This is a short essay on cats as pets. It is very personal. You can write such an essay in very many different ways and styles. I’ve always focused on cat welfare. Therefore at the core of this essay is welfare. If anybody thinks it is good enough or in tune with their thoughts they can use it as they wish under a creative commons licence.
I have a slight problem with calling a cat a “pet”. The word is accurate enough. It means a domesticated animal. Our cats are domesticated. However, the word also means to stroke or pat affectionately. It imports connotations of a person being superior and deigning to be friendly and nice towards a lesser animal. The word “pet” reinforces the concept of the superiority of humans over animals. To me, it feels patronizing to call a cat a pet.
A true cat lover relates to his/her cat not as a pet but as a family member and a true companion in the same vein as a human being. We should do our best to elevate the status of the domestic cat to one of a companion with rights approaching those of other humans. That may be an extreme concept but an underlying motivator for abuse against cats is that they are perceived as “only a cat” by many people. A lot of people see them as having little value which opens the gate to abuse by certain people, damaged people and people who want to vent their anger on a creature that is vulnerable and is conveniently there.
“She’s my pet cat” is how many cat owners would describe their cat. What if the same person said “she’s my cat companion”? Doesn’t the latter sound better? Doesn’t it show more respect for your cat? If you agree that it does, it is a good thing. Respect for the domestic cat results in better cat welfare. And we owe it to our domestic cat companions to provide them with the best possile welfare. It is our duty. It is part of the contract between us and our cat; the unwritten contract which says that our cat provides us with pleasure and company and we provide them in return with security, food and warmth.
Many cats provide more than company and pleasure. They are working cats of a sort. They may live in a library or a railway station. They bring pleasure to customers and to railway users. Other domestic cats may be employed to keep down the mouse or rat population. We would regard these cats as working cats and companions but not pets.
Arguably “pet” is a word from a bygone era. Modern trends are towards much better animal welfare. Humans are gradually becoming more aware of the intelligence of animals. They understand that cats feel emotions. It is hard to believe that at one stage many veterinarians questioned whether cats experienced pain.
There is a gradual trend towards a better understanding of animals and in providing them with better rights. In line with this welcome development, which is part of the evolution of humans, our language should reflect these changes. The word “pet” should gradually fall into disuse and be replaced by “cat companion” or a similar phrase.
The word “pet” is obviously a word in the English language. I am not a linguist but I wonder if there is an equivalent word in all other languages. I would doubt it. Language reflects our behaviour and it would be interesting to know how other nations related to their cats by studying whether they had an equivalent word to the English “pet”.
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