A couple of Baxter’s Christmas time activities.
Of course, cats do not ask questions, but I ask them for them. Well, Baxter for the most part. And, I do much more than that; I attach all sorts of intentions (belief, feelings, wants, etc.) to him. But, this question comes up fairly often. You put something in a room or even when you take it out of room, and Baxter gets the look of being perplexed. Not only does Baxter appear perplexed, but he seems worried, and sometimes he will act all pissy when something unfamiliar arrives on the scene.
It is Christmas time as I began to write this, and it causes Baxter a disturbance. The tree comes out in its storage bag. “What’s that, what’s that, what’s that that that?” He is so upset he stutters. And, the next day it comes out of its bag and assembled in its stand and the branches are pulled down and are separated. “Huh, what’s up with this dude making all this fuss. Hey, what are those little things their putting on the tree. Can you play with them?”
Another Christmas time example was when Baxter after I had taken the stand mixer Bette gave me out of the box, Baxter started to look through one of the handle holes on the side of the box. He would walk away, and minutes or hours or even days later he would come back to look in it again. The funny thing was after I put the mixer back in the box, he stopped looking in it. This is after what appears as such an occupation with it is to me a mystery. What was it about the empty box?
But, his puzzlement does not end there. Baxter, to say the least, is very particular about his environment. Cats are territorial beings. Housecats, maybe because I am more familiar with them, just seem to me practically obsessed with what is coming and going in there world (small as it is). Out in the wide wide world cats still create territories. I had a pure black cat, Gabriel, whose territory was the parking lot adjacent to the townhouse development we lived in. This was his territory, and he tolerated no other cat in it. I remember once, as I went to gather him up before it got dark† he was sitting tensely before a bush, and I made the mistake of picking him up. He just flailed his legs with claws fully extended and scratch me on my chest and arms. I do not know if every animal is territorial but predators, of which cats are one, are all, I believe, territorial.
Baxter’s territory is Bette’s apartment. He goes on what I call “the prowl,” where he goes and looks and investigates every nook and cranny of the apartment. I exaggerate. He does not look everywhere, but he will certainly take a significant amount of time doing it. So place anything no matter how small it maybe, he will go look more often than not, and ask “What’s that doing there?” A case in point is that Bette bought some more glass icicles for the Christmas tree, and I place the box on a small table, and as he was awake and in the living room where the table was; he came right to it and ask his now famous question “What’s that doing there?”
Baxter is also possessive. He sits and sleeps on a cushioned rocking chair. If you sit in the chair and he is awake in the room he will stare at you and eventually come over and sit right before you. Sometimes he even becomes aggressive and will attack without breaking the skin with his teeth as well as with his claws if they are clipped. He has had this habit of attack since he was a kitten. Maybe, that is why he was a stray before he was taken in by Last Chance Rescue, and we adopted him through PetSmart. Our veterinarian, Doctor Mike, called it mock attack and mock hunting, and said that he would grow out of it. Well, we had to wait until he was four and a half before he stop doing these aggressive attacks for the most part.
We will take down the Christmas tree soon, and again he will be perplexed that it is no longer there. Yes, perplexed is a complex emotion. So, how can you allow such a complex emotion in a cat, when most animal behaviorist (ones who are educated in the field, not your woo-woo therapists) will deny that cats are capable of such emotions? Most animal behaviorists will allow the basic emotions to a cat. The basic emotions according to a list of them from Robert Plutchik’s theory on wikipedia (https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_emotions) are fear, anger, sadness, joy, disgust, surprise, trust, and anticipation. How many of these emotions have I observed in Baxter. There are definitely fear and anger, and he certainly exhibits anticipation and joy. I am not sure of sadness really, but I have seen joy as I have just mentioned. With disgust and trust I am not sure what to look for, so for me these are a mystery. And, I better claim surprise based on the major theme of this post.
Yes, you could call what Baxter feels when he is first investigating some object that is new or not where it is supposed to be surprize, but what about the ones I gave. Being pissy could be his way of exhibiting anger in these situations, and could worry be a form of fear? Or, is it a deeper emotion with something more added that animals do not have? Whether it is more complex or not worry is express as an emotion in Baxter, my subject of one. So, what about perplexity? This certainly seems like a complex emotion that could be excluded from cats.
But hold it, am I not the one who is doing all this labeling? It is the meaning to me that actually counts. Baxter has no language capability, but he does have a collection meows. He is certainly expressing something by them. I think the higher the pitch of the meow the more upset he is. A middle pitch seems to be produced in less stressful situations, than the higher one, maybe indicating some need—”feed me.” The lower pitch meow, especially the chattering meows, I think are expressive of good feelings—”nice to see you this morning.” But, the ability to attach meaning to his world he is not capable of. I am the one that has to do it for him. So, despite his meowing, he has to leave it up to me to give it to him.*
To wrap up—Baxter has no way to answer “the” question. He lacks language and his brain is incapable of asking any “what” question. It is really any question that he cannot ask; he is not capable of even asking a question. What am I living with someone who cannot ask questions? Unfortunately, Baxter is not someone in the human sense,^ so I can ignore this disaster.
Finally, cats are fussy about their environments. Some are probably more or less disturbed, but all do notice any change in them, even the smallest of changes. Baxter, appears more disturb, when compared to other cats, but he will survive. And, not all environmental disturbances seem to upset him, and if it something that can be played with, like a box, a bag, or a small object that can be easily manipulated with his paws he will be in oblivion.
Maybe, in the future I could attempt to answer the question: “‘When Are You Going to Feed Me?’ Asked the Cat?”
† We gathered up Gabriel, his sister, Spoonful, and a third cat, Tiffany, before dark because my first cat Heather (talk about terreritorial, but that is another story) was hit by a car at twilight.
* What Do You Mean? has more on attaching meaning to the world.
^ See Is Baxter a People Too? for why he is not a person in the human sense.