Thank You, Saint Francis!

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A Presbyterian St. Francis loves animals too!

Under the Christian liturgical calendar, October 4 was the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the eponymous order and patron saint of animals. To honor him (in a wonderfully pagan throwback), various churches hold Blessings of the Animals, where pets and/or their proxies can receive a blessing in his name. At some churches (such as the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York), this is a huge deal.
Out here in the ‘burbs, it was a quieter but no less heartfelt affair. Various dogs, cats, and their attendant humans gathered in the garden at our local Presbyterian church, where the pastors had organized a sweet little service. Since none of the Abbey’s denizens wished to attend in person, the Coop Mistress was sent with collars (for the cats) and a hen saddle (for the chickens) to be blessed.

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Blessed items plus commemorative tag and cat treats.

As should be no surprise, the attendees sorted themselves into dog people and cat people automatically, and not just those who had animals with them. Everyone was very friendly, but the immediate formation of dog and cat camps was amusing. Most cats, as is their wont, sent proxies for their blessings; I was honored, however, to have the privilege of meeting a 20-year-old cat named Maisie, who came with no carrier but lounged in her human’s arms, serenely watching the goings on and patiently waiting for the cat treats to be distributed. Just looking into her sweet green eyes was a blessing in and of itself.

When it was my turn for a blessing, I gave the names of the animals on whose behalf I was there. Apparently, not many chickens or their representatives attend this ceremony, so afterwards there was a Q&A. I love blowing people’s minds with how intelligent and kind chickens are. Perhaps next year Jenny will have to put in an appearance as spokeschicken. I know she would have a lot to say to St. Francis.

"You woke me up to pose with this why?"

“You woke me up to pose with this why?”

Back home, no one wanted to wear their newly-blessed items but were willing to pose with them. Oh well, it’s the thought that counts. Perhaps by the feast of St. Anthony the Abbot I’ll be able to wrestle the collars on these two.

"Collar? You mean, cats wear stuff?"

“Collar? You mean, cats wear stuff?”

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Red In Tooth and Claw

Every cat deserves to be tucked into bed.

Every cat deserves to be tucked into bed.

As a general matter the Coop Mistress tries not to be too emotional about the, er, messier aspects of nature. Everyone and everything has to eat, and if one is an obligate carnivore, one is obliged to eat meat. That’s just how it is, and generally we all have our place in this cycle. It is hard not to be angry, however, when the cycle gets out of whack because a creature who does not belong in a particular part of the cycle gets swept up in it thanks to human negligence and selfishness. Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord; I shall repay — but it isn’t fair when the sins of the humans are visited upon their animals.

The level of nocturnal — and even diurnal — coyote activity in the woods around here was easily five times what it usually is this summer, as it was last summer too. There are enough coyotes — and enough natural prey — around to sustain a breeding population; last summer, Cookies noticed and showed me a mother coyote trotting along a stone wall at the back of our property, carrying a puppy in her mouth. A few weeks later the ruckus started, and the usual three or four coyote voices were joined by at least four or five more squeaky-sounding ones. The same happened this year in mid August, and my theory is that the young ones were large enough to learn to hunt and be socialized into the pack. (Coyotes around here are actually hybrids with wolves and are therefore not solitary, like they are out west.) The demand for prey for these growing mouths therefore quadrupled, and the pack worked hard day and night to feed itself.

Feral? Yeah, right.

Feral? Yeah, right. Fluffy enjoys a tummy rub.

In the midst of this, our neighbors’ cats Fluffy and Blackie went missing. As was mentioned in a previous post, Fluffy, her friend Butterscotch, Blackie, and a few other cats were refugees from a feral cat colony centered around a now-empty house on our street. The people in this house had their share of trouble — one of the reasons the house now stands empty — but their (presumably good?) intentions in taking care of feral cats spiraled out of control when they left three years ago. The colony grew to approximately 20 cats and counting, and at last Animal Control was called in to round up what cats they could. Fluffy, Butterscotch, Blackie, et al. escaped the dragnet and ended up being cared for by our neighbors who couldn’t stand to watch them starve. These neighbors called in a Trap, Spay & Neuter group who took several away for adoption and fixed the remaining ones. Our neighbors are unable to bring cats inside their house for various reasons but looked after them daily and built a special shelter for them, which has stood them in good stead during the past few brutal winters.

Now, the extent to which all members of the colony were truly feral is debatable. Blackie, a little black, cross-eyed kitty, was incredibly skittish and would not let anyone near him. Butterscotch is shy but friendly and will happily come over for rubs and a chat. Fluffy, however, was probably much more of a house cat than a feral. She loved her tummy rubs and always had lots to say with little, kitten-like mews and many head bunts. With short legs and a pudgy tummy, she did not seem like much of a hunter; Blackie, with his eye condition, probably wasn’t much of one either. As long as they stayed close to the neighbors’ house and yard they were fine, but Darwinism certainly was not in their favor if they happened to venture too far into the woods and meet the megapack.

This is apparently what happened. Fluffy, who never missed a meal, suddenly disappeared soon after the coyote ruckuses started, and never returned. Blackie disappeared a few weeks later, as did a cat belonging to another neighbor. Since neither had previously been prone to wandering off on jaunts and have not resurfaced, they are presumed eaten. Thankfully Butterscotch camouflages well and seems to be more athletic and aware of her surroundings than those two, and I truly hope for her sake that it’s not just a matter of time, that the megapack has now broken up as this year’s pups matured.

Do these two look like they would rather be freezing their tails off outside, dodging coyotes and skunks?

Do these two look like they would rather be freezing their tails off outside, dodging coyotes and skunks?

Having rescued two amazing cats from this environment, I know it doesn’t have to be this way for them. For folks who say, “Oh, cats love to be outside; they need to roam, hunt, etc.,” I say BS. At least here where we are on the margins of suburbia, in an area that can support a decent-sized coyote population, this life is nasty, brutish and short. To cast them out because of negligence, ignorance, or downright idiocy is incredibly cruel. Fluffy, Blackie, and Butterscotch were so much detritus in one family’s meltdown — not that they seemed to be caring for their feral colony very well anyway — and now two of them died completely unnecessary deaths as unlucky outsiders in the food chain for opportunistic predators. Animals are not disposable — cats in particular, who tend to have more opportunities to breed than most dogs in this area and tend to be dumped or “set free” when they are no longer wanted because they are perceived as being able to take care of themselves.

Stay safe, Butterscotch. We're working to get you the happy ending you deserve.

Stay safe, Butterscotch. We’re working to get you the happy ending you deserve.

R.I.P., Fluffy and Blackie. You deserved better. Butterscotch, please hang in there. Hopefully we’ll be able to help your situation soon.

Teach Me How to Linus

Professor and student.

Professor and student.

From the day we first saw him, Linus has been a scholar of human and feline behavior. We have no idea of his origins, but we think he was fairly young when he first appeared, and he had very quickly realized that if he were to survive in the coyote-ridden, freezing world he would need to learn a thing or two.

One of the first lessons was how to find food when the ground is covered with snow.

"Really? I just show up and you'll feed me?"

“Really? I just show up and you’ll feed me?”

For this he turned to his first teacher, a cat named Sinbad who belongs to some neighbors. We had met Sinbad about a month before Linus. We assumed he was feral and began feeding him under a certain bush near the house and he always eagerly scarfed up what we offered, giving grateful head bunts and purrs in return. One day I noticed him coming towards the house from between our barn and run-in shed, looking behind himself every few strides. Then I saw what he was looking for: a small black-and-white cat who was tentatively following him. Sinbad coaxed the little cat to accompany him to the bush and sat down to wait. I immediately came out with two cans of food, but my approach terrified the little cat, who streaked away back past the barn. Sinbad watched him leave, stayed to eat a little, and then took off after him.

The next night, I happened to look out our mud room window and noticed a feline face peering back at me. It was Sinbad, who had never come up onto the porch before to ask for food. Of course I fed him; he was back again the next night at the same time. On the third night I was expecting him, but when I looked out I saw not Sinbad but Linus, looking hopeful but terrified. When I opened the door he disappeared under the porch, but as soon as I was back inside he hastily ate and then returned to his hiding place. We never saw Sinbad on the porch again, though he was around and about, but that became Linus’ feeding place for the next year. If Sinbad had not shown him where to go for help, I doubt Linus would have survived that horrible winter.

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School is in session.

Once Linus came inside, Cookies took over as Learned Professor in Human Studies. While Linus was still in his introductory safe room, Cookies would sit or sleep by the door, and acted as go-between. The first lesson was The Humans Are OK, and he would let me rub and snuggle him while Linus watched. Cookies does a behavior we call “Please Paw” when he asks for treats wherein he lifts his left front paw and looks hopeful; once Linus was out of the safe room he would please paw too at treat time. Toys were another lesson; much like a mother cat teaching her kittens to hunt, Cookies would bat a toy around and then alley-oop it to Linus for a try. Pretty soon Linus was subduing catnip bananas like a pro. The

Cookies demonstrates how it's done.

Cookies demonstrates how it’s done.

learning continues with Linus following Cookies into new, unexplored spaces, like baskets, coolers, and the laundry room. If treat time for cats has arrived, I haven’t hopped to it

Linus' turn.

Linus’ turn.

and Cookies is snoozing somewhere, Linus will handle the reminder.

Since then, Linus has taken his human studies to the level of the true anthropologist.  He follows me around watching what I do: what is this thing that sprays water that she steps inside? What is this box that makes noise that she puts our bowls into? What are these flat things she holds on her lap while talking to Small Human before he goes to sleep? What is this flat, glowing thing that she

"Not sure what Small Human sees in these things."

“Not sure what Small Human sees in these things.”

touches in a rhythmic pattern? What are these little colored things that Small Human sticks together and that make a big noise when he dumps them out of the box, and how does she use her paws to put them back in the box?

The usage of human “paws” is a subject of great fascination. One day I was stretched out next to Cookies on the floor, rubbing his ears and face. Linus came over to see what we were doing. He watched me for a few seconds, and instead of pushing in with a head bunt for his share of the rubs, he lifted a front paw and began to touch Cookies on the head with it too. Cookies looked at us both like “WTH?” Linus and Cookies groom each other all the time, and sometimes Linus will use his front paws to hold Cookies’ head still while he licks him, but this time the paw motion was petting, not holding. I have not seen him do that since, on his own — in the moment it seemed like he was deliberately imitating what I was doing.

Linus: "What do you think, Cookies? Is Sir David right for the part?" Cookies: "Absolutely. Tell Mike Rowe he'll have to wait until next time."

Linus: “What do you think, Cookies? Is Sir David right for the part?”
Cookies: “Absolutely. Tell Shatner he’ll have to wait until next time.”

Meanwhile, stay tuned for Linus’ forthcoming documentary “Living With Humans,” to be aired on BBC2 early next year. I even saw a contract lying around that indicates Sir David Attenborough may be narrating it . . .

What We Read On Our Summer Vacation: “Beyond Words,” by Carl Safina

Two paws up from Linus

Two paws up from Linus

Joining us for today’s round table discussion of Carl Safina’s Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel are resident literary critics Linus and Jenny Linsky.

CM: Thank you both for reading this book and offering us your thoughts. What did you think? I have a few criticisms, but overall I thought it was well done.

L: I really feel the need to point out that there were way too few cats in this book.

JL: And chickens!

L: And it was way too dog-centric, especially with his claim that dogs are the only species that domesticated themselves. We cats certainly didn’t allow you humans to domesticate us; we chose to be here.

CM: True, but the author chose to focus on three main species — elephants, wolves, and killer whales — because of their highly social nature and recognized intelligence (and, arguably, their popularity with the human reading audience). And to be fair, he does discuss lions and tigers to a certain extent. Unfortunately there is no space dedicated to chickens.

L: Yes, the lion and tiger parts were fascinating — I especially liked the discussions of tigers taking revenge on the humans who tried to kill them —  but let’s return to that word you just used: recognized. Safina’s point is that humans willfully and/or obliviously don’t recognize intelligent behavior in other species; they either expect intelligent behavior and thought to look like human behavior and thought, or don’t believe what they see because it would challenge many assumptions they have about the way the world works.

JL: Perhaps this just goes to what you said about choosing species to focus on

Jenny pauses from her busy acorn snorfing schedule to endorse this book.

Jenny pauses from her busy acorn snorfing schedule to endorse this book.

because of their popularity with humans, but I do feel he gives short shrift to avian intelligence. He does discuss corvids (those loud fellows manage to horn their way into everything) and birds’ brain size-to-body size ratio. However, I think his argument — namely, that humans aren’t paying enough attention — would have been stronger if he had chosen a non-mammalian species as an example. I think people aren’t surprised by intelligence and compassion in animals like wolves, especially since we see many of the behaviors in dogs —

L: — when we allow dogs to behave intelligently and haven’t overbred the intelligence out of them (unlike with cats) —

JL: — yes, good point, Linus; too many dogs are either engineered or allowed to be stupid or ill these days — but what I was saying is that discussing examples of compassion, social intelligence, problem solving, etc., in non-mammals would underscore his point. As Safina mentions a number of times, the evolutionary links between humans and other mammals aren’t all that far back in the past, and there are so many commonalities, like body structure, fetal development, and that weird hair that you all have. It’s a lot easier to read body language when the body you’re observing is closely related to your own. But it is possible to observe the workings of a mind that’s arguably more foreign to humans — like those of birds or reptiles — and including some of that would have strengthened his argument that intelligence is all over the animal kingdom if you pay attention and are willing to look at things from a non-human point of view.

L: I agree; towards the end of the book he describes the wonderful behavior of two giant tortoises who are kept as pets and they sound smart and hilarious — like us, Jenny. I would love to hang out with them and learn more about them. Coop Mistress, you said you had a few criticisms?

CM: My primary criticism is with the “gee whiz” style of presenting the information that predominates the first part of the book. Perhaps it’s because I’m a human who really tries to pay attention to the animal consciousness around me so his argument is not a bolt from the blue; I read the book because I was interested in the details he discusses for species with which I am less familiar. For the mass market audience who is interested in animals and conservation but who may not have given animal consciousness much thought, this style might be helpful, but I think that the book could have accomplished its goals without it. But that’s a minor point. My other criticism was yours, Jenny, about having chosen a non-mammalian species as one of his “main” animals. Again, that might have been an editorial decision so that the book would appeal to a broader audience, but I do think presenting a non-mammalian consciousness would have made the book that much stronger. So overall, paws and wings up?

JL and L: Paws and wings up!

Return of the Cat, or WHO KEEPS PLAYING WITH THE CAPS lock SETTING?

i’M LookING AT You, cOOKIES!

You weren't using this keyboard, right?

You weren’t using this keyboard, right?

Well, after a long, European-style summer absence, we at the Abbey are back in the saddle, as it were. We have been busy:

We shared secrets.

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We didn’t share Legos.

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We helped our next-door neighbors.

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We were impertinent.

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We were extra cute.

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We welcomed new life to the Abbey.

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We mourned the loss of a friend.

R.I.P., Fluffy.

R.I.P., Fluffy.

We discovered a magic transport box that helped us see where DS goes during the day.

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We helped DS get ready for the first day of school.

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We also read books! Reviews of two great books about animal behavior, Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel, by Carl Safina, and Why Did the Chicken Cross the World?, by Andrew Lawler, are forthcoming! As is a throwback to our distinguished alumnus, Chancellor the Rooster! We are back!

Many Are Called, But Few Come When You Call Them

“Alice is my name, explaining is my game!”

How does one know that one is an individual with a unique identity? To begin with, it helps to have a label for that identity — specifically, a name. Here at the Abbey, everyone and everything has a name, even those who technically weren’t supposed to have them. When we got our first flock many of the manuals on raising backyard chickens then available went with the old-time approach of not naming livestock animals, so we decided we wouldn’t name ours. That lasted for all of a week once the chicks’ individual personalities became evident. Three hens ended up with “real” names — Camilla,  Dreamer and Messenger — but the others’ names were basically descriptive: Zipping Girl,  Curly, and Littlest Girl. All of them came when called as individuals.

When we got our current flock, DS and DH enjoyed choosing names just as much as I did. It’s not the naming process itself that is most interesting, however; it’s what comes next as the named individuals learn their identity. Descartes may disagree, but creatures are born with a sense of self, even if that self needs only the most basic of things to survive: “I must eat,” “I must take to the water,” “I must get on my feet as fast as possible.” A name bestowed from outside the self assists the individual with distinguishing itself from the group, even where the group itself almost constitutes its own organism, as in a flock or herd. Every creature needs to know both itself and its group to make its way in the world. A name just makes this process visible.

“Hold on! We’re coming!”

All of the Abbey’s residents know not only their individual names, but their group name as well. For the chickens, teaching them started as soon as we had decided on their names. Whenever I picked them up, I would say their names as I stroked them, and whenever one came up to me to peep something important, would reply with their name: “Oh really, Alice? You don’t say!” By the time they were in the awkward teenage phase it became clear that they each knew their names; if I called “Sally!” Sally would lift her head or pause what she was doing — no one else. To this day, when I address them by name they reply with an acknowledging cluck.

“OK, I rounded everyone up! Where are the mealworms?”

Intriguingly, Chancellor seemed to learn not only his name but also everyone else’s. As his roosterly instinct to herd the hens kicked in, I would say, “Chancellor, go get the girls!” and he would round them up and bring them to wherever I was. If most of the hens were already nearby, I could ask him to retrieve the straggler: “Chancellor, go get Jenny!” Off he would go, herding the recalcitrant Jenny with indignant sounds of “Come on, I shouldn’t have to come get you, you know better!” If I called “Chickens!” all of them would come, and still do, usually with Jenny taking the lead. (Coming, of course, is subject to whether they feel they’ve had sufficient

“Yes, ladies — there’s enough Chancellor for everyone!”

dust bathing time, or time to dig for worms, etc.). Further proof that Chancellor truly knows his name came when he left the Abbey for his new farm, and that he comes when his new humans call him as well — it is not just my voice, or the intonation in which I say his name, to which he responds. He is Chancellor, and he knows it.

“Of course I’m Cookies!”

The cats, meanwhile, learned their names more or less instantaneously, which impressed me not only because of the speed with which they learned them but because they each already had other names. Cookies was known as K.C. to the family who cared for him while he was feral, and would come to them when called. When he moved in with us, he took Cookies in stride immediately, and comes bounding out from wherever he is when he’s called. We referred to Linus as Little Cat while he was living under our porch for a year, and even though he was as shy as can be, if I called “Little Cat!” he would pause in his dart through the woods and look

“You rang?”

back at me over his shoulder. When he moved in with us it took us a few days to settle on a new name for him, but once he was Linus he understood right away. When called he responds with a little questioning trill — “You rang?” — and comes trotting with his tail in the air and his eyes bright. And when I call “Cats!” both of them come running, particularly when they know there’s a treat in the offing.

So what does all of this demonstrate? We are all distinct individuals. In addition to being a fun aspect of bring friends with particular animals, it should give us pause when we think of how we treat most of them. The millions of laying hens housed in cages their whole lives could each be Sally, Jenny, Pumpkin, Nutmeg, or Alice. The cats that our neighbors abandoned to breed and breed and be coyote food would happily have learned to be Cookies or Linus. (In fact, two of them did — once Animal Control dealt with the incident in question, two of them became regulars at Cookies’ old house and now know themselves as Fluffy and Butterscotch, respectively.) Just because something has not yet received an official name, doesn’t mean it doesn’t already know itself.

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“I’m Fluffy, and if you rub my chin I’ll give you more purrs than you’ll know what to do with!”

“Butterscotch is my name, being sweet is my game!”

Distinguished Visiting Kittens! Skeptical But Polite Host Cats!

Sugar peeks out.

Sugar peeks out.

Updates from the Abbey have been quiet of late since there have been many goings-on, one of which was a very important lecture by two eminent felines from Philadephia, Cloud and Sugar, a.k.a. the Distinguished Visiting Kittens. Cloud and Sugar were found, sick, starving, and cold, on a rainy night when they were maybe two weeks old and brought to an animal shelter. DH’s friend is an active volunteer at the shelter and when he took one look at them knew he needed to help. Under his loving care they are on the road to recovery, are growing, and are doing all the things kittens should do: playing until falling over from hunger or exhaustion, climbing stuff,

Cloud enjoys a catnip-scented paper bag.

Cloud enjoys a catnip-scented paper bag.

and being snuggled. Since Cloud in particular still needs regular medication, she and her brother came along for the ride when DH’s friend visited the Abbey. And boy, were these Distinguished Visiting Kittens extra cute.

(NB, the photos of Cloud are a touch gruesome due to an ulceration in her left eye. Both she and Sugar had bad conjunctivitis when they were found and it was unclear whether they would be able to keep their sight. Thanks to DH’s friend, Sugar’s eyes are just fine, as is Cloud’s right eye. When she is large enough to handle

Cloud loves to snuggle on shoulders.

Cloud loves to snuggle on shoulders.

surgery she will have a procedure to have the eye removed, and go on to rock her life like Angelina Jolie’s character in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.)

We weren’t sure how Cookies and Linus would react to some whippersnappers on their turf, even though the kittens were kept in their own room for the duration of their visit. At first, they emanated a decided “We are NOT going to sniff at that room” disdain, and stayed as far away from it as possible (especially when the humans kept disappearing into it and exclaiming “SO CUTE!”). Then, when I emerged with Cloud’s scent on my shirt, there were several full-court presses of draping themselves on my feet and looking at me imploringly: “Don’t you love us anymore, Mom? Aren’t we cute and special too?” So there were lots of reassuring snuggles, pats and treats dispensed throughout the afternoon.

"Wow, they are small! When are they leaving?"

“Wow, they are small! When are they leaving?”

Towards the end of the visit, they worked up the courage to approach the room on their own. Linus played paws under the door with Cloud. Sugar mewed at him from the other side. And then, Cookies came to have a look in at the shenanigans while the door was open. Cloud spotted him and tottered over. Cookies paused at the threshold, as he did when it was Linus’ introduction room. I lifted Cloud and Cookies gave her a thorough but gentle sniff. She regarded him gravely. (Cue music from The Lion King.) I wonder when Cookies last saw a truly tiny kitten. Something tells me he’d make a great adoptive dad.

After the Distinguished Visiting Kittens departed, Linus and Cookies inspected the room: “Are they gone? We know they’re small — they could be hiding anywhere!” More reassuring snuggles and praise for being such good hosts. And since then I haven’t been let out of their sight more than usual, just in case I may still have a kitten somewhere on my person . . .

Here’s Looking at You, Cat

Who is this quiet, fuzzy guy?

Who is this quiet, fuzzy guy?

The mechanisms by which animals recognize others of their species is an ongoing subject of research in the field of animal behavior. How much of this recognition is learned, how much is innate, what kinds of cues (visual, aural, olfactory) do animals use to recognize their own kind? A very interesting study of dogs from a few years ago demonstrated that domestic dogs recognize other dogs’ faces, even when there is huge diversity in those faces’ size, shape, and features.

I was thinking about this issue in relation to cats the other day when DS was playing with his stuffed cat while Cookies was hanging out with us. Cookies joins us for bedtime stories on most nights, and on this night he was relaxing next to DS’s bed when DS decided to pick up his stuffed cat and make it meow at Cookies. DS does a pretty good meow (modeled on Linus’s meow), and Cookies

I'm going to build an awesome monster truck.

I’m going to build an awesome monster truck.

immediately gave the stuffed cat a thorough sniff and then a stinkeye. Cookies has had all manner of stuffed animals thrust upon him and usually doesn’t show any interest beyond the occasional polite sniff. If anything, in general stuffed animals are the least interesting to him of DS’s toys; he is more of a Lego and wooden block cat.  Now, in this case the convincing meow probably helped get his attention, but he has shown particular attention to feline-shaped objects in the past, even ones that look nothing like a real cat and made no sound.

The first was a ceramic tiger statue that belongs to my grandmother. She has had it for years, and I remember being fascinated by it when I was a kid. It’s about two feet high (much larger than any cats Cookies would have encountered in his life) and is depicted more or less realistically; the artist did capture a seated tiger’s pose and demeanor. It is definitely more of a work of art, however, than a life-like model. Cookies was going to stay with my grandmother while we went on vacation, so he was exploring her apartment while we chatted. It took him a few rounds of exploring before he noticed the tiger, but when he did his double-take was Kramer-esque. He stared, wide-eyed, for thirty seconds or so, then approached very cautiously, leaving his hind end on the floor and stretching himself forward as far as he could, one front paw raised to touch the interloper. He feinted a few times before actually batting it, then stared at it suspiciously for a few more seconds before deciding it wasn’t a threat. But little did he know that another cat was lurking behind him: my grandmother’s statue of the Egyptian goddess Bastet! She was sitting on top of a cabinet, peaceful and self-contained as always. Cookies looked with horror at her (so much for being a patron saint of cats). I took the statue down to let him sniff it, but he had no interest in making the goddess’ acquaintance. “What is it with the weird, non-moving cats around here????” he demanded, and went to hide under the couch while he collected himself.

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There’s a gremlin on the plane’s wing! And only William Shatner can see it!

Who are those kittens???

Who are those spotted kittens with the funny tufted ears???

This brings us to the most recent encounter with a faux feline: a movie about lynxes who were reared by a human before being released into the wild. We watch a lot of nature shows here at the Abbey, including ones about different cat species (lions, tigers, bobcats) and all manner of creatures who are cat prey, like birds, small mammals, and fish. Neither the sounds nor sights of the animals in these shows generally attract the cats’ attention. (If anything, Cookies likes watching submarine films or old episodes of The Twilight Zone.) However, for whatever reason the lynxes in this film grabbed his interest and he watched the film intently whenever they were on the screen. We first noticed it in a scene when the lynx kittens were wrestling with each other. There was a voiceover narrating so the kittens’ sounds were not audible at this point. Cookies’ head came up from where he had been resting on my feet, the ears perked up, the eyes widened and the nose twitched.

I'm going to pretend I'm not being watched by a giant toucan.

I’m going to pretend I’m not being watched by a giant toucan.

He continued to do this throughout the film, whether or not the lynxes were vocalizing, and would stop paying attention whenever the footage shifted to other animals, such as a dog or human. Our TV screen is large so, like the tiger statue, these lynxes were much bigger than any cats he would have encountered in real life. But he knew they were cats, and moreover understood that they were here but somehow not physically present in the room with us.

So what does this all mean? Cookies knows a cat when he sees one. The poor guy can look forward to my trying other recognition tests with him soon. I can’t believe he puts up with me sometimes . . .

You Learn Quickly, Grasshopper

Of the many reasons why I’m glad Linus came in from the cold, one of the best has been to see how his presence rejuvenates Cookies. Linus is probably only about 2 years old and still has a kittenish desire to play. And play. And play. He’s very happy to grab a toy and play by himself, or have us play with him. But his favorite thing to do is wrestle with Cookies. When they first started to play together there was a dominance hierarchy edge to it, but now that they have settled in with each other the play aspect of it has fully taken over. Is that the cavalry thundering through our living room?  No, it’s just the cats chasing each other. Other times, epic mixed martial arts-style smackdowns take place any time, anywhere, including in our bedroom at 4:30 am. Sometimes Cookies rolls onto his back to get things going, as if to say “OK, young apprentice, give me your best shot!” And then it’s on like Charles Bronson. If Linus pauses, Cookies will whap him with his paw: “Grasshopper, Sensei says you’re not finished!” And the wrestling starts all over again. Since Linus moved in Cookies has lost weight from all the activity and has a mischievous sparkle in his eye. He’ll randomly take a victory gallop through the house, leaping on and off tables and couches and then finishing with a grooming session. It’s hilarious.

It can be tough to capture these play sessions in photos, but the other day I happened to have a front row seat. I felt like I needed to strut around holding a sign indicating what round we were in since it went on and on. Here’s what transpired.

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Cookies had decided my saddle pad was better suited for cat, rather than horse, purposes.

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Linus, however, was feeling feisty and had other plans. First he attacked my foot. Then he set his sights on the saddle pad . . .

Cookies: "I'll have you know, grasshopper, that this saddle pad is spoken for!" Linus: "Talk to the paw!"

Cookies: “I’ll have you know, grasshopper, that this saddle pad is spoken for!”
Linus: “Talk to the paw!”

It's on like Saigon.

It’s on like Saigon.

Cookies: "Have you had enough?"

Cookies: “Have you had enough?”

Cookies: "Bow to your sensei!" Linus: "Not yet!"

Cookies: “Bow to your sensei!”
Linus: “Not yet!”

Dueling death stares.

Dueling death stares.

Linus: "Let me show you the Flying Hind Feet of Fury!"

Linus: “Let me show you the Flying Hind Feet of Fury!”

Linus: "Sensei, have you had enough yet?"

Linus: “Sensei, have you had enough yet?”

Linus: "What if I just poke you here, like so?"

Linus: “What if I just poke you here, like so?”

Cookies: "If you say please, grasshopper, you may share my saddle pad." Linus: "Thank you, Sensei. I kind of messed up your fur with that last poke. Let me groom it for you."

Cookies: “If you say please, grasshopper, you may share my saddle pad.”
Linus: “Thank you, Sensei. I kind of messed up your fur with that last poke. Let me groom it for you.”

It’s the Thought That Counts

You're writing about chickens when you could be writing about me??

You’re writing about chickens when you could be writing about me??

Linus decided that this blog has been too chicken-centric recently. “I know what will persuade her to write about me,” he said to himself last night, “a present! But,” he added, washing his whiskers thoughtfully, “what can I give to a human who has everything?” He glanced around the room. “A fuzzy mouse?  No, she gave that to me.”
“Us,” interjected Cookies. “The brown one is mine.”
“Yes, us, sorry,” continued Linus. “Some of those brightly colored blocks we like to bat around?”
“You mean the Legos that Small Human plays with? Nice thought, but they’re not safe to carry in your mouth. Believe me, I’ve tried,” replied Cookies.
Linus’s gaze fell on the gate blocking the stairs to the basement. “Got it!  What about a cricket? Everyone likes tasty crickets!”
“Now you’re talking! She absolutely loved the mouse I gave her for Christmas!” (Seriously. Cookies caught a mouse that had been plaguing our kitchen and proudly left it next to my side of the bed early Christmas morning.)
“Great! Thanks, Cookies!” Linus scampered down to the basement to search for the perfect cricket.
“Now, let’s see, she’s big, so the cricket needs to be big too,” Linus said to himself as he scanned the basement floor. “So that teeny one right there is for me!” (Pounce! Glurp!) “OK, large crickets . . . Ah ha!” With a mighty swipe of his white paw, he smote the cricket. “Cookies! I caught one! Where should I leave it so she’ll find it first thing?”
Cookies gave the matter some thought.  “How about the sun room floor? The pale tiles will highlight the cricket’s mottled color nicely. She’ll be sure to notice it at once.”
“You are an expert at these things, Cookies old boy,” admired Linus.
“Hey, I love her too. Happy to be of service,” yawned Cookies, tucking himself back in to the nice hollow in the owl pillow.
Linus proudly trotted back up the basement steps and laid the cricket on the tiles. “She’s going to love it!  But you know what’s better than just one cricket?  Two crickets!” He descended again. More hunting. More smiting. “Whoops!  Smushed that one a bit” he said to himself as he laid it next to the first. “I’m sure she’ll understand.”
As I came downstairs this morning, I heard pit-pat pit-pat “Chirrup!” from a very proud Linus. I leaned down to

Whiskery kiss!

Whiskery kiss!

rub him and received ecstatic purrs. Something then made me glance towards the sun room floor. “Linus, are those crickets for me?” More purring,  a deep look into my eyes, then a soft white and pink nose reached up to touch mine. “Thank you, buddy. I love you too.” And I won’t think too hard about where that nose has been . . .