Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Figuring out why (when it isn't immediately obvious)
One thing that makes living with cats especially interesting is the way they generally have a reason for everything they do, but not necessarily one that their humans can immediately perceive (if we're even capable of perceiving it).
That said, a lot of what cats do makes sense to me. I can identify with them a fair bit, especially when it comes to things like needing to carefully explore a new area before I can be comfortable there. I also have relatively hyperacute hearing (for a human) and therefore don't tend to find it remotely strange or offputting when a cat runs to hide under the bed in response to a sudden loud noise, etc.
Still, none of this means that it is always or instantly obvious to me why a cat does a particular thing. I am not a Cat Whisperer and I don't tend to trust anyone who claims to be. More often than not, when I have managed to figure something out that seems random or inexplicable at first, it's because I've happened upon a bit of evidence that shifts my brain into considering the situation from a more feline-focused perspective.
Case in point: the other night Shadow seemed to be attacking Cora in a manner that went beyond their usual vigorous play-wrestling. Cora, meanwhile, was slinking around the living room with her tail down and her eyes wide, both of which suggested to me that she was very anxious. And they were both running back and forth across the house to stare out different windows.
I was, needless to say, a bit alarmed and ended up separating them into different rooms at one point in the hopes that this would calm them both down. This is not something I have to do often, as none of the cats here are in the habit of going after their housemates in a manner that seems liable to cause injury, but something about this situation seemed "funny", and not in a humorous way.
Thankfully the siblings did actually eventually settle down, but not until after I'd already had to get out of bed once the same evening to disrupt another bout of epic SCREAMCHASEGRABSNARLing. They were better, if a bit jumpy, the next morning, so I chalked it up to "one of those random cat things" and went about my morning business.
In the course of this, however, I happened to go out the kitchen door to dump some coffee grounds into the compost pile. I looked down at the outside of the door and suddenly everything made sense. There is no mistaking the smell (or appearance, if you know what to look for) of cat spray, and lo and behold, it turned out that some neighborhood interloper had apparently paid a recent visit. More to the point, the bottom exterior of the kitchen door was covered with a fine, stinky, sticky mist of feline urine.
Spraying the HOUSE of another cat, particularly a territorially significant part of the house -- like a door -- is an extremely aggressive act. It's no wonder Shadow was so upset! He must have been able to see the other cat outside despite it being too dark for me to make anything out when I looked, and he sure as heck would have smelled the spray long before I did. In other words, beating up his sister wasn't personal; it was redirected aggression since he couldn't get at the offending neighbor-cat encroaching on his space.
Needless to say, the door got a thorough dousing with enzyme cleaner as soon as I realized what had happened. And I am pleased to report that the household has since returned to baseline, with Cora and Shadow having resumed their normal harmonious (if somewhat competitive) sibling relationship. The enzyme spray should help remove any residual anxiety-promoting pheromones, but you can bet I will be on the lookout for the "invader" and if necessary will set something up to deter him or her (I'm thinking maybe a pan of water in front of the back door).