Monday, 19 November 2007

November 19th – Cats and us

Some times it is really difficult, well at least most of the times, to know for certain which is the best way to behave and communicate with your pets. People normally consider their pets as members of the family and in some cases when there are no children in the household become the 'replacement' children. We normally care, pamper and quite often spoil our pets and we are at the same time convinced that they understand us and return, in their own way, the love and care they get from us.
There are many examples from cat/pet owners in which they describe situations when their pets have comfort them when they were unwell, or under stress, unhappy, etc. There are even examples of pets that they have even saved their human carers when their lives were in danger. Our cats seem to know when we are coming home, when we want to play and be entertained and when we just want some company. They never complain or get annoy with us and they are always there when we need them.
But sometimes we are told that we seem to forget one simple fact of life. That our pets are not humans, they are of a different species and that perhaps their behaviour might not be what we think that it actually is. Questions often have being raised (and answered for us) on whether our pets see things the way we do and whether we are just perhaps too 'enthusiastic' and we just put too much 'meaning' on our pets' behaviour. There seems to be a lot of disagreement on whether pets and other animals have similar cognitive capabilities and emotions with us and whether our pets can have a 'theory of mind' or self consciousness. A subject which is really hard to prove or disapprove since animals do not have the capability of language as humans so they can answer our questions about them.
But beliefs of simple 'natural' or innate and just evolutionary behaviour from our pets are just too hard to be easily accepted from most of pet carers since we strongly believe that our pets know and understand us and even in some occasions 'talk' to us as we are too attach to them and we have stopped long ago to just see them as 'stupid animals' and instead we see them as our bets friends, children, companions, etc.
Our domesticated pets have spent far too many years in our social environment to have not being influenced by the human behaviour and way of thinking.
No matter what scientists have found there is no way that they can convince me that when I'm ill and stay in bed and my cat decides to stay next to me all the time, and not even wants to eat till I finally I'm well enough to get up myself, that this is a natural cat behaviour wired to his brain from birth. Cats and of course dogs will often do things because they simply want and not always because there is something for them to gain. My cat knows that the little black mouse that she plays with is a toy and not a real one but still decides that she wants to play with it and have some fun when she feels like. My other cat also knows when my partner is coming downstairs as he can recognise him from the sound his footsteps make on the stairs so he can rush and sit on my partner's chair first. He also knows too well that my partner is the one that he will give in to his begging for food when it isn't dinner time and he will look for him instead of me when he wants a snack.
If all these actions do not show a self consciousness and awareness and a capability of mental representations and symbolic interaction then perhaps we need to redefine all these concepts. And if pets do not use language why cats always use different meows with their humans and not with each other, if this doesn't mean that they are aware that humans use and understand better sounds than body language and therefore we seem to be able to understand the meaning of their different meows? Who is to say that all these meows are not words and that our cats are capable of using a simple form of cat language with no syntax and grammatical rules perhaps that they just use to communicate with us?
The fact is that we don't a lot about our brains and we are in most cases assuming how it it possible might work and how it might affect our behaviour and that we know a lot less about other species brains to even assuming anything.

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