Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Sit-With Invitation: A Second Video

Below is Part 2 in my ongoing Respecting Your Feline Housemates video series:

I called this video "The Sit-With Invitation" because it is about the situation when one might want to invite a cat to sit with them. (A future video will concern the "Participation Invitation", which is when you-the-human invites a cat to come share in some activity or play a game or whatnot.)

Of course there ought never be any obligation for the cat to sit with you, but cats are generally very polite creatures, and hence may just appreciate some signal from you that you're available at a given moment.

Anyway, Part 2 features Brodie and Nikki (it just randomly worked out that way, but seeing as Part 1 featured Coraline and Shadow, I figure this is a nice balanced way to start out the series).

Brodie and Nikki, as you'll see if you watch the video, have very different styles and preferences.

Nikki generally doesn't mind being approached (and will sometimes, though she doesn't do it in this video, yell at me until I walk over to where she wants me!).

Brodie, on the other hand, very much prefers to be the one doing the approaching. He very much likes sitting with me but he's got a very strong "flight" reaction and will usually run away if someone walks up to him too quickly, stares, points at him, etc.

This isn't due to anything being "wrong" with him -- it's just his temperament. Frankly, part of the reason I wanted to make sure and include a video of him responding to an invitation in this series is because I know how often cats like Brodie get written off as "unfriendly" or "standoffish", when really they're just extremely sensitive to movement, etc.

Oh, and another thing I wanted to mention in the video but forgot to is the concept of "social timing" when interacting with cats. You will notice that I do a fair bit of waiting in these videos. This is in deference to something I've noticed about cats, which is that very often they don't react immediately-in-human-terms to something, but rather seem to "process" for a while before taking action.

And...I've found that it's often beneficial to (as the human half of any human-feline interactive exchange) know how to wait out the cat's "processing interval". I've seen a lot of humans, when a cat doesn't respond immediately, start doing all kinds of other things to try and get a response out of the cat. Of course particular cats vary in how they're inclined to react to this, but a lot of them seem to (again, in my observations) just get annoyed and leave, or appear to ignore the human. odd as this may sound, I am beginning to suspect this may have something to do with differences between the typical human's sense of time and the typical feline's sense of time.

Again, I can't claim to literally see inside their heads, but much of what I've seen them do in various situations suggests to me that cats don't readily distinguish between something that happened a split second ago and something that happened up to, say, five minutes ago.

In other words, it looks to me like felines have a relatively large "now" compared to the typical human's sense of "now". To them, perhaps, it just looks like we're being weird and irrational when we start waving our arms and making googly-eyes at them when they were just about to respond to our first invitationary gesture...which can compel them to figure that maybe they don't actually know WHAT the heck we want, and hence, perhaps we're better off left alone.

I can relate to this in some respects myself, as my own sense of time probably isn't human-typical, but even so I've definitely come to realize lately that cat-human interactions benefit tremendously when the human is willing to wait and sit still and not demand an immediate-in-human-terms response.


  1. Fey and I seem to have a different way of doing this. Basically it involves us mutually being in a particular location. Usually a familiar one. And if I want her to know I am willing to sit with her... say for instance I'm in bed. Which is 99% of the time. I usually lay on my left side, with my right arm draped over a pillow in front of me. In order to invite Fey, I will pull the pillow down a couple feet towards the foot of the bed. Then she will decide whether to sit in that particular space. Sometimes she turns it down and moves her head down in a manner so as to look as if she is peering under the covers. I hold them in the air. She sticks her head in. She may choose to go in and (with much turning around in circles) snuggle up to my belly or behind my knees. Or she may back away and go somewhere else. There are also meanings that apply to the different places she might sit. If she sits near my face, she may want petting and head rubbing, or to sit purring loudly with our cheeks touching. If she is closer to my feet (whether over or under the covers) she wants to snuggle but without petting and will not hesitate to bite if I try. Another thing I can do is pull up the sheet over the window a little, and she may sit on the windowsill staring outside. This is still quite companionable but doesn't involve touching -- just existing near each other.

    I can identify with the longer sense of now. Sometimes it seems to me as if everyone is moving around me at a rapid rate that leaves me no time to react in what feels to me like a very short time But then my temporal lobes are considerably weird n

  2. PhysioCat is very placid and doesn't mind if you pick him up. He just goes totally limp. The funny thing is if you put him down somewhere, he immediately goes somewhere else, but then frequently decides, "OK. It *was* kind of cool there.", and goes back to where he was put down.

  3. Amanda: Your comment reminds me of another concept (related to the invitation concept) -- that is, (as you put it) "mutually being in a particular location". Because in cat terms it has long seemed to me like "sharing space" even if not directly touching or even being within touching distance is a kind of relating. (It is a kind of relating for me, too, which is probably why I could recognize it). Like right now Brodie is napping behind my monitor as I type this. He isn't hiding from me or anyone else, and he doesn't often sleep there when I'm not in the room.

    Also the stuff you're describing re. moving pillows and blankets and body parts into various locations and Fey deciding where she wants to sit, etc....that reminds me as well just of how it seems like it's possible to have very complex communications with cats via object placement/arrangement and general physical/spatial stuff.

  4. CPP: Yeah, I've met some cats who are very placid/mellow. Sometimes I've been worried about them (wondering if maybe they're not confident enough to assert themselves for whatever reason) but there are definitely cats who seem to have that "oh whatever" temperament from birth. None of my cats like to be surprised (neither do I, though!) and I don't think it would even occur to me to go pick them up just for the heck of it, but Nikki and Cora seem to occasionally actually solicit pick-ups. Though in Nikki's case this often seems to be part of a realization that humans make good scaffolding; she likes being up high and will often crawl onto my shoulders and perch there as I walk around!


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