Monday, 8 November 2010

Cat Quirks

Years ago, a friend of mine who came from a family of asthmatics achieved a life-long ambition: she got her first cat. While she was thrilled to finally have a cat of her own, she was also aware of how comparatively ignorant she was about cats; all she was really sure of was how pretty they were and how much she liked them. A week or two after getting her cat, she called me up to ask for advice. "How do you keep your cat out of the bathroom?" she wanted to know.

"Just keep the bathroom door shut," I told her.

She sighed. "I try to keep it shut, but it doesn't quite catch. And sometimes I forget."

"Okay," I said, "then just accept that your cat is going to get in."

"But he makes such a mess in there!"

"Does he scratch in there? Crap on the floor?"

My friend was indignant. "No! He sharpens his claws on the scratching post we got him, and he uses his litter box in the patio."

I was impressed about the scratching post. My cats had one too, but they far preferred shredding my furniture -- or my trouser legs. And if her cat wasn't sharpening his claws on her bathroom's wicker furniture or doing his business in the tub, I couldn't see how much of a mess he could make. Was he knocking her shampoo bottles off the shelf maybe, or sleeping on her freshly-laundered towels? "You've got a cat now," I told her, "so the way you live is bound to change a little. But he sounds like a good one."

"Oh, he's a wonderful cat," she said, but she still sounded worried.

"Really," I assured her, thinking of my shredded jeans and splintered kitchen cabinets. "Every cat behaves differently, but yours seems to have great manners. Not all cats use their scratching posts and litter boxes properly right off the bat. Things could be a lot worse."

She sighed. "I guess you're right. But I'm just so worried he's going to drown in there!"

I sat up a little straighter. "You mean he's fallen into the bathtub when it's full? For God's sake, let the water out when you're finished!"

"I always let the water out," she snapped. "I'm talking about when I'm running it."

This made me blink. "You mean your cat climbs into the bathtub when you're running the taps?" I was sure I'd misheard her.

"Yes, and sometimes when I'm actually taking a bath, he pushes the door open and climbs on in." She sighed. "I know they say that cats like to be clean, but I never realized they got in the bath with you. I always thought cats hated water."

"They do," I barely managed to say. "Really."

"Well, mine obviously doesn't. Come over some time and see for yourself."

This woman had never lied to me, but I didn't believe her. When I grew up, we fed and cared for many dozens of cats, and although we did pull a few out of the toilet, soaking wet, angry, and very unhappy about the subsequent bath they always got, not one of them ever climbed in the bathtub when they knew it was full.

On my next visit to her house, I was gobsmacked to see her cat casually stroll into her bathroom and climb right into her full bathtub. "I leave a plastic stool in there so he'll have an easier time getting out," she told me, "and there's always a bath mat on the floor. But he still leaves a big mess. And it takes ages to towel him dry."

Barely a year later, another friend told me she had the exact same problem with her cat. The cat kept climbing into a tub of water in her garden and splashing it about, meaning that she constantly had to keep it topped up, and he was also crazy about the bathtub. Being heavily pregnant at the time, she was not inclined to share her bath with her cat, but he had other ideas.

Not long ago, I had one of the conversations I sometimes have with dog people who are not cat aficionados. "All these people who make a fuss about their cats," he sniffed. "As though cats are special! Dogs have different personalities and intelligences, but all cats are the same. They're so predictable."

You can bet I set him straight.


Kim Ayres said...

I like cats. Unfortuantely I'm allergic to them. I was fine until I was about 14 or 15, and then I discovered that if I stroked one and then my hands touched my face before I'd washed them, my eyes would be streaming and my nose running.

Never heard of cats liking baths though. Amazing

Miss Footloose said...

Goes to show you that generalizations are treacherous "truths" and even cats can surprise you with their antics.

When on a Hash House Harriers hike in the countryside of Indonesia, a friend and I were chased by a lone water buffalo. Nobody believed us. Water buffaloes don't chase. Well, it sure was coming after us!

Kit said...

Must be a special swimming breed of cat!
All cats certainly are different and all dogs... just wish ours would all go outside to crap!!

ditdit said...

I wish I wasn't allergic to cats. We had one when I was a child that could open the back screen door when he wanted out, but couldn't do the same trick for coming back in. So, he would jump up spread-eagled onto whatever screen window was closest to a person inside the house and meow until that person would go open the backdoor. I'm sure my parents didn't appreciate the clawed screens.

Mary Witzl said...

Kim -- We had an allergic friend who used to drop over. When we hadn't gotten around to dusting or vacuuming, his eyes would stream with tears almost the minute he walked through the door. Cat dander is tough stuff if you're allergic.

I was completely floored by my friend's bath-loving cat, and then the next one I heard about. If I hadn't seen the first one with my own eyes, I doubt I'd have suspected my friends of gross exaggeration.

Miss Footloose -- I'm always leery of people who assure me their dogs don't bite; if the dog is barking its head off at me, adopting an aggressive posture and growling and wrinkling its nose, I prefer not to take their word for it. I'd have run like the dickens to get away from that water buffalo, no matter what assurances I had that they didn't give chase.

Kit -- I've often wondered if both of those cats had some Turkish van in them (they claim Turkish van cats are great fisher-cats) but as far as I know, they were both plain old strays.

Boy, do I hear you about cats going out to crap. It's very cold here, so our cat used the coal scuttle this morning, preferring not to chill his paws on the frost outdoors. Not fun cleaning cat crap off lumps of coal.

Ditdit -- :) My cousins in Florida had a cat like yours. He would jump onto the screen and open the latch with his paw, but when they changed the door handle, he found it easier to hang on the screen and howl until someone broke down and opened the door. He weighed ten pounds and over the years, that screen had to be replaced several times.

One of our cats open doors by rushing ahead of us, standing on her hind legs, and pushing the door open -- very handy if you're carrying a tea tray.

Charles Gramlich said...

Pretty weird.

MG Higgins said...

Cats' relationships with water can be very strange. One of ours insists on poking his paw into his water bowl before drinking. And he pulls and nudges the bowl around until it's just in the right spot.

e said...

That is an amazing story. My Tux cat will drink from the running kitchen tap but he is always careful not to wet his paws.

Chocolatesa said...

Wow! I wouldn't have believed that story either!

At least the crap was on something meant to be burned, not a carpet or a bedspread.

I'm not allergic per se, but I've developed a chronic cough and the doctor told me I had to get rid of carpets and pets and buy an air purifier. I was SO sad to get rid of my cats, but I have seen a difference in my health.

One of them was very well-behaved, didn't have any of the usual annoying cat habits like waking me up in the morning or eating plants. The other one liked eating plants though, and had an addiction to bleach. If I scrubbed the sink with cleaners that contained bleach so that my hands smelled of it afterward she would try to eat my hands. Same thing with toothpaste, after I brushed my teeth and lay down in bed she'd sit on my chest and if I'd let her she'd bite at my mouth! Once I cleaned the floor with bleach, and she was licking it afterward. She was an alley cat that I picked up, I don't know what she was doing out there before I got her lol.

Vijaya said...

LOL! Great story. All my cats watch me take a bath and occasionally dip a paw in. But once, when I was pregnant and having a good soak, the black cat took a walk on the railing above and fell in. I got scratched up mightily ... She never did that again. Both baby and I did fine, but at my next appt. the midwife did wonder. We had a good laugh. By the way, that cat is very attached to my son and spends the night with him.

Mary Witzl said...

Charles -- Cats get a bad press. Their personalities are every bit as weird and wonderful as dog personalities.

MG -- We had one of those paw dippers too!

Our last cat, a beautiful and fastidious animal, never once drank water out of her clean china dish. She preferred the neighbors' nasty old watering can outside. It was full of moss and dead leaves and insects and rarely ever emptied or cleaned, but the water in it must have been tastier than the fresh water we put in her dish every day.

e -- One of our cats is crazy about jumping into the sink and nudging the tap with her paw until water starts to trickle out. She then positions her mouth just so and drinks. It's cute, but I can't let guests see it. We all know where her mouth has been.

Chocolatesa -- I really feel for you! Our friends had to get rid of their cats when one of their sons developed asthma. It was tough for everybody.

A cat who likes the smell of bleach is every bit as weird as a swimming cat! I wonder where she got that habit? -- it could hardly have been good for her. We had a cat who was crazy about peach skins (yes, really), but a cat who likes bleach and toothpaste really takes the cake.

Vijaya -- Whoa...I can just imagine a very unwilling cat in the bath with you! I hope you had a lot of towels handy. I've had the horrible experience of a very large cockroach falling into my bath (when I was 17 -- I was traumatized for days after), but never a cat.

How lovely that your bath cat is attached to your son!

Marcia said...

Hilarious story about cats in the bath! Both of ours jump into the empty tub, but never when it's wet, much less full! I love cats and am blessed not to be allergic. Two of my three kids are quite allergic.

Bish Denham said...

I had a cat that played with the water coming out of the tap, bat at it with her paws. Occasionally she fall into the tub or sink and get soaked and that she didn't like.

Mary...send me your address!

Robert the Skeptic said...

Daughter Amy brought "Scotch" back from Japan. The two stayed in our home until Amy could secure her own place.

Scotch was a handful; we kept the hallway door closed to keep Scotch away from Angelina, our little female who was terrified of Scotch and hid in our back bedroom.

But we had lever door handles and Scotch soon figured out how to open the door himself. We had to finally take the handle off and lay it on the adjacent table, using it like a key for us to enter the hallway. We, and especially Angelina, were relieved when Amy and Scotch found their own home. There Scotch could freely play with Amy's phone answering machine.

Carole said...

My niece had a cat that loved baths and showers. I found it the oddest thing possible. Still, I knew it was true because I was in taking a shower at her house when the cat jumped in with me and purred like mad the entire time.

debra said...

Our 3 cats live outdoors. They present us with a variety of headless critters, and assorted body parts. They are each so different. One may or may not let you pet her, while another is a best friend; the third is an acrobatic kitty. We've had one that hid things; another that loved to fetch, and yet another that loved to play in water. All unique.

Anonymous said...

No cat of mine has ever liked getting a bath, and for years I had the forearm scars to prove it!

Pat said...

I suppose even locking the door wouldn't help. If an animal is determined to do something they usually manage it - by fair means or foul.

Falak said...

Guess its time we stopped stereotyping animals too :)

Mary Witzl said...

Marcia -- We've had a lot of cats who were fascinated with empty bathtubs too, but never any who wanted to be in the water. I still can't get over it, but if you google 'cats in bathtubs' or 'swimming cats', I'm sure you'll be as amazed as I was. (Yes, I waste my time -- I ought to be ashamed.)

I'm a little allergic to cats -- they make me sneeze and my eyes water sometimes -- but so far it isn't so bad. Plus, I'm largely in denial.

Bish -- We've had cats who liked to drink out of the toilet. One of them fell in once and made such a racket that my mother finally went to check -- and found a really wet, pissed off cat. Who decided her water dish was a better source of water ever after.

I'll get over there and send you my address! Thank you again -- it's so much fun to win stuff, and I love the look of your tatted stars!

Robert -- Your Angelina sounds like a really sweet cat -- you must miss her (though not Scotch). Our gentle little female cat looks so tiny, innocent and vulnerable next to her big hulking male companion. But in fact, she is a clever little schemer and more than capable of fending for herself -- and stealing her pal's food when we aren't looking.

We've had a number of cats who could open doors with lever handles. Our catless friends refused to believe us until they saw it with their own eyes.

Carole -- I hoped that if I wrote this post, I'd get people with similar cat experiences, and hooray, I DID! I would do a lot to see a cat get in the shower with me, especially if she'd been hunting in the neighbors' coal shed. It would save me so much trouble.

Debra -- Yes, ours have different hobbies and talents too. We've got one cat who can climb trees, but cannot get down, and one who can shimmy up them and get down in seconds. The first cat is a real acrobat who will find the highest point in a room that will take her weight and manage to get up to it. Her klutzy companion is a hunter, though nowhere near as patient or skilled as our last cat -- thank God.

Anne -- Me too! Our neighbors across the street have a large coal shed and our last cat, who was white, dearly loved to hunt in it. She also enjoyed exploring our patio when we'd been out there, polishing shoes and frequently came inside in black-face (with accidental black paws). Bathing her wasn't among My Favorite Things. And my hands and arms remind me of all the cats I've ever managed to immerse in water.

Pat -- True, but I'd like to see her try it again! That corner has been scoured with vinegar and baking soda, and there's a cut lemon sitting there. If she tries it again, she'll get a squirt of lemon in her cute little face.

Falak -- Yes, they are as worthy of being treated as individuals as we are. Some are intrinsically sweet and gentle, and some are feisty and quirky -- just like us.

Angela Ackerman said...

No way! This is seriously the craziest cat behavior I've ever heard of.

The weirdest thing I've ever see one do is intentfully shove bottles of nail polish closer and closer to the counter edge then watch it fall when it tipped over. LOL

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Murr Brewster said...

Whoa. My cat is appalled by the shower, but she did straddle the bidet. I think that's okay.

Anonymous said...

I find that cats are unpredictable and each has his/her own personality. I never understand people who say that cats are boring. They must never have lived with a cat.

All the cats I've had hate water. How fascinating that some of them willingly jump into a full tub. My cats love the tub empty, and they lap up the residual water even though I leave plenty of water in their bowls.

JR's Thumbprints said...

When I was a child, we had a Siamese cat that liked to be picked up from the tail. While hanging in mid-air she'd purrrrrr. Whenever guest would visit, my dad would ask, "Would you like to pet the cat?" He'd pick her up from the tail and she'd hang there, happy as can be.

Uma Krishnaswami said...

We have a cat who can open all the kitchen cabinets at ground level. Then she goes and hides in there and pounces on the others when they go by.

Cat purring is not necessarily a happy response. Sometimes they will purr when they're uncomfortable or distressed. Purring is much more complex than the simply "happy" response we commonly interpret it to be:

Mary Witzl said...

Angela -- We had a cat who enjoyed batting objects off the table and watching them fall, and we had cats who could open doors and turn on taps and eat weird food such as peach peels. But we never had any cat who liked to swim in the bath. I love finding weird cat behavior I could never have imagined.

Murr -- She didn't actually use the bidet, did she? I know lots of people who've trained their cats to use the toilet, but getting a cat to use a bidet would be a really neat trick. I'd be a lot happier having my cats share our bed if they could use a bidet successfully.

Medeia -- I definitely agree! I've found that people won't believe what some cats will do unless they can see it with their own eyes. Cats are so much like people -- infinitely interesting and very hard to put in pigeonholes. (Having said that, my cats would LOVE sitting in pigeonholes...)

JR -- My first thought would have been what Uma has written below, but I have actually seen one cat who LOVED having his tail pulled and would actually back up to people to try and get them to do this. It was really disconcerting. If you tried to pick one of my cats up by the tail, you'd have to be carted off to the emergency room.

Uma -- I've also seen cats purring in lots of different situations, not only when they're pleased. A friend of mine was a nurse in a veterinarian's office and he said that badly injured cats would often purr on the operating table. I like to imagine cats purring to ground themselves, a bit like I hum when I'm trying to steady my nerves.

Blythe Woolston said...

Marvelous! I almost expected to find out that your friend's cat was an otter.

Maybe these water-loving cats are relatives of Tim Wynne-Jones''s a very sweet review that explains why:

Mary Witzl said...

Thank you, Blythe -- I enjoyed reading that review and I think I'd like the Zoom series.

When I was a kid, I was passionate about the Space Cat series, in which an astronaut's cat sneaks on board his rocket ship (I know, but you had to be there -- he made it believable) and the astronaut was so impressed with his cat's ability to adapt that he designed him a tiny space suit and took him on successive voyages. Boy, I ate those books up, one after the other. Zoom sounds a lot like that adventurous Space Cat.

Chocolatesa said...

I just came across this video and thought of this post:

Mary Witzl said...

Chocolatesa -- Thank you for that link! My life would be a lot easier if our cats had just a TINY bit of that love of water.