Friday, February 17, 2012

The Myth of the “Independent Cat”

By Julia Williams

As stereotypes about cats go, the two I dislike almost as much as that Crazy Cat Lady thing are “felines are so independent” and “cats are not affectionate.” If I had a dollar for every time I read those and similar statements in some blog or article on the internet, I’m pretty sure I would be living on a tropical island (or at least someplace where the winters aren’t so inhospitable.) Time after time, cats are described as aloof, unfeeling, unfriendly, not desiring human companionship, able to take care of themselves, wanting no interaction with their owner, etc. etc.

I have to wonder who all these people are, and have they ever lived with a cat? I’ve shared my home with 11 cats over my lifetime, and none of mine have ever been any of those things. On the contrary, they’ve all been friendly, loving souls who clearly crave and love human companionship. I also know countless many people –family and friends in real life as well as pet blogging acquaintances – who have formed close, loving bonds with their feline friends. Surely all of our affectionate, human-loving cats were not flukes! Yet that myth of the feline as a totally independent creature incapable of love is everywhere.

One the one hand, I have to laugh since it’s such a ridiculous notion to me. On the other hand, it’s kind of sad because who knows how many homeless cats in shelters are overlooked by people who hear and read that nonsense many times over… and actually believe it. They rush little Sally and Billy past the cages with the cats without so much as a glance in their direction, because they want a family pet that the kids can interact with and share love and affection, and everyone knows that isn’t what cats are like, right? Of course.

So the family adopts a dog instead and the children never know that a cat could be a fun, funny, loving, sweet, and wonderful pet that would enrich their life in so many ways. It’s a crying shame. Oh, it’s great for all the shelter dogs that find a forever home, to be sure. Yet it’s mighty unfair to all the cats who’ve done nothing to deserve this negative label.

Unfriendly cats who don’t want human companionship do exist, but in most cases they’re a product of past mistreatment or neglect, or an aloof, disinterested owner who doesn’t understand their cat or take the time to figure out what it needs and wants. If you put any dog in that same situation, wouldn’t the result be the same? You have to earn a pet’s love, it’s not a given.

Recently when talking to a friend about this “cats are independent” myth, the discussion turned to wondering why so many more men than women dislike cats. Oh sure, there are plenty of men who love cats, but everyone I know who actually dislikes them is male, and it was the same for my friend. She theorized that it might be because cats are “soft, quiet, and elegant...everything a man is not. And most of all, whether it’s a male or a female, cats seem feminine.” Hmmm.

I don’t really know why many men dislike cats, but her theory makes sense to me and it’s likely the same reason you rarely see a man with a tiny dog. Men go for the big, burly, rough-and-tumble dogs because they seem more masculine than an itty bitty Chihuahua…or a cat. The funny thing is, every pet is an individual. Like snowflakes, no two are alike. They all have their own unique quirks and personalities. Not every cat is as loving and cuddly as my sweet Annabelle, and not every dog will idolize you as though you’re the one who makes the sun rise and set. But to me, this individuality is exactly what makes pet ownership such a joy!

Photo by Jason and Kris Carter

Read more articles by Julia Williams


  1. I do hate that myth that cats are independent. That is just not true. But the Crazy cat Lady doesn't bother me at all. I am extremely proud to be a crazy cat lady. I am not crazy but I sure am crazy about my cats. Just depends on how you define that word 'crazy'. Take care and have a great week end.

  2. One visit to my house to view all the NEEDY cats would dispel the "independent" myth for anybody, forever, LOL. Even Scouty, who is semi-feral, enjoys our company and hangs out with us in the evening.

    1. Hey Katnip, I just HAD to reply to this. I have a semi-feral cat named Scout and we call him Scouty!!!! He also enjoys our company and hangs with us when we are outside. He loves to sit in your lap and talk to you!

  3. I think the idea that cats are independent is often misunderstood. I do love cats for that very reason (among a million others!) because while dogs love everyone, the love of a cat, in my opinion, is truly special. But that's an independence of spirit, it doesn't mean that they don't need love and people who love them in their lives.

    As for the Crazy Cat Lady stereotype, don't even get me started!

  4. I (Frankie Furter) have never lived with a cat...
    BUTT... my mom had ONE.. and he was OUTSTANDING... he went to school with her every day for the 3 years that she taught multiply Handicapped 5 to 10 year olds. HE was ASTOUNDING.. he could predict one of the students "episodes" and when they would finally END.. he would lay on her Lap and soothed her.
    He was not independent at ALL... HE was Wonderful. Well, that is what they tell me any way.

  5. In truth, after my ex and I split, years ago now, I adopted a cat (Chumley) because I wanted company and thought a cat would be more independent, less work than a dog. (I had grown up with dogs and horses, cats were either barn cats or indoor/outdoor country animals). It didn't take long to realize that cats are NOT independent, aloof, self-contained, etc. I've had only the four, but every single one of them has been affectionate and needy, in their own way. Of the four, Annie was the most independent. But the three boys--very needy.

  6. I read an article a few years back that said that currently more US women own dogs than do men, but I don't remember if the stereotype had been fully flipped with more men than women owning cats. From what I recall, it said more men were adopting cats Because they were seen as more independent, and more women were adopting dogs because of the perception of being able to have a more in-depth emotional relationship with a dog.

  7. Julia - DO TELL. Who is that in the picture? THAT CAT IS HUGE!

    Thanks for bringing this up. I tend to get upset when I hear people say that cats are independent so they leave the cat for three or four days without anyone checking in on her. THEN they have the nerve to say the cat was "bad" and left a "present" on their stairs or bed. Well, that "present" is really the cat communicating the only way it knows how to get your attention. Going outside of the litter box is a form of communication and if you leave your cat for a few days without company, they are going to tell you that they find that very unacceptable!

    I like what Ingrid said, "an independence of spirit". I think that hits it on the head and this is what causes the confusion. Poor cats, they do get a bad rap.

  8. I agree! I also don't like when people say cats aren't social beings with other cats. Of course, there are some cats who prefer to live with humans over other cats, but most cats love feline companionship and often form quite complex and loving relationships with other cats. Great post!

  9. isn't it sad that even pets have stereotypes? Geeze! i have to agree that most men if they don't like cats associate them with being feminine.

    I have known some men who were allergic though.

    I also have sadly, known MANY women who don't like cats either. Go figure!

  10. I know the truth, that cats are NOT independent and are in fact quite lovable...and that if I allow one into the house, he or she will eclipse me with his or her cuteness, and take away ALL the attention that was previously mine. Mine, I say! Hence, all my bluster about disliking felines (when it's really about me not wanting to share the spotlight). Woofs, wags and true confessions ~ Bella the Boxer

  11. I think you may recall what *I* think. I agree 100% with every line in this article and I totally agree that men by and large appear not to favor cats because they are feminine looking, soft, elegant, clean,quiet and NOT DOGS! WHY can't people understand they are TWO DIFFERENT SPECIES!?

    You can't and don't expect dogs to act like cats but if a cat doesn't have dog -like characteristics..they are "aloof, antisocial, independent" and ad infinitum.

    My cats have shown demonstrable love to me and my three sons are cat men.

    And irresponsible dolts who go off and leave a cat without company, interaction and many times without enough food..that makes me sick.

    I know, this isn't my blog. Sorry for the rant.

  12. One of Mom's workmate used to live with cat when he was a kid, and he said " cat is selfish " , and now he has dog. Mom think he just don't understand the word " Unique Affectionate "

    Mom is new for cat pawson but she learn real fast ! I remember I use to bite her ( no blood ) at the first time of our relationship. She was cry because she thought I don't love her. But since she know the word " Love Bite " , now she is on to it ; ) now I can play love bite with her every day with her full protection. and I can sleep on her chest ( like your photo ) with my upgrade weight ( 6.8 kg. or 14.9 lb ). she said I'm pretty heavy but believe it or not mom fall asleep...MOL

  13. Julia - I love this post because it echos the very sentiment of why I wrote my book, The Chronicles of Zee & Zoey. I just want the whole world to recognize how special, loving, and unique each and every cat is. Sure, some of them might have an independent streak, but that certainly does not mean that they are not loving! As far as crazy, I agree with Marg - I am crazy with passion, love, and dedication for the feline species and I those people that don't get it, are missing out on something so very special...

  14. Julia
    There is nothing more special to me than to see Madi looking at me with her loving green eyes. I just hope I can be the wonderful person she thinks I am. Lovely post!!
    Hugs Madi's Mom and proud of it!!

  15. I couldn’t agree more with you. Even though I blog about Austin’s dislike of cuddling (being held, really) he is really the most affectionate of kitties and I know he thinks I’m his mom. And like the last comment, just to see the way he looks at me melts my heart. AND I know plenty of men who like cats as well as plenty of women who don’t. It’s a rum old world :)

  16. I agree with you one hundred percent. Mom Julie has done a little research on the subject and it turns out cat lovers are usually better educated compared to solely dog owners. Cats encourage a bond on a much deeper level, too, and many of the dog owners I've known over the years are not capable of recognizing the sort of spirituality cats represent.

    Tom, Mom Julie & Mittens

  17. I think you nailed it and you are very kitty wise fur sure!

  18. Great post, Julia. We find it amazing when someone says they don't like cats. What's not to like about us?? We are not aloof, standoff-ish, etc. We agree with you, Julia...we are friendly, outgoing and give lots of love. Of course, every cat is different. But that's what makes us so special!

    pee ess....about our Ess...the reason why it looks so good after 3 years is because we hardly ever use it. Ernie is the only one that will sit on it, and only just recently he began scratching on it. We much prefer the cardboard scratchers...or the carpet, much to our mom's dismay!

  19. We *always* roll our eyes when people say things like, "cats are aloof," or "cats are independent." Not true, in our experiences. So sad that people buy into these stereotypes without really knowing. We actually know some women who don't like cats, but yes, it does seem that there are more men who don't. I, of course, think those men are missing out big time! :)

  20. My cat is such a lover. And I'd never had a cat until I married my husband - who is a cat person through and through. I thank him for introducing me to the joy of feline companionship daily.

  21. Your post is very insightful Julia. I think because dogs (in general, not always) tend to come to strangers or acquaintances for attention and petting, people (especially those who don't have pets or cats) tend to expect cats to come to them in the same open and indiscriminate way dogs do. Sometimes cats are more reserved with people they don't know at all or are only vaguely familiar with. People then carry that over and assume that's how a cat would be if they had them as a pet, of course not true.

  22. Love the blog but alas while cats should not be stereotyped neither should men or people...just saying..maybe your friend has not met "soft, quiet, and elegant"...everything a man is not." Men....which I have, and NOT just gay ones either, lol!!

  23. Thanks for writing this article, I always ranting and raving when people say cats are anti-social, my cat is always waiting at the door when I get home, he wakes me up every morning, and moans and groans every time I leave. As to dogs, when mine were still alive they weren't needy or anything, they were just good companions to waste away the day with, just sitting and whittling. I've known a couple of women who hated cats but sadly most are men, I know for me I always looked up to my grandfather whose cat was always in his lap, and he was a gun owning, beer drinking, tree felling who fixed cars and rewired houses and fished, so I never saw anything conflicting about being a a cat lover and being an all purpose "mans man".

  24. Hey Julia, I like that pic with your cat laying on you like that! I have 6 cats myself, 4 indoor only and 2 outdoor (came with the house). I love them ALL so much and they are a ton of fun. I have a male named Murphy that lays on me like yours is. He's such a lover and so sweet! He comes running when I get home and follows me around for the rest of the day/night. He likes to "help" me do chores and projects around the house, always checking on what it is that I am doing and tries to get his paws into the mix. I will forever be a cat parson and I am a male. Thanks for the post!


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