5 tails, 10 eyes, 20 feet, 56 pounds, 90 toes, 120 whiskers, 150 teeth: A Defense of Cats


I hate it when people ask why Peggy and I have five cats because I don’t want to make her look bad for denying me my right to have ten. I ask her, “When I’m dead, won’t you regret preventing me from spending our life savings on cats?” to which she replies, “I’ll just be glad that I don’t have even more litter boxes to clean.” 

From 10:00 to 12:00 each night, I read in bed in the company of cats. Timid little Scully—the tuxedo cat second from left—took years to gather the courage to join me in bed and another year to move close enough for me to reach her. When the noise of wind, airplanes, car doors, heavy rain, and other things frighten Scully, I have the privilege of calming her fears. 

The middle cat—seven-year-old Ollie—was abandoned while nursing. A cat rescuer bottle-fed him every two hours around the clock until he was old enough to eat, and then Peggy and I adopted him. Upon entering his new home, he immediately sought comfort from our fifteen-pound tabby, Brewsky. Brewsky hadn’t been near another cat since he came to us as a kitten five years earlier. He now looked at us as if to ask: “What in the hell am I supposed to with this thing?” After a tense moment, he bathed Ollie and then allowed him to “nurse.” Seven years later, Ollie is still nursing.

Ollie’s worst problem is that he vomits up everything he eats unless I—me, personally—give him special food in a special feeder. Two year’s ago, he started vomiting anyway, so I had to switch from three large meals a day to six small ones. He’s now back to three meals and chattering happily to himself the entire time he’s eating.

The cat at the end of the bed is five-year-old Sage. I usually get out of bed before Peggy does only to have him ignore me. When Peggy appears an hour later, Sage talks to her nonstop being cuddled. In the evenings, she holds him in her arms while dancing through the house. Late at night, they have extended conversations similar to the following. Peggy: Miaow. Sage: Meow? Peggy: No—miaow. Sage: Miaow? Peggy: Yes, miaow. Sage’s eyes open like saucers. Peggy laughs and roughs his fur. Sage says Miaow!!! Peggy responds Meow yourself, Mr. Man! Sage whispers in her ear. Peggy laughs. Peggy and Sage embrace.

Sage’s only flaw is that he becomes abusive when angry, and that too is directed at Peggy. Happily, he only becomes angry every other Friday when she clips his toenails, and only then when she does his back feet. She has to put her face near his while she works, and it is my job to keep his head pointed away from her face.

My hand is on three year old Harvey, who is a beautiful cat although he looks like a dirty dust mop in the photo. After lovingly parenting our other kittens, Brewksy walked right up to Harvey when Harvey arrived with the intention of bathing him. Despite being more fluff than cat, Harvey horrified Brewsky by flattening his ears and hissing. He remains our only cat who has never deferred to The Patriarch of the Cat Side of the Family. Harvey is usually on hand to welcome visitors, and when Peggy brushes him, he likes to hook a finger with his claws and hold it in his mouth while dozing. 

Prior to Brewsky’s arrival in 2010, I lived with dogs for 61-years, so I can confidently say that dogs and humans are hierarchists while—except for lionsthe world’s 38 cat species live alone except when rearing their young. Yet...

Year in and year out, my five cats live within the same four walls. They share food, play together, tolerate foibles, bath one another, sleep with their bodies touching, settle arguments without bloodshed, and worry when one of their adopted siblings is upset. But if Felis silvestris catus is a solitary species, how are such things possible?

When we got Brewsky, I was as nervous as a new father who had never held a baby. Two days later, we took him to our vet—Sean Barrett—for his first check-up, and I was so impressed by Sean’s handling of him, that I resolved to also move slowly, touch gently, and speak softly. Brewsky and our other cats continued my education by teaching me to behave predictably; respect their independence; demonstrate joy in their existence; pay attention to what they tell me; abandon any hope of obedience or conformity; and avoid coercion whenever possible. 

The love of a dog is a given; the love of a cat is a reward for good behavior. Yet I treated one of my cats in ways that surely would have caused the others to hate me.

Within months of his arrival, Brewsky grew from a cute kitten to a stubborn and willful adolescent who would look me dead in the eye while doing the very things I had just told him not to do. One night while Peggy was at work, I became so angry that I chased him thorough the house while yelling and slapping floors and overstuffed chairs with the flat side of a yardstick. I thought he would run under the couch, but he instead ran through the house in a circuit that ran from living room, to hall, to dining room, and back to living room. After a few laps, he stopped, turned, caught my eye, and rolled onto his back and asked for a belly rub. Thus began a nightly ritual in which I would play the role of a homicidal human; Brewsky would play the role of a terrified inferior; and then we would cuddle. Try as she might, Peggy couldn’t wrap her brain around the idea that what looked like a prelude to murder was actually a male bonding ritual worthy of drunken cowboys in a John Wayne movie.

“Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us.” —Winston Churchill

Contrary to the feline snobbery suggested by Churchill (who was himself a cat lover), no cat is proud of belonging to one of the better families or ashamed of being from the wrong side of the tracks. While chimps, rats, wolves, humans, hyenas, and meerkats, are busy forming cliques, waging wars, installing dictators, and conspiring to mistreat others, cats are at quietly at home minding their own business. 

People who consider cats cruel, selfish, unloving, fawning, and antisocial, project onto cats what their motives would be if they behaved similarly. According to animal behaviorists.... 

Asking for food, eating it, and then seeking privacy in which to bathe and nap only means that cats feel drowsy after they eat, and that they prefer to sleep in secluded places where they are safe from large predators. Likewise, they wash away food odors so that large predators can’t locate them.... Cat critics are also wrong in thinking that cats have repeatedly capture the same bird or mouse because they’re cruel, the truth being that they are honing their hunting skills. As for other errors...

While it is true some cats dominate other cats, such behavior is situational rather than ongoing, and—unless it results from close confinement—the roles of dominator and dominated reverse after a few months. Although males often fight over females, the queen (for that is what she is called) reserves the right to choose her mate, and she often chooses the loser.... Male cats have the reputation for being absentee fathers, yet some males love their own kittens and—as with Brewsky—the kittens of other males, and even the offspring of other species. 

The following is from the Desiderata* poster that graced the walls of teenagers during the 60s and ‘70s: 

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence… As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons… Speak your truth quietly and clearly…Avoid loud and aggressive persons… do not feign affection… in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul… do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. 

To humans, these are aspirational values; to cats, they’re descriptive. 


Why Straight Men Are So Weird About Women


My Cat and i

Girls are simply the prettiest things
My cat and i believe
And we’re always saddened
When it’s time for them to leave

We watch them titivating
(that often takes a while)
And though they keep us waiting
My cat & i just smile

We like to see them to the door
Say how sad it couldn’t last
Then my cat and i go back inside
And talk about the past

Roger McGough


Heterosexual men are drawn to women like steel to magnets. The attraction is so strong and unremitting that they are often powerless to put it out of their minds. Many conclude from this that women are knowing and powerful beings who have the ability to purposefully control the strength and direction of a man’s feelings. Although naive women sometimes find this view flattering, its overall outcome is unhappiness for men and misery for women. For example:

(1) Some men elevate women to the status of demigoddesses. Because knowledge destroys delusion, a man who builds a relationship with a woman eventually comes to recognize his mistake. Although he might love her by then, his realization that she is human forces him to find someone else upon whom to project his delusion, whether within or without of his current relationship.

(2) Other men’s lust for women leaves them feeling vulnerable, so they attempt to turn the tide by making women vulnerable. Some resort to rape, physical abuse, or browbeating. Others claim that Satan uses women to drive a wedge between men and God, and so it is God’s will that women be rendered powerless and invisible. It was for this reason that the church of my childhood denied women the right to preach, teach Sunday school, ask questions, and make announcements, along with discouraging them from attending college or working outside the home.

As a small child, I was so captivated by the wife of a visiting cousin that I spent the evening in her lap. I would have done anything to please her, and I believed that everyone in the room recognized the necessity of me sleeping with her. When my mother forced me from the woman’s lap, I cried while the adults laughed. 

In an adolescent fantasy, I envisioned a woman walking through Arlington National Cemetery on a lovely spring day. The woman’s beauty gave her such power that entire regiments of dead soldiers followed after her. Such fantasies are not unusual…

Plots of the hit TV show Rawhide! sometimes revolved around the irresistible influence that beautiful but unscrupulous women had over a young and naive drover named Rowdy Yates (played by a boyish Clint Eastwood). Rowdy continued to be entrapped by such women despite his trail boss’s repeated admonition: “Rowdy, just because a woman looks like an angel, it don’t mean she is one.” 

In Jimmy Dean’s song, The Cajun Queen, a New Orleans’ woman resurrects a man who had been dead for days by placing “a red-hot kiss on his cold blue lips.” Then there were the pop-music goddesses from my adolescence: Venus, Earth Angel, Teen Angel, Venus in Blue Jeans, and My Special Angel, songs that flattered women and spoke truth to the fantasies of men. But what does any of this have to do with a poem about a talking cat? 

Although they try to hide it, men often react to a beautiful woman like a dog reacts to a female in heat. This is why some women regard men as slobbering buffoons whose stupidity runs neck-and-neck with their wickedness. The truth is that both genders conform to the roles that nature assigned them. During his lifetime, a man produces 525-billion sperm. During her lifetime, a woman produces 400-500 eggs, only a few of which can become people. This is why nature programmed men to insure the survival of their DNA by impregnating as many women as possible, while it programmed women to seek protection for themselves and their few offspring. 

The man in the poem is tempted by two or more flirtatious women, but instead of hurrying them into bed, he smilingly awaits their departure so he can be alone with his cat. Most men would have as soon thrown the cat—or the piano, for that matter—out the window if doing so would get the women into bed quicker.

Even if a man manages to think about something other than sex in one moment, he is at risk of being overwhelmed by sexual desire in the next, even if he is alone. The man in the poem is not alone. He has leisure, privacy, and two or more willing women. Fortunately, he also has the ability to say no. After age reduced my hormone levels, I too was able to say no. I also stopped mythologizing women. 

“I’m so sorry for that ghost I made you be. Only one of us was real and that was me.” —Leonard Cohen

Despite what women often believe, a man’s struggle isn’t between virtue and intelligence versus depravity and stupidity. It is more akin to the Homerian story in which the irresistible song of temptresses would have lured the hero Odysseus to his death had his crew not protected him. Real men are without protection. Real men struggle alone until they die or old age renders the problem moot.

I dont need a lover, no, no, no. The wretched beast is tame.

—Leonard Cohen