She's Always a Kitten to Me
On loving someone you can't control
There is so much I was planning to write before our world changed on October 7. Fun things, silly things, lessons I’ve learned or am trying to teach myself…
For now I’m saving my more serious writing for publication and trying to keep it light here, but that may not last long. That being said, I’m going to write an entry that was in my head for quite some time. I hope that even if it doesn’t bring people together, it divides people along new and different lines: cat people (GOOD! ALL GOOD!) and non-cat people (morally ambiguous. I love dogs, but if you don’t respect cats, to quote Slim Shady, “We’re gonna have a problem here.”)
Cat people, unite! There is a right and wrong. Right is what my cat wants. Wrong is anything that inconveniences her.
Here we go…
If I had a young female friend who was contemplating marrying a man and starting a family with him, I would ask her one question:
“Does he love cats?”
Not the question most people would ask. A mutual friend of many of my subscribers always asks me, whenever I date someone new, “Is he age appropriate and does he like you for the reasons you want to be liked?” Excellent questions indeed, but my question gets much more quickly to the point. Whether or not someone loves cats tells you almost all you need to know if you are a strong, independent woman, the kind who would be a young female friend of mine, who is contemplating a relationship.
Why, you might ask, does one jump from loving cats to being fit for a relationship?
Cats can not be controlled. You do not train a cat the way you train a dog. Cats are the way they are, and any attempt to discipline them will only make them frightened, angry and unfriendly. Being mean to them, even slightly, will push them away. They will either fight or run from you. You can not hurt a cat and expect her to love you. It doesn’t work that way.
Cats do what they do for their own reasons. It is up to us, as humans who love them (I do not use the term “owner” - cats are not slaves!) to figure out how to please them and make their lives as comfortable as we possibly can.
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This may include going to lengths that some consider extreme. My illustrious list of friends is filled with people who Put Cats First (my new political 'party’s slogan.) If your cat is on your lap, you simply text or call to say you will be a moment late to whatever engagement may have to be put off… such as your own wedding. There’s a cat on my lap.
If your cat is sleeping in the bed, you do not make the bed, you wait until the cat moves. One of the laws of the universe, articulated best at the cat cafe I visited in Oakland, CA, is “Never wake a sleeping cat.”
I respect people who respect their cats.
In many years of volunteering at cat shelters, I have learned even more about cats than I have from being in committed relationships with my own cats over the years. I’ve seen cats come in utterly terrified and traumatized, screaming with what we call “cage rage,” starving and often injured, turn into purring, adorable love bugs with just a few weeks of gentle petting, soft words, good food, and medical care.
If you doubt the power of love, let me tell you the story of Dylan and Chantel.
When Dylan the cat came in, I could have sworn he was on his way to the Rainbow Bridge. He was so limp he would barely lift his head. We could pet him but he would not respond. He would not eat, or at least not much. He had mange or so we thought, but we got him cured of that. He still would not move, look up, or make any sort of contact. It was as though he had profoundly dissociated the way traumatized humans sometimes do.
My cat shelter partner L petted him every time we were there. She never gave up. I didn’t either, though I hesitated to bother him too much… he was just so limp and I was afraid to frighten him. But L was right - she is more experienced than I am - he loved the petting even though he couldn’t show it.
I was not there the day this happened, but the legend has it that while someone was cleaning Dylan’s cage, Chantel, a very friendly tortie who loves everyone, human or cat, jumped right into his cage! She snuggled up to him and they became inseparable.
Dylan is mostly white with a few black spots, and Chantel is a dark tortie (that’s tortoiseshell for those of you who don’t know - brown, black and orange, sometimes with a little white, known for what is called “tortitude” because they tend to have attitude, but nowhere near Siamese.) Curled up together in their cat bed, they looked like yin and yang.
In a very short period of time, Dylan started to perk up. He didn’t get up or get out of his cage, but he looked up. He graciously accepted petting and acknowledged it with a purr. He ate happily. Chantel would come out of the cage and run around when we let her out - we let them out at Project MEOW while volunteers are there and sometimes run a little zoo with friendly cats playing together in the small space - but Dylan didn’t come out. However, he did watch, and he was clearly getting better.
By the time they went together to a foster home, Dylan was no longer recognizable as the sick, almost dead cat who came in. I’m sure that in a home he will be up and active again, with his lady love Chantel prodding him along. We keep bonded pairs together, and this pair is clearly married.
Cats and women have a lot in common, which I think is why cats have been hated by some cultures and worshiped by others. Cats are independent, but they are not solitary creatures. They want to be in community… on their own terms.
Each cat is different. Some like to be in constant contact and will sit on your lap while you’re on zoom meetings all day. Some love to play, especially as kittens, but unless they are Siamese, they usually calm down after about age 4. When Loviefluffy was still young, we played with toys, particularly a feather toy, from 5 am to 6 am solid every day, and then when I got home from work we’d play more. Now she is about 8 and much calmer, but as a black cat, she is still playful. We play feather toy for awhile each morning until she gets bored. When she is not busy teaching epidemiology online to other cats, she spends most days sleeping in the bedroom while I work in my living room office. But she has her routines, and when she demands my attention, I have no hesitation to drop what I’m doing to meet her needs.
From my description so far, it sounds like a relationship with a cat is a one way street. It’s not like that at all. Once you have won a cat’s trust, they will love you unconditionally. My cat has been with me through moves, sickness, sadness, and innumerable episodes of Star Wars shows. She is happy and relaxed when I am doing the right thing, and she signals that something is off if she’s in tense cat pose. I run all decisions by her because I have no choice - she is my witch’s familiar, straight out of Disney central casting, a black cat who knows the truth even when it is temporarily obscured from my inferior human eyes.
Cat people, almost by definition, do not have to control a being to love it. Of course there are exceptions, but being in true spiritual communion with a cat requires this kind of love, and if they can do it with a cat, they make a good candidate for a person who can not be controlled either.
The stereotype of crazy cat lady still abounds, and I find myself in futile arguments from time to time with people with whom I otherwise agree on the topic of cats. What, in a world where there is true evil, intentionally caused suffering, brutality of immense proportions, could be wrong with a woman who wants to love and care for cats? The cat women I’ve known, especially those who volunteer at the cat shelters, are among the most kind, reliable and caring people I’ve ever met. The kind of person you would want to be the mother of your children or the ruler of your nation state.
The men who volunteer at the cat shelters… well, don’t tell anyone, but I do have a bit of a crush on the man who is the super cat man of Project MEOW. He can catch any cat, find any cat, medicate any cat, and is utterly devoted to them. We once had a conversation about how we find cats who are microchipped and we call the person they are registered to, but the person denies ever having had a cat. It’s heartbreaking to think that someone would get a cat, microchip it, and then leave it to be found starving on the streets.
“If someone found my cat,” the cat man said to me, “I would make them stay on the phone with me until I had my cat back in my arms.”
That, my friends, is a real man.
I love dogs too, and a serious dog person is a wonderful person. Many of my favorite people are serious about their dogs, and their dogs are well loved and cared for. When we lived on a Christmas tree farm, my mother pretty much adopted the giant 94 pound golden retriever, Sunny, who was the farm dog. Sunny loved my mom and slept right next to her every night. I hiked the farm with Sunny for hours. She was loyal, loving, beautiful and fun. Dogs are fabulous beings… but they are not cats.
I respect dog people a great deal too. Having a dog can be more work than having a cat, and requires a commitment to walking them, etc. Dogs can be very emotionally needy in a way that both cats and independent women tend not to be. It seems to me that dogs are needy on a constant basis, while cats and independent women largely go about their own business until they want you.
But once they love you, they love intensely, purr loudly, and play vigorously. They do calm down, after a certain age… unless they are Siamese. Siamese cats never calm down.
In the spirit of Billy Joel, blame it all on yourself cause she’s always a kitten to me.
Meet Dylan and Chantel, now happily together in a foster home, awaiting adoption. Let me know if you would like to give this married couple a furrever home!