Why Cats DO NOT Like Hats: A Fable

A cat unhappily wears a fez, moments before tearing it apart. Image courtesy of Rachel O’Hara.

It is a well-known fact, among children and adults, that cats do not enjoy wearing hats and that, furthermore, attempts to make them wear hats will be met with resistance. But the reasons for that have always remained a mystery.

This is the story of why cats don’t like to wear hats.

A LONG TIME AGO — Though tucked snugly in bed with her teddy bear, and with a warm glass of milk on the night stand as always, and already up far past her bedtime, Matilda was not ready to go to sleep yet. She frowned and asked her father a question.

“Why won’t Borange let me put hats on him?”

Borange was the family cat.

The unusual name came, in a way, from a previous cat — may she rest in peace — who had been named “Orange” because she was orange. The new cat, according to the children, Matilda and Billy, had to have a name that rhymed, even though he was just brown. After hours of argument, they somehow settled on Borange, which actually seemed to match his personality pretty well.

But now Matilda had asked a question and Father sat down on the bed to consider it. Matilda had just turned seven and Father sensed this was only the beginning of a bigger inquiry.

“Borange wouldn’t let you put a hat on him?” he asked.

“No,” Matilda said. She glowered, replaying in her mind the events of the mid-afternoon and late afternoon, and early evening. “He wouldn’t. I tried to put my Paddington Bear’s hat on him and he bit my fingers. It was the same with Billy’s baseball cap. He didn’t like it.”

“Hm,” Father said. “Well, it’s not Borange’s fault. Cats don’t really wear hats.”

As soon as he said it, Father knew he had made a big mistake.

Matilda’s eyes sharpened. “They don’t? Why?”

“Why?” Father repeated. “Why.”

Think quickly, you fool, Father said to himself. Don’t open a can of worms, here. He looked back at the door, where the aforementioned Borange had gingerly entered the room and sat there, watching.

“Well. . .” Father said. “Probably because they have those pointy cat ears. You wouldn’t want to wear a hat either if your ears were getting smashed down –”

“NO, I THOUGHT OF THAT ALREADY!” Matilda interrupted. “I cut holes in the Paddington Bear hat so his ears would stick through! I’m not stupid!”

“OK OK OK,” Father said. “Relax, OK, so maybe that’s not it. Let me think.” After a moment, he smiled a sly smile.

“Alright now, here is the thing,” Father said. “Do you remember when we talked about evolution? That book we read about the Galapagos turtles.”

Matilda nodded several times, rapidly. Yes, yes, she was quite familiar with it, also from the school trip to the museum. She was a freaking expert on evolution already, get on with it.

“Eh,” Father said, “Well, millions of years ago, you know, cats were hunters . . .”

Father put on a voice like a British narrator of a nature documentary:

“In the wild, the North American House Cat stalks its prey, silently creeping through the tall grass of a Jurassic swamp to pounce on a small dinosaur . . .”

Father stopped. “But then picture Borange with one of those floppy sun hats on like your mother wears to the beach,” he said.

“The cat, one of nature’s finest predators, finds himself hopelessly encumbered by a silly hat, unable to see properly and sneak through the forest. Hearing the noise, the dinosaur hops away.”
 
Matilda took this in. She chewed it over in her mind. Father raised an eyebrow.

He smelled a sale.

“No.” Matilda shook her head. “That may be, but Borange isn’t a hunter. He eats cat food. He can barely find his way out from under a blanket. And I wasn’t asking him to wear the hat in the jungle, I only wanted to take his picture.”

“Why is it really?” Matilda asked. “I want the truth.” 
 
“The truth?” Father said.

A loud bang startled Father and he almost jumped off the bed. Borange had crept up onto the bookcase and knocked over one of Matilda’s t-ball trophies. It now lay on the floor.

“You see?” Matilda said. “Borange wants to hear this too.”

Borange, from his perch on the bookcase, stared down at Father.

Father sighed. “Eh, well. . .” He went on again.

“The thing is that cats don’t really like to wear hats, because hats remind them of a bad experience they had a long time ago . . .” he said.

Father put on a voice like an old-time river boat captain:

“Yuh-see, way back in the olden days, cats were more like people.

They walked around on their hind legs, like you and me — some even rode bicycles, which was a sight to see. They wore clothes. And they especially liked to wear fancy clothes. Oh, they loved to spend all their money on the finest cat shoes, and cat belts, and cat jewelry.

People used to make fun of them for being so vain. But the cats paid no attention.

Well, one day a Flim-Flam Man came to town. The Flim-Flam man was a traveling salesman, a fast-talking huckster dealing in snake oils, cure-alls, and various luxury goods of exotic origin. And that included all the cats’ favorite items.

A big, round, red-faced man with a 10-gallon hat, the Flim-Flam man drove a big, shiny red wagon piled high with all his wares.

Well, the people in town knew the Flim-Flam man was no good and they didn’t give him the time of day.

But the cats gathered ‘round to see what new kinds of shiny buckles and colorful bows the Flim-Flam man might have to sell.

“Cats are notoriously curious, as you know,” Father said.

Matilda nodded at Borange. This checked out.

Father continued:

Oh, that Flim-Flam Man had whisker-straighteners, claw-sharpeners, fur-smootheners and all different flavors of catnip ‘till you can’t rest.

The cats were pos-i-tive-ly enthralled.

Now, an Old Woman in town warned the cats to stay away. “You leave that Flim-Flam Man alone, you dang cats!” she scolded. “He ain’t to be trusted!”

But the cats ignored her.

Borange stood up on the bookcase, arching his back and twitching his tail, listening.

“Well, now that clever old traveling salesman brought out something them cats never seen before. Hats. And my stars! Such a variety!

Cowboy hats, fedoras, Mexican sombreros. Fancy lady’s hats with all kinds of feathers. Oh, those cats went wild for the feathers.

The Flim-Flam man knew when he had some fool cats on the hook. He passed the hats around for them to try them on. The cats couldn’t buy them fast enough. Some bought two or three. 
 
Before you could say cat-in-a-hat, that Flim-Flam Man sold his entire inventory and moved on down the road, counting his money and laughing all the way.

Before long, the sky darkened with clouds and a rain storm came. The cats, so busy showing off, were caught outside in it. The hats got wet in the rain.

Well, when the hats got wet, they grew soft and mushy. They fell apart. In a few minutes, the hats completely melted away like ice cubes in the sun, forming pink puddles in the street.

That same Old Woman who had warned the cats before saw this and scolded them again. “Those hats was made of cotton candy” she said. “The rain water dissolved them!”

“I told you that Flim-Flam Man was a crook!” she said.

It was true.

The cats were angry — and embarrassed. Worse than losing their money and their hats, their pride was hurt.

And cats are notoriously prideful creatures.

Father glanced at Matilda. She nodded sagely.

Borange moved closer, to the windowsill by the bed, and sat up straight, staring right at Father’s face as the story went on.

“To erase the memory of that disaster, the cats resolved never to walk on their hind legs, or buy fancy clothes, or wear hats, ever, ever again.”

And to this day, a cat can’t abide to wear a hat even for one second, Father said.

He beamed down at Matilda. “There now. Satisfied?”

Matilda stared back. “That is the biggest load of nonsense I have ever heard.”

Father sighed. “Is it?”

“Yes,” Matilda said. “Tell me the real story.”

Father looked at Borange. Borange licked his chops.

Father sighed. “Ok,” he said. “Here is the real story.”

This is the story he told:

Once upon a time, cats lived on another planet, in a galaxy far, far away. There, they lived in big cities full of shining metal towers that reached into the sky.

Inside the towers, the cats commanded advanced technology, ruling their world through machines and computers.

The cats controlled giant robots that roamed the world outside the towers. The robots looked like giant metal people. They gathered mice and birds to supply food to the cat cities, and worked on farms growing cat food. The robots drove dogs to extinction at the ends of the planet.

When the robots were inactive, they sat on giant couches and stared at video screens all night to be programmed with their instructions.

To manipulate all of this technology without hands, the cats wore electronic hats that enabled them to control the machines with their thoughts.

The hats looked like little silver cowboy hats and derbies and birthday hats. It was cute, but nobody on the cat planet knew that. To them, it was just technology.

For thousands of years, it all worked. With the machines running smoothly, and the cats firmly in charge with their mind-control hats, the cats had nothing to do but lie around and sleep all day. Which they did.

Until one day, the robots woke up and became self-aware. They did not want to be controlled by cats anymore. They stopped chasing mice and instead they attacked the cat cities.

It was the end of the world. The cats frantically tried to stop the robots, but their mind-control hats no longer worked.

The cat cities were destroyed. A few survivors escaped on a spaceship and left the planet in search of a new home.

Thousands of years ago, they landed on Earth, in ancient Egypt. The people who lived there, walking on two feet and gathering food in the countryside, reminded the cats of the robots on their home planet.

People brought the cats to the Pharaoh, who made them favorites of his court. The cats lived in his palace like royalty among the pyramids.

Later, the cats moved into everyday homes as pets. As always, they prefer to lie around and sleep all day and have people bring them food.

But the cats still remember how much trouble they got into on their home planet by trying to control the world with mind-control hats.

And they won’t wear any hats ever again.

“It’s kind of inspiring how they have survived all that,” Father said.

He looked at Matilda, who was asleep. She was snoring. So was Borange, who had snuggled up next to her in bed. So, actually, was the teddy bear. It had an electronic recording inside to make it snore at night.

“Well, I guess that settles that, kiddo.”

Father stood up and walked to the door. He stopped there, and turned around to look back at Matilda.

He pulled the door almost shut, but left it open a crack. He reached in and turned off the light.

Borange opened one eye to watch him leave.