Has a heroic cat in a viral video dealt a serious blow to one of the most common stereotypes about felines?
A video posted to YouTube on May 14, which has since gone worldwide-bonkers, shows a dog attacking young Jeremy Triantafilo, who's playing in his driveway. The dog drags the child from his bike, gnawing at his leg.
But out of nowhere comes Tara, the family cat. Tara proceeds to tackle/push the much bigger dog out of bounds at the 50-yard line (no whistle on the play). Tara even pursues the dog a bit farther, to make sure it has left the area (10-yard penalty for showboating?).
Tara's behavior raises an interesting question. Why did she do it? We all know the standard, popular culture line on cats, happily trafficked whenever possible by "dog people": Cats are aloof, self-interested creatures that will sidle up to anyone who becomes their food source. It's about them, not you.
"Cat people," of course, will beg to differ, perhaps with good reason. Does Tara's rumble in the driveway suggest that a deeper, more protective bond is possible between a cat and its owners than common belief would have it?
According to veterinarian and animal behaviorist Dr. Sophia Yin, if you were to ignore Tara's history with the family, then it would be "most likely that the cat was being territorial, protecting itself and its own territory rather than specifically protecting the child."
But Tara, according to the family anecdote in this ABC News video, used to curl up with Jeremy in his crib when he was an infant, and she seems awfully comfy and happy in her surroundings. Hmmm. Was a special bond formed that way, one that might one day prompt protective aggression visible to the tune of more than 7 million hits on a globally popular video site?
"If the cat still actively seeks and wants to hang out with the child, and even shows maternal behaviors, such as sometimes grooming, or has ever acted protective around the child before, then I could say she's specifically being protective," said Dr. Yin.
Jackson Galaxy, cat behaviorist and host of Animal Planet's "My Cat from Hell," agrees that there could well be more there, when the closeness Tara shares with the family is factored into the equation.
"What we saw play out there was the product of a very, very tight bond," said Galaxy. "The beauty of this video is it goes well beyond the bounds of territoriality. We're not seeing 'peeing on your territory' behavior. It was clearly a protective and, for lack of a better word, maternal attack."
To buttress his belief, Galaxy cites Tara's actions, how she chased the dog away, made sure it was gone, and then zoomed right back to Jeremy. "If you had any doubts what the cat's intent was, it's pretty clear at that point," he said. "Is it an anomaly in terms of what we know to be cat behavior with humans? Yes. Is it against the nature of a cat to care about a human being enough to protect them? Why should that be?"
What specifically was in Tara's heart when she risked her life to shoo a dog off her property? We can never know without asking her, and then pretending to understand her answer.
For now, we will just have to be satisfied with the news that a boy was saved from serious harm and that his secret-service-detail cat was not herself harmed.
Cat lovers worldwide, meanwhile, have a new hero and a sense of validation. "We get to see cats in an accurate way, for once," Galaxy said. "We're so dog-centric, and one of my goals has always been 'give cats a chance.' People who know and love cats now get to talk to the rest of the world and say 'See? They're not as other as you thought they were.'
"For the cat folks," Galaxy said, "this is our 'Lassie' moment, where we finally get to say 'Timmy's in the well, call the cat!'"