#NotMyCat

So there’s a number of articles going around. One’s a video on Cracked.com, another by Huffington Post, another in USA Today in which recent scientific studies of cats have been interpreted to suggest that our feline friends don’t like us humans very much. Specifically mentioned are the studies by University of Lincoln Professor Daniel Mills. I’ve found some of his abstracts presenting conclusions not the same as (or even logically suggesting) those conclusions that being reported by end news articles.

Cats don’t come when called

In one study (Not a Mills study), cats were played recordings of people saying their name, by the voice of their owner (or a familiar human) and by the voices of unfamiliar humans. The subject cat’s ears would commonly perk up when the recording of the familiar human voice was played, but the subject would not otherwise respond.

In non-journal periodicals it was concluded that cats don’t care if you call them.

Dogs often respond to their names, usually after quite a bit of training. Cats, while not as focused as dogs, can be trained (and often are by animal handlers in show business) using the same tools often utilized for dogs, specifically, treats. At my home, whenever I indicate to my cat I want to give her a treat, (yes, Stimpy if you’ve been following,) she comes immediately if in earshot. I call her by her name (not actually Stimpy) or just by Kitty or Kitten and she responds. And she likes being acknowledged.

Also in the news: human toddlers and teenagers don’t come when called.

Cats stress out when petted or stroked.

This is a Mills study. It observed that a cat’s stress hormones elevate when he (or she) is petted or stroked by a human associate. Periodicals in the mainstream concluded: Cats don’t like being petted.

By the same line of logic, we can conclude that human adult men hate sex, since the big cocktail of hormones released within a human being during a sexual encounter includes a whole lot of stress hormones (from the kissy-kissy stuff at the beginning to the humpy-humpy OH MY GOD THIS IS SO AMAZING bits at the end). Sex is so fretful!

Stress is a response to stimulation and change. It is the mechanism that puts the body on alert that stimulation and change are happening, since it’s the need for alertness and attention is often forthcoming. Stress hormones don’t assess whether news is good or bad, just that there’s news and it’s important. It doesn’t matter whether its good stress, aka, eustress (Oprah Winfrey appears to give you a million dollars and take you to Disneyland!) or bad stress, aka distress (The district attorney appears with a DEA raiding team to seize your house and take you to jail!). It’s all stress. And it all affects our bodies, well, like stress.

Of course, we associate stress with bad news. When we’re stressed out, it’s usually because of too much bullshit in our lives. That is distress, e.g. screaming bosses, belligerent family, traffic jams, rampage shootings in the news.

In fact, both kinds of stress are dangerous. Winning the lottery or going on fun-filled vacations are pretty hard on the system too. But most of the time when we experience eustress (e.g. My sweetheart kissing me good morning) it’s at a much lower level than common distress (e.g. I’m late for therapy).

Petting your cat is probably eustressful for your cat. And nowhere near the level of stress as the shock of getting shouted out of the ferns, or the thrill of catching a mouse.

My cat often asks for attention, and not just because she’s hungry. Sometimes she wants affection, and when I initiate pets, she will seldom turn it down. But don’t just take Stimpy’s word (er…behavior):

Cat cafés commonly have a don’t pick up / don’t wake up policy, and the cats are provided for entirely by the venue staff. That is, they have all their needs fulfilled except human interaction, and yet cat cafes are notorious for their feline staff being all too eager to engage the human patronage. A customer cannot sit down without several cats vying for lap time and for attention. (For the record, cat cafes usually sustain a ratio of five-to-twelve cats per admitted patron). So, in an environment where cats get sufficient food, shelter, litterboxes, scratchpads, solitude and feline interaction, they still appear to crave human interaction.

It’s a kind of stressed out cats seem to crave and enjoy.

Cats don’t identify fellow associates with security the way dogs or humans do.

This is another Mills study, and I don’t recall what the parameters were of the behavioral experiment done. And it’s true that cats are more independent, as solitary hunters. Housecats can clowder together but are also capable of operating independently. The most clowdery of felines is the lion. Lionesses will hunt for and feed pride members who are non-productive, and will do so without judgement. (Socialism!) As for common housecats, they tend to associate security with territory (e.g. their house and grounds.) So that moving them can sometimes more stressful than abandoning them in their home territory.*

In actuality, cats are, like dogs and humans, loyal and trusting to a fault, compelled to stay in relationships that are dangerous or abusive enough to exceed the benefit of food and care. This is how human animal abusers are able to entrap cats before torturing or killing them. It’s one of the side effects of being social animals: we’re particularly susceptible to sociopathic (deceptive, social-mimicking predatory) behavior. Our gullibility in that regard is hugely offset by the advantages of being able to easily organize when trying to resist hostile elements. (e.g. building towns to shelter against cold and predators, and organize food gathering.)

Stimpy prefers women over men (that is, female humans over males) when it comes to engaging strangers, or people she doesn’t know well. She has has decided that I’m pretty great despite this disposition. It’s possible that it is just because I feed her and treat her well. Though in western society, favoring people who treat you well (say, above those who are abusive or inconsistent) is regarded as a healthy disposition.

When cats rub against us, they’re scent marking, like when a dog pees on a thing.

This is not only an oversimplification, it’s a wrong one.

First off, tom cats (males) also pee on things to mark territory. (Like male dogs. Female dogs and cats, less so.) This is different then rubbing scent glands (which cats have in their cheeks) to mark objects. They do this not because they’re aware they’re marking a thing, but because cheek rubbies feel good.

Cats also, like dogs, rub other parts of their bodies against things they particularly like (e.g. you). But if a cat head bumps you (some call it a head-boop) that is an actual expression of love and camaraderie. That means you’re a full partner. Part of the pride. One of the roadies. You’re a favorite.

Incidentally, human beings also mark things. Most of our scent glands are in our lymph notes, but we have them all over our bodies, so our stuff smells like us. You may not smell it but your cat (or your dog) sure does, and also knows where you’ve been, how you felt, and how well you’re doing (physically) at the time. We also will spread our scent around a bit (leave stuff, spray copious perfume, mark our sigil with a sharpie) to signal to rival humans that this is our turf.

Cats learn to meow to mimic the cry of a human baby in order to pressure their human associates to get what they want (e.g. food, pets, etc.)

This is true of all mammals that cohabitate. With humans we adapt from AAAAAAAUGH! to Mommy and Yup to Dear Mom, I hope this spring is doing you well. How is the garden? What’s blooming? My pre-med studies continue at as ruthless a pace as ever. A binge on school supplies and midnight study snacks last week has left me depleted, so if you could advance me a bit to tide me over until March, that would be swell. But only if it’s not too much trouble. Don’t bother if things are tight. Love, Junior. Dogs and cats don’t have the same range of sounds at their disposal that humans do, but they can adopt a considerable vocabulary if their companions are willing to learn them.

But this works only if the animal’s colleagues are responsive to that vocabulary. Stimpy has a number of ways of saying I want, depending on whether she wants a dry treat, some cream, more of her regular food, a good pet or a mutual nap. In contrast, a previous roommate’s cat only knew MAAAH! since anything less was met with no response. (A few weeks in my care and the poor sweetie’s vocabulary started expanding). Similarly, dogs have that ear-piercing sad whine, and human beings cry when nothing else works.

Cats host a zombie parasite that controls our minds.

Cats are one of the hosts in the reproductive cycle of the fluke (parasitic protozoan) toxoplasma gondii which can infect most mammals, including humans. Human infection with t-gondii is very common.

Our less sciencey periodicals suggest that cat lovers may just be t-gondii infected zombies. Zombiologists suggest that a mutant t-gondii protozoan that reproduces through the human system and exerts greater behavioral change is one of the realistic zombie-outbreak scenarios. It’s still unlikely, but not as unlikely radiation animating the dead, or even a super contagious rabies outbreak.

An advanced t-gondii infection can, indeed, affect behavior, liking cats more is not one of the effects. Interestingly, t-gondii makes women more extroverted and men more introverted. And while cat poop is a vector by which we can get a t-gondii infection, our primary vector is through undercooked meat.

Cats tolerate humans because they’re a meal ticket.

It’s true. As above, cats are social creatures, even when not social hunters, and will totally tolerate an abusive relationship so long as there’s food to be had. As will dogs, who will more willingly accept their boot-kicked position in a relationship. As will human beings, who will tolerate terrible bosses, so long as the paycheck is steady enough (and will abandon nice bosses when the paycheck isn’t properly forthcoming). For those of us whose steady income doesn’t depend on keeping someone from having an arbitrary temper tantrum making some guy happy, we get the privilege of choosing who we tolerate and who is too hard on the psyche, but for a good portion of the US workforce (and probably the world’s workforce) a large portion of life is convincing some dude with money that you’re valuable to him or her. Modern life is tolerating people only for being meal tickets.

But this isn’t to say that all humans hate their bosses, all dogs fear and loathe their masters, or that all cats tolerate their human associates, but would rather just be fed and left alone. Indeed, some bosses are nice people, or solid leaders, or conscientiously respectful of their employees, or all three, and are well loved by their staffers. Dogs, for whom pack loyalty translates to master loyalty very easily, appreciate that their pack superiors (human or otherwise) are even tempered and consistent. Cats, while not expressing their love and appreciation for positive regard in subservience, still can appreciate that they are treated well. We all are capable of loving our masters, to the point that it can become codependent and enabling. It’s the cost of being a creature with strong social instincts.

Cats are much like other mammals in that they come in a wide variety of personalities and dispositions. Some are going to find humans distasteful except for those in their clowder (or even them!). Some will be completely arbitrary regarding who they like or what regard they will give. We even have assessment scales to determine the adoptability of cats (same with dogs) that consider a cat’s inclination to interact, and their activity level. But that’s also to say each cat is different. Given a large enough sampling of cats, you will find many that hate interaction and hate humans more than interaction and are poster exemplars for cat-hate. And you will find many that are completely sweet, that love getting pet and hanging with humans. It’s a wide spectrum.

And my cat is amazingly sweet and totally awesome. And clearly she loves me.

* But don’t abandon your cat just yet. A cat’s survival once you are gone will depend, of course, largely on what resources he can utilize on his own. Indoor / Outdoor cats fitted with cameras in urban and suburban areas were found to often adopt other humans who would feed them as well, but that’s no guarantee that he’ll be fine. Better that you make sure your neighbor is okay with actually taking responsibility for the cat, rather than just providing a bit of kibble for a stray.)

Also don’t leave an indoor cat out in the woods or desert and expect it to fare just fine. Really, don’t abandon anything out in the woods or desert and expect it to experience anything but a slow miserable death. Nature is brutal, which is why we started building towns in the first place.

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