Animal Instinct 5/21/21

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

Sometimes I wonder what animals think. Okay, I can already hear people saying that animals don’t think, but I’ve also heard “experts” say that animals don’t dream when anybody who sleeps with a pet knows that they do, and that animals can’t see in two dimensions although I’ve seen pets try to interact with their reflection. The experts used to say that animals can’t feel emotion like love, and yet elephants for years seem to have revered the bones of their dead, and current MRI studies indicate that they do.

Star yells at me frequently. She lets me know that she wants food, and she wants it continuously. This is not really a surprise. Cats apparently “graze”. They enjoy having food that they can nibble on throughout the day. My veterinarian tells me this is why Star is overweight, although I’ve also heard it said that it’s actually healthier for us as humans to eat more frequently throughout the day rather than three large food blasts provided, of course, that what we nibble on is healthy like fruits and vegetables and not candy bars and cookies.

Frankly, I would like to provide her food 24/7. Before she joined me, I had purchased a weeklong dry food feeder, and had planned to keep it full while giving her wet food maybe once or twice a day. But she was overweight (rather dramatically overweight) when she joined me. I don’t mind her being overweight for aesthetic reasons, but I do want her to be happy and healthy, so she has been on a diet. This means she is fed dry food twice a day, with a periodic wet food treat (maybe I’ll give her wet food today in fact).

What does she think about this? When I picked her up at the humane society, her food bowl was filled in the kennel where she was staying, and now it’s just twice a day. Of course, there, her motions were restricted to the (relatively large and nice) kennel, and now she has the freedom of the house, including access to the kitchen counter that she has only recently began jumping onto no doubt because of her new healthy body (a few more pounds and I’ll try my original plan while watching her weight). Does she ever think about her former homes? Does she think she has it good now, or just accept that this is the way it is?

Today she has been very affectionate. She usually is, but there are days she just doesn’t want to leave my side. Other days, she’s nowhere to be found except at feeding times. Does she see me as “her” human as people often think cats do? Or is it just the way it is?

A week or so ago, she managed to get outside. The previous owners of this house seem to have had dogs, and the screens are worn out about where a dog’s nose would be. I’ve not replaced these screens yet, and I had a window open. Walking into the living room, I saw Star with her body half out of one of those holes, no doubt lured by the evil birds that taunt her outside. I wondered if she would end up outside (she’s an indoor cat) or pull back into the house. Sure enough, a moment later, she was gone.

Going outside, she was under that same window, still, unmoving, as if she were thinking “how in the hell did this happen?” Of course, I picked her up and brought her back inside. Because of the crowded neighborhood, cars and dogs I really don’t want her outside, and she certainly didn’t seem to want to take advantage of her newfound freedom. Does she think of the house now as her sanctuary? Her home? Am I part of her pack, or just her caretaker?

People can be awful to animals. It’s heartbreaking to see how people can treat animals. Apparently, Star was a rescue cat first, then given up for adoption from the house she was living in which, although not abusive, was very raucous with children, dogs and other cats. It’s not a surprise that she was overweight, as I expect it was a case of nervous eating). When animals are abused, how are their thoughts different from others? Does Star now think she’s better off, or does she think she’s being abused since she’s on a diet? Having lost three homes now (counting the shelter as one), does she worry that this one might not last?

I guess we’ll never really know, although neuroscientists are working to figure this out. I guess all I can really do is try to give her a good life, and hope that eventually she will come to accept me as family.

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