Sunday, September 19, 2010

9 Lives and a 6th Sense

We're all familiar with the saying "cats have 9 lives". Where did it come from and do cats really have 9 lives?

Where did it come from? Nine, a trinity of trinities, a lucky and mystical number is often used religion and folklore. The cat was once revered in Egypt, and it was probably here that the belief originated.

Remnants of an ancient, cat-worshipping religion lingered in Europe until at least the middle ages. While no longer divine, the cat was still considered magical and otherworldly.

It's during the Middle Ages that the attitude towards cats changed dramatically, and for unknown reasons, cats were sometimes thrown from high towers during rituals. The cats often survived and amazingly seemed to walk away unscathed, when humans and other animals would surely have died. The myth here is attributed to the natural suppleness and swiftness cats to escape life-threatening situations.

The cat's resilience still inspires fascination, which is why the myth of the cat's 9 lives continues to this day.

Do cats really have 9 lives? In the most literal sense, we all know that they don't. They have one life just like all of us. But loosely interpreted? I believe. Absolutely.

Over the years, I've seen cats miraculously recover from near death illness. Likewise, there are cats like "Pretty 2" that keep adding diseases to their medical problem list like they were collecting Girl Scout badges. First, Pretty 2 developed chronic kidney disease, then diabetes (and survived a low blood sugar crisis), then was diagnosed with and cured of a systemic fungal infection; and had two types of cancer and still she survived. For those of you baby boomers like me, do you remember the old Timex watch slogan "it takes a licking and keeps on ticking"? For those of you born more recently, think of the Energizer bunny...he keeps going and going. Yes, cats have 9 lives.

Time magazine's August 16th cover story "What Animals Think" gave credence to what I've always believed....that animals do think and feel. I believe they think, feel and know alot more than we've given them credit for.

The "know" here though is what they have learned.

A client once told me that his cat knew when she was coming to the vet by the particular set of left and right turns the car made, and would only start getting nervous in her carrier at the last turn that meant Veterinary Clinic, not some other trip.

At my house, the cats in the cattery know when they are going to get fed. They've learned that when I come out in the moning and evening I will be putting ouf fresh food for them. Marta knows that when I reach into the cupboard above the refrigerator that she will be getting treats because she's learned by repetition.

They even know when I will be taking one of them to the clinic with me because as soon as I enter the cattery, they all run for the highest perch in the room. It's not a common ocurrance, so not something they "know" from repetition. So, how do they know?? Even here, it's nothing magical. My belief is that I have a "tell". The term is often associatied with Poker, it is the subtle but detectable change in body language, behavior or demeanor that gives clues to a player's assessment of his hand. The player who can read another player's "tell" gains an advantage by observing and understanding it's meaning, especially if it is unconscious and reliable. In other words, my cats can read me like an open book. They've know because they've leared to read my tell.

So far, nothing magical, but do they have a sixth sense? I believe. Absolutely.

Sixth sense, is another term for extrasensory perception(ESP), the reception of information not gained through the recognized senses and not internally originated. It is not learned.

In an earlier post, I listed some of the Feline Leukemia positive cats I had before Marta. One of them was Butters, a handsome black short haired cat adopted from clients who already had a cat at home. Butters is the reason I adpoted Marta. He was so outgoing and so in need of a feline companion, I owed it to him to get a companion cat.

Around a year after adopting Marta, Butters became ill. I ran every test I could but found no specific answers and had to conclude that it was due to his Feline Leukemia virus. This meant my time with him was coming to an end.

During the time I had Butters, the cats I now have living in my cattery were still free roaming and feral. To varying degrees, they were all quite fearful of human contact. The most feral of all was Mini-Butters, so named because he looked so much like Butters that the first time I saw him outside sunning himself near our house, I panicked thinking my Butters had escaped outside. When I called out to him he disappeared into the woods. Rushing into the house to change out of my work clothes so I could go out to the woods to look for him, I was suprized and so very happy to see my Butters curled up on the bed sleeping.

Mini-Butters sightings became quite common and always followed the same pattern. I would see him outside in the prairie or at the edges of the yard. As soon as he saw me, he was gone.....until "that" day. The day I euthanized Butters.

I brought Butters home from the clinic, one last trip to confirm that nothing more could be done to help him. He lay quietly in Bill's arms, and with tears in my eyes I injected the euthanasia solution. He passed from this life as we petted him and told him how much we loved him. We told him to look for Beeper, Scully and Annie that had gone before him. They would be waiting for him on the other side. When he was gone, Bill and I cried, and hugged him and cried some more.

It was getting late and I knew I had to get the day's training exercises done. We were preparing for a cycling trip in the French Pyranees and training had become part of our daily lives. On days like that day, when sunset would come before we could finish, we used bikes that had been set up in the basement. It was a walk-out basement with 2 large sliding glass doors so that even when we couldn't be outside, we could look outside.

Sadly, I left Butters, put on my cycling clothes and shoes, grabbed a bottle of water and headed downstairs for a training session I didn't have the heart to do. As I turned the corner and both sliding glass doors came into view, I saw something black at the farthest door. I stopped in my tracks and stared in disbelief. It was Mini-Butters. The cat so fearful of humans that he would run as soon as he saw one, was sitting at the door looking into my eyes!

Still in disbelief, I approached the window and sat down. Mini-Butters didn't run, he didn't even flinch. We sat there staring at each other, me still crying and him not blinking. After several minutes, I put my hand up to the window thinking for sure he would run now. He didn't run. To my amazement, he got up and walked back and forth, rubbing against the screen where my hand was, then again sat down and stared at me. I cried all the harder. He kept his post until I finished crying and then turned and disappeared into the prairie.

There was no training session on the bike that night. All I could do was think of Mini-Butters. How did he know that I was coming downstairs? How did he know that this was the day I was so sad and needed to be told everything was going to be ok? He knew. And he didn't know by learning.

Do cats have a sixth sense? I believe. Absolutely.

After our amazing encounter that day, Mini-Butters once again became the human fearful cat. Even when, not long after that, that I was able to coax Momma Cat and the others into the cattery; I had to live-trap Mini Butters. It was weeks before he would come down from the highest perch in the cattery but when he did, it was if he had come down as Butters. No longer the fearful cat that would run when he saw people. He was now just the opposite, always following me around, jumping into my arms at every opportunity.

Can cats spirits come back to us when we need them? That's another cat, and another story.


Note: Mini-Butters' one and only picture as a feral cat is as elusive as he was, I will keep looking for it and post it soon.

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