Third in a series
Sharing stories of “Cougar’s” good behavior while living at their old house helped Mary Beth, his caring person, to relax. I told her that she really did have a good cat, despite his aggression. It was hard for him to live indoors in their new studio apartment, missing the thrill of the hunt of those furtive outdoor creatures of his previous backyard. He was struggling to adapt but I believed I could help Mary Beth tame her wild beast and get out of her apartment alive.
I picked my moment and finally asked, when did Cougar lunge and bite? Mary Beth explained that this only occurred just as she walked out her door. Her burst of activity, and the location of her exit, had become predictable to Cougar. He laid in wait by the door, slipping into his innate feline predatory mindset. Lurking, perfectly still behind the coat rack, he had perfected the art of the ambush. Instinct took over. Mary Beth was, in that moment, no longer his loving friend and caretaker. She was prey. This wild cat couldn’t choose not to attack.
Punishment, at the time of the offense, would seem logical to most people because we tend to anthropomorphize and assume that other species think just as we do. They don’t. Behavioral needs – requirements for survival, like predation – are genetically programmed into cats’ brains. A hard reprimand, or a more severe consequence, wouldn’t extinguish Cougar’s aggression but the trust between him and Mary Beth would certainly suffer. The trigger had to be avoided so we could set this stalker up to succeed.
I told Mary Beth to withhold Cougar’s food for 4-6 hours before leaving her apartment. Just prior to getting dressed she was to give him a challenging food-dispensing toy, in the bathroom, that would require mental focus and manual dexterity to give up its “innards” (foodpuzzlesforcats.com). With Cougar distracted and unable to watch Mary Beth bustling about, his escalating hostility would be abandoned. It would have been unkind to leave Cougar stuck in the bathroom for the duration of her person’s absence. On the other hand, with him loose as she tried to bolt out the door, she would still be at risk of becoming dead meat.
Next week: Race for the exit? The umbrella defense?
For help with behavior problems, you can sign-up for a Zoom Group Conference on my website, drjeffnichol.com.
Dr. Jeff Nichol is a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist. He provides consultations in-person and in groups by Zoom (505-792-5131). Each week he shares a blog and a Facebook Live video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Post pet behavioral or physical questions on facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.