Can we give the “disinterested, uncaring feline” stereotype a rest?

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Bodhi with his human, Rachel (photo by Teresa Kennett)

BEFORE I BECAME MORE KNOWLEDGABLE ABOUT CATS, as much as I loved them, I too would joke about their “fickle” shows of interest/disinterest in their humans. But, my perspective has changed and I would love to see our culture stop stereotyping cats as arrogant, disinterested, or having a “split personality.” Let me explain…

(Of course, this is just ONE of a number of cat misunderstandings I would like to take up with the culture, but let’s address these one at a time shall we? Lest I blow a gasket and we all lose our inner peace right in the middle of the holiday season.)

Aside from cats who were born and raised feral (and therefore will naturally be very skittish), the idea that a cat’s affection for their human is “distant” just isn’t fair. I see evidence that a cat’s love is always there, whether they jump up to greet you every time you walk by or not. And, while cats need more personal “down time”  than dogs, but they also cuddle up closer and longer than most dogs do.

IMG_3782Many of us have lived with cats who want to be around us most of the time, show up in whatever room we inhabit, and run to greet us when we get home.

So another cultural phenomenon that bums me out is how many people with cats like this will say, “My cat is different, he’s like a dog, he’s really special. I’ve never seen a cat like this before. I’m not really into cats, but he’s the exception.” To these people I want to say: Hang on, hold up! I know of MANY CATS like that. Every cat I’ve ever had has been like that. The reason you don’t see all cats acting like that toward you is that you haven’t bonded with every cat in the world.

It’s true that this is where most cats are different than dogs: dogs are ready to connect with anyone, while you need to develop a bond with a cat before they can feel safe with you. But that is about safety, and a bit of wildness, not arrogance. And the more feral the cat’s background, or the more underlying physical pain he might be experiencing, the less safe he will feel with humans.

A perfect example of how and why people misunderstand the consistency of a cat’s affection was recently demonstrated in theNew Yorker article, Are Cats Domesticated?. The author wrote, “Greet a cat enthusiastically and it might respond with nothing more than a few unhurried blinks. Later, as you’re trying to work, it will commandeer your lap, keyboard, and attention, purring all the while.”

Here’s the thing, those “unhurried blinks”? Those are cat smiles, cat hellos, and (according to cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy) cat “I love you’s.” So don’t diss the slow blinks your cat gives you! And, as for your cat not always getting up and running to you when you say hello to them, researchers now know cats are genetically programmed to exert as little energy as possible and rest up for bursts of activity. The slow cat blink contains at least as much love as a dog’s bounding up to you does, it’s just that a cat’s physiology is wired to conserve energy, so she uses feline shorthand at times.

I like that the New Yorker article mentions that some experts think cats are only semi-domesticated: “…genetically, cats have diverged much less from their wildcat ancestors than dogs have from wolves.Because the fact that cats still have so much wildness in them is part of the unique joy and magic of our bonds with them. There’s a sense that this creature, who is practically from a parallel universe and doesn’t completely need you, has nevertheless chosen you. And that feels pretty mysterious and special!

Meanwhile, maybe I should have just played this video to make my point : )

Are you tired of the “disinterested, self-centered cat” stereotype too? Or is it different in your culture?  Tell me about it below.

15 Responses to Can we give the “disinterested, uncaring feline” stereotype a rest?

  1. Equilibrium Animal Wellness March 26, 2016 at 10:57 am #

    My experience with cats, both personally and as a professional animal communicator, is that above all they want respect. You can have a really incredible bond and relationship with a cat (or cats) if you are willing to open up your heart and be genuine with them. They generally know a lot more than you think they do, and they will open up to the same extent that you open up with them. So, if you want a warm and affectionate cat, be open with them about what you want…and be ready to be warm and affectionate in return!

    • Liz April 1, 2016 at 8:47 am #

      Well said!

  2. whirlwindinvisible March 1, 2016 at 2:09 am #

    Cats and their relationship with their “human” friend is NOT something that can ever be defined or even understood. they are infinitely MORE aware than any human being, and their spiritual guidance that they offer us is immeasurable in its scope and content. They are from the Sirian Star System, and do NOT need any enlightenment in any way. They have come to HELP us evolve…..!!!!!!!!!!! and NOT the other way around… perhaps if human beings listened more to their feline companion,s our world would be MUCH different. and there is NOTHING that compares to the Love of of the beings humans “label” as Cats…. it is beyond ALL human comprehension.

  3. catipsblogDoron February 14, 2016 at 11:16 pm #

    Hi Liz great article, people for the most part just don’t understand their cats. cats are amazing when you understand their needs. How many people play with their cat for more then 2 minutes a day?. how many do real research about their cats race? or force affection when the cat is up for it. This is a good article about some basic cat behavior wwwallaboutcats.com/all-about-cats/cat-bevahior/

  4. Paul January 5, 2016 at 1:40 am #

    Hi Liz! I couldn’t agree more with you 🙂 I was a “dog person” myself before my better half showed me the truth and convinced me to adopt a little furry friend! I like your explanations about cat’s different behaviors. It’s actually pretty funny, I can relate to a lot of points that you are making here. Could not leave without my furry friend.

  5. JLRC December 25, 2015 at 5:51 pm #

    I agree about it not being an insult to say cats have a little bit more “wild” in them than dogs. It’s cool to have a slice of nature in your midst, especially when its wildness is about as harmful as a fruit fly. Part of what has tempered my enthusiasm for dogs (and some cats) is how centuries of selective breeding have created true monstrosities that don’t bear even a slight resemblance to an animal that could sustain itself alone.

    I also agree with your more general point that our casual references to cats shapes our society’s perceptions of them and in turn it affects the way we treat them—particularly problems regarding cats, such as rampant homelessness—with indifference.

  6. Michelle Smith December 20, 2015 at 4:14 pm #

    It is a self-fulfilling prophecy that if you expect your cat to be like a home accessory and treat him/her like a throw pillow or a lamp rather than a loving member of the family – they will act like an accessory. Treat them with love and affection with lots of interaction, and they will respond in kind.

  7. Teresa Kennett December 3, 2015 at 9:25 am #

    Liz, I so appreciate your mentioning the cat eye-blink. I love the intimate and subtle nature of this communication. My precious cat Murphy (may he rest in peace) who was with me through my ’20’s, was one of the most empathetic beings I’ve ever known. He would lie on my chest in bed and we would have long eye-blink conversations. Our relationship taught me a lot about how to listen and how to be fully present. I understand why Eckart Tolle said, “I have lived with many Zen masters, all of them cats”!

  8. Gilda Provenzano November 29, 2015 at 4:52 pm #

    Wow. So not true! All the cats i had, past and present, were and are, very loving towards me. They all slept with me and i did not even have to put them on the bed.

  9. Alvy King November 28, 2015 at 10:20 am #

    For the past 15 or so years my wife Nancy and I have had from 6 to 9 cats in our family. Currently there are 8, ranging in age from 3 to 16 or 17 years. All are “socialized” to Nancy and me. All but one seek lap time with one or the other of us. Lily is 16 years old and wants in my lap almost every time I sit. (Right now, as I type this, three-year-old Beau is in my lap.)

    Tabasco adopted us (as almost all of our cats do, by just showing up) when he was two or three years old. He is now 16 or 17, and, like me, in pretty good health except for some medical issues that require some attention. He is the only one of the eight allowed to be an “outside cat,” and only during the day. He comes and goes as he wishes but stays close to home. (The other cats have a back-yard 25 ft. by 25 ft. Cat Coral connected to our sun room.)

    Tabasco’s bedtime seems to depend on how active he has been that day. But sometime after our evening meal he starts “lobbying” me to go to bed. His progressive retirement routine is to sit and stare at me, then “talk” to me until I get out of my chair and he leads the way to the bedroom. In bed I lie on my back and he takes his place near my right arm pit. We talk about our day until he is ready to nestle next to me and go to sleep. I read until I’m ready for lights out. By that time Nancy and several other cats have joined us.

    Tabasco and I may be at a similar stage in our lives; he is at least 16 and I am 83. We are close, and we care about each other.

    • Liz November 29, 2015 at 8:06 am #

      Alvy, thanks for sharing about your affectionate cats. I just adore stories about cats like Tabasco and love the routines and understanding you two have together.

  10. JaneA and the Paws and Effect Gang November 28, 2015 at 7:53 am #

    Yes, PLEASE can we give this stereotype a break?!?! I’ve been trying to tell people for years that behaviors vary by cat, and that every cat I’ve known happens to be very fond of people. My current feline companions sleep on the bed with me at night and greet me at the door when I come home from work. They display their love and affection in all sorts of other ways, too. They are even a bit more vocal than many cats because I talk to them on a regular basis. 🙂

    • Liz November 29, 2015 at 8:02 am #

      I love this, JaneA.Thank you. I notice that the more you talk with them, the more they will “talk” with you – even developing human-like inflections in their voice to respond.

  11. Connie Mar November 28, 2015 at 6:27 am #

    Our cats are total lovers. Very affectionate, follow us, sleep with us, lay on our laps or chest. One might say they are very needy instead of being independent. They seek us out for love and attention. We also believe cats behave based on how they are treated. If you talk with them, give them attention and love, play with them, they will respond in kind. If you ignore them, they will usually ignore you, too.

    • Liz November 29, 2015 at 7:58 am #

      Connie, so true – they respond to the love and interest you show them. Many people don’t understand this – it’s like they are expecting obedience rather than friendship the way friendship is built between equals. To quote a neighbor who wrote about his Russian Blue kitty on social media, “The more you give them the more they develop and give back in kind. Very human like, I’d say, but from a still more trusting, wonderfully soft, stealthy, inquisitive and highly motivated little creature.”

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