In the common clichés, dogs are fawning creatures needing constant social interaction while cats are independent and aloof. The most generous thing one can say about both characterizations is that they are gross generalizations not supported when one observes many individual animals. Better, in fact, to say both statements are poppycock (a word you just don’t get to use often enough!).
Are cats social? There are a gazillion cats on the planet (OK, not an exact count but you get the point), and their behaviors, interests, needs and wants vary as greatly as do, say, those of you and all the other humans you know. Of the several dozen cats who’ve allowed me to share their home over the years, here’s a few thumbnail sketches. Lilly loved me to desperation (and I her), along with the other cats and dogs at home, and barely tolerated my wife (even though she was the one who rescued this stray kitten from a trap and fed her for her long and happy life). Sniff adored Carolyn, ignored (pretty nose in the air) all other living creatures in our home, and literally pooped in my arms the one time I was able to lift her without getting bitten. Tsimmes loved us both, welcomed new cats and kittens, dogs and puppies, dinner guests and dishwasher repair people with purrs and full body rubs, never waiting for an introduction.
Dogs ancestors hunted in packs (as do most wild canids still today) while the ancestors of our house cats hunted solo (both solo and community hunting are found in wild felids). It’s likely that this is the source of the myth that cats want nothing to do with either us or others of their own kind; that casual disregard is the most one can expect from a pet cat. While it is true that you can’t likely convince eight cats to team up and pull a sled through the snow, it’s also true that cats are individuals, and just like individual people they are not hard-wired to be solitary creatures. Rather, that unique mix of nature and nurture, of genes and experiences, helps mold feline (and dog and human) clay into each unique individual.
Ken White is the president of the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA.