Other Kitty's Research Projects

by Tina Blue
December 26, 2000

          I am appalled that kids today don't seem to know how to amuse themselves without television, video games, or other such passive time-wasters. When we were kids, we made up our own games, and used whatever we found around the house as props.

          No, this isn't going to turn into a rant about what's the matter with kids today (actually, I already wrote that rant--"What's the Matter with Kids Today?"). What I really want to write about is the fact that even animals can find their own amusements and make their own toys.

          A feral stray that I adopted and named Other Kitty ("A Long Line of Other Kitties") used to like to keep me company when I took a bath. (Okay, it's true.  All my pets like to hang out with me when I take my bath--mainly because I stay in one place for awhile, I think. They do get frustrated by my constant imitation of a Kansas tornado.)

          Other Kitty liked to sit up on the sink while I bathed. After awhile, he'd get a bit bored, and he'd start looking around for things to do. At first he would just pull small items out of my cosmetic bag, which I keep open on the counter by the sink. He'd pull out a hair clip, a pair of tweezers, an eyebrow pencil--any small item he could pick up in his mouth. Then he'd carry it to the side of the counter and drop it over the edge. He watched it, whatever it was, until it stopped bouncing or rolling, and then he'd go back and get something else and drop it over the edge, too.

          He obviously enjoyed watching the way things bounced or rolled, and I am quite sure that at least part of his interest was in the fact that different items moved in different ways. I think he was a feline researcher, and that eventually he would have arrived at Galileo's results for the rate of acceleration for falling objects.

          I didn't mind picking up all the things he dropped onto the floor, because it was such a kick to watch him do it. I especially liked the way he sat on the edge of the counter, his head and neck arched forward, concentrating on the object once he'd dropped it. He never once turned away until the object had stopped moving.

          After awhile, though, he became a bit jaded. How many times can you watch an eyebrow pencil drop and roll before you know all there is about the dropping and rolling behavior of eyebrow pencils? He began to look around for bigger game.

          He wasn't able to pick up the hairbrush or the plastic cup in his mouth, but he was resourceful enough to slide them over to the edge of the counter, where he would pause a moment, as if estimating the distance to the ground. Then he would give the item he had chosen one last nudge, and lean his head over to watch it bounce and roll.

          I stopped leaving my mirror on the counter, of course, but everything else was fair game, including the toothbrush he managed to work out of the holder and swat over the edge. Yes, I got a new toothbrush--which I kept inside the medicine cabinet. Fortunately, he never thought of looking into the medicine cabinet for things to drop off the counter.

          Just generally speaking, Other Kitty seemed to consider the bathroom sink his own private preserve. He never would drink out of the water bowl, though I clean it daily and change the water several times a day. He liked his water straight out of the tap.

          And if I wasn't right there to turn the water on for him, he didn't mind waiting for me. The first time I came into the bathroom and flicked the light on to find something large, gray and furry curled up in my sink, I nearly wet myself. Eventually I got used to finding him there, but there were times, especially when I was only half awake, when it still startled me.

          Occasionally, he must have gotten bored waiting for me to come in to turn on the water, because sometimes I would come in after having been asleep for awhile, only to find the floor cluttered with all the things he'd dropped over the edge while waiting for his drink. Maybe he was hoping the noise would wake me. He was just a cat--he didn't know I was deaf and wouldn't hear the racket he was creating.

          I am always amazed when people deny that animals have anything resembling conscious awareness. I'm far more inclined to believe that such awareness is lacking in the human child planted in front of the television set or the Nintendo.
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