The mysterious allure of cats

Source: Itty Bitty Kitty Committee

I have never been a cat person. If you know anything about me, it is probably that I am totally OBSESSED with dogs. But, lately, cats have been very interesting to me.

Don’t worry: I’m not going to get a cat anytime soon. But I would like to learn more about them.

Volunteering at the SPCA has changed my tune about cats. I used to proclaim that I really disliked cats. I don’t say that anymore. I still don’t understand cats, but then again, who really does? I can read a dog’s body language quite quickly, and I like to think I’m pretty good with dogs, on average. But cats? They mystify me.

For example, the last time I went to the SPCA, I decided that I’d spend a few minutes in the Cat Socialization Room. This is a little room with a TV and a loveseat and two litterboxes where eight to ten cats roam around daily. I tentatively walked in and crouched down, waited for the herd of kitties to come to me. I didn’t make any sudden movements. A few came up and sniffed me, but one attentive tortoiseshell put his paw on my knee. I was thrilled. “He likes me! We are going to be friends!” Without my encouragement, he climbed up in my lap and settled down.

I began to slowly stroke him and he started to purr. This continued for a minute or so, until, in mid-stroke, he turned his head and bit me. Not a play bite. This was a “Get away from me now” bite. He jumped off my lap. I was bewildered. What did I do? I moved around the room again, stroked other kitties, and then I felt a paw on my knee. Same sassy tort. He climbed back in my lap, of his own volition, and I let him stay there. Then he tried to bite me again. Seriously. What IS up with CATS.

Dogs would not do that. If a dog pulled a stunt like that, he’d be diagnosed with some kind of brain deformity/chemical imbalance. But cats? Apparently this is normal behavior. I asked my coworker about it; said coworker has 11 (yes, 11) cats and is a general expert on felines. He told me that he had a few cats who would act like that–solicit attention and then lash out for no apparent reason. His best explanation was that cats are extremely complex and they can change their minds from second to second.

So. Things I have lately learned about cats:

  1. Not all cats are aloof; some actually demand affection from humans.
  2. Cats are way more unpredictable than dogs. A cat’s mood can change in the blink of an eye, while most dogs tend to be temperamentally stable in given situations.
  3. Cats cannot truly be called domesticated, as Temple Grandin points out, since they could switch back to being feral whenever they wanted to. Modern dogs, on the other hand, could not survive without some proximity to people, which therefore indicates that dogs can be truly called “domesticated.”
  4. Per point 3, cats are not nearly as attached to humans as dogs are. Evolution does not necessitate their development of a close relationship with humans, although it can happen, should the cat deign to extend his favors to you. For example, cats are not necessarily attached to their families. They can–and will–leave home for months at a time. Most dogs (unless you have an intact male husky) wouldn’t dream of such a thing.
  5. Pregnant ladies should not have cats! Kitty litter will make your baby come out like a cyclops or something.
  6. Cats are very low-maintenance pets. They don’t need even a tenth as much attention and training as dogs do.

I like the idea of getting a cat, one day, many, many years from now. I am not half as interested in cats as I am in dogs, but I think I would like to have one around. Mainly because they make any room in your house look more interesting and glamorous.

To conclude, a photo of the only cat I’ve ever loved: Kitteh.

Kitteh and me in Denver. Source: Grace Farson

Kitteh was my landlords’ cat when I was living in Denver for a summer. Her official name was Kitty, but I found that dull, so she became Kitteh. (Apparently, her people now call her that full time. I am proud.) Kitteh was very docile and affectionate. She slept in my bed with me on the downstairs floor, climbed on my stomach while I was reading, was generally totally wonderful and soothing. If I could get a cat exactly like her, I would.

cat nap
Oh, Kitteh. I love and miss you. Source: Me

Weekend ready and dads

I’m taking the train to D.C. this weekend to stay with Angela before she jets off for NYC. I’m oh-so-very excited! The last time I went to D.C., I was a freshman in high school and I had an absolutely miserable time. I have no doubt that this visit will erase any lingering bad memories of the Capitol. I’m going to be with Angela, after all! It will be magical. I may also get to see the long-missed Eric and Cristina, which I am also really looking forward to.

God tempted my willpower this week when I saw that a purebred Australian shepherd had come into the Charlottesville SPCA. And he was a beautiful blue merle, too. However, like most pretty dogs who come into the shelter, he was adopted within a few days. He is probably enjoying a happy life with his new family right now. See how I am trying to console myself…

Happy early Father’s Day to Dad and Mike! You’re great and mean so much to me and to Guion. Thanks for supporting, teasing, and loving us.

Talk to you on Monday.

Animals Distract Me

Animals Distract Me, a new film by Isabella Rossellini. Source: Woman Around Town.

Animals distract me. This, the title of Isabella Rossellini’s new film for Planet Green, could very well be the story of my life. It premiered a few weeks ago and, of course, I really want to watch it. Rossellini is busy training her eighth guide dog and making this documentary, a tribute of her lifelong love of animals and a public exhortation for people to realize how their actions affect other living creatures.

I watched the series of bizarre trailers (in which she impersonates a chicken on hormones and an eyelid parasite) and just kept thinking, “I want to BE this woman. Maybe I AM this woman.” I wish. If only we could all be rich, quirky, gorgeous Italian model-actresses…

I think it’s the title, though, that especially resonated with me. What a perfect description of my (now well-documented) condition! Guion certainly knows this is true. We can’t go on a walk without me pointing out every animal in sight: Pigeons, feral cats, skinks, songbirds, squirrels, and dogs, of course always and forever, dogs. We’ll be driving through the Virginian countryside and I’ll point out cows on the hillside. As if they were something novel! As if we hadn’t passed 700 of them minutes before! It’s a problem. But, like my kindred Isabella, I’ve always been this way.

My parents were fairly tolerant of my animal obsessions as a child. They let me get six mice to “train” for a “science” experiment when I was in early middle school. Really, I just wanted some mice because I thought they were cute. I named them all after Shakespeare characters and kept the males in females in separate glass tanks. Then I found out that Romeo was a Juliet and we had a potential population problem on our hands. The parental edict descended and I had to get rid of them. But they were fun for a while. If extremely smelly.

I went through a brief budgie obsession, which culminated in me getting a pair, Monet and Renoir, for my 13th birthday. They were cute and affable and liked to use my fingers as landing perches. However, I was not prepared for the nocturnal activities of such birds. My annoyance with the noise grew and I began to pray that they would die. This is a dark confession for an animal lover. But there you have it. God rather unceremoniously answered my prayers and about a month later, I found Renoir dead on the floor of the cage. I grieved, but not as much as his pretty gay lover, Monet. Monet died of a broken bird heart a few weeks later. We buried them both in the backyard and ornamented their graves with twig crosses.

Spencer was our family rabbit, a large and happy Dutch lop. He was our first true playmate and easily the most tolerant rabbit ever to live. We acquired him from our irresponsible neighbor, who was running a de facto rabbit colony in her back yard, which met up with ours. She probably had anywhere from 20 to 30 rabbits back there and never fed or cared for them. I like to think we rescued him from that situation, even though he could still play with all of his poor half-siblings, cousins, and assorted relatives along the fence line. Dad built him a two-story rabbit mansion in the back yard. We believed that he played hide-and-seek with us. He never bit us, not even once, which is remarkable, considering that we tried to dress him up and smuggle him inside for tea parties.

Then, of course, you know about Emma, my beautiful, intelligent Australian Shepherd that I failed with my teenager-ness. I think she’s the primary reason I want another Aussie; I have this feeling that I have to make it up to her somehow.

My need to lavish affection on an animal has even extended to Reuben. A fish is barely a pet–they’re about as much fun as a plant–but I love this fish. I talk to him in the mornings when I feed him. I think he’s very handsome and I worry about his manorexia.

The other day, during my lunch break, I made a list of all of the animals I wanted to own on our fictional 300-acre farm in the Shenandoah Valley. Here is my ideal menagerie:

  • Pack of dogs, at most four (Shepherds from most regions: Australian, German, and Anatolian. And probably a Great Pyrenees.)
  • One to two cats. (I do not know anything about cats and I’ve only met a few that I’m fond of; I loved Kitteh, my housemate in Denver, for example. Yet I probably shouldn’t be allowed to get a cat because I think of them as purely decorative beings. Cats are so elegant and pretty and they go with everything! If I got cats, they’d probably be functional barn cats.)
  • Two to three bunnies. I love bunnies!
  • A flock of finches or two budgerigars for the parlor. It’s only proper.
  • Goats for lawn control and cheese.
  • Sheep for the dogs to guard and herd. And for wool. And lamb kebobs.
  • A llama. For inter-species friendships with the sheep. And because they’re super-soft.
  • One handsome Jersey cow for milking.
  • If we suddenly inherit millions, two horses. For riding around the property and for brushing. Haven’t gotten over My Little Pony yet.
  • Chickens. Guion will probably make me get chickens. I have no interest in them, but I think I could learn to love them.

This list has the potential to grow. Consider yourself warned, husband.

I am finally going to my volunteer orientation at the Charlottesville SPCA this weekend and I could not be more excited. It’s absurd. I was talking to Emily yesterday about her life and she’s talking about huge things like her career and moving to the West Bank for six months and she’s all, “What’s the big thing in your life right now?” And I’m just, “OMG, I’m going to the animal shelter!!” No comparison in the magnitude of these life plans.

But there you have it. Animals distract me. That’s all I really need to say.