The mysterious allure of cats

Source: Itty Bitty Kitty Committee

I have never been a cat person. If you know anything about me, it is probably that I am totally OBSESSED with dogs. But, lately, cats have been very interesting to me.

Don’t worry: I’m not going to get a cat anytime soon. But I would like to learn more about them.

Volunteering at the SPCA has changed my tune about cats. I used to proclaim that I really disliked cats. I don’t say that anymore. I still don’t understand cats, but then again, who really does? I can read a dog’s body language quite quickly, and I like to think I’m pretty good with dogs, on average. But cats? They mystify me.

For example, the last time I went to the SPCA, I decided that I’d spend a few minutes in the Cat Socialization Room. This is a little room with a TV and a loveseat and two litterboxes where eight to ten cats roam around daily. I tentatively walked in and crouched down, waited for the herd of kitties to come to me. I didn’t make any sudden movements. A few came up and sniffed me, but one attentive tortoiseshell put his paw on my knee. I was thrilled. “He likes me! We are going to be friends!” Without my encouragement, he climbed up in my lap and settled down.

I began to slowly stroke him and he started to purr. This continued for a minute or so, until, in mid-stroke, he turned his head and bit me. Not a play bite. This was a “Get away from me now” bite. He jumped off my lap. I was bewildered. What did I do? I moved around the room again, stroked other kitties, and then I felt a paw on my knee. Same sassy tort. He climbed back in my lap, of his own volition, and I let him stay there. Then he tried to bite me again. Seriously. What IS up with CATS.

Dogs would not do that. If a dog pulled a stunt like that, he’d be diagnosed with some kind of brain deformity/chemical imbalance. But cats? Apparently this is normal behavior. I asked my coworker about it; said coworker has 11 (yes, 11) cats and is a general expert on felines. He told me that he had a few cats who would act like that–solicit attention and then lash out for no apparent reason. His best explanation was that cats are extremely complex and they can change their minds from second to second.

So. Things I have lately learned about cats:

  1. Not all cats are aloof; some actually demand affection from humans.
  2. Cats are way more unpredictable than dogs. A cat’s mood can change in the blink of an eye, while most dogs tend to be temperamentally stable in given situations.
  3. Cats cannot truly be called domesticated, as Temple Grandin points out, since they could switch back to being feral whenever they wanted to. Modern dogs, on the other hand, could not survive without some proximity to people, which therefore indicates that dogs can be truly called “domesticated.”
  4. Per point 3, cats are not nearly as attached to humans as dogs are. Evolution does not necessitate their development of a close relationship with humans, although it can happen, should the cat deign to extend his favors to you. For example, cats are not necessarily attached to their families. They can–and will–leave home for months at a time. Most dogs (unless you have an intact male husky) wouldn’t dream of such a thing.
  5. Pregnant ladies should not have cats! Kitty litter will make your baby come out like a cyclops or something.
  6. Cats are very low-maintenance pets. They don’t need even a tenth as much attention and training as dogs do.

I like the idea of getting a cat, one day, many, many years from now. I am not half as interested in cats as I am in dogs, but I think I would like to have one around. Mainly because they make any room in your house look more interesting and glamorous.

To conclude, a photo of the only cat I’ve ever loved: Kitteh.

Kitteh and me in Denver. Source: Grace Farson

Kitteh was my landlords’ cat when I was living in Denver for a summer. Her official name was Kitty, but I found that dull, so she became Kitteh. (Apparently, her people now call her that full time. I am proud.) Kitteh was very docile and affectionate. She slept in my bed with me on the downstairs floor, climbed on my stomach while I was reading, was generally totally wonderful and soothing. If I could get a cat exactly like her, I would.

cat nap
Oh, Kitteh. I love and miss you. Source: Me
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5 thoughts on “The mysterious allure of cats

  1. Cats are totally mysterious. Our cat used to follow us on walks in the woods – very doglike behavior, but then he would disappear if visitors came to the house. Now, in his old age his personality has changed and he is the most lovable creature imaginable, when he wants to be. He head-butts us and rubs against us for attention and if we sit down on the sofa to watch a movie, he jumps right up beside us to watch with us. He also loves having his tail pulled and will come back for more when Coty does that. Weird. It looks like it would hurt, but he loves it. He’s a beautiful gray tabby, the quintessential cat.

  2. Hey, Abby. Have a super sweet male cat named Cinderelly at my house that adopted us. He’s a stray that would love a home since we’re off to Mexico. I keep trying to “paw”n him off on someone, but I don’t want him to go to the pound in Pittsboro since they have a 3/4 kill rate. Let me know.

    Brittany LaMontagne
    bllamontagne@gmail.com

  3. Abby,
    Kitteh misses you, too!
    We would get another cat in an instant if we could be assured that it would be just like Kitteh. (And, I’d like to think the cat would get a more original name!)
    It turns out, Kitteh is so docile because she was a runt — and very sick as a kitten. Sim would have to hand feed her, and she soon found out that his chest was a safe place to hang out, get attention, and eat. She’s been that way ever since.

  4. Cats aren’t that hard to understand, but putting them in a ‘like a dog, but…” box is likely to mislead. Since cats are not pack animals, they don’t look for you as a leader that must be obeyed, it’s a relationship of equals. Dogs are pacers, where cats are built to sit still and explode into furious action. To some cats, even enjoyable petting can trigger this urge to act, or touching the wrong part of the body, like the back and rear. I’ve seen them do it from one cat to another often enough.

    Perhaps you missed a subtle signal, perhaps not, but snapping and moderate biting from one cat to another isn’t a big deal because the fur and outer skin layer is thick and relatively insensitive. Think of momma cats carrying kittens by biting the scruff of the neck. The same force level to us is painful and scratches. Cats that get better socialized learn to nip more lightly.or not at all.

    When a cat really bites, you know it! One of the worst bites I got was from a tiny abandoned kitten I was trying to drip milk into. Its little needle teeth darn near met in the middle of my finger. Ouch. No malice involved, of course, but still.

    One onther thing – tortoiseshell cats are 99 percent or more female. Maybe you called her ‘he’ once too often!

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