First of all, he or she (or "it") is not "your cat." This is a misnomer and a contradiction in terms.
The animal in question (we shall speak to gender in a bit) more properly should be described as the beast that, more or less, is in and around your house and that accepts you. Accepts you in that it pays no particular attention to you -- as opposed to hissing at a stranger. Thus, not "your cat" but "the cat that kindof lives with me."
About gender. Our cat -- i.e., the cat whose home base is in our house -- is named Henry and is a neutered male. Nevertheless, I refer to him as "he" & that will be the norm for this epistle.
Now to the basics. A cat's brain is hardwired. By the time he is weaned, he has ninety-eight percent of his "intelligence." I think that most of this is built-in, but perhaps some is learned from his mother. Like digging and covering. And grooming.
By this time, he knows that if something moves, you watch it closely. If it moves again -- & it is small enough -- you pounce on it! Claws out!! If it is medium-sized and you grab it with your front paws, you rake its stomach with your hind claws. Till it is dead. Or doesn't move very much.
The next basics are very basic. Eating. Sleeping. Going out.
A cat lives to eat. He likes to sleep. He loves to go out. He relates to humans in these terms. Given his environment, there are certain things he can't do. He needs help -- "cat servants." In our household, I am sure Henry thinks of Mary as the "primary feeder." I am probably sensed as "secondary feeder" and "main door opener." Our bed & between us is no doubt thought of in his cat terms as "a soft warm spot that I sometimes go to when I feel like it." Other than that, sleeping and humans are unrelated terms. Kind of like fish and starships. Or iron and clouds.
I believe purring is something a cat turns on & off automatically. We think it means he is happy or contented. I am not so sure. The instinct to hunt & kill his prey is very strong. Presumeably, this gives him pleasure, but I don't think he purrs when he does it & I'm somewhat doubtful he purrs after a successful hunt. But maybe he does. I haven't been there at that particular time. I just see the vole guts on the carport the next morning after a "successful" night out.
Then there's the friendly rubbing. Many people see a cat's rubbing up against them as a sign of affection. Wrong!! The cat merely wants to be rubbed or petted at this particular moment & often a human will serve to do this better than an inanimate object.
Knowing what goes through a cat's brain is conjecture at best. Harkening back to my "hard-wired" theory, maybe nothing does. A button is "punched" & a "result" comes out the other end. No cognitive process in between.
These factors, of course, account for the "self-centeredness" & ego of the cat and his lack of conscience. When a dog is a "bad dog," you can see by his reaction that he knows he has done something wrong. He may not know exactly what, but he knows he is "in the dog house."
Au contraire, our cat friend could care less that he just threw up on the kitchen floor or that he had just ripped a hole in the sofa cushion that happened to be a handy thing on which to sharpen his claws. No, he merely stretches, sends a baleful yellow-eyed glance your way & strolls off to find another comfortable place to sleep.
Now, don't get me wrong. I like cats. I like Henry. He's a very handsome cat -- an Abyssinian (well, half -- as we say, his mother was purebred and his father was "a traveling man"), brown with a faint black stripe, a tawny light-brown underbelly & a fine twitching tail going from brown to black. Once, several years ago, a couple of neighbor kids came up to me & said, "Hey, are you the owner of a small brown cat?" No one would ask that question today. While he is still brown & a cat, his addiction to Cat Basic No. 1 -- eating -- has transformed him into a brownish blob seemingly always croutched over his feeding bowl, tail extended, munching & crunching away at his dry food.
So here I am with this large brown cat, mewing at the door - - in like a flash when it's cold, taking his own sweet time when it's not -- almost always hungry; seemingly, quite friendly. And, of course, I constantly delude myself that he likes me. I mean, I would really like it if he liked me. But I know - - deep down -- that he can't, since Henry, like all cats, is incapable of affection.
But that hard-wiring sure puts up a good facade.
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