Coun­try Squire

IS YOUR CAT TRY­ING TO TELL YOU SOME­THING? ROB IN­GRAM FACES FACTS ABOUT OUR FURRY FRIENDS’ FEEL­INGS.

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LOOK, I DON’T know if men are from Mars and women are from Venus, or what. But our brains are def­i­nitely wired dif­fer­ently. The Cho­sen One, for in­stance, be­lieves she can read the ex­pres­sions on cats’ faces. “I’m con­cerned about Polly,” she told me the other day. “She’s brood­ing about some­thing.” How could she tell? Well, she told me, the cat was look­ing dis­tracted and anx­ious. Now, this is daft. Cats have faces, not ex­pres­sions. Just to be sure, I checked out our cat’s face closely. She just looked straight back at me with that “You lookin‘ at me?” scowl shared by cats and ine­bri­ated Glaswe­gians. The most in­ter­est­ing thing about cats’ faces is that they some­times dis­play face-shape char­ac­ter­is­tics sim­i­lar to hu­mans. Our cat, Polly, for in­stance, has a face re­sem­bling that of tele­vi­sion horserac­ing tip­ster Ron Duf­ficy. Maybe they share an ex­pres­sion of com­pla­cency or shrewd­ness, but I don’t think so. It’s just the shape of the face — the spac­ing be­tween the eyes and the short up­per lip. What­ever, the sim­i­lar­ity is so marked that I some­times wake at night with a start think­ing I’m shar­ing a pil­low with Ron. “What do you fancy in the third at Rose­hill to­mor­row?” I’ll whisper. But the re­ply, a gust of fe­line hal­i­to­sis and cal­cium-en­riched jel­ly­meat, is about as use­ful to me as a late scratch­ing. And, speak­ing of scratch­ing... I’ve tried to ex­plain to The Cho­sen One that the ge­net­ics be­hind hu­man fa­cial ex­pres­sions go back to Ne­an­derthal DNA. Okay, the pre­vail­ing ex­pres­sion of the early hu­man may have been “D’oh!”, whereas ours is, “What the…?” But both are far from the cat’s sole ex­pres­sion, which is “You’re sit­ting on my chair!” I’ve even at­tempted to ex­plain to The Cat’s Mother the dif­fer­ences in the mus­cle maps of hu­man and fe­line faces. If I re­mem­ber cor­rectly — and I pre­tended I did — the de­pres­sor an­guli oris and the zy­go­mati­cus al­low us to ex­press sur­prise, hap­pi­ness, fear and dis­ap­proval, while al­low­ing the cat only to yawn and eat birds (ex­pres­sions of bore­dom and birdi­cide). But she in­sists the cat has a full spec­trum of ex­pres­sions and is on the verge of be­ing able to speak to ex­plain them. If you watch sci­ence pro­grams on TV, you might have seen one about the dif­fer­ences in male and fe­male brains, where re­searchers in­sist there is noth­ing par­ents can do to sup­press the in­nate ten­den­cies of boys to grav­i­tate to guns and trucks, and girls to dolls and tea sets. And cats. Boys like the more ro­bust rough-and-tum­ble in­ter­ac­tion with ex­cited dogs. But, be­cause cats show af­fec­tion when it suits them, girls con­jure up an imag­ined ma­ter­nal bond­ing. And, ap­par­ently, it fol­lows through to our adult na­ture. “We all know the say­ing: dog is man’s best friend,” said the sci­ence-show pre­sen­ter. Well, ac­tu­ally, I dis­agree. A good tax ac­coun­tant is man’s best friend. And maybe a con­sis­tently as­tute tele­vi­sion horserac­ing tip­ster af­ter that. Mean­while, the dis­cord at home about cats’ ex­pres­sions is still to be re­solved. But, in the coun­try, there’s al­ways some­where to go to sort out your prob­lems — the Men’s Shed. When I ar­rived the blokes laid down their tools and made an­other cuppa. And, by the time I left, they’d solved the woman/cat em­pa­thy for me. They reckon be­cause cats do what they want, never lis­ten, are a bit un­pre­dictable lit­tle women in bad fur coats. I can’t wait to dis­cuss this the­ory as soon as I get home.

FACES IS THAT THE THING ABOUT CATS’ FACE-SHAPE THEY SOME­TIMES DIS­PLAY TO HU­MANS. CHAR­AC­TER­IS­TICS SIM­I­LAR

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