Watermelon Ranch and the Intelligence of Cats
Near our home in Rio Rancho, New Mexico is a very special place, Watermelon Ranch. Watermelon Ranch is a no-kill animal shelter that does not keep abandoned animal companions behind bars or caged as if they had committed a crime. Their population runs the gamut of the animal world. They have pigs, horses, birds, dogs and cat plus other animals I did not get to see. As you may have guessed, my destination was the cat center. I read their literature before my visit and knew that they espoused a special philosophy of shelter care based on the Utah model.
From what I observed, the technique was all about inclusion, for the animals, for the shelter personnel and for the visiting and adopting public. The cats at the shelter were either abandoned by their previous owners or placed in the shelter when their owners could no longer care for them.
One of the first things I noticed about the cat area was the people furniture that decorated the rooms. Cats lounged on sofas and chairs as well as in cat beds and baskets. All of the cats were very laid back, some were a bit shy but most were extremely friendly.
Every one of the adult cats I encountered was beautifully socialized. There were no cats that hid from the human visitors whether the visitor was an adult or a child. Tigger has been known to head for the hills when toddlers arrive. These cats were perfectly comfortable with the small children and the adults.
At the Ranch, the occupants are treated more like children and less like dumb beasts. There are open rooms with toys, perches and tunnels to hide explore. There are exits from the rooms to an outdoor playground where the residents can sit on a perch and catch a few rays. Most of all the visitors were encouraged to interact with the cats in the habitat.
I have in the past adopted shelter cats that were frightened, and unfriendly. It would take a long time to get them to trust me. In the end, even when they trusted me, they would not extend that trust to other humans they encountered. This group of cats easily trusted the strange humans not to harm. I hope they never lose that trust.
I believe that animals, especially cats, are sentient in their own way. Tigger, my big male, can tell time, knows when I am upset and knows when I’m happy. He shows obvious disappointment when I’m on the computer and he can’t play or cuddle on my lap and he has been known to pitch a fit or two to get his way. If you listened to the description and remained unaware I spoke of my animal companion, I could just as easily described a recalcitrant child.
In my novel, The Sarran Plague, coming from Eternal Press, two very special cats help to save the universe. Cats are expert at ridding their domain of pests, see how Dr. Forrester’s stalwart Tigger, and Syn Sinclair’s very regal Duchess put their noses, ears and paws where they don’t belong and thus help the Sarran WarriorPairs and their beloved BondMates outwit the evil Zyptz. In the novel the cats are endowed with psychic powers.
In real life how smart are cats? The brain size of the average cat is 5 centimeters in length and 30 grams. Since the average cat is 60 cm long and 3.3 kg, the brain makes up 1/12 of its length and 1/110 of its mass. Thus, the average cat's brain accounts for 0.9 percent of its total body mass, compared to 2 percent of total body mass in the average human. The surface area of a cat's cerebral cortex is approximately 83 cm². The modern human cerebral cortex is about 2500 cm². Interestingly, cat brains have been shown to be more similar to human brains than other domesticated animals. According to researchers at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, the physical structure of human brains and that of cats are very similar; they have the same lobes in the cerebral cortex (the "seat" of intelligence) as humans do. Human brains also function the same way, conveying data via identical neurotransmitters.
Cats are also known to learn by trial and error, much the same way humans do. I have personal experience of Tigger learning to open doors (the bedroom door when we tried to lock him out). Tigger has also learn to use a tool. Before our older cat Minnie, passed away, Tigger learned how to ensure Minnie never took his spot in the bed.
My daughter Lori gave me a life sized stuffed cat when I complained I missed the cats while in the hospital. Tigger found the cat on top of a cedar chest while he was a kitten. Although it was twice his size, he dragged it up onto the bed while we were sleeping, deceiving Minnie into thinking he was in the bed. Minnie was not a friendly cat, one look at the cat in the bed and she went to sleep elsewhere, thereby giving Tigger leave to waltz in and out of the bedroom at his leisure and never having to give up his place at the head of the bed, right above my pillow.
Minnie eventually passed on before we made our move to New Mexico. However, the stuffed cat, now dubbed Fat Cat remains and is still carried around the house by Tigger. Tigger is the best feline companion we have ever had. He provides constant love, amusement and exasperation in equal quantities. Do I think he is intelligent –Hell yes! Tigger came from a shelter. I have had pure-bred cats that I loved, but were over bred and not too bright. I have had shelter cats that were frightened and aloof. Tigger came from a shelter very much like Watermelon Ranch. Our animal companions are just like children, who they are when they grow up depends on how they were raised and that fact, if nothing else, denotes intelligence.