Friday, June 13, 2014

Living With Animals: Welcome Home, Mommy Monkey!

Shakir and Gayatri
I’ve been traveling for a little under two weeks and arrived home, hideously jet-lagged, to be greeted by various furred denizens of our household. (And also mine excellent spouse, but you can imagine for yourselves how that reunion went.) I’m struck by the differences in how they welcomed me home.

Tajji (German Shepherd Dog). Dave reported that she had been moping and looking for me when I left. She’s an affectionate, enthusiastic dog, so I expected great, ecstatic romping and kisses and general carrying-on. Sure enough, when I walked in the door, she started bounding and showing great joy – but not for me, for Dave, who had picked me up at the airport and been away for oh, maybe 2 hours at the most. But in the hours that followed, she would not let me out of her sight. She followed me from room to room as I unpacked and took every opportunity to snuggle up against me. (As I write this, she’s curled up on the dog bed in my office, watching me.) When I’ve taken her for a walk or worked on clicker training, she’s stayed remarkably focused on me.

Shakir (black cat) ran to greet me, ascertained that I had no food, and then went about his business as usual. I’m not sure he noticed I’d been gone, only gone from the kitchen. He’s cuddled with me at bedtime and when I’m sitting on the sofa knitting, as usual. A most unflappable cat.

Gayatri (tabby and white cat) was the real surprise. When I arrived, she was asleep in one of her favorite places, a towel-lined basket on top of the fax machine. When I came into the room, she startled awake, saw it was me, and went into a frenzy of welcome: purring alternating with loud meowing, rubbing up against me, rolling on her back so I could pet her tummy, then on her feet, polishing me with her jaw, then on her back…this went on for many minutes. And the orgy of feline delight repeated several times over the next day, although never as intense.

Tajji in snuggle-mode
We know – or perhaps we believe-with-scientific-evidence – that animals feel emotions. Joy, fear, jealousy, and grief are among them. But just as people express their feelings in different ways, animals do, too. I might speculate that Tajji moped in my absence either because of her attachment to me or her recent change in family; we’ve had her only four months or so. I could assume that she’s worried that yet another family member was going to disappear. I need to be on guard about projecting my own human (monkey) experiences on an animal. Tajji can let me know when she’s happy or distressed, through her body language, but I can’t “read her thoughts.” What’s significant to me is my own expectation of an energetic reunion turned out to be not the case, but there are many other signs of her attachment to me.

Shakir is a friendly, self-confident cat, fairly well socialized to people but not “aloof.” I suspect that any available human will do when it comes to snuggling – his “affection” is more situational than individual. That is, he’d beg for a treat or curl up next to any familiar human.

As I said, Gayatri’s welcome was the big surprise. She’s an extremely vocal cat, although a bit skittish about being petted, especially on the side of her damaged eye. I suspect there are some aspects of our daily interaction that are so important to her, the brief loss was distressing. But maybe that, too, is projecting too much.

At any rate, I am happy that each of the animals expressed some degree of pleasure at seeing me again. I know I felt great joy in our reunion!

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