Cats: Free Will on Four Legs

Why is it that we delight in our cats' misbehavior?

“Binga, stop! Hey! Hey! No. I said no!”

It’s not quite breakfast time and Binga is chewing on the decorative cover of a nightlight in the bathroom. Her ears twitch, indicating that she has heard me. And she continues to defiantly chew on it.

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The feline penchant for refusing to follow orders is maddening to dog people. That’s why these folks often call cats independent or stupid, when neither one is the case. Actually, the cats who misbehave the most are often the brightest. And contrary to popular belief, most so called “independent” housecats aren’t capable of fending for themselves if abandoned in the wild. What cats really are, are independent thinkers. And that is one of the things we cat people love the most about them. Cats can’t be controlled. They are free will on four legs.

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Why is it that we delight in our cats’ misbehavior? Don’t pretend you totally hate it when your cat jumps on a forbidden zone like the kitchen counter, locates your hidden hair clips (otherwise known as fun cat toys) or waits until you leave the room to claw the carpet. Yes, these are all annoying activities and you wish they would stop, but don’t you also have a sneaking feeling of pride in your cat’s ability to do whatever he wants to do, no matter what you say? Your cat knows what you want him to do. He has just decided that he likes his way better.

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My tortoiseshell Binga is a master of mischievousness. She will do sliding leaps on knickknack-laden surfaces, steal food right off your plate, and smack Sparkle “just because.” She’s like a juvenile delinquent who can’t resist random acts of petty crime. But you know what? Life would be boring if she were obedient.

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If you have a misbehaving cat like Binga, chances are she is not getting enough mental stimulation and interaction with you. Scheduling frequent playtimes, rewarding positive behavior (giving her a treat for sitting on the floor or a chair while you are in the kitchen instead of heading for the counter), and giving her more quality time will go a long way toward lessening truly unacceptable behavior.

When cats act out, it often means they want something you aren’t giving them. Usually, it is your time or attention. Sometimes it’s another need you may have overlooked (if your cat is clawing the rug, for example, he may not have a horizontal scratcher he likes). And sometimes, a cat just needs to prove that he is in charge of his own destiny. Just like you.

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