Cat breeding: the follow-up post
After getting a harsh, personal email on this subject (not at all like your tactful dissent, Stacy), I thought I’d take a stand and defend this fictional, satirical, meant-to-be-thought-provoking post. (BTW, I think it’s perfectly OK to disagree. I just thought the post required more of an explanation before others dismissed it out of hand.)
For starters, I’m not advocating cat breeding here. In fact, I abhor any sort of pet breeding outside of the confines of serious hobby-fanciers who adhere to responsible, well-informed practices. What I was getting at is sort of a corollary to last week’s post on feline second-class citizenship.
Consider that our domesticated cat is far closer to wildlife than the vast majority of our dogs. That’s a large part of why I believe we have a feral cat problem. And here’s my reasoning:
Cats were domesticated to hunt and kill things close to where people live. Bringing strays indoors and neutering them (even as babies) doesn’t extinguish these instincts (nor does bottle-feeding, which can indeed exacerbate their effects). It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that most cats need only a generation or two to get back to full-blown, feral mode. The wild side is lurking just beneath their surface.
Dogs were bred to hunt and protect us. Then we bred the heck out of them to make house pets out of them. Cats have never been bred this intensively. It makes sense, then, that when a cat breeder selects for personality traits and less instinctual behavior, less aggressive pets are the result.
I know of at least two breeders (Ragdolls and Cornish rexes) who manage perfectly serene pets every time. Everyone’s reaction when they meet these cats? “They’re so relaxed, so, friendly and cuddly—almost dog-like!” No. They’re not dogs. They’re still cats and will always be cats. They’re just more domesticated.
Still, our culture isn’t ready to embrace cat breeding as we do for dogs. Not when statements like these are the rule: “How can you have a ‘purebred’ cat when there are so many unwanted ones outside?” Dog breeders don’t get nearly as much flak for their efforts.
Our society’s widespread point of view on cats, I posit, is mere cultural construct. One: because cats are allowed outdoors and therefore have no common experience of breeding them (we let “nature” do it). And two: because this condition is self-perpetuating. It assures that average house-cats are never bred purely for companionship as most dogs have been.
As a result, cats are more likely to act territorially in ways that ensure they are discarded and maligned as a species (urinating on carpets, attacking our legs, clawing furniture). Not all and perhaps not yours, but a whole lot of the ones I see.
I know this has raised many hackles and perhaps you’ll think it simplistic (indeed, cats are less socially human-like and more difficult to align to our way of thinking), but consider my politically incorrect point, nonetheless:
If what we like about keeping cats is having occasional indoor wildlife and if we consider tampering with their genetics an insult to their wildness, then we shouldn’t be surprised when they act like wild animals by engaging in behaviors we can’t fathom. Nor can we bemoan their collective fate as they huddle in their FIV colonies behind our local Pizza Huts—because we do have solutions. We’re just not ready to accept them.
Our cats truly are second-class citizens in the world of pets. And it’s our schizophrenic, hands-on/hands-off approach to them that’s mostly to blame. Sure, dogs might always win out for their expressivity and interactivity in the minds of some, but if we value cats’ company as a species, they deserve far more than we’ve managed to provide them so far.
After all, cats got into this mess because of us. And they're not going to get out of it without our help. I think it's only reasonable and respectful to consider taking active measures--genetic or otherwise--to imporove their condition.
Cat breeding is no solution, I agree. But thinking about how we think about cats? Considering all our options? IMHO, these are steps in the right direction.