“They’re too independent. They just don’t make good pets.”

That was a comment from an acquaintance of mine (actually, a former boss – very nice guy really) who didn’t dislike cats, he just felt they weren’t friendly enough.

He based his conclusion on his wife’s cat, which she had when they got married.  “Nice enough cat,” he said, “but it doesn’t ever want to be petted, it won’t sit in my lap. Just not friendly.”

I’ve heard similar comments over the years from people who really “just aren’t into cats that much” for that reason, and I always wondered how they could say that when my cats  are obnoxiously affectionate.   They follow me  more than  my dog does. They always want to be where I am. They’re playful and  some  would love to spend the rest of their lives glued to my lap.

But the answer came to me just recently and it goes back to what I said in an earlier post about how cats bond.

It has to do, I believe, with when they were adopted – that is, how old they were and what may have happened to them beforehand.  Now, this isn’t always true but this does answer the question in my mind about how people can say cats are “too independent” and “not friendly.”

I realized this with Simon.  For those who follow this blog fairly regularly, you know his story.  He showed up at my door in March of 2006 and refused to leave – even though I knew where he came from…not a great home, but a home nonetheless where he had food and shelter about two miles from me across a fairly busy road.

Anyway, I finally caved and decided he could stay.

For the most part, Simon is a great cat.  He’s one of those laid back, friendly souls who makes himself at home pretty much anywhere he happens to be at the time.  He’s not particularly afraid of dogs, he gets along well with other cats – doesn’t pick fights. He likes to be petted, held and carried around like a ragdoll.  He’s playful and quite affable in general.  A good sort.

But he’s what many people would call “too independent.”

In the year and half I’ve had him, he’s never once jumped in my lap looking for attention or in any way overtly offered affection to me like most of my cats.

My cat Mia, for example, will jump on my stomach when I’m lying in bed, sit on my chest, and proceed to nuzzle me with her nose, giving me little sloppy kisses on my face.  Parker jumps in my lap everytime I sit down, I mean EVERY TIME I sit down and stares lovingly into my eyes purring the whole time.  She will reach up with her paws and touch my face and try to lick my nose.

LilyBean sleeps next to my pillow and always has to have at least one paw touching me.

AlyseAnne likes to “make cookies” and Rosie will rub her face against mine and walk back and forth across my lap so I can’t get any reading or any work done.

Simon on the other hand, comes in, eats, strolls to the back bedroom and sleeps all day. Wakes up in the late afternoon, eats, goes out, comes back in, plays with a couple toys, goes to bed. That’s pretty much his day.

If I go up to him, pick him up and hug him, he’s fine with that, but he’d never think of asking me for attention or affection on his own like Mia or Parker or most of my cats.

I wondered about that for a long time until I realized that when he “adopted” me, he was already about a year old.  He understood people were good for food and shelter, but he spent the first year of his life pretty much on his own.  He wasn’t raised by a human “mom” from kittenhood, which really makes his decision to live with me all the more interesting.

But as I said in that earlier blog some months ago now, kittens view their owners as “mom.”  In the cat world, mama cats are the head of the household and the males are just well, there for reproductive reasons. For felines, mamacat really is “the queen.”

When a kitten is removed from the mamacat before the natural time of 3-6 months old, it transfers its need for a mother to its owner.  If that owner is affectionate and loving, then they imprint on that owner as their new mamacat.

However, if a cat is adopted that is a little older and didn’t have that as a kitten or was extremely devoted to its owner and then taken away from them and re-adopted, that mamacat/owner-kitten bond isn’t there.  I saw that alot with Persians when I was in rescue.

We didn’t like to get Persians turned in because they didn’t transition well into a new home.  In fact, some would die from the trauma of being separated from their “mama”/owner.  They would stop eating and within days their livers would shut down and despite all efforts, they’d pass away.

And many times, even if they were re-adopted, it wouldn’t work out in the new home.  They wouldn’t bond with the new owner, they’d remain aloof or hide, they’d develop behavioral problems, like not using the litterbox…and they’d be returned.

I think it’s because Persians are so high strung and inbred.  They cannot take any sort of change well in general in their household  or origin. So, when a trauma like separation from the only owner they’ve known since they were six or 8wks old happens, it’s too much.

So saying all that to say, the cat may be nice and all that, but not as affectionate as perhaps the new owner would have wanted and that could be why.  They’re not “mom” in the cat’s mind. They’re nice and all, and a port in a storm, but not “mom.”

Additionally, if the cat doesn’t know you, you get the same response because you’re not “mom.”  Most of my cats hide when friends or family come over.   Others sit at a distance and watch.  One or two will come over and say hello – like Simon. ..but he doesn’t give affection.

Now most of the time rescued cats make that transition into a new home very well, thank heavens and I highly recommend adopting an adult cat of any age. ..especially from a shelter because they know, like dogs, that they’ve been rescued and they will repay your kindness with years of love and companionship.

So I think it has to do with that bond that takes place between a young kitten and it’s owner that can determine whether a cat will be affectionate or just a nice cat but “too independent.”

And regardless of whether ol Simon ever jumps into my lap or not, he’s got a home here forever.