Tango’s tale

Cats are aloof, they say. Cats are dignified, they say. So tell me, any of you, has anyone ever seen a cat quite like this one?

If you know me – or at least my blog – very well, then you will have met Bouncer. Pictured above is his brother.

What prompted me to suddenly give Tango a bit of screen time was something actually quite sobering. Earlier this week, with little warning, he took ill rather dramatically. Having vomited copiously in at least two rooms, my mum and sister found him in a state of collapse. While the picture above indicates, not entirely incorrectly, that collapse is a normal state for him, he was rushed to the vets, put on a drip and kept in overnight.

Meanwhile, we were told he probably had something wrong with his heart. I inwardly accepted that this blog post was going to be something between an obituary and a eulogy.

To get a diagnosis, he had to be taken to a feline heart specialist in Derbyshire. Two car journeys, a heart scan, and a three-digit-long fee later, it turned out there was nothing wrong with his heart. So much for that.

Tango’s defining trait has always been his docility. At least one of the vets described him as “such a dude”, and at no point during his x-ray at the vets, or heart scan in Derbyshire, did anyone feel the need to anaesthetise him. For him, there seems to be a very fine line between illness-induced lethargy and normal behaviour. He barely woke when, as an animal care student in my teens, I had to give him a physical health-check for an assignment. I think he was a bit disconcerted when I started flexing his legs, but I was finished before he even got around to reacting.

We went on holiday a few years ago and left the cats in the care of one of my stepbrothers who, at one point, rang Mum and John, because he was worried about Tango. Needless to say, we had to reassure him that no, nothing was wrong with Tango, and yes, lying with his legs in the air and rarely waking up is perfectly healthy behaviour. For him.

For such a placid cat, he is a bit funny about late-neutered males. He hated Basil, my late grandmother’s cat, on sight. While Basil bullied Bouncer relentlessly, Tango pursued Basil with a Mr Hyde persona if he so much as looked at him; it was as if, for every blow Basil gave Bouncer, Tango would dole out two. When George kept turning up in our garden as a stray, it looked like he was in for similar treatment. Now, give or take the occasional fur-flying squabble where collars go pinging off, they seem to have come to a truce. In fact, George is fascinated by him, and doesn’t seem to understand that, while bottom sniffing has its perks, Tango doesn’t share his enthusiasm for it.

Now he and Bouncer are 13 1/2, having joined our household when they could still fit in one hand. Tango may be the soppiest cat I’ve ever met, but I’ll say this for him: in his own way, he’s stoical. He may be inclined to roll off beds in his sleep, he may panic if your keys rattle too loudly. But, as the brother who drew the short straw healthwise, he continues to be his usual trusting self throughout eczema medicine, eyedrops, and at one point a cone collar, being forced upon him. And while we’ve all been losing sleep over the thought of losing him, he has dealt with the ordeal with his usual unconditional trust and affection. Couldn’t we all learn from that?

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The pet lovers’ dreaded debate part 3: double standards

What bothers you about people’s attitudes towards animals? There are a million answers to this. Farms. Unethical breeding. Negligence. The internet is full of protests about these issues, and because they are bigger and more serious than what I’m blogging about, I should probably cover them myself one day. But for now, I’m coming back to an old pet hate (pun fully intended): cat prejudice and double standards.

First, hear me when I say this. I love cats. I relate to them. I mean, I don’t automatically bond with people I don’t know. And I don’t think they are better than dogs, because who are we to call one species “better” when, in the human world, most of us stand for equal rights?

People claim that cats control us. Plenty of cats do try to persuade you to feed them when they’re hungry just by staring at you and following you into the kitchen. But so do dogs. The reason we have to train dogs is so that they know who’s in charge. Do you see? Any pet can wrap you around its paw, if you spoil it. If you stick to a strict feeding schedule and don’t give in to your pet’s every whim, then they are not controlling you.

Also, believe it or not, cats are capable of being trained; it’s just that teamwork isn’t in their nature. Why judge them for this? I hated group projects at uni myself! If you reward a dog for learning something new, it will react as if it has successfully pleased its pack leader. If you reward a cat, it will react as it would to a successful hunt – it used its brain and got a tasty treat as a result.

Then there is scent marking. Dogs and cats do this in similar ways; one of them being physical contact. A dog will jump up at you, a cat will rub against you, and in doing so, both are claiming you as their own. Why do humans hug? For the same primitive reason. It helps secure a connection. People find this thought endearing in dogs, and like the idea that the dog is excited to see them. Why does a cat do it? Ask any cat hater, and they will claim cats are trying to own you, want to trip you, or are impatient to be fed.

If a dog bites a human, people will (correctly) insist it isn’t the dog’s fault, it’s the owner’s fault for training it wrongly (or not at all) or the other person’s fault for ignoring its body language. The same happens with a cat? Apparently cats are just nasty. People are quick to defend a dog’s flaws that were caused by human influence (or lack of), or biological nature, or are an unfair generalisation. And rightly so. Because these are vulnerable animals we are talking about. And cats are no different here.

Cats are not living for world domination, and to think so would be anthropomorphising them unrealistically based on cat prejudice hyped up by fiction. If any creature lives for world domination, it’s the homo sapiens. Cats simply live to survive as comfortably as possible. Don’t we all?

Any more thoughts on this issue? I may have covered them here or here. Or possibly even here, for cat/Asperger comparisons. Otherwise, fire away!

Bouncer’s usually the one to initiate our after-work catch up!

 

First world cat problems

Today, I asked four cats what their biggest pet peeves are. This is what they said:

“I think one of my pet peeves is when I’m lying in front of the fire, and I get too hot, so I have to actually move. Which means I get cold, so I have to move back. AGAIN. I hate it.” Suri, aged 5

“For me, it has to be when I’m just chilling with my girl, or catching up on sleep, or whatever, and one of the humans interrupts me by making me have breakfast or dinner. Humans can be such killjoys.” Bouncer, aged 13

“When I’m lying in front of the fire,

and I get too hot, so I have to actually move…”

“I thought the worst thing was not getting enough credit for checking the humans are still breathing every night. Wrong. It’s not being able to do it at all because they always close the bedroom door. #unappreciated” – Tango, aged 13

“Sometimes my food bites back. Just when I think I matched wits with it and won, it attacks me from within and bursts forth back the way it came.” – George, aged 4

“I feel like I can’t tell anyone, but I can’t help feeling jealous of the computer in my room. I secretly wish it would just disappear, so that my human would forget all about it, and focus on me, and me only.” – Bouncer

Where’s your computer now? Check MEOWT! – Bouncer

“When you want to be stroked, and you literally have to headbutt someone’s hands or stand on whatever is distracting them so that they get the hint.” – Suri

“It really drives me mad when people won’t stop stroking me until I show them my teeth. Not everything’s all about you, you silly humans!” – Suri

“For some reason, my humans and housemates alike expect me to have finished eating the top layer of my food in just 20 minutes. Come on folks, why the rush?” – Tango

“Why do humans have to be so greedy? Mine takes up at least 25% of our chair and 50% of our bed. It’s like enough is never enough.” – Bouncer

Finally owning this bed – Tango

“I think beds have it in for me. They trick me into thinking they have no limits, then just when I roll over, they disappear from beneath me. I feel like nobody gets how hard this is.” – Tango

“I don’t think my housemates really understand me. I thought it was perfectly acceptable to inspect another cat’s bottom at length whenever I want. Guess not.” – George

Girl power at its finest – Suri

“I’m the only girl cat, and no-one tells you how exhausting it is, hitting the boys in the face when they bother you, or trying to grab their food without getting caught. All that just to prove my girl power.” – Suri

“When I roll over, beds disappear from beneath me.

Nobody gets how hard this is…”

“When you get nice and cosy with your friend’s preferred human and he takes it waaay too seriously.” – George

Come on, lighten up, man! – George

“When your housemate has the nerve to suck up to YOUR human right under your nose, and she doesn’t instantly rehome him.” – Bouncer

Physical contact – a touchy subject

Over the past few months and years, I have become increasingly aware that I have very specific boundaries when it comes to touch. I’ve always been easily startled and insanely ticklish – anyone who has ever poked me, tickled me, tried to tuck my label in without warning or given me eyedrops (a long and painful story) will vouch for this.

Actually, my ticklishness has been a source of great amusement to some. Namely my sister, who used to like poking or tickling me while recording the noises I made, and my mum, who used to like massaging me. Or rather, putting her hands to my neck and watching me fall to the floor. Until I got too big.

Touch sensitivity is very common in people on the autistic spectrum. Some people don’t like certain clothes. Some don’t like certain textures. Some don’t like any touching from people at all. Personally I’m not that extreme, but perhaps it would be more straightforward for others if I was, given my complicated touching rules that I am disclosing for the first time…

– No tickling or poking. I will not pay for the consequential medical treatment you will probably need.
– If there is a less than 100% chance I remember who you are, no touching, please.
– Believe it or not, I actually like hugs with people I know. If we are greeting or about to part, or if one of us is sad, hug away!
– Outside of this, I like any other touching to be kept to a minimum at most.
– If you are an immediate family member or very close friend, take that last point with a pinch of salt UNLESS…
– I am getting overloaded, frustrated or worked up about something, in which case, U CAN’T TOUCH THIS! MC Hammer’s words, not mine.

A bit stuck up? Possibly. Which is why I never normally rattle off the above points to every new acquaintance. I’m not saying it’s ok to be that finicky about touch. I understand it’s normal for someone to try to put a new person at ease by touching their arm. It’s just how I feel.

I think this is partly why I relate to cats so well. The reason so many people love dogs is that they like an animal that’ll smother them and anyone with physical affection. Whereas I’m more like the cat that makes a beeline for cat haters. Not because they want to antagonise them, but because they are drawn to people who aren’t constantly staring at them and trying to touch them.

I’m not saying I’m drawn to people who don’t like me. I just connect more easily with people who also have their invisible boundaries that get taken down bit by bit and who make friends one step at a time.

And if, just to play devil’s advocate, you encounter someone on the spectrum who over-does physical contact, try breaking down the above guidelines. If you are that person, let’s just say you would do well to remember them!

My weird obsessions

As a child, I bet at some point you enjoyed being read to. But was your favourite bedtime story a sea life encyclopaedia with special sections on sea slugs, and fish with tenoid scales?

Thought not.

We all have things that fascinate us. Obsessions, even, if you like. You’ve probably heard about autistic special interests. In a sense, they go that bit further than ‘normal’ interests and obsessions, although as I type, I realise that for me there is much more of a blur between the two than there was when I was a child.

But before we autistic people reach that stage, for some reason our current interest(s) is all we can think of to talk about. As a conversation starter? We’re in. Some other person briefly alludes to said interest? Shouldn’t have done that… Trying to explain how awesome it is? Remember that your listener might not agree!

If it looks like I’m stereotyping or exaggerating, the only person I am vouching for is my younger self. Because I have had some pretty weird obsessions in the past, and what’s more, the weirdest ones were during my childhood. To show you what I mean… these were a few of my favourite things (yes, I did get The Sound of Music violin sheet music for Christmas).

Shortly after the sea life phase was snakes. I brought one of my snake books to show-and-tell, and gave the other Year Ones a lecture on how snakes displace their jaws to swallow whole animals before spending a whole week digesting them (fun fact). My favourite toy at the time was a plastic snake called Boris, with whom I shared every bath and bedtime, when he wasn’t wrapped around my neck. Not forgetting the reptile exhibition when I proclaimed to the man in charge: ‘I had no idea corn snakes were polymorphic!’

The next one I can remember was a certain computer game I owned from age eight onwards. It was 102 Dalmatians: Puppies to the Rescue, an action game featuring two puppies on a mission to save other puppies, while laboriously defeating Cruella DeVil, her henchmen and the evil robot toys. I definitely rang Grannie at least once just to tell her all about this game, and probably bored several babysitters to tears in a similar way. And on rediscovering this game last year, I found I am still pretty good if I do say so myself…

And onto the one I haven’t fully grown out of: cats. I’ve loved cats since before I can remember, but I think the nerdy fascination kicked off when I was ill in bed and Mum got me a library book about breeds. Before I knew it, my favourite game was ‘guess the cat breed.’ My school project on cats included detailed clay models* of every breed mentioned. And now here I am with a blog that has an entire section on cats. Yep.

On getting this far into this post, I’m beginning to think I need to do a part 2. Those were the most prominent special interests as a child, but I could still fill a page on my more recent obsessions, however ‘autistic’ or ‘normal’. Until then, everyone, what are your weirdest obsessions?

 

*picture to follow if I can find it

Have yourself a merry indoor-tree time (from Bouncer)

First of all, I’m assuming you remember me. If not, call yourself a loyal reader! Anyway, I’m Bouncer, self-appointed Guide Cat for the Autistic and aspiring co-writer of this blog. Now, I don’t know about you, but in our house, there has been a sudden increase in food, shiny things and human activity. I’ve noticed things like this seem to happen every winter, a time of year characterised by one thing: the big-indoor-tree.

My first encounter with the indoor-tree was when I was just a lad of six months. Actually, my brother discovered it first. Said it made a very comfortable bed. What a waste of a good tree! It grows indoors once a year and within a day, it even sprouts shiny cat toys. Why sleep when you can explore? I said as much to my bro, and since then I have explored every last nook and cranny.

When I’m in the tree, my humans like to play a little game with me. I have to see how close I can get to it before they react. If I keep this up, at least one will try to grab me, at which point I can either dodge as many limbs as possible or I begin my ascent. From there, they have to try to catch me, while I see how many squirrel stunts I can pull off. Such a blast!

In the past, there have been two trees to choose from. While there is more to be explored in the bigger one, the smaller one scored higher in terms of the adrenaline rush a couple of years ago. The best bit was when I managed to cling on as it came crashing down and its shiny toys shattered all around me. Not a game for the faint hearted.

I knew this big-indoor-tree time was off to a good start when the human I assist, whose blog I’m borrowing, and the tree both appeared with just one sleep in between. Tree related acrobatics were a key part of my youth. Can a less-young cat still do old tricks?

Much to my frustration, I haven’t had a chance to find out. It was a certain young madam’s first indoor-tree-time, and last week she decided she was taking over the humans’ part in the game. No, I’m not going easy on her because she’s a beginner; she didn’t play fair! First she swore at me every time I moved, then when I tried to make my upward escape, she lunged at me! And if, hypothetically, I did run out of the room, it was only to show her just how athletic I still am. The humans are wondering if I’ll retire from it all after being defeated. I’ll show them defeated…

Still, today has been good. It’s always exciting when you wake up to gifts of rustling paper wrapped around different shapes. Then for my tea, I got to taste some of that giant bird that only humans seem to catch. And finally, my girl and I are reunited. I’ve been showing her all the rooms in case she’s forgotten. But then I’m not going into how she keeps disappearing WITHOUT me. ‘Tis the season for forgiving and forgetting – if I forgive her, perhaps she’ll forget to disappear again.

And on that note, a happy big-indoor-tree time to you all!

bouncer christmas

The pet lovers’ dreaded debate part 2

I will never understand dog lovers. Or at least the ones who use this as an excuse to hate cats. Does this mean I have a problem with dogs? I’ve already explained this: not at all. Despite having done a similar rant here, I’ve been feeling a part two for that post brewing for months now. So here goes.

To me, hating an animal feels like more than just opinion. If someone told me they hated the colour blue, or spicy food, or classical music, it honestly wouldn’t bother me. Nor does it offend me when people are afraid of cats. Fear is a tough thing to overcome. But choosing to hate an animal without any real understanding? That’s what feels like prejudice to me. I’ve learned to still like and respect individual cat haters, but as with all prejudices, it will always bother me.

Now dogs need a pack leader, be it themselves or otherwise. This means that a dog would be loyal even to a leader who abused it, because following a leader would feel safer than leaving the group. While this is irrelevant regarding loving human-dog relationships, in this case it is instinct, not love. So why are dogs more compliant than cats in loyalty/obedience studies? They recognise the scientist carrying out the study as a leader to be obeyed. Cats don’t; if they show unconditional affection to a person, it is because they like them, not because they feel they have to. As with people, you have to work on a healthy relationship, not just expect one.

But why do cats slaughter wildlife? It’s instinctive, it’s how they’ve survived and it’s also why we domesticated them. If it’s any reassurance, cats aren’t nearly as responsible for the destruction of wildlife as traffic, pollution and loss of natural habitats by human beings. Similarly, both humans and cats kill for food. Those that don’t live on the streets don’t have to, but the difference is, we choose to kill for food/cruelty/war with other humans, or we can decide not to. Cats, like most animals, don’t have the same decision-making capacity.

Also, unlike us, cats can’t survive without meat. As a vegetarian myself, I would not emphasise this point lightly. It’s also worth noting that if all a kitten learns to hunt is toy mice and pieces of string, then it will grow up to be a pretty poor hunter anyway. Thomas thought that hunting was as simple as charging towards his prey while meowing his head off!

So to wrap up, let animals be animals without being judged or stereotyped. Drop the cat v dog wars. Rather than hating, maybe educate yourself about cats – or any animals or people you don’t get – or just accept what you don’t know and keep an open mind. A passing cat might be worthless to you, but it’s probably someone else’s beloved pet/loyal friend/living mousetrap/hopeless hunter. As the saying goes, one pet owner’s trash is another’s treasure!

20140613_085753

Who says cats don’t like human attention?

Part 1: https://unwrittengrace.wordpress.com/2014/07/24/the-pet-lovers-dreaded-debate/

Part 3: https://unwrittengrace.wordpress.com/2017/06/11/the-pet-lovers-dreaded-debate-part-3-double-standards-98/