The Misbehaving Cat or Misbehaving Human?
The motivation to write this short post has come from the introductory page of chapter 10 of the book, The Cat, It’s Behavior, Nutrition & Health by Linda P. Case. It is a well known and well received book. It is a thorough book. And in this instance if you read between the lines you can detect what is at the root of so called “cat behavior problems”.
She says that the domestic cat is a cherished companion and friend to young and old people – a member of the family (90% say their cat is a member of the family). The bond between cat and human is strong and enduring, therefore, she concludes.
Yet, she goes on to say that cat “caretakers” frequently relinquish their cats to “shelters”. I say, that both the word “caretaker” and “shelter” are inappropriate terms because neither the person is taking care of their cat nor is the shelter sheltering the cat because about 6 million companion animals in the USA are euthanised annually at shelters. I also say that the word “euthanised” is also the wrong word because the cats are healthy and normal. This paradox between so called cat caretakers and relinquishment is partly put down to cat “problem behavior”. Eighteen percent of owners consider killing their cat for behavioral problems – I used the correct word there. Finally the term “behavioral problems” is frequently used incorrectly to. I’ll explain why.
Linda P. Case explains that a cat’s normal behavior includes “communication patterns, social and territorial behaviors and predation”. She agrees that these behaviors are normal and don’t constitute a problem. Common sense, I guess.
She then, unintentionally, provides us with a hint about where the real problem lies. She says that when a cat’s normal behavior as referred to above “is displayed with an intensity or frequency that is incompatible with the owner’s lifestyle, when the owner has no control over the cat’s actions…the behavior is considered to be problematic.”
The key here is the reference to the cat’s behavior being considered “incompatible” with the human’s lifestyle. It is the human of course who decides this. And what is and what is not compatible is bound to be highly subjective. And this subjective decision making is dependent on a person’s expectations, personality and education which dictates whether the cat lives or dies. In short it is about human behavior.
And Linda P. Case’s reference to the intensity and frequency of behavior of the cat, is frankly absurd. A cat is entitled to have its own personality. To show more interest in some things more than others. This is normal behavior. It is not for us to decide if a cat’s behavior is “intense” or “frequent”. Neither is it up to us to decide if a cat’s behavior is “compatible” with ours after we adopt a cat.
We should make that decision before we adopt. We must surely know how a cat will behave before we adopt and if we don’t it should be obligatory to learn!
I conclude that in nearly 100% of the cases where a cat has been relinquished and killed because of misbehavior the real reason is the misbehavior of the person charged with looking after the cat.
There is one final point. Often it is the human’s behavior that dictates the cat’s behavior; the cat is reactive. If the human creates an unsuitable environment for the cat, its behavior will no doubt become unacceptable to the person who who is ultimately responsible. This ignorance about cat behavior is often demonstrated in the thoughtless comments on YouTube in reference to funny cat videos etc. The classic example of so called “cat misbehavior” as a result of human misbehavior is inappropriate elimination. Often this is due to dirty litter trays or the tray in the wrong location or ill health, stress etc.
These very important points are missing in Linda P. Case’s arguments.