Could you identify your cat in an ID parade?

Could you identify your cat in a police lineup, identity parade? I could because my cat has three legs. Fine. But could you, for sure, with absolute certainty identify your cat if 8 other very similar cats were lined up with him/her?

Identifying Your Cat

Identifying Your Cat

I ask because there is a nice story about a woman in England who let her black cat roam. One day she was told he had been run over. She dashed out, scooped his body up off the road and buried him in her garden with a ceremony and headstone.

Next day her black cat turned up for breakfast. The first thing she did was to check the grave to see if he had risen from the dead.

Seeing that he had not, she realised she had buried someone else’s cat.

The point is, she did not distinguish her cat from the dead cat on the road. The dead black cat was the same size, shape, colour and had the same face, she says. The face seems to be key but are they similar fairly often?

I think black cats can be particularly difficult to identify because there are no identifying coat markings.

The interesting thing for me is, could we recognise our cat’s facial features if our cat was in a police line up? My black cat has a long, Siamese face so even if he had four legs I would hope to be able to identify him but I could not 100% guarantee it, I feel. I don’t know, perhaps I could. I feel, however, a lot of people could not identify their cat in an ID parade. The voice is an important identifier but for the purposes of this test that characteristic is excluded.

By contrast, I could guarantee identifying any person who I had lived with for a long time. There is no question about that.

If it is harder to identify a cat from appearance, the question is, “Why?” The answer must be because cat appearance is less distinct between individual cats than human appearance. The same could be claimed for dogs and other animals. What about parrots for example? Or goldfish. I bet you could not identify your goldfish in a police lineup 😉

So what does that tell us? It is probable that cats do have fine facial distinctions that are as distinct as humans but they are covered by fur. Secondly, people don’t pay quite so much attention observing a cat’s facial features. We don’t, after all, observe a cat’s expressions as we do a human’s expressions to gauge body language.

Perhaps cats do not have such an evolved face in terms of it being a means of communication through expressions because they rely a lot more on smell to identify another cat. I feel that is the answer. Cats identify cats through scent and therefore the face has not evolved to be so distinct.

Of course microchip identifications or ear tattoo identifications solve the problem. These are still relatively rare, aren’t they?

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Could you identify your cat in an ID parade? — 27 Comments

  1. Michael, it may be difficult with a solid black kitty (although whiskers. ears and nose and tail features help), but the neat thing about a red tabby is that they have freckles. on the inside of their lips, just barely. The black freckles are a dead giveaway, because of their patterns and number. An example…

    After a second move residentially in a year’s time, my little Shrimp disappeared one night–I had thought that he was well enough acclimated to his new surroundings by this time, to let him out for a half-hour or so. HE did not come in when I called (and if I’m not out with him, it’s my habit to call to him every three–okay, every 30 seconds– to see what he’s about. One night, he did not return. I was up all night, needless to say. The next morning, my boyfriend and I were out looking for him (he doesn’t like cats, but he LOVES Shrimp).

    I was so beside myself that he made flyers based on another red tabby’s image (he blackened in the right eye with a Sharpie, een though Shrimp is blind in the left 🙂 )offering a big reward, and then commenced to staple them to every pole he could find in the neighborhood.

    I was so sad. Time passed by… And then, one night while I was in the backyard against the alley gate, calling for him like I did every day, I heard a car in the alley just outside the opened back gate. I called, ignoring the car, “Shrimptaro!” The driver of the car, who I could not make out in the darkness, pushed open the passenger side and Lo and Behold! my little Shrimp jumped out! My boyfriend said, as he approached me hugging this little red tabby, “That’s not your cat! Look how thin he is–that’s not Shrimp!” Well guess what, my heart knew that that was my Shrimp.

    And I was right. We were so, so bonding in that moment!

    (I have know idea to this day, who that person was. But obviously, a catlover. 🙂

  2. Oh my god, Michael, “a police lineup,” really? Let’s see you now add to your post with a picture of your favorite naughty Calico, in a lineup. ;D

  3. Sorry for yet oanother cooment, but microchipping is not all that great. My Michael [actually my housemate’s cat, but he and I were like Bonnie and Clyde]. chasing each other all over the house, backyard, up honeysuckle trees in the back forty, everywhere. We were buds. Anyway, after yet another move, from the acre and a half, he disappeared, being the gregarious type. He disappeared, nd i suspect that he traveled across town, back to where we had so much fun with the neighbors… I will never know, BECAUSE the micr-chipping is only good for very little. Ask anybody who knows. 🙁

  4. Oh yes I could identify every single one of our cats past and present because I would know every inch of their beautiful faces and bodies. If I had nothing else to do in the world I could sit and watch them and drink in their features for hours because I love them so much and they fascinate me.

  5. Yes I’m 100% confidant I could identify our cats in a crowd, I’m quite certain there are no two cats exactly alike, their coats differ, their pads differ and their expressions differ too, even black cats are unique because of the expressions on their faces and the way they hold their ears, also eye shapes and length of noses differ. We tend to look at their faces when we talk to them and they look back at us so their dear little features are well imprinted on my brain, as are the faces of all the cats we’ve been lucky enough to know and love as family over the years. To me each cat is as unique as each person. (I could also pick out our GSH and Collie who we had over 30 years ago, you never forget family)

      • Confident yes but not, I hope, in a big headed way, but I am sure I could pick them out, and I’m also sure that even 2 years after last seeing them I could pick out the 15 that used to live next door, cats are individuals just like people are, it’s not only the way they look but the way they hold themselves that make them unique.

        • I agree every cat is an individual and unique just as every person is.I don’t think I’d have any difficulty picking any of mine out of a line up.

  6. Remember when I did The Story of Butch and Zack? I thought my tabby had caught a ride to work with me in my car. So I put him in the car when he walked right up to me where I worked. Took him home, he was happy. My cat wasn’t too happy when he walked up on me petting his twin 2 days later. I named the new cat Zack. He and Butch soon became friends.

    These days I’m better at it, but still confuse Furby and Coral. My cats with the same colors tend to have different body types. Even my black kitties are very different from each other.

    • That makes one who can’t ID their cat in a police parade 😉

      It is tougher for you because you have so many cats. Maybe that stops you remembering the finer characteristics of fur pattern etc.

      • This article worries me. I wonder how many people visit a shelter when their cat is missing and don’t recognize their own cat.

        • Now that is a neat question. I believe that the reality is that many people would not recognise their cat because not everyone are like you and me and regular PoC contributors. A lot of people are quite casual about their cats. They are not connected as tightly. These people probably wouldn’t recognise their cat in a line up.

  7. It is difficult to tell cats apart because they are a different species. Humans even have difficulty telling different humans apart if they have significantly different physical characteristics from the person trying to identify them. Some people would call that being from a different race, but there really aren’t different races, only the human race. But when I’ve taught in situations where my students looked very different from me it takes a little extra effort to learn names. I was teaching music to a group of kids from Burma who are part of an outreach ministry at my church. It was hard to learn names, partly because their names were all names I’d never heard before, but also because they’re from Burma and they don’t look like me or the members of my family. That’s not being racist. Far from it. I’d rather teach a bunch of those kids over kids born in America any day. They were much better behaved. But it’s just harder at first to learn names. Once you know the person well it’s easier. This works against minorities in police lineups. As hard as it is to pick out the perp from a line up it’s even harder if the perp doesn’t look like the victim.

    So it would not be unusual for it to be hard to identify our cats by appearance alone and not other things like the sound of his meow or personality.

    That is hilarious that Elisa brought home someone else’s cat only to have her cat come up and glare at her for petting that stranger. Cats identify each other by smell more than appearance, I’m sure. They probably can’t understand how we could make such a mistake. “But he doesn’t smell anything like me!

    • Excellent point as far as I am concerned. Yes, I agree that a person in, say England, would find it harder to see distinctions between Chinese people than English people. The same principle apples to animals of a different species. This must be a barrier to identifying cats.

  8. I would have no problem identifying my cats in a police line up. Marvin will be the only one who could ever end up being arrested. In fact, I had to urge him off the neighbors barn roof this morning, down a tree (he came head first by the way, first time I’ve ever seen him up a tree) where he was bugging the other two cats. No peace! But I digress…Marvin has very distinctive scars on both ears, and an unforgettable meow, and eyes half shut bedroom look when he looks up at you.
    No one else in the universe has Bigfoots feet, including thumbs. No problem there. I spend hours just staring at Yellow cat through the window. I’d recognize her instantly either winter coated or not. Yep…there will never be a doubt.

    The question is, would I post bail for Marvin? Yep. In an instant.

    • LOL, I like that about Marvin. You are firmly in the Yes camp. Mind you Marvin is very distinctive. It is as if he had an identification mark like a tattoo.

      • And where was my camera? The whole episode would have made a good video. But it was an emergency. What is a girl to do? I was sadly barefoot when I heard the yeowerling. Ouch, oak leaves.

  9. Speaking of identity, didn’t I read here on POC that cats whisker arrangement is their identifier? Sort of like our finger prints.

    • Freckles on the inside of a red tabby’s lips are possibly like fingerprints, but I don’t think so. They can change and so can follicles(ability to produce a whisker), as far as I know…Please, Ruth(Kattaddorra), you’re the cat expert here. Have you read this?

      When my cat disappeared for a fortnight (we moved and thought he would come in within the hour), my roommate put up fliers and he magically appeared almost two wks later. He had lost weight, but I knew him immediately and he recognized my voice in the dark, and ran straight into my arms. My roommate didn’t think it was him (because of the weight loss and also maybe because he’s not in tune to my cats like I am), but I knew. Even before I scooped him up as he ran towards me from the alley gate. He just acted like Shrimpie, even though silhouetted.

  10. Maybe I should note that my cats, both “moggies” are now never allowed outside unsupervised. We had moved three wks prior to this, so I thought Shrimp would be okay with me outside. But, as he wasn’t full-grown, well, that maybe have had quite a bit to do with his/my misadventure. (needless to say, he does not go out unless I am by his side every minute. Our bonding is quite tight.)

  11. Pingback: Why Doesn’t My Cat Meow? | Pictures of Cats

  12. I can answer this question definitively now. The answer is no, I would not be able to pick Monty out of a lineup. I found this out today.

    This morning I looked up while putting on my shoes on the back porch to see Monty standing in the back of the yard. He was a little puffy and seemed to be looking out across the yard. Maybe it’s a possum. I was trying to figure out exactly what he was doing. There was something odd about his body, or his posture, but what was it? I called out to him. Suddenly, he had two heads. The small, black furry face that had been looking at me was not his. There was another black cat siting there, slightly smaller than Monty, but otherwise his twin. I think the other cat could be related to Monty. There are a lot of black cats around here that look like him. His kitty mom was, well, prolific.

    Barefoot I ran across the yard and the smaller cat ran, scrambling over the fence. Monty gave chase. I yelled, “No!” but one cat dropped down, and came back into my yard. I walked by him and he attacked my ankle. “Don’t attack your mom!” I said. The cat kept yowling, howling and growling. He was completely wild. Unapproachable. I tried talking soothingly to him, but he appeared defensive.

    A thought that had been nagging me suddenly came front and center. Not only were these both black cats they were two black cats probably sharing a great deal of genetic material. Look alike black cats, except for size. Size is relative, comparative. What if Monty were the smaller cat? What if my cat has been chased over the fence and I’m sitting here with a feral cat who could never love me, a wild animal, larger and more fierce than Monty? Isn’t the tail shorter on this cat? Is that Monty’s face? Monty is such sweet cat– this cat is wild. It’s not him. My cat ran over the fence!

    I ran through the house and into the neighboring yard. I called out, “Monty,” and suddenly he was there, peeking at me through a gap in the fence. The little face peeking at me from my own yard was Monty’s. I ran back through the house and into the yard and there was Monty walking up the path, as is his habit, except his tail was down. I picked him up. He was excited, but I could hold him. It was definitely him.

    “I didn’t know who you were! I thought you weren’t you!” Monty looked at me like I was incredibly stupid. But he wasn’t himself– for awhile he was out of his little head, a totally wild cat and the relationship we have, in that moment, did not exist. He was a stranger in a sense. Over time he calmed down and the wild kitty left him and then I wondered how I could have doubted.

    I you visit a shelter looking for your missing cat it could be hard I recognize him if he were stressed. Also, this was a reminder that at heart Monty is still a wild cat. But he is also my furry friend and he did remember that finally, and when he did I recognized him without difficulty.

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