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Does My Cat Like Me?

A new study dispels the myth that cats are unfriendly, writes Assistant Editor Dan Hoffman.

Cats love people!

Of all the common household pets, the cat is perhaps the most mysterious. They skulk and hold themselves aloof, and when they’re friendly, people often remark that they’re “more like a dog”–as if it’s against a cat’s nature to care for people. Yet, like humans, our feline friends are highly sensitive to changes in their environment and–as shown in one of my favorite Mysterious Ways stories–to our feelings.

For cat lovers like me, this peculiar and unpredictable behavior is just part of their charm. (In fact I think they have a lot to teach us about love). But skeptics remain, like my father, who always insisted that our cat just hung around because we fed him. A new study in Behavioural Processes might prove him wrong…

“It is still common belief that cats are not especially sociable or trainable. This disconnect may be due, in part, to a lack of knowledge of what stimuli cats prefer,” the authors noted. To figure out what captures a cat’s fancy, they took 50 of them–an equal mixture of shelter cats and home cats–and kept them away from food, toys, and people. After a few hours, the researchers offered the cats four possible stimuli grouped together: human socialization, food, scent or toys.

Read More: Life Lessons from All the Dogs I’ve Loved

What did the cats pick? Human beings! “50% of cats tested preferred interaction with the social stimulus even though they had a direct choice between social interaction with a human and their other most preferred stimuli from the three other stimulus categories,” the study authors wrote.

So rest assured that this is one of those “cat facts” you can rely on: the majority of them genuinely want to be around us. I think that explains why, when a stray cat brazenly approaches me on the street but nevertheless turns away when I try to pat its head, I still walk away with a fresh pep in my step–it’s a reminder that a greater kind of love connects us all, agape love, which goes beyond conventional gestures of affection.

What do you think? How does your cat show his or her affection? Share your thoughts–and true cat “tails” with us!

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