Saturday, January 31, 2009

Interrupting human computer behaviour

Dear George,

My human housekeeper, Jilly, is failing in her duties. Her time should be spent caring for the four of us, keeping the wa
ter bowl clean and filled up, renewing the dry food in the kitchen feeding bowl, heating the house to a tolerable level for cats, turning down the beds for us, providing a warm lap at all times and providing emotional support at all times. It's not much to ask. She doesn't have specifically to cook for us. Although we appreciate it when she shares her meals, we don't demand cooked food for every one of the 12 or so meals we like to take through the day and night. However, her care is substandard. She is spending a lot of time staring into a square lighted box, where a series of mouse tracks appear. I think it may be obsessive compulsive disorder or a kind of stereotypy. Any ideas of how to prevent this stereotypic behaviour in humans?
Dear Blaireau,
There are several stereotypies or obsessive disorders in humans. As you say, one of them is the compulsive vigilance associated with the square screen of a computer, across which mouse tracks are seen. I am told that 30 years ago, this kind of behaviour was almost unknown, as computers were not found in the territory that humans share with cats, ie the household home. Such installations, with their ability to turn humans into computer addicts, were only found in the human hunting territory, ie the so called office, and then rarely.
However, for many years, there has been another square screen. This can be black and white or nowadays in a black and white version with some semi-coloured green and red version. (Humans appear to see a wider range of colour than us as they describe this as "coloured" TV.) The screen has a series of very small flickering dots through which we can see vague shapes and the humans appear to see as definite shapes. Humans also watch this obsessively.
The human obsession with TV is relatively easy to live with. First, the screen emits interesting noises such as mouse squeaks, bird song and occasionally (on Animal Cops Houston, my favourite programme where very large women rescue very small kittens and cops turn up armed to the teeth to help subdue animal hoarders) cat noises. There are also snoo
ker games with moving coloured balls, just about clear enough for us cats to follow. I take an intermittent interest in TV programmes, myself, though obviously I am not an obsessive watcher like my human.
However, we can also use TV-watching time for my own interests. Humans have an unfortunate habit of being busy around the house doing displacement activities when they should be cat caring. A human watching TV offers an inviting lap and, even though humans are not as intelligent as cats, they are capable of doing two things at once - stroking us at the same time as watching.
TV watching can be interrupted by jumping on top of the set and looking cute. Angling a tail across the screen, attacking the screen, sitting in front of the screen and mimicking the human compulsive viewing. This activities will often distract the human and make them attentive to us again. I have added a photo of myself on top of the TV to show the sort of thing.
These can also be used to interrupt a human at its computer. Other possibilities involved the keyboard, a device which seems to influence the mouse tracks on the screen. Press this with your paws. Anywhere will do.There will be a satisfying change on the screen. If you simply stand immobile on the keyboard, a series of identical tracks will appear from left to right continuing downwards in ever increasing lines.
Then there is the "mouse". I have not mastered feline use of the computer mouse. Any suggestions for this or other TV games?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Litter trays versus next door's garden

Dear George,
What are your views on litter versus earth outside? My owner is trying to do away with the litter tray. I don't know whether to object or indeed how to object. There's a gardener just down the road who dug his vegetable patch last autumn (it's frosted and hard now) and there's a field with some corn growing in it. I could settle for those. But sometimes I think it's easier, and it's warmer, if I just use the indoor litter tray. What are your views?

Dear Fred
I am in favour of both. In the summer evenings I enjoy strolling down to the vegetable patch to see what Celia has been doing for me. When she's about to sew some seeds, there is often a nice fine tilth. Just what I need and with a pleasant earthy odour - until I use it. Next door's flower bed is quite inviting at times too. Mind you, sometimes the gardener objects. I have known gardeners that threw plant pots in unjustified aggression.
As for indoor litter, well indoor cats have to use it. The problem is sometimes the type of litter. Most of us cats like fine grained litter rather like sand. Clumps are useful for humans. They encourage them to clean up each time we go. It's expensive, of course, but what kind of human saves money on her cats? Besides, my personal view is that the more expensive easy-to-clump litter is cheaper in the long run.
Have your trained your human to clean up the litter tray often enough? She should clean in morning and evening - in the way that an old fashioned parlourmaid used to light fires in the bedrooms morning and evenings. This is the minimum. Personally I have trained Celia to clean more often if she is at home. I have convinced her that the only way to reduce the smell is to clean it as soon as I use it. If it gets too dirty (in my opinion) I wait till she cleans it, then I use it. It makes the point nicely.
Deodorants? I don't go there. They smell fine for humans but horrible to cats. Sometimes they even smell as if there has been an intruding tom in the house.Deodorising plug-ins or air fresheners? Even worse. We cats have sensitive noses. Human noses are barely functional so these artificial scents to use are the equivalent of how loud rock music day and night would be to them. None of us felines like them and some cats show their hatred of them by spraying them.
So, to sum up, litter trays should have fine grained expensive litter, cleaned twice a day, without deodorant sprays. The litter tray should be in a secluded area. Who wants to have to go to the toilet with everybody watching? Humans don't. Why do they sometimes think we will?
Finally, there should be generous amounts of litter. I like to DIG. It is part of the pleasure of relieving oneself. I get in, sniff a bit, dig a bit, then choose my area for the real digging and do it. Afterwards, I turn round, inspect what I have done (rather like Germans do with those specially designed human lavatories), and then dig to cover it up. I then jump out of the litter tray and rush upstairs or behind the sofa. Why? Because I feel like it. That's why. It's the litter skitter.
So, Fred, train your human to keep the litter tray down in the house. You will appreciate it in cold nights and it will be a godsend when you are ill. Lay down proper feline rules for type of litter, amount, type of tray, location and cleaning.
The ultimate sanction is simple. If you don't like it. Do it someplace else. The bed would be a good place to make sure she notices.
PS. Secretary away for this coming week. Back to college.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Why do humans allow snow?

Dear George,
I resent the way my humans fail to adjust the weather the way I like it. Outside at the moment there is a lot of very very cold wet fluffy stuff called snow. While kittens may enjoy this sort of thing, it is not suitable for a relatively old gentleman (nearly 14 years) like myself. I don't enjoy it. It clogs up the hair on my feet and, as you can see from the picture, I come in as soon as I can. I take this as a personal insult from my human.

Dear William,
I share your exasperation at the thoughtlessness of humans. Of course they should do something about the weather. After all that banging on about being top of the evolutionary tree. If they want to keep cats, they must make sure they supply suitable conditions. It's not good enough to pretend they are powerless. I assume you have mastered the art of the reproachful glance upwards, as you look out on the cold landscape of the garden. Make your human feel guilty as hell about it.
Snow has possibilities, however, in the game of teasing humans. The best tease of all, is to refuse to use the cat flap. Look helpless and reproachful. Give the impression that it has iced up. Then hang about waiting for them to open the door. Once they do this, position yourself halfway in and halfway out, so they can't close it. Now sit and contemplate the snow from a position of relative warmth while a cold gale roars through the house.
Next, if they are so unkind as to boot you out, go straight to the bird table. (I assume your animal loving humans have one). Take up position there and ambush any incoming finches, robins, and blackbirds. Your humans will open the door and call you in PDQ. There's no need to catch one. Just the threat of slaughtering the poor little birdies will upset them nicely.
Finally, collect as much snow as you can on your feet. Get positively clogged with it. Then walk carefully in and, at an appropriate time and place, shake each paw to scatter the icey snow. If you are lucky you can do this somewhere your humans will really notice it. If they are still in bed on an ice-cold morning run upstairs and shake your paws on their face.
That'll larn them. They won't try to make you go out in the snow again.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

What will 2009 bring for cats?

Dear George,
It's 2009 and here I am sitting in the Cats Protection main rescue centre - The National Cat Centre, in Kent. For me it's a gloomy outlook. I've lost my home and I don't know when I am going to find a new one. I feel disorientated and stressed out. What will the New Year bring? How am I going to cope?

Dear Pumpkin,
Don't despair. At least you are in the warm and you are getting two meals a day and, best of all, if you are patient you WILL find a new home. Here in the UK we have lots of no-kill shelters that do not put down healthy cats. In the US, where the animal rescue movement is a little behind us, many many cats are just euthanised for lack of a home.
It's much worse for those cats trying to survive on the streets. Or those ones sheltering under the hedges, shivering, who have lost their way in the countryside. Or the cats in towns, who are sheltering in basements, some of them injured from road traffic accidents. Without food. Without warmth. Without human help.
You are a tabby tortoishell and you look beautiful so you will be picked quite early. It's worse for the black cats and the black and white ones that don't look so good. They will have to stay longer. I heard a horrible story about an animal shelter in Ohio where people hand in black cats are Halloween, because they think they will be safer there than on the streets (where they might be used for black magic sacrifices and torture). But 9 out of 10 of these black cats are just euthanised.
Where was I? Well luckily the animal movement bother in the UK and in the USA is working hard on trying to improve the way they find homes. Most of all, they need more animal adopters. The quicker there is a turn-round from unwanted pet to new home, the more animals can be helped. But of course, if they just hand out animals any how, the adoptions may fail. It's quite a dilemma getting it right.
So what do I wish for in 2009? I wish for more people willing to adopt the less attractive cats. Please adopt the ugly ones, the black or black and white moggies, the old, the disabled and the frankly bad tempered. They need help most. Every cat that is given a home from a rescue centre, leaves a pen for a new one. So by adopting a cat, a human is helping two, not one, cats.
Also money helps. With the financial heltdown, all rescues need cash. Cats Protection lost several million pound in the Icelandic Banks disaster. If you can help visit or take a look at my kittenhood home at If you are very, very lucky, your human could adopt a sleek, shining, and intelligent black cat like me.

Help for cats whose humans show behaviour problems.

This blog is devoted to the study of human behaviour. We cats, who live with this sometimes unpredictable and always feeble minded species, can benefit from seeing their behaviour in its proper scientific context. The study of feline dilemmas, training problems, and difficulties with humans, can only benefit all of us. All of us train our humans - to buy the right food, for instance, but many of us do not have knowledge of how to improve our training methods. The human species is obviously not as intelligent as the cat, but nevertheless can learn quite a lot - if properly managed. Topics of interest include the use of claw and order, purring as a human reward, rubbing your human up the right way, when to bite, spraying as a method of making our wishes known, ignoring the human, human harassment, human inattention and sheer human stupidity. I welcome your questions. Photos can be sent via my secretary's website, This blog has been chosen as one of the top 50 feline blogs by Online