Jon, you always have something thought provoking to tell us! I understand your saying that a dominant cat does not necessarily seek the attention of a loving owner. I had a cat (Checkers) who avoided me at all costs, because I held her back to allow the other cats to eat. She did not like me at all. She would come only if I was eating, because I would share with her, but then take off as if I had a contagious disease. However, in that case, she was avoiding her source of food, not guarding me. Noone else fed her. She did not mind my petting the other cats at all. Even when she was near death at the vet's, and I went to visit her, she stumbled away as soon as she realized who I was.
Checkers had always sought the company of my sons, and often my son's girlfriend. She sat on their laps and purred, seemingly enjoying the attention, because she "ate it up." She is the only cat I have ever had who showed a definite dislike for me. However, she certainly had the ability to show preference. (and my heart broke when she died! She was a real character!)
The cats I have now will allow another person to pet them only if I'm not available, and the dominant female definitely does not want to share me with the male. They both enjoy sitting on my lap and getting attention. However, she chases him and bites his neck and he stands back to allow her to eat first. Yet, they show love for each other, and cry if the other is stuck in another room. Precious, the female, cried and cried if I left her alone while she was birthing her kittens. It was hard to get away to go to the bathroom!
I think those examples indicate the ability of cats to choose whose company they enjoy, and that they do have feelings. As an English teacher, I would be obliged to teach that the theory that animals have the capacity to love or dislike or have any other feelings is "the poetic fallacy", a literary term which means giving human qualities, such as love, pride, or dislike to an animal or inanimate object. However, I don't believe it is true of animals. Since we cannot get into their minds, we can't know precisely what behavior is instinctive and what can be attributed to feelings. Observation is the only tool we have. I think they are capable of love, shame, loneliness, anger, boredom, sadness, jealousy, and dislike--at least.
Just my observations.
It's interesting to hear that others see the same behavior and interpret it in an opposite way. I wonder if they are observing pets or feral cats.