Portrait of a cat

October 27, 2006

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Is it possible to give a portrait of one’s pets without descending into anthropomorphism? Probably not, as the meaning we give to their actions relates to our own scheme of things. But since I grumble at wildlife programmes that are constantly referring to animals as being jealous, grumpy, happy, sad and so on, I’ll have to give it a go. All our cats have different personalities (or ‘felinalities’) and I’ll try and describe Miou’s without giving the impression that I can read her thoughts and feelings.
Miou owes her name to the call she makes before being let out of the house. We should probably have called her Diana as she is an expert huntress and often arrives at the house with birds, mice, shrews, lizards and once a baby squirrel. She’s also a considerable athlete, a fast runner and skilled climber of trees. She was the first to arrive, just before the death of our dog three years ago. There were several cats around our lane then and he used to chase all of them away, except Miou. She would just sit there looking at him, refusing to be frightened. He would bark once or twice, then make a few coughing sounds before giving up and just sitting staring at her. Soon they started to play together even slept curled up next to each other. On one occasion she arrived with a bird she had killed which she placed in front of him. Carrefour didn’t play with it. The following day she arrived with two dead birds one of which she placed in front of him and the other she kept for herself. Carrefour just watched her play with it. Like many female cats I have observed, she paws her prey, pushes it away, then jumps over it showing an impressive vertical take-off ability. When Carrefour died, Miou disappeared for two weeks and returned skinny and ill. Since then she has been a fixture although, unlike the other cats she tends to spend most of her time outside at night. That’s when she isn’t waking us up by jumping up at the bedroom window to be let in or miaoing at the bedroom door to be let out. Both day and night she tends to be in and out of the house all the time; when she isn’t fast asleep she is always on the move, climbing, or stalking birds. She is difficult to treat when she is ill as she resists any sort of medicine and scratches fiercely, once taking a sizeable lump of flesh out of our vet’s hand. She plays a lot with our male cat and they spend about half an hour a day licking each other. She is the only one who has learned how to open cupboard doors and when she isn’t sleeping in one, she will settle down on top of the TV or the car or under the basket we have to cover food. She supplements her diet of wildlife with any food that happens to be going as long as it is fresh and hasn’t been in the plate for more than a minute. She shows no signs of affection for humans, never allows herself to be stroked or comes and sits near you. If picked up, though, she does lie still for a few moments before struggling to get free. She has several times been injured by passing male cats, more so than our other females. That about sums her up as far as I can judge. Not being a cat psychologist, I hesitate to interpret further.

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watch out, there’s a cat underneath

5 Responses to “Portrait of a cat”


  1. What a lovely animal! I’ve never seen a cat with those coloration patterns; she also has larger ears that the run-of-the-mill U.S. cat. I assume those are variations arising from Miou living in an entirely different part of the world. It hadn’t occurred to me that cats would evolve distinctive regional physical traits, but of course they would (just as many cats on Key West have six toes, thanks to the genetic input of a six-toed cat given to Ernest Hemingway by a ship’s captain: http://www.hemingwayhome.com/HTML/our_cats.htm).

  2. tomeemayeepa Says:

    Six toed cats?!!! Now that is really scary. I haven’t investigated it but there do seem to be considerable regional variations. One of our other cats (profile soon) is the traditional Thai cat (not Siamese) with a stump for a tail.

  3. SilverTiger Says:

    Miou is what we call a “tortoiseshell” or “tortie” for short. They are my favourite cats because Artemis was a tortie.

    They tend to be brusque and ill-tempered and, unlike some cats, won’t suffer to be handled when they don’t want to be.

    Here is an anecdote that illustrates this. I took Artemis to the vet’s.

    “You can give her these tablets,” said the vet.
    “I can’t give her tablets.”
    “Yes, you can; it’s very easy. I’ll show you how.”
    “Shall I hold her?”
    “No, it’s not necessary. Pinch like this to make the jaw drop…”
    5 minutes’ struggle ensue.
    “Well, maybe you could just steady the front end. OK, pinch like this…”
    5 more minutes’ struggle ensue.
    “Er, well, another way is to roll them in a towel. We take a towel and…”
    5 more minutes’ struggle ensue during which my thumb gets a claw through it and starts bleeding profusely.
    “Hm, yes, well, I see what you mean. Perhaps we could think of something else, not pills, then…”

  4. SilverTiger Says:

    Another thing about torties, as your description implies, is that they are very intelligent. Artemis learned things so fast that at first I wouldn’t believe it. I put it down to coincidence but I soon learned my mistake.

    They are affectionate on their own terms but independent.

  5. tomeemayeepa Says:

    Your anecdote is pure Miou. The time she savaged the vet’s hand she was very ill and too weak to move. We’ve tried three people holding her down and one popping the pill but it still doesn’t work.


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