Are cats protective of their owners?
“Beware of dog.”
You can probably buy a sign like that at Home Depot. You know what you can’t buy in Home Depot?
A sign that says, “Beware of cat.”
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to understand why someone desiring a protective animal companion would seek out a dog rather than a cat. There’s the question of size, for one thing. You probably wouldn’t acquire a 10-pound Shih Tzu to play bodyguard either, would you?
But is that the only reason?
Is there something about cats that makes us think they don’t have our backs?
Dogs seem to wear their hearts on their sleeves, or maybe they are just incapable of hiding their real feelings. They wag and lick and galumph. They moan and whine and droop. When they feel happy, they wear unadulterated joy on their whole bodies. When they are disappointed, you can read utter defeat in their entire being, from the tips of their noses to the ends of their crestfallen tails.
And when dogs love us, the devotion is pure and unmasked, and visible to anyone within a 20-mile radius to see.
Cats, on the other hand…have a reputation. We think of them as aloof, independent, mysterious even. We suspect our relationship with them is transactional: they put up with us because we know how to use the can opener. We don’t acquire cats to protect us, nor do we suspect they would do anything more courageous than hide under the sofa when the $#@% hits the fan.
Well, the first thing we have to do then, is dispel THAT notion.
Hero cats who protected their owners
Here is a selection (and there were many, many more examples to choose from) of hero cats who saved their owners and the day. Some stories seem almost too fantastical to believe. But this first one…well, they say you have to see it to believe it. Unbelievably, Tara’s owners managed to catch their hero cat on videotape.
In this video, tabby cat Tara saves his 4-year old human brother, Jeremy Triantafilo, from a vicious dog attack in California. Little Jeremy was playing outside his Bakersfield home when he was ambushed by neighborhood dog who savagely bit his leg. Watch Tara spring into action to chase the intruder away:
Jackson Galaxy cat behaviorist from the hit TV program “My Cat from Hell” said it best. He told Today.com, “For the cat-loving world, this was our Lassie moment. It gives us an opportunity to reexamine what cats are.”
Baby the cat, a shy 13-year old tabby, saved the life of Josh Ornberg and his girlfriend Letitia Kovalovsky, who was seven months pregnant with twins at the time. The couple had fallen asleep on the living room couch in their suburban Chicago home when a fire broke out in a back bedroom. The normally retiring cat came out of her shell at just the right moment, jumping on Josh’s lap and bouncing around, successfully waking her owner and alerting him to the disaster in the making.
Although they tried, the blaze was too ferocious for the couple to extinguish themselves, and it ended up destroying nearly all of their belongings, including two cribs that had just been assembled.
Wonder Lake Fire Protection Assistant Chief Mike Weber said of Baby, “She was definitely the hero in this situation. We don’t know what the outcome would have been if not for the cat.”
Schnautzie was just a kitten when she saved Greg and Trudy Guy’s lives in Great Falls, Montana. The couple was asleep when their new baby jumped onto Trudy’s chest and started furiously smacking her nose. Trudy ignored the cat the first time and went back to sleep, but Schnautzie persisted. The couple finally heeded their little kitten and awoke to the hissing sound of a leaking gas pipe. If the furnace or even the water heater had turned on during that cold Montana night, the spark could have caused the whole house to explode.
It was a lucky break for the couple who had actually intended to purchase a puppy from a pet store the day they took Schnautzie home. A rescue group had brought the tiny black kitten to the shop that day, and Trudy and Greg ended up leaving with a cat instead of a dog. It certainly begs the age-old question, who rescued whom?
When author Gwen Cooper rescued an eyeless kitten (whom she named Homer after the blind Greek poet), she never expected him to save her life and help her find her way onto The New York Times Best Seller List.
In her memoir, Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned about Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat, Cooper relates an episode in her life when she awoke to find her normally laid-back cat standing on her bed growling. There was a strange man in her Miami bedroom that night in 2000. The blind cat bit and clawed at the intruder so viciously that he eventually fled.
The aftermath of the story is almost as astonishing, heartwarming, and thrilling as the story itself. Adoptions of blind felines soared after Gwen’s story came out, and so Homer’s heroism ended up saving many, many more lives.
Listen to Gwen Cooper read an excerpt from her book here:
Do cats want to protect us?
We don’t know what cats want, but we do now, thanks to the work of researchers like Kurt Kotrschal of the Konrad Lorenz Research Station, that the bond between cat and human is more intense than we originally thought.
A 2011 study led by Kotrschal with the University of Vienna concluded that cats do attach emotionally to humans, and not just for food. For the study, researchers videotaped interactions between 41 cats and their owners over four lengthy sessions. What they concluded was that cat-human relationships are nearly identical to some human-human bonds. Researchers compared the human/cat bond to the bond between a human parent and an infant.
Dorothy Gracey, a co-author of the study, said, after witnessing the interactions between cats and their people, that “A human and a cat can mutually develop complex ritualized interactions that show substantial mutual understanding of each other’s inclinations and preferences.”
A different study, conducted in 2017, provided another a little window into how cats feel about people, specifically, where they rank on the list of cat preferences. In this study, researchers gave cats (both pets and shelter animals) a choice between human social interaction, food, toys, and scent. Even though there were clear differences between individual animals and their preferences, the cats as a whole clearly chose social interactions with humans over all the other choices. (For anyone wondering, food was #2 on the list.) 
What can we conclude from some of these almost too-amazing-to-be-true cat hero stories, and the supporting research? No one needed to tell us that our cats can be fierce predators and that some will ferociously defend what is theirs.
But maybe these anecdotes and the new research on bonding adds another layer to what we already knew instinctively about our cats. Yes, they are ours. But maybe, just maybe, we are theirs, too.
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Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.
 TodayShow. “Good Kitty: These 6 'Hero Cats' Saved the Humans They Loved.” TODAY.com, 16 May 2014, www.today.com/pets/good-kitty-these-6-hero-cats-saved-humans-they-loved-2D79677090.
 Kathy Ehrich Dowd Updated January 22, and Kathy Ehrich Dowd. “Baby the Cat Saves Couple Pregnant with Twins from House Fire.” PEOPLE.com, people.com/pets/baby-the-cat-saves-couple-pregnant-with-twins-from-house-fire/.
 “7 Times That Black Cats Brought Extremely Good Luck.” PETA, 24 Oct. 2017, www.peta.org/living/animal-companions/black-cats-saved-peoples-lives-like-wasnt-thing/.
 Shreve, Kristyn R. Vitale, et al. “Social Interaction, Food, Scent or Toys? A Formal Assessment of Domestic Pet and Shelter Cat (Felis Silvestris Catus) Preferences.” Behavioural Processes, Elsevier, 24 Mar. 2017, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0376635716303424.