Do cats love us back?
December 14, 2013 7:37 PM   Subscribe

A researcher at the University of Lincoln tests whether cats form secure attachments in the same way human babies or dogs do. [SLYT]

via reddit/r/videos
posted by dontjumplarry (171 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
An apparent methodological flaw, as noted over on reddit: the cat seems to be distracted by the stranger when its owner returns, but the dog is not.
posted by dontjumplarry at 7:41 PM on December 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


Doesn't this just test how independent the animal or child is, rather than how much it loves its owner or parent?
posted by rue72 at 7:47 PM on December 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


The real test would be how long after you die before your dog, cat, or baby starts to eat you. My guess is the cat waits the longest. But that may just be because it's busy stalking the baby.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 7:52 PM on December 14, 2013 [59 favorites]


Doesn't this just test how independent the animal or child is, rather than how much it loves its owner or parent?

Yes, and I imagine when the last time the cat was fed is also a factor.
posted by fuse theorem at 7:54 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Something I think is interesting, is that this attachment study doesn't work on older children because generally they know parents goes and return and are more independent. Just because a 6 year old kid doesn't do this doesn't mean that they aren't securely attached all of a sudden.

I wonder if this has anything to do with cats behavior?

*I am not saying that cats are as smart as a 6 year old
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:55 PM on December 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


Cats are able to relate to you as a friend would, while a dog will be more like your child. Both can love you.
posted by humanfont at 8:00 PM on December 14, 2013 [17 favorites]


Cats are able to relate to you as a friend would, while a dog will be more like your child. Both can love you.

This is exactly what the cats want you to think.
posted by mightygodking at 8:02 PM on December 14, 2013 [32 favorites]


My cats greet me at the door just like a dog would. Perhaps it's because they want to play in the hallway, but I'd like to assume they are there to greet me.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:05 PM on December 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


Well, I mean not having a "secure attachment" is not the same as "not liking you."

Also, when we recently went away for a three day weekend and then came back, Morrigan about lost her damn mind. Frantic meowing, whole body a-quiver with shivering purrs when you picked her up, panic when one of us walked out of the door to grab another bag, etc.

So, she likes us a lot! But I'd very easily imagine that she doesn't necessarily consider us to be points of safety or protection. She has her hiding spots for that.
posted by kavasa at 8:06 PM on December 14, 2013 [25 favorites]


Look, I love cats but I am not going to delude myself that cats love me, or that they love anyone else who is not immediately holding food, or who is not a fascinating cardboard box.

that would be silly
posted by elizardbits at 8:07 PM on December 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


Oh, and pics of Morrigan:

One / two / three
posted by kavasa at 8:08 PM on December 14, 2013 [27 favorites]


I can't speak to their notions of love, but I do believe they understand the idea of warmth and company, and who has the tumbs to open cans.

This is a common sight in my house when I'm home after being on the road for a week or more.
posted by mrzarquon at 8:10 PM on December 14, 2013 [35 favorites]


Yup. cats are dicks. It's science, people.
posted by oddman at 8:10 PM on December 14, 2013 [15 favorites]


One sadly departed stray cat on campus used to come look for me in the mornings on my way to work. I usually have some kitty treats on me which I would give him. Unlike any other stray I've ever fed, when I start walking away while he's eating the treats, he will look up, notice I'm going, and then abandon the treats to come run after me.

If that isn't proof that he liked me, I don't know what is.
posted by Alnedra at 8:13 PM on December 14, 2013 [61 favorites]


Cats know that cat-people are clingy and pathetic. It's off-putting.

Try avoiding cats. Then they're all over you.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:16 PM on December 14, 2013 [12 favorites]


Trying to understand cats is futile.
posted by notreally at 8:16 PM on December 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


If a friendly giant gave me free candy and then walked away I would follow the source of the free candy.
posted by elizardbits at 8:16 PM on December 14, 2013 [22 favorites]


> If a friendly giant gave me free candy and then walked away I would follow the source of the free candy.

Maybe the giant will lead me to the source of where they get the free candy!
posted by mrzarquon at 8:19 PM on December 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


This study is definitely going to cause dissonance among cat lovers.

But I do think the science here is on the money. Your cat does not love you. Deal with it.
posted by absentian at 8:20 PM on December 14, 2013


My first cat loved me and only me.

But she never would have admitted it.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 8:21 PM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm definitely not the source of protection; I'm the person who crams him into a crate and takes him to the vet. I'm the source of food and play, so we're cool, but for safety and protection, I'll never take the place of "under the bed" in his heart.
posted by gladly at 8:23 PM on December 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


I loved my cat but I don't think it's possible to argue that humans and dogs don't have a special bond between our species which isn't shared by other animals, including cats. MAN+DOGS=BFF
posted by Justinian at 8:34 PM on December 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


You cat-hating dogfood eaters, just hush. Cats are more than capable of forming intense, loving bonds with their humans. Dogs don't crawl in your suitcase when you're packing, partly because they're too stupid to understand what a packed suitcase means. Cats know. They want to be with their human in any situation.

My last cat demonstrated this love perfectly. She had a habit of running around behind me as I walked through my house trying and partially succeeding in hamstringing me constantly. One day I thought I'd see what her reaction would be if I was actually hamstrung. She made a couple of swipes and then I fell rather heavily to the ground and remained as still as possible, with very shallow breathing.

For the first bit, I think she was a bit stunned that it had worked. Then she had a moment of insecurity of whether or not this was a good thing. She started headbutting me and licking my face, trying to get a reaction out of me. When that didn't work after about a minute, she started crying. If you've ever heard a cat in distress, you will know this cry. It was breaking my heart so after less than five minutes I pretended to regain consciousness and sat up and held her.

She never did that hamstringing maneuver again. She was one very loving kitty. I miss her all the time.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 8:35 PM on December 14, 2013 [223 favorites]


Cats are more than capable of forming intense, loving bonds with their humans.

Sure, like rich people form intense, loving bonds with their servants.
posted by Sara C. at 8:38 PM on December 14, 2013 [20 favorites]


I loved the cats I have had the pleasure to live with. I am more of a dog person by nature and have loved dogs I have lived with, too.

One of thing I believe about love is that how much the one you love loves you really isn't important in the grand scheme of things.

For me, it's more about what I do with the love I have.
posted by mistersquid at 8:39 PM on December 14, 2013 [25 favorites]


Amen, mistersquid.

For what it's worth, these scientists clearly haven't met my cat, BuddyFriend. I understand that an anecdote is not data, but my cat clearly loves me and wants to be with me and looks to me as a source of trust. She rarely leaves my sight. She is constantly bunting (a sign of assessing safety/trust) and falling asleep on my feet on her back with her belly exposed, which is a very trusting position. If I am not safe to her, I don't know what is (aside from the little spot under the bed where she fits, as someone noted upthread).

She was feral and lived in a shelter for six years afterwards (until I adopted her), so maybe that has something to do with it, but I firmly believe that cats can love and feel attached and look to their humans as a source of safety and comfort. Not as much as dogs can, but all love is different, right?
posted by k8lin at 9:07 PM on December 14, 2013 [10 favorites]


Gee, all I could think of in the baby and dog portions of the experiment was "Ugh, how clingy." And also, " Oh, hey, I'ma dog. I'ma dog. Hey! I'ma dog!", which is pretty much how labs talk.
posted by theweasel at 9:12 PM on December 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


Next up: science answers can we really know somebody else. Like really really know them.
posted by Joey Michaels at 9:24 PM on December 14, 2013 [22 favorites]


The most striking thing about this video is that the beehive hairdo is apparently back in in the UK.
posted by Miko at 9:24 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think cats are just pickier about the people they choose to love than dogs are. Most dogs, if properly raised, will learn to love just about any kind human who cares for dogs and feeds them. A cat will befriend and tolerate kind humans with food, but whether or not the cat chooses to really love that person is another story.

When I was a kid my family had cats all the time. I loved cats and the cats we had were for the most part vaguely affectionate toward me when it suited them, in the typical cat way. But there was one cat we got when I was 12 or so who was different. She insisted on sleeping in my bedroom, and no one else's. She got jealous when she saw me petting the other cats we had -- in fact even as a little tiny kitten when another cat got too snuggly with me she would sometimes go and hit that cat in the face. Every day around ten minutes before it was time for me to come home from school, she would go sit in the window by the back door and wait for me. If I had an activity or something she would wait longer, just sitting in the window until I came home.

I was not the person in the house who fed the cats most often (that was my mother). I was not the person who spent the most time with the cats (that was my sister). I was not the person who was the most fun for cats to play with (that was my brother). I already had a favorite cat when this cat arrived, an older, more mellow cat we'd had for years. None of that mattered to this new little cat. This cat chose me.

When I went to college that cat who chose me didn't come with me. And after a few months my mother told me she was worried. Because every day at the time that I used to come home from school, my cat still sat in the window and sat in the window and sat until well after dark, waiting for me to come home.

The second semester of my freshman year, damn it, I went and got a new roommate and rented an apartment I couldn't really afford that would let me have a cat. No one has ever loved me the way that cat loved me. Cats don't love people as easily as dogs do, that's true. But that only makes me feel all the more privileged to have been truly loved by a cat. To this day I don't know what I did to deserve it.
posted by BlueJae at 9:27 PM on December 14, 2013 [126 favorites]


All My cats love me
They tell me so
Repeatedly.

In your world
cats don't love so
how could you believe me?

I'm so, so sorry.
posted by mule98J at 9:29 PM on December 14, 2013 [10 favorites]


I once lived with a cat that would wait at my feet when I got home. She wouldn't leave me alone until I took my shoes off, whereupon she would burry her head in one of my shoes and go to sleep.

Cats.
posted by Packed Lunch at 9:30 PM on December 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


When one of my former cats was in her final illness, she was at the vet in the hospital for a week or so before she was put to sleep. The vet asked me to come in each day to be with her for a little while (we were hoping she'd pull through). I asked "Do you honestly think it makes a difference that I'm here?" And he said "Oh. Absolutely yes. Otherwise we wouldn't ask you to be involved - it's easier on us if the owners aren't here, but the animals respond to you in ways they never will with us."

I'll take my vet's advice over an experiment that seems to have a lot of real estate between experimental situation and conclusions.
posted by Miko at 9:31 PM on December 14, 2013 [19 favorites]


I keep debating whether or not to get a cat--I shouldn't, I"m hardly ever home, etc.-- but this thread is not helping :P
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:40 PM on December 14, 2013


My cat loves me the same way a 6 year old would. Happy to play with me sometimes, definitely needs to curl up in bed with me every night, but needs to assert her independence and order me around.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:46 PM on December 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


Dogs don't crawl in your suitcase when you're packing, partly because they're too stupid to understand what a packed suitcase means.
Mine certainly does. When my mother was packing for vacations, or later for the hospital in the months before her death, the family dog fretted like nobody's business.
posted by lumensimus at 9:47 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


They should try it with a 10-year-old human subject and volunteer.

"Well, after you let Timmy out of his carrier and left the room, he didn't freak out, and he hung out with and played with this interesting new person - even after you came back. The inescapable conclusion is that he doesn't actually love you."
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:48 PM on December 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't know about Love but our roommate's cat did seem Extremely Enthusiastic about pouncing on my head when I lay down as I had long hair at the time so all of a sudden there'd be 5 warm biting, clawing pounds landing on my head while I flailed and swore. I'd also say he snickered when he scurried back to his hiding place but that'd be ludicrous.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:48 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


If I ever lose my cat, my flier would look something like:

LOST CAT
"LATIFAH"

[pic of cat]

ONLY RESPONDS TO
"TREAT" OR "FOOD"

posted by daninnj at 9:56 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


The rest of the story seems legit (though I do have a general "toxoplasmosis is a beautiful thing" reaction to reading these), but I will not take a cat climbing into a suitcase by itself as evidence that cat loves you as opposed to evidence that cat loves climbing all over your shit whenever you are doing anything involving manipulating objects. Oh, you made a pile of clothes in that strange cloth cardboard box object? I'll sit on that. Oh, you are moving your hands on the flat clicky thing attached to the flat glowy thing? I'll sit on that. Oh, you are holding the strange other device that manipulates the larger, living room area flat glowy thing? I will sit on your hands so that manipulating that object is more difficult.

Cats just like to get up in your business. That doesn't mean they know what your business is, it just means they are cats.
posted by NoraReed at 10:13 PM on December 14, 2013 [10 favorites]


I have lived with over 20 cats in my lifetime, and have only had two that genuinely loved me. But those two undeniably did: they'd be distraught when I was away, constantly with me when I was home, greeting me at the door, sleeping next to my face, very attuned to my moods, etc. And they weren't like that with others in the house. My other cats were all fun and affectionate, but these two? It was love.

It's just like human love, only cats don't get to choose their life partners. We pick them and they're stuck with us. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes not.
posted by clone boulevard at 10:21 PM on December 14, 2013 [24 favorites]


More anecdata: We have two cats, brothers actually, from the same litter. One is a normal cat, and one is... special.

I'm pretty sure that Normal Cat likes me. He will come up and snuggle with me on a regular basis, and he always makes sure to come tell me when he sees birds from his perch in the window.

I'm very certain that Special Cat loves me. They are both going on 9 now, but he will still yell at me when he knows it's bedtime, because he has to clean my face and pad on me properly while I'm going to sleep. He won't let anybody but me hold him. He's a weird cat.

When I go away for a few weeks, my wife tells me that Normal Cat will pace a little, probably annoyed that the human he usually talks to isn't around to share his excitement about the birds. Special Cat gets really upset at night, and whines for a while around bedtime.

It's once I get home that's interesting. Normal Cat is happy to see me, and gives me loves, but Special Cat will hide from me and hiss at me for an hour or two, even if I've only been gone a couple of days. This is not his behavior around people he doesn't know; it's very clear that he is upset with me. After a couple of hours, he cools off, and then we're besties again.

So, yeah. Some cats definitely do love us, and some bullshit experiment that compares toddlers to pets isn't going to convince me otherwise.
posted by KGMoney at 10:30 PM on December 14, 2013 [36 favorites]


Frankly, I am creeped out and irritated by adult pet owners who need their pets to love them back. The same people also attribute various kinds of ludicrous dispositional beliefs and character traits to their pets (e.g. she's jealous of her sister). I think this kind of thing really should be terminated, like adults who talk about angels (well, the talking about angels I mean, not terminate the actual people), but it's impossible to say anything without coding as a heartless bastard.
posted by batfish at 10:37 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sure, but my dog obviously really loves me.

I know it's because he's too dumb not to, but seriously, that little asshole loves me.
posted by Sara C. at 10:55 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Favorites. Favorites for everyone. Sniff.
posted by archagon at 11:07 PM on December 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


Purposeful Grimace: "Dogs don't crawl in your suitcase when you're packing, partly because they're too stupid to understand what a packed suitcase means. "

Whenever I would start packing my suitcase my dog would jump up into my chair and lay with her back to the room. One time I came home after a couple weeks in Europe and she sulked for three days totally ignoring me. On the third night after I'd gone to bed she jumped up and lay beside me and everything was back to normal after that.
posted by the_artificer at 11:08 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Frankly, I am creeped out and irritated by adult pet owners who need their pets to love them back.

Where are you getting this "need" stuff from, hombre?

Honi soit qui mal y pense!
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 11:10 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have lived with over 20 cats in my lifetime, and have only had two that genuinely loved me.

I lived with a wife for what seemed a lifetime (18 years) and she genuinely loved me...until she moved out and didn't anymore. I get the feeling my cat would do the same if given the opportunity.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:12 PM on December 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Love is a quantifiable thing that everyone expresses the same way and flows most freely in artificial environments contrived solely to classify behaviour.

At least they proved that a cat is not a dog or a baby human, which is a thing we needed to know I guess.

batfish you don't come across as heartless so much as arrogant and maybe a bit ignorant. Humans aren't the only bags of nerves that experience emotions.
posted by Mike Smith at 11:16 PM on December 14, 2013 [21 favorites]


Yeah, sorry; the experiment failed to convince me. It could be showing that cats don't get stressed out by being left alone in a room with a stranger, especially a stranger that is friendly (giving pats) and providing amusing distraction (toy). Also, the cat did look round when its human left, clearly registered as "human doing something else now" and then went back to playing with the toy.

In a situation that really shows stress and anxiety - visiting the vet - my cat definitely knows that I am a source of reassurance and stability, even though I am the one who brought her there. She clings to me and tries to climb up me, and it's not just to get away from the vet because there are all kinds of other places she could go.

Now, seeing someone as a potential rescuer is not the same as love. I would argue that seeing someone as a source of stability and reassurance to the extent that you are nervous when they leave the room for five minutes isn't love either, it's co-dependence at best.

I know my cat loves me. She also loathes me and is completely indifferent to me and wishes I would feed her properly (why am I not psychic?) and treats me like a servant and treats me like someone she would really like to have around. I have a similarly mixed bag of emotions towards her. I don't think she has the same emotions that I do - she is a cat, not a human - but she clearly does have them. And for lack of anything better, I choose to interpret some of them as love, which is pretty much what the scientists are doing with the babies and dogs, only they call it "attachment" instead of love. If this makes me a crazy cat lady, so be it.
posted by Athanassiel at 11:17 PM on December 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


Mike Smith, it's less that I have any particular view about the emotional lives of pets than that I think the belief attributions made by their owners tend to dumb-assedly project complex constructions from the human social world. And it's useful to consider how fraught with noise and uncertainty this kind of thing is even in the intra-species case!
posted by batfish at 11:36 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


One of my cats is very, very attached to me. The other is fond of me but would prefer I stay at arm's length 95% of the time and is freaked out by... well, pretty much everything. It's so variable. The older cat spends a large amount of the time I'm around annoying the hell out of me by her insistence on actually being in physical contact with me. If she's not in physical contact with me, she's sitting on my shoes. I once moved away for several years and left her with my mom. I got back and she was on my lap again in twenty minutes. I don't know about love, but that's certainly attachment. I sometimes wish she was slightly less attached because she always wants to sit on my right, and I need my right hand for mousing. But she's also not terribly bothered by strangers or being left alone for short periods, so long as she can sit on me when I get back.

I am more than willing to believe that the younger cat mostly just loves that I feed her and find her Toy and that I'm safe enough to ask for petting from. She's also the one that would Freak The Hell Out at being left alone in a room with a stranger. She didn't come out for twelve hours after the cable guy was here. I'm not sure what that says about her feelings. She also got freaked out this evening by my laundry. Cats are weird.
posted by Sequence at 11:42 PM on December 14, 2013


Frankly, I am creeped out and irritated by adult pet owners who need their pets to love them back.

Is it a need to have our pets love us back, or an observation that they often do?

In the case of wild cats, the mothers love their kittens and the kittens love their mothers. And the pet cats we've bred from them generalize us as "mom" and "kitten". As opposed to clawing us up and running away. In the case of canids - a dog alone is a dog that's going to snuff it because it can't hunt as well as in a pack. They're social critters that feel emotions. And it's easy to cobble together ev-psych arguments about why this is adaptive.

I imagine you're willing to ascribe some negative emotions to pets? Multi-pet households often deal with jealousy and squabbles over laps, bedding, and other matters. Sometimes highly intense, sometimes moodiness.

Cows have friends. Sheep can recognize maybe 50 other sheep.

And so on and so forth.

it's impossible to say anything without coding as a heartless bastard.


You're basically trying to play the "Why won't other people just be clever and highly rational (like me)?" card while putting forth an argument that's not supported by observation. And menacing people's pets is a bit like menacing people's kids - folk get defensive really quickly. It's about as clever and rational as winding up someone who's hungry - failing to understand their subsequent behavior reflects poorly on you, not them.

Traditionally, we look askance at people who treat animals as things because we're worried they'll treat other people as things.

Maybe you should get a nice houseplant.

Mike Smith, it's less that I have any particular view about the emotional lives of pets than that I think the belief attributions made by their owners tend to dumb-assedly project complex constructions from the human social world.

If you ascribe emotional lives to animals, your audience will be a lot more ready to consider your other points. If you seem to state that animals don't have emotional lives, people will immediately jump on that point because it's at odds with their experience, and they'll blow off anything you say subsequently.
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:52 PM on December 14, 2013 [31 favorites]


The guy doing the experiment just said that cats don't create a particular kind of attachment. I think anyone who has interacted with kids, dogs and cats can tell you that cats have a different sort of bond with their owners than the others do.
posted by empath at 11:54 PM on December 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


In my varied experience with all three, I have found that the only ones predisposed to deliberately vindictive shitting are cats. I am not sure what conclusion to draw from this.
posted by elizardbits at 12:18 AM on December 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


My folks left their cat with friends for 2 and a half years when they lived abroad. He remembered them and when they went to pick him back up he rushed over to greet them. When they got home he stuck to them like glue for days afterwards in case they left again. It's not just about who is feeding them.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:26 AM on December 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


My cats are devoted enough that my roommates call them my minions. And when I am depressed or heartbroken or whatever, they seem to make a point of finding me.

This is silly anecdata but if my cats don't love me, for whatever the hell that means to a cat, they do an astounding facsimile of it.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:28 AM on December 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


I went back to visit my family once, one of the rare times I'd done that since I started college. My cat Lucky had been spending less and less time around the house since I left. Understand, I was never the one to feed her, I was just the guy that would shut her in my room so I could pet her, and would walk through the woods with her.

The first full day I was there the family went for a walk up a large hill where we live, and she reluctantly followed us off our property a few miles into unfamiliar eagle territory. Something she'd never done before.

On the way there we didn't exactly want her to come with us, so we just kept walking briskly and she followed closely and would regularly try to stop us from going further. On the way back though, we needed her to come with us so I regularly had to grab her and carry her along despite her protests. That night she kicked out the other cat that liked to sleep in my bedroom, and snuggled up next to my head.

Of course cats don't form the same kind of connections that dogs and children do. But by the same mark neither do dogs and humans and humans or two humans at different ages. Cats are by definition not dogs or humans.

I do think the experiment should have tested people returning after a four year hiatus.
posted by tychotesla at 12:40 AM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I rescued a bored and aggressive cat from a crappy tiny apartment and brought him to my 3000sf loft and encouraged him to explore the outdoors, etc. That was the most loving animal I have ever seen in my life. My roommates (who were always home) told me that he never played with the toys I bought him unless I was home and in the same room as him. Apparently he didn't care about those cool leopard print toys, but wanted to please me and played with great relish with one eye on me every time. I could list a thousand shocking instances of his love, including passionate recognition of my friends even years later (who had never fed him) but this toy image is a nice one, even though it is the least verifiable. (But then I also kiss my phone screen when a particularly cute cat pops up on it, so I have to admit that I am not impartial on the subject.)
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 12:48 AM on December 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


Doesn't this just test how independent the animal or child is, rather than how much it loves its owner or parent?

It's not about love, it's about where a child turns when a situation becomes uncertain.

Independence is what is being observed, but remember that humans are born completely dependent and go through a long and somewhat predictable process of separating and becoming independent. If a child is way ahead of the curve it's often because the parents are not a dependable source of security and the child is picking up slack.

I think the concept of using the same experiment structure with cats and dogs is rather silly, but it is fun to consider their behavior in human terms.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:08 AM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fatty waits for me at the end of the path which can be explained by him wanting dinner but afterwards he often climbs up on my belly when I'm watching TV and these days even falls asleep there. He even tries to follow me and my SO to the pub, we have to check behind us if we go out and cannot see him that he isn't sneaking along behind us commando style. Fatty loves me.
posted by biffa at 1:32 AM on December 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


My little black girl cat, Chicken, isn't terribly demonstrative, but in the wee hours of the morning when I'm in the deepest sleep, she'll lay on top of me, and grab my cheeks with her paws, and start rubbing her face all over mine, and licking me here and there. So basically, she likes making out with me when I'm asleep. I'm OK with it. And I'm pretty sure she loves me - in her own weird, secret way.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 1:33 AM on December 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


I've partnered with many cats over my forty-plus years; spanning from one that merely hated me the least out of the family, which was our truest attachment, to this darling I live with who seems to just adore me. My current feline is friendly and affectionate with others, often choosing to interact with the new person instead of family (just me) but, after six years of sharing varieties of households (eight, rough patch) with me, I can tell that type of affection is different than what she shares with me and, to a lesser extent, with my s.o.

Cats vary, like many other life forms.
posted by _paegan_ at 1:52 AM on December 15, 2013


When a cat loves you, he loves you deeply and claims your soul for his mate. When, years later, he dies, nothing changes - you are still his and he's still yours.

And lady cats are the same, only perhaps a little less obvious about it.

I once went on a three-day camping trip with friends. Before I left, I told my lady cat what I was up to and made arrangements for her to have excellent care from someone she really liked, with treats, too. Everything went just fine and when I came home we cuddled and all was well.

An hour or so later, she disappeared. I called and called, went out and walked through the fields, walked and drove up and down the roads, checked the irrigation ditches, notified the neighbors, called and called some more - and cried myself to sleep, certain that something terrible had happened to her.

She came home three days later - the exact number of days I'd been gone on my camping trip. She was fine and acted like she couldn't imagine what I was upset about.

Yeah, when they choose you, they love you.
posted by aryma at 1:54 AM on December 15, 2013 [18 favorites]


There's many problems with this experiment, and even more with the researcher's commentary. It's very strange.

The original experiment is, in itself, quite interesting. The interpretations of that experiment and the psychological theory that have built up around it, are speculative and problematic (though I personally think there's a lot of valid stuff in attachment theory).

But the experiment demonstrates only what it demonstrates. It shows you how human children (normally and abnormally) interact with their caretakers. What does that mean? Does it signify "love"? Well, I don't know. What is "love"? I think I know what it is that's going on with a young child and its primary caretaker, and that is definitely one of the things that we classify as "love". It's also not one of the many other things we classify as "love" between humans.

It's very interesting that dogs will behave similarly to young children in this experiment. That tells us something about dogs and young children, some ways in which they're probably alike. Does that mean that dogs "love" their caretakers the same way that young children "love" their caretakers? Of course not. Why would you assume that? It demonstrates a similarity of attachment in a specific set of circumstances. Whether that implies that the dog and human has formed the same qualitative kind of relationship as a young child and a caretaker is another matter entirely.

And this is all even more true with regard to cats.

I've written this before here, but either extreme in this whole larger discussion about anthropomorphizing is just stupid. There's very good reasons to believe that other mammals, at least, have some of the same emotional responses as humans do in similar kinds of relationships; and there's also many, many good reasons to believe that there are big cognitive differences between species and that even the other primates probably don't have precisely the same emotional responses as humans do. That is to say, their behavior is different and their subjective experience of these emotions, whatever that might mean, is different. The farther you move away from humans with regard to some important biological/evolutionary characteristics, the more there's likely to be cognitive differences. But the argument works in the other direction, too: there's no reason to assume that humans are unique and exceptional. If we have some subjective cognitive experience of various emotions, you'd need some really persuasive evidence to justify concluding that other animals similar to us wouldn't have similar subjective experience of emotion.

The research I've seen about dog and cat domestication implies that, contrary to what is claimed in this video, dogs do not see their human caretakers as their "mother" or as a young child sees their primary caretaker, but rather as their primary social bond in the context of how canines form and behave socially. I think that certainly involves emotions that we would characterize as "like" and "love", in some ways, though per what I wrote above, clearly these emotions overlap human emotions in some ways and not in others.

Meanwhile, also contrary to this video, cat domestication involves precisely the kitten/mother-cat relationship transferred to humans. Wild cats only meow when they're kittens, and almost exclusively to their mothers and, more importantly, this is also true of feral domestic cats. The only felines that behave the way that domestic cats behave are lions, which are much more social than other felines. There's a lot of indications that domestic cats experience a kind of caretaker kitten/mother-cat relationship with their human caretakers.

Is it attachment? Well, insofar as that bond is developed, it almost certainly is attachment, although it's not necessarily the kind of attachment that we see with young children and their caretakers or with dogs and their caretakers. Is it "love"? I think it's a kind of love, just like I think that dogs experience a kind of love, and all three are like but unlike the "love" we humans experience.

This experiment and especially this particular scientist is incoherent, really, because he's using an anthropocentric paradigm involving attachment to define "love" in the service of demonstrating that anthropomorphizing cats is an error. That makes no sense, it's self-contradictory. All he's demonstrated is that human children and dogs behave similarly in this context, and cats behave differently, and this involves attachment in some way. What this says about attachment bonds in general is unclear, and that even whether it can say anything at all about attachment in these species is dubious, and "love" is on even more shaky ground. To even use the word is deeply suspect.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:20 AM on December 15, 2013 [23 favorites]


Yesterday, my son's 11 year old cat, who has to live with me because of his (Gordon the cat's) devastating urine accuracy when displeased (as he was with my ex, for whatever reason and managed to destroy a brand new computer without electrocuting himself ) -my cat, I mean, Gordon, managed to escape from the backyard of our new home where we have been for only two weeks, AND immediately after I though I had cat proofed it with chicken wire. I knew when he escaped because there was a great wailing, and a gnashing of whiskers, and some delightful lady neighbour calling out, "Merlot, No! leave him alone!" Gordon, though small, and with a swinging belly can be quite speedy, and using the rabbit style run (two back feet together but why?), I peered under the fence to see him, hotly pursued by Merlot, a very handsome, young and much larger cat. Gordon (Freeman - like I said - my sons cat) was aiming for the shortest part of the fence to leap over - quite an excellent plan if I hadn't prefoiled it by putting chicken wire in the way. So, peering under the fence (there is a substantial gap right at the end where the ground falls away and the fence does not follow), I yelled, "quick, Gordon, this way!" In a split second he made his decision, turned 90 degrees at high speed and took a path that was likely to intersect with Merlot, if I was not right. I was, however, Gordon made it in, and safely, and took his ease in his current spot de jour, near the living room window, nonchalantly licking off any stray Merlot germs and pretending it was all in a days work, and that he hadn't nearly wet his fluffy britches.

This anecdote serves to prove that smart cats know who they are secure with. Does he love me? I dunno, but I know when I have been away longer than three minutes (say, a couple of days) while he is in good care, he may not greet me with affection, but before I go to sleep, he will have forgiven me my transgressions, and do a special head butting/ face kissy thing that is for special occasions only.

Do I need him to love me? Actually, yeah. A fair bit. I have depression & social anxiety, and a roller coaster where some days I believe that he's the only one who doesn't mind that I'm such an idiot-dickhead-weirdo-loser. Days like today, when I've not spoken to any humans all weekend, and despite texting/emailing/otherwise contacting people, none have responded to me. Yet every time I talk to him, he acknowledges it, even if it is an annoyed flick of his tail. It might not be love as you know it, but it sure helps me keep going.
posted by b33j at 2:29 AM on December 15, 2013 [27 favorites]


aryma: "And lady cats are the same, only perhaps a little less obvious about it. "

No, that's not necessarily true. My lady cat -- an elder stateswoman now -- has loved me from the start, and I only learned later on how to return her affections with the sorts of pats and attention she needed. But she loves me, and unabashedly. Purposeful Grimace's cat and mine have clearly traded notes about packing and long trips, though perhaps I fly more than they do, because my cat has begun to only get annoyed with me about the leaving and save her need for attention for the other end of things, once I've returned.

I left the US for work reasons, and my partner and I went into a bit of debt and a ton of heartache to move her around the world, because she's my cat -- and more importantly, because I'm her human.

This is not to deny how you feel about your dude cat, aryma, but I just want to put out some mad props for the lady cats, because they rule, too. And I feel sorry for anyone who says things about how cats only love someone who is holding food or that cats only feel love inasmuch as they have a desire for FOOD NOUN or PLAY NOUN. Yall that talk like that clearly are doing something wrong and probably need to check yourself or have a doctor check you out.

Of course, I'm currently overseas and my cat is back home, so take this response with that sort of grain of salt. Gonna see great people and places and meet up with lots of family and friends in that time, but I guaran-goddamned-tee you it'll be even better to get back home and say howdy, cat.

Teenagers and philosophers always seem to ask what the meaning of human life is. I reckon we're here to be nice to each other and to bring animals into our houses and share a life free of predators and hunger. Dogs love us unconditionally for that mercy (and we should be lucky enough to have them in our life!), but cats tend to have a bit of suspicion regarding this arrangement that we have to help them shake off ("You're gonna feed me, and clean up my shit, and play with me, and protect me from harm? ... yeaaaaahhhhh, okay, so what's in it for YOU?"). A bit more work than dogs on the front end, but no less rewarding -- just different.

They're good people.
posted by barnacles at 3:13 AM on December 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


I read it somewhere (might even have been here on Metafilter) that animals don't experience emotions as such but instead what we translate as love, hate, need etc they experience as just different levels of fear. I can see that from a rational point of view inasmuch as we are talking about small animals reacting to a potentially hostile environment. Corresponding to this is an equal and opposite state of not-fear, which is clearly the desired state for them. Our cats experience high levels of not-fear on a regular basis by that measure and associate it with being in proximity to the hairless apes that keep picking them up and ooking at them.
Personally, having been adopted as ape in chief by the Ultimate Being of the Known and Unknown Worlds (cunningly disguised in 5lbs of tortie chaos), I find it easier to think of it as a fierce and abiding love.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 3:36 AM on December 15, 2013


There's a lot of indications that domestic cats experience a kind of caretaker kitten/mother-cat relationship with their human caretakers.

And sometimes it's not exactly clear who is the kitten and who is the mother-cat:
In the wild, cat mothers teach their young how to eat their food by bringing home dead or injured prey. Domestic cats are no different. But in this modern age of spayed domestic cats, many female felines have no young to whom they need to pass on their hunting wisdom.

By leaving a dead animal on the back porch, your cat is acting out its natural role as mother and teacher. You, her loving owner, represent her surrogate family. And frankly, she knows you would never have been able to catch that delicious mouse on your own.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 3:55 AM on December 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


My cat loves mostly my ability to retrieve his "mousies" from under the furniture where he has lost them. He clearly plays with them around said furniture to increase the difficulty level of the play.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:43 AM on December 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also,

MetaFilter: a cat is not a dog or a baby human
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:43 AM on December 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I hesitate to ascribe the word "love" to whatever it is cats feel for their owners, but my experience shows me they do feel something akin to affection, warmth and so on. My cat likes to settle down with her chin and forepaws on my thigh and just purr and purr. She comes to curl up with me on the bed even though it's probably warmer in the front room. She always greets me with upright tail and mewing when I get home from work, and that even when she has plenty of food. All of this is pretty standard cat behaviour that all cat owners will recognise. But occasionally I've seen behaviour that seems to go above and beyond.

A while back, I was sitting at the computer and my cat was curled up asleep in her favourite chair on the other side of the room. Very standard. I was having a bad time, for various reasons, and I read something that suddenly and quite uncharacteristically brought my various problems crashing together unexpectedly. I almost never cry, so I was shocked when the tears came. I was even more shocked when I found myself too feeble to rein it in, and just gave in to it. So I sat their, head bowed, weeping softly and hoping the unfamiliar emotional incontinence would soon pass. Next thing I knew, I felt the soft touch of a paw on my cheek and heard a rising, inquisitive-sounding "mew?" Rosie had silently come over to the couch, reached up and touched my face. I looked at her and she did it again, repeating the meow. Then she started rubbing her face against mine and purring.

As you can probably imagine, this did not exactly accelerate my immediate emotional recovery, but it was certainly appreciated. Nobody is going to persuade me that cats do not feel anything for their owners. I mean their home-sharers.
posted by Decani at 4:57 AM on December 15, 2013 [27 favorites]


When I wake up in the middle night in pain, as I do, my cats rush over. I assume that's because they think that it's food time. But once a pet-less friend spent the night, I woke up, the cats rushed over, and my friend, who was awake, said:
"They seem very concerned."
Which seemed ridiculous and made me feel very warm at the same time.
posted by angrycat at 5:39 AM on December 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


Toots, the best cat ever, loved me. And sometimes, she was the mother. She once attacked another cat she thought was attacking me (the cat hissed at me because I stepped on his tail in the dark, and Toots beat him up for it. Normally he dominated her!) When an earthquake happened, she demanded I open the door, and then demanded I come out with her. When I had nightmares, Toots would come snuggle and purr me back to sleep. (She slept safely out of reach, as I am a vigorous sleeper) I learned to know I was falling asleep because she would get up and walk away. (I get some seriously strong hypnogogic jerks, and maybe she'd leave after one of those, I don't know).
posted by Goofyy at 5:42 AM on December 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nobody is going to persuade me that cats do not feel anything for their owners.

I used to date someone with a very soft bed and an indoor-outdoor cat who was a terror to the local rodents. Usually during the night I would wake up with a sore back and head out to the much firmer couch. From this vantage point, I would always be the one to hear the cat at the door. Wisely waiting for the meow that would tell me her mouth was empty, I'd let her in and go lie down. She would usually jump up for a little patting and ear-scratching, but she wasn't super friendly. However, when I had bad stomach pains, she came right over and curled up against my belly and just kind of leaned in, like an ambulatory hot water bottle. I think that was her way of saying that she liked having me around.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:58 AM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yesterday morning I had to bury a cat I've had for 13 years. I know she loved me like I know water is wet. She liked my wife, and once she got to know people she was generally friendly -- but she loved me.

Pardon me while I go cry again.
posted by Foosnark at 6:06 AM on December 15, 2013 [40 favorites]


Condolences, Foosnark. I recently lost my cat of thirteen years as well and the hole her absence has left in my life is deep and profound.

I never doubted her love for me or mine for her. When we first met, she was a scared stray kitten who had appeared on a friends porch. I sat down near her and she promptly walked over, climbed into my hand, and fell asleep. Her love for me was as obvious a fact to me in my day to day life as the gravity that holds me to the earth.
posted by jammy at 6:23 AM on December 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


As pointed out a couple of times above, just watching cats (or pretty much any other animal), you can see them being angry, anxious, curious, anticipatory, and so on. I don't think it's a huge stretch to say that they also feel affection. It's not exactly human affection, but it's similar enough. (Heck, affection and love differ so much between humans that it's a little weird to call them all the same thing, even leaving out that we use the same word in English for our feelings toward our children, our parents, our spouses, people we want to have sex with, people whose company we enjoy, and a really nice plate of beans. Best not get those feelings mixed up.)
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:34 AM on December 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


I think cats' greater independence makes their affection all the more meaningful.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:39 AM on December 15, 2013 [15 favorites]


My folks left their cat with friends for 2 and a half years when they lived abroad. He remembered them and when they went to pick him back up he rushed over to greet them. When they got home he stuck to them like glue for days afterwards in case they left again.

We had the opposite experience when I was a kid. We had a very loved and friendly cat who had lived with us from a kitten, and left her with a family friend while traveling. For whatever reason, they clicked and she was visibly unhappy to be brought back home when we returned. When we left town again the two of them were reunited for good, even though it would have been possible for the cat to move with us -- that was clearly her real family.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:50 AM on December 15, 2013


I don't care what this research suggests. For the past week I've been waking up around 1am with a 17 pound Maine Coon kitty sitting on my stomach and it's less disturbing to believe that he's formed some kind of emotional bond with me than to accept a reality where he's just eying my jugular for a quick midnight snack.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:55 AM on December 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


William Burroughs was a big cat lover. In fact, if he were on Metafilter, he would probably say how much he hated dogs - you know, their slobbery obsequiousness and all - and this would be the equivalent of Godwinning the thread.
posted by kozad at 7:26 AM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Some cats seem to be very attuned to physical illnesses, as stories in this thread are reminding me. I have a cat now who's extremely anxious and not as attached as others I've had in the past. He's not a lap sitter or cuddler - he comes to us for some scratching and petting, and other than that, mostly does his own thing. But twice over the past few years I've had a very bad illness. During one of them, a vicious flu, I was sitting feebly in a living room chair starting to realize that I was really very very sick. I can't recall feeling much lower than that many times in life. The normally aloof cat came over, jumped up in my lap, and settled against my chest with his chin on my shoulder, purring. He did something similar more recently though my memory of that isn't as specific. To date those are the only two times he's sat on my lap or cuddled. But it's an interesting behavior, isn't it?
posted by Miko at 7:31 AM on December 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


I really don't like that whole cat vs. dog binary - looking down on dogs and people who love dogs, or vice versa. Grew up with both, love both, they're different, it's OK.
posted by Miko at 7:33 AM on December 15, 2013 [9 favorites]


Same here, we have 3 cats and 2 dogs, and they're completely different experiences but all good in their own way.
posted by Mister_A at 7:37 AM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


The normally aloof cat came over, jumped up in my lap, and settled against my chest with his chin on my shoulder, purring.

Aren't cat purrs supposed to be therapeutic? Is that an old wives tale? Am I an old wife?
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 7:44 AM on December 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


They're therapeutic to me!
posted by Miko at 7:58 AM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not even sure my dog would react the way the labrador (which is a very special breed of needy dog, IMO) did. My greyhound loves me? Sure, in new situations he leans against my legs, harder and harder until he almost knocks me down. But I think if I were not there he would just lean against someone else. He's cuddling against me on the couch as we speak, but months ago when I had left an air mattress set up in another room for guests, he would spend most of his time away from me on that air mattress. Because it's soft and he's bony.

My cat, well, she's a curmudgeonly old lady. She is wary of strangers and generally hates (hides from and hisses at) everyone except people she knows well. But is that love? I don't know. Trust, maybe. She does seem to get mad at me when I'm gone for more than a day. But I tend to go a little feral when I'm left alone for a while too, and it takes some time for me to adjust being around people. Maybe that's just what it is for her. I'm ascribing anger to behavior that could just as easily be having to re-adjust to interacting with humans.

But while I'm not sure I could say with any certainty that my pets truly LOVE me, I know that we are good for each other. We share moments of comfort and pleasure. We enjoy each others' company. For me, thinking of it as love is good shorthand for our complicated relationships.
posted by misskaz at 8:04 AM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Aren't cat purrs supposed to be therapeutic?

Yes. Specifically it increases bone density (in cats) and may be a low energy way to stimulate muscles and prevent atrophy.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 8:05 AM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


On the first of January, I lost my cat of 21 years; I was 6 when we adopted her and her sister, so we grew up together. It was obvious that her sister was my dad's cat, though she adored me as well, but Pumpkin was mine. She was the most beautiful cat I've ever seen. She had tortie attitude, and was not a lap cat, but she would always stick by my side. I left the country for the majority of seven years while at school, and would always get that mixed annoyed-that-you-left-but-excited-you're-back reaction when I came home.

When Pumpkin's sister died (they looked very close to twins) she was never quite the same; she would essentially always be keeping a lookout for her and eventually went somewhat senile, with a tendency to feel lost and howl. I am certain she and her sister loved each other. When she howled and we would "find" her, she always seemed so comforted.

I knew she was declining but refused to really admit it, and we kept miraculously buying her time (like, when we picked her up from the vet once after a major infection, the vet actually came out to tell us how amazed she was that the cat had done a complete turnaround and pulled through after we visited, because she was sure that was going to be it). I went to Florida to spend Christmas with my fiance's family and she declined precipitously. My parents didn't tell me, because they knew it would ruin my vacation. They were surprised that she didn't pass while I was gone. She held on until I got home, just long enough for me to pet, hold and talk to her one more time, and a few hours later she was gone. I know I could be ascribing selflessness to coincidence, but the timing was truly stunning. If I had to pinpoint a moment when the last vestige of my childhood was gone, that would be it.

I have absolutely no time for superstition or related "phenomena," but when I returned home again the day after, late at night, my breath stopped for a few moments as I regarded a set of new, perfectly-formed cat footprints in the snow that led directly up to the door of our house and disappeared.

Now my parents have Willow and Giles (after swearing we were done with cats for a while; surprise!) and they are super snuggle bugs and consummate lap cats. Writing this has made me realize, though, that almost a year on I still have a Pumpkin-shaped hole in my heart.
posted by ilana at 8:18 AM on December 15, 2013 [19 favorites]


If you want an indication that cats are emotional beings, spend a bit trying to get one into a cat carrier and then have that same cat scramble like mad to get back into the carrier after the vet is done with her.

I mean, that may not be love, but it's good sense, and I respect it mightily.
posted by angrycat at 8:32 AM on December 15, 2013 [10 favorites]


My cat, who definitely loves and is attached to me, would have had this reaction:

"I was just sitting there in the window just sunning myself and then you grab me, stuff me in a box, drive me across town to the fucking university, ignoring my cries the whole time, then you finally let me out of my tiny cage and expect me to jump on your lap and cuddle? Fuck you. I'm pretty stressed out here about this whole experience. I'm gonna go over there and make sure that other human doesn't smell like a cat, this room is brand new to me and I must know if there are other cats here."

This is profoundly stupid science.

Also, was there ever really a time when "Are babies emotionally attached to their mothers?" A legitimate scientific question? People hand out grants for this?
posted by Random Person at 8:33 AM on December 15, 2013 [9 favorites]


Yeah, I think I was just listening to, was it This American Life?, recounting the famous "wire mother" studies with monkeys. It's heartbreaking to listen to. The cold claws of the world of science do not have a great track record when it comes to studying relationships.
posted by Miko at 8:37 AM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, I had started to read your thread. But Kitty came up to my chair, stretched on her hind legs to touch my face with her paw, and then I had to hold her like a baby for several minutes.

Now, you were saying?
posted by NorthernLite at 8:57 AM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


when we're alone and it's quiet at night and my cat and i look for a long time into each other's eyes it is obvious he really "sees" me the way i would expect of a close human friend so i am 100% sure he loves me in a meaningful, chosen way and it's the best
posted by a birds at 8:58 AM on December 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also, was there ever really a time when "Are babies emotionally attached to their mothers?" A legitimate scientific question? People hand out grants for this?

I'm sure someone (Skinner?) asked the "if" question, but this experiment is about the strength and nature of the attachment.

Experiments with young children are always more interesting because they seldom give much consideration to what they do. Something basic like how they interact with their primary caregiver is highly repeatable and, it turns out, straightforward enough that you can easily spot three or four distinct categories across a population.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:06 AM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, when we recently went away for a three day weekend and then came back, Morrigan about lost her damn mind.

When we're away for the day, and come back in the evening, our cats sit in the window, waiting, and then get all excited and lovey once we come in.

But! After more than a day or so away from the house, they both seem surprised and not-as-interested at our return. Like "Oh, wow. Huh. You're back. We kinda figured you were dead. Weird. Anyway, uh, how's things?"
posted by Greg Nog at 9:18 AM on December 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


I know which side of the debate I fall on in this discussion about cat 'love' (because if it was any other I wouldn't live through the night), but you'll note which was the only test subject requiring a locked cage for transport.
posted by carsonb at 10:03 AM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Cows have friends. Sheep can recognize maybe 50 other sheep.

These two links really illustrate the difference between trying to make observations about animal social cognition, and overlaying observations of animal behavior with anthropomorphic concepts. It's cute to say that cows have "friends," and, keeping an eye on the very narrow way "friendship" is defined by the study, no doubt ok for some narrow practical purposes. But when we start to fill in detail about FRIENDSHIP from our own experience and cultural lore, and then say we've discovered cows do this, we have lost the script and stopped observing anything, or, rather, it is radically theory-driven observation. TS Eliot is good on how readily cats in particularly trigger our anthropomorphic confabulation modules.

You're basically trying to play the "Why won't other people just be clever and highly rational (like me)?" card while putting forth an argument that's not supported by observation.

No. I think people are exceedingly clever in concocting stories about their pets. I just think they're making a good bit of it up.

And menacing people's pets is a bit like menacing people's kids - folk get defensive really quickly.

I'm not actually "menacing" anything--no animals or children were harmed during the making of this argument...--but this is actually a pretty good comparison. People tend not to be veridical judges of their own children, and get very defensive about their theorizing in that domain too! I think the already serious distortions in that lens are amplified when it gets turned on the beloved pet. Strangely, it's less controversial to say that parents overestimate the specialness of their own children, than to suggest a similar thing about how pet owners' perspectives on their pets are highly subjectively colored.

Traditionally, we look askance at people who treat animals as things because we're worried they'll treat other people as things.

Look, I love pets too! And I don't think it's controversial that they have positively and negatively valenced hedonic states, to put it somewhat technically. They experience pleasure and pain! And I definitely think we should err on the side of caution as far as socializing protocols about how to treat animals. However, I think it is weakly supported and just far less likely that pets have the kinds of cognitively rich and culturally and linguistically mediated experiences and dispositions we attribute in explaining people behavior (which, again, even in that case, I am somewhat skeptical of what we do).
posted by batfish at 10:04 AM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


We're in this thing together with dogs. Cats are just along for the ride.
posted by breakfast_yeti at 10:06 AM on December 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Batfish, I guess my question is, why does it bother you so much for people to feel like their pets love them? I mean, it's one thing to think pet-owners are a bit batty, but to say these opinions should be "terminated" is just a bit extreme. We're all entitled to our own feelings and opinions.
posted by lunasol at 10:46 AM on December 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


May not be relevant, but, IMHO, the cat was not 100% distracted by the toy, and was well aware that the owner had left (watch).
posted by Dub at 11:03 AM on December 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


My introvert fluffball had something to say about it this evening.

EXTERMINATE

NOT THE FACE OF LOVE do u see those claws or what, soft-skinned hairless ape

stop projecting ur love u silly emotional human... could you scratch a bit higher again plz...

expurrminate ahhh yes right there WHAT R U PROJECTING AGAIN
posted by fraula at 11:06 AM on December 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


MY CAT UNMISTAKABLY EXPERIENCES LOVE

...of being the poop coach.

And sinks.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 11:11 AM on December 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


But! After more than a day or so away from the house, they both seem surprised and not-as-interested at our return.

It's because they think they have inherited all your territory and stuff within it and upon your return realize that they are not in fact the heirs to your bounty just yet after all.
posted by elizardbits at 11:17 AM on December 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Mentally they have already sold the vacuum to pay for feathers on strings.
posted by elizardbits at 11:18 AM on December 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


I have absolutely no time for superstition or related "phenomena," but when I returned home again the day after, late at night, my breath stopped for a few moments as I regarded a set of new, perfectly-formed cat footprints in the snow that led directly up to the door of our house and disappeared.

I hear what you're saying, ilana, and it's OK because, as far as such things go, superstition usually has ways of making time for you.
posted by mistersquid at 11:25 AM on December 15, 2013


I don't know if Karl loves me, but he's awfully insistent about hanging around and seizing stray opportunities to jump in my lap, or play teddy bear in the darkest bits of the night. Whatever that is, it's a fine thing to have in my life.
posted by wotsac at 11:42 AM on December 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


lunasol,

It's probably overdetermined by both some personal connections to people who are pretty precious and attentive in the direction of their pets and basically indifferent to other people, as well as a kind of general conviction that there is too much adult make-believe in the culture. I guess "terminate" is a bit troll-y, but then there's a kind of narcissism in being scandalized by the thought that your pet doesn't love you that deserves to be trolled a little imo.
posted by batfish at 11:50 AM on December 15, 2013


a kind of general conviction that there is too much adult make-believe in the culture

Dude, who cares?

I have a dog (and also love cats, for the record). I'm not one of those dog owners who takes their pets to have a picture taken with Santa at PetCo, or refers to herself as her dog's "mom", or personifies their pets' emotions with human constructs that can't possibly exist ("my dog has a girlfriend", birthday parties, getting worked up if someone mis-genders my pet, etc).

But other people do that stuff, and that's also fine. And sometimes I indulge in feelings about my dog that aren't entirely bricks and mortar pragmatic, too.

They're pets. They're part of our families and our lives. So some people get a little bit silly about it? Life is silly.
posted by Sara C. at 11:56 AM on December 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


I've always been incredibly creeped out by the urge to ~~~prove that animals don't have emotional lives. Especially domesticated species that live in social units with human families. This isn't like being frustrated that PETA prioritizes cruelty to animals over human injustices, but that guy (no particular mefite, just that guy in general, we all know one IRL) who needs to go out of his way to tell you that your emotional bonds aren't real. "Your mom doesn't really love you, it's just genetic survival!" Why??? What need does this fill?
posted by moonlight on vermont at 12:10 PM on December 15, 2013 [15 favorites]


I love dogs, cats, babies, hedgehogs, cacti, basically living things are aces with me. I have two cats, because I don't think I have the time and attention for a dog right now, and my friends found a cat a few years ago that I saw a picture of and was like MUST HAVE, one of those visceral reactions you can't explain, and so I have him and got him a lil brother a few years ago because I'm out a lot and they keep each other company. It wasn't like, some huge CAT v DOG stand like people bizarrely seem to want to frame animal ownership choices.

I agree with Ivan Fyodorvich's assessment of how strange this experiment is and how it doesn't appear to prove anything.

I don't know that much about how animals or especially cats might feel attachment or love, but my cats are very affectionate and meet me at the door, cuddle, etc. Personally I get a kick out of the fact that they'll amble into the room, look at me when I call their name, and clearly seem to be assessing whether or not they'll come over. It's about a 50/50 chance. Then of course, when I'm not trying to get them to sit by me, my little one will come over and meow at me until I make a lap for him, then promptly get in it, curl up and sleep.

Several years ago when I had just the one cat, I had a severe bout of anxiety and depression. I used to just go sit in the bathroom on the floor when I was overwhelmed, because there was so little in there by way of stimulation (no windows, books, assorted clutter). My cat would just come in there and sit with me. He didn't meow or purr, he didn't bug me for food or play, he didn't even nap. He just. sat. there. For hours.

At that time in my life I either had people pushing advice or pitying sympathy on me, or just being horribly annoyed with me (depression makes you a seriously annoying and draining person, even with people who don't know anything about the depression). The cat just sat there. On the floor in the bathroom. It meant everything. To be honest, I will always love him just a little bit more than the other one, because we shared that.
posted by sweetkid at 12:11 PM on December 15, 2013 [35 favorites]


This thread needs more cat photos.
posted by mrzarquon at 12:30 PM on December 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


This behavior is especially creepy (and here I descend into wank) when it's actually coming from within a personal relationship and not a general scientific pursuit. The guy or gal who tries to tell you, "your cat doesn't really love you, it just cares that you give it food and it'll eat your face when you die!" is bad news. That animal doesn't love you! It's not real love! Nobody really loves you! Only I love you! Your family doesn't really love you! Your cat's brain is a figment of your imagination! Only I am worth paying attention to! Only me!
posted by moonlight on vermont at 12:33 PM on December 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Random Person: "Also, was there ever really a time when "Are babies emotionally attached to their mothers?" A legitimate scientific question? People hand out grants for this?"

I think the experiment is less about the question you posed and more about types of attachment, and the conditions from which they arise. The experiment, then, is notable for giving a testable and objective measure of behavior, which is important when studying things imputed to be going on in the subject's head, and possibly used as supporting evidence in a case of maltreatment (maybe, idk).

The fact that the same experiment can also demonstrate that your cat doesn't view you as a viable defense against strangers is probably equal parts feline indifference to you and the fact that frankly, the cat already far better tactically equipped than you are for combat.
posted by pwnguin at 12:34 PM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]



This thread needs more cat photos.


These are mine.

The aforementioned depression buddy is the tabby. The "make a lap!" meower is the orange one.
posted by sweetkid at 12:35 PM on December 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


there's a kind of narcissism in being scandalized by the thought that your pet doesn't love you that deserves to be trolled a little imo.

Yeah, no it doesn't.
posted by Miko at 12:38 PM on December 15, 2013 [12 favorites]


But other people do that stuff, and that's also fine.

So pet birthdays and santa pics even are a sacred silliness that shall not be criticized? Can I at least furtively roll my eyes or is that against the rules too?
posted by batfish at 12:40 PM on December 15, 2013


I don't know, do you celebrate your own birthday? There's no real reason to. It's just a day like any other -the numerical coincidence of a regularly recurring anniversary. Why attach any special significance?
posted by Miko at 12:46 PM on December 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


batfish: " So pet birthdays and santa pics even are a sacred silliness that shall not be criticized? Can I at least furtively roll my eyes or is that against the rules too?"

Since it's the Christmas season, why don't you just walk around shopping malls and tell kids that there's no Santa Claus to get more bang for your buzz-killing buck?
posted by tonycpsu at 12:46 PM on December 15, 2013 [12 favorites]


> There's many problems with this experiment, and even more with the researcher's commentary. It's very strange.

Agreed. It was infuriating to hear this superficial behavioral observation presented as proof of highly speculative assumptions.

Try the same experience with a mom and her adolescent kid. I bet the behavior looks more like that of a cat than a dog.
posted by desuetude at 12:47 PM on December 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Can I at least furtively roll my eyes or is that against the rules too?

You can roll your eyes OR post five comments about it! No one can stop you! It's technically not illegal to terminate the behavior of other adults talking about cat emotions!
posted by Greg Nog at 12:50 PM on December 15, 2013 [10 favorites]


This thread needs more cat photos.

Caliban Party Ghost and Thunder Perfect Cat, expressing the emotion of We Hate Dressing Up Like Hunger Games Tributes
posted by Greg Nog at 12:53 PM on December 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


Do humans love their cats back?

Say my cat and I are hanging out, passing time. Someone stops by, and strikes up a conversation with me. While I'm talking to the person who stopped by, my cat leaves the room and comes back. I continue talking to the other person like my cat going in and out of the room was no big deal.

Guess I don't even know what love is.

a kind of general conviction that there is too much adult make-believe in the culture

"Do not be coy or stupid, Persian. You can afford neither in Sparta!"
posted by rue72 at 12:55 PM on December 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


You are allowed to be a hater and make fun of cat people just as much as cat people are allowed to eyeroll at you and make fun of you for being a hater. THE BALANCE OF THE UNIVERSE MUST BE MAINTAINED.
posted by elizardbits at 12:55 PM on December 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


a kind of general conviction that there is too much adult make-believe in the culture

You know, when I got my dog, I was determined not to be one of those pet owners who treated their pet like a child, or dressed him up in silly costumes, or, indeed, anthropomorphized him.

But ... this guy has been living in my house for the last 9 months. I've watched and helped him grow from an impossibly cute, floppy, unruly puppy to a reasonably well-behaved, smart, attentive, fiercely loyal dog. He slept in his crate for the first few months, but now he sleeps in my bed, because it turns out that sharing a bed with a dog is the best.

He keeps me company at home, whether I'm working or watching Netflx, but he's also gotten me out in my community more. I've seen parts of my neighborhood I never would have seen otherwise, met people I wouldn't have met. I get to see the world through his eyes: I notice things like birds, or the guy sitting on his porch, because Benny notices them. Instead of mutually averting our eyes when we pass each other on the street, my neighbors smile at him and me when we cross paths, because when you're walking a dog, almost everyone is your new friend.

Last night, I was sitting on my couch after coming home from dinner with a friend, and feeling a bit melancholy about a conversation we'd had. Of course, Benny was overjoyed about the fact that I was home, and curled perfectly into his spot against my left leg. He sighed in contentment (anthropomorphism alert!) and I sighed too, a frission of pure joy passing through me. His world was great because we were together, and for a moment, so was mine.

Having a dog has made my life better, and even a bit more magical, because the connection we share (even if I'm the only one who feels it!) is special and magical to me. So last week, when Benny's littermate's owner (Benny and his littermate really are best friends and you can't tell me any different) called me and said she wanted to take holiday photos with "the puppies," I swallowed my first urge to scoff and said of course, I'd come over that afternoon. And it was ridiculous! The dogs don't care about Christmas and we had to sew little straps onto the hats and the whole thing was chaotic and absurd, and we laughed at ourselves the whole time. But now we have these pictures, which are adorable, but also proof that having a dog has made me a less cynical, more silliness- and fun-embracing person, which has made my life better.

If others have different things that make their lives greater, awesome! But don't knock my thing.

I should also say that I grew up with cats and love the cat-person relationship almost as much, though it is very different.
posted by lunasol at 12:58 PM on December 15, 2013 [18 favorites]


Also, some of my mules used to act as herd cops. They would greet new horses, and not let them get to the main herd until they gave submission signals. If the new horse was aggressive, the mules would attack him with teeth and front hooves. Later on, when the new guys had been accepted, the mules would revert to their, normal, submissive status in the herd. When the mules' sweetheart horses were taken out of the herd, the mules raised hell, a noisy mule type hell, for several minutes. When the sweethearts returned, the mules greeted them with various rituals.

One of the (horse) geldings, Buddy, had a friend, a blind mare named Cheese. Buddy walked with Cheese when the herd move about the property. Cheese seemed to listen to Buddy's footfall as a way to tell what was underfoot. Other equines formed various friendships. The dominant partner using his status to get the lesser guy to better swatches of grass, and such.

Not only to mammals have emotions, they form bonds of friendship.

I loved my horse, Cricket, and she loved me. Jasper the Flying Mule treated me like another one of the damned mules, but he loved Cricket. I guess you sorta have to be there.
posted by mule98J at 1:02 PM on December 15, 2013 [12 favorites]


I definitely think so - I had a cat that used to wipe away my tears with her tail when I was a child. However I also think there is a good chance that 'love' would quickly dissipate should we stop feeding them! I think a dog's love is probably more unconditional although I do think cats grow very fond of us.
posted by Kat_Dubs at 1:05 PM on December 15, 2013


Greg Nog - the longer I looked at that picture, the more hilarious it was. A smile, a snort, a giggle, then sustained laughter.
posted by wotsac at 1:09 PM on December 15, 2013


20 cats is a small sampling, I could do 20% of that sampling just by polling the cats in my house. Upon introduction to a strange room, Cat A would saunter about the room, enthusiastically greet the stranger, aggressively play with the toys and would react to my return by trying to trip me by figure-8ing as I walk. Cat B would refuse to exit her carrier. Cat C would cautiously exit the carrier and only respond the stranger if the stranger was male, at which point she would embarrass all observers by lustfully trying to entice the stranger into mounting her*. She would react to my return with an ear flick of annoyance. Cat D would hiss at the stranger and refuse to play with the toys, climb into my arms and shove her head into my armpit and yowl at the door until I returned. *Yes, she's fixed. She's just that way.

This thread needs more cat photos

Everyone into the pool!
posted by jamaro at 1:13 PM on December 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


You can roll your eyes OR post five comments about it! No one can stop you! It's technically not illegal to terminate the behavior of other adults talking about cat emotions!

Thank you for your legal suggestions Greg Nog! Termination is of course a weapon of last resort. If you people would just spay and neuter your anthropomorphic pet talkings, you wouldn't need me to TERMINATE them in the interest of public health.

You are allowed to be a hater and make fun of cat people just as much as cat people are allowed to eyeroll at you and make fun of you for being a hater.

Word. That's all I ever wanted :'(
posted by batfish at 1:13 PM on December 15, 2013


I've lived with cats for two decades and wouldn't have it any other way.

I bought a house two years ago which came with this sweet little polar bear of a kitty, MoMo. He was left behind after a foreclosure, but he got to keep his name and his house, and got a much more responsible owner in the bargain - poor guy wasn't even fixed. He's been there for me when I lost my longtime cats (19 and 15 year old kitties I'd spent a quarter of my life with) and I'm pretty confident he loves me as much as I love him. Thanks, li'l sugar bear.
posted by porn in the woods at 1:22 PM on December 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Roxie wants to make sure I don't forget her next time I go on a trip.

Also, it's the rare roommate-cat hybrid: Catman.
posted by DoubleLune at 1:28 PM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have never wasted time wondering if my cats have loved me. They're not dogs; it's not their job to love me. Their job is to be love sponges. The fact that they trust me enough to stay with me of their own free will and let me love them is its own reward.

I've had cats that were more affectionate than my current cat, but I didn't love them more. I love my current cat best of all because he is just exactly affectionate enough.
posted by caryatid at 1:48 PM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


So pet birthdays and santa pics even are a sacred silliness that shall not be criticized? Can I at least furtively roll my eyes or is that against the rules too?

I confess I gave my cat an extra helping of turkey feast on Thanksgiving and on his birthday he got an extra treat. I don't think he had any idea why he got it, but it amused me to do so, so I did. He's a cat; he doesn't mark anniversaries, but I do. Is it ok if I give my cat treats for reasons that make sense only to me? I have also bought him more toy mice than he really needs and I don't let him on top of my dresser. My ways are mysterious, I suppose, but he seems to appreciate the treats.

My problem with asserting that cats (and other animals) don't feel love is that it seems weirdly reductionist. Even a brief observation shows us that animals can feel fear, hunger, loneliness, pleasure, and so on. They often show distinct preferences for specific animals and humans, and, while sometimes the reasons are obvious (it's a mate or you bring the food) often they seem like whims, although usually consistent ones. So why assume that animals don't have more complex inner lives? They are not as complex as humans' I imagine, but I have no reason to believe that many pets feel sometime for their owners that is within the bounds of "love" in at least a very general sense, and, as I pointed out above, "love" is a very general word.

I do think that a lot of people over-anthropomorphize their pets, but there is a real danger in denying animals emotional agency -- it let's cruelty to them not matter at all, since they are "senseless." And, honestly, less cruelty is usually a good thing.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:43 PM on December 15, 2013 [13 favorites]



I just did a rough count in my head and over my lifetime I've lived with about 25 different cats and 9 dogs. Growing up we always had at least three cats and one or two dogs at a time. Honestly I can't remember the names of every cat because some weren't around very long and I had varying type of relationships with each one. Some just lived with us and hung out and some were more close. When I left home the trend continued. I've had several that were so close that it still brings a tear to my eye when I remember them and others that I cared about but wasn't as attached too. Every single one them was different in personality and how they acted with the humans in their lives. The dogs were and are the same way.

My current pack includes 3 of my own cats, 3 of my parents cats, my parents dog and my two dogs as I'm temporarily back at home. They are all quite different in their expressions of our relationship. I don't consider them loving me in the same way a human would. I do consider that they love me in the way that cats and dogs form bonds with other living beings. I'm not looking for human type 'love' from a cat or dog. I like cat love and dog love. I'm not even sure why I should even care if a cat doesn't 'love' in the same ways a human does. If I was desiring just human type 'love' then I wouldn't have cats and dogs in the first place.

I love my cats and dogs. They are an important part of my life. I love them for being cats and acting like cats do. I'm really not super concerned about proving that they love me back in the same way I love them.
posted by Jalliah at 3:00 PM on December 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have two cats and they have me. Canines and felines and primates are all different types of animals, so it would be silly to imagine that they should all feel and express love or "attachment" in the same way, however they are all mammals. Emotional bonding seems typical mammalian behavior--interspecies or not. It's critical for survival--and it feels nice. The overlap there is not mere coincidence. My cats love me differently than my dogs have, differently than my human loved ones, but I experience their cuddling, nuzzling, licking and just generally-wanting-to-be-around-me behavior as love. Why on earth would I assume that it's anything else?

I suppose you can look at every pleasant interaction between two creatures (of the same species or not) as an exchange of some sort--the "appearance" of affection as a ploy for food, protection, security, etc. but that just takes all of the fun out of it, doesn't it?
posted by apis mellifera at 3:48 PM on December 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


Seriously, if they had tested a large number of cats (as they should have for a valid experiment) they would have come to the conclusion that It. Depends. On. The. Particular. Kat.

I've had a few cats that love me. I've had quite a few that were ambivalent. I've had many cats that didn't give a shit. But every one of those cats were independent enough to know that they could survive on their own if they had to. Thenkyouverymuch.

Quotes could give a crap, just feed her. Steve loves us, and we are his people. When I was laid up with a knee replacement, Dr. Steve stayed with me on the bed and slept with me for two solid weeks, only leaving for the necessaries. You'll never tell me that cats purring aren't therapeutic for people, because he would cuddle up against me when I was hurting badly, and it would put me right to sleep. There were times I'd choose the cat over a pain killer, simply because stroking a purring cat was enough to relax the muscle spasms. Oddly enough, in the six years since my surgery, the cat never slept with me again. Not once. Will be interesting to see what happens when I get the other knee replaced. if Dr. Steve will once again preside.

Doesn't this just test how independent the animal or child is, rather than how much it loves its owner or parent?

Exactly. And, you know, novelty!

It's pretty well known that toddlers go through a clingy stage. Get that kid before the clingy stage, they know mom, but they're quite willing to play with a stranger. Get 'em after that stage, they're also interested in interacting with someone new. And new toys--novelty!

The dog they showed was a lab, and let's face it, labs are codependent. My heeler, the liddle Spicy dawg, would be overjoyed to see me, but also overjoyed that there was someone else to play with. We SHOULD ALL PLAY TOGETHER!

*I am not saying that cats are as smart as a 6 year old

I'm not saying that cats 6 year olds are as smart as 6 year olds cats. FTFY
posted by BlueHorse at 3:53 PM on December 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also, re: holiday pet photos, etc...my mom took our yellow lab mix to have his picture taken with Santa one year. I made fun of her for doing it at the time, but now that he's passed on, I must admit that my coffee mug with a print of that picture--Cassidy looking for all the world to be grinning, thrilled to be there being patted by Santa--has become one of my most precious possessions. Miss that dog.
posted by apis mellifera at 4:01 PM on December 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


I love my cats. I am not sure if they love me, but they do a grand impersonation of love. Snuggling into my shoulder when I pick them up, coming for greens when I get the arugula out, hanging next to me in the computer room, pouncing on my feet at bed time or nudging away the book for petting, getting on my lap at TV time (the big one on the lap, the little one on the bottom at my feet).

I guess for "lesser" animals, they do a pretty good imitation of friends and affection. God knows they never bitch at me for anthropomorphizing them.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:14 PM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not saying that cats 6 year olds are as smart as 6 year olds cats. FTFY

They are certainly less adept at cleaning their ears and rears....
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:40 PM on December 15, 2013


I definitely don't know Slim's emotions when he sits on my lap, but I do know that it's a huge honor. He spent his kittenhood in a Chicago alley, and probably should have been put back when he was trapped and fixed. When I adopted him at the age of two, he was still nearly as feral as not, but he seemed like an interesting problem to have, and I thought (correctly) that he would be good with my other cats.

One thing that adult cats don't learn quickly (if at all) is how to trust strangers. Some kittens are near as born with it, and can hold on to the skill if it isn't trained out of them. So I was pretty thrilled when he learned not to hide from me, and would even let me sit nearby and pet him over the next two years.

I was afraid them, moving across the country, that we might lose all the progress we had made. But instead, the first night in our new home he came out of hiding quickly and asked for attention. And within two months was snuggling up a storm when I pet him. The lap is still a rare and special treat for me. But very often when he snuggles in against me, he gets a look in his eyes that could as easily be gratitude as contentment.
posted by wotsac at 5:57 PM on December 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


One evening when my mother was visiting recently she was chilly and I gave her my fleece to wear, which I wear all the time and had been wearing on and off for a couple of days, so it was properly me-smelling. Then my mother attempted to pick up my bizarro emotionally needy but kind of obnoxious cat, and for about 8 and a half seconds the cat was really happy: she started happy-pawing my mother's shoulder, and purring, and butted her head against my mother's face and OH GOD HOLY SHIT WHO ARE YOU PUT ME DOWN this was a TRICK you TRICKED me

She also knows her name, and knows and responds to several words, and sometimes comes when called when she isn't occupied with other stuff (who can blame her? I am the same way), unless you have said the word "brush," in which case she will drop everything and come running. She is also a huge pain in the ass and too smart to ever be happy. And if I put her in the horrible vet-portal-box and took her to a strange new terrible place and expected her to play or accept affection or do anything other than skulk cowering along the baseboards, more fool I.
posted by little cow make small moo at 7:01 PM on December 15, 2013 [10 favorites]


I have a cat Darwin, who I'm not too fond of. But Darrin loves me. I push him away, so he sneaks cuddles when I'm really tired or sleeping.

I can't tell you why I don't like him, we just never clicked, at least from my view point. He obviously views it differently.

Don't get me wrong, I love him, and am fiercely protective of him. I just don't like him.

Interspecies relationships are just as complicated as intraspecies relationships.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 8:48 PM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


If a friendly giant gave me free candy and then walked away I would follow the source of the free candy.

All the strays on campus knew the source of the free food. My colleagues joked that some mornings, there'd a row of cats sitting in front of the library entrance waiting for me, though they would run off when human traffic began to rise. The other strays were mostly cupboard love, looking to me for food and maybe the occasional headrub.

This one behaved very differently. He would eat what I gave him, but give him a choice between me and food, he'd pick me each time. Sometimes he would lie right up against the entrance of the door, and after a few times, he knew that nobody else dared to shoo him away, so they were safe to ignore, but the moment I appeared, he'd better skedaddle out of there and wait for me in the lobby.

I really really wish I had been able to adopt him then, then he wouldn't have gotten killed.
posted by Alnedra at 11:49 PM on December 15, 2013


Also, was there ever really a time when "Are babies emotionally attached to their mothers?" a legitimate scientific question?

For those of us who did not attach, yes, this is a valid question.
posted by SPrintF at 12:53 AM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Canines and felines and primates are all different types of animals, so it would be silly to imagine that they should all feel and express love or "attachment" in the same way, however they are all mammals. Emotional bonding seems typical mammalian behavior--interspecies or not. It's critical for survival--and it feels nice. The overlap there is not mere coincidence.

This is pretty much how I think of it. I mean, their brains are about the size of an almond -- there is no way that they can intellectualize concepts like "love" in the same ways as we can. But at the same time, it's not as reductionist as pets faking it in exchange for food, either. There is definitely benefits and affection on both sides.

So pet birthdays and santa pics even are a sacred silliness that shall not be criticized? Can I at least furtively roll my eyes or is that against the rules too?

People do all kinds of things that are flat-out dumb. Transformers grossed over $700 million -- that's a lot of people willing to pay $10+ for 90 minutes of concentrated dumbness, for example. And you want to focus your ire on pets?
posted by Dip Flash at 6:10 AM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


mean, their brains are about the size of an almond\

Just to be completely fair, "the brain of the domesticated cat is about 5 centimeters (2 inches) long and weighs 25–30 grams (0.9 to 1.1 ounces)." According to the California Almond Objective Measures Report, an almond averages somewhere around 1.6 grams. So a cat's brain is more like about the size of 16-20 almonds.
Their brains may be small compared to ours, occupying only about 0.9 percent of their body mass compared to about 2 percent in an average human and about 1.2 percent in an average dog. But size doesn't always matter. Neanderthals, the hominids that went extinct more than 20,000 years ago, had bigger brains than Homo sapiens, but they probably weren't smarter than the Homo sapiens that beat them in the survival game.

Surface folding and brain structure matter more than brain size. Unlike the brains of dogs, the brains of cats have an amazing surface folding and a structure that is about 90 percent similar to ours. The cerebral cortex of cats is greater and more complex compared to that of dogs. The cerebral cortex is the part of the brain responsible for cognitive information processing. A cat's cerebral cortex contains about twice as many neurons as that of dogs. Cats have 300 million neurons, whereas dogs have about 160 million. In fact, cats have more nerve cells in the visual areas of their brain, a part of cerebral cortex, than humans and most other mammals.
posted by Miko at 6:28 AM on December 16, 2013 [9 favorites]


Unlike the brains of dogs, the brains of cats have an amazing surface folding and a structure that is about 90 percent similar to ours. The cerebral cortex of cats is greater and more complex compared to that of dogs. ... A cat's cerebral cortex contains about twice as many neurons as that of dogs. Cats have 300 million neurons, whereas dogs have about 160 million.

Research paid for by Big Cat?

That's interesting, really -- they are perceptive and smart in their own way, and it makes sense that they'd have the neurons for it.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:47 AM on December 16, 2013


Cat v. dolphin.
posted by malocchio at 7:03 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have cats and each are different in temperament. Harold just wants to snuggle and won't drop me for food. Marc Anthony is a foodie, but guards me all night as I sleep and if I am ill, lies beside me and places his head on my chest until I get better. I had them both for a decade and have no doubt they love me. The ones I had for fives years or less are more attached to food than me, but they will follow me around and want affection. Just because I come in second, doesn't mean they don't love me.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 8:30 AM on December 16, 2013


Your cat does not love you.

Bullshit.

Any creature who can't wait to see me when I come through the door, can't stand to see me leave in the morning, has to sleep in the crook of my arm (regardless of the temperature of the room), who lays beside me when I'm seated on the couch, and generally follows me everywhere I go in the house(waiting patiently outside the bathroom door, for example) isn't just some aloof, treat-seeking robot. This cat of mine loves me.

I've noticed that people who grab on their cats too much or try to hold them in ways they don't like end up with aloof, independent cats. I also notice that (especially in the case of my wife and I) when the cat's owners let it simply be, give it moderate affection and attention, and generally treat the cat with respect, the cat is affectionate and easily bonds with their people. The cats that have that "had enough of petting; now I bite!" attitude don't seem to be the cats owned by the cat-respecters, but by people who think their cats are their little doll-babies, needing to be held and followed.

I give my cats their space. And they almost always choose to share that space with me. That's love, buddy.
posted by grubi at 8:53 AM on December 16, 2013 [10 favorites]


In my varied experience with all three, I have found that the only ones predisposed to deliberately vindictive shitting are cats. I am not sure what conclusion to draw from this.

In my varied experience with all three, I have found that the only ones predisposed to not eating their own shit under any circumstances are cats. I am not sure what conclusion to draw from this.
posted by grubi at 8:58 AM on December 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


You never had a dog vindictively shit? Man, I have, the two different ones we grew up with. Both lab mixes, neither liked it when the whole family left the house, and on some occasions, they let us know it. They also strewed garbage all over the house if they were able to get at it.
posted by Miko at 10:22 AM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


My mother-in-law's dog has severe separation anxiety. When they leave him at home, he's been known to make poopscapes out of overturned food bowls, socks, underwear, and, of course, his poop. I do not think his works will be showing in any museums any time soon, but it does seem to get his message across.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:30 AM on December 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've had lots of different animals throughout my lifetime (grew up on a farm, have had or been roommate to various pets). I like animals and am pretty well-versed in their quirks and behaviors, and how various domestic pets and livestock respond to their caretakers, but I'm wary of over-anthropomorphism because we just have no clue. Yes, domestic animals feel varying degrees of attachment and affection to their human stewards, and I certainly think they understand varying degrees of cause-and-effect. Do I think any animal feels genuine "love"? Well that's a little bit more problematic because "love" is a truly human concept, and there's just no way to tell. Certainly animals form bonds and friendships and genuinely seem to enjoy being around certain other animals or humans more or less depending on circumstances. But to ascribe such a specifically human emotion as "love" can be problematic, and I think it does animals a disservice, really. If you've ever had a truly loyal dog, then I think to interpret their pack-bond as "love" is somewhat shallow, because we humans truly do not understand how deep and fundamental a pack-bond is (to cite a species-specific example). Horses are prey animals and as such, shouldn't form attachments to an apex hunter / predator such as ourselves, but arguably they do form extremely close and lasting bonds with their caretakers.

I absolutely think cats are capable of forming specific attachments to specific humans, though. I have seen several examples of this throughout my life, from the difficult-to-handle abused kitten I adopted and raised in my teens (I was the only person she ever trusted) to my ex-roommate's badass Evil Cat who refuses to let anyone but my ex-roommate pick him up or handle him. I get a free pass to pet him as long as I don't get overly-familiar, since it's a tacit understanding between us that I'll feed him and generally let him be otherwise. To this day, seven years after I moved out of that apartment, I'm their preferred cat-sitter since I'm still the only other person on the planet besides my former roommate who can feed him without being hissed / smacked at or pet him without bloodshed.

And of course there's this little guy. I got him from the local shelter about six months ago. The shelter notes indicated he was about six years old at the time I adopted him. He was found wandering stray in a pasture in rural Wyoming, near Cheyenne and no one claimed him or could even figure out where he came from. Luckily for him, he was transferred out of the Cheyenne kill shelter to Boulder, where I found him weeks later, rail thin, dirty, and covered in mats. The shelter notes indicated that he was "friendly but difficult to handle" and they'd also noted concern that he wasn't eating well.

When I went to the shelter, I had no intention of adopting a cat; we had just lost a 2nd kitten in a row to FIP. My colleague who volunteers there said I should take a look at him, and I'd gone there intending to pay his fostering fee to sponsor him, hoping he'd get a second chance. I was worried for the chances of a six-year-old cat who'd already been at the shelter for several weeks. And he wasn't one of the ones they'd indicated was good with other cats, so I was also concerned he wouldn't get along with our resident cat. And he was so thin and dirty and generally unkempt that I was very concerned for his overall health. The last thing I wanted was to go through another heartbreak two weeks after putting our beloved kitten to sleep.

When I walked up to the cage he was in, he came up to greet me, lay down on his side, and stuck both front paws through the mesh towards me. I reached a finger out cautiously for him to sniff (because you just never know with strange cats) and he gently took my hand in both paws and pulled it towards his forehead, in an attempt to head-bonk / cheek rub me. The volunteer accompanying me said "Wow, he has never responded to anyone like that!". I asked a few questions about his general health and got them to release him into a vacant office to visit with me. He spent the next fifteen minutes madly stretching his legs, exploring every inch of the spare office, and repeatedly coming back to me to jump in my lap, purr and head butt me. I took him home the minute I could pay his adoption fee and get papers signed, and figured I'd deal with the cat introduction issues and my husband later (neither was any problem, thankfully).

I have never seen any animal express such a profound joy at being rescued in all my life, and he seems to have decided from that moment that he tried to head-bonk me through the cage mesh that I was his person. Within a week of adopting him, he'd begun eating again and allowing me to carefully, slowly, groom out the mess that was his coat. Within a month he transformed from a thin, greasy, dusty mess into the lovely cat you see in the photo.

He is one of the best cats I've ever known, and is ridiculously bonded to me. He is friendly and affectionate to my husband, and likes people in general, but I'm the only person who can tempt him to do wild acrobatics with toys, that can pick him up (or god forbid, groom him), the only person with whom he'll eagerly walk six or seven blocks with on a leash (he basically leash trained himself, I had very little to do with it), the only person whose lap he insists on sitting in, or whose side he curls up next to on the bed every night, and who he enthusiastically greets at the door when I come home from work. When we recently returned from a 4-day Thanksgiving trip, he sprinted out of the garage to greet me the minute I opened the car door - he actually flung himself into my lap before I could even get out, mmrrowwling and trilling and cheek-rubbing me like a mama cat when she returns to her kittens. He followed me closely for days afterward, and did this the moment I opened my suitcase to unpack it (he's not in the habit of getting on the bed except at bedtime, either). You'll note my husband's suitcase is right next to mine on the bed, but it was of no interest at all to him.

So, yes, animals in general, and cats in specific do form profound bonds with specific other beings. I'm not sure it's exactly right to call it "love", though, and by doing so we could be missing some of the deeper nuances of interspecies companionship.
posted by lonefrontranger at 10:58 AM on December 16, 2013 [11 favorites]


I have had dogs vindictively pee, and the trash thing is universal, but only cats have ever walked into a room, stared me in the eye, and taken a massive dump on the carpet, pinning me with a steely and disdainful gaze throughout.
posted by elizardbits at 12:58 PM on December 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


only cats have ever walked into a room, stared me in the eye, and taken a massive dump on the carpet, pinning me with a steely and disdainful gaze throughout.

Jeez, what did you do to annoy these cats?
posted by grubi at 2:01 PM on December 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


grubi, for certain types of cats, merely existing is a perfectly good rationale for the territory-marking behavior scientifically known as middening. In many (most?) cases it can be construed as an emphatic exclamation of "territory"; i.e. GODDAMMIT THIS IS MINE.
posted by lonefrontranger at 2:20 PM on December 16, 2013


I keep debating whether or not to get a cat--I shouldn't, I"m hardly ever home, etc.-- but this thread is not helping :P

get two! problem solved.

the solution to cats is always more cats.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:31 PM on December 16, 2013 [14 favorites]


Yesterday morning I had to bury a cat I've had for 13 years. I know she loved me like I know water is wet.

Sorry for your loss.
posted by UseyurBrain at 2:44 PM on December 16, 2013


grubi, for certain types of cats, merely existing is a perfectly good rationale for the territory-marking behavior scientifically known as middening. In many (most?) cases it can be construed as an emphatic exclamation of "territory"; i.e. GODDAMMIT THIS IS MINE.

I have done a little research into cat behavior, which is why when establishing the hierarchy with new pets I don't treat them remotely like a human being — I treat them as if I am the big cat. Not cruelly, but firmly, and so they get the message.

As a result, I never get bit or have them challenge my position (or have them display any territorialism towards me). But to be fair, I also don't give them any reason to feel less than safe.
posted by grubi at 3:16 PM on December 16, 2013


Jeez, what did you do to annoy these cats?

This was within 5 minutes of me entering this house for the first time in 8 years, having never before met these cats. So I did nothing, nothing!

you heartless poop victim blamer
posted by elizardbits at 3:22 PM on December 16, 2013


Face it. Cats are beautiful soft, moving, minimally-pooping sculptures. But they are not dogs. In other words, CATS FAIL11111!!!!!
posted by NiceParisParamus at 3:24 PM on December 16, 2013


Funny; I've never heard anyone say "dog smell" in reference to anything good.
posted by grubi at 4:07 PM on December 16, 2013


This was within 5 minutes of me entering this house for the first time in 8 years, having never before met these cats. So I did nothing, nothing!

Uh, wrong! You just admitted you hadn't been in the house for 8 years. They can sense your house abandonment!
posted by grubi at 4:08 PM on December 16, 2013


grubi, you may be a cat whisperer, but the rest of us live with the full spectrum of cat idiosyncracies, and many of us still love them anyway. :)
posted by lunasol at 4:27 PM on December 16, 2013


Cat whisperer, my eye! Lots of yelling. They're still stubborn and needy.
posted by grubi at 4:50 PM on December 16, 2013


Sadly enough, the best advice my mother ever gave me was about cats.

She said when you bring home a new cat, do this simple thing and he/she will love you forever:

-Bring the cat home.
-Let the cat out of the carrier in your room.
-Sit on your bed and read.
-Ignore the cat. Just keep reading. Read, like, a magazine. For an hour, or two, or four.
-The cat will start to explore. Ignore him. Keep reading.
-When the cat is ready, he will come to you. Do not touch him before this. Wait for him to engage you, preferably via cheek rub or headbut.
-Pet the cat. Treats optional.
-Viola! Friend for life.

I've done this three times; two cats adored me (followed me around the house, sleep with me, greet me when I come home, come to my call*). The third is a little tough since he joined a home where 1 cat already existed, so the introduction wasn't quite as perfect as described above. So he's independent until the 1st cat goes away... and then he too follows me around the house and is uber affectionate.

Thanks mom!

* when he wants to.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:57 PM on December 16, 2013 [10 favorites]


Cats, dogs, and babies have always loved me. Especially, other people's cats, dogs, and babies. Even the ones that hate or are afraid of everyone else come up to me with no real encouragement on my part. I might smile slightly with the corner of my mouth or say hello, but that's usually it. I can't tell you how many times over the years I've heard some variation of, "Oh my God, I can't believe this! Fluffy/Poochie/Babby never lets strangers pet/play/talk with them." I've always taken this as a sign that I smell especially delicious.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:42 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's true, It's Raining Florence Henderson. Babies are known for appreciating a tasty victim.
posted by grubi at 7:57 AM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


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