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Is the man in your life… a cat?
He’s self-reliant, spurns affection, comes home late and never tells you where he’s been… remind you of anyone? Give your cat the space he needs and you’ll both be happy by VICKY HALLS
It may be a stereotype, but there’s no denying that women and cats seem to go together. Is it simply because they’re inherently feminine and sensual – or is there more to it? I’ve long been fascinated by the bond between people and pets, and recently conducted a survey about owners’ relationships with their moggies. A massive 96 per cent of the respondents were women. Which is not to say that men don’t like cats, it’s just that women are more likely to talk about them. Happily, the survey did challenge one stereotype, that of the elderly, spinsterish ‘mad cat lady’ – more than half of the participants were married or cohabiting, and a third were under 30.
So what is the attraction for women? Perhaps it is because a cat makes the perfect silent partner in the relationship rituals that women, with their complex emotional needs, like to play. Two-thirds of those surveyed believed their cats understood when they were ill or upset, and 63 per cent said they would struggle to cope if they didn’t have their pets. Over 70 per cent said their cats had comforted them at difficult times, and half felt they received unconditional love from them.
Most interestingly, though, half the female owners surveyed said their cats sometimes ignored them or seemed disinterested, yet they still went back for more. A third said their cats were aloof, yet two-thirds said that whenever their pets demanded anything, night or day, they would do it.
So is the average domestic cat adopting the role more conventionally seen in the male of our species, to ‘treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen’? Much like the stereotypical man-about-town, cats conduct relationships very much on their terms. As a species, they are not naturally equipped to reciprocate in intense one-to-one relationships, despite being bred over generations to tolerate it. Ultimately it’s impossible to redefine nature’s blueprint of a creature that is territorial and self-reliant.
There’s no question that this intensity of human/cat relationship is a very modern phenomenon. British society has changed dramatically in recent years; more women work, families disperse and many individuals live in some degree of social isolation. An increasing number of cats are kept indoors or have restricted access outside. Pedigree breeds now represent 10 per cent of owned cats, and their physical and emotional traits often result in the recommendation that they be kept as house cats. This has meant that a significant proportion of domestic felines now exist in unnatural environments, unable to perform their full range of species-specific behaviour.
Less than a third of the owners I surveyed allowed their cats freedom and unlimited access outside. Many let their pets out only under strict supervision, and a huge percentage said they worried incessantly about them. They cared for and loved their cats so much that they couldn’t bear exposing them to the dangers of traffic, other cats, being stolen or, worse still, moving in with the lady down the road. This may sound caring and sensible in principle, but suddenly you’ve got a cat with an enormous amount of time on his paws doing nothing very much that makes him feel like a feline.