Fun fact: A group, or gathering of cats is called a clowder.
The other day Joe and I were visiting our friends, Barbara and John, a retired couple living near the little town of Omena, a few miles north of Traverse City. Their snug cottage sits on a hill right on Grand Traverse Bay.
Passionate about cats, they volunteer at rescue centers. Sometimes a cat or kitten there ‘calls’ to them;’ it is adopted. Make no mistake, though: felines themselves decide who might fit their criteria for staff. (There’s an old saying: dogs have family; cats have staff. I always hesitate to say that people ‘own’ cats. They think they do, and this delusion is indulged, as the belief almost always works in a cat’s favor.)
Barb and John share their lovely home with nine animals, who enjoy their company. Every morning Barb makes the bed immediately, as multiple cats are often found sleeping together on top of it. (Their humans are allowed to use-and warm it- at night.)
Each has his personal bowl, and, for the most part, each respects which one belongs to whom. They enjoy exploring the surrounding forest and lakeside, finding the area perfect for honing their hunting skills. They’ll argue at times about position in the pecking order, especially when a newcomer is introduced. Disagreements might even come to blows, but the dust settles quickly and new arrivals are seamlessly absorbed into the clowder.
(Unfortunately, I can’t touch felines. Large blisters rise in my eyes, and I have difficulty breathing. But my ‘hands off’ rule makes the problem easy to control, especially in summer, when we can chat outside. Sometimes, though, a cat will sense my situation, and, if bored, might amuse itself by winding sinuously around my legs while meowing plaintively, just to see what happens. Eventually, staff might have to distract or remove the most persistent teasers.
Catty boredom is solved in innumerable, interesting ways.
For five years, until 1981, my mother and David, her English husband, lived in a charming little out-in-the-countryside-cottage on the Isle of Skye, off the coast of Scotland. They needed a mouser and enjoyed cats, and so adopted Jinji when she was very small. Jinji took to her job immediately, but often found herself bored. One day, instead of eating her caught mouse, she brought it home to play with, then took the terrified creature into the bedroom and placed it under the bedcovers. She then emerged to watch the result. The frantic mouse caused the bedspread to writhe as it tunneled around in the dark. Soon bored by the sight, Jinji stalked away, leaving the stunned, panting, disoriented mouse still under the military-tucked blankets. Soon after, Mum entered the bedroom with freshly dried clothes. The frantic mouse, hearing her enter, dashed around with renewed energy between tight sheets again: the tidily made bed squirmed as though alive! Mum dropped the laundry basket and yelped in surprise. Was a snake in there? A rat? What?? She and David lifted the sheets and blankets on the count of three: the poor mouse stumbled out, scampered down the hall and through the open kitchen door to freedom.
After a good laugh they decided the bedroom door would have a ‘closer’ installed to prevent a recurrence. They knew how Jinji’s mind worked...
“Well,” John chuckled, “I can add another true tale.
A friend of ours was paying the bills one day, and noticed that his water usage had skyrocketed that month! Big money was demanded! Shocked, he checked all the hoses, and searched for leaks in his basement- nothing. Finally, just to sure he hadn’t missed anything, he hired a plumber who inspected everything all over again, but found nothing amiss...”
“So...only the bathroom- and his housecat- were left... but it wasn’t possible, was it? Sill, what other combination could explain this massive bill? He decided to install a hidden camera/recorder in the bathroom that would trigger if motion were detected. Maybe his kitty had figured out how to turn faucets on and off, or maybe the toilet might have been fiddled with, somehow...
No, surely not...
“Well, as soon as he’d left for his job the recorder snapped to attention as his cat strolled into the bathroom, hopped up onto the toilet tank lid, s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d one front leg down to the lever- and push-pawed it down until it resisted, as she had watched him do countless times. Whoosh! The toilet water swirled rapidly round and round, and then drained; the bowl refilled.... She flushed it again, and again, for nearly an hour, and kept coming back to repeat the fun multiple times that day. This cat-invented sport had been played continually-- for a month!
“So, from then on, the toilet seat was always kept down: the bathroom door was always kept closed. He did provide interesting toys for her to play with, like largish empty cardboard boxes, crinkly wrapping paper, squeaky toys and intriguing catnip-infused rubber mice that dangled from long flexible strings that she could bat around. He’s even considering another cat, so she could have a friend...”
“But, best of all,” I commented, joining in the laughter, “his water bill plunged to almost zero again!”