We were walking up the road the other night, when we met up with our neighbour who was driving out with Pica and Hugo, two rescue Huskies, and their new friend Polo, a Malamute.
With most of our dog pals we wave and move on but as Pica is my good friend, she was hanging out of the window. Her mum being obliging, she pulled up.
As we hugged and gossiped, our cats Target, Guido and Swooner came marching out of our driveway. Charlie, the cat who lives across the street appeared as well. They took one look at Pica who was kissing me, and another at Polo who was chatting to Tom, and then all four kitties put back their ears and glared at us.
Of course, I knew I was in trouble straight away. What was interesting, however, was that the dogs looked at the cats and then there was this pregnant pause. Pica looked at me, then she looked at Target, and then there was a tonne of subtext in the air.
Target didn’t like me talking to the dog at all, and the dog knew it. Like jealous children, they were both claiming “their” human.
Also, there was that dog-versus-cat feel to the air. The dogs were staring at the cats in a way that said, “I loooove cats! They’re so tasty.”
On the surface, the cats should have been afraid. However, this lot were eyeballing them right back, totally confident that the canines were locked in the car and unable to get at them.
That’s when Target sat down and licked his shoulder. Charlie was right beside him, rolling over on his back and showing his tummy.
I’m telling you, the cats were sending a message, and it was the equivalent of, “Nanananana!” and a raspberry you could have heard from the other side of the city.
One of the big debates is whether animals have feelings. This situation was rife with complex context but I have no doubt at all, that every furry there knew exactly what was going on. This involved territory, gang affiliation and some very hot emotions.
The dogs were talking to us, and thinking they were winning, but the cats retaliated by taunting them.
The thing about Pica, is that she is a great tease herself. When I saw her for coffee a few weeks ago, she came prancing up, her best toy in her mouth. She showed it to me and, when I reached for it, she darted away. Then she danced back, held it out again – and dashed off before I could touch it.
She let me have it the third time she bounced up and we had a good game of tug. Of course she won, and then we did it over and over again. We had a blast because Pica adores a good game.
The thing about teasing is that it can be in good spirits but it also comes perilously close to bullying. A dog who is expecting to play fetch, for example, may laugh at being fooled once if you don’t throw the ball.
But if you do it over and over again, they become frustrated and then angry. Then you end up with a pet who refuses to play – and who doesn’t particularly like you very much either. I get that because I’d react in the same way. Fool me once to make me laugh but after that it’s just not funny.
So when Target sat there, super nonchalantly licking his fur, while Charlie flaunted his tummy, there was no doubt in my mind that the cats were teasing in the worst possible sense of the word.
The dogs didn’t like the situation at all but there was nothing they could do about it. Pica licked my hand in a thoughtful way, Polo was wriggling in frustration, and Hugo was perfecting his death glare that said, “If I weren’t stuck in this tin can …”
It really was a tense moment and then the dogs decided to pretend they couldn’t see the cheeky cats. We chatted, they enjoyed their cuddles, and then we said our goodbyes. But, oh boy, those dogs knew they were being dissed all right. No doubt about it.
Do Animals Experience Feelings And Emotions?
Stories in which animals think and act like us have been told since ancient times. Just think of the Hare and the Tortoise. There are also stories where trees, seas and mountains have human qualities, such as the various volcanoes that were bribed with human sacrifices.
The idea of granting human-like actions and thinking to animals, volcanoes and so on is called anthropomorphism, a word with Greek roots, which means to humanise.
While that word may not be an everyday term, many of us do it all the time, like talking about our cars and gardens as if they have feelings. However, when push comes to shove, do we think animals are just like us?
There are people who firmly put humans in one category and the rest of the planet in another: they say we are unique in having feelings, emotions and logic.
On the other extreme are those who say that animals are exactly like us, with the same feelings, emotions and so on.
Right in the middle are the folks who divide emotions into basic feelings such as anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise. Animals, they say, share those with us. However, complex emotions such as guilt, jealousy and sympathy are beyond them.
Where you stand may have a huge impact on how you view your diet, farming, circuses and other matters. If you’re interested in reading up on the subject, there are lots of great books including The Expression Of The Emotions In Man And Animals by Charles Darwin, Are We Smart Enough To Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans de Waal and The Emotional Lives Of Animals by Marc Bekoff and Jane Goodall.