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Cats and Courting

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Cats and CourtingWhether you stay in a high-rise apartment block, or in a quiet bungalow in a posh neighbourhood, it is unlikely that you’ve never heard the ear-splitting yowl of the tom-cat in search of his mate. This primitive sound, very much like the loud wailing of a new-born in a hospital ward can cause one to wake up from deep slumber and be forced to go to the loo in the middle of the night. Or it can bring some pretty lurid nightmares, if one refuses to get up.

The thing about cats is, they are always courting. As seekers of love and affection, and yes, even passion and its fulfillment, they are unparalleled in the animal kingdom. A female cat will also call out for male attention, but much more discreetly – her call sounds more sad than suggestive, more hopeful than tempting. These subtle sounds are usually answered by the appearance of several large toms, veterans of many street fights and ‘close encounters’. What the average feline lady could find attractive about these bruisers is an utter mystery. But she does! Her heart invariably gets thrown at the one with the missing ear and the many scars. As she walks, or rather slinks down an alley with her tough-looking suitor, a handsome, unscarred, slim young tom cat is invariably following at a respectful distance. This promising looking Romeo, though scoring high marks in the looks department, counts for nothing in the Catty Love sweepstakes.

Having had many cats over the years, I am completely familiar with the whole courtship scenario, down to its nuances, like the elimination encounter between two serious toms, both of whom seem to have a chance with the adored female. They face each other, hair on end, carrying on a virtual concert of yowls, looking sideways and making chomping gestures which look more cute than frightening! While our tom cats have been neutered to make them quick drop-outs of the courtship academy, we have the continued experience of being feline courting watchers due to our present female being a sterile cat. She goes through the entire courtship scenario every couple of months, without getting pregnant. Suitors of all colours, shapes and sizes follow her around in the neighbourhood, and when she shakes off their pursuit and comes home, they howl outside our window in protest.

Cats’ propensity for eternal love-seeking has drawn the attention of many writers and poets, notably the classical Japanese haiku poets, who describe the hoarse voice or the tattered whiskers of the tom in search of his mate in all weather conditions. The love life of felines has also been reflected in many jokes about them, such as:

A pretty Persian cat batted her eyelashes at a rough-looking tom staring at her from the other side of a barbed wire fence. When her looks turned inviting enough, the tom cat leapt up and jumped down into her side of the divide.

Now the engaging feline widened her eyes at her companion and asked, “Say, aren’t you Toby the tom cat?”

“Not any more, I’m not”, answered her rough companion ruefully.
“That fence was higher than I thought!”

All the years I’ve spent watching cats court each other has made me reflect on what it is that we humans seek from each other. Is it physical prowess and good looks? Is it the ability to bring home the bacon? Is it love, and enduring affection? Is it raising many delightful children together? Or some indefinable quality that the cats seek with the same seriousness that we do…all our lives.

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