The other day I wrote about dogs and my personal version of animal enrichment programs. Cats, because of their natural curiosity and hunting drive need little encouragement when it comes to enticing them to play. Unlike dogs, who often need food as motivation, cats will make a game out of just about anything. A string, a ball, a bit of crumpled up paper, a sock, lint, imaginary monsters chasing them down a hallway…
With my two cats (both now resident in the Great Catnip Field in the Sky) I used to take a plastic grocery bag, twist it until it was a thinnish strand, then tie it in several knots and trim the ends off. Depending on the texture of the bag, it then made some kind of tantalizing, crinkly sound and offered a satisfying clunk when batted…down the stairs, say. I would often sit at the bottom of the stairs and toss the “ball” up while one or the other of the cats–never both–batted them back down to me, often very intently. They, and I, never tired of this game and much like kids, they somehow preferred that homemade toy to anything I ever bought.
When I moved to an apartment it became all the more important to provide mental stimulation for my Fuzzy Buddies. On occasion I took them out on leashes, so they could experience new smells. Often it was enough to let them roam the apartment hallway for a few minutes, with my door propped open for quick escape if they needed it. I’ll never forget how my timid, all-white Boeing loved to sit primly outside the door at the far end of the hall where a small dog lived, driving him absolutely crazy on the other side of the door. If that dog had been out she’d have climbed the walls (which is exactly what she did after encountering a boisterous dachshund in the hallway one day).
Another of my favourite feline enrichment programs (a.k.a. ways to keep your cat on her toes) was the plastic lizard. On a lark one day brought home a plastic lizard, about 6 or 7 inches long. When I put it on the floor, both cats immediately went into classic alert mode, complete with puffed up fur and arched backs. Lewis, the proficient hunter, was much braver than Boeing and soon began to make advances. Rather than have her get too close and spoil the game, I removed the lizard so I could tease again another day.
A few days later I added a “leash” of fine thread and proceeded to “walk” the lizard. Whenever Lewis got too close, I’d twitch the string and the lizard would move, sending her leaping backwards. Clever cat that she was, if I picked up the lizard she would follow me around looking for it, so to add to the air of mystery surrounding this strange creature I began to whip it around a corner then, blocking her view with my body, snatch it up and under my shirt. One afternoon she spent at least an hour crouched in front of the stove, peering under it, waiting for the lizard to reappear. You can bet she slept well that night after so much excitement.
We haven’t even gotten to boxes, which is what I was thinking about when I decided to write about animal enrichment programs for cats and before I took a lovely stroll down memory lane. Boxes are a whole other category of cat-inspired entertainment. What is it about cats and boxes? There’s a commonly held notion that to catch a cat you simply need to put a box out in plain view and before you know it, the cat(s) will appear and “catch” themselves. Thanks to sites like FaceBook there is countless, irrefutable data (i.e. photos) supporting this belief. Cats just love boxes.
And, as it turns out, it’s not just your typical short-hair domestics. Someone else wondered what I wondered and yes, it seems lions and tigers love boxes just as much as their smaller cousins, making boxes a fantastic wildlife enrichment option for zoos and big cat rescue centres.
When I watch this video it reminds me just how much of its wild behaviour our friendly house cats have retained. So next time your Fuzzy Buddy feline comes home with some nasty, once-live critter just remember how much you love the instinct that makes it so entertaining when it plays (i.e. play hunts) with you.