Is There a Cat in the House?

I have noticed – and not just recently – that as far as movies and television are concerned, cats barely exist. If there are any aliens out there that have been monitoring our TV transmissions, they are probably wondering why there are so many cat food ads when no one actually seems to have any. I’m always snapping to attention when I see a cat incidentally on television or in a movie: it’s such an unusual event. As far as numbers are concerned, cats have been the most popular pet for quite a while now.¹ You’d never know it from the movies. Because they are ignored, cat people get ignored, or worse, ridiculed. On television, if there are cats at all, it seems people only ever have one. If you have more than two, it’s time for the crazy cat lady scene.

I think the common perception is that they are too hard to train and are unreliable actors. Some time ago, I heard an interview with an animal trainer for theater and film talking about the various animals he’d trained. When asked about cats, he said they always ended up surprising everyone. While the cast and crew expected the cat shots to be tricky and take all day, they always did their scenes with no fuss and on the first take. This was in contrast to the dogs, who did take all day and required numerous takes to get it right.

Yes, I know there are movies about cats. They usually talk or at least narrate their own stories. These are great. I love cat movies, but I like seeing real cats. In Charlie Wilson’s War, the main character kept a cat in his congressional office. It just happened to be there sitting around, getting in the way as they usually do. None of the characters commented on it, or even seemed to notice; it was just there. As if it were completely normal and usual. Yes! Give us more real cats being in people’s lives. Cats as ordinary.

An old episode of House called “Here Kitty” had me saying a mental “Yes! Finally, someone has gotten it right.” It was inspired by the real-life story of a cat who lived in a nursing home and would sit on the bed of a person who was dying. So, yes, House did go around calling it “dead cat.” But, at one point, he has a container of white mice in his office and is asked, “Are these the genetically-modified mice from oncology?” He replies, “Genetically modified for tastiness.” Yes! A character who knows what kitty should eat: fresh meat.

We need more scenes like this. People recognizing cats are supposed to eat real food – at least to counter the kibble commercials. Heck, I would be happy if we saw a happy, well-adjusted character that happened to have four or five cats. There are lots of us who have multiple cats and manage to live perfectly normal lives. Well, better than normal, after all, we have cats.

Margaret Gates is the founder of the Feline Nutrition Foundation.

1. “Shaping the Pet Industry: A Decade of Trends Mark Continued Growth,” American Pet Products Association, October 2006, 2.

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