I’m walking past the door to the bathroom the other night, and hear something that strikes homeowner dread: a splish-splash running-water sound, certain to ruin the evening. Holding my breath, and on high plumbing alert, I switch on the light and see Pinky, our Tonkinese, sitting on the toilet enjoying a long, thoughtful pee-pee.
I say thoughtful because she had that vaguely contented, satisfied expression…or maybe not. Was it the sight of her in such a familiarly-human posture, engaged in so commonly human a chore, that tricked me into assigning these virtues to her little pink mug?
And dogs’ scatterings about the landscape seem so uninspired and lawless compared to Pinky’s precise deposition in, of all things, a human’s toilet. Unlike the litter pan, which is grounded and tactile, like the earth, her leap of faith required perching gingerly on the edge of a chasm yawning over the least favorite of all cats’ elements: water! Nor did she make use of the nearby heavily-weighted and hence suitably stable wastebasket, or the sink next to that. I suggest that it was Pinky’s understanding, if you will, that the open water below her perch would accomplish much the same as litter, that is, it would ‘make the pee-pee go away’. That’s not just peeing in the dark, that’s reasoning.
Never has this painfully shy runt-of-the-litter shown any regard for, or cognizance of, that porcelain appliance. We’ve never seen her near or investigating any toilet, hiding under or behind, or gasp!… drinking from one.
Nor was this the result of a Petco training regimen in which we drilled the procedure into her with a perch-like training device over many months.
No, she figured this out on her own, and the skill with which she proceeded, and the suitably hygenic interval she waited…until well after the stream stopped, all while looking at me in the face, and yes, now purring. This was followed by a vandalistic unraveling of a foot or so of toilet paper, that behavior another story altogether. She next jumped down to the floor whereupon she writhed playfully, presenting her belly to me for a tickle.
I’m not kidding myself anymore given what I’ve seen in the past few months, not only worldwide, but right here under our roof…I’ve got a name for it, and I call it “R-A-B-I-E-S”: Rebellious Acquired Behavior In Every Species.
Consider the breakthrough news recently from Australia of the Veined Octopus carrying coconut shells underwater to assemble into protective shelters.Or the discovery of Chimps in the Nimba Mountains of Guinea, Africa, using both stone and wooden cleavers, as well as stone anvils, to process Treculia fruit.
The process whereby an acquired behavior manifests itself is called learning, and distinctions are drawn among and between the various types. The first kind is accumulated experience, a passive process. While the simplest, it’s based on observation, reflection, and motivation to solve a problem that I don’t think Pinky has: what is the motivation for a cat to use a toilet? Next, there’s trial and error, which is active. That’s possible, though I suspect we would have seen more evidence of ‘trial’ (yellow bowls), and ‘error’ (missed bowls). Finally, and also active is the third form, imitation. Traditionally, that would be a cat ‘mother’ showing kittens, in this case, how to use the bowl. Truth be known, my wife regularly invites Pinky onto her lap when she goes, and I’ve found myself entertaining the little furball with demonstrations of urinary mechanics should she find herself trapped with me in the loo.
All types of learning assume that the organism or being or creature, if you will, has a basic aptitude. Pinky’s just distinguished herself as a trial-and-error/imitator, and as such, worthy of rank in PETA: Peeing Equality Towards Animals.