The quality of a person’s cat caretaking depends upon whether the person regards themselves as an owner of cats or in a relationship with cats.
Cat lovers (ailurophiles) always try and get away from the concept of cat ownership. It is hard for two main reasons. Firstly the law persists in treating domestic cats as items that humans possess like any other item in the household. I don’t see any way that that will change over the next hundred years. For it to change all people would have to treat companion animals as equals and as true family members i.e. as children. This would involve a complete change in the legal rights that we bestow upon animals to something of the level of human rights. Humankind is nowhere near that point. So the first barrier to the general public regarding themselves as in a relationship with their cat rather than owning their cat is the law.
Secondly, humankind is only just pulling out of thousands of years of relating to animals has lesser creatures than humans. There are green shoots of change and a greater sensitivity towards animal rights followed by a greater desire to improve animal welfare. But the back story is that humankind resolutely retains the status of owner of companion animals.
Attitude: relationship versus ownership
I’m going to refer to Jackson Galaxy in this section. He intelligently compares and contrasts how parents might react to a behavioural problem in their child and their cat. When an otherwise well-behaved child misbehaves and gets into serious trouble at school, his or her parents ask questions of themselves as to why it happened. What did they do wrong? How could they have done better? How can they resolve the problem? They refer their child’s behaviour back to themselves as parents. Or at least a good parent would. They want to find out what’s wrong and how they can fix it. They take charge of the underlying cause of the problem.
Some cat owners (and I have specifically not referred to them as cat guardians) will respond to their cat doing something that they don’t like as a misbehaving cat. Perhaps the cat has peed on the carpet and has peed or even defecated on the bed. Their reaction will be concern for the bed, sofa or carpet. How can they fix it? How can they get rid of the urine and ammonia smell which we know is extremely hard to do. Their focus is on their household possessions. They may not take on the burden of the problem and ask how they can fix the environment which caused their cat to “misbehave”. They regard the cat as having done something wrong without good reason. A badly behaved companion. Even a spiteful, nasty companion who is sociopathic. They might devise some sort of punishment even though they probably realise that it’s the wrong approach. A response born out of ownership and ignorance.
An example comes to mind immediately. I recently wrote about a couple in Singapore who appear to have created an unsuitable environment for their ginger tabby cat who peed outside the litter box through stress. The response by the couple was to threaten and punish the cat which made him pee in the wrong place more often. The man harmed the cat at least psychologically while his partner filmed the episode. A classic example of ownership over relationship.
If we are to refer to people who live with cats is cat guardians they must be in a gentle relationship with their cat companion and put aside the concept of ownership. The law is archaic with respect to “ownership” of cats. It is wrong and it encourages a wrong attitude so it should be ignored in terms of day-to-day cat caretaking. All cat owners should convert themselves to cat guardians.
Guardians versus owners
When I write articles about the human-to-cat relationship I choose my words carefully. If I see that people behave like owners I refer to them as owners and where I see a genuine love for cats and an enlightened and open attitude towards the relationship I refer to them as cat guardians.