Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Dave and his hierarchy of needs

This is Dave, a feral cat that has been hanging around our house for the best part of a year. Yesterday he spent the evening sitting on the arm of the sofa watching TV with us. This was something of a breakthrough, because Dave has been extremely cautious about any sort of contact. I mention this not just because I'm extraordinarily  fond of this small black cat who yowls, dribbles and who gives me asthma, but because watching him through the last few months has made me very aware of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. 

Dave's primary concerns have been food and safety. We left food outside the house and he would eat it. We put food just inside the house and he would eat it - but only if we left the door open so that he could escape. If we got between him and the door he'd be off in a flash. This went on for months, which was particularly tedious in mid winter. He then discovered the stove, and realised how nice it was to sit by it - but  it was a long way from the door - but by then he was starting to trust us enough for us to be between him and the door and, eventually, for us to actually shut the door. Then he let us stroke him when he was outside. Then he decided that he liked that quite a lot and started to purr for the first time. Then he let us stroke him when he was indoors. Cat's aren't pack animals, they're solitary hunters, but seeing him watch TV last night made me wonder whether there was some need for belongingness that was now being met. 

Dave doesn't always feel safe with us, though - it's a comparative thing. This morning the door was open, Dave was half way in when a walker went by with a couple of dogs - most cats' would have responded by diving into the house and hiding under the bed. Not Dave - he  shot out of the door again and disappeared into the undergrowth. He's constantly calculating the risks and benefits. Mixing with humans might get him a more reliable source of food, and a TV to watch, but he's not going to go for it if he doesn't feel safe. Is it any different for humans? I doubt it.

You can find out more about Maslow here, (and sorry, yes, that's wikipedia) and you can find a truly terrible game I made many, many years ago based on his hierarchy of needs here

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