Due to some site issues, this post is going up MUCH later than it was written. My apologies.
So I had an experience with my cat the other evening that makes me suspect that animals (or, at least certain ones) are a bit more capable of abstract thought than most people think.
Ziggy likes to be in the bedroom with me and Lona if we’re both in there. Sometimes he cries to be let in, then realizes we’re elsewhere in the house, and decides that ok, he doesn’t have to get in there right now. But really, he’d prefer us to be in the bedroom so he can be in there with us.
I ignored him wanting to be let in this afternoon when I was in there watching TV because I was also eating jerky and I didn’t want him begging. Tonight, though, while I was sitting in the chair playing Mario Kart on my DS, Lona opened the door to leave the room – and Zig came shooting in. He went under the blanket where I had my legs up, and laid down. I told Lona to leave him in there and that he’d come out with me when I was done with my race set. She shut the door and left.
Well, by the time I was done with my race, Zig had gotten up into the built-in shelf where I keep some of my clothes, and was all curled up in the cubby hole. I turned my DS off, sat up, and called to him, saying it was time to leave the room now.
Zig got down, jumped up on the bed, walked to the exact center (we have a California King bed – too wide for me to lean all the way to the middle and pick up a cat without falling over, thanks to my back) and sat down. I made a face at him, and said fine, he could have it his way.
I grabbed my water glass and my phone, and left the room, leaving the door open and figuring he’d follow me when he was finished being obstinate. He didn’t come out. So I put my stuff down on my desk, told Lona that it’d be a few more minutes before I made us sandwiches for dinner, and went to de-cat the bedroom.
When I got back INTO the bedroom, Zig was nowhere to be seen. Now, Zig is a very talky cat. If you say his name, he meows. If you call him, he meows and comes into view of you. I said his name. No sound. I called him. Nothing.
So I started a quick search. He wasn’t in the built-ins, he wasn’t behind the TV or the chair…I looked around, and finally spotted him. He was laying down, as flat as he can possibly GO, on the wood floor on the far side of the bed. He’s almost the same color AS the wood floor, and I did a double-take when I spotted him. I said his name. He still didn’t respond.
Then I saw his eyes move, he saw me, registered that I was looking at him, and slowly lifted his head, giving a quiet “mow…” that sincerely sounded like “Damnit…he saw me.”
Still, he was on the far side of the bed. And our bed, being so large and positioned where it is in the room, there’s not enough room on the other side of it for me to comfortably stand and lean down to pick up the cat. I have to pull the bed away from the wall and twist it when I’m making it as a result. But right now, it meant I couldn’t reach the cat.
I sat down on the chair, facing Zig, and patted the footrest/chest we keep at the end of the bed. I asked him to come and hop up so I could pick him up and we could go. My usually very obedient cat didn’t move a muscle, except to sit up and stare at me.
“Come on, Zig,” I said. “It’s time to leave the room now.”
His eyes got VERY big…and I mean, Puss In Boots big and sad, and he just stared at me. I asked him again, he still didn’t move. So I tried to get him to play with my retractable backscratcher. He usually will at least swat at this – all he wanted to do was nuzzle it.
I reached out a hand to him and wiggled my fingers. “Come on over here, sweetie, I’ll pet you.” He barely inched toward me, and stopped when he was at the very farthest distance he could be and still let me touch him. I scratched his head, petted his chin, and tried again to coax him out from the other side of the bed. He would have nothing of it. He KNEW that if he stayed right there, where I couldn’t reach him, he wouldn’t have to leave the bedroom.
Finally, I looked right at him and said, “OK. I’ll make you a deal. You come over here and jump up on this,” I patted the footrest, “so I can pick you up and we can leave the room, and I promise – when I make my and mommy’s sandwiches, you can have a WHOLE PIECE OF HAM, all to yourself.”
Keep in mind – I only said this ONCE.
He looked at me, eyes on mine, as if trying to gauge my honesty. Whatever he saw there must have clicked – he took three more steps forward and hopped up onto the footrest.
I praised him, petted him, cuddled him, picked him up and carried him out of the room, turning off the light and closing the door behind me. He snuggled in my arms, didn’t cry, didn’t struggle, and when I put him down, he calmly followed me until I gave him his piece of ham.
The concept of bargaining is solely a human idea, most scientists will say. Trading, no. But to perform a very abstract action unrelated to the desired outcome in order to receive something you want? That is abstract. “Sit = get treat” does not equal “Come over here, jump up on this, let me pick you up, and some time later when I am working with food I will give you some” is abstract.
And either Zig understood exactly what I was asking him to do…or his random timing was just that good.
I’ll leave that to you to decide. As for me? I think I have a very smart cat.