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.