By Marc Morrone
Tribune Content Agency
Q: My girlfriend's family has a cat who almost every night will grab a wash cloth or dish towel in its mouth and carry it through the house crying as it does so. It usually tries to make it up to the second floor where they live but mostly drops it before the steps or on them. It's a male, so I don't think it does so because of some maternal instinct and it is not a young cat either. They say he also did this at their former residence not just after they moved in with her. Any thoughts? - Franklin Jennings, Northampton, PA
A: I am the last person to try and figure out what goes on inside a cat's head, but I shall give it a try.
Obviously a male cat is not going to go through any behaviors that some female mammals do in terms of maternal behaviors on inanimate objects. Most likely this cat is treating the rag as some kind of prey animal that it has just killed and is looking for a place to hide it for later consumption.
The fact that the rag is not an animal and is not actually edible is causing the cat confusion and would explain the crying and subsequent abandonment of the article.
I have also had cats that would pick up assorted objects in their mouths and carry them about for a while only to deposit them at my feet and look up at me proudly. Of course I would praise them for their "gift: and pick it up off the floor and act very honored.
However, I am not sure if the cat brought it to me because it made me happy or because it was just an easy way to get rid of something that they did not want any more. Cats like to keep a lot of secrets and we are not entitled to know all of them. I hope I have answered your question as best I can.
Q: I live in California and just learned about how wonderful a pet a ferret can make, but when I researched where to get one I found out they are not legal to keep as pets in California because they are considered wild and exotic animals. However, I have seen in all other literature that ferrets are domesticated animals like dogs and cats. If that is true, then why are they considered wild animals in California? What is the definition of a domesticated animal anyway? - Alex Stern, San Francisco, CA
A: There are many different definitions of a domesticated animal out there but the very best was told to me by the late author and expert in animal behavior Roger Caras. He told me that a domesticated animal is one "whose genes are controlled by man."
What this means is the animal is born and bred by humans under controlled circumstances. Its color, size, shape and behavior have been markedly changed by man through selective breeding from its original wild ancestor. A dog is totally different from a wolf because of man's selective breeding. A ferret is similarly different in form and behavior from its wild ancestor the European Polecat.
Just being born in captivity does not make an animal domesticated, though. Lions have been born and bred in captivity and zoos for many generations; however, they still look and act the same as their counterparts that are living in the wild. A captive born lion may be unafraid of humans, but it is not domesticated.
So according to the definition of science, the ferret is indeed as domesticated as a dog and should be as welcome as a pet anywhere as a dog. However, local legislators have the power to impose their beliefs above those of science and common sense. If the powers that be in California feel that ferrets are wild animals then there is not much that common folk like you and I can do to change their minds.
Marc Morrone has kept almost every kind of animal as a pet for the last half-century and he is happy to share his knowledge with others. Although he cannot answer every question, he will publish many of those that have a general interest. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org; please include your name, city and state.
Printed in the November 13, 2016 - November 26, 2016 edition.