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What is the Good Life - For a Cat? - nhpeacenik
nhpeacenik
nhpeacenik
What is the Good Life - For a Cat?
This article in which Oscar, a cat who lost the lower part of his hind legs, received high-tech transplants, got me to thinking about something that concerns me regularly but rarely rises to the level of an organized thought. The photo is worth looking at carefully:  the cat's two peg-legs have no claws.

I sense that the partnership between cats and people is every bit as ancient and meaningful as that between humans and dogs. I know that the psychic bond between me and my cat (and between the cat and my wife and my daughter) is profound, and that I will mourn him when, as is likely, he dies before I do.

I know my cat loves to attack and kill small animals, especially mice, birds, and squirrels. I also know that, when offered a choice,  he chooses a purring -session with me or some other member of my family over pursuit of a mouse or even food or water an astonishing percentage of the time.

As a vegetarian and pacifist, I find it morally ambiguous (really abhorrent) to kill mice and squirrels myself, but I feel supportive of my cat's doing so. I benefit by my cat's attacks on the small rodents that nest in the house's insulation and bite into packages of food in the cupboard. He protects us from electric fires and the loss of food supplies. It was apparently for the usefulness of  these instinctive acts that our ancestors made a pact with cats thousands, maybe a million years ago. We try to keep our cat indoors most of the time now, seeing very little benefit in the killing of songbirds and a lot of potential harm in flea-borne illness and Lyme disease.

A friend who is perhaps more consistent in his vegetarian principles than I am told me he thought that cats should be considered an invasive species, perfectly appropriate to the Arabian or Sahara desert, but deadly to the ecology of Europe and North America. He also sees them as exploited... their instincts force them to stay in human company for cat food because it's the easiest way to survive, but they forego the natural society of their own kind in the process.

One thing I know: a cat needs four paws with sharp claws to live a  normal cat life. My cat leaps up to high places and catches hold at the destination by digging in all four sets of claws.Two sets would not do. In the wild, a cat uses all four paws in synchrony to pull apart his prey. Oscar will not be living a normal cat life with two peg-legs. On the other hand, if he has a loving human family, he may have a satisfying life in another sense. The opportunity to sit on a lap and purr will still be there, and cat-food will be plentiful. Is this selfish exploitation by his human "captors", or is it a path to mutual growth and spiritual evolution?

C.S. Lewis said that cats and dogs are improved, even perfected, by being the pets of human beings and sharing in a mutual love, that the wild state is not the best state for an animal, and that loving choices that are open only to pet animals are often preferable to instinctive behavior from their own perspective as well as from the human perspective.

Some spiritualists say that animals have "group souls", similar in many ways to human souls, but  shared among the entire species. This implies that any kindness or cruelty to any cat is felt in some deep way by all cats, and that, as human interactions such as war, friendship, generosity or torture affect the progress of the humans who partake of them, the cumulative effects of human-cat interactions show up in a spiritual evolution of cats in general.

My own experience resonates sympathetically with all of this. Somehow, I don't think  cats are essentially an exploited species or that human-cat relations are innately harmful. Of course I also find resonances in the John Muir approach... "In wildness is the salvation of the world", but in some ways the salvation of the world depends on tameness too - the mutual taming of the human and feline species being one shining example.

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