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Performing Cats








Cats, unlike dogs, are not amused by, nor do they in any way take an
interest in what are termed "tricks." Performing dogs will sit about
their master watching anxiously for their turn, and they have been known
on more than one occasion to slip before the dog that has next jump
through the hoop or over a stick, barking merrily, exulting in having
excelled the other; generally they await with intense eagerness the
agility of the others and strenuously try to surpass them. Possibly this
is so from the long time the dog has been under the dominion of man, and
taught by him how to be of service, either in hunting, sporting,
shepherding, watching; in a sense his friend, though more his bond
or slave, even to dragging carts, waggons, and sleighs, to fetch and
carry, even to smuggle. Long teaching, persistent teaching from time
immemorial has undoubtedly had its due effect, and in some instances,
if not all, has been transmitted, such as in the pointer and setter,
which particular sections have been known to require little or no
present training, taking to their duties naturally, receiving but little
guidance as to how much, when, and where such instinctive qualities are
required.

With the cat it is widely different. Beyond being the "necessary" cat,
the pet cat or kitten, it never has been an object of interest, beyond
that of keeping from increase those veritable plagues, rats and mice;
the enormous use it has thus been to man has had but scant
acknowledgment, never thoroughly appreciated, vastly underrated, with
but little attention not only to its beauty, nor in modifying its nature
to the actual requirements of civilisation. The cat through long ages
has had, as it were, to shift for itself; with the few approved, with
the many not only neglected, but in bygone days, and with some even in
the present, it has been, and is looked on as a thing that is not to be
cared for, or domesticated, but often absolutely ill-treated, not
because there has been wrong done, but because it is a cat. I heard a
man of "gentle blood" once say that there was no good in a cat, and the
only use they were, as far as he could see, was as an animal to try
the courage of his terriers upon.

Happily all are not alike, and so the cat survives, and by the present
generation is petted and noticed with a growing interest. Though long
closely connected with man in many ways, still, as I have before said,
it has been left to itself to a certain degree. In no way, or but
slightly, has it been guided; and thus, as a domestic animal, it has
become what it is--one repelling most attempts to make it of the same
kind of value as the dog; its great powers of observation, coupled with
timidity, make a barrier to its being trained into that which its nature
dislikes; and its natural and acquired repugnance to confinement and
tuition prevent it--at least at present--from being "the humble
servant," as the dog, "past and present," has been and is.

Studying closely the habits of the cat for years, as I have, I believe
there is a natural sullen antipathy to being taught or restrained, or
made to do anything to which its nature or feelings are averse; and
this arises from long-continued persecution and no training. Try, for
instance, to make a cat lie still if it wants to go out. You may hold it
at first, then gently relinquish your grasp, stroke it, talk to it,
fondle it, until it purrs, and purrs with seeming pleasure, but it
never once forgets it is restrained, and the first opportunity it
will make a sudden dash, and is--gone.

However, all animals, more or less, may be trained, and the cat, of
course, is among them, and a notable one. By bringing them up among
birds, such as canaries, pigeons, chickens, and ducklings, it will
respect and not touch them, while those wild will be immediately
sacrificed.

One of the best instances of this was a small collection of animals and
birds in a large cage that used to be shown by a man by the name of
Austin, and to which I have already referred. This man was a lover and
trainer of animal life, and an adept. His "Happy Family" generally
consisted of a cat or two, some kittens, rats, mice, rabbits, guinea
pigs, an owl, a kestrel falcon, starlings, goldfinches, canaries,
etc.--a most incongruous assembly. Yet among them all there was a
freedom of action, a self-reliance, and an air of happiness that I
have never seen in "performing cats." Mr. Austin informed me that he had
been a number of years studying their different natures, but that he
found the cats the most difficult to deal with, only the most gentle
treatment accomplishing the object he had in view. Any fresh
introduction had to be done by degrees, and shown outside first for some
time. It was quite apparent, however, that the cats were quite at their
ease, and I have seen a canary sitting on the head of the cat, while a
starling was resting on the back. But all are gone--Austin and his
pets--and no other reigns in his stead.

Occasionally one sees, at the corners of some of the London streets, a
man who professes to have trained cats and birds; the latter,
certainly, are clever, but the former have a frightened, scared look,
and seem by no means comfortable. I should say the tuition was on
different lines to that of Austin. The man takes a canary, opens a cat's
mouth, puts it in, takes it out, makes the cat, or cats, go up a short
ladder and down another; then they are told to fight, and placed in
front of each other; but fight they will not with their fore-paws, so
the master moves their paws for them, each looking away from the
other. There is no training in this but fear. There is an innate
timidity, the offspring of long persecution, in the cat that prevents,
as a rule, its performing in public. Not so the dog; time and place
matter not to him; from generation to generation he has been used to
it.

In "Cats Past and Present," by Champfleury, there are descriptions of
performing cats, and one Valmont de Bomare mentions that in a booth at
the fair of St. Germain's, during the eighteenth century, there was a
cat concert, the word "Miaulique," in huge letters, being on the
outside. In 1789 there is an account of a Venetian giving cat concerts,
and the facsimile of a print of the seventeenth century picturing a cat
showman.

"In 1758, or the following year, Bisset, the famous animal trainer,
hired a room near the Haymarket, at which he announced a public
performance of a 'CATS' OPERA,' supplemented by tricks of a horse, a
dog, and some monkeys, etc. The 'Cats' Opera' was attended by crowded
houses, and Bisset cleared a thousand pounds in a few days. After a
successful season in London, he sold some of the animals, and made a
provincial tour with the rest, rapidly accumulating a considerable
fortune."--MR. FROST'S Old Showman.

"Many years ago a concert was given at Paris, wherein cats were the
performers. They were placed in rows, and a monkey beat time to them.
According as he beat the time so the cats mewed; and the historian of
the FACT relates that the diversity of the tones which they emitted
produced a very ludicrous effect. This exhibition was announced to the
Parisian public by the title of Concert Miaulant."--Zoological
Anecdotes.

Another specimen of discipline is to be found in "Menageries." The
writer says: "Cats may be taught to perform tricks, such as leaping over
a stick, but they always do such feats unwillingly. There is at present
an exhibition of cats in Regent Street, who, at the bidding of their
master, an Italian, turn a wheel and draw up water in a bucket, ring a
bell; and in doing these things begin, continue, and stop as they are
commanded. But the commencez, continuez, arretez of their keeper
is always enforced with a threatening eye, and often with a severe blow;
and the poor creatures exhibit the greatest reluctance to proceed with
their unnatural employments. They have a subdued and piteous look; but
the scratches upon their master's arms show that his task is not
always an easy one."



Of performing cats on the stage, there have been several "companies" of
late in London, one of which I went to see at the royal Aquarium,
Westminster; and I am bound to say that the relations between master and
cats were on a better footing than any that have hitherto come under my
notice. On each side of the stage there were cat kennels, from which the
cats made their appearance on a given signal, ran across, on or over
whatever was placed between, and disappeared quickly into the opposite
kennels. But about it all there was a decided air of timidity, and an
eagerness to get the performance over, and done with it. When the
cats came out they were caressed and encouraged, which seemed to have a
soothing effect, and I have a strong apprehension that they received
some dainty morsel when they reached their destination. One ran up a
pole at command, over which there was a cap at the top, into which it
disappeared for a few seconds, evidently for some reason, food
perhaps. It then descended. But before this supreme act several cats
had crossed a bridge of chairs, stepping only on the backs, until they
reached the opposite house or box into which to retire. The process was
repeated, and the performance varied by two cats crossing the bridge
together, one passing over and the other under the horizontal rung
between the seat and the top of the chair. A long plank was next
produced, upon which was placed a row of wine-bottles at intervals; and
the cats ran along the plank, winding in and out between the bottles,
first to the right, then to the left, without making a mistake. This
part of the performance was varied by placing on the top of each bottle
a flat disc of thick wood; one of the cats strode then from disc to
disc, without displacing or upsetting a bottle, while the other animal
repeated its serpentine walk on the plank below. The plank being
removed, a number of trestles were brought in, and placed at intervals
in a row between the two sets of houses, when the cats, on being called,
jumped from trestle to trestle, varying the feat by leaping through a
hoop, which was held up by the trainer between the trestles. To this
succeeded a performance on the tight rope, which was not the least
curious part of the exhibition. A rope being stretched across the arena
from house to house, the cats walked across in turn, without making a
mistake. Some white rats were then brought and placed at intervals along
the rope, when the cats, re-crossing from one end to the other, strode
over the rats without injuring them. A repetition of this feat was
rendered a little more difficult by substituting for rats, which sat
pretty quietly in one place, several white mice and small birds, which
were more restless, and kept changing their positions. The cats
re-crossed the rope, and passed over all these obstacles without even
noticing the impediments placed in their way, with one or two
exceptions, when they stopped, and cosseted one or more of the white
rats, two of which rode triumphantly on the back of a large black cat.

Perhaps the most odd performance was that of "Cat Harris," an imitator
of the voice of cats in 1747.

"When Foote first opened the Haymarket Theatre, amongst other projects
he proposed to entertain the public with imitation of cat-music. For
this purpose he engaged a man famous for his skill in mimicking the
mewing of the cat. This person was called 'Cat Harris.' As he did not
attend the rehearsal of this odd concert, Foote desired Shuter would
endeavour to find him out and bring him with him. Shuter was directed
to some court in the Minories, where this extraordinary musician lived;
but, not being able to find the house, Shuter began a cat solo; upon
this the other looked out of the window, and answered him with a cantata
of the same sort. 'Come along,' said Shuter; 'I want no better
information that you are the man. Foote stays for us; we cannot begin
the cat-opera without you.'"--CASSELL'S Old and New London, vol. iv.





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