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How Do Cats Feel About Going to School? I Ask My Cat Stella

Fall is back-to-school time, so I wonder: How smart are cats? How did their intelligence evolve?

Michael Leaverton  |  Sep 13th 2016


Fall is in the air, and the kids are heading back to school to use their brains after the long summer break. It’s enough to make you wonder: Do cats, long known as the smartest
— if the most aloof — of the house pets, ever want to learn new things? I turned to my cat, Stella, for answers.

Me: Have you ever wanted to go to school, Stella?

Stella: I don’t know. Is there a class on napping?

You seem to be quite good at napping already.

Stella-Back-to-School

Photo by Gina Cioli / Lumina Media

To be honest, I run into a little trouble at hour five. You know how I always get up and change positions and maybe get a drink of water and try to reset the nap?

I hadn’t noticed.

I still have a lot to learn about napping.

At school you take classes to become smarter, Stella, not to become a better napper.

Don’t worry about that. Cats are smart enough as it is.

Oh, you think so?

You know how we typically sleep all day while humans work to put food on the table?

Yeah.

That’s not by accident.

Oh.

We put that dynamic into play a long time ago.

How long ago?

Back when a super-smart splinter faction broke off from the wild cats and evolved to become companion animals.

its-me-the-cat-stella

Cats know a lot about napping. That’s smart. Photo by Gina Cioli / Lumina Media

That’s amazing. Is that what dogs did, too?

No, dogs evolved sideways from rats.

That can’t be true.

They’re basically rats who were too lazy to scavenge, so they learned to wag their tails and bark at everybody.

I think you DO need to go to school, Stella.

Wait. Why the sudden interest in how smart I am, anyway?

Oh, no reason. Just the kids are in school again and —

YOU’RE GOING TO TRY TO GET ME TO FETCH AGAIN!

Relax, Stella.

I bet you’ve got a clicker in your pocket! I told you last time: Cats don’t fetch. It’s not natural.

That’s ridiculous. Cats are smart enough to fetch.

Cats are smart enough NOT to fetch. You give us your “high-value treats” at first, then you expect us to fetch FOR NOTHING, like a common dog!

I thought being trained meant you were smart.

No, being trained means you were dumb enough to fall for the ol’ bait and switch in the first place.

I hadn’t thought of it that way.

You should. I’ll tell you what: If you go get me some chicken, I’ll pretend this conversation never happened, and I won’t cough up this hairball that’s been worrying me for the last hour on your comforter.

Not my comforter! I’ll get you some chicken!

Good boy.