“Extended Kittenhood” Sounds Great, and Terrifying

I’m a bad sleeper. This morning I woke up at about 4 a.m., after going to bed at 1. As I like to say, I “got a bug in my head,” which means that some anxiety or another entered my brain and I couldn’t shake it. So naturally it was only a matter of time this morning before I found myself laying on the couch reading the Wikipedia entry about domestic cats.

It’s a great read. The photo captioned “A cat that has caught a mouse” is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Here’s a sentence that really struck me: “Ethologically, the human keeper of a cat may function as a sort of surrogate for the cat’s mother, and adult housecats live their lives in a kind of extended kittenhood.” Extended kittenhood! Is there a more adorable phrase in the English language? Absolutely not.

Think about this for a moment. Kittens are the best. They’re small and adorable and playful and happy and squeaky and wonderful. Evolutionarily speaking, the domestic cat is barely removed from its ancestor, the African wildcat. So we’ve taken this wild creature, and in the process of domesticating it we’ve not just made it comfortable in our homes, we’ve also forced a sort of juvenile dependency on it. Under this understanding of cat ownership, my male cat, Puss, ruthless killer of mice and chaser of shoe strings, thinks of me as his mom. And since I’ll never leave him (never!), he’ll never quite grow up.

Cats are the Peter Pans of pets.

Of course, the flip side of this is that stunted development is scary. Are cats the Peter Pans of pets, or are they the Seth Rogens? The overgrown man-children of the pet world, capable of behaving like grown-ups and fending for themselves, but choosing instead to sit by an empty bowl on my kitchen floor and scream until I feed them?

(Notably, that Wikipedia article also suggests that cats’ high pitched meows are designed to mimic human babies. Which is hilarious and wrong because, you know, my cat has never met a human baby. But maybe that’s an evolutionary thing? Seems doubtful.)

Obviously I’m reading too much into this, and doing it on too little sleep. The relationship between cats and cat owners is a symbiotic one, even more so than between dogs and dog owners as cats are closer to their wild ancestors and less dependent on humans. Of course each cat develops differently than it would if we had never domesticated Felix cattus, but “extended kittenhood” is a little bit of a stretch.

Also, here’s a picture of a cat that has caught a mouse:

From Wikimedia Commons.
From Wikimedia Commons.
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