Not Quite Domestic

The staff recently partook of advice from a new book, “The Trainable Cat: A Practical Guide to Making Life Happier For You and Your Cat” by Drs. Bradshaw and Ellis. It was hand-delivered, wrapped in colorful, crinkly paper (which we approve, most heartily) and provoked a great deal of laughter when the paper was removed. Had we thought our staff would do more than merely read this tome but also try to make use of it….well, we would have disposed of the book quickly.

We do agree with the premise of the book, that cats are not truly domestic in the traditional sense. Unlike dogs, whose have been slavishly slobbering all over humans for at least 15,000 years, cats have only associated with humans in the last 10,000 years.

And we use the term associate very loosely. Dogs took on the role of best friend and companion, following humans around, aiding in the hunt, carrying loads, providing free labor, and other unseemly behavior. Cats simply found that human communities could provide some advantages – not in the sense of being petted or curling up at the feet of humans for warmth, but humans at this point were harvesting plants as a food source. Storing large amounts of grain in one location brought rodents. And how much easier to catch rodents that are trapped in a building than trying to chase them down across open fields.

Humans were, amazingly, quick to see the benefit of having cats around. They were also quick to understand that most cats weren’t looking to repeat what dogs had done. We’re happy to hang around, and maybe even enjoy a scratch or two under the chin from a human we trust, but really, it’s all about the meat.

The cat relationship with humans has been an up-and-down affair; sometimes cats were objects of worship, at other times they were the instruments of the devil. Even once humans realized cats were merely cats (which should be reason enough to worship them), they were often viewed less as pets and more like tools. Up until fifty years ago, even “domesticated” cats were often locked out at night with the expectation that they would hunt down the local rodent population.

It’s a role we cats have been happy to fill and still fill today. That need to hunt is bred deeply into our system, and even the most coddled Persian will watch the birds on the fence outside with the same fierce attention of the feral cat. That long history of hunting is also reflected in our nutritional needs. Key substances such as taurine and retinol are not manufactured by cat bodies. The only means of getting these chemicals is through food – and for thousands of years that has meant meat. While modern cat food now includes these necessary components, it’s hard to overcome those cravings and need for fresh meat.

The authors discuss other key aspects of cat behavior as well. They raise the issue of cats as solitary animals. Yet, modern cat owners often have multiple cats (ahem), based on the concern that a cat left alone all day will be bored and/or sad. In fact, cats tend to prefer being alone, which is why cat owners often come home to find their cats scattered around the house, studiously ignoring each other.

And while cats do care about people that they’ve grown attached to, their strongest ties are to the territory they live in. Again, it’s all about that solitary hunter. It’s also why cats raise such a stink when forcibly removed from their territory. Dogs are perfectly happy to go anywhere, as long as the human is there. Cats have a well-defined area that is theirs, and the humans that occupy it with them are simply part of that setting. (Though a much-loved part of the setting.) Remove us from the setting, and our whole world comes crashing down.

Which brings us to the part of the book we dislike. The authors argue that many modern feline issues can be properly handled through the dreaded T word. Yes, training. In particular, the authors discuss how to train your cat to enjoy (enjoy!) the cat carrier. That wretched box. We all know that its appearance bodes ill for someone in the household. Admittedly, the trips aren’t usually long, but still, to be away from one’s home for an hour… and locked up in a box for most of that time. No amount of treats can cure that!

Although, we will admit that the box, without its top and with a comfy blanket inside is not so terrible. And the treats…well, who are we to fuss if the staff are giving us treats. Not that we’re conceding anything here. But we will admit that we have been sleeping on that comfy, comfy blanket. And maybe, just maybe, we might tolerate it if the top is placed back on.

 

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