Ethical Feline Of The Year: Tara the Cat

The rescuer and  the rescued (photo from KERO, Bakersfield)

The rescuer and the rescued (photo from KERO, Bakersfield)

You may have seen this video already, but as I may never again have the opportunity to honor a member of one of nature’s least ethical creatures for exemplary ethical conduct, here is the amazing tale of Tara the Cat.

In Bakersfield, California, four-year-old Jeremy Triantafilo, who is mildly autistic, sat on his bicycle outside his family’s home when the neighbor’s chow-labrador mix, who “doesn’t like children or bicycles” according to his owners, escaped the yard through an open gate , saw the boy, and attacked him. Surveillance footage shows the dog grabbing the boy’s leg and pulling him to the ground, and beginning to shake him. The Triantafilo family cat, Tara, saw the attack and charged to the rescue, leaping on the dog and chasing him off.

The boy’s father posted the video of the jaw-dropping episode to YouTube, and you can see it below.

I have had cats and lived with cats, and one cat in particular, my wife’s Siamese, broke my heart when he died. Nonetheless, cats are nature’s sociopaths, charming but ultimately self-centered,  cruel and lacking in empathy. They are not pack animals or group oriented, and “loyalty” is not one of the characteristics that anyone would say distinguishes the species. There is a reason why the film “Cats and Dogs,” which posited that the two rival creatures were really alien races of superior intelligence secretly battling for dominance on Earth, cast the cats as the villains. Cats can’t be trusted, and there is no such thing as an ethical cat.

Or so we have always been told.

Tara (the video is not a hoax) is either an outlier, or this is just one more example of how scientists don’t understand animals as much as they think they do. She clearly places herself in danger to rescue the most vulnerable member of her family. The cat assessed what was happening, set out to rescue the child, and did it efficiently and well.

I have never heard of such a thing. There are other YouTube videos that show cats engaging in ambiguous conduct that is termed a rescue, but such episodes always involve the cat protecting itself or its general vicinity from an intruder. At first, I thought Tara’s video was staged, like “The Incredible Journey.” So far, it doesn’t appear to be.

Thus we have to conclude that, contrary to lore, conventional wisdom and propaganda from the Ministry of Dogs, cats—some cats, one cat, this cat—are capable of  conduct that in a human we would regard as altruistic, ethical and courageous acts. Tara not only rescued a little boy from serious harm, she also elevated the status and reputation of cats everywhere.

Now that’s an Ethics Hero.

And here’s the astonishing video:


Facts: Daily Mirror, ABC

46 thoughts on “Ethical Feline Of The Year: Tara the Cat

    • Yes, that’s an explanation, and a plausible one. So the theory is that Tara would have done the same whether she was watching the boy be attacked or not. It seems unlikely though. The cat isn’t confined–if it was prone to attacking dogs, you would think this would have already presented a problem.

      Or maybe she just objects to Chow-Lab mixes. My dog loves all creatures big and small, except Belgian Shepherds, which he will attack, and has.

      It’s about as likely as the cat setting out to rescue a child, I must concede. At any rate, your theory will be popular with the anti-cat lobby….

        • Exactly. If he attacked Sarah Palin, fat women, old dogs or white poodles, he’d be exemplary. (He gets along fine with all other black dogs, just not Belgian Shepherds.)

          • It didn’t even occur to me that Belgian Shepherds were black. I was merely joking that your dog harbors animosity for a particular breed and can’t seem to transcend that bias.

            • That’s funny! No, Rugby was attacked by my neighbor’s previous brace of BS’s when he was a puppy, and thinks all versions of the breed are the same dogs that hurt him. Sad, because the current pair are very friendly, and are puzzled that he seems to hate them.
              Here’s a good example: A Belgian Shepherd

                    • The reference was to the thread on yesterday’s double standard post, where deery is earning purple hearts defending the indefensible, but with vigor and zeal.

                    • No, I’ve discussed it with Jack, and he agrees with me completely.

                      He doesn’t see a judge refusing to penalize an convicted individual who made every effort to comply with his sentence and was left out of jail for 13 years because of bureaucratic snafus as vaguely in the same ball park as a judge who bends over backward to help a crooked cop keep getting paid for life by the taxpayers he betrayed. That was his phrasing, by the way, not mine.

                  • Depends. Who is the “group”? Dogs, Belgian Shepherds, Black people, the NBA, dog owners? Meh. I’ll let those constituents sort it out.
                    Though I would enjoy seeing a dog’s life shamed through social media. How would he know? How would he react to such news? Even though he only attacks one breed, would he hold a press conference and announce that he wasn’t a racist and that his actions were taken out of context? The world may never know.

      • My theory is that the cat had a pre-conditioned hostility toward that particular dog. Here is how I connect the dots that I think I see, in support of that theory: The dog was always confined; its foray into the neighboring yard where the boy was, was an anomalous experience of territory unfamiliar to the dog. The cat, on the other hand, was always free to roam; therefore, it is at least a possibility (and to my intuition, more of a likelihood) that the cat had already met the dog, on the dog’s “turf,” and had an unpleasant encounter. I know about territorial ways of dogs, but not about cats. I am guessing that cats possess some degree of territory-based behavior, maybe not highly similar to that of dogs, but nevertheless sufficiently motivating such that a certain cat would attack a certain “intruder.” So I am left suspecting that the cat “had it in” for the dog, even if the cat had no loyalty to the boy whom the cat incidentally spared from further injury.

        • You can make that theory, but the cat doesn’t leave the boy’s side once it chases the dog off. The boy stumbles as he gets up to run to the house, and the cat waits for him. It clearly considers the boy part of its charge.

          Contrary to popular myth, cats are social; culturally we think they are aloof and treat them as such. They take the social cue and act aloof, confirming our bias. Children with autism often relate easily to animals, and the boy likely bonded with that cat. The cat, in return, defends the boy like it would its own kitten, contrary to our stereotypical view of cats.

  1. Domestic cats are not entirely loners. They’re solitary hunters, not pack hunters like dogs or wolves, but when they’re not hunting they form social groups. Because they’re small, cats are subject to attacks by other predators, and so they form defensive herds, and groups of females that have spent time together will help each other protect their kittens.

  2. Nonetheless, cats are nature’s sociopaths, charming but ultimately self-centered, cruel and lacking in empathy. They are not pack animals or group oriented, and “loyalty” is not one of the characteristics that anyone would say distinguishes the species… Tara (the video is not a hoax) is either an outlier, or this is just one more example of how scientists don’t understand animals as much as they think they do.

    Oddly enough, that ‘not pack animals or group oriented, and “loyalty” is not one of the characteristics that anyone would say distinguishes the species’ turns out not to be quite accurate. Animal studies people began to suspect it might not be when they realised that – according to their soundest theories, based on other animals – there had to be some natural behaviour like that on tap for an animal to be capable of being domesticated at all (as opposed to being capable of being tamed, which involves each animal being born what we informally call “wild” but being tameable as an individual, with considerable effort applied to that). So the researchers went looking for the nearest thing they could get to “natural” living cats, which turned out to be groups of cats at farms; it turned out that, when there were enough cats, the females formed a sort of loose “pride” arrangement that orbitted close to the farms, as it were, while the males did the same with a much wider range and less regular contact with the other cats in the grouping – but always some (see Windypundit’s observations). Also, fairly notoriously, cats often bring their owners half stunned prey as presents; it’s part of training kittens to hunt, being applied to “cats” who obviously haven’t learned how, i.e. to humans; naturally enough, female cats do this more, though males do too. These days, scientists do understand animals as much as they think they do, just not as much as they wish they could.

    In Nigeria we had a cat who, among other things, adopted other cats and brought them home. Once, for a fair while, he brought back a sort of live in girlfriend who greatly resembled him physically (Burmese cat colouring, etc.), though she was less intelligent and more torpid. On another occasion he tried to bring a black kitten in to share his food and water, only the sight of us humans spooked the kitten, who ran away from the dishes; we never saw it again.

    In the light of this, I believe that the fictional cat in Heinlein’s The Door into Summer – who showed distress when the hero was incapacitated by the villains, and acted constructively – may have been drawn from life.

    But we shouldn’t read more into it than is there. I take most of your later remarks as projection rather than a sound conclusion, making a sort of Uncle Tomcat out of this, so to speak.

  3. I don’t know if I buy the premise that cats are natures sociopaths. I’ve read many stories about cats that do things like go into burning buildings to pull their offspring out at risk of their own lives. Perhaps in the case of the kid, the cat saw a threat to the person who feeds them and pets them when the cat feels in need of it. Calculated self interest I would say. I’m not particularly sentimental about them however, despite the Youtube video of “Henri, the French cat”.

    • Nature’s sociopath may have been hyperbole. But, to bolster Jack’s point, look to the cat in Animal Farm. Some item was put to a vote early on (whether to revolt?). The cat voted Yay and Nay!
      That perfectly captured what Jack intended, I expect.

  4. I have somewhat less of a hopeful view of this cat.

    I’ve never known a truly domesticated cat. In their hearts is still a huge wild streak. But then again, what do we mean by domesticated anyway? A lot of people may confuse this with “humanize”… which can NEVER happen, it’s definitionally impossible. When an owner dies, a dog may pine away next to their deceased master and we coo about how loyal and domestic that is, whereas, I’ve heard, a cat will immediately survey the surroundings formerly considered “territory” of the owner and begin claiming it. Savage.

    But not really.

    Just their natures. We build our communities (We meaning EVERY living creature) around what our natural drives and impulses are. Human beings possess, as part of our nature, the ability to discern that sometimes the baser impulses can be suppressed for the good of others and ultimately increase overall stability.

    This cat, based on my experiences with cats, probably simply capitalized on an opportunity to pounce on a territorial intrusion. Had the dog not been distracted, I take the cynical road and assume the cat would have done next to nothing. But benefitting from the distraction being the cat’s owner, the cat appears the hero, but it’s all moral luck.

    Moral? I don’t know, that sounds like a humanizing evaluation to me.

    • I just read your 10:03 am comment and I believe we are thinking the same about the cat. I go dense at odd times, and this is one of them. I can’t see how moral luck is relevant, unless we are talking about the woman (the Mom I presume) who, in the absence of the cat, faced the moral luck of being obligated to intervene to stop the dog’s attack.

  5. In an interview with the mother, she said it all happened so quickly she did not see what the cat did until her husband showed her the video later. Also the dog started to come back and she chased after it, getting bit herself in the process.

  6. I love cats… They will either defend you from harm, or eat your corpse, whichever their whim may be.

    How do you not respect that?

    I feed my cat regularly, mostly out of fear – if I fail, how long before *I* become her meal?

  7. My cats would like to reply, but they are too busy protecting the house from intruders by sleeping in the windows, where, if they were awakened abruptly by someone trying to enter, they would express their displeasure at the interruption of their 23 hour nap by hissing, scratching and biting, something that might later be interpreted as moral and ethical behavior to the non-felines in the house.

  8. Wasn’t that dog’s behavior typical of human bullying? Stalking prey, then asserting power over the vulnerable, then fleeing in terror (or at least, in prioritized self-interest) upon being confronted by credible counterforce. This video should become standard fare in anti-bullying education: “Don’t let bullies ‘shake a leg’ other than their own; be the cool cat who confronts!”

          • No, the mere mention of an international fiasco that could remotely be attributed to Obama’s lack of foreign policy vision, let alone not believing in strength projection, would imply that Obama is a substandard president.

            To imply Obama is a substandard president is to say either:
            1) black people make unfit presidents
            2) Obama is unfit because he’s black.

            Leftist Logic 101.

            And quit being racist by mentioning international fiascos.

            • Ah, I honestly MISSED that connection, thanks! That was another dense moment for me, in a day that’s had more of those moments than I recall having in one day in a long time. I can blame Obamacare for messing up my meds! Oh, wait – no, that would be racist, too…DANG!

  9. Does motive matter?
    I think the video is great and I’m willing to go along with the hero cat theme for the fun of it. As long as we are clear about the difference between animals and humans.
    I do think assigning complex human emotions to animals is not helpful as a way of looking at the world. It can cause people to sometimes value animal lives more than human lives.

    • Yes. On the other hand, scientists have gone to great lengths to minimize or deny the capacity of lower species to feel empathy, made decisions, or even feel pain in some cases. The more we study animals, the more we realize that they are more, much ,ore complex and intelligent than we had once been led to believe, and those beliefs have enabled a lot of animal cruelty.

      • Agreed. I’m not arguing against humane or loving treatment of animals. The way we treat animals reveals our humanity. I just think we should keep a good balance. I’ve loved some animals more than some people but that doesn’t make their lives the same as human life.

  10. Why is it that cats are kind of cool i.e. “hep cats”, “Straycats” and dogs are not? Maybe cats are the beatniks of the animal kingdom.

  11. I grew up on a farm and had countless barn cats. The females truly had “it takes a village mentality” — a few cats nursed kittens (including other cats’ kittens) and other females hunted and taught the kittens to hunt. Only one or two toms would be allowed onto the property. Frequently there was a dead — or sometimes half-dead — bird, vole, chipmunk, etc. waiting for me on the welcome mat on our front porch. They also waited for me at the bus stop every afternoon and walked me home.

    I have a house cat now that would have done just what the cat did in this video — although I hope to never have to test my assertion. Not only is she the friendliest cat on the planet (every non-allergic person who has ever petted her has adopted a cat) but she is fiercely protective of my toddlers AND my friends’ children.

    Nature’s sociopaths? I’ve only known a few that fall in that category. And — although I LOVE dogs — I have seen a lot of cruelty toward humans and other animals from other dogs.

    • The “it takes a village mentality”?

      Criminy. Please apply utopian human ideals to animals some more…

      Only allow one or two toms into the territory run by the females?

      I bet that’s your feminist dream.

      This is rich. Watching people anthropomorphize is a true window into their souls.

        • Yeah got it. There’s taking responsibility for being a good role model and teacher to any young *that you have an impact on* in your community. Then there’s what any good liberal means by “it takes a village”.

          Don’t be obtuse.

        • Sorry Beth, but when a reliably liberal commenter uses a well known liberal catchphrase that has a distinct meaning, but uses it with a different intended meaning, she’s the one who errs by not explaining the different meaning.

          I’ll try to read your mind better next time. Until then, I’ll make the connections that are most logical when reliably liberal commenters use well known liberal phrases.

          • The context used should have been your first clue — as well as the fact that I don’t have nice things to say about the Clintons. Oh right, and the fact that I was talking about barn cats, not people. You went off the rails big time on this one.

    • Have you ever seen a cat evince shame, regret, or remorse? I sure haven’t. I have seen dogs, in contrast, “Punish themselves” when they knew they did wrong….my favorite being my English Mastiff when I left her alone to take a phone call leaving a full plate of bacon on a coffee table. When I came back, the plate was empty, and our dog was curled up in the corner, whimpering with a “I know, I know, I just couldn’t help myself: please don’t yell at me!” look in her eyes.

      • I’ve seen cats grieve for a lost family member or friend. I’ve seen cats show guilt for accidents or snapping at a person. I’ve never seen remorse over food though.

        This is not a cats vs. dogs post though — I love dogs equally.

        • Grieve? sure… anthropomorphize much?

          Also, any discussion of Cats will involve references to the the competition between cats and dogs, just as any discussion of “Palestinians” will involve a reference to the competition between “Palestinians” and Israel. It’s just that attached.

          • Less anthropomorphizing, and more noting that relatively intelligent animals generally do seem to have emotional responses to things; there’s even an entire field of study dedicated to trying to figure out the evolutionary history of emotions (if creative intelligence can show up in non-human animals, and it does, social-based emotions probably do too).

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