What is the fascination of cats? It is commonly said that there are cat people and there are dog people and that never the twain shall meet. There are also people inimical to cats full stop. Despite this opposition, I think cats are generally liked by people. I seem to remember figures published some while ago showing that in Britain, for the first time, cats now outnumbered dogs as household pets.
One can cite reasons for cats being preferred to dogs. For one thing, cats do not need to be taken “walkies”. For another, being relatively small, they are not as clumsy, destructive or dangerous as dogs. For yet another, cats don’t slobber all over you like dogs do. There are few things more disgusting than having your mouth licked by someone’s dog which has just been licking its nether quarters. But this only explains the relative preference for cats, not what is attractive about the cat per se.
One question we should tackle is that underlying my thesis, namely are cats in fact fascinating and attractive to people? I think the answer is a resounding yes. I base this on my own experience and on other people’s. Before Artemis came to live with us, I was a cat sceptic. I was uninterested, even slightly hostile to cats and the idea that we might keep one seemed quite ridiculous. Then Artemis, still a kitten, turned up on the doorstep and everything altered. She lived with us for 20 years and changed my world forever. The cat sceptic became a cat fanatic. I have heard similar stories from others so this is not a rare occurrence.
So what is it that makes cats so attractive? It’s a difficult question to answer because all cats are different. It’s hard to say anything about cats as a species that is not a trivial generalization, such as “Well, they purr…” I have never met two cats that were alike. Some are affectionate, some stand-offish. Freya is always ready for a cuddle and makes little throaty trilling noises to express her pleasure when you stroke her. Artemis, on the other hand, would drop her back away from your hand if she wasn’t in the mood. Yet sometimes, about once a week, she would come and sit beside me purring. I knew that meant she was in the mood for a cuddle.
When it comes down to it, I think the only way I can answer my own question is to say what I like about cats. I am aware that practically anything I say can be countered. For example, I like the fact that cats are independent (but not all cats are: some are very dependent). I like the fact that they are honest about their feelings and only show affection if they mean it (unless they catch a whiff of their favourite food). I like the way they show they are pleased to see you (when they don’t instead sulk because you have been away a whole 5 minutes). I like the fact that no cat has ever got into trouble for sheep worrying (that makes the ripped furniture, shredded wallpaper and broken picture frames that much easier to put up with). I like how easy it is to take the cat to the vet’s because it’s in a basket (assuming you ever manage to get it into the basket in the first place). I could say much more but I will just add that I like the way every cat is different from every other cat and yet is so utterly a cat.
There is also something wild about the cat, even the domestic moggy. Dogs are sociable; cats are described as semi-social. Remarkable examples of cooperative action have been observed in feral cat colonies, such as young females looking after kittens while their mothers go to find food. Every cat in the neighbourhood knows every other cat and knows his own position in the hierarchy. Yet for all that, the cat still walks alone when he feels like it, which is often. This self-possessed, self-sufficient egotism appeals to me. Perhaps I see it as an ideal I would aspire to if I were not a woolly-minded, socially-dependent monkey. Perhaps the cat is Mr Hyde to my Dr Jekyll and as such I both admire and envy him.