On Being a Cat Man

Brewsky on bottom, Sage on top

When I got my fourth cat, a bonafide cat woman bestowed upon me the venerable designation of cat man. The 2011 arrival of my first cat marked the end of a lifetime of dogs, not because I fell out of love with dogs, but because Peggy, an ailurophobe, unexpectedly fell in love with a tabby. Being a first-time parent to a kitten was like being a first time parent to a baby in that we had no idea how to raise him. Luckily for us, Brewsky proved to be the world's best starter cat.

Our cats have surprised me in many ways, but the greatest is that their considerable affection for their human parents has yet to plateau. I gauge this by the amount of time they spend with us; the liberties they allow us to take in handling them; and their readiness to forgive.

Another surprise is their individuality. I'll give three examples. (1) I have one cat who welcomes visitors; one cat who hides behind the clothes dryer when visitors come; and two cats who ignore visitors. (2) I have one cat who is indifferent to having his belly rubbed; one cat who doesn't like it; and two cats who do. (3) I have one cat that wolfs his food; one cat who is a finicky eater; and two cats who eat with moderation.

A third surprise is their stubbornness. Dogs say, "You are my god, and I pledge to you my obedience." Cats say, "I am your equal, and you are to respect my right to self-determination." Brewsky found it so difficult to persuade me of the wisdom of this view that I used to chastise him by chasing him through the house yelling and waving a yardstick. When he tired of running, he would lay on his back, stretch to full length, and wait to be petted. I had imagined that cats were timid creatures, yet here was a cat with the self-possession to see right through me. On that and future occasions, I did as he asked while asking myself whether whatever I had expected of him was strictly necessary. 

When we proceeded to adopt other cats, Brewsky joined in their parenting, and he still "nurses" insecure Ollie. If Ollie wasn't a slurper, the situation wouldn't be so bad, but, sad to say and embarrassing to admit, I've found no way to stop him. 

Because I've yet to win a single War of the Wills with a cat, I've been forced to choose between lowering my expectations and making everyone miserable. I'm now down to a mere four behaviors that I go all out to thwart: Ollie nursing when I'm near enough to hear him; Brewsky taking food off my plate while I'm still eating; Scully chewing electrical cords; and anyone walking across the stove top. 


Another surprising aspect of living with cats is that their behavior can suddenly and inexplicably change to an extent that I've never witnessed in dogs. For at least two years, Ollie had a favorite chair, but the surprising part wasn't that he liked the chair, but that he used it by placing his butt on the same spot of the chair's seat, and draping his front legs across the chair's arm. I came to regard this behavior as such an integral part of his Ollieness that I couldn't have been more amazed when he stopped doing it. 

Everyday that he lives, Sage does something equally surprising. To whit, I'm usually the one who lets the cats out of the laundry room each morning, and so it is that every day without fail, Sage looks at me with his eyes wide as if to say, "My god, who are you, and why do you want to kill me?!" It's as if he went feral overnight, but only around me because when Peggy awakens, he cries to be picked up, climbs onto her shoulders, and looks at me as if to say, "You're a brute, and I hate you." After that early encounter, he will often roll onto his back when I'm around and request a belly rub, but he never ever asks me to pick him up, and he never shows the least desire to climb onto my shoulder. 

I've sometimes had women tell me that their dog's first person must have been an abusive man, their evidence being that the dog is wary of men, yet my own dogs and cats are more cautious around strange men, and it's hardly because I abuse them. Dogs and cats simply find a strange man more threatening than a strange woman, especially if the man is big, loud, and moves quickly. Even wolves are that way. On the flipside, pets often behave more aggressively toward women. Peggy had a terrible time trying to control our Australian Cattle Dog, and when Brewsky was young, he often  ambushed Peggy, biting her leg hard enough to draw blood. For a cat to communicate displeasure--as Ollie sometimes does when he has had enough petting--by gently mouthing a hand is acceptable. But to persistently bite with the intention of causing harm is not. In the case of Brewsky, the behavior only stopped the night that he bit Peggy twice, and she and I both became so angry that he didn't even try to roll over for a belly rub.

Cat haters... 

Authoritarians hate cats, and cat haters are domestic dictators who demand instant obedience to their every whim. They are disturbed people who can't tolerate the least show of freedom on the part of their pets, and oftentimes their spouses and children. I'm confident that people who abuse pets also abuse humans, and it's a fact that mass murderers and serial killers usually start by torturing and killing animals.

Cat haters believe that cats prolong the killing of their prey because they are sadists (they do it to hone their hunting skills), although these same haters unnecessarily eat animals that lived in misery and died in terror. Many such people even hunt, just for the fun of it.

Cat haters' ignorance is endless and their complaints asinine. They argue that only an abysmally stupid animal would fail to beg, shake hands, and roll over; and they believe that a pet who doesn't run in frenzied circles when they come home from work doesn't love them. Cat haters are all-or-nothing thinkers on whom subtlety is lost, and cats are nothing if not subtle (anyone can tell when a dog is smiling, but what does a smiling cat look like?). Cat haters believe that a pet who isn't full-tilt hyper with affection couldn't care less if they died. Their need for validation is such that they even make their dogs neurotic.

Cat haters hold that a cat's every action provides proof of its selfishness. They argue that my cats only bathe one another so that they will be bathed; only sleep with their bodies touching because they crave warmth; that Scully only runs to welcome Peggy home so that Peggy will pet her; that a cat who alerted a friend of mine to the presence of a burglar was only concerned for his own safety; and god knows why a cat attacked a large dog to save a child, but rest assured that it was out of selfishness.

Dogs are social animals. With the exception of lions and male cheetahs who pair off with other male cheetahs, cats are not. Even so, Felis catus possesses an abundance of those virtues that our social species values, and it does so without the liabilities. For example, only a dullard or a cat hater could fail to observe that cats experience deep and abiding love for their humans, for one another, and even for creatures like birds and rodents with which they were raised but would ordinarily kill. It's also true that, unlike humans and chimpanzees, cats have never once joined forces with other cats to wage war. My cats never even fight over their favorite treats, but woe be to the dog that steals another dog's food.

At Peggy's urging, we got Brewsky the day after we lost our beloved schnauzer. Prior to that day, Peggy was so fearful of cats that demonic cats pursued her in her dreams. While we didn't discuss our reasons for getting a cat, I, at least, believed that a cat would be more interesting than a goldfish but spare me the horrific grief that I had repeatedly experienced upon losing dogs. I was wrong.


Emma Springfield said...

I am not a cat-hater. However I am allergic. I would never mistreat an animal. They are all living creatures and have feelings and emotions. I have seen feral cats in our teeny community gather in a group to attack an older gentleman who won't let them in his house.

Elephant's Child said...

Jazz who is our only cat (for the moment) treats my partner and me completely differently. He bites me. He claws me. So often that I have developed an immunity and the wounds never get infected. He very rarely bites my partner.
He wakes me by reaching under the bedclothes and raking me with his claws. He wakes (rarely) my partner by sitting beside him and patting his face (claws retracted).
On the other hand, if I am in the garden, Jazz tracks my process from within the house, moving from room to room so that he can watch, and runs to the door to greet me (purring loudly) when I come in. If my partner is outside he ignores it.
We often say that we have two cats. My Jazz and his Jazz.
And we love him, as he does us (I hope and believe).

kylie said...

I must be rare in that I neither love nor hate cats as a group. I've never owned a cat but I grew up with one and at the age of 16, held him as he died. I may not love cats but I wasn't going to let him pass alone in a sterile surgery.
You see your pets as individuals, each lovable in their own right. And that's as it should be

Snowbrush said...

"I must be rare in that I neither love nor hate cats as a group."

I very much doubt that you're rare, it seeming more likely to me that people who are indifferent to cats are also indifferent to their indifference. What puzzles me greatly, though, about people who really and truly despise cats is that the object of their hatred is but a tiny creature who--aside from decimating an area's bird-life--represents no threat to anyone and probably takes little interest in the fact that their haters even exist. What is it, then, that cat haters hate about cats? All I can think of is that cats don't affirm the worth of those people's existence.

Here are some stats from a couple of "Psychology Today" articles (about dog people versus cat people: 74% of those surveyed like dogs a lot; 2% dislike dogs a lot; 41% like cats a lot, and 15% dislike cats a lot. Cat lovers rank higher than dog lovers in introversion, imagination, creativity, curiosity, independent thought, and art appreciation. They're also more trusting, agreeable, modest, straightforward, soft-spoken, and self-contained. They're also less dependable, less dominant, less sociable, less interactive, and male cat lovers in particular are markedly more neurotic. Interestingly, about two-thirds of cat lovers would NOT be open to also having a dog as a pet, while two-thirds of dog lovers would be open to also having a cat as a pet. (Here are the links: (1) https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/unique-everybody-else/201304/cat-people-are-more-distinctive-dog-people; (2) https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/canine-corner/201002/personality-differences-between-dog-and-cat-owners)

Snowbrush said...

"I am not a cat-hater. However I am allergic"

Peggy is also allergic to the extent that if a cat touches her face, she breaks out. I read the autobiography of the world's first full-time cat vet, and was astounded to discover that he was very allergic to cats.

"I have seen feral cats in our teeny community gather in a group to attack an older gentleman who won't let them in his house."

I would love to know the full story! I would imagine that the cats were attacking as separate and desperate entities rather than as members of a confederation. I have, however, read of individual cats that attacked members of their human family for little, if any, obvious reason. On one such occasion, an old man accidentally hit his cat with water from the shower head, and the cat became so angry that he put the man in the hospital. I've also read of families calling the police from rooms that they retreated to upon being attacked by their cats. I sometimes look at my cats and wonder what our relationship would be like if he or she weighed ten times as much. With dogs, of course, weight doesn't usually occasion aggressive behavior, which means that a four year old child is never safer than when in the company of the family's St. Bernard, but would the same hold true with cats? I rather doubt it.

"He bites me. He claws me."

We figured out that when Brewsky bit Peggy, the incident invariably followed being scolded by me. She was still working at the time, and he would ambush her legs in the dark hallway when she got home. Her nursing job could be quite stressful, so you can imagine how poorly it went over to be ambushed by her cat in a dark hallway. I had thought to leave the matter to her to deal with, but she simply couldn't, so after one worse than usual bite, she and I both chased him through the house while yelling and cursing for all we were worth, and he never bit her again. If he had continued to bite, I honestly don't know if we would have kept him because these were ugly incidents. Of course, I never thought I would have kept a dog that would bite, but I kept our blue heeler Bonnie, although she would snap at Peggy, me, or anybody else who pissed her off, plus we couldn't trust her around dogs other than our schnauzer, and the only reason she didn't bite him was that she knew we wouldn't like it. At the same time, I've never had a smarter or more sensitive dog, and she was especially devastated by my disapproval. When I reflected upon those occasions when Bonnie snapped, I noted that they nearly always occurred when we had been roughhousing, that she would snap once and once only, and that she came nowhere near closing her jaws with more than a little of her considerable force. Prior to Bonnie, I hadn't considered the fact that dogs' jaw strength differs enormously according to breed. For instance, I don't believe that our miniature schnauzers could have hurt anyone much had they seriously wanted to, but our heeler sure could, and she was able to keep her jaws closed as effectively as she could close them. For example, to give a pill to a schnauzer, I would open the mouth with one hand and put the pill into it with the other, but I was afraid I would have broken Bonnie's jaw that I used the force necessary to open her mouth. I've since learned that wolves have greater jaw strength than any domestic dog. Something else I learned about dogs is that while a lot of dogs will snap at a person, few of them will wage a prolonged attack, pit bulls being notable for it. Finally, Bonnie taught me to never present my hand for a strange dog to sniff because she came near biting a few people that way. I instead present my balled-up fist for dogs to inspect, and if a dog should be big enough to get my entire fist into his mouth I don't even do that.

angela said...

I love my cats. And my dogs. I’m a pet person. Unlike humans they don’t ever hurt me. Until they die
I have recently had two more cats dumped on me by my niece they are both Tom cats and still haven’t come to me. They are so scared and have no idea what has happened. But they have kinda made friends with my cats and one dog
My little dog is too exuberant for them and the run away lol
I’m sure one day soon they will let me pat them. I hope

Cathy said...

I really enjoyed your looking at life as a cat owner. You described all the idiosyncrasies of cat ownership that only cat owners know and understand.

After many many years of having one or more cats in our home I/we are catless at the moment. By choice rather than desire - age and travel play a part in that decision but I do so miss that love, warmth, contentment that having one (or more) brings. Then there is that awful feeling of loss when their time comes. It's been just over a year since we said goodbye to Kiera and.....well let's just say it still hurts.

Take care

Marion said...
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Snowbrush said...

"I love my cats. And my dogs. I’m a pet person."

Peggy would have a dog by now if we had any thought that it would work for the cats, but it's their home too, and we're convinced that it wouldn't. Also, after having our last two dogs not like one another, we are reveling in the very great affection that our cats show for one another, so to have a dog come in and disrupt that (through no fault of his or her own) is unthinkable.

"You described all the idiosyncrasies of cat ownership that only cat owners know and understand."

Thank you. I find it greatly rewarding to have gone from having no idea how to be with our first cat to feeling comfortable around all cats.
" I/we are catless at the moment. By choice rather than desire - age and travel play a part in that decision"

I respect your choice, naturally, and must admit that I feel so pangs in that regard because as things stand, I wouldn't leave the state even to attend a funeral because I know how tough doing so would be on the cats--for reasons to long to get into. We have, obviously, chosen cats over travel, although Peggy still travels a good bit by herself. Fortunately, I don't care to travel, but I think that even if I did, I would choose to have cats (instead of travel) for three reasons. One is that it feels awfully good to give a home to a cat that needs one; the second is that my cats and Peggy are the only family I have; and the third is that they are with me 24/7, whereas travel is something that one does and then comes back from doing.

"Fabulous write about your kitty friends, Snow. I really enjoyed reading it. xo"

Thank you. All of the local agencies expect you to sign a form agreeing to keep your cat indoors, but we would do it anyway. Every now and then, one of our cats will walk a few feet outside the door, but we just gently herd him (it's always a him) back. Because of an abundance of other people's outdoor cats, I've gone from seeing several snakes a year to seeing none. To me, outdoor cats are the darkside of cat guardianship/parenting (I can't bring myself to say that I "own" a cat) because of the danger they pose to other species, and because their lifespans average half that of indoor cats. Yet, I enjoy seeing pretty outdoor cats when I go for a walk, and it always give me a boost for a friendly cat to walk up to be petted. We moved to Oregon in 1986, and I've yet to see a poisonous snake here, but although I killed them regularly in Mississippi, I wouldn't kill one now. I even know a Texas blogger who has, for several years, had the same coral snake in residence. In winter, the snake goes under her house, and isn't seen again until spring. I applaud her, but if she should need a plumber to go under there, I wonder if she'll tell him about the snake. To me, the choice to kill poisonous snakes is something that I would put a lot of thought into. If I had small kids, I would go looking for snakes to kill, but the days are long past that I would kill a snake simply because it WAS poisonous.

Marion said...
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Snowbrush said...

"I killed ten Water Moccasins with my hoe! Was I supposed to let them bite my 2 babies???"

Marion, the answer is in my comment.

Snowbrush said...

"I killed ten Water Moccasins with my hoe! Was I supposed to let them bite my 2 babies???"

Marion, I decided to respond to this further. I wrote, "If I had small kids, I would go looking for snakes to kill," and you responded, ""I killed ten Water Moccasins with my hoe! Was I supposed to let them bite my 2 babies???"

It often seems to me that you only read my writing to the point of finding something to blow-up about, and then you pounce. In this case, that "something" appears to have been, "I wouldn't kill one [i.e. a poisonous snake] now." If you had continued reading, you would have realized that if I had small children, I would not only kill poisonous snakes, I hunt them down to kill them. Despite the fact that many decades have passed, I still regret the poisonous snakes I killed. The last one was a copperhead. I had been clearing woods, and as I had my lunch, it passed several feet in front of me, and I decapitated it with a kaiser blade, the reason being, as much as anything, that I had been raised to believe that the only good snake was a dead snake. Yet, before his death, that snake and I had been behaving very much alike--me enjoying my lunch, and him hunting for his. Instead of killing him, I wish I had possessed the love, courage, and wisdom, to have celebrated his considerable beauty and taken comfort in the fact that, like most snakes, he not only didn't go about looking for people to kill, but was instead a shy and inoffensive creature that never once killed any creature that he didn't have to kill in order to live. With the exception of animals we've domesticated, I suspect that ours is the only species on earth that kills without reason.

"Some varmits deserve to die."

That then, would you feel justified in destroying entire species? Given that you are a Christian, you believe that God created all things for a reason, yet you seem to be saying that he made a mistake in the case of creatures that you personally disapprove of. It rather seems to me that it's our species that are the varmints because we alone are responsible for driving 200 to 2,000 species year into extinction, most of them for trivial reasons.

Marion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.