Sunday, February 23, 2014

Cats Aren't Affectionate? Says Who?

Hey baby, come here often?
"Cats don't care about you!", I've heard more than one hard-core dog enthusiast thunder. "They're aloof. They don't show affection! You only matter to them at feeding time and for changing their litterbox! Now, dogs....dogs are affectionate! They love everyone unconditionally, and they show it! They interact with you! They do tricks! Cats don't do tricks! Cats suck!"

I admit that I used to be counted among the multitude that thinks this way. For a good portion of my life, it had been my experience that cats were these quiet, aloof creatures that were more part of the background scenery than an actual pet. They didn't interact with anyone; they simply...were.

Fortunately, I've seen the light and have changed my views, but in the process of doing so have come up with some observations about cats and affection. And I've come to the conclusion that the disconnect may be in most part because of a lack of a common means of communication.

The Language of Love
Sing it out, Dan!
Perhaps the unfair perception that cats aren't affectionate is because cats show affection very differently than dogs do (huh huh...he said "dog do"...huh huh. Sorry, it's hard to pass up on a good poop joke. Or one like this, for matter!).  Cats, for instance, have a slow blink that they do as a way of telling someone they love them. There's also the head-butt, the kneading with front paws, and yes, the rubbing up against the legs, which in addition to contributing to you toppling over head-first, is also how they mark someone that they care about.

Dogs jump up and down, lick your face, wag their tails, bark excitedly, and run around with unbridled joy. That's what they do. Cats are more subtle, but the love they have for their people is no less genuine or deep. It seems that a lot of the disconnect between cats and people who don't like them is that cats don't respond in the same way as dogs. As a for huge for instance, a dog wagging its tail means that it's happy (and also a sure sign something is going to get swept off a coffee table). A cat wagging its tail is annoyed. Back away slowly...

There's a lesson here for human relationships too, you know. Two people in a relationship may show and express love in different ways, a result of their upbringing, nature, and experiences. Problems can arise when both people aren't on the same page, and when one doesn't see love expressed in the way they're accustomed to showing it, they may believe they aren't loved. Lesson to be learned: make sure you're involved with someone whose ideas and concepts of love match yours. That's the relationship advice of the day. You're welcome!

It's A Matter Of Trust
Go home, Billy, you're drunk!
Unlike dogs, which as a species can be physically imposing, cats are vulnerable. The presence of a dog on someone's property is enough to give a trespasser pause, while a cat is practically overlooked. After all, how many (serious) "Beware of Cat" signs do you see on property? Cats, I believe, are aware that they're vulnerable, and consequently are more careful, slower to trust.

So cats, aware of how vulnerable they are, are cautious. They have to be. Unfortunately, that caution could be confused for aloofness.

Sure, it's nice when something accepts you wholeheartedly without you even trying, but there's something to be said about earning the trust of someone or something that doesn't trust easily. It's an accomplishment, perhaps even a sign that hey, you're a pretty awesome person!

Cool For Cats
Everyone could use a little squeeze now and then.
So there's a different set of expectations for cats than there are for dogs. Bur it's kind of cool when
you see a cat exhibiting behavior one would normally only associate with dogs. For instance, my cat Kyrion waits for me to get home from work. I've had numerous first-person confirmations that when it gets dark, he can be found perched on the bookcase that affords a view of the driveway and front porch.

When I come in the door, he walks up to me, chirps, and sometimes rubs against my leg. Then, he trots off and goes and does whatever Mysterious Cat Thing(tm) he wants to. He doesn't jump all over me and slobber (although the visual is amusing). It's like instead of being all "Ohmigawd it's SOOOOO good to see you! Hello!Hello!Hello! Missed you! Ohmigawd!", it's more like "My happiness isn't complete until you're here, because you mean a lot to me. Now that you're here, all is right with my world. I'm off now, but I'll be back later to headbutt you and jump in your lap. Kthanksbye!"

In our household, it's clear which of three cats belong to each of us (or should that be the other way around?). Each cat responds to their owner, following them around, sitting with them, jumping into laps, all of that.

In The End
This is a ride at the old Lincoln Park. Think about it...
People ask, "Which is better? Dogs or cats?" That's not a good question, because the two are different entities. It's like saying "Which is better to find on the street? A $50 gift card to  iTunes, or a $50 gift card to Home Depot?" Well, they're both awesome finds; it just depends on what interests you more.

Cats are the sort of pets that give you as much as you give them. If you interact with them, play with them, talk to them, they learn and they develop personalities and an emotional bond with you. If on the other hand you don't really have much contact with them and treat them more as part of the decor, they grow distant and fade into the background. You know, sort of like what happens with people.

Photo Credit: Lincoln Park,

Dan Fogelberg

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