Happy cats make happy homes even happier. They add a feline twist to appreciating life, helping us see things differently.
by David Stone
They’re more of a challenge, but indoor cats can be happy cats not bored or lonely. That means feeding their eager, active minds and playful dispositions, with the same conviction as you do their tummies.
Most cats love interactive play with ribbons and strings.
But the thing is, we bring these wonderful animals into our homes for companionship, often without enough attention to needs coming after food, water and hygiene.
Happy cats need more than the basics, just as you do. They feel bored, and they feel lonely. Both drain a lot of the ‘cat’ out of them.
Happy Cats Story
We thought about the fun of bringing a pet home, a rescue from a shelter because so many wonderful animals are homeless.
And not just any pet, a family member.
We decided on a cat because Roosevelt Island, our community then, banned dogs.
My wife’s childhood and her innate love of animals taught her the joys of a companion pet. She checked out cats waiting for adoption, listened to my opinion, then wisely brought home George, a cat so special, funny and adventurous, we soon could hardly fit him into the limits we’d previously thought defined ‘cat.’
He picked her out, anyway, relentlessly showing her, through various antics, that he was a perfect match.
Cats or Dogs? A Toss Up
George set about amending our canine preferences immediately with his amusing curiosity, playfulness and affection.
He was two years old when we adopted him and had lived in a home with a lot of related cats. He understood social structures and had a clear sense of dos and don’ts.
Happy cats enjoy interactive play, and he was the first I knew who enjoyed playing fetch. I was in the habit of getting up early to go for long runs, and he was, of course, more than happy to discover another creature vigorous at odd hours. He rewarded me by bringing me a catnip mouse and laying it at my feet.
I learned quickly that this wasn’t the hunting behavior I’d read about. It was an invitation to play.
When I tossed the mouse back across the room, George fetched it and laid it at my feet, like a retriever.
Pickle In The Middle was a game all three of us were able to play as a family. Most of his favorite games involved his abusing his coveted catnip mice. Dr. Daniels was the only brand he’d accept.
We loved his games and admired his lust for adventures that sometimes left him in spots too high or too blocked off and required rescue. But what began to impress me most was the individualism and the striking integrity of this relatively little animal.
Happy Cats Respect Themselves and Expect the Same From You
I’m over six feet tall and around two hundred pounds. George stayed around eleven or twelve pounds, except for a single period in which he conned us into bulking him up to fourteen dozy, but contented pounds.
As one of the rare non-pack animals ever domesticated, cats are eccentric by nature, less modified in behavior than animals born to conform and obey a leader. Humans domesticated cats, most likely, as rodent exterminators.
Then fell in love with them.
Happy cats pick a person to be in love with and bond strongly. In our house, that person was my fortunate wife. She was going through multiple stresses, including heartbreaking family issues and a decision to change careers and resume college in midlife.
Although walking across keyboards and crashing computers was in his future, George contented himself as her partner in study and writing. We once saw a cartoon with a cat who was thinking, ‘I like to see whatever you’re reading. Actually, I like to sit on whatever you’re reading.’
As did our happy cats at home.
We believe he wanted to participate. He used to stand by, transfixed, as my wife pounded out term papers. Once, carried away, he stayed focused so long that he fainted into sleep, his little head clunking against the desk, scaring my wife until she realized he had simply fallen asleep involuntarily and not had a stroke.
What Have We Learned About Happy, Domestic Cats?
I mentioned before that I am roughly fifteen times the size of George, and my wife is eight to ten times his size. He never seemed afraid of us, nevertheless, but think about what else is implied here.
This housebound cat depended entirely on us for survival. Without us, no food. Without us, no shelter from the cold. And there was more. Without us, utter boredom and confinement, no toys, no interaction, no household routines to monitor.
George was as meticulous about his grooming and litter box habits as any cat has ever been. He expected and received a clean and healthy environment.
With all this obvious dependency, you’d expect some groveling, some compromising behavior, but with George, I never saw any of that. He understood his role as one-hundred percent cat and ours as human.
Happy cats in happy homes don’t compromise.
He understood our role and he’d alert us if we were neglectful. Many mornings, I awakened to a face-full of cat head-butting me from a running start. Not at all worried, he would then look at me, annoyed at my sleeping too long, and wait for me to drag myself up and fill his bowl.
‘I don’t care if you’re taking a day off,’ he seemed to think. ‘I’m not skipping a meal.’
I could be annoyed only if unable to forget what a wonderful friend he was, understanding us and our needs. As members of a species better adapted than humans, cats show us a sanguine attitude and natural acceptance most of us never achieve on our own. They are usually willing to share or even teach it.
Who needs sedatives when you have a well-adjusted and happy cat? I have never taken a sleeping pill in my life unless we can consider the presence of a happy cat as an abstract version.
The Happy Cats Challenge
The challenge, of course, in sharing quarters with an exclusively indoor cat is that as important as food, water and health requirements is understanding and providing for less apparent needs.
For many people, this amounts to lots of petting and cuddling, most of which is as much for the benefit of the needy human participant. But what about the need for cats to have mental and physical challenges and to practice inborn skills? Cats are not natural couch potatoes.
We bring ’em home. We enjoy ’em. And we owe ’em. That’s what I think.
While we always took time to play with George, helping him practice his hunting skills with a variety of dangling toys and ribbons, a great idea was given to us by the smart keepers at the Central Park Zoo. There, they started making mealtimes more interesting for their highly confined polar bears by hiding food around their enclosure, enabling the big white hunters to practice some of what nature designed them to enjoy doing.
How to enjoy a happy cat home…
‘Enjoy’ is an important word here. Evolution prepared animals for joy in practicing for survival. My experience, especially with more complex animals, is that they are happy, not just healthy when they successfully hunt, map out territories and so forth.
Boredom’s the enemy of creatures with highly evolved brains.
We began giving George only half his food in his bowl. We hid the rest of it in places that required him to smell, jump, maneuver and pounce. Sometimes, we tossed it and discovered that he had a vertical leap to fill an Olympian with envy.
You might think he’d resent working for what was previously free. On the contrary, George hunted eagerly and groomed indulgently afterward. Skills he still owned heightened, and he relished the joy of being more fully a cat.
Living along a river in an active city, we left our windows open to the smells and sounds of the external world as far into the winter season as we could and opened them again as soon as spring softened the breezes. On spring opening, George rushed to the window and poked his damp nose into the breeze.
More Socializing, Cat Adventures
After a while, we also began encouraging him to take walks in the hallway of our building. At first, I used to take him when I carried garbage out to the trash chute. Then, he began taking me, then my wife, on exploratory adventures ‘out there.’
Usually, I did the cat walking and George was as gregarious as he was adventurous. But one day, my wife was strolling with him when some neighbors she’d never met came out to wait for an elevator.
‘Hi, George!’ they exclaimed.
By this method, we made new friends, and George seduced others who were encouraged to discover their inner cat lover.
He had, by the way, a distinct and understandable preference for Brazilian and Italian women. We have pictures to prove it.
Finally, Happy Cats…
…are cats encouraged to be as catlike as we can manage and not inferior creatures there to fill in the blanks in our lives. They are equals and, treated so, the rewards are immense.
I encourage everyone not already spoken for to join in the adventure that is known as ‘cat.’ Experienced with an objective and open mind, they can teach you much about nature and, in reflection, about yourself.
They will amuse you and love you and inspire you to silliness and play. What a great set of ingredients to add to your pursuit of happiness.
And to theirs.
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