“The Good Old Days” – Just What Does That Mean to a Cat?
Much as I love my life, I sometimes yearn for the elusive and I start to think of “the good old days” when life seemed simpler and less stressful, which got me thinking about my cats and their perception of life. Do cats only live in the present moment, or do they wistfully dream of days gone by while they are napping, or do they think of future events outside the boundaries of when they will be fed next?
It would seem, as long as a cat continues to be loved, fed, and taken care of, that they don’t care about the issues that stress a human out such as the economy or world affairs. They clearly react off of the vibes and emotions we as humans project as a result of these conditions, but they certainly don’t wake up wishing for the days when the housing market was stable and unemployment was low.
But do they have a memory outside of circumstances that trigger a reaction in them? Our eight year old cat Harley came from a rescue. Does she remember her days as a kitten living in a house with other rescue cats or has that time long since been erased from her mind? Kizmet also came from a rescue and he is still a baby so the memory of his past is not that long ago. But he is so well-adjusted that I don’t think he remembers his past at all. He currently lives for the moment and he considers Zoey his Mama and it feels like he has been a part of our household all along.
Clearly they do have the intellect to connect the present with the past when they are presented with certain stimuli that they remember. For example, if you bring out the cat carrier, you know that your cat is going to high-tail it and vanish out of sight so that you can’t catch him. People also cause different reactions in cats, leading me to believe they do remember more than we would think. Using Harley as an example again, when my youngest son, Joe, used to live at home, she was so attached to him that she would cry pitifully if he left his bedroom for even a split second.
When he moved out several years ago, she went through a mourning period for him. Granted, she recovered and is happy and healthy, but when Joe came to visit for Christmas, you could sense that she was overjoyed to see her old buddy and stayed by his side the whole time. So, they do seem to connect the past to the present, but what about the future? Do they think ahead to something that has not yet happened?
I think in a simple sense, the answer is yes, especially in terms of positive reinforcement. The cats know that on weekend mornings there might be a possibility they will being going outside for an adventure. They wake up and wait by the door for us to come just in case that momentous occasion will happen. They also wait by the door for me on weekdays and have great faith that at some future point at approximately 5:45pm, I will come through the door to feed them.
But that also applies to knowing the future might bring something negative as well. I think many of us can relate to a cat reacting in a troublesome way when a suitcase comes out. They connect the suitcase to a time in the past to a point in the future and seem to understand that it means one or more of their beloved humans will not be in the house. A cat can become sullen and depressed at the sight of a suitcase and when Dan or I actually do travel, they act differently while we are gone and you can tell that they miss us and want us back so that their routine can get back on track.
Another reason I think they can long for something is because sometimes they actually try to make events happen of their own volition. Peanut happens to love playing with DaBird and understands that in order for the toy to function, it requires human assistance. She will actually bring the toy to Dan or I to let us know she wants to play because she longs for the stimulation and exercise DaBird brings to her. I find her behavior to be quite fascinating, but Zee is the champion of believing he can shape the future and an incredible study in complex feline behavior.
By using his collection of stuffed toys as his talisman, he will offer them throughout the house as homage to making things happen. A toy will be left at the water dish, signifying he wants fresh water. A toy left at the door or windowsill means he is trying to tell us it is time to go outside. When Joe was packing up to leave after Christmas, Zee brought a toy to him as if to say, “I have given you this gift, now please stop packing and stay.” And a toy left on the bed is most precious of all – if Dan is traveling, for example, he will drop toys on the empty side of his bed as if to say, “Here Mommy, I know you miss him too and this toy will bring him back soon.”
It’s all quite amazing and we hear miraculous stories all the time such as about cats saving lives or finding their way home, miles away, after being lost. I’m sure all of you have witnessed your own cats doing something that lead you to believe they are far more advanced intellectually than the mainstream gives them credit for. We know that a cat is so much more than an aloof creature who does nothing but nap all day. Although they do have that nap thing down to a perfect science which in and of itself, now that I think about it, is quite genius!