Not That I Have Anything Against Cats

A conference Saturday at the ZOA House leads to a few comments on cats and their human admirers.

When writing about cats, as when writing about soldiers, homosexuals or feminists, one should exercise caution. Cats have a fanatic loyal lobby that scrutinizes every publication and reacts in a quick and efficient manner. It immediately detects every deviation from the dogma that cats are to be admired. He who doubts is not only a deviant but a suspected conservative, racist, minority-basher and self-hater. This lobby will not accept a negative word.

Two years ago, I publicly praised the sealed lids of Tel Aviv's trash cans, and was promptly reprimanded. As I learned, these trash cans are intended as cat feeding stations, and lids violate this. Therefore, I will choose my words carefully: I love animals. I also love cats. However, as a matter of comparison, I prefer dogs, birds, turtles, hamsters, fish, reptiles in general and rodents in particular.

I am more interested in cat owners than cats. I am curious to know: Do cat lovers resemble each other? Do they differ from dog lovers? Does the love for cats replace, perhaps, the love for people? On Saturday I searched for answers at the ZOA House in Tel Aviv. For NIS 165, feline worshipers received sandwiches, rugelach and a lecture reinforcing their feelings for cats.

Many of my best friends are cat lovers, but my image of a typical cat person is still the stern, lonely elderly lady, with a pink beret askew atop her white hair. The important convention pried her off the old couch in her murky living room, while her ferocious cat remains home, warming by the stove.

There was such a woman in the ZOA House lobby, but there were also a hundred other people, more women than men, few young people, and a former minister. Avraham Poraz sat cross-legged listening to a lecture on "Top cat lovers from Israel and England" (to quote the poster), including "leading cat lover Rivi Meir" and Dr. Peter Neville, an international expert on cat behavior.

Cats were prominent in their absence, but just like at the Caesarea Conference, they held an alternative gathering on the low fence across the road. There were three, and to the best of my knowledge they were engaged in love, or to be more precise, the big male cat (gray, spotted) was pursuing a female. The white female, with the gray spot, resisted. Another gray male watched in silence. There were arguments, statements and counterstatements, and I think someone was also insulted. Suddenly they all screamed simultaneously and dove in a racket into the bushes behind the fence.

This little report is not to show that cat debates are uncultured. To the contrary, I have great respect for cats - though I'd rather have great distance. This stems from great dread. Their expressionless faces frighten me. So does their readiness to pounce, their lack of humor, arrogance, vanity and cynicism. I am also very concerned by their tendency to react harshly and disproportionately. I consider the cat to be a short-tempered pet. It hastily uses its claws to establish its arguments, thus casting serious doubt on its democratic capacity.

On the other hand, I must admit, cats are clean.

Any cat present at the ZOA House would have swooned over the wealth of treats and products on offer: especially soft kitty litters, small carpets to be ruined, and games. The games - little rodent-like cloth bags and bubble soap - seemed very childish. Dr. Neville quickly addressed this: The cat is a predator, and ought to be treated as such.

Dr. Neville was wearing a gray suit, and a little stud twinkled surprisingly from his earlobe. His hands were in his pockets. The doctor, a biologist by education, began by asking his audience whether any of them had more than four cats. About 15 hands rose. Wow, he probably said to himself, I am dealing with hardened professionals. He went right on to a vicious attack on dogs. Apparently cat lovers yearn for this kind of malicious gossip. Dogs are old competitors for human affection, and Dr. Neville knew just how to address them: as hopeless dupes that preserved their hunting instincts but were no longer predators. The dog hunts his prey, but - the idiot - brings it back to his master instead of renting it, like the cat does.

Conniving predator

Dr. Neville is a great proponent of feline devilishness. The cat is a conniving predator that has everyone fooled. It sits on the couch looking innocent, helping itself to nourishing meals, but occasionally escapes into the yard. There it kills a bird, devours a mouse, tramples a few flowers. Then it returns to its master's lap, tenderly purring. Observe this serial killer, fondly chuckled Dr. Neville, signing off with a short, dry English "hm."

The personification of animals is always fascinating. This is how Walt Disney captured the hearts of millions. Dr. Neville's cats are Londoners on the way to the neighborhood pub. Look, for instance, at this cat: This is a 45-year-old who still lives with his mommy, drinking his beer, with no interest in women. Across the street is the tough bully who left home at a young age, who smokes on street corners and gets all the girls.

The afternoon session was dedicated to feelings (cats' feelings!) and how to deal with them.

At the next convention, they would do well to dedicate an hour to the feelings of cat owners, or - why not? - feelings in general. But the cats may not show any interest.