The relationship between a horse and a human is a reciprocal one. They perform useful work and we supply them with food and shelter. It’s a straightforward business deal. That too was once the relationship we had with cats — they would control vermin in exchange for housing. But in time cats craftily developed a means to exploit a bug in the software of the human brain. By producing the purr and the winsome ‘silent miaow’ (two features believed to have evolved only after domestication) Felis catus found a vulnerability in our mental code: suddenly it was absolved from performing useful work around the house; the deluded owner would now supply all its needs in exchange for the illusion of affection.
Like many successful hacks, the cat hack exploits the human capacity for self-delusion. We desperately want to believe our cats adore us, and so we are surprisingly eager to interpret their self-serving behaviour as though it were motivated by love. Cats are the courtesans of the animal world.