That Cat Won’t Hunt

Sylvester: 100 percent less smug now.

I’ve never had a smart cat. I’ve never met a smart cat. As far as I know, cats don’t come in smart. But apparently that wasn’t the case for their prehistoric ancestors.

I heard recently that cats are the only animals on earth that actually domesticated themselves. That’s right, the adorable little kitten filling your litter box is descended from a predator who decided at some point to just throw in the towel.

Cats straight up surrendered to mankind, and based on the hunting skills of the ones I’ve had, that’s probably the only reason they’re still around today.  Left to their own devices, I’m pretty sure mine would have to go vegan or starve.

It wasn’t always this way, though. Back in the day, cats earned their keep by chasing off rats and other plague-ridden varmints. In Egypt, they were even considered gods. (Which of course is how they’ve thought of themselves ever since.)

Much like their human companions, however, most cats have slacked off on the whole kill-what-you-eat ethic. Like us, many of them have gotten comfortable, lazy and smug about their place on the food chain. And, like us, they’re never very far away from a rude awakening.

I was thinking about this lately after my old tabby, Sylvester (pictured above), decided he didn’t want to move with the family to our new neighborhood. He took off and we couldn’t find him despite weeks of looking. After a while, I had pretty much given up hope. He’s 12 years old and moves like pond water. I could picture a lot of things happening to him and none of them were good.

There's a vending machine just out of frame.

There’s a vending machine just out of frame.

Yet to my utter shock, we got a call after six weeks from someone who had seen one of the many online notices we posted. They had just found Sylvester alive and mostly well.

My first thought was that they had the wrong cat, but when we saw the old, emaciated bag of bones, there was no doubt he was ours. He left the lap of luxury and lived off the land for six weeks. The experience wasn’t kind to him.

I’d like to think he got in touch with his roots; that he relived some of what it was like for the cats of centuries past. But I doubt it.

My guess is that, like that first cat so many eons ago, he just learned the hard way that being domesticated and fed is much better than being free and hungry.

Sylvester will never be a “smart” cat, but I’m betting he’s a lot wiser now than he was six weeks ago.

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