Cats, like many other intelligent creatures, learn a lot by observation and imitation.

There’s no denying that Summer gets special treatment around here. She wears cute outfits, is whisked off to pet stores for an hour and cat shows for a weekend. She gets to wear a harness and explore outside. Plus she gets rewarded for all this with treats. Boodie, our shy Ragdoll mix, doesn’t care — she’s perfectly content to lie on the dining room table and sun herself or hide when she is not feeling social. Our bossy tortoiseshell Binga, however, is another cat altogether.
Maybe you are wondering if Binga is jealous of all the perks Summer is getting. She’s not, because jealousy is not part of a cat’s emotional make-up. What people mistake for jealousy is a cat whose sense of territory is being threatened — it’s something far more primal and survival oriented than what a human being feels. And because Binga is not threatened by Summer’s special treatment, she doesn’t display any of the characteristics that someone might mistake as jealousy. Instead, Binga — being a very bright cat — thinks, “Look at all the cool stuff my pal Summer is getting! How can I have some of that?” I can practically see the wheels turning in her head. And some of her copycat behavior has really surprised me – and paid off for her.
Remember how I mentioned that Summer the cat likes cantaloupe? I even have a video of Summer enjoying a slice, and Binga giving it a try and complaining because she did not like it at all. Weeks later, after seeing Summer enjoying the fruit so often, Binga has decided it must be good – so now she eats it too. When my fiancé leaves out some cut up pieces as a treat, it’s a toss up whether Summer or Binga eats them.

Summer is my office cat, who often hangs out on my desk chair as I’m working, lying stretched out behind me (I find it a little — OK, make that a lot — uncomfortable, but I just deal with it). Usually, Binga either hangs out by the floor heater, or goes downstairs to sit on my fiancé’s lap in his office. One evening as I was on my laptop, I felt a cat leap onto the chair behind me. I figured it was Summer, but I reached around to pet her — and it was Binga! She never thought to try that until she saw Summer doing it.

Then there’s the going outside thing. Lately, I’ve been doing that a lot with Summer, putting the harness and leash on her and taking her out front for a while. She always gets lots of treats for doing this, both while she’s outside, and another treat or two when I bring her back in. Binga always wants in on the treat giving, of course. This weekend, I decided that if she wanted treats so badly, she should earn them — so I slapped one of Summer’s harnesses on her, hooked her up to the leash and led her out back. And she did it all easily! No flopping on the floor, no resistance to either harness or leash, no crawling on her stomach. She just boldly forged ahead. She even went up and down a flight of stairs on the leash. Keep in mind this is a 15-year-old cat that hasn’t worn a harness since she was a kitten. But she knew what to do — because she has been watching Summer. And, like Summer, she got rewarded with treats. Binga was enchanted and very curious about exploring the back yard on a leash (plus, treats!). I’ll have to do that again with her.

Cats, like many other intelligent creatures, learn a lot by observation and imitation. It seems to be working for Binga — maybe being a copycat isn’t such a bad thing!

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