Cheating Cats

Okay, first off – this is not a ‘how to’ listicle about ways to cheat your cat out of leftovers. Or quality time. (Though the latter sure warrants some research funding.) This is an attempted-monograph about cats; that cheat.

Cats are often thought of as opportunistic, selfish pets.
Cats are often thought of as opportunistic, selfish pets (photo: catstagram)

1. Background: in 2012 – as part of a joint University of Georgia and National Geographic project – researchers put “kitty cams” on 55 pet cats to analyze their movement, behavior and motivation. Now, if you are, like me, a largely normal person, you’re wondering “why?” – the answer is that they’re ‘studying the impact of cats on urban wildlife along with risks they face outdoors’.

2. Findings: breakthrough came in the form of the revelation that cats spend a lot of time under cars, inside of sewers, climbing fences, making catcalls …basically, doing cat-stuff. Wildlife ecologist and research leader Kerrie Anne Loyd was surprised that only 44 percent of the cats exhibited hunting behavior and even fewer, 30 percent, successfully captured animals. So, all those afternoons when our pet cats disappear and stay past lunch-time – what are they up to? What are they eating?

Here’s where it gets really interesting.

Cats cheat on their owners. Not in an sexual way, but in terms of food and comfort and human affection. “A lot of cats were found cheating on their owners,” a researcher said. “In that they were spending a lot of time with other families, and were fed by other families and slept on the beds of other families.” It’s like a traveling salesman (excuse the stereotype) maintaining two families in two towns. But with neighboring houses. Which of course, doesn’t work for the mythical traveling-and-cheating-salesman archetype. But I digress.

Rumor has it that Comdrade Lenin's cat was once stroked by Trotsky
Rumor has it that Comrade Lenin’s cat was once stroked by Trotsky.

3. Bottom Line: if you want loyalty, get a dog.

4. Commentary: so, the research concludes that cats cheat and are, possibly, selfish. And I have a problem with this conclusion. Central to my argument and the concept of ‘Cheating’ – is the notion of Social Contract.

4.1 Social Contract for Dummies: All men are made equal. So, no one has a natural right to govern others, and therefore the only justified authority is the authority that is generated out of social agreements, covenants or wait-for-it …contracts. So, social contracts are essentially expressions of the Collective and geared towards the Collective Good. Social contract arguments typically say that we have agreed to surrender some of our freedoms and submit to the authority of the ruler or magistrate (or to the decision of a majority), in exchange for protection of our remaining rights.

So, human societies have certain developed (unwritten) pacts / agreements about how to live together in some kind of order. The most basic covenant, the social pact, is the agreement to come together and form a people, a Collectivity. Parents agree to care for children. Gentlemen agree not to rob one another’s private property. We collectively accept ‘Marriage’ to imply an absence of fornication and adultery. Many such agreements or pacts make sure that humans don’t relapse into the State of Nature.

4.1.1 State of Nature for Dummies: the State of Nature, is a hypothetical situation where men are naturally and exclusively self-interested. Every man for himself. They don’t care for disco either. Resources are limited and there’s no authority. Given these conditions, (Thomas) Hobbes concludes that the State of Nature would be unbearably brutal.

In the State of Nature, every person is always in fear of losing his life to another. They have no capacity to ensure the long-term satisfaction of their needs or desires. No long-term or complex cooperation is possible because the State of Nature can be aptly described as a state of utter distrust. Because people want first and foremost to avoid their own deaths, the State of Nature is a state of perpetual and unavoidable war. And it is this terrifying possibility that makes Social Contract so necessary.

Now, back to cheating cats.

Many people own cats.

But what does it mean? To ‘own’ a cat? Or any other animal? Can we really ‘own’ animals? Did the animals agree to this arrangement where they are ‘owned’ by a member of a different species? Did an Ambassador of Cats declare that they would surrender the freedom to sample a neighbor’s goodies in return for guaranteed housing, soup-kitchens and healthcare? That they would remain ‘loyal’ to an owner? – The obvious reply to the last four questions is ‘no’.

Ownership of pets is only in our minds. We think we own them. They don’t. It’s a one-sided contract (and therefore, null and void). A cat, to state the obvious, is not bound by Social Contract to recognize, let alone remain loyal to, an owner. And if there’s no commitment to loyalty, there can be no cheating.

(Society’s) Common Will is said to represent a unified, fruitful and ethical direction for Progress. But why do we insist on imposing human ethical constraints on cats? What makes our frame of Reference applicable to all other species? The solution must be that the action of cheating-cats must be evaluated not from an ‘ethical’ – but a ‘survival’ – perspective. Perhaps cats just think of their owners’ houses as urban food-sources. One of many. To them, neighbors’ houses are the same. In fact, cats may not be able to distinguish between owners and neighbors.

Yes, we give cats showers, vaccine shots and bucket-loads of attention and approach ownership of their very Existence – but as rational beings, we also do it for our own satisfaction. Just like the cats cheat for their satisfaction (perhaps cats, as rational and self-interested creatures, have their own Social Contract and it entails feeding from as many sources as possible). So, before we can call cats ‘cheaters’ or ‘selfish’ – we need to take a long look at the mirror. And this holds true not only for cats, but for all species, races, ethnicities and genders. What, you ask, is the takeout? I’d argue there are two:

  1. To recognize our daily biases, we need to understand what/who shapes our thoughts and
  2. On the Internet, it’s possible to discuss anything under the pretext of discussing kitties.
Cat's outta the bag, yo!
Cat’s outta the bag, yo!


    • Hi Trees – thanks for coming by. I think urban cats gradually forget how to hunt or have no incentive left to do so. Whether humans are doing them a favor or disfavor …remains to be seen.

      Btw …do you think your cat cheats on you? Does it yearn for someone else’s attention? If cats really do that – regardless of species, it would feel like a betrayal, wouldn’t it?

    • Hello Mashal – welcome to my blog. You know …sometimes I think dogs are too intense; always going hey, I’m here. Should I lick yer face? Can I get you something? That ball? The dead mouse? Cats are like people …playing it cool and selfish. 😀 thanks a bunch for dropping by and leaving a comment.

    • Hehehe …hey Notes! Dogs, cats, canaries ….I’m just appalled by how unfit and unqualified I am to take care of another creature! Are you good with pets?

      • I grew up on a farm. Cats were for keeping down the mouse population, dogs were for barking when anyone came on the property. All the rabbits and chickens I befriended ended up on the dinner table. When I moved to the city I bought a Cockatiel. I had that bird so well trained it was never caged. Then I stepped on it with a stiletto heel, sending it to an early grave. (a horrific accident demonstrating why birds shouldn’t be allowed to have the run of the house, sneaking unannounced at your feet in the bathroom as you concentrate on applying make-up) We have a dog (Ruby, a four year old Boxer) – she could be trained a lot better. Sigh. Read this post I wrote about “Bad Earl” – the rabbit that held court in my basement for years….


What do you think? Drop a line - and I will too.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s