The caption to the picture below on the Reddit.com website is: “Our cat went missing October 2020. The animal shelter called and he is home. Pinch me I’m dreaming”. Another wandering cat is found and returned home. It is not uncommon. There are tens of thousands of stories of domestic cats being “lost” and found as they return home or a helpful and kind person finds a stray cat and takes them to a veterinarian or shelter to scan the microchip to identify their owner who could be many miles away.
But to me, the picture points to a universal truth about the cat-to-human relationship which is that it is not as secure as the dog-to-human relationship. In those homes where the cat is allowed to go outside, there is always the slight or very slight possibility that they will go outside and not come back. There is this looseness in the thread that joins human to cat. It can break.
This is not a criticism of the relationship between cat and person but a simple recognition of the fact that the wild cat ancestor is lurking just below the surface of the domestic cat. They are barely domesticated. When they go into the backyard or wander beyond it, they revert to a wild cat mentality. They are a top, little predator and forget about their human caregiver. They become solitary again whereas the dog looks up to their human master and the human family is their pack to which they are a bonded member.
They won’t leave the pack. It is their protection and they will protect it. The chains that bind the dog’s family, based upon the gray wolf pack, do not break. The domestic cat has adapted to the human family and become sociable against their ancestral instincts. It has taken 10,000 years from being tamed and then domesticated during ancient Egyptian times.
But the dog has been domesticated perhaps for three times as long and so they are more domesticated than the cat as well as being a pack animal and therefore inherently more sociable.
Humans have to work on the relationship when they are a cat owner. If they get a bit neglectful or careless or even begin to abuse their cat companion in a minor way, they may disappear to find a better home or simply to live in the wild but they won’t realise how hard life is out there.
Male cats are more likely to wonder further than female cats which replicates what happens with the wild cat species. When independent, female wild cats may set up home near their natal range i.e. their mother’s home range whereas males may wander hundreds of miles to find their own home and they may have to fight with other males to establish territory. In the same vein, it is unneutered male domestic cats who will be more inclined to break free of that human-to-cat relationship.
Below are some more reunions.