I don’t know how common this is in cats, but my cat is profoundly and directly grateful. It is something I find astonishing on a daily basis — his water fountain is on my writing desk (which I really never sit at – it is more of an elevated cat platform — I write at my computer and read on my bed.) His food dish is a little behind my chair, right next to one of his 5 beds. He likes to sleep in different places in the room depending on what I am doing. You might get the idea from this that he is somewhat spoiled.
He likes to play tricks on me — despite having the top of my writing desk and most of the floor (and at least a third of my bed on cold nights) the seat that he really wants is the one in front of the computer — the one I am usually sitting in. So he will go to the door and asked to be put out, and a minute later ask to come back in — he knows I’ll be standing at the door, so he runs through my legs and takes the chair I was sitting in. He then throws himself down so that his body takes up most of the chair, and digs into the cushion with front and back claws. I’ll scoop him up against the back of the chair and sit down on the font edge. He bites at my hands when I push him, but not really with any malice, and then he settles down and purrs and sometimes goes to sleep. Sometimes I’ll grab him and unhitch his claws from the cushion and cuddle him and blow in his face (hey, he’s the one who stole my seat.) And he’ll get mad and put his paw on my forehead until I put him down, and then he’ll go sulk in the corner.
When he had to throw up, he threw up on my Microsoft Windows XP CD’s — which I thought showed excellent judgment, but I’m pretty sure they were just what was at hand.
But that isn’t the behavior that amazes me. What I think is really incredible is that after he eats and drinks — almost every time, he will sit and look at me for a couple of moments. If I make eye contact with him he practically wiggles in place — like a child greeting you when you come home. He just radiates “I’m happy to see you!” — and then he will come over, purring loudly and lick his chops and walk back and forth rubbing my legs, or my hand if I lower it to him. I would expect this in a cat that wanted to be fed — but he does it AFTER he eats. He knows that I’m the one who puts the food and water in the dish — and almost EVERY time he eats or drinks he comes over and tells me “Thanks.”
What is uncanny to me is both the clarity and the intensity of the communication. It isn’t like “Oh, thanks.” or “Oh, yea, and by the way, thanks.” He aggressively enters my space — he will sit on the desk and wait till I look over, and then he comes over and looks up. He purrs loudly, not softly, and he pesters me until I acknowledge him. Its not some diffuse sense of well being — like he just feels good because he’s full. It is a direct communication, he singles me out, wants me to stop what I am doing to listen, and then communicates his message. Most people are not that clear in their intentions — instead expressing gratitude in a minimizing manner, or taking an apology as an opportunity to continue airing a grievance. He communicates his gratitude exactly and forcefully, and then he’s done — unlike when he wants attention, which will go on endlessly with him batting at my feet and chewing on cables. (interestingly enough, he never chews on the cables if I’m not here — I never come home to damaged cables* — he only does it because he KNOWS that I will stop what I’m doing and chase him off — again, the action is very deliberate.)
I find it interesting that we think of abstract emotions such as gratitude as being human constructs, when they so clearly are not. It makes me think that for most of human history, most people really haven’t been paying attention.
*actually, once when I had been listening to music and ignoring him completely, he totally shredded my headphones while I was at dinner, breaking the wire into segments a foot long, and pulling all the padding off the speakers. Again — not a lot of ambiguity there.
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