Boating Adventures | "Understanding the Lion in your Living Room" by Vicki Totten

Skipper practicing his high wire act before dawn.

I have endless curiosity about why people behave the way they do. While my background as a marriage and family therapist is helpful in deciphering behaviors, there are still plenty of times when I remain clueless. But where I am really clueless is in understanding the behaviors of my cats.

For example, where do cats go when they disappear for hours on end? Why does my cat Skipper insist on climbing to the highest point he can find, whether it is a roof, a tree limb, or a ledge - only to then roll over on his back and put his paws down toward me? Does he think I can somehow magically reach up 10 feet to scratch his belly? Or is that just his way of taunting me? And why does my geriatric solid black cat Cisco always hide in the closet, even though he has gotten locked in there on more than one occasion because he hides so well?

Recently, however, I found answers to some of those behaviors in a Netflix documentary about cats called "Lion in your Living Room." In addition to the incredibly beautiful visuals, the film provides a glimpse into understanding some of those "weird" cat behaviors those of us with cats sometimes observe. For example, it turns out it is true that cats have secret lives and they sometimes visit daily with a particular neighbor or take naps at someone else's house. And they need lots of naps, since they spend anywhere from 12 to 16 hours a day sleeping. Another 25% of their time is spent cleaning themselves.

As soon as you spot me, I'll roll over on my back.

Inspecting the damage from Hurricane Harvey

Also according to the film, the ancient Egyptians loved their cats. It turns out that domestic cats of every breed have their genesis in the middle and near east. Cats also typically have a set route they travel when you let them out - which can vary from a few blocks to an entire neighborhood. They sometimes have difficulty living with other animals, but they have ways of letting other cats, in particular, know if they are willing to tolerate being around them. When they put their tail up around another cat, and the other cat puts their tail up, that signals that they are willing to coexist around one another.

So my cat Cisco's insistence on hiding in the closet might be traced back to their lives as hunters, since being able to hide in the dark was one way of protecting themselves from predators while also surprising their prey. I figure most likely he is hiding from Skipper, since Skipper is only a year old and likes to torment 16 year old Cisco, who doesn't appreciate the idea of "play" quite as much as Skipper does.

Cats also need to be hunters, which means asking them to quit their predatory habits by staying inside, can be challenging. This fact partially helps explain my cats insistence in the mornings on being let out. We lock them in at night when we are in Austin because we live near the greenbelt and Coyotes often roam the neighborhood at night. But it is their behavior once we let them out that still has me flummoxed.

Trying to figure out how to open it.

Willing it to open.

Instead of being able to enjoy my coffee and read the paper in peace, I have to listen to Skipper's constant whining and crying and scratching to be let out the door.  Cisco is much more subtle about his desire to get out, and more often than not takes the opportunity to come curl up next to one of us as we read our paper.  But this frantic insistence is repeated every morning, so one would think there is something out there that Skipper is wanting to do that he can't do inside.  One would be wrong. 

Once it has gotten light enough outside for us to let them out, the first thing they do, every single time, is to walk about five to eight feet from in front of the door and immediately lie down on the sidewalk.  Seriously.  There is a window right beside the door. Why can't they just lie down in front of it, but inside the house and let me enjoy my morning coffee and paper in peace? 

After hours of whining, seriously, five feet from the door?

Now what?
Unfortunately, the film still didn't help me to fully understand that particular behavior.  Maybe my cats see that as protecting us, even though the only thing I see them protecting us from is their annoying whining before we let them out. 

Trying to figure out how to get up to the rafters, maybe?

And nothing in the film helped to explain Skipper's behavior of climbing to the highest point he can find and then rolling his body halfway off the edge.  I suspect it could just be the way he amuses himself - by watching me freak out every single time.  Or maybe that's his way of letting me know he trusts me to catch him if he falls.  Hopefully we won't ever have to test that one out.  In the meantime, I'll leave some of their behaviors to the "cat behaviorists" to figure out.
Sometimes it takes two.

Getting ready for the roll.

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