by Soojin Um
Cats face an uphill battle when it comes to the public’s affections. You have to be patient and understanding to be a cat person. Dog parents have it easy by comparison. Most dog people say they find cats off-putting, unfriendly, distant – and those are the compliments. When dog parents come home from a day at work, they are greeted with barking, and running around, and jumping up and down, and nonstop face licking. When cat parents come home, we get a look up from sleeping, perhaps a stretch, and maybe, just maybe if we’re really lucky, they’ll rub their bodies on our legs. Even if they do, their faces will remain impassive.
So, what gives? Do our cats hate us? Actually, it’s not that at all but just how they’re biologically hardwired to be on alert and cautious at all times. They have not yet given us their full trust as dogs have. In the timeline of life, cats are relative newcomers to the human community, and they’re still at the introductory stage where everyone is a (virtual) stranger. In essence, cats are still wild animals that live in our homes. If raised from a kitten, a cat will recognize its owner as a mother (or father) figure, and may stay adolescent through adulthood. However, that level of trust exists only for the immediate family. Even if they are calm around neighbors, they may still never trust them 100%.
All wild animals have the serious “resting face.” Take, for instance, wolves. Wolves and dogs have a 99.8% similarity in DNA. Some breeds of dogs even look like wolves or have wolf-like features. Yet, wolves have expressionless faces (except when growling), unlike dogs who exhibit a wide variety of expressions. As dogs became domesticated over the past 30,000 years, they have learned to tune into our emotions through our facial expressions, and in doing so also learned to mimic those expressions for communication with us. Cats, on the other hand, have only been domesticated for a tenth of that time. Even then, except maybe during the time of the ancient Egyptians, domestic cats have only recently been kept solely as pets. Before the 20th century, most cats were barn or ship cats, working for their livelihood.
Perhaps the best known example of a cat with a grouchy face is Grumpy Cat. We all know about Grumpy Cat, we’ve all enjoyed the pictures and the memes. Her real name is Tardar Sauce, and she is as cute as she is funny. She gets her “grumpy” look from a condition called feline dwarfism, as well as a pronounced under bite. Grumpy Cat is such an internet sensation that her schedule is pretty full with media appearances and fan events. She even has a bestselling book and a line of grumpy merchandise. There is one thing her cat parent Tabatha Bundesen wants everyone to know: Grumpy Cat is not actually grumpy. She is a sweet cat who loves to play and cuddle with her family. It only goes to show, you can’t judge a cat by its grumpy face.
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