By: Oni Yeahia /
How do you feel about feral cats? Cats that you never see in daylight but you know that they are lurking in the dark alleyway just waiting for their next prey. If you happen to walk past a feral cat you tend run or walk as fast as you can so that you can avoid they hissing and growling.
Humans have built up this fear of any cats they see in the streets whether it’s a feral, stray or even an outdoors house cat. This belief has been built into humans through movies, TV shows and images of feral and stray cats in the media. In reality feral and stray cat are more afraid of humans, and there are shelters and organizations that try to help them.
Talking to one of the volunteers that work to save feral and stray cats, one will see that with enough effort feral cats do warm up to humans. However, there are some feral and stray cats that are hard to get close to but as long as humans don’t bother them, they won’t bother humans.
Britt Peterson in The Case Against Cats said, “Cats are a particularly puzzling case. Domesticated some 9,500 years ago, they still don’t strike humans as completely tame. They live with us, but even indoor cats aren’t entirely dependent on us, certainly not in the emotional way dogs are.” As Peterson pointed out that cats in general aren’t seen as completely tame whether it’s an indoor cat or outdoor cat.
This idea that humans have of cats being wild have built in this negative persona of them in the media. When one looks at how cats are viewed in the media it is usually a lot colder than the way dogs are viewed in media.
Typically, when one asks a person if dogs are more loyal or cats, most people will say that dogs are more loyal. One can notice in media that if a dog and cat are both on screen than most of the time the dog’s character is a lot more friendlier than the cat’s character.
If one looks at the movie The Secret Life of Pets, the main character which is a dog named Max, and then looking at his counterpart a cat named Lake Bell. These two characters in the are different from one another, Max expresses his love for his human owner Katie from the moment he is introduced. The viewers see Max sitting at the front door anxiously waiting for her return as oppose to Lake Bell barely saying a proper goodbye to her human owner.
Then the next scene that is interesting in this movie was when Max and his brother Duke end up in an alleyway and a stray cat named Ozone and his group of stray cats try to attack Max and Duke. The movie builds up the audience to like the pet animals and gives then human like characteristics with the ability to talk. Duke tried to act tough but then got scared and was the first to run out of the ally.
Max and Duke showing fear towards Ozone then makes the audience fear Ozone as well because Max and Duke is more relatable to the audience. This is a common persona we see in movies that are based on animals where domesticated pets are afraid of street or wild animals in the streets.
- Renaud, C. (Director). (2016). The Secret Life of Pets [Motion Picture].
A good example of this persona was beautifully shown from the movie Tom and Jerry: A Nutcracker Tale in the song “King of the Cats.” In the song, a group of feral cats are singing a song about their leader the main villain of the movie a large feral cat and how he is a bully to the rest of the cats in the group.
The lyrics goes, “King of the cats that’s what he is, takin’ all our sustenance like it was really his, greedy at a fault, bully to us all, he’ll only be your friend so you take the fall.”
The villain stray cat’s character is built around the fact that he not a welcoming or a friend to any of the cats around him. Viewers are also warily of his character because he is not liked by the other cats.
This is how the media defines feral and stray cats as unlikeable, not approachable and feared by other cats whether they are domesticated or not domesticated.
This is a common persona of wild cats that are not domesticated, that is why people have a negative attitude towards feral and stray cats.
In such movies people are shown that not only should humans be afraid of wild cats but other pets and street cats as well.
- Brandt, S., & Cervone, T. (Directors). (2007). Tom and Jerry: A Nutcracker Tale [Motion Picture].
Also in both movies, the colony of feral and stray cats is shown in a negative light. They appear to be hiding or living in dark and dirty alleyways, and they are living off of scrapes or stealing food to survive. Some of them don’t appear to be well groomed or healthy.
Some cats like Ozone from The Secret Life of Pets almost appear to look crazy. Maria Nikolajeva in Marvel and Tales takes a different take on cats and how they are view. She said, “Cats in these stories are depicted as nocturnal characters, secretive, mysterious; half animal, half divine. This puts them in a superior position toward humans.” She argues that in fairy tales and folklore books and stories cats are represented in good light.
Cats appear to be smarter, clever and in some cases helpful to the story or characters. She lists examples dating back to the Egyptians, Little Red Riding Hood, Alice In Wonderland to recent comic books about cats. One movie that supports this idea of cats being special and divine creatures is Kedi.
Kedi is a documentary film about feral and stray cats in Istanbul, Turkey.
The movie follows around 9 different cats with different personalities around the city.
One thing in the documentary that stood out was how the people of Istanbul preserve the cats. From the opening of the movie the people in the city believe that the cats a gift sent from god and by treating them well then good things will come forth.
The feral and stray cats are looked at in a positive light compared to The Secret Life of Pets and Tom and Jerry: A Nutcracker Tale. Most of the cats in the film are friendly, approachable, and healthy.
One very important factor in this movie is that there is direct interaction between cats and humans.
The humans in the movie respect the cats and some even consider them sacred and close to god.
The people that made this film tried to shoot the film from the cat’s perspective.
- Torun, C. (Director). (2016). Kedia [Motion Picture].
There is hope that humans around the world don’t believe in what they see in the media. In The Wall Street Journal article, the city of Chicago was infested with cats so to solve the problem the neighborhood decided to bring in feral cats into their yards to help control the rodent problem. In the article, “The New Must-Have Yard Accessory: A Feral Cat,” Shibani Mahtani and Joe Barrett said, “This is turning the alley cat, once considered a rabid urban menace threatening small children and pets, into a prized possession. Or at least as much of a possession as a stray cat can be.”
The writers interviewed people in Chicago those kept and feed the feral cats, and they witnessed how quickly the people began to love these wild creatures. In order to get close to the feral cats the owners tried to feed them with their hands and pet them. However, once the feral cats were released from their cages they ran away but some owners still waited to see if they would come back by leaving food out for them. Surely enough the cats did return and some even slightly bounded with their owners.
One last attempt to find a direct connection between feral and stray cats to human was by trying to reach out to a shelter or rescue team that helps and saves feral and stray cats.
Calling All Cat Rescue is a local rescue team in Toms River, NJ and I got to interview a volunteer, Shannon Abelo.
Abelo fosters feral cats and kittens until adoption as well as Trap Neuter and Return (TNR) the feral cats that are too afraid of humans. Abelo explained that trying to make feral cats sociable to humans is challenging work and takes a lot of time.
One major factor in getting feral cats and kittens sociable is based on their age, if feral cats is too old than most likely it will take either a really long time to make them get used to humans or you would have to return them back into the streets.
A second factor is time, you must be patient and go slow to give the cat a lot of time to get used to humans. In the beginning, there will be a lot hissing, growling and sometimes even spitting. Feral cats and kittens will come around and be friendly with humans if you just put in the time.
The media has profound influence over the way we view the world and animals. Most mainstream movies and shows still show feral and stray cats negatively but, they are other forms of media that is trying to show the positives of feral and stray cats.
Today we need real stories like the one from The Wall Street Journal and documentaries like Kedi that help people see the positive in real life. If the society wants to see more positive movies on feral cats then it can be done as Kedi proved it.
- Mahtani, S. (2016). The New Must-Have Yard Accessory : a Feral Cat. Wall Street Journal, 1.
- Nikolajeva, M. (2009). Devils, Demons, Familiars, Friends. Marvels & Tales, 248 – 267.
- Peterson, B. (2016). The Case Against Cats. The Atlantic, 40-42.