It is said, a cat has nine lives. But Shawnee, a 10-year-old Maine Coon living in Floridsdorf, seems pretty happy with just the one. His home is Zen-like, with a garden and swimming pool in the backyard. Large, gray, and lionlike, he likes to keep watch over the premises, which is surrounded by a specially designed cat-proof fence.
Petra Ott, his owner, says cats are very home-oriented creatures, and “the order of the home is their No. 1 priority. They need to control their territory, otherwise, they will experience stress.”
Perhaps Shawnee’s true good fortune is that his owner is a professional “cat coach” who runs an “aCATemy” to train aspiring cat whisperers. Her understanding of both her own and others’ pets’ needs has been honed literally to a science.
In Austria, cats are the most popular pets, and at 1.5 million, their population is twice that of dogs. What motivated Ott to focus on cats was that many owners don’t have a clue how to best handle their finicky feline friends.
“Many people think cats are easier than dogs, that they don’t have to make an effort and that it’s fine to leave them alone at home. But cats also need to be engaged,” the 45-year-old Wienerin explained.
“Many people treat their cats like babies in fur costumes. But they are not replacements for children; they have their own special needs.”
The key to engaging them properly is striking a balance between their individual personalities and their natural instincts. Shawnee (which means “flying cat” in Hindi) is what Ott calls a “cat cat,” motivated by activity and treats, as opposed to a “people cat” like his housemate Merlin, who is more motivated by connections with people. Shawnee was happy to do a few tricks for us, like springing after his favorite snack (“Cats need to pursue a ‘bounty,’” Ott said), whereas Merlin only got interested once he realized how much his pal was hogging our attention.
Ott emphasized the importance of recognizing a cat’s body language, described in detail in her book The Big Cat Interview, and which is often misunderstood. “You need to learn how to speak kätzisch,” she said, as we noticed that Shawnee’s bushy gray tail was not wagging – which in kätzisch, is apparently a good sign.