I am amazed at the amount of hostility cats receive. In my office, which employs some 45 full-time staffers, there is a 15-to-1 dog person to cat person ratio. I am one of three cat people and, as of yet, the only outspoken one. I know the identities of the other two, but they have come forward only on condition of anonymity.
I am a cat person, but I also love dogs. I wish I could say the same for dog people, who seem to view cats the way most Republicans view President Obama. When I told Karen (a creative director at my agency who I absolutely adore) that I had a cat, she dropped her chin, looked up at me, shook her head and said, “Oh, Danny. Danny. Just rip my heart out, why don’t you.” You would have thought I showed up for work wearing a “HOMOS FOR RICK SANTORUM” button pinned to my sweater vest.
“I fucking hate cats,” Sister Marie said to me after my Godson Paul's first communion. “They are abominations spawned from the darkest legion of hell; they are not to be trusted.” Then she smiled sweetly and nodded like she always does, her habit tilting down, anointing me with her virtue.
When I tell someone I have a cat, more often than not, their jaw drops and their face goes pale. They tilt their head and study me as though I have antennae sprouting from the back of my head. “Are you serious?” they ask. The other common reaction is laughter, mostly from women, which then dovetails into embarrassment—for me—when they realize I am not kidding.
“Hemingway had a cat!” I say. “Lots of them!”
“That’s...not helping. At all.”
Today it is more socially acceptable to have just about anything for a pet…other than a cat. A web designer once brought his hedgehog, Bosco, into the office. It was like holding a bag of quills and about as cuddly as pin art. All the girls crowded around, fawning, taking turns holding the poor, frightened little creature, laughing and saying “awwww” every time he dropped a pellet in their hands.
It would be “cool” if, say, I had a python, which could slither out of its tank at night and asphyxiate me, or a Pit Bull, which could maul a family of four on the way home from the dog park. Hell, I’d get more respect if I told people I bred vampire bats, or that I have a chimpanzee at home that shares a cage with a retired Nazi officer.
“I despise cats,” says Holly, an account director at my office. “They’re just filthy creatures. I don’t even like being near them.” That’s funny, I tell her, because cats are fastidiously clean. They wash themselves more rigorously than humans, in fact. “I don’t care,” she replies. “I’d rather scoop up a pile of fresh mastiff shit with my bare hands than go near a cat. Ew.”
As such, all rational thinking goes out the window when it comes to cats. They are bad luck. They hex pregnant women and suck the life force out of newborn babies. Their dander is destroying the ozone layer. And since many cat breeds originated in Russia, they are obviously socialists; their very existence is a threat to our 2nd amendment right to bear arms.
Urban legends and old wives tales aside, here is one natural fact: I used to have a mice problem in my condo, what with all the recent construction in South Boston. Once I got my cat—no more mice problem. Nada. Not even a stray turd behind the bookshelves. I have seen my friend’s chow shepherd run out of the house yelping at the sight of a mouse. Not so with my little feline friend. She sits back on her fat ass with her feet sticking out, daring a mouse to show its face, like Joe in A Fistful of Dollars.
I’ve heard some people accuse cats of being self-centered. I find it interesting that all of a sudden we hold cats to the same standard we’d hold a boyfriend or girlfriend. As if the cat should somehow compromise, should scratch our bellies at least part of the time, or maybe have the decency to spoon some Fancy Feast into our bowls, for a change. Is that so much to ask?
I think the real issue is that dogs are clingier, and that satisfies our basic human insecurities. Dog owners need constant reassurance that their dogs love them unconditionally. And maybe it’s true; dogs are more loyal. But what’s so fun about that? Frankly, I like my cat’s ambivalence. I like how she won’t come to me when I call her name, but she will come and sit on my chest at the very moment I’m thinking of getting off the couch and grabbing a soda from the fridge. I like how, when I’m having an enjoyable, engaged phone conversation with a friend, she’ll start scratching my favorite reclining chair and staring at me with a look that says “Having fun with someone who's not me? Hm.” I like how she gets jealous of my books. As soon as I put my book down next to me on the bed she’ll walk over and lay down on it, as if she’s holding a pillow over the book’s face. Same goes for any longhand journal writing. Once I set the notebook down on my coffee table she’ll hop up and knock it off with her paw. And when I’m at the computer? Forget it. I’ll be sitting at my desk typing away, forging my latest revolutionary idea, and Dixie will walk directly in front of the laptop screen and just stand there. If I shoo her away she will eventually go, but not without smacking my face a few times with her tail.
If I play with one of my colleagues’ dogs at work, as I often do, then come home that night and pet my cat, she’ll sniff my hand and look up at me and meow, only the meow sounds eerily like the word “really?” Then she’ll walk into my study, where her litter box resides, and shit on the hardwood floor. Afterward she’ll walk back out with the kind of swagger reserved for a woman who’s just maxed out her husband’s Amex.
Yes, I am a cat person. A proud cat person. It is a thankless job, made even more thankless by the constant ridicule we endure from other humans. So my cat won’t lick my face. She will however bite my Achilles tendon or scratch my eyelid at 4:30 in the morning when she’s hungry. So we don’t go for runs along the beach. But she does climb atop my fridge and knock my cereal boxes onto the floor (which reminds me—I need to start closing the tops). So she doesn’t curl up at the foot of my bed while I sleep at night. But she does walk down to the second floor landing and wait patiently outside my downstairs neighbor’s door for hours on end. What she’s waiting for, I have no idea.
And that’s just another reason I love her.
Daniel Pellegrini is a recovering drug addict with an aggressive form of chronic bowel disease. That means he can't take painkillers after undergoing rectal surgery. He's here to show you just how beautiful life is.
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