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Fragments 5

Katz is Human

by Hugo Myatt

OK, I know what you're going to say: 'Anthropomorphism is unscientific nonsense.' I, too, have read Desmond Morris. Well, don't you believe it — Katz is human.

Katz Katz is my cat; or, as he sees it, I am his person. Zoologically speaking, he is a ginger tabby; but what a meagre description of such a personality! There you are, you see — personality, as in person: i.e. homo sapiens. How does one define personality? My dictionary defines it as 'the state of being a person; characteristics as perceived by others'. Well, Katz has got characteristics in plenty!


He is neurotic, a condition I put down to having suffered a severe physical loss at an early age. This neurosis comes out in several human ways. For instance, Katz is insanely jealous. The object of his jealousy is print; be it newsprint or books, he is determined to oust it. Anyone in our house foolhardy enough to pick up a book or a newspaper can guarantee that within seconds, a furry ginger lump will have interposed itself solidly between eye and print. Turning the page becomes impossible. The only solution to this problem is to have a diversionary reader, since Katz cannot be in two places at once. Recently he has included the keyboard in his campaign; I am having to use the overarm method to type this account.


Should Katz be thwarted in his battle with newsprint, or indeed for any other reason, he will sulk. He has turned sulking into a minor art form. First, he finds a suitable bleak corner and sits face to the wall. Food and drink are steadfastly refused, and a hurt silence pervades the atmosphere. You try to stroke him; the fur rises at the nape of his neck, the tail curls closer, the face remains averted. After about five minutes — if you are lucky — a minute purr is detected. Now you must really strive. Stroking and cooing, you must work that tiny ember up into the warmth of human contact. Any premature relaxation will condemn you to icy coldness again.


Of course, it is a very selfish approach to personal relationships — but isn't that human too? If I had to categorise Katz's exact position in the family, it would be that of a wayward child. He is anarchical and irresponsible, yet demanding and dependent. Like all children he has fads, especially about food. If one day you find that he likes heart-flavoured cat food, it is a mistake to assume that he will go on liking it. In fact, buy a cupboard full of it and he will oblige you by being sick when you open the second tin. Even buying a tin of every known type does not always work. Katz will demonstrate his hunger by piteous whining; he is a consummate actor. In desperation you open five or six different tins; he turns up his nose at all of them. 'But you're hungry!' you shout. His exasperated stare makes it clear he is not hungry for that.

Actually, Katz prefers human fare. High-quality meats cooked in wine, herbs or garlic are all welcome. Even omelettes and custard puddings are appreciated. One thing Katz has not mastered is the portion system — or perhaps he has. Anyway, to him, enough is never sufficient. At mealtimes he resents special treatment; he may be shorter than the rest of us, but that is no reason to feed him on the floor. He would much prefer to join us up on the table. This battle has yet to be resolved to his satisfaction.

Cat door

Battles in general Katz rather relishes. He is very good on the psychological level; he believes that other people should be subordinate. To make life easier for him, and the family in general, we fitted a cat door. For a year he refused, on principle, to use it. He would stand at the door, first whining and then scratching until, finally, you let him out. The process would be repeated on the outside until you let him in. If you had been too slow about it, sulks would immediately follow. It wasn't until late one night, when I was quietly rewiring a plug, that Katz slithered stealthily in through the cat door. He stopped dead, guiltily, on seeing me and then, with a cheeky yelp, raced upstairs to hide.

Hide-and-seek is one of Katz's favourite games. He is fully conversant with the words 'vet', 'flea spray' and 'cattery'. Mention one of them in his presence and bang goes the cat door as he disappears for a couple of hours. Nowadays we make sure we catch him first before phoning the vet for an appointment.

Tail washing

Another game he loves to play is 'exercise the master'. This has that wonderful element of simplicity, and is usually played during a favourite television programme. Katz rises lazily from in front of the fire, stretches, and crosses to the door. There he sits, gazing longingly at the handle. Eventually, you tear yourself away from the set and open the door. Curiously, Katz is suddenly absorbed in washing his tail. Exasperated, you shut the door and sit down again. Just as you have got back into the plot, a frantic scratching erupts from the door. You rush to open it to save the paint. Katz goes out. Is that the end of it? Oh, no: five minutes later comes the sound of the hall carpet being torn up by the roots. You leap to the door; Katz is innocently washing his tail again. This game can go on ad infinitum. The only solution — his intention all along — is for you to sit in a draught and give him free access to come and go as he pleases.

Having come so far with my argument, though, I am beginning to have doubts. Perhaps Desmond Morris could be right and my interpretation is topsy-turvy. Could it be, after all, not so much that I endow Katz with human characteristics as that he endows me with feline ones?

[ This article appeared in Woman and Home magazine in the UK, decades ago. Desmond Morris (mentioned at the beginning of the piece) is a naturalist and former curator of London Zoo who is well known for his research into human and animal behaviour, and has written numerous books on the subject. ]

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Our featured feline at the head of the page, and your companion through Feline Fragments, is Maggie. She came as a kitten from Powys Cat Rescue. One of their volunteers had seen her wandering around, apparently uncared for, and thought her rather young to be just left to roam. The person 'responsible' for her said she 'didn't care', and so the youngster was taken in for rehoming. Only about 4 months old when I brought her home in 2003, she was a self-assured soul, probably because of her early experience, and was soon climbing all the available trees in the garden. She was a determined hunter in her earlier days, and was usually outside, but now prefers snoozing unless the weather is good. She has superb whiskers — and as the photo shows, loves getting into things! (see it here without the puzzle effect)

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