Inspiring “Becoming Deference” in Cats

In 1894 Phil Robinson shares an anecdote of a cat who, being furiously chased by a dog, chooses to flee by running rather than climbing. “Had she forgotten the value of trees to cats?” he asks: “Had the instinct of feline self-preservation by climbing been evolved out of her by domestication?”. He goes on to suggest that it may be “moral” to “encourage our dogs to chase cats,” so as to “bring the cat back to its bearings.” 

On the one hand, Robinson waxes poetic in the healthy prospect of the cat relearning “its wonderful climbing powers, that it now wastes.” “Waste” is a fascinating concept, particularly as applied to “powers”; after all, the dog is implicitly using its furious chasing powers to the author’s delight. If one is endowed with certain “powers,” is it somehow wrong (on an efficiency, aesthetic, or moral scale) to not use them to their fullest? Even if they are not needed? Even if they cause harm?

Yet while he seems to be earnestly seeking to see “wonderful…powers” in the cat, Robinson ultimately is interested in the practice as a feline performance of subservience to the dog. If frequently practiced, a good, furious chase by a dog once in a while would “inculcate a becoming deference towards dogs.” What would be “becoming” about such deference? In light of the fact that the dog was typically gendered masculine and the cat feminine, Robinson’s prescriptions for enforced feline deference through the threat of canine violence seem startlingly misogynistic.  

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Cited:

Robinson, Phil. “During a Stroll.” Monthly Packet 88 (July-Dec. 1894). Eds. Christabel R. Coleridge and Arthur Innes. London: A.D.Innes & Co., 1894. 659-63. Google Book Search. Web. 

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