Archive for November 5th, 2006

The tail tale

Tails are interesting appendages. Fish, whales, dolphins and sharks use them for power. Monkeys use them for stabilizing themselves as they sit in their trees. Lots of mammals use them for leverage and balance as they run and leap. But one of their primary functions is to communicate.

Think about the pair of calves tearing down the field in their 100 yard dash, tails held high and straight over their backs, the ends corkscrewing a little. They are having a heck of a good time. A rabbit hops cautiously, stopping to listen and sniff. His tail twitches paranoidly. A wren sits on the pergola scolding the cat that is sitting on the back porch thinking about going out to the barn to catch mice. Her tail jerks back and forth, stands straight up with complete aggravation.

Tails communicate so much, and the problem for cats and dogs that are trying to communicate is that the signals get crossed. When a dog is happy and feeling friendly, it will wag its tail enthusiastically. Cats, on the other hand, are lashing their tails when they are angry and about to pounce and bop you one. A poor misguided puppy can be snared into deep trouble because of misreading that signal.

playing.jpgAnd oh, the hurt feelings when the inevitable happens. “Why did that mean cat hit me? I was only wanting to play and I thought he wanted to play too. Mom, why is that cat so mean to me? I really like him, I just don’t understand.”

The cat, meanwhile, is blowing the smoke off the end of the weapon and thinking, “Stupid dog with her stupid dog breath. She should mind her manners and not get so close. Hmph.”

I was thinking about this as I was working on my kitchen walls. What brought it to my attention was the interaction I was witnessing between my cats and my dog.

Smokey tries to pretend that Ruby does not exist. This is very difficult to do, considering how large and bouncy she is. She is beneath him, except when he is sitting directly in her path from kitchen to back door. Then she is contemptible, and he hold the attitude that she better not get too close or else. “I have claws and I know what to do with them.”

mike-and-ruby.jpgMike, on the other hand, is intrigued. Sometimes he even deigns to play chase games with her. This is fun, sort of. You have to be careful, after all. Mike is armed too, and if you bounce too enthusiastically you are in danger of getting your nose whapped. I watched poor Ruby trying to translate Mike’s attitude. “Does he want to play or what?”

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