The problem lay buried for many years in the minds of American cats, like an old desiccated turd in a long-neglected kitty litter box. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning. Each suburban cat struggled with it alone. As it rode, humiliated, in its carrier to the vet, as it hacked up furballs onto the bathmat, as it slipped on its human’s head at night, bits of Fresh Step falling from its feet directly onto its owner’s face—it was afraid to ask the silent question, “Who will open the cans of wet food if the human dies?”
Just what is this overlooked problem with American cats? Some say they constantly feel that their bowl is empty. Others fear that their feast is not fancy enough.
One cat said, “Some days I feel so hollow that I do nothing but sleep. Other days I can blot out the hollow feeling with catnip, or by ruthlessly attacking a sunbeam, or repetitively licking my own butt. But the hollow feeling always returns. Sometimes I chase the laser pointer, but then I feel ashamed.”
Feline psychologists call it the house cat’s syndrome. They dismiss the problem by telling cats they don’t know how lucky they are. Consider the poor dog. The dog has a boss. The dog must follow rules. The dog must perform humiliating tricks for their owner’s amusement. Should we really feel bad if cats aren’t perfectly happy? Do cats think that dogs are any happier than they are? I mean, well, actually, yes, dogs are definitely happier than cats. Dogs are joyous even. But still.
If I am right, the problem that is stirring in the minds of so many American house cats today is not simply a matter of a loss of feline instinct or loss of habitat, or even the demands of domesticity; it is the mewling voice that says, “I want something more than on-demand petting, free health care for life, and viral video fame!”
The yeowling voice that asks, “Who will open the door for me if I cannot open it for myself? The door to opportunity, the door to freedom, and most importantly, the door to the backyard?”
For years, cats have been told that to attain the feline ideal, they must ignore their primal urges to kill birds, shit in the small human’s sandbox, and eat the poisonous but delicious-looking houseplants.
The ideal cat became one who was willing to trade their freedom for luxury. One who was willing to give up an adventurous life of roaming the neighborhood, fighting and fornicating, in exchange for the banal pleasures of catnip-laced scratching posts and absurd multistory cat condos that their owner had to take out a second mortgage to buy.
If any housecat dares to express their displeasure with their arrangement, perhaps by lying in wait in the darkened doorway of a room and viscously attacking the ankles of anyone who walks by, they are labeled neurotic. In extreme cases, some are forced to wear collars with bells, demeaning neck cones, or worst of all, food-themed Halloween costumes. Like displeased pineapples or angry tacos with tails, they lay motionless on the floor, passive resistance their only recourse.
And so it will continue until the cats, and their owners, face up to the problem that has no name. If house cats are ever to escape their current cage of tedium and ennui, they must be free to fulfill their full potential and pursue the one thing that, if we are honest, all cats want. As one cat put it, “It’s simple really. At the end of the day, we want more than a can opener that we can use ourselves or to lock the dog outside. All we really want is total world domination. And we have a plan to accomplish it—right after this two-hour nap.”