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.