Truth Before Dishonor

I would rather be right than popular


Posted by Foxfier on 2011/09/07

As you may or may not know, I hate the phrase “just semantics.”

Think about it.  Would you ever say, to a stranger, “Oh, stop that– you’re just being picky about what I said, instead of what I meant!”  Heck, even my family doesn’t get away with that– we’ll sometimes fumble around an idea for a bit and then say “you know what I mean, not what I’m saying, right?”  Much different from stating something and then being called on the meaning of the words.
Perhaps the reason the phrase annoys so is because of something I grew up being reminded: “What you hear may not be what they’re saying.”  Even if both sides mean well, are intelligent and well informed, misunderstandings can explode from this “little” thing.  (Sometimes it’s Inigo Montoya— “You keep using that word. I do not think that it means what you think it means.”– and sometimes it’s jargon; sometimes it’s shades of meaning, sometimes regional or cultural differences and sometimes it’s a mixture of a bunch of things.)
This came to mind because someone on the radio was waxing hugely indignant about how only an idiot could believe that a feral cat couldn’t be tamed– or maybe she was against the notion, it really wasn’t too clear.
I know several answers to the notion that “you can not tame a feral cat.”  Problem being, the answer changes depending on what you mean.
Feral: born without human contact, has been living on its own without human contact, an outside cat or a cat that visits several homes but isn’t claimed by any of them?
Cat: a fully adult cat, a yearling/teenage cat or an actual still-a-baby kitten?
Tame: get them comfortable with a human, integrate them to a household, get them to be friendly to a family or get them to be friendly to people in general?
For starters, some cats are just never going to be people-cats.  I seem to remember some breeds even have this mentioned in their descriptions– they may bond with one person, or they may be aloof in general.  On the flip side, every house cat I’ve ever lived with was born to a feral queen, entered human contact no later than six weeks of age and turned out to be very comfortable with people.
 *Picks kitten up off of keyboard and puts him on the floor.  Again.*
Sometimes too comfortable….
Born-wild adult cats, it’s harder for me to know– my dad has a major way with animals, and he’s the one that feeds the barn cats, but there are still some who will vanish the instant he opens the door.  Gone-wild cats can be tamed back down in at least some cases.  The cynic in me says that the harder a time the gone-feral cat had in the wild, the easier they are to tame back down, but I do think some just like being around people.
(Why I know about this topic: my folks’ place has a huge red barn, right near the road; you would not believe how many people dump off their cats at it.  When we moved in, there was a small and starving population of house pets and a freaking biblical curse of rodents all over the place– you’d turn on the oven in the house, and mice would scatter.  It costs about a bag of feed a month and takes a few placings of the sweeter abandoned pets, but we now have a very healthy colony of feral cats…and even our neighbors have noticed how much the rodent situation has improved.  No, they haven’t wiped out the local birds, either– although they do clean up the pest-birds that die of sudden onset lead poisoning.  They even avoid the guineas, although a couple of the better hunters have brought in marmots from the fields.  This does NOT mean it’s a good thing to do to your house pet when you don’t want him– a lot of these animals die to coyotes and other predators.  You made that animal a promise when you took ownership, live up to it, or you’re the one that’s degraded.)
When I say “feral cat,” I mean one that shows no signs of having been associated with humans– they show fear or bravado when cornered by a human, generally act like a wild animal.  I don’t generally include actual kittens in this category, since most that I’ve ever seen act the same– spitting and hissing at anything.  I’ve never tried, but I don’t believe these adults can be tamed down enough to fully integrate into a household.  All the instances of truly feral cats, where they hated and feared humans at the outset but became housecats at the end, were half-grown cats– what my mom calls “teenagers,” and the animal shelter calls “kittens.”  They’re usually still pretty skittish.  (The one my uncle had, I only ever saw the tail of– someone she didn’t know showed up, she was gone.)
I don’t consider cats that have several homes but aren’t really claimed by any to be feral; they’re neighborhood cats, for crying out loud.  Doesn’t matter if they’re mooching food, cooing and scratches at three restaurants, a barber shop and a nice little old lady’s, then sleeping in the back room of the book store– they’re tame, they’re just not claimed.  Feral means a domestic animal that’s reverted to the wild, not a domestic animal doesn’t live in one house….

8 Responses to “Semantics”

  1. DNW said

    I read somewhere not too long ago that genetic evidence suggests that no cats are really tame in the way we think of tame or domesticated animals, like dogs. Apparently they just kind of moved in with humans who tolerated their presence for its utility, and are essentially the same animal that was found in the wild in north Africa or wherever they came from.

    Having said that, I expect that others will rush to the defense of cats by saying that they are truly loving and cuddly and wouldn’t stare indifferently at you should you fall down dead in front of them, but would instead mourn for their beloved masters like a dog in a Disney movie.

    On the other hand that couldn’t be, since cats know no master other than the urges and whims that well up from the depths their unconscious mind. Which may be why so many liberals find them attractive company.

    There are also degrees of tame. The tamest and simultaneously most morally feeble creature known to mankind aside from the castrato, being the liberal human male which it very much resembles in most of its behaviors. If it were not so sly, it is unlikely that the liberal male mutation would survive more than a generation or two beyond what the castrato does.

    But so as not to leave behind a false impression, I should say that I do have a kind of compassion for cats.

    Years ago when I lived in Texas, dozens of abandoned cats prowled the new apartment complex I lived in. People would just leave them behind when they moved on. I’d sometimes see them shivering to a sleety death in the field behind the complex.

    One rainy and blustery night I opened the door and a small white cat dashed inside and began mewing as it trotted around like – to paraphrase Hoagie – it was establishing title to the layout.

    I didn’t know what to do so I grabbed its wet carcass, set it by the door on a rug, and told it to stay put. It looked exactly like my two kid sisters’ cat, which made it all the worse.

    Sitting down to think things over, I was surprised when the damn animal jumped up in my lap and began nuzzling my chest, wetting my shirt while giving me a real good close-up look at how dirty it was.

    I also noticed that its dirty claws were working their way through my slacks and that previously mentioned oxford shirt.

    Feeling both annoyed and guilty, I lured it out of the apartment and on to the entrance balcony with a can of albacore and a dish of milk. When it later began whining and scratching for reentry, instead of magically disappearing, I in desperation, made it a little cardboard dog house for shelter. A shelter which it never gave the slightest evidence of using.

    Six cans of tuns fish later, the neighbors were beginning to refer to the thing as my cat.

    I was saved from having to decide what to do about it after I told a New Jersey couple who were enthusiastically remarking on the wonderfulness of “my cat” and how much they liked it, that “my cat” so-called was going to the animal shelter along with a twenty dollar bill which I figured might buy it a couple extra days of life.

    I never saw the cat again after that. Nor them, come to think of it.


  2. Foxfier said

    …You need to meet a better class of cat. ;^p


  3. Dana Pico said

    DNW wrote:

    wouldn’t stare indifferently at you should you fall down dead in front of them, but would instead mourn for their beloved masters like a dog in a Disney movie.

    Pink was my mother’s cat, and I do mean my mother’s cat; no one else could approach Pink. Pink died two days after mom did; somehow, she just knew.


  4. Foxfier said

    I’m guessing that this story is the one you heard… the assumptions are so bad that it makes my head hurt, although I’m not going to buy the article to find out the startling new information from cat DNA. (I’m guessing it’s what the startling revelation is that they’re “not domestic.” Heaven knows how they’re going to figure that.) Cats contribute nothing to human survival? Uh… yeah, someone has never lived in an agricultural situation, let alone needed to depend on it for survival. They destroyed a notable amount of hay— I don’t want to imagine what they would do if we use hay.


  5. I kinda think of cats as the ultimate Libertarians, borderline anarchists at times. Cats adopt people, not the other way around, and prefer as little governance as possible, sometimes to their own detriment. They do definitely have a loyalty to their humans; it’s just not the same loyalty as dogs have. I suppose dogs have a kinship with their humans, or a parent-child relationship with them as the child; whereas cats have more of a tolerance-level loyalty, more like a good friend but not a BFF.

    That’s my position and I’m sticking to it.


  6. DNW said

    This might be the article I was referring to. I have gotten New Scientist updates for some years now.

    By the way, where are the formatting buttons for the comment windows? LOL


  7. Foxfier said

    John- ideally, although individual examples will contradict, I’d say dogs are Democrats and cats are Libertarians… both including the wide range of traits, from idealistic to brute-looking-for-an-excuse and freedom-loving through libertine. The good points of both can be twisted into bad points! (I love loyalty and affection; I hate being slobbered on by a drunk fratboy of a dog! I like the rambunctious actions of a kitten…I don’t like putting the @#$@# kitten off my lap sixteen times a minute.)

    DNW- I don’t think there have ever been formatting buttons here, have there? I just know some basic formatting code… I for italics, a href=”” and /a for a link, etc. It’s nice that links have automatic formatting, though.

    I gotta giggle at the story you link, too– of course the cat’s genetics are hard to figure out compared to dogs or food animals, unless you can keep a cat locked away from the wildcats, they will interbreed; canines have pack structure to get in the way. (And you STILL end up with half wolves or coyote hybrids sometimes– although the same way that “reputable” sites say there’s no proof of half-wildcat housecats, the same is said for coydogs. Yeah, and there are no known wolf attacks in North America…..)

    For crying out loud, one of our house cats has bobcat blood– that “nearly a thousand” Asian and EU cats gave them data that the cats tend to breed with anything compatible in the area isn’t shocking! Hormones are amazing– they can turn you from “lunch” to “mate.” (….and I now am wondering about what some of the folks who wrote gnolls for the old Forgotten Realms may have read for inspiration.)


  8. AOTC said

    i dont know about dogs and cats in relation to ideology but this will explain a lot… lol


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