In Dog We Trust: Are Cats Jerks?

Of course cats are jerks. That’s why we love them. Nothing is safe around these tiny terrorists...

Some of my favorite internet videos are titled “Cats Are Jerks”or some more profane version of that moniker. I can watch the clip of the one cat, looking down into a basement with a steep ladder going down, leaning further, further, and then its “friend” cat whacks it hard, sending it flying into the abyss, with metallic clatter ensuing, over and over. If you have cats, then you likely already know that they can be utter jerks.

I have three cats currently, Yushka, Kittyman and Robin, and though they all get along for the most part, at any given moment, for no visible reason, they will pick on each other and start fights. With dogs, there is a rationale to fights: food, toys, beds will all cause fights. Dogs are aware of their possessions, and the possessions of others, and either protect or covet. Snarling, growling and biting may ensue, but you’ll know why. My doberman, Fiona, will protect her favorite toy, Trixie the Triceratops, with her life from old Fergus, my aussie/chow mix. Dogs make sense. Cats do not.

That’s part of what’s so delightful about cats. They can go from catatonic to 100 mph in a split second. They can go from relaxed to popping out of a toaster in the blink of an eye. They may fly off your lap like they’ve been shot out of a cannon because of an imagined threat. And my three can go from snoozing together on the deck, in the sun, to Robin wanting to kill Yushka, or vice versa, instantly. It’s almost like cats live in an alternate universe as well as the one we see, hear, feel, smell. Things happen in that universe that we lesser animals, we humans, are unaware of. Slights demanding retribution are committed. Bad thoughts can be psychically transmitted. War must be declared. While we humans blithely see only our adorable feline companions, and wonder why slapping, growling and rolling around must happen, and, like bar bouncers, we must be the ones to break it up.

A veterinarian once told me that a cat’s brain is more a collection of instincts than anything that we’d acknowledge as intelligence. Because I have a cat, Yushka, who learned to pee in the toilet, I do not believe this is true.Feline intelligence does exist, in varying degrees in various cats, just as in humans. Recent research, however, has demonstrated, through the study of both the feline and the canine genome, that cats, even those whom we think of as our pets, are far closer to their wild cousins and the wild state than dogs. Through centuries of man’s selective breeding of dogs for specific jobs, the dog genome has been domesticated. Cats have only been selectively bred for a century or two, and those pure bred cats are relatively rare, unlike pure bred dogs. Most cats are still the result of random breeding, as in the wild. Therefore, researchers have discovered, my Yushka bears a striking genetic resemblance to lions and tigers in the wild, far closer than my Fiona bears to her wild cousin, the wolf. One researcher even noted that it is not uncommon for feral cats to breed with actual wild cats.

So when we see cats being jerks, chances are great that what we are actually witnessing is them being wild. A single spark of wild cognition may cause a rumble amongst your felines. Embrace it (while breaking the fight up). It is a huge part of what makes your cat so interesting.

Then slyly and silently set a cucumber behind your cat while it’s sleeping or eating. This is my other favorite internet video compilation: cats terrified of cucumbers. While they love carrots. Try to explain that one!

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