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January 11th, 2014

Cat Dreams…

Some weeks ago I brought a new cat into the house.   Her name is Isis.   She’s an eleven year old black domestic short hair I adopted from the Maryland SPCA.   More about that later.

I’m down in the art room working on the computer. Isis comes in and sits in my lap for a while, then hops off and lays down on a cat bed I’ve given her for down here. I keep working and after a while I hear a little sound, like a little cat snore. I’ve heard her snore occasionally since I brought her here and usually it stops after a moment or two. This time it gets louder. Then it gets really loud.

Alarmed, thinking she’s in distress, I get up and go check her. She’s laying curled up in the cat bed, and seems sound asleep. But she’s growling. It’s the same noise she makes when she’s at the front window and sees another of the neighborhood cats. You’ve probably all heard that set your teeth on edge slow drawn-out growl that’s the prelude to an all out cat fight. This was the sound she was making. But she was sound asleep, eyes closed, paws twitching slightly. I figured she was having a bad dream. I remembered a passage from Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley when Charley, his dog, was having a nightmare after seeing his first Yellowstone bear:

In the night I heard him whining and yapping, and when I turned the lights on his feet were making running gestures and his body jerked and his eyes were wide open, but it was only a night bear. I awakened him and gave him some water. This time he went to sleep and didn’t stir all night. In the morning he was still tired. I wonder why we think the thoughts and emotions of animals are simple.
John Steinbeck, “Travels With Charley”.

So I place a hand on my cat and for a moment it’s as if she doesn’t feel it at all. Then she startles awake, head up, eyes blinking. (What…what???) I give her some friendly pets and chin scratches and stay there while the dream leaves. She gets up and sits in my lap for a while and I keep petting the bad dream away. Eventually she wanders upstairs to the food dishes. I suppose cats do comfort eating too.

I wonder sometimes what animals that dream think of their dreams. Do they understand the dream wasn’t real? They must have some grasp of it. How else does a cat reconcile waking up from a dream of, oh say, stalking some tasty birds and then suddenly they’re in their cat bed inside the house. Or do they just casually accept that reality is like that? Not linear from past to present, but bouncing here and there like hot water on a griddle.

Silly human…the whole world is unstuck in time, you just don’t notice. Which of course means…because clearly I’m better at noticing these random time warps than you are…that it’s breakfast time whenever I say it is…

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