This former stray clearly has paternal instincts. He found an abandoned kitten and, remembering his own rough life on the street not so long ago, brought the little guy home to his human like “Can we keep him?!?”
Rabbit the stray seemed to know which humans would help him out.
The street-savvy cat would wait in front of a convenience store, sitting patiently on the sidewalk until he saw a person who would give him a smile or a pat on the head. Then, with Kitty Mind Control Mode enabled, he’d lead his new human minion into the store, guide them to the pet food aisle, and point to his favorite food.
When I saw this, my reaction was sadness: From his familiarity with people to his preference for store-bought cat food, Rabbit was clearly someone’s pet, either lost or abandoned. He’d faced hardship. He was skinny, his snow white fur was dirty, and there was only a stump where his tail should have been.
Thankfully, this story has a happy ending.
Tania Lizbeth Santos Coy Tova, a 33-year-old teacher who lives in Mexico, had encountered Rabbit a few times before. She decided to ask about the cat.
“Every time he came to the store, we greeted each other and did the same, he guided me to the shelf and chose the food he wanted,” she said.
The managers of the store explained to Tania that the stray always did the same thing with customers. He understood specific hours and waited until a kind passerby would take pity on him and purchase some food.
Santos Coy Tova wanted to see if Rabbit had a home, so she and a friend followed the friendly cat after encountering him one day. When Santos Coy Tova saw the little guy return to an abandoned house, she decided he’d be coming home with her.
For those of us interested in animal intelligence — and feline smarts in particular — this story is fascinating.
Rabbit knew where cat food was purchased, was good enough at reading human body and facial language to reliably find friendly people who were willing to help, and he knew which package his favorite food came in. In addition, he knew that pointing to the package would draw a person’s attention to it.
He wouldn’t have been able to pull that off without the ability to plan ahead and think in the abstract. He also understood the food had to be purchased, or at least that a human had to get it for him. In the video he doesn’t just leap up at the package and take it, he points and looks back toward his person. That also shows he possesses theory of mind, that he understands humans and other animals have a subjective point of view.
This isn’t happening in a research lab environment, true, but it never could have. These are a unique set of circumstances showing cats understand more than they let on — a lot more.
I was driving home on Tuesday night, just about to leave the city limits of White Plains when I saw a cat laying in the road.
I swerved to avoid the cat, saw motion out of the corner of my eye, and pulled over on the nearest side street. There was more traffic behind me and I held my breath as I approached, worried that one of the passing cars would drive over the injured feline.
Using my iPhone as a flashlight, I finally got close. The poor cat was dead. There weren’t any obvious injuries, but his mouth was filled with blood. In retrospect I believe the movement I saw earlier was just the wind blowing his fur.
I picked him up, carried him off the road and set him down on the grass near a street sign. Then I called the police.
He was well-fed and well-groomed, with a striking coloration — medium-length fur that was pure white except for a single black stripe on his tail.
This was someone’s beloved cat, and that person was going to be rattling a bag of treats and calling out for kitty to come home, wondering where the little guy had gone.
Someone hit or drove over that beautiful cat and kept driving.
It’s one thing to know the statistics, to understand in the abstract that outdoor cats only live three years on average while their indoor counterparts live an average of 16 or more years, and quite another to see a dead cat up close with my own eyes, left there as roadkill.
Many people labor under the assumption that cats belong outside as if it’s their natural habitat. The truth is, cats don’t have a natural habitat. As domesticated animals they’re no different than dogs, pigs or cows — the process of domestication has rendered them human-dependent. They’re genetically distinct from their wild ancestors, molded over thousands of years to be companions to humans.
Domestic cats aren’t as swift or agile as wildcats. While they retain some of their wild instincts, they’re ill-equipped to deal with danger.
Life as a feral or stray is tough, brutal and short. Some can survive for a short while. Most don’t.
They should live indoors, and there’s no reason an indoor life should be boring for them. As caretakers it’s our responsibility to keep them entertained, to provide them with toys, perches, hiding spots and window vantages. Most of all, it’s our responsibility to give them attention and affection.