Cats as a species have a reputation for being graceful, clean, aloof, inscrutable, finicky, and sneaky.
I’m here to tell you that none of that’s true. Cats just have a really good PR agency.
Here’s the truth of the matter.
Cats are graceful. Cats certainly look all graceful when they stretch or make elegant arches, but any action more complicated than that can go seriously awry. Among the things that I have seen cats do are run head-first into a clear glass door (to be fair, I’ve done that too), climb the curtains and get stuck at the top, put a paw in the water bowl and upend it, and run furiously up the stairs dragging a plastic bag tangled around one foot. A few cats may aspire to or pretend a certain amount of dignity, but it is a thin veneer, easily dispelled by one misjudged leap. If you watch closely you can even catch the cat give an “I hope nobody was looking” look.
Cats are clean. They may try to be, but any animal whose idea of grooming is licking themselves all over is never going to be truly clean. Think about it. For one thing, all that grooming leads to hairballs, which are like huge dust bunnies, only gooey and therefore worse to step on in bare feet.
Many cats are also prone to sticking their heads right under the cat food can as you try to put food in their dishes. Therefore, many cats have small blobs of cat food on their heads, ears, and/or whiskers. You try walking around with food on your head all day and see how clean you feel.
Also, some cats are, shall we say, less than champion groomers. The long-haired ones in particular need some help. Without it they are prone to what blogger Jim Wright refers to as “ass-fur turds.” They’re no fun to remove, for either you or the cat. Hint: The cat won’t do it, so you have to.
Cats are aloof. Supposedly standoffish, cats can instantly sense who in the room most dislikes cats and will spend considerable time rubbing themselves all over that person. Even a cat with a reputation for being shy and gentle has been known to get up in a person’s face and deliver nose touches, head bonks, and the occasional sneeze or nip. (See above, cleanliness.) They may also demonstrate their affection by obsessively licking a person’s face, or indeed any exposed skin. If that’s aloof, we definitely have different definitions of the concept.
Cats are inscrutable. On the contrary, they’re almost entirely scrutable. If you don’t know what a cat is thinking, it’s generally “Is it almost time for food?” or “I’ll stare at nothing until these people think they have ghosts.” Cats also make their opinions pretty clear. They use, or rather not use, the litter box as a platform for delivering smelly messages, all of which translate as “You annoy me, human, now cut it out or you pay.”
They can also express emotions in transparently clear body language. One cat I knew, when offended, could snub like you have never been snubbed. She would ostentatiously turn her back, then give little peeks back over her shoulder just to make sure you knew you were being well and truly snubbed and were properly contrite.
Cats are finicky. Not the cats I’ve known. Various cats of my acquaintance have had dietary preferences for corn, pumpkin, bread, vegetable soup, Cheerios, Vaseline, donuts, and Milky Way bars. (Don’t bother telling me that chocolate is bad for cats. I know it’s supposed to be, but I can only report that the cat that ate the Milky Way bar continued alive and well for a good many years.)
Occasionally a cat will pretend to be finicky just to confuse and distress you. They will shun a flavor of cat food that yesterday they inhaled, then do the same with whatever variety you replace it with. This is just a little game that cats play. Humans fall for it every time. Trust me, they aren’t going to starve, no matter how pitiful they may try to look. (Note: All cats are capable of that Puss-in-Boots pathetic, sorrowful unloved kitten look.)
Cats are sneaky. They are reputed to commit violence on smaller animals and then try to hide the evidence. This may be partly true. I have known cats to hide their kills, though really I think they are just saving them for later – especially the cat who stored dead mice in the sofa springs, his own personal pantry. But most cats willingly share mice, birds, moles, snakes, and anything else they catch with their humans. They don’t sneak around about it. They leave the carcasses where are you are sure to find them, or simply drop them at your feet. If they’re polite, they’ll leave a half-mouse in the bathtub, where it’s easy to clean up.
Now you have the facts. If you’re thinking of allowing a cat to own you, you’ll know what you’re getting into – a relationship with the worst roommate ever. Who will fascinate, entertain, and love you, even while decimating your house, belongings, nerves, and poise. In my life, that’s considered a good trade.