Who says that cats lack personality? Or, as I would rather refer to it, "catonality". Obviously, physiology dictates a particular framework for cats to operate within. Then again, that applies to all species, including homo sapiens. Anyone who has chosen to have cats in their lives, knows that there is something that differentiates each cat from another.
But cats, unlike dogs, do not have expressive faces. This is probably why we think of cats as haughty or mysterious. We wonder what they are thinking as they stare at us.
Actually, cats can not see the detail of our faces. When they look at us our faces appear as a blur to them. What joins their attention is movement. (By the way, this information comes courtesy of public television.)
Dogs, on the other hand, can see our faces and are very good at reading our expressions. This is why we can see their eyebrows dance, or their eyes narrow as they try to figure us out.
Just because cats have neutral expressions, it does not mean that they do not experience a gamut of emotions. We can identify some transitional emotions through their behavior. Let's say that your cat is enjoying the temple-rub you are giving him. You know he likes it because he's purring and when you try to move your hand away, he captures it with both his paws. So, you continue rubbing him. Maybe your hand strains to his tummy, and all of a sudden he gives you a nip. Your cat has transitioned from feelings of contentment to annoyance.
It is the habitual feelings / behaviors of cats that institute their personalities. And in this, cats can be differentiated as each having their own distinct personality.
The unvarying and limited stereotype of the cat is that he is aloof, condescending and independent. Actually, there is a spectrum of feline personalities that run from the very shy to the more aggressive. There are also all the nuanced personalities in between.
I've had many cats over the years. I'm mentioning only two of them in this article. Each of them stands as polar opposites to each other.
This female cat had been very badly mistreated as a kitten. She had been found on a beach at night, tied and weighed with rope and rocks. Her siblings had already drowned. The person who rescued her, did so just in time. By the time I adopted her, she was past four months in age. In other words, she was feral and would always remain so.
The irony is that she was an indoor feral cat. She was at the extremely shy cat end of the spectrum. I could only touch her at night, as I lay in my bed and it had to be on her terms. One of my arms had to be under the covers. Then and only then would she solicit rubbing from me. The rest of the world saw her as aloof, even condescending. I knew she was forever tied to her past. I also understood that she needed contact. She was sweet and shy and I loved her.
This female cat was on the aggressive (outgoing) end of the spectrum. Robinson was big-boned, with mottled pastel coloring and had the most exquisitely soft fur. Rather like that of a chinchilla. She had been adopted by a friend of mine at less than a month old. Her abandonment did not happen until she was in adulthood; by which time I had taken over the job of caring for her.
She was extraordinarily good-natured and got along with everyone, other cats, dogs and humans. She was not only good-natured, but also very outgoing. The other cats would secret themselves away in their various hiding places. But, when I came home from work, my three dogs would come rushing up to greet me. And so would Robinson. She was right in the thick of things.
Being an assertive cat, Robinson tried to manipulate her environment. Literally. She had neglected dew-claws which made it look like she was wearing baseball mitts on each of her paws. I had the cats' food stored in jars with screw-top lids. Robinson apparently had observed and then experimented with batting one of her paws against the lid in order to unscrew it. Clever girl. So my lesson was to make sure that I secured the lids more tightly.
All in all, each and every one of my cats was special to me in their own way.