By Dr. Becker
I'm sure by now most of you are aware of a video posted on YouTube a few months ago that showed a heroic family cat intervening as a neighborhood dog attacked a young boy playing in his driveway.
The little boy's cat, named Tara, appeared out of nowhere and tackled the much bigger dog, forcing him off the boy. The feisty cat then chased after the dog to make sure it didn't return.
Needless to say, the YouTube video went viral, and has a lot of folks rethinking the nature of housecats.
Tara's Behavior Seems to Fly in the Face of Common Stereotypes About Cats
For most people, including many of us owned by a cat, Tara's behavior in protecting her young human family member, Jeremy, came as a complete surprise. In fact, I don't know about you, but I had to watch the video a few times to convince myself of what I was seeing!
So why did she do it? Why did she risk life and limb to protect Jeremy? Aren't cats supposed to be self-absorbed, independent, aloof beings that only tolerate humans for their entertainment value?
Does Tara's heroic behavior imply that cats may actually bond with their humans in ways we aren't aware of?
Tara's History with Jeremy
In an interview with Discovery News, well-known veterinarian and animal behaviorist Dr. Sophia Yin said that if Tara had no history with the family of the little boy, we could assume she was just being territorial rather than purposely protecting the child.
But Jeremy's parents say that Tara cuddled with the little guy in his crib when he was a baby, and in general, the cat behaves like a happy, well-adjusted member of the family. Discovery News wonders, "Was a special bond formed that way, one that might one day prompt protective aggression?"
According to Dr. Yin:
"If the cat still actively seeks and wants to hang out with the child, and even shows maternal behaviors, such as sometimes grooming, or has ever acted protective around the child before, then I could say she's specifically being protective."
'What we saw play out there was the product of a very, very tight bond.'
Jackson Galaxy of Animal Planet's wildly popular "My Cat from Hell" agrees with Dr. Yin. "What we saw play out there was the product of a very, very tight bond," Galaxy told Discovery News. "The beauty of this video is it goes well beyond the bounds of territoriality. We're not seeing 'peeing on your territory' behavior. It was clearly a protective and, for lack of a better word, maternal attack."
Galaxy was also impressed that Tara not only chased the dog away, but also returned immediately to Jeremy:
"If you had any doubts what the cat's intent was, it's pretty clear at that point," he said. "Is it an anomaly in terms of what we know to be cat behavior with humans? Yes. Is it against the nature of a cat to care about a human being enough to protect them? Why should that be?"
Fortunately, little Jeremy wasn't seriously hurt by the dog, and Tara had not a scratch on her. (Sadly, it was later determined the dog could not be rehabilitated, and he was euthanized.)
Maybe Cats Aren't as 'Other' as We Thought They Were…
We'll probably never know exactly what Tara was thinking or feeling when she confronted the dog to protect Jeremy. But one thing's for sure -- cat connoisseurs across the globe are rejoicing, thrilled to have a new hero!
"For the cat folks," says Galaxy, "This is our 'Lassie' moment, where we finally get to say 'Timmy's in the well, call the cat!'"