what the dog does not realise, in the headlong striving for speed, is that the cat is making strategic short cuts.

Now I can hear the cynics among you saying these cats are just reacting to stimuli as all animals do.  In the same way a cat approaching you with friendly intentions will have his tail erect like a flagpole, or if he is squaring up for a fight his ears will be flattened to his head.  We all know now, at the first sign of danger, his fur will stand on end to make him look bigger to his foe.  So the cynics may be right; we must not read too much into simple reflexes but what about these two examples?

A small dog visited a house where there lived a ginger cat.  As the dog entered the kitchen by the back door she veered around the corner and without hesitation hoovered up all the cat’s food.  She knew her way around.  The cat sat on it’s favourite chair and watched, inscrutably you might say.  But later that evening when everyone was in the lounge and the dog was shut in the kitchen, she was a bit boisterous in company you see, the cat quietly slipped through the serving hatch into the kitchen and beat the daylights out of her as only a cat can.

All vets quietly do a lot of charity work by in taking in stray animals.  In my Plymouth surgery we had a tom cat, called Tom, who became our surgery mascot.  Mind you we soon neutered him.  If you have ever tried to coexist with an entire tom you will know why.  His great delight was to sit in the office during surgery time and watch the hammers of the old fashioned typewriter.  If a dog made a great fuss whilst being treated he would run across the desk top and wait for it to come out of the consulting room.  Then, taking advantage of his superior height on the desk, he would cuff him about the ears as if to say “Don’t make that noise in my place”.  He eventually found a lovely home and lived to a contented old age.  

Ken Watson

The image above is Charlotte’s cat, Sparkie.

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