Tim Dowling: Make No Mistake, Cats Are Actually Quite Stupid | life and style
IIt’s easy to think that cats are smarter than dogs, because whenever people show up, the cats go upstairs and sleep until the guests have left, instead of hanging around in an attempt. doomed to have fun. As a general social philosophy, this makes a lot of sense to me.
But cats are actually quite stupid – their approach to problem solving is notable only for bottomless persistence. As I sit at the kitchen table in the morning pretending to answer emails, I hear the cat behind me, methodically clawing at the cupboard door where the cat food is.
I say, “Don’t be crazy – I fed you half an hour ago.” But I think: I really don’t want to paint that closet door. After about 10 minutes, I give in.
On Sunday nights, my wife and I are watching TV when the dog and the cat walk past the screen, end to end. When the cat arrived as a kitten in October, the dog was deeply suspicious, but now that they are about the same size, they play together like a dog and a dog, or a cat and a cat. Either way, it’s not natural.
The cat jumps on the dog’s back. The dog turns over several times, until the cat lets go and slides on the floor and under the coffee table. The dog sits and looks up at my wife.
“You don’t know where you’re going tomorrow,” my wife said to the dog. “But you’re not going to like it.”
“Where?” I say.
“The dog groomer,” she says. I look down at the dog, who at this point looks like a puff of dirty smoke from an unswept chimney. You kind of have to guess where his eyes are.
“It’s been a long time,” I said.
I’ve never been to the dog grooming salon so I don’t know what the dog hates about it. I only know that if I try to walk the dog in front of its doors, the dog will insist on crossing the street. But I’ve also clipped the dog myself a few times, so I know it’s a job worth paying someone else to do.
The next day when the dog is on his date, I sit with my laptop in the kitchen, waiting for the pouring rain to stop before crossing the garden to my office shed. Behind me, the cat is sitting on its hind legs, working on the closet door with both paws, like a boxer hitting a speed bag.
“I can’t feed you three times in the same morning,” I said. “Imagine how weak that would make me look.” Ten minutes later, I give in.
The rain slows down enough that I can get back to my office without getting soaked. Finally, the sun rises and I open the door to the shed. When I hear a noise coming from the kitchen, I get up and walk over.
The dog stands in the middle of the kitchen, freshly shorn, having regained its former forms. The cat is near the garden gate, hunched over. The one in the middle laughs.
“What’s going on?” I say.
“He’s scared,” said the one in the middle. “He thinks it’s a different dog.”
The dog takes a step towards the cat, and the cat comes out the door through my legs, through the garden and the back wall, disappearing into the overhanging foliage.
“That’s really stupid,” I said. The middle one goes into the garden. The dog, traumatized and now repulsed, looks up at me.
“I’m sorry your friend hates you,” I said. “That wasn’t part of the plan.”
The dog gets up, then sits, then gets up, then moans.
“I mean, I think you’re pretty,” I said. A minute later, the middle one comes back with the cat in his arms, but as soon as the cat sees the dog, he frees himself and runs away. Even when the rain returns in the late afternoon, the cat does not return.
Eventually, the cat returns to be fed a fourth time, while the dog remains to watch, but as soon as its bowl is empty, the cat walks carefully around the perimeter of the room, maximizing the distance between itself and the dog, until until he finally reaches the cat flap and disappears.
“How long is this going to take? ” I say.
“I don’t know,” said the one in the middle.
Here we are: the dog got a haircut, and now the cat lives in a tree. I know comparing cognitive abilities from one species to another is probably a mistake, but I’m pretty sure that if I put glasses on the cat, the dog would still recognize it.
However, that thing about going upstairs to sleep when guests arrive – I still think that’s extremely wise and worth emulating. At least one of us learned something.