Crazy About Cats – Or Just Plain Crazy?
Dr Caity Venniker
This month we'll be celebrating National Love Your Pet day - February 20th, put it in your diary! I’ve been thinking about how we love our pets, especially our cats (like humble servants) and how they love us (very much on their own terms). Devotion to a canine companion is straightforward. Dogs dote on us - all we have to do is love them back. Cats, on the other hand, wouldn’t dream of doting on anyone. They only just deign to be doted upon, provided they aren’t busy that day (and busy might mean busy sleeping). This must say something about us cat lovers but I don’t know exactly what.
Studies have shown that there are a few personality differences between dog and cat lovers. Cat lovers are apparently in general more introverted, open minded, sensitive and intelligent (this is according to science) than the average dog lover. But nothing explains exactly what makes us pick a side - especially the moody side, where you are never quite sure if you will get a purr or a disdainful glare. As Winston Churchill famously said, “Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us.” Perhaps while dogs validate us, cats intrigue us.
I came across another quote which took this notion of our feline fascination quite a bit further:
“If cats looked like frogs we’d realise what nasty, cruel little bastards they are. Style. That’s what people remember.”
These words are from beloved English author, Terry Pratchett. For all the big talk, he was a profound lover of cats. They feature prominently in his work, and when he passed away, his own cat was asleep on his bed. Clearly, he appreciated the complexity of the independent little creatures who abide in our homes and our hearts.
Cats can be many things. Beautiful. Elegant. Exuberant. Haughty. Affectionate. Needy. Talkative. Lazy. Aloof. But they aren’t often described as nice. Nice is more of a dog word; a word for cups of tea or good weather or a walk in the park. Cats certainly can be nice, but only if they feel like it. A dog might give you a nice big smile. A cat could give you a withering look, or the privilege of curling up on your lap, but nice never comes into it.
With so many of us spending more time at home during lockdown, the quirks in behaviour of our pets has never been more apparent. Our dogs feel #blessed that we are choosing to spend so much time with them; while our cats suspect that we have actually been fired (and probably deserved it too). They may no longer be worshipped as gods, but they certainly know how to position themselves within the dynamics of a household (near the top and in the sun). The KatKin cats are no different. Zeina, our content manager, would never dare to try and pick up her Ollie, but feels strangely honoured when at the end of the day she is sought out for head scratches, and earns a loud purr. Nikki, our co-founder, has no need of an alarm clock because Columbus will start loudly zooming around the house at 5.30 am announcing that it’s his breakfast time.
What is it about them that makes us such suckers? Or is it just that those of us who are crazy about cats actually are a little crazy? I imagined describing my relationship with Gorbi to a psychiatrist. The conversation goes like this:
“I love it when he’s in a cuddly mood, but I never try to hug him without permission. Sometimes he takes a swipe at me for no reason, but he doesn’t mean it I don’t think.”
I suspect my imaginary shrink might tell me that I’m in an abusive relationship with a narcissistic psychopath. (This sounds bad but, in fairness, if I described my dog crying outside my door when I happen to oversleep; and willingly going through my rubbish; it wouldn’t sound very healthy either.) Fortunately, we don’t have children or mortgages with our pets so a little bit of psycho is no problem at all. It doesn’t really matter if they follow us into the bathroom or attack us in our sleep.
Try another imaginary scenario, just for fun. What if your fluffy feline weighed fifty kilograms instead of five? How well would you sleep at night? It’s quite a thought. I’m mad about my lunatic cat but I’d feel safer with a Rottweiler any day of the week.
But perhaps that’s part of it too. Owning a cat makes you a small time, stay at home adrenaline junkie. For example, Gorbi has the softest white fur on his tummy. So soft. It’s as if a cloud and a marshmallow had a baby and it fell asleep on Gorbi’s tummy. Some days I can gently stroke the cloud-marshmallow and he purrs and it’s bliss. Other days I get a quick, hard rake with his back claws. That means, “We are not amused.” I never know what day it is. What I have learnt is that for any hope of a tummy stroke you must approach with caution and respect, but also try to maintain an air of quiet confidence. Do not show fear. Be charming but don’t simper. Preferably be my husband (he invariably fares better). These are my top tips, but I still have a lot to learn.
How could you ever compare this level of intrigue; this high-stakes gamble of punishment and reward; with giving a dog a nice tummy rub?
You can’t. Pratchett was right.
Style. That’s what people remember.