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reality of the companionship he feels in this strange guest at the table.
Now Tom kept a watchful eye and ear on his own. domain, and fiercely resented any intrusion. No mercy was shown to cats of either sex taking the short cut through the house. While with me at dinner, he would now and again dash out through the open door, attracted by a sound inaudible to me, and a squabble in the passage immediately announced the punishment of a trespasser. This occurred too often to be attributable to accident. Inasmuch as there was no possibility of seeing anything moving outside from his position near me, his ear must have apprised him of the presence of the intruder on the bare boards of the passage.
The sense of smell, on the contrary, is peculiarly feeble, at least in domesticated cats ; neither is this surprising when their habits are considered, for in no ordinary circumstances can it assist them in securing their prey.
This, I think, can be placed beyond doubt.
Cats have been credited with a knowledge of locality and direction, which, if a tenth of the stories respecting their “homing” faculty be true, must border on the supernatural. In the year 1873, Mr. Alfred R. Wallace proposed an explanation of their power of returning to their homes, after even months of absence, over totally unknown ground, attributed to many animals, and believed the faculty could be referred to the exercise of the senses; and especially that of smell in circumstances where the animal had been conveyed in a basket or closed vehicle, when it was impossible that sight could have played any part in affording data for retracing its way.
In letter to Nature of the 20th February, 1873, Mr. Wallace thus tersely summed up his opinion: “It seems to me that an animal so circumstanced will have its attention necessarily active, owing to its desire to get out of its confinement, and that by means of its most acute and only available sense, it will take note of the successive odours of the way, which will leave on its mind a series of images as distinct and prominent as those we should
Pussy's Olfactory Sense.
receive by the sense of sight. The recurrence of these odours in their proper reverse order—every house, ditch, field, and village having its own well-marked individuality-would make it an easy matter for the animal in question to follow the identical route back, however many turnings and cross roads it may bave followed. This explanation appears to me to cover almost all the well-authenticated cases of this kind.”
With all due deference to Mr. Wallace's reputation as a naturalist—without question one of the very highest in an age of splendid achievements in science-I think this explanation is fatally assailable at a number of points. But it is not now my purpose to enter into a general discussion which would occupy a very considerable space. There is, however, so distinct an issue raised by the words, “its most acute and only available sense,” that this may be considered by itself with reference to the cat alone; and it appears to me to be fatal to Mr. Wallace's theory—at least in the case of that animal. Most people must have been struck with a suspicion of the deficiency of the sense of smell in cats, as I was myself long before I took any measures for ascertaining what its extent. might be. Immediately on reading Mr. Wallace's letter, I thought it must have very doubtful application to cats, whatever might be the case with dogs. Accordingly, I made some experiments, which revealed to me a surprising and unsuspected deficiency in pussy's olfactory sense. These I transcribe from the copy of a letter which I wrote to the late Dr. Charles Darwin, who took a keen interest in the discussion then being carried on.
“I do not know whether you will consider this a crucial experiment as to the comparative acuteness of the sense of smell in dogs and cats, but perhaps it may be useful in adding one fact to the discussion on the part played by this sense in guiding animals home. I have long had reason to think that the sense of smell in cats is much less highly developed than in dogs and even many other animals, because, among other things, we see the difficulty cats often seem to experience in finding food thrown down to them, unless they see it fall, bobbing their
noses about on the floor in search of it, even when it is no distance from them. A few days ago, therefore, I prepared some dozen or so of dainty pieces of meat, both raw and cooked, and some pieces of fried cod and herring, and, taking my dog into a room from which every ray of light had been excluded, threw pieces of the meat into different parts of the room. As might have been expected, each piece was found by him almost as soon as the first could be eaten. The house cat was afterwards tried in the same room, and had great difficulty in finding pieces dropped close to her, failing altogether in securing some of them. What the dog accomplished in the space of a minute, the cat could not do in a quarter of an hour; for, on letting light into the room, I found pieces of the fish lying about in the further corners. There was no comparison between the one and the other in the manner of searching for the food. The dog went to work with confidence, and, after a few seconds employed in sniffing round, could be heard eating until every piece of meat had been found. The cat, on the contrary, walked about mewing, and seemed to have no idea of the presence of the fish until she was close to it. The cat was quite familiar with me, and had been kept a long time without food intentionally. I used fish because it was a food to which she was accustomed, and calculated to emit sufficient smell. The result impressed me with the conviction that cats discover food by smell with very indifferent success; whence perhaps it may be inferred that their perceptions generally through this sense are more feeble than those of some animals.”
To this Dr. Darwin replied, in his wonted spirit of generous encouragement of investigation : " The experiments on the sense of smell in cats and dogs seem to me very good. From your previous note, I know you do not believe in the stories of cats returning home over unknown ground; but if such a case is mentioned in Nature, I would suggest your sending your experiment to that journal for publication, as bearing on Mr. Wallace's theory, which I am half inclined to admit.” The last sentence will be of interest to students of natural history,
Deficient in the Sense of Smell.
because, so far as I can ascertain, there is no published expression of the writer's disposition to accept Mr. Wallace's explanation of the extraordinary homing faculty which has been credited to animals.
As a supplement to the above, I have since repeated the trial with two other cats, and varied it in this way. Several pieces of red herring and fried cod were placed under an inverted saucer, on the floor of a room where a hungry cat was shut up, and others concealed under the corners of the hearthrug. On liberating her in half-an-hour, not one piece had been touched. On letting the dog in, pieces of meat having been substituted for the fish, he first turned the saucer over, and afterwards scraped up the hearthrug and found the remaining pieces, without the least hint or direction from me. On another occasion, before I sat down to dinner, I put half-a-dozen scraps of meat on the floor, covered by pieces of paper about four inches square, forming nearly a circle. The tom cat came in as usual, sat down amidst the pieces, taking great care not to tread on any of them, and picked up and ate little pieces which I threw down, without suspecting the papers to conceal food.
If the cat's sense of smell is so deficient as this, one might naturally wonder how the animal becomes a thief, so expert, and so much dreaded by all housewives. In the first place, it is entirely devoid of conscience; in prowling about seeking what it may devour, neither the shelf, the larder, the dairy, the rabbit-hutch, nor the bird-cage, is sacred in its eyes, as they would be to the moral sense of any fairly well-fed dog. All in the stilly night the tempter enters into pussy and she steals off on her foraging expeditions, in all probability guided by daylight reminiscences of the place where food is deposited, or the pet canary hangs. In the morning, we find her dozing away the night's debauch on cold partridge or warm canary, with a placid countenance betokening a mind that knows neither retrospection
The (as I believe indubitable) obtuseness of the sense of smell in the domestic cat seems to place Mr. Wallace's theory out
of court, depending as it does on the exercise of this sense in a more than ordinarily acute form. But whereas of all our domesticated animals, the cat perhaps has been credited with the most extraordinary performances in the way of returning to a home from which it has been taken in a closed convey. ance, it may be well to examine the case with regard to this animal. Some people are under the impression—it is rather a conviction with them which they never think of questioning -that neither time nor distance presents any obstacle to the cat when it has determined to revisit its old quarters. This has been made the subject of direct experiment—the only method by which unknown or uncertain elements can be elimi. nated from the problem.
The wife of a gentleman living at Hampstead gave me the following account of her husband's short way with cats. He possessed a very carefully kept garden, which, being the only considerable open space in the near neighbourhood, afforded a delectable playground and battlefield for the feline inhabitants of that charming suburb, to the detriment of the choice flowers he cultivated. Happening to be almost as averse to the destruction of animal life as a Hindoo, he caught them in wooden traps, and drove out with his captives towards Hendon and Finchley, where they were liberated, not more than two or three miles from home. This method of transportation” was adopted throughout the summer, and at least a score of his enemies were thus afforded an opportunity of testifying to their reputation for finding their way home. Not one of these, so far as he could ascertain, ever revisited his garden, and though the ownership of many of them was well known to his gardener, it was not discovered that any of the lost ones regained their homes, where they must have been seen by the man. The best evidence of the success of the method of transportation was to be found in the complaints of the owners of the trespassers, who were not long in doubt as to the author of their losses.
Unless we suppose all these cats to have met with an untimely end while making their way home over so short a distance,