Originally posted on January 23, 2006
I hate socks. Aside from the fact that my dryer is a portal to Narnia from which Mr. Tumnus has obviously acquired one half of all the sock pairings that I own, I just hate that no matter how frequently I buy socks I never have enough to last until the next laundry day. To compound this problem, I also live with Mayhem-Great Hunter of Wet Socks.
My cat, Mayhem, has developed a behavior which entails the hunting of anything small enough for him to carry usually, but not limited to, socks. First he finds a sock, takes it to the water dish or toilet, soaks it thoroughly, then brings it to me for inspection. I don't know what instinct this behavior grew from but it is endlessly entertaining to his little kitty mind. If I make sure that no socks are available from my drawer or laundry he still manages to bring one from his secret stash or he brings anything else he can find, sweaters, tank tops, etc. I feel sure that one day I am going to come home to find my bedroom comforter stuffed in the toilet.
I can understand that as an indoor cat he feels compelled to exercise his hunter instinct but as neither of my other two indoor cats have ever done anything of the sort, I wonder what sets him apart. And what is the deal with getting them wet before bringing them to me? It isn't something that he does every time, I often get dry socks offered as a gift, but I sometimes think that there is kitty humor involved. Is it possible that this is a primitive sense of the ridiculous? When he drops a toilet-sock on my face while I am sleeping or leaves one in the middle of the stairs or on the seat of the couch, is he seeking a reaction and laughing in his kitty-heart while I rant and sputter?
Am I anthropomorphizing his ability to see and appreciate humor? Cats are not supposed to be smart enough to indulge in such things, and yet... Dogs are not either, but I am sure that I have seen a dog laugh. Cats are so stoic that one could never know what goes on in their heads. Incidentally, Mayhem also likes to chew out the nipple area on all of my roommate's wife beaters... is this coincidence? That every tank top she owns has this area and no other nibbled out? That seems even more far fetched as it would include an understanding of the human sense of modesty as well as result in a reaction that he would not be there to witness (she always discovers them when she gets changed at the gym to work out).
As an owner of three cats I can vouch for the fact that all cats (and other animals) have distinctive personalities regardless of the environment that they grew up in. That isn't to say that they aren't often altered by their environment, especially as kittens, but even with fairly consistent conditions they develop their own quirks and attitudes. Doesn't the evolution of a distinct personality speak toward a certain understanding of their environment and their role within it?
My aunt owns two cats that are vicious and horrible to any but their owners. I used to think that this was because they have never lived with children. My cats, however, are very lovable to all strangers and, although they have never lived with a child, they find children particularly interesting... they even put up with a different sort of play and handling from a child than they are willing to put up with from me. If a cat can sense that a child is to be treated gently and tolerantly, regardless of the fact that they have never come in contact with one before, wouldn't that say that they understand much more than we give them credit for?
I read once that cats do not "recognize" us or each other visually but rely purely on olfactory cues. Cat's are also supposed to have very poor memory. This is not true. My cats most certainly recognize each other regardless of scent and have the abillity to tell the difference between a cat they don't know and one that they do even after a great deal of time being separated.
One day one of my cats got outside without me realizing it. The other two were staring out the sliding glass door the next morning but not with the typical posture they take with a strange animal. I wasn't even sure it was my cat as they don't wear tags and he is just a garden-variety all black cat. But they knew. The same was true when my ex-husband took one of the cats when he moved out then needed me to take him back after a six-month period. I brought him in and all of the cats were completely comfortable, as if he had never left. I found additional evidence of this when I watched a cat for a friend. This cat was one that I had fostered in my home when she was just 6 weeks old. When she came back all of my cats recognized her... That was particularly surprising as a kitten smells different to me than a full grown cat, is there a deeper scent that humans don't detect but cats do that is present throughout life or did they recognize her despite the change in size?
The whole point here is that I suspect that animals are capable of much more than we think. Humor would seem to be a stretch for this theory but sometimes it's just hard to tell for sure. If you have a story about witnessing an animal appreciating humor, please respond.