LETTERS TO LUCINDA: Cat Behavior Solutions
Hello, two-legged readers. It’s Lucinda, the literate cat, but with something a bit different this time.
First of all, my book reviews have gone over very well, so my CCL (Cantankerous Cat Lady) has decided to make me a permanent member of her staff. Today I will be starting a brand new venture.
Members of my fan club send me messages. Lately they have been asking me to answer questions. I get these queries from two-leggeds who are all owned by cats and, surprisingly, some from my cat friends as well. As these questions are about cats and their behavior, I feel it is very important that I give you a cat’s view of the issue.
So, starting now, I will do a post each month in which I answer some questions. For this first post, I will answer two questions, one from a two-legged human and one from a four-legged cat.
The first question is from a Mrs. Rachel Maxwell.
She writes: I have a cat that is very dear to me. Mostly, we get along exceedingly well. However, my cat has one behavior that I would really like her to change. I let her out, but when I call her, most of the time she ignores me.
I love her so much that when I call and she does not come, I am afraid something bad has happened to her. I fret and stress and can’t relax until she comes home. How can I get her to come when I call her?
Poor Mrs. Maxwell — you are in a dilemma, aren’t you? I am guessing your cat was very insistent about going outside, so you let her out. Then you started worrying about all the things that could happen to her.
You do realize that we cats are not all that removed from our wild ancestors? In some of us, those wild memories are stronger than in others, and we see our home as a jail if we are locked in.
On the other hand, some cats are so removed from their wild beginnings that they are actually afraid of the wild outside.
Your cat must feel that strong urge to be out in the world, and you should be praised for recognizing your cat’s need for freedom. To help you, here are a few suggestions that might be useful.
First of all, how did you teach your cat her name? Whatever you chose to call her, remember that she does not speak your language, nor do you speak hers. She has to learn the meaning of your words.
It takes lots of repetition to help the cat remember. When you talk to her and pet her, use her name a lot. It will help her recognize the sound that seems so strange to her.
Early in the training, call her name from across the room, and when she comes, give her a reward — a kitty treat of some kind. Then call her from further away. She will catch on.
Now go out to the yard with her and follow the same procedure. Call her a few times and give her treats.
When the cat is a long distance away from you, you will have greater success if you can pitch your voice really high in tone or really loud, so you are sure she can hear you. If she comes, give her a treat.
Next, establish hours. My CCL opens our cat door mid-morning, after breakfast. She closes it when we come in for the evening meal at 4:00.
If you set the evening meal this early, you will have your cat safely in before it is too late. As we are nocturnal animals, if you leave us out in the evening, our latent instincts will tell us that the night is the perfect time for a cat to prowl.
One more thing — remember that we are cats, not dogs. A dog, once he has found a master, is a believer in fawning obedience. We are cats — we don’t obey, because we consider you our equals. We will do your bidding out of love, but not out of obedience.
Thus, if your cat is occupied in very important cat work, or if she is at a crucial point in her hunt, there is a good chance that, though she hears you, she will not come. She will take a message and get back to you. Give her about 15 minutes and try again.
If she simply refuses to come when you call, your only other alternative is to keep her in all the time, and that choice can be very hard on both of you.
My second question comes from a cat named Carley, who lives at a neighbor’s house nearby. Here is Carley’s question:
My two-legged will not let me outside at all! I meow, a lot, and scratch at the door, and even try to sneak out. So far she has always caught me. What can I do to convince her to let me out? She says it is too dangerous out there.
Carley, you are certainly hooked into your ancestral roots, aren’t you? Why do you want out? Just because you can’t get out, or is the call of the wild pulling at you?
Do you understand why your two-legged is not letting you out? She doesn’t understand your deep desire for freedom. She is concerned for your safety. Part of her reasoning is selfish. If something happens to you, she would feel deep sorrow for your loss, and also guilt for letting you get out.
However, her reasons aren’t all selfish. She loves you, and she understands the many bad things that could happen to you outside. A wild four-legged such as a wolf or coyote could catch you and eat you up. It might not even be wild — It might be a maverick dog with a cruel streak.
You might be hit by a car or truck — those metal boxes on four round feet that run along the roads. They would run right over you and turn you into a pancake, and wouldn’t even stop and say they were sorry.
What would you eat? Could you find enough food that you liked and that was good-tasting? After all, you aren’t used to surviving on your own. You are fed at regular times.
And what about your warm house when the winter is wet or cold and snowy? Yes, we are good at finding hidey-holes, but they will be far less comfortable and warm than our present homes.
Think it over carefully, because you have two choices:
1) If your two-legged will not let you outside, choose to become domesticated. This involves being inside all the time and giving up the memories of wildness and freedom.
If you make this decision, I would hope your two-legged finds good ways to help you climb and play inside, so you don’t just get fat and depressed. Or perhaps she will build you a catio, so you can at least be outside in it.
2) Escape. If you think the challenges, dangers, and lack of kitty comforts are something you could handle, get out of the house somehow, run far away, and never look back.
If you have bonded with your two-leggeds, this choice, besides being dangerous, will also be a sadness for you at first.
Make sure you consider carefully all that you are giving up when you embrace freedom. If that is your choice, best of luck to you. May your paws carry you safely to a new beginning.
This concludes the first Letters to Lucinda column. I hope you enjoyed it. If you have a question you would like to ask, please send it in the comment section at the end of this post. If you communicate with your cat well enough to understand the questions he would like to ask, please include that in the comments as well. I will do my best to answer promptly.