Feline Reasoning Abilities

Feline Reasoning Abilities

Sep 06
Feline Reasoning Abilities

I’ve had quite a few experiences with pets over the years that have lead me to believe that animals have much higher level reasoning abilities than most people give them credit for. One instance in particular that comes to mind, involves my dearly departed “fuzzy little son,” Ziggy.

Zig preferred to be in the bedroom with me and my wife if we were in there together. He would sometimes cry at the door, only to realize we were both elsewhere in the house and proceed to come find us. However, he would then try to get us to go into the bedroom by meowing and walking back and forth between us and the closed bedroom door.

I can’t blame him for his love of the bedroom. Unlike the rest of the house, we kept our bedroom air conditioned. And when he was in there with us, he usually became the center of attention, whereas if we were at our desks we are usually working and therefore had to ignore him most of the time. Still, that’s where he preferred to be if he had a choice.

One afternoon, I ignored him asking to be let in even though I was in the bedroom. I was playing my 3DS, and knew if I got up to open the door I would likely just leave the room and go back to work, and I wasn’t ready to do that yet. So I ignored his crying.

My wife opened the door to leave the room after he’d quieted down, but he was waiting outside still and he came hurtling in as fast as his little orange legs could carry him. He ran between the chair I was sitting in and the box I had my legs up on, beneath the blanket I had over my legs at the time. I told my wife to just leave him – I’d get him out of the bedroom after I was finished with my race, since I was about ready to leave at this point.

By the time I had finished my race, Zig had exited his blanket cave and instead climbed up into one of the built-in wall cubbies by the door. He was snuggled down on some of my rarely worn clothes that I stored there. I turned off my game, stood up, and called him so we could leave the room together.

However, instead of coming, he stood up and got down from the cubby, leapt up onto our California King Sized bed, and walked to the exact center before sitting down. Due to the size of the bed, he was exactly too far for me to reach him to pick him up. I made a face at him, told him he could have it his way, and left the room.

I figured he’d follow me when he was finished being obstinate, but I underestimated him. He didn’t come out. So I went back in after him – only he was nowhere to be found. However, I’d been within sight of the door the whole time, and I knew he hadn’t come out of the bedroom. He was hiding.

He wasn’t in the built-ins, behind the TV, or in the chair. He wasn’t atop his favorite bookshelf, or burrowed into the blankets on the bed. Finally, I spotted him. He was on the floor, on the far side of the bed, lying down as flat as he could go. His orange fur was blending perfectly with the color of the wood floor in our room – and he was silent.

Zig was almost never silent, you see. If you met his eyes, he talked. If you spoke to him, he talked. If you made a noise in his presence, he would look at you and meow. I’d been calling him while I was looking and he didn’t make a single sound.

I fixed my eyes on him and said his name – not as if I was calling him this time. I said his name as a definitive statement. “Ziggy.” Finally, his eyes moved and focussed on me. He realized I was looking right at him and must have understood that he’d been found. The “mow…” that he let out was oddly under his breath – almost as if he were saying, “Dangit…he found me.”

Still, found or not, he was on the far side of the bed – the side that only has a few inches clearance between it and the wall. I couldn’t get over there to pick him up, and he knew it. He sat up, but didn’t come out.

I sat down on the chair, facing Zig, and patted the footrest/chest we kept at the end of the bed. I asked him to come and hop up so I could pick him up and we could go. My usually very obedient cat didn’t move a muscle, except to sit up and stare at me.

“Come on, Zig,” I said. “It’s time to leave the room now.”

His eyes got VERY big…and I mean, Puss In Boots big and sad, and he just stared at me. I asked him again, he still didn’t move. So I tried to get him to play with my retractable backscratcher. He usually will at least swat at this – all he wanted to do was nuzzle it.

I reached out a hand to him and wiggled my fingers. “Come on over here, sweetie, I’ll pet you.” He barely inched toward me, and stopped when he was at the very farthest distance he could be and still let me touch him. I scratched his head, petted his chin, and tried again to coax him out from the other side of the bed. He would have nothing of it. He KNEW that if he stayed right there, where I couldn’t reach him, he wouldn’t have to leave the bedroom.

Finally, I looked right at him and said, “OK. I’ll make you a deal. You come over here and jump up on this,” I patted the footrest, “so I can pick you up and we can leave the room, and I promise – when I make my and mommy’s sandwiches, you can have a WHOLE PIECE OF HAM, all to yourself.”

Keep in mind – I only said this ONCE.

He looked at me, eyes on mine, as if trying to gauge my honesty. Whatever he saw there must have clicked – he took three more steps forward and hopped up onto the footrest.

I praised him, petted him, cuddled him, picked him up and carried him out of the room, turning off the light and closing the door behind me. He snuggled in my arms, didn’t cry, didn’t struggle, and when I put him down, he calmly followed me until I gave him his piece of ham.

The concept of bargaining is solely a human idea, most scientists will say. Trading, no. But to perform a very abstract action unrelated to the desired outcome in order to receive something you want? That is abstract. “Sit = get treat” does not equal “Come over here, jump up on this, let me pick you up, and some time later when I am working with food I will give you some” is fairly abstract.

And either Zig understood exactly what I was asking him to do…or his random timing was just that good.

This is just one of many examples Zig gave me of just how complex his cognitive skills were, but it’s one of my favorites just because it shows how much of a character he was. He’s been gone less than a year, and sometimes I still expect to see or hear him around the house. He was a fixture of my and my wife’s lives like no other.

Losing him was a shock – but I’m glad we have all the memories of him and the things he used to do to remember him by.

[This entry is a rewrite of Feline Reasoning Abilities – as it was originally written while Ziggy was alive, and needed to be rewritten and edited as part of this memorial. Read the original at The Tyger’s Den]