I’m sinking to a new low with this essay. I’m writing about cats. Go ahead. Roll your eyes. Scrunch up your nose in condescension. I deserve it. Scratch another item off my “you’ll-never-catch-me-doing-that” list. Every time I think I’ve hit writing rock bottom, I discover another layer of sinking sand. It’s embarrassing. Sometimes, I even roll my eyes at myself.
Cat people are a breed unto themselves. I’m not one of those people. Banish that thought from your mind. I don’t have coffee mugs with my cat’s picture on them. I’ve never emailed photos of my pet to my friends, and I don’t routinely post cute Facebook pictures of cats online. The very idea makes me cringe.
First of all, my cat is not that cute. We’ve had three cats in our home over the years. One lived nineteen years; another lived seventeen. Cats are a long-term commitment—not like a macaw or parrot where you have to worry about someone taking care of it after you’re pushing daisies–but still a huge chunk of change, time-wise.
Our current cat has deigned to live with us for the past seven years. It’s obvious that he thinks he’s doing us a favor. My daughter found him under a house in the country when she was visiting relatives with her grandmother. She begged to bring him home. I refused repeatedly. She begged some more. “Where is the cat right now?” I asked over the phone. “In my lap,” she responded. That’s when I knew we were getting a new cat.
This cat comes from humble roots. He hadn’t even made it to a humane shelter or pound when my daughter found him. His mama wasn’t a pampered pet. His dad was probably his brother, cousin, or uncle. You know what I mean. Genetically speaking, he’s a little bit special. He has an extra toe on each of his front paws, which makes him look like he’s wearing oversized mittens. It’s oddly appealing. He’s territorial, possessive of his humans, and not above taking a bite out of someone who dares to stop stroking him when he’s decided it’s time for the plebeians he lives with to adore him.
What I admire about him is how faithful he is to his routine. He sticks to a strict daily schedule. First thing in the morning, after being picked up and cuddled, he begs for milk and breakfast. Then it’s off to lick himself clean and take a nap under the dining table. After that, it’s playtime with available humans, maybe a little cat television (sitting on top of a chest under the window to track squirrels and birds like the big-game hunter he thinks he is), followed by another nap on the bed and litter box time. At night, he drapes himself across whoever gets in bed first like a dead weight and refuses to move again until morning. Woe unto anyone who interrupts the routine.
I’m a woman who appreciates routine and predictability. As a mom, I never take an ordinary day for granted. If nobody goes to the emergency room, knocks off a car bumper, or calls me from the principal’s office, I call that a good day. We’ve been known to celebrate a day like that with ice cream.
I’m amazed and humbled that a completely different species of animal clearly wants to be around me. Sure, I’m his source for food, water, and a clean litter box, but it’s obviously more than that. This animal seeks me out for attention. He has an emotional connection to me. It’s clear. He seems himself as part of our family. That’s so surprising to me. I recently attended a lecture by my favorite primatologist, Frans de Waal, about just this sort of thing. He’s done some fascinating studies about social interaction in different species. If you are unaware of his work, go on YouTube and watch a few of his experiments. You can probably predict the results yourself. They are so close to human reactions. It will make you think animals in a new way. My cat would be an interesting study, but he’d never cooperate—not for all the catnip in the world.
In fact, he has quite a high opinion of his own importance. I can tell. He’s a little snotty and believes himself far superior to any other animal he encounters. He refuses to engage with babies or small children in any way. They are clearly beneath him. He knows they aren’t trustworthy, and he turns away and stalks out of the room with a disdainful tail wag when we have the nerve to bring small visitors into his territory.
To show his displeasure with any of us humans, it is not unheard of for him to poop in the shoe of a particularly offensive overnight guest, and he once used my sister’s clean laundry pile as a substitute for his litter box. Subtlety is not one of his talents. He is crotchety, difficult, messy, and often a pain in the behind, much like some of our human family members. It’s a good thing we think of him as family, too. Not every one would put up with him. He has a bad attitude most of the time.