Overheard in homes, coffee shops and large pick-up trucks across the country: “Cats are useless animals.” Since I’m a member of the subject species, you might expect me to feel quite offended by this. I would say that I’m more perplexed than outraged.
Why so? First of all, I think you’ll find that very few, if any cats aspire to be “useful” to humans. Our providers do not expect us to fetch their slippers or guard the house. We are not suitable companions for road trips, nor do we help humans to maintain healthy fitness levels by taking them for twice-daily walks. No, no, no. Humans who appreciate cats do not do so because we are useful, but because we are a warm, quiet and relatively undemanding presence in their homes. I dare say we add grace and beauty to their lives. We desire, above all, to have our needs met and the fact that certain discriminating humans find pleasure in doing this makes for a happy collaboration.
Having said that, I will draw your attention to rural cats. I doubt I’ve ever heard a farmer state that barn cats are useless. For some inexplicable reason, humans the world over are not partial to rodents. Without the intervention of the local cat population, they would find themselves spending a lot of their time devising and carrying out extermination programs. The relationship between the agricultural community and its cats is more quid pro quo than affectionate, but that suits the needs of both the humans and the cats. Farmers welcome the presence of cats because they see them earning their keep and cats in turn appreciate having a roof overhead and ready access to the local rodent population.
My second point comes in the form of a question: Why would someone expect a household pet to be useful anyway? I would think that urban-living humans value cats more for the companionship and comfort they provide than for their practicality. In turn, we domestic felines appreciate humans and even develop a certain warm affection for our personal providers. It might be muted compared to the sloppy neediness of dogs, but it is real nonetheless. We find that our providers relish any display of feline affection because it is bestowed so sparingly. In short, the unspoken contract between humans and domestic cats has no need of a “usefulness clause” because we provide for human needs in other, more important areas.
I would implore my human readers to convey these important points to anyone they encounter who spews out thoughtless statements about the value (or lack thereof) of cats.
If you are worthy of its affection, a cat will be your friend but never your slave. ~ Theophile Gautier
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rabblefish/3063006392/