Tuesday, 21 March 2017

A Digression on Cats












From the Pilot of 1965 comes this rather nice piece by G.R. Balleine. When he was not writing history, he was editor of The Pilot, and in that capacity, he penned both religious pieces, and other odds and ends that seem to have been written as much for his own pleasure and that of the reader than anything else. Here is a piece which has only a marginal connection to Christianity, but it is very interesting.

One thing to note. Cats are not quite as colour blind as he suggests, and don't see the world in shades of grey. Both cats and dogs are partially colorblind. Specifically, due to lack of L-cones they have trouble with differentiating between red, orange, and chartreuse shades, though they can do things like distinguish red and blue and distinguish between the various shades of blue and the like.

However the notion that they were just seeing the world in shades of grey had scientific backing and Balleine, widely read as he was, would have been aware of that. An experiment 1915 at the University of Colorado seemed to demontstrate they they could not see colours, but a retest in the 1960s showed that they could see colour (and were only partially colourblind), but also that colour was not terribly significant for them: colour simply does not really factor into the daily life of a cat

Know Your Pussy
by G.R. Balleine


Who would live in a cat less home? The old ideal of a cosy home was at cat and a fiddle, though today I suppose for the fiddle we would substitute the television.

But there is no real substitute for a cat. Among civilised men cats have always been treated as one of the family, though curiously enough tame cats are never found among savages. But from Ancient Egypt four thousand years ago, where, when the cat died, the whole household shaved off their eyebrow s as a sign of mourning, and the little body was mummified and preserved in a Temple, to modern France, where every door has its chattier, a little opening through which the cat can pass in and out at will, Puss is a personal friend: though we do not all go as far as the person who advertised in a recent paper: "Wanted by a lady for adequate remuneration – a few well-behaved and respectable dressed children to amuse a cat two or three hours it day"

But, though you have kept a cat for years, there are probably things you do not know about it. How many toes has it? Count- and you will find five on the front paws but only four on the back. What colour are its eyelashes? It has not got any. When does a kitten officially become a cat? When it sheds its first teeth, usually when eight months old. How long should your cat live'? Its normal life is from twelve to eighteen years, though some live to be twenty-four. Do you know that tortoise-shells are never males, and orange cats hardly ever females, and white cats generally y deaf? Why does Puss claw the furniture? Because its claws are drawn inside its paws, and, unless it exercises them regularly by thrusting them out against resistance, it becomes lame.

Why does it cat turn round and round before it lies down? Because in its wild state it is a jungle beast- and has to smooth the long grass into a bed, before it can he comfortable, and it has never lost this habit. Why does it cat put up its tail and arch its hack and spit when it is frightened? Because in the jungle every beast is terrified of a serpent and so the cat pretends to be one, and often saves its life.

Why is it almost impossible to teach a cat tricks? Dogs are easily taught to beg, to sham dead, to fetch and carry. But you hardly ever find a performing cat. Again the answer comes from the jungle days. The dog belongs to a stock that has always lived in packs, and obeyed the orders of its leader. By nature it is accustomed to do as it is told: But the wild cat lives by itself, thinks for itself, chooses its own course, and in its absolute independence is more like Man than any other animal. If you want to he friends with a cat you must respect its independence. You can strike a dog and it will fawn at your feet: but it cat never forgets a blow.

Do you know that cats are colour-blind? All colours to them are different shades of grey. But they are very musical. High shrill notes make them nervous: but they adore rich, deep tones, such as those of the cello: and they love a stirring march with a strong bass.

Indeed, almost the only trick that it is easy to teach them is to come for milk, when a certain note is struck on the piano, and to ignore all others.

In many ways a cat's intelligence is very mysterious. It has a strong sense of the difference between right and wrong. If it commits an offence its uneasy conscience gives it away, before its crime is discovered. It has an extra-ordinary sense of time. There are well authenticated cases of cats which, winter and summer (so they cannot depend on the light) never failed to return at ten. And everyone has heard of their amazing sense of direction, how they can be carried a hundred miles in a closed basket to a new house, and yet find their way back to their old home across utterly unknown country.

Do you know that a cat's stomach can only consume half-a-pint of food? So she is a dainty and delicate feeder. Never tempt her to eat more than she needs. More cats die of overfeeding than of starvation. Cats are by nature meat-eaters. So give them all the meat you can. And they simple adore asparagus. Two things are absolutely essential to their health: plenty of clean fresh water and plenty of grass. The latter is nature’s way of enabling them to get rid of the fur that they swallow when they wash.

There is only one thing more essential, and that is lots of love. No cat can keep health without it. It looks to its owner for love and pines when this is lacking. In one of the Apocryphal Gospels the Gospel of the Holy Twelve, we read this story: "As Jesus entered a certain village, he saw a young cat that had none to care for her; and she was hungry and cried. And he took her up and she lay in His Bosom. And, when he came into the village, he set food and drink before her. And some said. This Man careth for all animals. Are they his brothers and sisters?' And he answered 'Yea, and they are your brother and sisters too. Whosoever careth for the least of these doeth it unto me." This Gospel is a late one, and is not thought to have much authority; but this particular story sounds very much like Jesus.





1 comment:

Gillian Gracia said...

Loved this posting Tony. Nothing as fascinating as the psychology of a cat!