Your cat doesn’t hate you… she derides you. She is far too regal to hate you. And yet in one of those extremely rare and glorious moments of modesty, the highness herself embraces your peasant lap, purring and asking you with her round baby eyes that instantly purge you of any bitterness, whether you will love her as much as you possibly can.
Of course, your favors are not returned. Your love, as usual, is unrequited: as soon as you touch her, she becomes enraged. Berserk, she lashes out and leaves a trail of scratches on your arm. What’s wrong, you wonder? Is it you or is it her?
It’s Definitely Her
The creature that does return your favors and always requites your love is a certain higher mammal whose unconditional geniality is signaled by its wagging tail and gaping mouth, where a pink tongue hangs loose…. our apparently best friend – the dog.
To be honest, there’s nothing remarkable about a dog’s friendship. It is not actively or consciously altruistic. Dogs are hardwired to be genial, particularly to our species, since we selectively domesticated and bred only those dogs that were the most timid or most friendly towards us. A dog is essentially a domesticated wolf. A wolf is a highly social predator, which roves and hunts in packs.
A cat, on the other hand, is a solitary creature. You’ll almost always find a leopard, panther or African wildcat, the ancestors of your cat, alone, furtively climbing a tree or prowling in the grass. Except for lions, which hunt in packs because they prey on animals larger than themselves, cats always hunt alone. They are independent and reclusive (it is no coincidence that the French adore them so much). The fact that they even agree to live with us is the truly remarkable thing. They’re being deliberately, if not genial, then at least tolerant.
Thus, the hostility proceeded by a devil-may-care-attitude is just her genes demanding some personal space. Give her some time and witness how, eventually, perhaps after being lured by treats, your cat might leave her “spot”, whether behind the couch or under the bed (or any other ridiculous place, depending on how weird your cat is), and embrace you as the gregarious or, as she’d describe it, obnoxious, creature that you are.
When It’s Definitely You
Research has shown that cats are adept at faking it or tolerating your obnoxiousness. However, tolerance has its limit. Discourse is not a cat’s forte; she rebukes and reestablishes her independence in the only way she knows. In her defense, surely, she did warn you, albeit with signals so subtle that they’d seem inscrutable: did her ears twitch as soon as you laid your hands on her? Or was it the curling, slightly puffed tail? Perhaps a sharper “meow” that you hilariously misinterpreted as a poor baby in dire need of love?
The cat’s independence instinct kicked in and she went berserk for the same reason why you’d tranquilize or kill a large approaching animal: she felt threatened. And why not? She, in your perspective, as an animal many times her size, might be potential prey.
African wildcats reside quite low in the food chain. Your cat’s ancestors were constantly preyed on by a plethora of animals, such as wild dogs, snakes, hyenas and even bigger cats like leopards, lions and cheetahs. Such a meek creature cannot afford to be anything but paranoid. Like her ancestors, she constantly surveys her surroundings for threats, she sidles furtively and then scampers to safety.
Similarly, she fears you because you are one large, noisy and potentially dangerous animal. The fear is heightened in a cat that was adopted by humans later in her life, say, after scavenging alone for a month or with other kittens. This is tantamount to suddenly pushing a devout introvert into a room full of the world’s most uncompromising extroverts. For a withdrawn animal, this is as terrifying as it can get.
Of course, she understands that you mean no harm, as you feed and clean her. However, paradoxically, to cultivate a healthy bond with your cat, you must, as already mentioned, give her some space. Assure her that you pose no threat. Rather than approaching her, let her approach you; let her know that she’s in control, or at least create the illusion. Trust me, it may take time, but she’ll find you and purr and give you the baby eyes inevitably. After all, as a creature that exemplifies narcissism, she craves your attention.
If even space, time and treats don’t work, your cat might not be the embodiment of Satan, but her highness is definitely indifferent to your existence. Unlike dogs, cats were never domesticated to obey a human’s orders, so it is no coincidence that she doesn’t listen to you. However, it’s not that cats are incapable of understanding your needs; she simply doesn’t care. She’s actively deaf to them. In a test, researchers played recordings of four strangers to a cat as the people called out his or her name. One of the people was actually the owner of the cat.
The cats responded to every recording with “oriented behavior”, that is, they moved their ears and eyes to seek the sound’s source. Unsurprisingly, the greatest response was elicited by the owner’s voice. In a room full of people, your cat can recognize you with ease, but to put it impolitely, it just doesn’t give a damn. Why are cats so bitter and arrogant? Well, I like to believe that it’s because nature denied them a sweet tooth. Yes, cats are the only mammals that cannot relish sweetness. They lack the amino acids that make up the gene responsible for detecting it. If that doesn’t make you sulky, I don’t know what would!