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My cat’s death-defying leap

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I was upstairs at the computer. Lily was in the stairwell yelling. I yelled back at her to shut up until I realized that something was wrong and went to check. She had trapped herself up in the dormer window that lights the stairs, a place where in the 13 years in this house she had never gone before. I can’t be sure how she got there. She must have jumped from the stairs. But now she realized that getting down again was dangerous.

She is 14 years old. She’s also not a small cat, heavy but not fat. I panicked, told her not to jump, and went and grabbed a blanket, hoping that she’d walk onto the blanket. She does not like to be picked up, and in her panicked state I figured that if I tried to reach up, get hold of her, and lift her down, I’d end up losing lots of skin and lots of blood. She tentatively stepped onto the blanket but balked. Once again I told her not to jump and went to get her cat carrier. But before I got back with the cat carrier, I heard a clean thump on the stairs.

How do they do it? The calculations for this jump are terrifying, with no room for error. She is probably too old and too big to fall eight feet, onto hard steps, with no injury, which is why she was scared. There would be no way to jump in a straight line from her perch to the nearest step. If I’m not mistaken, calculating a ballistic arc includes factors for mass, velocity, drag, and some trigonometry including a cosine or tangent factor. The flying object will lose velocity during the upward curve and gain velocity during the downward part. She had to jump 44 inches in a correct arc and glide, fast, through a triangle in which the widest part is 7 inches — a size no bigger than something she’d be able to crawl through. Had she jumped too high, she would have hit her head. Had she jumped too low, she would have had to grab the step with her front paws and scrabble to hang on. She would have had to keep her head down, stay low, and land in a crouching position to get through the hole. But, at 14 years old, she made a perfectly calculated and perfectly executed clean jump.

It took her a minute or two to calm down. She was very scared. But her cat decision, as much as she trusts me, was that she trusted her own agility more than any solution that I could come up with. What a relief. I was afraid I was going to have an injured, and very senior, cat on my hands.

My Lily, about nine years ago

One Comment

  1. Henry Sandigo wrote:

    Thanks for sharing. Our dog Oliver is 12 and we worry over his habit jumping off from “his couch” to the floor especially when the doorbell rings – or when he’s in the yard howling after the buzzards circling around for old people who have fallen

    Sunday, September 4, 2022 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

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