A steadfastly held myth is that of the aloof cat. According to this belief, cats choose us, and merely allow us to be their pals. They calmly lounge around the house, eyeing us from whatever perch they've chosen, usually a high place so they can appropriately look down on us, challenging us to read their minds, demanding that we provide their favorite foods and toys. And if we don't get it right, they pee on something to remind us who's in charge.
This scenario is amusing, to be sure, and provides fodder for many jokes, but it just isn't an accurate portrayal of the true cat.
We interpret them as aloof because they aren't demonstratively emotional, the way dogs are, for example. We tend to identify more easily with dogs, then, because in this way, they are more like us. Cats are not like us and never will be. This means we have to learn to understand them by their own standards, not ours.
Once we get that part straight, things actually start working out really well.
Cats are a lot smaller than we are, and unlike small dogs who don't seem to notice this, cats do notice it. And they take appropriate measures to protect themselves. This might mean keeping their distance as a precaution against being kicked (accidentally or otherwise), stepped on, thumped on the head, swatted on the rump, or some other form of physical assault... again, accidental or not.
Cats I have raised myself are trusting and friendly, enjoy approaching and being approached, and are more affectionate than the "average" cat. This is because I have respected them and their space, and have demonstrated a genuine caring attitude. Cats aren't stupid and are completely capable of recognizing when someone truly cares about them. And they can spot a fake a mile away.
By contrast, many of the cats I have rescued from a variety of homes are confused, wary, distrustful, or are downright frightened. If they have come from homes that didn't understand or care about them as individuals, they show the signs of being shuffled aside, ignored, or hurt in some way. It takes a long time to teach such cats they can trust someone.
Unfortunately, many never do learn that. If their former lifestyle is too ingrained, their mindset cannot be changed. We can only respect them as they are and provide according to their current needs. A relationship of cautious trust can be built, and they can still become good companion pets. We just can't expect them to be perfectly in tune with us, on any wavelength, as they may always be in a self-protective, watchful mode.
That said, though, I've overcome these barriers with a number of cats, simply by demonstrating that I can be trusted... always. It has taken several years with a few, but they came around and became very bonded with me.
When humans obtain a pet for their own personal pleasure, it's easy to overlook the fact that a cat has its own personality, which they soon learn not to display if they believe it's not safe to do so. These are the cats who will remain "aloof."
Then there are those people who adopt cats for the cat's benefit, without judging its looks, age or current demeanor, and are willing to help the cat with its own specific needs. These are the people who will find the most satisfaction from having a new kitty companion.
Dr. R.J. Peters established a shelter in 2002 and has rescued and worked with hundreds of cats. Learn more about cat behavior at http://www.theproblemcat.com