I’ve always wanted to have a cat I could take everywhere with me — the kind of cat that can make public appearances, do therapy visits, and who loves being on camera. So maybe you are wondering why I just don’t get a dog then? Even though they are naturally more social, I’m totally indifferent to dogs. I don’t like the way they smell, and the fact that they slobber and have other bad habits. Dogs are stiff when you pick them up. Cats are fluid. You pick up a relaxed cat and it’s like holding liquid kitty. Cats purr. I like burying my nose in a cat’s fur. They’re funny. They’re beautiful and graceful in a way dogs can’t be. I just like cat energy way more than dog energy. And I like cat energy so much, I wish I could take it everywhere. The problem is not many cats are extroverts — they prefer staying home and get nervous when taken out of their element.
Sometimes, however, I wonder how much of a cat’s introversion is natural and how much of it is developed by her environment and the expectations people put on her. I’ve encountered a number of cats over the years that were outgoing and very comfortable in public. Some were purebred show cats who have gone on to do therapy work, some are celebrity cats like Lil BUB, and some were merely everyday kittens or cats who just like people a lot. I don’t think any scientific studies have been done on cat extroverts versus introverts (yet), but from my observation, I think how they turn out is a combination of nature and nurture.
With breed cats, this seems to be true. Good breeders aim for kittens with outgoing personalities as well as looks. And the best cats of any breed are more likely to become accustomed to being in public since they are shown frequently (gaining the title of Grand Champion takes competing in a lot of shows). But even with genetics, all the shows, and early socialization, not all breed cats are therapy animal material, and not all of them want to go to the pet store with you. Only a select few, like Boston Abyssinian Jake (whose full name is Pellburn Jacoby Stealin’ Home), are true extroverts. Along with his guardian, Coco Koh, Jake attends festivals, rides the subway, and even gave his therapy skills to first responders and finish line attendees after the Boston Marathon Bombing. He is definitely one Aby in a million.
But even without the pedigree, some cats will become social creatures. Lil BUB was part of a feral colony when she was found and brought to the attention of Mike Bridavsky. It’s true that her special needs make her a more placid cat, but there’s something more going on within her inner nature — a calm that most other cats don’t have. When I visited her one-on-one the day before the A CATbaret benefit for Kitty Bungalow, she was happily eating dinner and totally oblivious to the crew setting up lights around her. Bridavsky looks out for her and makes sure she’s never uncomfortable — and usually, she is perfectly happy. Last year, I went to the BlogPaws conference, which was held in Tysons Corner, Va., and met a tiny rescue kitten named Triscuit. This baby was a couple of months old at the most and she was already walking on a harness and not at all disturbed by the hundreds of conference goers – many of whom brought their dogs. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Triscuit’s caretaker would have been thrilled to work out adoption arrangements for her right at the conference — otherwise I would have stepped up and claimed her! She had a perfect therapy cat personality, even at that young age, and while I’m sure she is content in the home she wound up in, I feel like it was an opportunity missed.
I’ve tried a few times to develop a socially extroverted cat, but so far I haven’t succeeded. When I was a teenager, my family adopted a fluffy gray and white kitten who I named Russell. I taught him to walk on a leash and took him out a few times, but being typically teenaged, I didn’t keep up with the training. Later on, when I brought Binga home as a kitten, she was very outgoing. Brian and I packed her up and took her around to a few places, but she was less than enthusiastic. She is quite a social cat, all right, but only in the safety of her own home. Sparkle hates going anywhere. It was clear from the start that she would only be happy at home. But I haven’t lost hope. I’m still looking for that one special cat.