5 tails, 10 eyes, 20 feet, 56 pounds, 90 toes, 120 whiskers, 150 teeth


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 flattened his ears and hissed. He remains our only cat who has never deferred to The Patriarch of the Cat Side of the Family. He is usually on hand to welcome visitors, and to do what he can to assist repairmen. He also likes to steal my chairor my place in bedwithin seconds of me getting up to do something. When Peggy is brushing him, he will often hook a finger with his claws, hold it in his mouth, and go to sleep. 

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. 



angela said...

Cat do make you earn their love. But once given it’s so precious
Why five cats! Why not.

Elephant's Child said...

Lots of truth in this post my cat loving friend.
At the moment we are faced with a major challenge.
Batty has had surgery to repair his luxating patella. For the next six weeks (at least) he has to be kept away from his brother and prevented from running, climbing or jumping. Challenging times ahead, though I fervently hope the repair is complete and he can become a kitten again.

kylie said...

Your obvious love for your cats is what I wish for every animal. I don't understand the nightly ramapage and bonding, either but I am well aware that men and cats are two things I'm not expert in.
I see a shelf under the window in your room. Is it normally covered in plants or is it more of a viewing platform for cats?

It's great to see a post from you :)

Strayer said...

Gigi, the garage girl (formerly owned by neighbors behind me) tries to entice me outside to chase her. She loves this. My cats for the most part get along fabulously, forming cliques and sleeping groups, changing them around, worry over a friend who isn't well, mourn their losses when a friend dies, and pretty much take care of themselves. One dog is more work than 20 cats (except for the litter boxes) I tell people, because they're not needy. I love more than anything else, laying in bed, with my cats around me, the stars visible through the window, reading. I think then 'how could life be any better than this?' When you told about Brewsky meeting the new cats expecting to groom them, and nursing, I thought of the male cats I've had who adored kittens and wanted to be with them and let them nurse on them. Moby and Brambles were my biggest kitten lover males. I let Brambles in with foster or feral kittens to reassure them, as they want nothing more than to cuddle with an adult cat. Miss Daisy loved kittens too and they adored her.

Anonymous said...

I love this picture with them all lined up. I am surprised they aren’t all clamoring to be petted. The one on the end looks especially large

Emma Springfield said...

You give us a loving message about your cats. It is fun to notice differences in personalities.

Snowbrush said...

"Cats do make you earn their love. But once given it’s so precious."

This is true, yet, sad to say, cats sometimes love the wrong people. I heard a woman on a radio program say that she would never date a man again if her cat didn't like him the first time. Maybe that was for the best, but if it was, the only sure reason was that it made things more comfortable for her cat. Her belief, however, was that the cat was such an astute judge of character that he could see things about a man that she couldn't see. I find that very unlikely. I think that when it comes right down to it, the main reason my cats love me isn't that I'm a wonderful person, but that I love them and do my best to be good to them. Come to think of it, that's probably why Peggy loves me. She knows my faults, but she also knows that she can trust me to care for her no matter what it takes.

"At the moment we are faced with a major challenge."

Your two kitties have certainly had a rough start in life, and I'm well aware that this has made it necessary for you to do things to them that must have upset them horribly. Yet, I would put my money on them not holding it against you because I fully believe that your trustworthiness radiates as if from your very pores. Back when I was having to feed Ollie six times a day, I worried that the other cats would think badly of me, but aside from giving me some strange looks, they were somehow able to believe that I did what I did for a reason. This is a poor comparison to what you've had to do, but many times over the years, I've had to do other things that could have caused one cat or another to turn against me, yet we somehow made it through with our love intact.

"I am well aware that men and cats are two things I'm not expert in."

Speaking of gender understanding, Blogspot put a content warning on my last post for no reason that I could see other than that the subject had to do with sex and gender. I don't know if it's still there (it's not there on my computer), so if you can get back to this, let me know if you see it.

Snowbrush said...

"I see a shelf under the window in your room. Is it normally covered in plants or is it more of a viewing platform for cats?"

I made it for plants years ago when I had over 40 plants in my bedroom. Now that I'm down to 18, I keep them under a long growlight. The cats have various other windows to look out of (they can watch bicyclists and pedestrians from two front windows, and birds and squirrels at my feeders from two back windows), but I close off my bedroom during the day (to keep the cats from harming my plants--and vice versa, although I don't have any truly deadly plants), and the shade is usually down anyway, especially in winter. I now keep the two or three books I'm reading at a given time on the shelf, and because I enjoy tying knots (I actually belong to the International Guild of Knot Tyers), I also keep a little plastic box with cords and a section of dowel on the shelf (they're next to me in bed in the photo). To the far right of what you can see of the six-foot shelf, there's a little glass cat that Peggy's sister got for me when she went to Italy last year, and next to it is a statue of Bastet.

"When you told about Brewsky meeting the new cats expecting to groom them, and nursing, I thought of the male cats I've had who adored kittens..."

Yet when male lions take over another lion's pride, they kill his offspring so that the females will go into heat. I suppose this is yet another difference between "social species" and "solitary species." I find it ironic that social animals often treat one si badly, while solitary animals usually get along with a minimum of friction.

"Miss Daisy loved kittens too and they adored her."

I never met Miss Daisy but I'll always remember her because you described her so vividly.

"I am surprised they aren’t all clamoring to be petted."

They all ask to be petted at various times and in various ways, but within about a half of joining me in bed, they're usually asleep.

"The one on the end looks especially large."

From the top of the bed down, the cats are Harvey (I prefer the look of longhairs, but he's our only one); then Scully (our only lady cat--she has tuxedo markings and is our most timid cat); then Ollie (the cat who nurses on Brewsky); then Brewsky (our oldest--he'll be 13 in August--and biggest); and then Sage (the cat who favors Peggy). Sage is probably our second smallest cat, but I would agree that he looks big in the photo.

"It is fun to notice differences in personalities.

It is their differences that make me want more cats. Yet aside from Peggy's insurmountable opposition, I would worry that it might not work to bring in a new cat unless he or she was a kitten, and at age 74, I don't think it would be right for me to get a kitten.

Ruby End said...

"In the evenings, she holds him in her arms while dancing through the house." - Such a wonderful image painted there, it reads as a ballet of sorts, especially when you are added chasing Brewsky with a broom. A post filled with love, it's beautiful. Dogs have never made my head balloon up and eyes itch to hell, plus , a dog has never come for cuddles only to scratch suddenly with the sharpest of claws. This is not all cats, not all dogs though. I love your wee family. Xx

Andrew said...

That was a pleasant read about your cats and your thoughts about cats. While dogs are my preference, cats are so much easier. There is not much better than having a cat who acts affectionately towards you, as we have experienced.

Snowbrush said...

"Dogs have never made my head balloon up and eyes itch to hell..."

Louis J. Camuti was the world's first vet to only treat cats, and Camuit was allergic to cats. rehttps://ecommons.cornell.edu/bitstream/handle/1813/46025/Perspectives_2013-May-28.pdf Peggy has a friend who is also devoted to cats despite being allergic to them. She can't have them in her house, but she feeds abandoned cats whom she also traps and takes to the vet to be neutered, spayed, and otherwise cared for.

"...a dog has never come for cuddles only to scratch suddenly with the sharpest of claws."

One possibility is that some cats are assholes (such authorities as Doris Lessing and Barbara Holland held this view) just as some people are assholes. Cats who behave as you describe (none of my do) are ambivalent about being petted. They initially enjoy it, but there soon comes a point when it leaves them feeling vulnerable. They subtly signal their displeasure, but if their signals are ignored or misunderstood, they attack. Another point I might make about this is that people who love cats do so because cats are dignified, mysterious creatures who refuse to acknowledge humans as their superiors and can never be fully tamed.

By contrast, people who love dogs do so because dogs are like trusting children who believe that their humans are gods and who will do anything in their power to please them. If your dog, Rosie, was kept away from people for a year, she would throw herself at your feet in ecstasy and submission when you and she were reunited. If my cats were kept away from people for a year, I doubt that they would let me come near them. If your Rosie suddenly gained 200 pounds of muscle, she would still lick your hand and lie at your feet. If my cats gained 200-pounds of muscle, they might very well start by batting me around in play and end by killing me when I bled and screamed. While I don't KNOW how my cats would behave in such a scenario, I do know how your dog would behave.

Dogs are subservient, knowable, and programmed to love. Cats are independent, anti-authoritarian, unknowable, and only devoted to those people with whom they feel safe. Dogs are what humans made them to be. Cats are what nature made them to be. How do I know this? There is a human genetic disorder called Williams Syndrome that makes people who have it pathologically loving and trusting. Dogs share the DNA that causes this disorder. Wolves do not. This suggests that dogs are a human-created species. Cats are a wild species that, if taken in by humans during their first weeks of life, can be mostly-tamed yet will always and forever remain "the other" to an extent that dogs cannot not unless they are wild dogs or dogs like one I had who wasn't far removed from the wild...

Her name was Bonnie Blue (she was a blue heeler), and although she was beautiful, playful, intelligent, and heart-rendingly sensitive, her dingo ancestry made her dangerous to other animals and to people she didn't know. She would even snap at Peggy and me if we offended her dignity. Before we got her, I never imagined that I would keep a dog who would bite anyone--much less me--yet I came to adore that dog when I came to understand that she never snapped at Peggy or me without reason, and even then, she ended her attack when we stopped whatever we were doing. Bonnie was like cats who scratch when the petting becomes too much, or like our little gray tabby Sage who tries to take Peggy's eyes out when she cuts his nails. What I'm trying to say is that she became indignant when anyone tried to deprive her of what she considered her rights (although we never did anything to her that ordinary dogs would object to), and because she couldn't speak in human language, she used her teeth to get her message across. I came to respect her for that, and when she died it was as though a never moving cloud had covered the sun. There's much to be said for wildness, and so few ways that many of us have access to it.

Ruby End said...

"One possibility is that some cats are assholes" - HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Reading through your comments answers you know cats, dogs and humans incredibly well and I think you're right on all scores. I remember you sending me pictures of Bonnie, she was a beauty indeed. If you ever have the strength to, you should write a book about your observations of cats and dogs, mostly cats though as they are now such a part of your family it's like being in a cat cult. It's lovely.

Liz A. said...

You've gotten a lot of enjoyment from your cats.

Darla M Sands said...

I'm always a fan of Strayer; she is funny as well as heroic. And thank *you* for your good works toward kitty welfare. :D Best wishes, my dear.

The Blog Fodder said...

You describe your cats so lovingly.
My kids love cats and are very allergic to them. I miss the three cats we had to leave behind in Ukraine

Vagabonde said...

I wish I could keep five cats but traveling to Georgia every month I have to take my one cat with me and four more in my little car would be too many. I envy you having these furry friends for company. They really look comfortable in your photo. I also think reading with a cat nearby makes it more enjoyable.

Anonymous said...

My relationship with cats ended with allergies not replacing my beloved Frodo and Alex. Years later, JB’s cat Alice (the male) pee’s on me while I was sleeping, cementing my allergies but also my reluctant respect.

Five cats is a lot, and you describe them well. Love is love. I’m glad.
Love kj

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

I read this now after long health issue but I also had cats and dogs. My cat Ellie was a rescue who could no longer jump. She was not a cuddled but would put out a paw to touch me many times. She made it to age 11 and had to be put down when her systems gave up.it was gut wrenching. Sadly we did not get another rescue as pet products hear are so costly now and we would only want the best.