Or are cats behaviorists?

A cat typing at a computer.
Letter by Claire McElvaney
Illustration by Vanessa Lennon McElvaney

Dear Ethan & Olivia,

So, I looked up more on that Freud guy. THAT human was–what’s the word your mom uses when she’s trying to be diplomatic?–UNIQUE! He was unique!!! (Unique as in four whiskers short of a full set!)

I don’t know that I like the idea of having unconscious drives. All of my action are conscious and deliberate, baby-kittens! No one is driving my behaviors around but me!!!

Plus, I refuse to let anyone try psychoanalysis on me. I don’t mind the analysis part (as if anyone could ever dissect a genius mind like mine!) but the phrase “psycho” is a little unnerving!

Anyways, I looked more through your mom’s nerdy Psychology book and saw Behaviorism. Now THAT is a topic that appeals to me!

Plus the guy who founded it, Skinny-something, did a lot with rats. He put them in cages and made them work for their food. It’s not as good as eating them, but using rats for entertainment is somewhat respectable, so I think I would’ve liked this guy.

Now, the principles of Behaviorism state that humans respond to rewards and punishments in the environment. The rewards part is for wimpy, touchy-feely-crybaby humans who do not respect their place in the world (i.e. as the playthings of cats), but PUNISHMENT!!!

Punishment is an idea I can get firmly behind! I demonstrate punishment of humans on an hourly basis!

Whenever you guys forget to keep my bowl full enough so that food tips off the top if anyone goes near it I will yowl and yowl and yowl until someone comes running. Then after someone finally tops of my bowl I deliver a good, strong swipe and a quick chomp just to remind you who’s boss. If it’s your mom she actually apologizes! That is how a good human servant is supposed to react! I’ve noticed that after giving a few bloody directives about this my bowl seems to always be fuller. Behaviorism really works!

And the other day when the dogs chased me into the kitchen I jumped up onto the cart and knocked an entire cup of water onto their heads! Drenched dogs smell, but at least they stink in another room away from me! They ran away like they’d just seen your mom filling the bathtub! You see, they got punished for being obnoxious. They are usually obnoxious anyway, but it’s nice if there’s something near by to throw at them.

If you start to think that I am being mean let me point out that it is called POSITIVE punishment because I added swipes and water and bites and yowling! Positive means that I positively should punish you for not doing your job, and I am positive that I would do it all again!!!

Yes indeedy, that Skinny-fellow was on to something good! I am now officially a behaviorist!

Speaking of positive punishment, I want you to stop being nice to those dumb dogs, so I am positively leaving a squishy gift in your shoes! Get you toes ready to find it!
LuLu the Calico Cat

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