Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Monday, April 25, 2005

Felis Catus

Ode to Spot
Felis catus is your taxonomic nomenclature,
An endothermic quadruped, carnivorous by nature.
Your visual, olfactory, and auditory senses
Contribute to your hunting skills and natural defenses.
I find myself intrigued by your subvocal oscillations,
A singular development of cat communications
That obviates your basic hedonistic predilection
For a rhythmic stroking of your fur to demonstrate affection.
A tail is quite essential for your acrobatic talents.
You would not be so agile if you lacked its counterbalance.
And when not being utilized to aid in locomotion,
It often serves to illustrate the state of your emotion.
Oh Spot, the complex levels of behavior you display
Connote a fairly well-developed cognitive array,
And though you are not sentient, Spot, and do not comprehend,
I nonetheless consider you a true and valued friend.
- Lt. Cmdr. Data, “Schisms”, Star Trek, the Next Generation

Indeed, the cat is a very intriguing creature, sometimes lovable, sometimes irritating, sometimes confusing, sometimes totally indispensable, sometimes making one tempted to reach for a handy, blunt object.

Then there is Aka.

I’ve spoken of that lovable, red tabby before. He is my in-laws’ baby, apparently outranking even my wife in their hearts. Ever since his mother Mi died last year, he has been the undisputed master of the estate. Although he does his share of leaving mutilated birds and mice on the front doorstep, most of the time he can be seen lounging about on a convenient flat surface, preferably in the sunlight, happily greeting anyone he sees with his readily-identifiable, loud, “MAAAAAAAAOW”. Yes, he is a very vocal cat, and also everyone’s buddy.
As with most felines, even neutered males like himself, Aka knows his territory, and he is quick to defend it from alien cat-forms. At the first site of an intruder, he starts letting out a bloodcurdling yowl that can (and sometimes does) wake up half the neighborhood. Needless to say, unwelcome visitors don’t stay very long.

However, at the same time, it would seem that Aka is a sucker for hard-luck cases. I say this because, strangely enough, he has brought them home from time to time. About six years ago the in-laws came home to find him standing next to the door leading to his food dish, yowling desperately to be let in. That wouldn’t be unusual except for the fact that he was escorting a rather sickly-looking, stray kitten (which dad-in-law named “Gray” and more or less adopted…much to Mi’s chagrin. Gray was friendly, if a bit ugly, but he died mysteriously of either disease or poison a few years ago). A couple of years ago Aka came home carrying a badly-injured kitten by the scruff of its neck, set the poor thing on the back doorstep, and began yowling pathetically. (Unfortunately, even with a broken leg and a torn abdomen, the kitten panicked and bolted into the junk that is strewn all over the estate. Not even Aka could find it…till the smell led dad-in-law to its body weeks later.)

Well, it would appear that our lovable, red furball has done it again.

Last Wednesday, as I was heading for my car to go to work, I spied Aka sneaking through the brush next to the greenhouse, his tail puffed out. I paused, watching the mighty hunter in action as he stopped, settled into position, and readied himself to spring. However, to my surprise, the vicious purr-puma stayed where he was. Then he started meowing gently as his tail slowly thinned out again. He was still there, meowing away, as I got in my BLUE car and left. I never did see what his quarry was. However, when I came home that evening, I apparently heard it. I was greeted by the plaintive keening of a kitten. As I headed across the car port toward the house, the animal itself jumped out and came running. Meanwhile, Aka stood nearby, evaluating the situation with a rather uncertain-sounding MAAAAORH. It was obvious that the Furry Samaritan had struck again but wasn’t so sure he was happy about it.

As it turned out, it was a beautiful and extremely affectionate calico, probably just under a year old. Clean and healthy-looking, she had clearly been brought up in someone’s home. Far from being afraid of the kids, she seemed to prefer their company, chasing after them eagerly whenever they went outside. It didn’t take her long to figure out which of the two houses the kids belonged to, and when we stymied her best efforts to get in, she set up a vigil on our front porch. Mao, by now totally in love with the pretty, little furball, set up a sort of hidey-hole with a bed right under the outdoor shoe cabinet and gave her some food. That pretty much settled it. The calico made herself right at home.

The next morning, as I tried to head off to work, the calico immediately popped out of her hole and greeted me with her cheerful, little cry that always rises in pitch at the end. It’s like she’s constantly asking something…or asking for something. “Mew? Mew?” I took that to mean, “pretty please”, so I put a bit of milk in her dish. She, however, was far more interested in cuddling than eating, so I bent over and gave her head a little scratch.

As soon as my hand made contact, a rather forlorn-sounding “MAAAAAAAOW” sounded from the nearby bushes. Aka was just standing there, peacefully observing the newcomer with rotating ears. I didn’t want my old buddy to feel put out, so I went over and gave him a scratch on the head. That seemed to cheer him up, and afterward he turned and casually strolled away like nothing happened.

After a few days, it was pretty much obvious that we had a new member in our family whether we liked it or not (but most of us definitely seem to like it so far). The amazing thing about it is that the calico is a spitting image of Mi when she first appeared about thirteen years ago. Her coloration, cry, and personality are remarkably similar. Inevitably, my wife wanted to name the new kitten Mi, too. Mao, who treats the kitten as her very own, (which makes sense since it arrived a few days before her birthday,) thought that was a singularly dull idea. Instead, she modified it to “Mint”. (My wife doesn’t really care for mint, and she doesn’t like the name either, but Mao is adamant, so there we are.)

It would also appear that Aka has established some ground rules. He has made it clear that he doesn’t consider Mint a threat and doesn’t really wish her harm, either. In fact, just yesterday I saw him allow her to come up and sniff noses with him without so much as twisting an ear. However, if she comes anywhere near the doorway leading to his food dish, he immediately and resolutely dissuades her from doing so. At the same time, he has been keeping a respectable distance from her food and hidey-hole. In other words, he’s being a fair host. Firm, furry, but fair.

However, he’s not altogether happy about it, and he has been showing that to everyone in no uncertain terms. He usually sits and watches quietly while the kids play with Mint, but if they try to approach him, he immediately shows them his back. If a neutral observer then calls to him, however, he immediately answers, “MAAAAAAAOW” and comes a-running.

Yes, cats are complex creatures with a well-developed cognitive array, indeed.

3 Comments:

  • So, Aka is your cat but your in-law's baby? I had a little trouble following that bit of the story at first. Yes, even my dad, who is allergic to cats, but not as bad as I am, has had to put up with no less than three, but alas, I can never own a cat. So dog it is.

    By Blogger Pa've, at 4:07 AM  

  • Aka is 100% my in-laws' cat, but we live in adjoining houses on the same estate, so he is always right nearby. I guess you could say he lives in our backyard.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 9:56 PM  

  • Aka hates being anthropomorphized. Cool post!

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 12:02 AM  

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