There are people who will tell you that dogs are much smarter than cats because you can teach a dog tricks, but not cats. Not only is that a strange judge of intelligence in my book, but it’s simply not true. What any cat person worth his salt will tell you is that cats simply choose when they want to do something, and that is the proof of their intelligence. That’s why the love of a cat is a treasure – dogs will like you any time, anywhere. The gift of cat affection (thank you Garrison Keillor) is just that: a gift. You can’t earn it, so you know when you’re getting it that it’s the real deal.
You’ll also hear that cats have no personality. Imagine if you will that I’ve just rolled my eyes as big as possible. In fact, I’ve taken them out of my head and rolled them around the room. That’s how ridiculous I think the phrase “cats have no personality” is. My two cats are as distinct as night and day. Dala is sweet, loving, and friendly. Nutmeg is a jerk. She can be mean, she can be nice, she can be sweet, but she’s usually just a jerk. Try to pet her head and you’ll get the open-mouthed-almost-bite. Pick her up and she’ll meow like you’re trying to shiv her in the shower in some sort of cat prison. Try to scratch her belly and you’ll pull back a stump. She’s just…jerky.
Which is why it’s so odd that she’s developed this little ritual that she does. Every day after I’ve showered, I’ll open the bathroom door and she’ll come in. She’s obviously been waiting for the door to be opened, and she comes in and makes an inspection of the room, and then winds herself around my legs for a few minutes, purring. Then she leaves and she’s back to being a jerk, until it’s time to try to sit on my lap and love on me while I’m trying to play Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic or something.
I’m not sure if she just misses me for the twenty minutes I’ve got the door closed, or what. Maybe it’s just the fact that a door is closed and she doesn’t have the freedom to go where she chooses. Comedienne Paula Poundstone (famous for talking about cats) has a bit where she talks about using a water bottle to spray the cats when they were doing something bad (an excellent deterrent, by the way), and then the cats being amazed when she showered. She imagined that they were saying, “What did you do to deserve that?!?” So maybe Nutmeg’s worried about me.
I’m thinking the answer is simpler than that. I’ve heard it said that a dog will spend the rest of its life pining over the loss of its owner, even going so far as to sit on its owner’s grave all day every day. But a cat will start using its owner’s body as a food source after 48 hours if no one has found them. Cold? Unfeeling? Clinical? Ruthless? Maybe. Or maybe it’s just the best answer in the situation. How else will they eat? No one’s pouring the food for them anymore…
So I think that when Nutmeg comes in to check on me in the morning, she’s not really expressing love. I think she’s reading a menu to see what’s available for the day.