I love dogs more than a thousand sockeye. They’re clever, but not as smart as cats.
Cats possess real intelligence, defined by Webster as “the skilled use of reason.”
Great writers know this. For example, Kurt Vonnegut, who wrote Thomas Edison’s Shaggy Dog. I’ll explain.
Firstly, there’s a cat I know well. It’s the tabby with raccoon rings on its tail that who stretched out on my favourite backyard chair when I showed up holding a coffee cup and a book.
Chewie, like the furry Star Wars character Chewbacca, a Wookiee from the planet Kashyyyk, belongs – if that’s the word – to a neighbour.
I just call him Buddy.
“How’s it going, Buddy?” I asked.
Buddy cracked open one eyelid, stretched, yawned, and answered with a sleepy ‘meow,’ two syllables – all cats need to tell us what they want from us.
This meow – no space between the parts, and no emphasis on either – was easy to translate.
“Coffee cup, book. You want this chair. But, I’m here. Find another.”
And I would, out of the respect for Buddy’s ability to set and achieve goals. Like gaining access to my house any time he wants.
This started two years ago. I’d opened the front door to take out garbage. Suddenly, a blur streaked past and up a flight of stairs. This was followed by a woman’s shriek.
“Where’d that cat come from?” the wife demanded.
“Oh, that’s Chewie,” said Number One son. “It’s the neighbour’s.”
Chewie had explored two bedrooms and a bathroom before Number One apprehended him.
“Time to go, buddy,” he said as he swooped the intruder up and carried him downstairs.
Buddy – his name after that – was purring contentedly.
“Weird, eh?” said Number One. “Guess he just wants to visit.”
Buddy visited the next day, and the next, in the same unannounced, sudden fashion whenever someone opened the front door. He’d head for a room he hadn’t fully explored, and purr loudly when we dropped him outside with, “No, Buddy, you don’t live here.”
We did this until it seemed pointless. Buddy had a plan. This was his spare house.
“I guess there’s no harm in letting him stay a while,” conceded the wife. “But, nobody feeds him. He might never leave.”
Buddy didn’t want food anyway, and seemed uninterested in water we set out for him on hot days.
With a clipped, dismissive ‘meow,’ he’d walk off with his tail in the air. But when he thought no one was looking, he’d circle back to lap up the whole bowl. Buddy had to prove his independence.
In Rudyard Kipling’s story, The Cat That Walks by Himself, First Cat negotiated for independence in his contract with First Man and First Woman. Dog – destined for servitude – quickly agreed to protect the cave for a bare mutton bone.
Cat made no concessions. Just the same, First Woman gave him a bowl of milk after she found Cave Baby – who’d wailed all day – sound asleep.
Cat nestled beside it, purring loudly, had cleverly won First Woman’s gratitude.
After Buddy’s first home invasions, we stopped chasing him upstairs, and he stopped streaking past us. Because it wasn’t necessary, he strolled in leisurely.
Problem-solving like that ranks high up on Bloom’s Taxonomy of Thinking Skills, which I taught gifted kids. You can train dogs to complete simple tasks, but not how to figure things out logically.
Buddy can. We were watching a movie about a border collie who had no idea how to herd sheep. His human was pulling his hair out. Buddy studied the screen until he knew what was wrong, then shook his head. He was ready to shout, “Don’t chase them, dummy, slow down.” But, wisely, he just uttered a long, low ‘meow,’ of disbelief.
You can’t tell anyone they’re making a mistake. Buddy knew it doesn’t pay to try.
Back to Vonnegut. Edison failed to discover the right filament for the light bulb. But he’d invented a headset to measure intelligence.
One day he put it on his dog.
“No,” said the dog when the needle shot far right.
Edison was stunned.
“Tom,” Rover begged, “if you don’t tell anybody dogs can talk, I’ll tell you what to use for your lightbulb.”
Of course, Edison agreed. Sadly, though, when Rover asked to go out to pee, a pack of angry dogs who’d been listening killed him to keep their ageless secret.
Yet, even today dogs will imitate the words, ‘I love you’ (I wuv woooo),’ on Youtube, knowing that if we discover they can talk, we’ll make slaves of them.
“Rover, put out the garbage; answer the phone.”
Cats – dreading being treated like dogs – LOL – will never utter more than “meow,” two syllables not remotely suggestive of speech.
“You’ve a smart cat,” I told my neighbor. “Really likes us. Visits all the time.”
“Likes everybody,” she countered. “Goes into all their houses. Some people think he’s homeless and feed him.”
“So, he’s just been using us all this time,” lamented Number One.
“No,” I said, “but, unlike a dog, he’s too smart to put all his eggs in one basket.”
Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local
author and environmentalist.