Katz Tales/Dog Talk

Published: Sunday October 12, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday October 15, 2014 MYT 12:50:05 PM

Can cats really predict the future?

This being Halloween month, our columnist tests three classic cat superstitions.

Halloween is coming and cat fans everywhere are making cat-shaped biscuits, carving pumpkins and getting ready to party. As always, there’s also lots of talk about cats having a sixth sense.

In the spirit of the season, I took three of the most common beliefs, and got Target and Guido to help me run an experiment to see how many panned out.

The superstitions I chose were as follows:

1) Cats can foretell weather, especially rain.

2) Cats are good predictors of travel success, with loud mewing meaning, “It’ll be a disaster!” and playful behaviour meaning, “It’s a blue chip run!”

3) And finally, one from my favourites, is that dreaming of ginger cats means you’ll be lucky with money.

However, before we get to results, it’s interesting how the whole debate started.

The Halloween cat image began as a cultural clash that started with the fall of the Roman Empire around 500AD. The Romans had dominated almost all of Western Europe for centuries, so when the Hun tribe came smashing in, Rome collapsed and Europe entered a period of chaos.

After some years, the Vikings from Scandinavia came out on top in the north. According to their tradition, Freyja – the goddess of love, beauty, fertility, war, and death – was one of the most powerful who took turns with the chief male god Odin in ruling the afterlife. Freyja rode in a chariot pulled by her two devoted cats.

Meanwhile, in the rest of Europe, small kingdoms were forming into the modern countries we see today. Although everyone fought endless battles and there were constant changes of who was in power, the Catholic Church in Rome acted as an international player.

As one might imagine, they didn’t much like the idea of competition, so there were massive campaigns to win the hearts and minds of the pagans who followed the old ways.

As part of the war, there was a smear campaign. The loving goddess Freyja who answered the prayers of those who had trouble conceiving was deemed a harlot and a witch. Her cats, once wood spirits who brought good luck, were branded agents of the devil. As such, the witch’s cat was born.

Although the old traditions all but vanished, it proved rather difficult to root out Freyja. She remained a beloved icon in Scandinavia and the ancient poems written for her, mostly titled along the lines of “Freyja the Fair” and “Freyja the Lady” remained popular.

However, the cats didn’t do so well. For many centuries they got the rough end of the deal.

Halloween was an especially bad time because it is linked to Samhaim, a Gaelic holiday from Britain and Ireland that celebrates the end of harvest. According to some traditions, this is also the time when the veil between our world and that of the supernatural thins, allowing witches, spooks and other evils to cross over.

So, in the spirit of the holiday to come, I asked Target and Guido to help me examine those three popular claims.

First we took the idea that cats can foretell rain. Thankfully, we’re in the rainy season so there’s been plenty of opportunity for observation. In two words: Epic fail! There was one of those sudden downpours yesterday and both Target and Guido were caught out. They were so wet that I had to towel them dry. Throughout it all, they complained loudly about the horrors of getting wet.

Second, the feline as mission success predictor. About 10 days ago, the shop ran out of the cats’ favourite food. A second shop was out, too. I asked both kitties about my chances of success for the third run – and got loud meows, which should have told me to stay home. Contrary to their prediction, I scored! Verdict: Another bust.

Third, I dream of Target and Guido often, so all we have to do is look at my finances. This week, I got some huge bills but I also sold lots of books and got a terrific deal on a new iPad cover. Result: Uncertain.

While Target and Guido are certainly devoid of any special powers, one cheerful note that grabs me about the upcoming festival is that cats are finally shrugging off centuries of bad press.

There aren’t any Malaysian figures but surveys show there are some 93.6 million pet cats in the United States today, 10.3 million in Britain and 7.9 million in Canada, (If you’re a doggy person, the figures are 79.5 million, 10.5 million and 5.9 million respectively), making the cat a top pet.

In the same vein, Samhaim is once again the province of Neopagans, the good goddess Freyja appears in modern stories from Stargate to Merlin, and Halloween is just a fun party time with masquerades.

The continuing down is that black cats still get a bad time compared to other pets and are often the last to be adopted. However, there is a determined rebranding movement supporting “black panthers” that is slowly changing perceptions.

So, if you’re celebrating Halloween, have a blast – but don’t rely too much on your pet’s predictions about weather or whether you’ll be scoring chocolate.

Keeping your cat safe during Halloween

While Halloween isn’t a huge festival in Malaysia, there are always a few nuts who decide it’s a great time to set off fireworks, so it’s a night when pets are best kept indoors – including kitties who enjoy evening strolls.

If your pet is frightened of loud noises, allow her or him to seek refuge under the bed, behind the sofa or some other safe spot. Some pets will crawl onto your lap and ask to be held, in which case a cuddle session is the perfect antidote to fear.

However, don’t be tempted to try and remove a pet who is hiding in a safe spot. Most animals instinctively hide when afraid, so forcing them out into the open in order to hold them is not the right thing to do because pets don’t think quite like us.

If your pet is convinced safety lies under the living room table, let them stay there and leave them alone. Talking to them, petting and so on will only distress them further.

What you can do is to make sure that there is fresh water available. Fear dehydrates, so when all the banging and crashing is over, your kitty will want a drink. Also, if your pet has missed dinnertime in all the terror, be kind and offer a late supper.

Finally, very few pets enjoy dress-up games; for most, it’s torture. Pets are not people and they don’t have our appreciation for cute. If you want to play costume games, keep to the bipeds and leave the furries alone.

For the animals who tolerate dress-up, keep outfits to a minimum. Remember never to cover paws because this can cause fatal overheating in cats and dogs. Also, avoid outfits with elastic that can strangle, buttons that can be swallowed, anything tight as they can cause injuries, and man-made fabrics that cause the pet to sweat and overheat.

Tags / Keywords: Ellen Whyte, Halloween, pumpkin, cat, predict, foretell, dream, sixth sense, weather, Roman empire

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