Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Do Cats Love Their Humans?

There's an article entitled "Do Our Cats Really Love Us?" in September's issue of Cat Fancy Magazine. The article focuses on the debate about whether cats have feelings for their humans.

Fot its article, Cat Fancy interviewed a couple of different authorities, including psychology professor Clive Wynne, author of the book "Do Animals Think?" Wynne tells Cat Fancy that:

When we interact with cats, we come to the deal wanting to love them and integrate them into our lives . . . but the cat comes into the partnership as an animal with a long history of hunting, of wanting to do its own thing. It doesn't necessarily want to have the same emotional relationship that we do. I believe that the cat is really living its own private life and using its owner where useful.

This Cat Fancy article really got me thinking. Do my boys "love" me or are they just skilled manipulators, adept at getting Liz and I to give them food and treats?

I think that, before we can really address the veracity of Wynne's theory, we have to ask one of the basic questions a human being can ask: what is love? How do we even know that we love another human being?

At its core, we know that we love someone when we intensely desire their companionship and affection. We just enjoy being around the object of our love. I'll posit that cats experience this kind of affection and desire because:

  • Cats want attention: Sometimes my boys just want attention. They don't want food; they don't need water. Arthur will often meow and meow until I follow him into the kitchen and stick my foot out so he can rub his head against it. If I give him food at this point, he'll ignore it. He wants to flip over on his back for a belly rub.

  • Cats value human contact: If cats are only interested in physical comfort, why is it that they will come and lean on me or my finacee Liz, even when we aren't the warmest or the most comfortable spot in the apartment?
  • Cats show favoritism: My fiancee Liz is always jealous, because the boys always stop what they're doing and run to greet me at the door when I come home. They follow me around at various times. They don't always do that for her. When I was on a business trip, the boys would stare at the front door or the bedroom door and meow, presumably hoping I would come out.
  • Cats Cooperate With Other Cats: If cats are solitary animals that are incapable of love, why do my boys seek out each others company and why do they cooperate rather than compete in many circumstances? For example, if I dangle a toy, the boys will take turns batting at it. They won't try to shove each other out of the way.

In human relationships, if the relationship is a positive one, we desire their well-being and we are willing to make sacrifices on their behalf. I'm not sure if I see a quality of self-sacrifice in cat love for humans, but I have heard of cats giving "presents" like dead mice to their humans. Sharing food is a huge self-sacrifice for animals. I see my boys flipping over onto their backs and making themselves "vulnerable" in my presence. To me, that is a sign that they trust me and, in a cat's world, trust = love.

The crux of Wynne's whole argument is that cats and other animals do not experience emotions like people do. It's wrong-headed to pretend that your cats are furry people, but it's also very elitist of us humans to believe that we have a monopoly on feelings. Cats are not robots whose only function is to survive. The emotional life of cats, in some ways, may even be richer than a person's, because they have no inhibitions about what they feel. In a short period of time, a cat can go from contentedness to anger to desire to affection. Is it all about survival? I don't think so.

Monday, July 18, 2005

The Powers of Beowulf

I'm not one to believe in the paranormal, but sometimes my boys seem to have a strange kind of intuition. As I mentioned previously, Beowulf and Arthur always know when Liz or I need them. But today was something else.

Liz was talking to her best friend on the phone this afternoon when Beowulf jumped on her lap and started rubbing up against the receiver. Finally Liz told her friend that "Beowulf wants to talk to you" and Beowulf started purring into the receiver. When he was done purring into the phone, he got up and walked away. He's never shown an interest in the phone before so this was not typical behavior for him.

What's interesting is that Liz's friend recently had to put her seven-year-old cat Lunar to sleep after a long illness. Was Beowulf just marking the phone or was he trying to comfort Liz's friend on the other end of the line? Was he relaying a message from her cat Lunar in the kitty beyond? Ok, it's just weird, but it's an interesting fantasy.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

What Advice Would You Offer to New Cat People? -- FAQ

Today marks exactly nine months since the day we brought Arthur and Beowulf home with us. My fiancee Liz and I adopted the boys on November 13th, 2004, but we spent several weeks pondering and planning for our adoption experience before that.

Before adopting the boys, I read a lot of articles for new cat parents. Now, I'm a small-time advocate for cats, because I keep trying to convince people I know to adopt. If you're considering cats, here are my two cents:

  • Do it: Really, you will love living with cats. You will make sacrifices for them; they may even make the occasional mess, but about a week after you adopt, you will forget how you ever lived without them. When your cats purr for you, you will fall in love.

  • Be Choosy: A lot of people adopt a cat that someone else offers them or go to just one shelter and adopt the first cat they see. But remember that cats can live more than 20 years. Even if you get an adult cat, you're entering a long-term relationship. So choose your cat wisely.

    If you have your heart set on a male gray kitten, keep going to different shelters until you find one that you can bond with. It's not selfish to want a particular gender, color, age or personality of cat. Remember, you'll be saving a life no matter which cat(s) you adopt.

    By the way, don't be put off if the cat you want is not friendly to you in the shelter. I almost made the mistake of adopting a different pair of cats because my boys were not friendly to me when I played with them at the shelter. As soon as I got them home, we started bonding. The way a cat acts in the shelter is no indication of how he'll act when you adopt him. However, you can get a general sense of whether a cat is skittish, playful, or curious. My boys were very curious but not playful or affectionate with us in the shelter. As soon as we got them home, it was a whole different world.

  • Get Two: Two cats are much better than one. Kittens, in particular, need company. It's no fun being an only child; I know this from experience. If I had only one cat, not only would be lonely but I'd miss out on watching the cats interact with each other. They are beyond cute when they are snuggling and they are a blast to watch when they are chasing each other around.

  • Plan Ahead: Before you bring your cat home, stock up on food and litter. Get bowls, a litterbox, a scratching post, and a carrier (or two if you're getting two cats).

  • Get the Good Stuff: Don't skimp on the food and litter. Your cats will be your family members. Get premium quality cat food and feed a mix of dry and wet food. Stay away from clumping clay litters. I recommend the World's Best Cat Litter.

What I Admire About Cats

Us humans can learn a lot from cats. Before I had pets, I used to feel sorry for cats and dogs, because they don't do what humans do.

"They'll never read Shakespeare. They'll never get to vote or to write an article or to give a great speech," I'd say.

But I think the lesson I've learned from my boys is that life is a series of moments, some exciting, some terrifying, but the best moments of all are often the quiet moments when we enjoy the simple things in life -- a good meal, a nice afternoon nap, or the company of friends and family.

No being on earth can relax like a cat.

Make Room for Arthur

One of the sweetest things that Arthur and Beowulf do is coming over to lie down between Liz and I when we're seated on the couch.

We usually end up making space for Arthur or Beowulf (Arthur most often) to lie down between us. These are the bonding moments that feel the most special of all.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Shopping for a Cat Tree

I'd love to get the boys a cat tree so they'd have a nice high perch that isn't the kitchen counter. Unfortunately, all the cat trees I've owned, seen at the store, or viewed online are dangerously made. Most have loose carpeting (which they swallow), little plastic threads coming off, splinters in the cubbies, and even sharp staples hanging out.

I would love to get the boys a cat tree, but I've been procrastinating about this for a long time, hoping that I won't spend $150 - $200 on a product that looks good online, but then is dangerous when I unpack it.

Recently, I saw an ad for a new line of cat furniture, from a company called The Refined Feline. They use low-pile carpeting and smooth wood. I wrote them a note asking if they use staples and they wrote me back to say they did not. So I'm very tempted to order one of these.

From left, they are:

The Lotus: A whopping 70" tall which is great, but I'm a little concerned about how it sways when cats jump on it. They say it's designed to sway, however. View the video to see what I'm talking about.

The Watchtower: Good thing about this one is that there's not a lot of carpet in it so less for the boys to mess up. It also looks very stable, but I don't like the looks of it and I really want something taller. Also, the boys don't need a hiding place now that they have their new covered cage.

The Little Lotus: Just like the Lotus, but a considerably shorter at 48" tall (as opposed to 70). I'm wondering whether 48" is tall enough, but my fiancee Liz likes this choice b/c she's a little concerned about the boys being "taller than we are" when standing at 70".

What do you think?

Party Nerves

Today marks the first time we've had a large party since adopting the boys. Sure, we've had two or three people over for dinner, but this is the first time we're having a large group of people over to the apartment and serving food that can easily make a mess like potato chips, doughnut holes, and hot dogs.

I'm nervous that some of the food will find its way onto the floor and into the boys' mouths. What happens if they eat a potato chip or a doughnut crumb? What happens if soda or beer spills and they take a few licks? I'd love to be able to prevent it all, but anything is possible. I suppose we could never have a party again, but the boys are ten months old now and it had to happen sometime.