Good morning and welcome to Summit Up, the world’s only daily column reflecting on the domestication of cats and what that act tells us about human beings.
This train of thought got started when we ran across the “Incredible Dog Challenge” on television this week.
The annual event features competition in obstacle-course speed (agility), Frisbee-catching and diving (!).
The people involved clearly spend an incredible amount of time with their companion animals.
How else could you teach a dog to run blindly through a crinkle-tunnel or up and down a seesaw?
The bond between human and canine is truly impressive ” indicative of the thousands of years we’ve spent in each other’s company.
The veritable orgy of tail-wagging, face-licking and “attaboys” we saw after each performance got us thinking how differently humans feel about their feline associates.
Try for just a moment to imagine a slobbering cat, eager to please, begging its owner for approval.
“Pu-leeze,” the cat would entreat.
“Pu-leeze, tell me what to do!”
This, we think, would be a co-dependent’s dream: a soft, adoring creature, looking for guidance and willing to follow any advice ” no matter how misguided.
Humans treat dogs, we decided, the way they usually treat each other:
“Stay!” “Bad girl!”
“Did you miss me?
Did you miss me?”
“Who’s a good boy?”
“Come here RIGHT NOW!!”
Most people evaluate their human-to-human relationships with the same criteria they use when they think of their dogs:
Do they behave?
Are they friendly?
Do they acknowledge them as the smartest people in the world?
Do they offer unconditional love at all hours of the day?
Are they always available?
Do they come when asked?
In our least exalted moments, we think, we really do want our friends to be more like our dogs.
Cats, on the other hand, offer a very different sort of relationship. Domesticated much more recently than dogs, we figure cats were a kind of dog-antidote for our ancestors.
Tired of all that adoration, early humans looked to cats to help them break free from patterns of unhealthy relationships.
With cats, humans can learn how to respect other creatures without all that canine-like domination and submission.
They can learn about relationships without neediness.
They can discover healthy autonomy.
When a cat abruptly tires of caresses and jumps off the bed without a backward look, for example, humans have to accept the cat’s behavior usually isn’t personal.
It does no good to call after kitty:
“Where are you going?”
“Did I do something wrong?”
“Are you upset about something?”
“Do you want to talk?”
Just think what life would be like if we could give our friends and lovers the same personal space our cats demand.
Surely a lot of heartache could be avoided.
So we think our ancestors, in their primordial wisdom, realized that treating friends like dogs, no matter how much we love them, is ultimately unsatisfactory.
Humans needed cats to teach them another way.
It’s Friday, and we’re out trying not to take our cat’s attitude personally.
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