I'm currently reading Dr. John Bradshaw's Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend .... For cat lovers, this book is a virtual encyclopedia of the recent research into cats, covering cat behavior and cat genetics. Bradshaw acknowledges two main things that work against cats. One has to do with the damage feral cats do. The other has to do with the irrational antipathy many people seem to feel toward cats. It seems to be akin to the antipathy some people feel toward spiders or snakes. While felineophiles see cats as remarkably beautiful and fascinating creatures, other people find cats weird, creepy, and worthy of suspicion or even fear.
In truth, Bradshaw's research has shown that feral cats are the problem, not the family cat who is allowed to roam. Feral cats do about two kills a day just to survive. Few family cats kill more then twice a week, an amount that might even be justified in terms of replacing the natural wild predators who shy away from areas settled by humans.
Many wildlife lovers don't make the distinction between tame and feral cats and portray the problem as simply a cat problem. If their antipathy is mild, they will insist on all cats being kept indoors and on being neutered. They may also insist on obliterating all outdoor cats. This is a probem because there really is no practical way to distinguish between a feral cat and a family pet who managed to get outdoors.
Poisons and bullets don't ask questions.
Another problem cats have is their independence and aloofness, which makes them unappealing to the sort of family that likes dogs. Cats socialize with their family whenever they feel like it. Dogs pretty much have to be pried away from the family.
Dr. Bradshaw feels that, in order to save the cat, we need to genetically re-engineer it.
Imagine a cat that's eager to please, that wants to spend all its time with the family rather than prowling the neighborhood, that you can take for a walk and heels like a dog, that fetches small sticks, that you could take hunting with you.
Think that's impossible? Look at what mankind has done with dogs. We've turned a wild animal, the wolf, into the modern dog.
We've been very successful breeding cats. However, we've pretty much bred them for their coats and for the flat face. We've never even tried breeding for things like personality, affection, loyalty. Perhaps trying is all we need to do to make cats more like dogs.
My question is this: Should we nip the catness out of cats?
I think this will inevitably happen if we manage to do something about the feral cat population. The reason cats are so homologous ,compared to dogs , is largely due to the fact that feral and tame cat populations have continuously interbred, lessening any evolutionary pressure from domestication. So if we do something about the feral cat population, or at least halt the interbreeding between feral and tame cat populations, then we will find house cats increasingly becoming domesticated at a much faster rate. Which will invariably lead to selecting for tameness, friendliness, playfulness and other neotenous traits.
Now i have no clue if this is something most cat owners would desire, as while I really like cats i do prefer dogs. So my biased opinion is that i rather like the idea of cats with more dog like characteristics. If nothing else it would finally allow people to breed cats the size of a large dog without them being much more dangerous than a large dog.
I'm one of those cat lovers who likes cats just the way they are. To me, the characteristics of the domestic cat pretty much define it for me. A cat that was eager to please me, like a dog, would be an abomination.
Feral cats are just domestic cats without a home. They are not a separate body of DNA. That would be felis silvestris lybica, a species that most felis catus (domestic cats) have no access to.
If super-domesticated cats were bred, I would hope that normal domestic cats were still allowed to exist.
"Feral cats are just domestic cats without a home. They are not a separate body of DNA."
I know that, but cats are the only domesticated animal that is free to mate with it's non domesticated brethren, creating a single species comprised of two groups with wildly different evolutionary pressures. While usually in such a situation the two groups would have diverged from one another. Well at least if we kept interbreeding to a minimum like with other animals we have domesticated.
Bradshaw is proposing an intense breeding program, breeding cat parents with the most positive characteristics to create a kind of super-domesticated subspecies. These animals might be physically isolated, not just from feral cats but from normal domestic housecats.
As for the feral cat problem, much as I love cats, it might take an intensive trapping and euthanasia program. Domestic housecats might be required to be microchipped, and perhaps the traps could be fitted with electronics to ignore microchipped cats.
Neutering and releasing toms doesn't hold much promise, since the unspayed queens seem to select males on their aggressiveness and sexual vigor and neutered males lack in both areas.
Such a trapping program would need to be nearly 100% efficient. Why? Because if it isn't, and it allows the toughest and wiliest cats to go free, it is just creating a super-feral cat subspecies.
No! One of the things I love about cats is how some of them seem to tolerate humans out of mercy for the wretched creatures we are.
Although there are many breeds of dogs and cats I like, I dislike that we breed animals to meet our needs even if it harms the animals, like your example of the cats with smushed faces. I was at a patient's house the other day, and I heard a strangely human-sounding wheeze/snore coming from the corner. It was one a cat with a gorgeous coat and a smushed-in face. We should not be allowed to do that to these animals, in my opinion.
Of course, money talks. Whatever will sell will be created. I can appreciate trying to help out cats in general but I am afraid we'd do more damage in the process. We've got a horrible track record playing gods, IMO.
I, personally, don't see the point. I absolutely love my cats just the way they are. They give me love and affection, but they're also perfectly happy napping in the room alone. Cats raised in a loving home are independent, but hardly aloof. All three of our cats, even the two rescues with previous abuse, nap in our laps when we're on the couch, burrow under the blankets with us, and greet us when we come home from work. My cats also fetch crumpled up receipts and small toys, come when I call them, and walk backwards on their two hind legs on demand. If I wanted a small creature that I could take for walks, play fetch with at the park, and take hunting, then I would get a small dog.
Personal feelings aside, I could see that there might be a market for more "dog-like" cats. There are dogs that pretty much sit there and do nothing (ahem French Bulls). Why not cats that go for walks, and never tire of your attention?
One question: Why does Dr. Bradshaw feel that the cat needs saving in the first place? They hardly seem to be dwindling in numbers or popularity.
Why does Dr. Bradshaw feel that the cat needs saving in the first place? They hardly seem to be dwindling in numbers or popularity.
Because a lot of our environmental advocates think that outdoor cats threaten bird and small animal species.
Cats are incredibly efficient predators and on their level of predation, they qualify as a super predator. It's thought that feral cats, who depend on hunting for food, have to make two kills a day just to maintain their existence. So, if a town has 100 ferals, that's 200 birds and other critters being killed every day. Well more than a thousand per week.
Cat proponents respond that if local native species are threatened, human encroachment is the real reason. And encroachment, of course, brings domestic housecats with it. They also ask, "Aren't cats just replacing some of the predators who get killed off or die off as humankind encroaches?" And it's true that, on the whole, natural predators tend to be more shy of humans than their prey. Here in urban Ohio, we have urban deer but no urban pumas or wolves. Consequently, we have a deer problem.
Research shows that cats are hell on small mammals and snakes, and I don't know if many of those are threatened (the ones not considered vermin). Birds can fly into a medium where the cat can't follow much more than four or five feet in the air by jumping. Research shows that the toll on birds is much smaller than originally thought.
...so it's more that he feels that small mammals/reptiles need saving from feral cats, not that cats need saving? Yea, not so sure that should be at the top of our priority list. Haven't heard of a species of bird going extinct from feral cat hunting.
Interesting to note that Russia has been domesticating silver foxes for decades now. The changes in personality come with changes in physiology. In addition to increased tameness, the newer domesticated foxes are getting floppy ears and spotted coats, similar to what we see in many domestic dogs. According to one paper I read, they are "juvenile" traits. I would be curious what sorts of physiological changes would accompany breeding cats for personality.
I'm still reading Dr. Bradshaw's book and today I learned several interesting things.
A study where the prey brought home by outdoor housecats revealed that most of the prey was in poor health, so that the cats seemed to have been fulfilling the role of natural predators, removing the weakest individuals' genes from the scene.
In many cases, cats aren't the only introduced predator. Black and Norway rats, despite being rodents (which most people assume are herbivores), are omnivorous predators and have a taste for birds and bird eggs. Cats prefer rats to birds, so cats might be keeping rats under control, making the environment safer for birds.
The one environment where there's no doubt cats have had a devastating effect is where they've been introduced to remote islands lacking any serious predators such that the local fauna have neither much fear of cats nor defenses.
I have previously mentioned the irrational animosity some feel toward cats. Bradshaw mentioned that some pro-wildlife environmentalists complain that cats don't just kill when they are hungry, they kill for fun, thus they are "murderers." (Talk about anthropomorphism.) Actually, cats kill out of instinct. Well-fed housecats kill a lot fewer prey items than ferals though they only devour about 1/3 of their prey whereas the ferals presumably devour almost all of it. Quite a few housecats just like to watch their prey and don't even go a-huntin'. When they do, they are not nearly as good at it as their well-practiced feral counterparts.
I think one reason why "dog people" prefer dogs is that dogs have evolved a remarkable ability to mimic human facial expressions. The wrinkled brow when they are perplexed, for example. Their canine smile when they are happy. Even their barks, yelps, and howls are easy to parse based on human utterances.
Cat people learn how to interpret cat feelings and moods. Cat faces are relatively immobile. We learn to read body language and that all-important tail. A cat walking around with its tail held high is a contented cat, if its tail is raised and frizzy, the cat is ready for battle (play fighting or real).
I think this difference puts off a lot of those people who don't like cats. If they took the time, they'd probably find cats very charming.
Dr. John Bradshaw on the unintended consequences of widespread cat neutering:
"...widespread neutering likely favors unfriendly cats over friendly. Encouraging owners not to allow their cats to produce any offspring whatsoever removes all the genes those cats carry from being passed on to the next generation. Some of those genes have contributed to making those cats into valued pets.
"When almost every pet house cat has been neutered—a situation that already applies in some parts of the UK—then we must fear for the next generations of cats. These will then mainly be the offspring of those that live on the fringes of human society—feral males, stray females, as well as those female cats owned y people who either do not care whether their cat is neutered or not, or have a moral objection to neutering. The qualities that allow most such cats to thrive and produce offspring are, unfortunately, those same behaviors we want to eliminate: wariness of people and effectiveness at self-sustaining hunting." (from Cat Sense: How The New Feline Science Can Make You A Better Friend by Dr. John Bradshaw)
So, you neuter your cat and he/she turns out to be an ultrafriendly doll baby with no interest in hunting. Well, you can't breed him or her. On the other hand, feral cat genes will always creep into the domestic cat population, slowly creating a less deisirable cat.
(If you google on his name, don't be confused by the fact that there is a pop psychologist with the exact same name who probably has even more articles and videos attributed to him.)