Monday, March 03, 2014

The Truth About Cats And...Um, More Cats

As you might have noticed, the blog's been a little quiet lately; I've been indulging in my traditional February habit of huddling in a tiny ball under the electric blanket and cursing the hellish cold, and wondering if spring will ever come or if some demented sorceress has cursed our land to the blight of eternal winter as some sort of messed-up Narnia tribute. That doesn't leave much time for writing.

But it's March now, and time to talk about cats. Specifically, it's time to talk to all the people who hate cats. "Ewww!" they say. "I hate cats! They're so aloof! They're not affectionate and demonstrative like dogs are!"

This is, and I speak from personal experience, a load of hooey. I have cats, and one of them literally sprints into the room as soon as I come through the door and launches herself in a spirited leap to land on my shoulder (yes, this is slightly unnerving) in order to headbutt the side of my face with repeated nuzzles. This could not be defined, by any stretch, as "aloof" behavior. If a person did this, you would not be saying, "Oh, Phyllis, you're so aloof!" You would be saying, "Agh, Phyllis, get off of me, you just broke my collarbone!"

This brings up the most important point about cats: They're small. Smaller than people, but more importantly smaller than most dogs. Even the biggest healthy domestic cat probably weighs in at about twenty pounds, whereas your basic "mutt" dog tips the scales at closer to fifty. Dogs get bred down, of course, but the general canine mentality is of a sizeable-to-large pack-bound predator.

A cat, on the other hand, is a prey animal as well as a predator. At five to twenty pounds, it has to treat larger animals as a potential threat. A fox, wolf, bear or other large animal can do a lot of damage to a cat, and being territorial animals instead of pack animals, they can't rely on safety in numbers. This is an important point in the psychology of the feline: Until you demonstrate otherwise, a cat considers you to be something that wants to eat it.

So most of the people who consider cats "aloof" are people who are interacting with a cat in the same way they interact with a dog, and expecting the same result. They walk into a room, they see the cat, and they race over to it with a big smile on their face! They pick the cat up and they snuggle it and they roughhouse with it and they...well, they probably don't get past the "roughhousing" part without getting some nasty scratches, because from the cat's point of view, a large animal has just walked into the room, bared its fangs, charged, and grabbed it. The cat assumes that its only chance of survival is to scratch and bite until the horrible monster lets it go, and then run like buggery and find someplace to hide until it goes away. The bleeding human blames this on the cat, and the cycle of "aloofness" continues.

In general, the best way to get a cat to be affectionate to you is to present yourself as non-threatening. Don't go to the cat. Take a quiet seat somewhere, relax, and let the cat come to you. If it's like most cats, this may not happen right away. Survival instincts are strong, and the cat that survives best is the cat that's cautious about new things. It may take a day or two for the cat to let its guard down and decide that you're not a potential cat-eating monster. (It might take even longer if the cat spent any time as a stray, or had a previous owner that abused it. Operant conditioning is harder to overcome than simple instinct.)

When it does approach you, don't go nuts on the petting right away. Let it settle in and get used to you. Once it's sure you're not a threat, you'll know...primarily because it'll flop down in your lap and start purring. That's the point when you'll understand why cat owners look at dog owners funny when they complain about "aloof" cats.

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