The cat

It has been said that cats domesticated themselves. They discovered that if they caught mice around human habitations they would be allowed to share the warmth of their fires. They learned that, as large as we are, we humans were not inclined to eat them. As time went on, humans developed agriculture, raising grain that attracted rodents, making cats even more useful. And those cats thrived in warm barns. A few were even invited into the humans’ homes where their duties came to include providing companionship. As people left the farms cats accompanied them, having largely abandoned the pretense of being useful as mousers.  Today, cats have come full circle and have domesticated us.

There are many reasons, I suppose, why we like cats. They do, on occasion, rid our living spaces of the odd mouse or bug…or bird. It has been suggested that their wide faces, large eyes, and physical size remind us of human newborns, triggering our parental instincts. And they do exhibit behaviors that we interpret as affection…and which might actually be such. Who can resist a cat cuddled up in one’s lap purring contentedly? Granted, they can be a bit of a nuisance in the morning when they think they will expire from starvation if we do not leap out of bed and feed them. But there is a sort of pleasure to be had from a cat walking up and down one’s body and nibbling at one’s elbow.  I even think that their bladder massages may prevent kidney stones. Anyway, who wants to waste a perfectly good morning in bed?

Cats have earned places in our literature from the ridiculous to the sublime. The Cat in Hat and Puss in Boots anthropomorphize them into children’s heroes. Alice in Wonderland makes them smile enigmatically. Poet T. S. Eliot’s practical cats became Broadway stars. Of course, some writers seem not have lived with cats. Shakespeare, for example, rhapsodized in Hamlet about man being the paragon of animals. Ok, paragon, let’s see you jump to the top of the refrigerator in one effortless bound and lick your butt. And I am quite sure that Carl Sandburg never had a cat if he could write about “fog roll[ing] in on little cat feet.” Cf, the previous paragraph about cats’ morning ritual, to say nothing of the sound of a cat galloping playfully around the house.

Nor should we forget the role of cats in technology. Would the internet exist without cat memes? Would auto-correct have been developed absent cats prancing helpfully over keyboards? Would nightlights have been invented had someone not tripped over a cat in the dark? And what purpose do vacuum cleaners serve besides picking up cat fur. I could mention tennis rackets as well, but let’s not go there.

Whether we love them, as most of us do, or hate them as do nasty cretins, cats are part of our lives. No animal has so successfully trained another to care for them. No other so perfectly blends magnanimity and disdain. But perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from our feline masters is never to act against your own self-interest. No cat would ever have voted for Trump. They are smarter than that.  

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