Pavlov’s Cat

 

Some twenty years or more ago, my brother came to visit us for a long weekend and he brought with him a few presents and his own agenda. When he presented us with a gift for our first wedding anninversary, I ought to have been suspicious but being the polite soul I am, when I opened it I thanked him as graciously as I could, given that he’d decided a desk bell was the perfect gift for an almost-newly-wed couple. That was where his agenda began.

In some ways it wasn’t so much a present for us as a device to torment our cat, Watson.

   “I’m going to train him,” my brother said confidently.

  “Good luck with that,” I said. Dubious is my middle name some times

“Like Pavlov’s dogs, only with your cat,” he continued. “I reckon cats aren’t much different from dogs…”

He’d also bought a bag of expensive cats treats that one friend described as being like cocaine for cats. His grand idea was to ring the bell and give Watson a treat and that over a short period of time the cat would come when the bell was rung. He hadn’t planned on measuring salivation but the cat appearing at the sound of the bell was his main goal and over the weekend, it worked beautifully. If Watson was in earshot of the bell, he’d be in and waiting for his cocaine  treat.

My brother left on Monday deeply satisfied that he’d trained my cat. I admit I had been surprised that Watson had fallen so readily into his plan but I guessed that was the power of those rather delicious treats. Not so.

Shortly after I had come back from saying goodbye to my brother at the station, the true events of the weekend came to light. I didn’t work on Mondays so I was upstairs sorting out laundry when I heard something downstairs. Now, I was alone in the house and no one had access to the house except me and my husband, himself at work by that point.

The bell was ringing.

A few minutes previously, I had heard the cat flap open and Watson had come in from whatever hunting expedition he’d been on. Now we used to keep Watson inside at night because at the time catskinners roamed the area catching cats to skin for the fur trade, but the cat flap had been one with a lock. The lock had taken Watson ten minutes to figure out and he’d let himself straight out so we had been forced to manually block it at night to stop him getting out. The flap remained open until about ten or eleven at night and opened around 6.30am. Normally, he was off out all day hunting and only came home for meals or if it rained. This was around ten o’clock, so he’d come home for other reasons and when I came downstairs, I saw why.

Watson was perched on the shelf where we’d left the bell and the bag of treats. He’d carefully opened the bag and had one paw resting on the bell and as I watched, he raised the paw carefully and struck the button to make the bell ring, then he put his head into the treats and ate one.

Ding-munch, Ding-munch.

I watched in growing understanding for about thirty seconds before Watson raised his head and still chewing, gave me a look of such unmistakeable contempt that had he been human, he would have made a gesture with either one finger or two depending on nationality. He hit the bell one last time and walked off, still chewing.

That was the last time anyone tried to train that cat.

(For more tales of the ginger fury, please read:https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2010/03/24/watson-and-the-flying-birdcage/ )