Cats, unlike dogs, are not amused by, nor do they in any way take an interest in what are termed "tricks." Performing dogs will sit about their master watching anxiously for their turn, and they have been known on more than one occasion to slip before the dog that has next jump through the hoop or over a stick, barking merrily, exulting in having excelled the other; generally they await with intense eagerness the agility of the others and strenuously try to surpass them. Possibly this is so from the long time the dog has been under the dominion of man, and taught by him how to be of service, either in hunting, sporting, shepherding, watching; in a sense his friend, though more his bond or slave, even to dragging carts, waggons, and sleighs, to fetch and carry, even to smuggle. Long teaching, persistent teaching from time immemorial has undoubtedly had its due effect, and in some instances, if not all, has been transmitted, such as in the pointer and setter, which particular sections have been known to require little or no present training, taking to their duties naturally, receiving but little guidance as to how much, when, and where such instinctive qualities are required.
With the cat it is widely different. Beyond being the "necessary" cat, the pet cat or kitten, it never has been an object of interest, beyond that of keeping from increase those veritable plagues, rats and mice; the enormous use it has thus been to man has had but scant acknowledgment, never thoroughly appreciated, vastly underrated, with but little attention not only to its beauty, nor in modifying its nature to the actual requirements of civilisation. The cat through long ages has had, as it were, to shift for itself; with the few approved, with the many not only neglected, but in bygone days, and with some even in the present, it has been, and is looked on as a thing that is not to be cared for, or domesticated, but often absolutely ill-treated, not because there has been wrong done, but because it is a cat. I heard a man of "gentle blood" once say that there was no good in a cat, and the only use they were, as far as he could see, was as an animal to try the courage of his terriers upon.
Happily all are not alike, and so the cat survives, and by the present generation is petted and noticed with a growing interest. Though long closely connected with man in many ways, still, as I have before said, it has been left to itself to a certain degree. In no way, or but slightly, has it been guided; and thus, as a domestic animal, it has become what it is - one repelling most attempts to make it of the same kind of value as the dog; its great powers of observation, coupled with timidity, make a barrier to its being trained into that which its nature dislikes; and its natural and acquired repugnance to confinement and tuition prevent it - at least at present - from being "the humble servant," as the dog, "past and present," has been and is.
Studying closely the habits of the cat for years, as I have, I believe there is a natural sullen antipathy to being taught or restrained, or made to do anything to which its nature or feelings are averse; and this arises from long-continued persecution and no training. Try, for instance, to make a cat lie still if it wants to go out. You may hold it at first, then gently relinquish your grasp, stroke it, talk to it, fondle it, until it purrs, and purrs with seeming pleasure, but it never once forgets it is restrained, and the first opportunity it will make a sudden dash, and is - gone.
However, all animals, more or less, may be trained, and the cat, of course, is among them, and a notable one. By bringing them up among birds, such as canaries, pigeons, chickens, and ducklings, it will respect and not touch them, while those wild will be immediately sacrificed.
One of the best instances of this was a small collection of animals and birds in a large cage that used to be shown by a man by the name of Austin, and to which I have already referred. This man was a lover and trainer of animal life, and an adept. His "Happy Family " generally consisted of a cat or two, some kittens, rats, mice, rabbits, guinea pigs, an owl, a kestrel falcon, starlings, goldfinches, canaries, etc. - a most incongruous assembly. Yet among them all there was a freedom of action, a self-reliance, and an air of happiness that I have never seen in "performing cats." Mr. Austin informed me that he had been a number of years studying their different natures, but that he found the cats the most difficult to deal with, only the most gentle treatment accomplishing the object he had in view. Any fresh introduction had to be done by degrees, and shown outside first for some time. It was quite apparent, however, that the cats were quite at their ease, and I have seen a canary sitting on the head of the cat, while a starling was resting on the back.
But all are gone - Austin and his pets - and no other reigns in his stead.
Occasionally one sees, at the corners of some of the London streets, a man who professes to have trained cats and birds; the latter, certainly, are clever, but the former have a frightened, scared look, and seem by no means comfortable. I should say the tuition was on different lines to that of Austin. The man takes a canary, opens a cat's mouth, puts it in, takes it out, makes the cat, or cats, go up a short ladder and down another; then they are told to fight, and placed in front of each other; but fight they will not with their fore-paws, so the master moves their paws for them, each looking away from the other. There is no training in this but fear. There is an innate timidity, the offspring of long persecution, in the cat that prevents, as a rule, its performing in public. Not so the dog; time and place matter not to him; from generation to generation he has been used to it.
In "Cats Past and Present," by Champfleury, there are descriptions of performing cats, and one Valmont de Bomare mentions that in a booth at the fair of St. Germain's, during the eighteenth century, there was a cat concert, the word "Miaulique," in huge letters, being on the outside. In 1789 there is an account of a Venetian giving cat concerts, and the facsimile of a print of the seventeenth century picturing a cat showman.