I have always preferred dogs to cats, but working remotely is making me reconsider my bias. After all, I wasted decades of my life believing I didn’t like guacamole.
I’ve only lived with a cat once. The year I moved to Georgia, my roommate brought home a feral kitten. She would race around near the ceiling of our living room, propelling herself along curtain rods, lampshades, and picture frames, then pouncing—claws out—onto your back. When I started sneezing that April, I determined I must be allergic to felines. Of course, now I realize that everyone who’s not from Georgia spends their first spring here sneezing.
This year, I’ve seen a lot of cats—or, to be more precise, a lot of cat butts. It seems that every kitty comes running the minute a Zoom session starts. They drape themselves across their humans’ shoulders, hop in their laps, and, quite often, park themselves in front of the camera. While dogs make cameo appearances, they’re generally more interested in going outside than hogging the screen.
Curious to know if other people had noticed this phenomenon, I turned to Twitter. A sampling:
• “Really can’t get over the fact that my cat and my therapist’s cat meowed back and forth to each other during our zoom session.” @catakacatherine
• “Know what’s fun? Participating in a Very Serious Zoom Meeting when the cat realizes that a fly is buzzing around your laptop.” @KFieldingWrites
• “cat just stepped on keyboard as zoom call was ending and youtube started playing an interview w mnek from one of five thousand minimized tabs while i’m frantically trying to locate which window. why god.” @yinyoongs
• “my 30 pound dog tried to climb onto my keyboard like a cat during a zoom meeting this morning.” @80000bees
That last tweet makes it apparent that interrupting Zoom is now an acknowledged, stereotypical feline behavior. But why? I thought cats were aloof. They hid when I visited friends. Was it just me—emitting subconscious antifeline vibes from a year with Parkour Puss?
Friends tell me cats have always loved computers. Our senior editor Heather Buckner shared a Slate story about telecommuters who set up decoy laptops, a distraction which proved minimally effective. In the same piece, Dr. Mikel Delgado, an animal behaviorist from the University of California, Davis, theorized cats likely hang out on keyboards for three reasons: heat, height, or attention. In other words, blocking your monitor is the feline version of King of the Hill.
My friend, former AJC reporter Gita Smith, explained it this way in an email: “The cat who now steps up, often placing herself between the human and the screen, is the grandchild of the cat who used to jump up on the bed on Sunday morning when you had the newspaper spread out before you. It would settle down—not just on the page you were reading, but on the very column you were reading. All those mornings with a New York Times were mornings when my long-ago cats—Quackser, Tunafish, or Maria Muldaur—settled on my newsprint with an expression of entitlement. Zoom kitties are just continuing the tradition.”
Though neither of us could find the original source, Gita stands by this adage: All cat behavior can be reduced to one of two thoughts. Where is my supper? Or: Everything here is mine. (That last part was indeed the title of a book subtitled “An Unhelpful Guide to Cat Behavior” by cartoonist Nicole Hollander.)
So, our year of working from home hasn’t transformed cats into social creatures. They’re not interrupting Zoom because they want to get to know me. If I were meeting their human in person, they’d still be hiding under the bed. It appears that if I want a cat to love me, the cat will have to be mine—or, to be more precise, I’ll have to belong to the cat.
This article appears in our August 2021 issue.