Sunday, January 9, 2011

Herding Cats!

This blog comprises my own opinions and does not include any feline  opinions...or objections for that matter. Please keep that fact in mind before forging ahead.

Have you heard that expression? "It's like herding cats!" I've learned it means that something or some task is next to impossible--or at best--extremely difficult. I really don't know about that since cats on a daily basis.  And while some days can be more trying than others, most of the time, it's not difficult to get them to head in the direction you need them to go.

Go ahead and laugh at me. But after eight years of managing ferals, combined with a lifetime of being owned by cats, I think I've got it down pretty much and pat. *grins at you* The first clue you need is to make them think it's their idea in the first place. Yeah, I know. It's easier said than achieved but that's the main concept in herding cats. However, that's true about motivating anyone into doing what you need them to do, right? Cats are not that much different. 

Ok--there are two exceptions. Every cat remembers when they were worshipped as gods. Sure that may have happened hundreds of thousands of feline generations ago, but  they remember. They also wish you and I and every other human being would remember this important piece of feline history as well. So be respectful. You don't need to bow down and worship them, but please be respectful. Basic courtesy makes them shiver with delight and gets you mousey points. (Similar to brownie points in human terms.) 
What?!?!? Think like a HUMAN!?!?! You've got to be insane! 
The second exception is that cats do not think like humans. This bears repeating. Cats will not lower themselves to think like humans. After all, they believe they are much more intelligent than we are. Their level of intelligence is not defined by mere IQ exams presented by humans. Cats have better percipience of all matters that are important (they do not count politics, religion, or world view/philosophy as important). So if you give a cat's actions human translation, you are in danger of being too simple-minded to understand their lowest level of communication. 

So with those two facts in mind, herding cats can be relatively easy. Motivation and reward works with cats. For instance, when my husband is filling up the food and water bowls for the ferals outside, his biggest concern is the indoor cats who are trying to make good on an "escape." Escape as in getting outside long enough to roll in the dirt, and for fun, have their human friends play chase. Meaning the humans chase the cat until they are ready to go back indoors.  They don't see the consequences of possibly getting into a catfight with the ferals or getting hurt or getting lost because that falls under politics, religion, and/or worldview/philosophy. Remember--those things are not important to cats at all. 

Therefore, it's up to us mere humans to understand what it will take to keep the indoor kitties separated from the feral kitties. We use motivation in the form of treat bag noise to entice them away from thinking about escaping. The reward is what comes out of the treat bag. We don't feed them their treats in a bowl because we realize we are dealing with hunters. So we toss the treat bits out and about and that allows them to "hunt them suckers down and eat them with joy!" That little bit of motivation is often enough to keep them occupied while D carries out bowls of food and fresh water for the ferals outside. 

Here's another example of herding cats--making them go where you need them to go. For the past year, Arby was terribly ill. We had her in Dr. J's office nearly every other week for nearly the past year. She was difficult to diagnose and difficult to treat. She lost weight and because she's not a large cat in the first place, losing a few ounces constantly did not bode well for her. Her coat became ragged, she lost her playfulness, and she was miserable. We contemplated euthanasia but neither D nor I nor Dr. J were ready to give up just yet. Arby is a fighter and whatever was making her sick was not taking the life out of her. 

Finally, Dr. J tried a radical therapy---a shot of antibiotic + steroid + Vitamin B12  once a week for a month to see if that would kill the bacteria in her gut that was giving her acid reflux. To top it off, we were trying daily doses of Mylanta to help curb the acid that was burning her mouth and throat. Arby HATES shots. She doesn't care who gives them, she hates them. She uses claws, fangs, and twisty moves and then more fangs and claws to let us know she's not happy about getting shots. By the time the shot is administered, more than one person is injured, reaching for bandaids and white vinegar and a thesaurus (to swear effectively and creatively).

So remembering to think like a cat, I made a deal with her. She could eat off my plate every day as long as she let me give her weekly shot and two daily doses of Mylanta. She could eat people food as much as she wanted if she worked with me and didn't cause too many injuries in dosing her. She agreed. That night I took  choice, tasty bits off my plate and placed them on a small plate for Arby. 

It worked. Within two weeks, she was responding well to this new therapy and gaining weight. Within a month, her mouth wasn't ugly red or sore. She eats a combination of people and cat foods daily. She only has to go in occasionally for shots, instead of once a week. Her coat smoothed out and is silky. 

And she's been playing again. 

Nonetheless, Arby is feline and cats do not like to be caught. So D will literally herd her into the kitchen where she lets me pick her up for her daily dose of medication.  Somedays, she makes him chase her around the house. Other days, she prefers to get this nasty tasting affair over and done with quickly and runs into the kitchen so I can dose her. The motivation is to keep herself healthy so she doesn't have to deal with Dr. J and his shots...the reward is eating people food. 

So the next time someone tells you that something is "like herding cats" remember that it's not as difficult as it's made out to be.  



  1. Ok, try herding 1st graders. That's why I teach 6th grade, they're more like herding cats. ;)

  2. Cat-egorically speaking, very true and very humorous. Cats do indeed think themselves superior beings and I'm sure they are biding their time, just waiting for humanity to annihilate themselves, so that they can once again dominate this planet. Truthfully I doubt that they could miss things up any more than we already have. ;)

  3. Ah, such great wisdom from a feline scholar. Sometimes I think Velvet is smarter than me because she always gets what she wants and I don't. Hmmmmm.. Cats definitely know how to herd humans!

  4. Yes, there is no teach with cats, only bribe!

  5. Loving it. I used to be owned by a 25 lb. Maine Coon feline named King Kong. If he could be convinced that it was in his best interest to do anything, then it got done, otherwise, not so much.

  6. This post is GREAT!!! Since I work for a veterinarian, I was especially interested to read how Arby trained you to pass her your dinner plate after she took her medicine !!!! =^..^=
    m.e. :D

  7. I just love cats. Love them so much. I cant understand how some people hate them..can you? How could anyone hate anyones of Gods creatures?!
    Cats are to really be admired!

  8. What a fantastic post and funny read! You need to seek publishing in a pet magazine or something. I too have been able to heard cats. With 14 cats, I have to! It's a full time job though. lol

  9. I've always considered myself a "cat wrangler"! And thanks for visiting my blog "Gem Trails" and commenting on the Iroquois article. I'm your newest follower. Deci