A Fascination of Cats

Egyptian catWhat 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.

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About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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8 Responses to A Fascination of Cats

  1. There are so many things to love about cats — my cats make my house warmer, happier, and busier, with something always going on, and someone always jumping up to or down from the table or walking on the keyboard while I’m trying to type or attacking my toes under the bed covers or growling at someone else or chasing a toy around the kitchen or stretching up against my leg to be stroked or just lying around and looking soft and content. My cats are an integral part of my home life.

    My dogs, on the other hand, are, well, dogs. I have them almost by accident, and when they’re gone, I don’t want any more. Occasionally they’re pleasant, but in general they’re smelly, messy, and in all ways less satisfactory than the cats.

    The word “moggy” was a new one for me. I looked it up, and I like it very much.

  2. tomeemayeepa says:

    “there are cat people and there are dog people and that never the twain shall meet. ” Not true! I used to be very much a dog person and was very close to (and much too fond of) our dog that died four years ago. At the time of his death some stray cats decided to move in and having, like you, been fairly lukewarm about cats, I quickly found that as I got to know them my attitude changed. I still enjoy dogs, though. Cats and dogs are complementary and show the two sides of any relationship- on the one hand distance and mystery, on the other warmth and intimacy. Ideally, I’d like to have both. Does that mean I have a split personality problem, I wonder?

  3. SilverTiger says:

    It has been suggested that cats and dogs represent the feminine and masculine sides of our personalities respectively. If that is true (I don’t say it is, merely quote the opinion) then people who like both perhaps maintain a better balance between the various facets of their personality whereas “exclusivists” swing more definitely to one side or the other.

    I note that in literature, women often perceive their lover’s cat as a rival. In “real life”, macho men often make a point of being cat haters, which suggests they may intuitively feel that an enthusiasm for cats compromises their masculinity in some way.

  4. Ted says:

    Let me interject a few words on behalf of pet rats, which combine at least some of the advantages of both dogs and cats. Like cats, they’re small, quiet, and nondestructive; they don’t need to be taken for “walkies,” although some of them like to ride on the owner’s shoulder when he or she goes for a “walkies.” Like dogs, they’re social animals that are cuddly and responsive; some of them even lick and slobber like little dogs (one’s first experience with a “licky rat” is hard to forget, since it’s not something you’d ever expect). And like both dogs and cats, each rat is an individual with a distinct personality. But with those advantages are several disadvantages. The main one is that they don’t live very long no matter what you do. And many people correctly associate rats with their wild relatives that are genuine pests, so there’s that stigma to overcome. When I had rats I’d just say that I had “Norwegian miniature terriers,” which really does sound a lot better.

    As for the sexual stereotyping, I have always suspected that women like cats because cats reflect their own fickleness and mysterious incomprehensibility. But I know plenty of male cat fanatics, so it’s not necessarily that. Still, I’m one of those people who dislikes cats (and my roommate is allergic to them). I’d really like to have a dog, but I think it’s grossly unfair to leave a dog alone in an apartment for most of the day while I’m at work. Rats are a good compromise for apartment-dwellers, since they’re quite happy to be left alone as long as there are two or more of them to keep each other company. But they’re still not dogs (or cats).

  5. SilverTiger says:

    I think the more animals we experience, the merrier. It’s in our interest to learn about them and perhaps in theirs too, if we learn to respect them and live in harmony with them.

    When I was a kid I used to play in the garden with woodlice. I thought of them as miniature tortoises.

  6. Ted says:

    I had to look up what a “woodlouse” was. On this side of the Atlantic (or at least in California) we call them pill bugs. I never found them very sociable creatures, as they tend to eschew interaction in favor of rolling up into little “pill” balls.

  7. SilverTiger says:

    So do hedgehogs, which makes them a little hard to handle, as the tactic is intended to do.

    Woodlice are probably quite sociable with one another (for example, they breed) though not with us. In fact, I suspect they do not even realize we exist. Tortoises are not very sociable, either, though mine would eat from my hand and seemed to enjoy having his neck scratched. When picked up, he would emit an irascible-sounding hiss.

    The fascination of woodlice (and other creatures) for children is that they have a will of their own, unlike most toys. The scope remains limited, however, and cats and dogs and rats are likely to be more entertaining.

    Nonetheless, I retain an affection for woodlice, silverfish and other denizens of my childhood garden.

  8. MinorRipper says:

    Check out this cat that apprently mated with a dog and gave birth to half cat/half dog…

    http://www.minor-ripper.blogspot.com

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