The rural life: Who’s the real jerk?

By From page A4 | August 18, 2014

“Sorry,” went the headline. “Your Cat Is Actually A Total Jerk. It’s Just Science.”

The piece was written by Renee Jacques, a “viral content editor” at the Huffington Post online. It’s meant to be funny and, of course, to go viral, but her claim that “it’s just science” rubbed me the wrong way.

Like one of those darn annoying cats, I suppose.

I mean, here’s the thing. People are always complaining, half-jokingly, about cats. How aloof they are, how they don’t adore us the way dogs do. But this article purports to use science to prove that cats are jerks.


For example, the article refers to a University of Tokyo study that claims cats haven’t evolved enough to become properly domesticated to obey a human’s orders. Meanwhile, a University of Oxford study reports dogs have developed larger brains in order to be able to socialize the way they do — and the way cats don’t.

So, opines the article’s author, “your antisocial cat may not even be the smartest pet in your house.”

Well, let’s see. Which animal is smarter, really? The one that evolved to please humans, or the one that evolved to please itself? Is making humans happy the be-all of animal intelligence and achievement? Hmmm.

The article also repeats the old trope that just because a cat rubs on you doesn’t mean he likes you.

“All he’s really saying,” insists Ms. Jacques, “is that he now owns you.” It’s his way of “informing other cats that you are his territory.”

Well, excuse me. Don’t we humans engage in the same kind of behavior? Don’t we want to “own” the things we love? I’d say this is just the pot calling the kettle black. When we’re possessive, it’s a sign of love. When cats do it, it’s proof they don’t love.

How does that work?

Another fractured bit of “science”: Cats lick themselves after you pet them to get rid of your “stink,” which, yet again, proves they don’t like you. This is just silly, of course. If cats work to eliminate a smell, it’s because they’re predators that prefer not to have anything, including odors, tipping off prey before a pounce.

Moreover, why doesn’t it mean dogs dislike us when they roll in a rotting carcass? They’re so smart, remember, they surely know we don’t fancy that smell. Doesn’t this make dogs haters?

The jab that really gets me, though, is what Jacques says about the way a cat will sometimes stare at you, then blink slowly. She accurately identifies this as a “kitty kiss,” which is also my impression of it, as I’ve noted in past columns.

But then she says it’s “creepy.” There’s no pleasing this woman! If you can’t take pleasure in the most adoring glance this side of Johnny Depp, then I just feel sorry for you.

Now, having said all this, I must add a few comments about my own cat, Leo, the green-eyed, coal-black, somewhat-aging panther. Before I even saw Jacques’ article, I was planning a column with the title, “He’s a Bad Cat,” which is also the title of a little ditty I sing to him almost every day. It begins, “He’s a bad cat. He’s a very bad cat. He’s a very very very very very bad cat.” (It finishes pretty much the same way.)

So, am I a hypocrite? Maybe I am, but not because I rail against that article while admitting my cat is bad. You see, cats’ so-called “badness” is a big part of why we humans love them. Cat “bad” can be “good.”

To show what I mean, here’s an abbreviated list of my cat Leo’s best bad behavior:

(1) He trips me. He has this way of walking “with” me that involves darting diagonally across my path. It takes fancy footwork to avoid falling on my face, so he’s actually helping me to stay light on my feet. (Especially important as one ages.)

(2) He tricks me. He’ll pretend he’s heading obediently to his food bowl, then zip into my bathroom instead, where he leaps onto the counter and curls up in one of the sinks. This is, however, his favorite perch for delivering the aforementioned kitty kiss. So who could take offense?

(3) He licks toes. Not just mine, fortunately (that would be a little creepy), but those of everyone in the family. We don’t like it, and we curl our toes into the carpet to avoid it. Still, it does provide great food for thought. A cat with a toe fetish? Who knew?

(4) He brings in dirt. By this I don’t mean on his paws, though he does that, too. I mean he makes a point of rolling in the driveway right before he comes inside, so that he’s covered with dirt, twigs, tiny pieces of gravel, bits of pinecone and who-knows-what-else. (Actually, come to think of it, this one — along with meowing in the middle of the night and waking us up — is kind of jerky behavior. So, score two for Ms. Jacques.)

The point is, cats are iconoclasts. They appeal to people who respect their individuality and admire their chutzpah. No wonder, then, that according to Jacques’ sources, millionaires and business executives are more likely to own dogs than cats.

A dog is your humble servant. A cat is your idiosyncratic friend. Neither one is better than the other.

And for sure neither one is a jerk.

Jennifer Forsberg Meyer, a biweekly columnist with the Mountain Democrat, currently owns two cats. Leave a comment for her online, sharing your own cat stories, or reach her at [email protected]

Jennifer Forsberg Meyer

Jennifer Forsberg Meyer is an award-winning journalist and author with three published books to her credit. Currently she is a senior editor with Horse & Rider magazine. Jennifer lives in rural Latrobe with her husband, Hank; their daughter, Sophie Elene; and the family’s assorted animals.
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