Says Moncrif of cats, and especially of kittens: "Everything that moves serves to amuse them. They are convinced that Nature is occupied solely with their diversion; they do not conceive of any other cause for motion; and when by our movements we incite them to graceful tumbling, may it not be that they take us merely for pantomimists, all of whose actions are jokes?"
It is difficult for even those who profess to detest cats to resist the insinuating grace and cajoleries of the kitten. It takes life as such a huge joke, and the affairs of this earth as simply a series of sports designed especially for its own amusement. And the cat-lover finds literally no end of amusement in watching the development of the frisky and wholly irresponsible ball of animated fur into a dignified, intelligent cat—like Thomas Erastus, for instance, who guards the entire neighborhood like a watchdog, and who bears on his stately shoulders the care and responsibilities of a small universe of blundering, overgrown human beings.
Watch a kitten's coquettish pretences to maturity and first occasional symptoms of reason. Above all, watch it when it first refuses to obey blindly its mother's orders, and evinces the first show of that determination to "gang his gait" which is the part of a true cat-hood. And note the wiles, the coaxing, the vain assumption of lost authority on the part of the poor mother. Where among the "lower animals" is there a more fascinating study?
Kittenhood is the time when cats should be trained to cleanliness and good habits. If tricks are to be taught them, kittens of four or five months will begin to learn: although a cat's brain develops up to the age of two or three years. Do not let little children handle very young kittens, but a grown person, who knows how to do it properly, may teach a kitten to know her hand even before its eyes are opened. There is much difference in kittens even at that age, however; some of the tiny things showing an affectionate, even disposition, and others seeming to be but tiny bundles of nerves, that start and cry when they feel a strange presence near. Even these can be taught in a few weeks, if extreme gentleness is used, and persistent, careful stroking and handling is kept up regularly: so that the most nervous kitten becomes gentle, and affectionate, and trustful, by the time it is two months old. Great care should be taken in this respect, if a nice cat is wanted: because exceedingly nervous kittens, if left to themselves for six months or so, are extremely difficult to tame, and will never submit to being handled like those who have been trained from earliest infancy.
A writer in the London Spectator relates an instance where an old cat assisted in this training process: "There was an old cat, in one house I lived in, who had a numerous progeny. She was treated with the greatest respect by all the younger cats. She would punish them if they misbehaved (by scratching their faces), and they never retaliated. On the other hand, 'Grannie,' for that was her name, was kindness itself to all as long as they were dutiful, especially toward the kittens. She was a real good old 'Grannie' to them.
"Now, there was one kitten which was very timid. Whenever I went into the yard where they were kept, this one would run away in great alarm; whenever he did so, 'Grannie' would trot after him, and evidently try to induce the foolish little thing to return. I fancied hearing her say to this great-great-great-granddaughter of hers : 'Come, don't be stupid; that is a very kind gentleman. He won't hurt you.'
"'Grannie' at last succeeded in putting some confidence in the timid breast of this weakling. One day she came in and spoke to me, and then moved off. I followed; there was the kitten lying on a bench in the garden, trembling violently. 'Grannie' jumped up beside her; I saw that the kitten was anxious to escape, and was only held back by the assurances of the older cat. Some repetitions of this experiment emboldened the kitten, so that she became as tame as any of the others."
In case an extremely wild kitten of larger growth is to be tamed, the process must be very gradual. First let him entirely alone, but keep him a part of the time where he can see you and others moving about. Gradually he becomes accustomed to seeing strangers, and by degrees, first by placing his food on the floor and leaving it, and then by drawing closer at each feeding, you will manage to get near enough to stroke him, slowly and very gently. As soon as he comprehends that you are a friend and that he has nothing to fear, he is your friend. If he is not lifted from the floor, he will notice other cats sit on your lap, and some day will surprise you by jumping up of his own accord. Three kittens, who had run wild and been chased by boys with peashooters and stones for weeks, took shelter with us. At first they would run and hide at the slightest movement on our part, but on learning that we had nothing but kind intentions, they became gradually tamed and quite affectionate. One day "Little Blue" had allowed me to stroke his back on the floor for some time, and I ventured to lift him up. It was a new experience, and he was as frightened as I should be if some monster a thousand times my size suddenly lifted me a furlong above the earth, and for weeks none of us could touch him. But otherwise he was very friendly and social, and occasionally jumped into our laps of his own accord.
A cat is naturally the cleanest of domestic pets, and if a kitten is trained right at the start he will never give any trouble. The mother cat attends to his natural needs until he is about five or six weeks old, when he begins to run about, and perhaps to drink milk. If he is kept in the house, a low box, or, better, a tin or earthen pan of clean, dry sand or earth, should be kept where he can get into it readily. If he is shown to it a few times he will comprehend its purpose at once, and if the earth is changed frequently and kept clean, there will be no further trouble. As soon as he is big enough to run out of doors the box can be dispensed with. City cats, if of value, should not be allowed to run out, and should be provided with such an arrangement in the cellar, or some convenient place. A neat cat insists on having such places kept perfectly clean and fresh. In case a cat has been shut in a room, and accidents occur, an intelligent cat will often show great shame and contrition, and needs no punishment. If not, or in case of a kitten, he should be shown the place and severely scolded. Cats hate to be scolded, and this is often enough; but if not, an effective treatment is to hold their noses to the place, and punish them very gently. Kittens and cats should never be given a severe whipping. They are very delicately organized about the head and ears, and lasting injury may be done them. They will understand the meaning of a switching about the ears or paws just as well as a severe whipping.
In teaching cats tricks, begin with simple ones, like holding your hands together close to the floor, with the cat inside, and inducing him to jump over; then, by gradually increasing the distance of your hands from the floor, he may be taught to take the highest jumps. Whatever else you desire to teach him must be done with infinite patience and gentleness, showing him over and over again what you want done. A dog may be taught tricks by means of scoldings and whippings: a cat never. And it is not of the slightest use to attempt to teach a kitten tricks unless he is fond of and has faith in you.
Ten Angora Kittens; three months old: bred by George A. Rawson, Newton, Mass.
With regard to the training of cats (i.e. teaching them tricks) more than "the patience of Job" is required. Herr Techow of Germany has had the most wonderful success in this line, as all who have seen his troop of trained cats can testify. Herr Techow's cats jump through hoops of fire; they jump over one another on the tight rope, thus amicably solving the problem that worried the man and bear across the canyon. They walk on their front feet and on many strange pieces of apparatus in queer, wonderful ways. Furthermore, they regard existence from a new point of view, and look with mild disdain out of their yellow and green eyes at people. Each cat has his name, and knows it. In travelling, each one has his own little wire cage (his bed wherever he remains stationary), and when they are on the stage, each occupies his own separate low compartment on a table especially made for them, except when actually performing. These cats have the remarkably bright faces and intelligent eyes that the cat-lover recognizes as a distinguishing mark of the pet cat who has been trained and talked to from kittenhood.
Herr Techow claims that the secret of his success is a comprehension of the cat temperament. This is more than instinct, for in the present stage of development they achieve results more by intuition than by reason. In this respect, however, some men would say they know of parallels. The most luminous index of a cat's temperament is its tail, which in a high-strung, nervous cat is constantly waving back and forth, just as people drum on tables or chair backs with their fingers. Phlegmatic, placid cats rarely wave their tails. Herr Techow's conclusions are that cats with the artistic, nervous organization have the best minds, but are hard to keep amused and interested in their work. The slow cats thus often outstrip them in the end—a case of the tortoise and the hare. This matter of temperament can never be lived down, and comes out very curiously in the performances. One animal will walk over the tops of a row of Indian clubs very slowly, for instance, and all the education that Herr Techow has been able to devise, all the fleshly rewards which he can offer, will not induce that particular feline to hasten its steps one bit. But another cat will hop up on the clubs and hustle down the line and back so fast that you cannot see its feet move.
"A vagrant cat," says Herr Techow, "is the easiest to teach, the quickest to learn. Just as a street gamin gets his wits sharpened by his vagrant life, the stray, half-starved cat, forced to defend himself from foes and snatch his living where he can, has his perceptive faculties quickened and his brain-cells enlarged. I cannot teach a kitten. I take them from a year to three or four years old, and train them three years longer before it is safe to put them on the stage, with confidence in their performing the tricks they have mastered." He has studied deeply the cat character, and, in doing so, claims to have made two important discoveries. One is that cats have a sense of humor: the other demonstrates why cats have tails. When you see a cat walking a tight rope, it becomes plain why it should have a tail. Not having hands, Nature has provided the tail as a sort of balancing pole, and Techow's rope-walking cats use their tails just as Monsula does his balancing pole. If they happen to lose their balance, their tails will be observed waving frantically on the upside until the prospect becomes brighter. A bob-tailed or Manx cat has never been known to succeed as a ropewalker.
The humor in a cat is proven very clearly by Herr Techow's clown cat, who wears the customary headgear peculiar to that species of entertainer, and burlesques his associates in the same way a man circus clown runs under the elephants instead of jumping over them. Herr Techow says that the proverb to the effect that you cannot kill a cat with kindness, is singularly true. A dog, according to his experience, has to be whipped occasionally, or it becomes spoiled and no longer amenable to intellectual stimulus. Everybody knows how much sweeter is a canine that has been chastened and received with full forgiveness than the terrier that has become insanely optimistic. But a cat never forgets a blow, nor licks the boot which administers a kick. Herr Techow never uses a whip until his cats have perfect confidence in him and treat him as one of the family, and even then he only gives them slight taps as signals. In fact, I noticed (when privileged to go behind the scenes at Keith's Theatre, in Boston) that his cats seem particularly fond of him, uniting in a chorus of "purr-me-e-ows" when they hear his voice, and scramble all over him when let out of their cages.
Another European trainer who has accomplished wonders in this direction is a young Greek, Leonidas Arniotis, and he has accomplished the difficult feat of teaching dogs and cats to work together in harmony. His dog, Cerberus, is a great diver, and to this fact is owing all his success as a showman. When Arniotis was a student in Paris, he took the dog out one day for a walk. He had already taught Cerberus several tricks for pastime, and on this occasion, as they stood on a bridge across the Seine, they saw a man throw a cat into the river. A wink from the master, and the dog was in the water, struggling to get near the cat. He was soon able to seize the cat by the nape of the neck, and swim back to his master, and deposit the poor half-dead creature at his feet. Then and there a deep affection sprang up between the two animals. (Who says cats are incapable of gratitude?)
The two became inseparable, and when the master put the dog through his tricks, the cat sat by and watched intently for a time; but after a while he joined in the exercises, and their performances, undertaken as a mere pastime for the master, were the nucleus of a now celebrated company. Mr. Arniotis now has five dogs and two cats, who not only live together in perfect peace, but whose performances are quite unique.
The cats ride on the dogs' backs, and are not unseated when the latter jump over chairs or through hoops. One of their best tricks is done by a cat who climbs up a rope to a considerable height and jumps on a little platform, suspended from a parachute, on which he sails comfortably around the stage as if he enjoyed the experience.