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Home >> Happiness  >> How to understand cats
 

How to understand cats

I’d just moved from my university halls into an independent room at a French family’s home in London. As I was greeting the family, I caught a blur of black and white sliding behind my back and running into the dining room. The gorgeous little kitty sat by her bowl of food, eating silently. In that very instant, I knew I’d be very happy in their home. But when my landlady Annick picked Poppy up and tried to introduce her to me, the fur ball pounced off her arms and disappeared in a flash.

Being a cat lover, I was heartbroken. But I wasn’t deterred. I simply let Poppy take her time to warm up to me. The first few days, she scooted off in the other direction every time I tried to get near her. I watched a few videos on cat behaviour and soon, I had found a sure shot way to befriend Poppy. One day, when she was having her dinner late at night, I decided to sit at the table and wait for her to finish. The moment she was done, I crouched down about five feet away from her, meeting her eyes at her height. Once she locked gaze with me, I blinked slowly, lovingly and then looked away. I did this twice and the next thing I knew, Poppy was right in front of me, letting me pet her!

All I’d done was say, “Hi! Can we be friends?” to the cat in her own language. It’s all anybody needs to do to befriend a reluctant cat. It’s what cat behaviourist Jackson Galaxy writes in his book Total Cat Mojo: The Ultimate Guide To Life With Your Cat: “Between the two worlds of humans and cats, the two languages, there is a fence. We must meet at that fence. Dogs will gladly jump the fence and run to our side in order to communicate; cats simply won’t, because that has never, until this point in our relationship, been part of our arrangement.”

When cats are excited, they don’t jump around you like dogs do. Instead, they show their excitement with their twitching tails and dilated pupils.


If you really want to speak Cat, you need to bear in mind the human history with domestication. According to Galaxy, over several thousands of years, we’ve trained dogs to “reflect humanness back at us”. He notes that we’ve bred them to benefit us in terms of companionship. However, that wasn’t the case with cats. We only ever viewed cats “as hunters who protected our food supply”. What we had with cats was more of a mutually beneficial relationship, Galaxy observes. Simply put, dogs treat us like humans, while cats treat us like cats. As Galaxy puts it, “So, to suddenly expect your cat to change his fundamental communication style after all this time is foolhardy at best.”

Let’s be fair. We can agree that it’s hard to understand cats as their communication style is rather subtle. When cats are excited, they don’t jump around you like dogs do. Instead, they show their excitement with their twitching tails and dilated pupils. If you’re only used to the smothering affection of a dog, their excited panting, and their fervent licks all over your face, then you might miss observing the subtle expressions a cat uses to display the same emotion.

Of course, how open they are to humans can vary from cat to cat. Salomi Singh, owner of two cats and a dog understands this very well. Her cat Rumi is completely comfortable around strangers and even enjoys being petted by them. Her other cat Freya, however, prefers to keep her distance from strangers. Says Salomi, “Freya is a sweet cat, who loves being cuddled. Yes, she is a little wary of strangers, but if given enough time and she likes the person, she will befriend them. She just needs her space initially.”

I know of many people who doubt cats ever have any feelings for their owners. They seem to think cats are too detached, and that they only ever come for cuddles when they want treats.


The way Salomi speaks of Freya makes me think I, an introvert, am similar to cats. I, too, take my time while befriending someone. And like Poppy, I shy away from meeting strangers who come home (especially unannounced). Just like cats, I’m hardwired for solitude rather than mingling. No, I don’t bring mice as gifts for my loved ones–as cats do for their humans–but when I bond with someone, I really bond. No wonder there are studies that show introverts prefer cats over dogs as pets.

Unfortunately, not everybody’s an introvert who can understand cats. I know of many people who doubt cats ever have any feelings for their owners. They seem to think cats are too detached, and that they only ever come for cuddles when they want treats. From my own experience, I can tell you that’s far from true. Yes, cats are highly independent, but they never fail to show their affection towards their owners. Lahore-based graphic designer Dania Zafar agrees. She shares an anecdote that’s sure to melt even cat haters. Says she, “When my sister returned from Australia after over a year, she was afraid that Shurli, our cat, might have forgotten her. But when she called out to him, he came running from a neighbour’s roof. In fact, he refused to get off her lap the entire day, demanding extra kisses and hugs.” 

If Dania’s anecdote hasn’t already convinced you of a cat’s true love, I’m not sure what will. You need only try a different style of communication to see how adorable and loving these creatures can be. Many of us may be unsure of how to befriend or treat cats. But all it really takes is a change in greeting manners and voila! The cat that used to run in the other direction when you tried to pet him is suddenly your new best friend.

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