We should use the personal pronouns ‘he’ and ‘she’ or ‘him’ and ‘her’ when referring to cats when we don’t know their name rather than ‘it’.
And if you don’t know the gender of the cat you are referring to you should write “he or she” or “she or he”. Alternatives are ‘he/she’ or ‘(s)he’. If you’re writing about a non-specific cat when, for example, describing cat behavior, you can take your pick between “he” or “she”. I tend to vary it. There is a habit in writers to refer to unspecified cats as ‘it’ or “he”.
However, in recognition of the equality of the sexes it is only fair to refer to an unspecified cat as “she” or “he” in equal numbers.
Examples: “I loved my cat. He made a fine companion.” “My neighbor had a cat. He or she was very feisty and I miss seeing him/her”.
It makes things far more personal to use the personal pronouns ‘he’ and ‘she’. Although I agree that it can be clumsy. It adds status to the domestic and stray cat. When you use the pronoun “it” you create an object, almost an inanimate object. Too many people already do that when it comes to their treatment of domestic and stray cats.
It may be seen as being pedantic to insist on using a personal pronoun when referring to a cat. Also, it may also be seen as humanizing domestic and stray cats, which is not a great thing to do. However, it does bestow upon the cat a respect which they deserve. It does help in ensuring that domestic and stray cats are treated humanely and decently. There is a need to use all the tools at our disposal to improve animal welfare in general and cat welfare specifically.
Note: these are my personal views. I am not following anyone else’s ideas and neither am I complying with any conventions. I am just doing what I think it correct.
Dr Desmond Morris
It is interesting to note that the great Dr Desmond Morris who wrote perhaps the best book on domestic cat behavior ever, Catwatching, tended to use the pronoun “it” when referring to domestic cats.
I disagree with him but excuse him because it is an old fashioned way to refer to a cat. It indicates by the way that we have moved on in respect of our relationship with the domestic and stray cat.
Awareness of animal intelligence
Humans are gradually becoming more sensitive towards domestic cats and respect them more. There is an awakening to the intelligence and emotional capabilities of domestic and stray cats. They demand respect. They demand to be treated humanely; even the most unpleasant looking abandoned feral cat. In fact, we should respect such a cat more than any other because he or she is the most vulnerable, living the toughest of lives, therefore in need of our help more than any other.
Further, such a cat reminds us of our failings in allowing unwanted cats to be created. In penance for our failings we should respect the most vulnerable of stray and feral cats.
P.S. ‘Stray cat’ in this article refers to domestic strays and feral cats.