So, I’ve been reading up on anthropomorphism which is, for those who don’t know is “Giving human characteristics to animals, inanimate objects or natural phenomena.” We all do it. To our pets, the computer when it won’t work, naming hurricanes and so on.
Why am I reading up on this?
Well, last week we were out walking the cat, as we do, for reasons I’ll come back too. We do this twice or three times a week, take him into the hills or around town when we do errands and have lunch (we sit outside – Micky gets a saucer of milk). We haven’t been able to take him out as regularly as we have been over the last couple of weeks because of the wedding so it was good to get him out before he went really insane. We did our errands, and I was waiting with him outside the greengrocers, both of us minding our buisness, Micky trying to go under the van parked next to us, and as Kate Ellen comes out of the shop a random woman I have never even seen in Aberystwyth before comes up to us to tell us our cat isn’t happy.
Apparently she could see that the cat wasn’t happy.
There are so many things wrong with that statement.
The mood and general life satisfaction of this cat, that she has never seen before, and has spent a max of five minutes observing, is none of her business. We saved this cat, found him hungry, skinny, dirty, and unable to hold himself up properly. Took him in, paid for his vet bills – about £100 in all to have his all but two of his rotting teeth removed – mushed or blended his food for two weeks, let his flea ridden bony bum sleep in my bed and took three months to unflea him, doing all this despite the fact that I hate cats. Hate them (Kate Ellen loves them, and I love her). I did all this because I am a nice person. And when it became obvious how stupid my new pet was – I live in a one bedroom flat and he gets lost most nights – and how much he wanted to go outside, despite the fact that it’s insane, and possibly stupid, we walked the cat. He can’t survive outside, if he could, he wouldn’t have been in such back shape when we found him. He has no teeth any more, and as hard as his gums have become, I’m pretty sure he can’t eat a mouse. Or catch one. Or even notice one when it went by.
The cat gets what he needs from the walks (I’m not sure exactly what it is but he doesn’t try desperately to climb out of my bathroom window any more. Which is good cause he kept knocking my toiletries into my toilet. It was getting expensive.
Anyway, the cat gets what he needs from his walks, except the fulfilment of going under vehicles, cause it’s dangerous and awkward.
This is what I should’ve said to the woman, assuming she’d stuck around long enough to listen to all of that. What I actually said was ‘mind you own business’ and ‘fuck off’. As well as giving her the finger. Not my greatest moment but I’m not the most eloquent of people in person, and anger me and I’m even worse. Give me a piece of paper and a couple of days and I’m great but not so much when I actually have to speak to people. That’s a post for another day.
Another problem with this woman’s assumption is that Micky has the ability to be happy. Or unhappy as the case may be. I’m not entirely sure Micky is ever really happy as we humans define it. Unless he is eating or purring. And he often purrs when he eats. He likes sleeping too. The rest of the time he looks grumpy. I think which is my point. How the hell do you tell what he’s feeling? When he’s eating it’s obvious, he’s chowing down like there is a hole in the bottom of his food bowl swallowing up his food. And when he’s purring, he’s purring. Though I recently learnt cats also purr when they are upset too, so it’s not so cut and dry.
Even I, who have had this cat for eight months now, can never be sure what the cat feels. Because it is a cat. All I know is that his needs are being met and he’s stupid enough to get lost in a flat that has all of three rooms. Kate Ellen has had a lot of cats, and even she can’t be sure, because she’s not a cat. She can only assume based on experience I suppose.
Another example is Perry, our frog. We found him in the street, picked him up and took him home. Now he lives in a tank on our bookshelf, eating crickets and jumping about. A couple of people think we should let him go, a volunteer at Oxfam kept asking “how do you know?” when I said he was okay living in the tank with us.
I know he’s okay because he gets fed and has all his basic needs. And because my wife used to keep frogs in America. I know because anything else you assume he needs is anthropomorphism. He needs to be looked after if he lives with us, but he is neither happy nor sad. He looks grumpy all the time to me. Frogs do though, we personify the idea of grumpiness onto their faces. Really, they look like frogs. Neither happy, sad or otherwise. Unless he’s eating the crickets and then he looks a little gross.
I guess the point of this post was to tell you about the incident with the stupid woman on the street and to tell you about how I hate when people over-anthropomorphise animals. It’s okay to a certain extent, it can be funny too. I do it all the time, hell, Micky has a tumblr, and an accent (don’t ask what sort of accent, it varies from day to day). I joke that Small Fry is anxious, but he’s a tiny little hamster and I’m a big human, of course he’s scared! I have a hundred other examples but I don’t take them seriously, I know my mum’s dog is not depressed, but she sure as hell looks like it sometimes from my human point of view and using my known emotions.
Today I took my cat out again into town, a little worried that I would run into the woman again or that someone else would criticise the mood of my cat. No one has before, in all the months we’ve been walking this daft cat, and no one probably will again for months. If I see this woman again, I hope to keep my cool. Or set the cat on her.
As if I could get the cat to do anything he didn’t want to….