Do feline lovers possess a cat-loving gene? Are our brains really hardwired?
Have you ever wondered if our behavior is hardwired? Are we drawn to certain foods, music, books or even animals based simply on our genetic makeup?
Dr. Jerry A. Coyne, Professor Emeritus, Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago and author of Why Evolution is True states the following in Faith versus Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible, “Many behaviors of modern humans were genetically hardwired (or soft-wired) in our distant ancestors by natural selection.” While fifty percent of our behavior is determined by environmental influences, the other fifty percent is determined by our genes.
So whether it’s environmental, genetic, or a combination of the two, I still feel strongly that our ability to deeply love and have compassion for animals is most likely genetically programmed. Although we can learn to love these amazing creatures, especially if we are positively exposed to them at a young age; the extraordinary passion that we feel for animals must be passed on genetically.
Valentine’s Day is celebrated on February 14. Since this is a very special holiday in which love is given prominence, I thought it would be the appropriate time to share a delightful story concerning my father – his deep affection for felines and to express my eternal gratitude to him for inheriting his cat-loving gene.
My father was an ardent felinophile and animal lover. My mother, on the other hand truly hated cats. This backs up my theory that my father passed on his cat-loving gene to me. Since my mother had a rooted antipathy to felines, she put major kibosh on our having a kitty.
My dad was a gentle, extraordinarily handsome man bearing a strong resemblance to Ernest Hemmingway; another cat lover extraordinaire. As a gifted photographer, he always had a camera dangling from his shoulder wherever he went. When he took his morning walks, if he met up with a stray kitty, he would bend down, start a quiet conversation with her, scratch her lovingly under the chin and, of course, take her picture.
He had an extensive library of feline-related books from which he would read to me. As I got older, he filled my bookcase with fascinating cat books. But what gave him greatest pleasure was spending hours talking to me about kitties, especially sharing anecdotes about the one special cat he was eventually permitted to keep when he was a youngster.
I believe my father had to have inherited the cat-loving gene from some distant relative. My grandfather could tolerate cats but my grandmother (just like my mother) was a staunch ailurophobe. When my father was a young boy, he smuggled a stray black and white kitty into the house. He tried everything to conceal his feline companion, but we all know how curious cats are. Unfortunately, this cat eventually made its presence known to my grandmother.
A few weeks later, as the story goes, my grandmother ordered my father to bring the cat to Central Park and drop him off. The park was miles away from their downtown New York brownstone. My father had little choice but to comply. Even though it broke his heart, my father did set the cat free. By the time he arrived home his eyes were red from crying over his loss. He felt awful about having to abandon his kitty and he was so angry with my grandmother that he didn’t talk to her for days.
After a week, a major miracle happened. For a reason that my father never completely understood, his cat, who was bedraggled and very hungry, walked brazenly up the stairs of their front stoop and planted himself there. After realizing what a feat this cat accomplished my grandfather defied my grandmother and put his foot down, insisting that my father keep his cat.
But there was something rather odd about his little Tuxedo kitty’s appetite. He went bonkers over spinach. Whenever my grandmother cooked up this vegetable, the cat would crawl under the dining room table and put his front paws on my father’s knee, begging him for some. And since the cat’s passion for spinach was so intense, my father named him Spinach.
Since Spinach’s reappearance was cloaked in mystery, I suspect that my grandmother finally gave in to my father’s feline devotion. Fortunately for Spinach and my father, his beloved kitty earned the right for a permanent home where he resided, lavished in my father’s love for the remainder of his eight remaining lives.
Love is love, no matter whether it is given to an animal or human. This is a powerful emotion that cements bonds, gives us pleasure and connects us to one another. There is something so special that develops when we enter into a loving relationship with a cat. It is an incredible experience we will remember forever.
By: Jo Singer, MSW, CSW, LCSW (Ret)