Captain Skycat

Ashes is on the top of the world looking down on everything and everyone. photo: john zipperer

There are many reasons to doubt the natural intelligence of Ashes, our little tuxedo cat.

How do I know she’s not an Einstein? For the sake of research, I found some online feline I.Q. tests (for example, see Ashes scored quite poorly, and our other cat scored very highly.

Even without a test, I knew little Ashes would never win on Jeopardy. Just by observing animals close-up over many years, we can get a good sense of how much brain power they’ve got in their furry little heads.

Of course, it doesn’t matter; we do not rely on her to do our taxes or suggest investment strategies. Ashes is a fun and sweet cat. Unlike her antagonist — our other cat, Charlie — she likes to curl up on a lap and go to sleep. She also lets herself be picked up, something Charlie avoids via the effective method of scratching and biting anyone who holds him for longer than five seconds.

But she is in an unequal competition of wits with Charlie, who sees her in somewhat the same light that President Obama sees ISIS. Where Ashes rushes in to explore a new room or piece of furniture or visitors to the house, Charlie watches, calculates, considers, and only then makes his move. When Charlie chases her (and we’re unable to stop it right away), Ashes gets by on the speed advantage she has over the older, bigger Charlie; she just outruns him and eventually jumps up on a piece of furniture where he can’t reach her. Meanwhile Charlie tries to make up for his relative slowness (and it is only relative to Ashes — when he takes off after her, it’s easy to forget that he’s a 17-year-old with weak back legs) with cunning and trickery, sneaking up from unexpected directions or circling back around a large object and catching her coming the other way.

When we’re not home or when everyone’s asleep, Ashes is perfectly safe in the big master bedroom, a land that is shut off and verboten to Charlie. So they only match wits when we’re around to observe, try to prevent fights, and take notice of their uneven matchup.

In 2010: Odyssey Two, Arthur C. Clarke’s sequel to his groundbreaking 2001: A Space Odyssey, an alien race has taken over one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa, and they send a message to Earth: “All these worlds are yours except Europa; attempt no landing there.” So the humans have the entire solar system to enjoy and exploit; all they need to do is stay away from that one planet. Simple enough, isn’t it? Even an idiot can follow those instructions.

Apparently those clear instructions would be lost on Ashes. She’s not even smart enough to know how to avoid Charlie when she has run of the entire home — many rooms in which she can run around, sleep, play, stare out the windows, etc. — and Charlie has settled down in his cat basket in one bedroom. Even to a cat, the message should be clear: All these rooms are yours except that bedroom; attempt no entry there.

But she does. Repeatedly, she’ll wander in, Charlie will wake up and notice, and she’ll act surprised that he rouses himself to chase her away. And she never learns the lesson that the alien — I mean, Charlie — has tried to teach her.

Another example occurred just the other morning. I keep my running shoes on the floor in my bathroom. More than a few times when we have wondered where she was, we found her in my bathroom, rubbing her face on the shoes or even rolling on the floor next to them. Why? She’s a cat; who the heck knows? What inevitably happens? Charlie wanders in, catching her unaware in a small bathroom with its only exit blocked by Charlie’s big form.

I hope I’m not overstating my case. Ashes isn’t so stupid she walks into walls. She might even be of average feline intelligence. But because she is the equivalent of an eighth-grade physics student going up against Stephen Hawking, her mental wattage is both more apparent and an actual handicap in her dealings with Charlie.

So it was with particular pleasure that we saw that she found a way to escape him. With a hop onto a kitchen counter, she can then jump up onto the top of the refrigerator and walk over a couple feet to where she can climb onto the top of the cabinets. That’s far more jumping than old Charlie can pull off. Being up there satisfies her two biggest desires: be safe from Charlie, and look down upon everyone and everything.

Maybe if Ashes were smarter, she would lead a less fulfilled life, frustrated with the limited horizons available to the junior varsity cat in our two-cat household. She wouldn’t get all purring-and-rubbing-up-against-our-legs happy just because we feed her; she would dress all in black and sit back, knowing that dinner comes twice a day. Life is repetition until we die; telle est la vie.

I’m so glad Ashes has finally found her place in the world. Apparently, it’s atop our refrigerator.

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