Saturday, 5 December 2009

Partial To Cats

I probably don't need to tell you this, but I'm crazy about cats.

When I was little, friends used to bring home kittens and cry when their parents wouldn't let them in the house. My sisters and I never had this problem: our parents brought home kittens all the time. My earliest memories are of cats. Sleeping cats, purring cats, long-suffering cats allowing their ears to be inverted and their whiskers gently pulled, angry, spitting, cats, elderly cats, playful, big-eyed young kittens, sick cats huddled over their water dishes, venerable old toms with quirky personalities, pregnant and nursing cats. When you've got parents who bring home cats and encourage you to do the same, you end up with lots.

Listening to other cat lovers talk about the cat they grew up with, I feel embarrassed: we never had a cat, we had dozens upon dozens. Word got around that we were soft on cats and in the dead of night, cat rejects would be dumped on our doorstep. Tiny kittens with their eyes still sealed shut, sick cats huddled in cardboard boxes, cats with personality problems. Most of them had lusty appetites and gave birth to many kittens. We grew infamous. The people at the county health department knew all about us.

We had marmalade cats, tortoiseshells, white cats, black cats, white-and-black cats who looked like they were wearing tuxedos, tabby cats, Siamese cats, Persian cats, and every conceivable mixture. Some of our cats were feral and anti-social; some were disabled. All of them were dearly loved. And a lot of our babysitting money went to the local vets.

After I left home, one of the questions I asked new friends was Do you like cats? If I introduced anyone to my family, the question was guaranteed to come up. Democrat or Republican, believer or atheist, vegetarian or meat-eater, education, hobbies, family -- all of that could wait. Our shibboleth was simple: Do you like cats? A no resulted in dire consequences. People who gave equivocal answers were viewed as potential converts and subtly tested for cat-loving potential.

I like to think that I've moved on from my family's cat mania. If you prefer dogs, I will be perfectly nice about it. And for what it's worth, I've loved dogs myself and even had a few. But old habits die hard. I can't help it: when I meet people, I still want to know. Do you love cats? Are you one of us?

Once, while conducting a speaking proficiency exam, the colleague I was working with asked the boy we were testing Do you have a pet? This boy had misunderstood some basic questions and was obviously very nervous. He frowned and hunched forward. "Pet?" My colleague smiled. "Like a dog or cat." The boy's face cleared. "Yes," he answered. My eyes opened wide. "Dog or cat?" I almost whispered. The boy licked his lips and smiled. "Cat. I love cat." It was all I could do not to give him a higher grade than he deserved.

Yesterday, a friend sent me 17 Things Worth Knowing About Your Cat. (As you can probably imagine, people send me things like this all the time.) Now, I'm well up on my cat facts; I already knew Hitler was a dog-lover who hated cats and that Lincoln and Robert E Lee were both cat lovers. (For you dog-lovers out there who suspect I'm being catty, I don't think that Hitler loving dogs is a mark against you, I think it's the only good thing I've ever heard about Hitler.) But I didn't realize how passionately Eisenhower hated cats, and I got to thinking about other cat lovers and haters and so I checked out a few more websites.

At first, there were no surprises. Famous cat lovers include Petrarch, Sir Winston Churchill, Albert Schweitzer, Renoir, Monet, Florence Nightingale, The Prophet Mohammed, Anne Frank, Raymond Chandler, Kuniyoshi Utagawa, Dickens, Dr Samuel Johnson, Edgar Allan Poe, The Bronte Sisters, Mark Twain, and Edward Lear -- to name only a few. No doubt about it: we cat people have got some great guys on our side. Other famous cat-haters besides Eisenhower and Hitler are: Genghis Kahn, Alexander the Great, Benito Mussolini, Julius Casear, and Napolean Bonaparte. So far so good, right? Who needs those guys? But then I kept reading and I found some real surprises. Lenin, for instance. Who'd have figured him for a cat lover? (Thank God it wasn't Stalin!) Also, Marie Antoinette, Teddy Roosevelt, and Queen Victoria, cat lovers all. And finally -- (nooooo!) William Shakespeare was a cat hater while Ernest Hemingway was a cat lover. I should point out that I love Shakespeare, but am not particularly fond of Hemingway.

I am absolutely broken-hearted about Shakespeare, but who knows? Perhaps he had an early bad cat experience. Perhaps in time, someone could have gently showed him the error of his ways. And I had no idea that Hemingway was one of us! How could I have missed that? He had 30. Thirty!

I won't give up on Shakespeare, but I am absolutely going to go back and reread Hemingway. I'm bound to have missed something there.

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34 comments:

Bish Denham said...

Wow! That's a lot of cats. I guess growing up in an environment like that you'd either love 'em or grow to hate 'em.

I'm very fond of cats, but am more fond of dogs. Growing up we always had at least one of each kind. Plus, I was the one who always brought home the strays, including cats. My dad did not like cats, yet tolerated their presence. Until the day I brought home a cat that adopted him and insisted on sitting in his lap, sleeping by his side. Dad, over time, actually grew to like that cat.

As for Shakespeare, how to they know this intimate detail about his life, when they aren't even sure who the man was? So, let's make him...bi...LOL!

Miss Footloose said...

I do not hate cats or dogs. My problem is that I was raised by a mother who thought/thinks animals do not belong in people's houses and most certainly not in their beds. Just think where their tongues and noses have been! They are Unsanitary!

We did have a turtle, but he lived outside, and for a while a bird in a cage because, well he was in a cage and could be contained.

So, I'm still burdened with the Unsanitary Feeling, after decades. Even being married to a man who grew up in the country and had a baby pig living in his childhood kitchen for a while.

My children? Well, I did relent and we had a cat for years and a dog for a couple (had to leave her behind in a foreign country when we moved.) But I never got away from feeling it was just not clean. Both adult kids now have pets, so I guess I did not cripple them for life.

Charles Gramlich said...

I don't understand anyone who hates animals, cats or dogs or whatever. I like some more than others but love 'em all.

Postman said...

But I DO like Hemingway, and the fact that he was a cat-lover strikes me as odd. A rough, hard-drinking outdoorsy fellow like him should've been into dogs, I'd warrant.

I'm a dog person, not a cat person. So's my father. However, my mom and brother have always been cat people (even though Mom likes dogs, too; she's on the fence). I've kind of soured on orange tabbies because my brother ADORES orange tabbies. We've had many over the years, and to a beast, they have been ugly, conniving, uncooperative, fat bastards.

The cat who turned my life around is our gray cat, Archie. (I named him.) He has white paws, black lips, and the biggest, deepest green eyes you'll ever see. And he's a darling. Always wants to come in and rub up against your leg or get a scratch. And he earns his keep, too. 'Tis death to any rodent or bird that comes into the garage, or even strays within six inches of the doors.

So I think I'd like three cats when I get a place of my own, and I'll name them after famous inventors. Although now, after having read this, I think I might name them Ernest, Abraham, and Robert.

Good post.

Mary Witzl said...

Bish -- I find it hard to believe that Shakespeare hated cats. I'm prepared to think he was a dog AND cat man who got a bad rep.

My father was a cat convert too, but he always pined for a dog. When we finally got a dog, it developed a passion for my mother and refused to have anything to do with my father. He would definitely have liked a cat like your father's pal. But then who wouldn't?

Miss Footloose -- I'm nuts about cats, but I generally wash my hands after I've picked them up, especially if I'm cooking or eating. (They tend to wash themselves after I've picked them up too, wonder if it's a coincidence?) And yes: since they use their snouts to take care of toilet grooming, I can see your mother's point. But not all of us humans are as scrupulously clean as we should be either.

You were good to relent and let your kids keep pets!

Charles -- I love them all too, in different ways. Like you, I can't help but feel that people who claim not to love animals are missing out.

Postman -- ME TOO! I had Hemingway pegged as a dog-man for sure: rough and tough outdoors type that he was. So often men who hunt and are into guns are heavily into dogs too, which is silly. Cats are far better hunters. My late cat in Scotland was, like your Archie, an incredibly effective hunter who regularly presented me with up to three rodents a night.

I think you're wrong about red tabbies, but I'm personally not a great fan of Persians, so I've got my own prejudices.

Patrick said...

I see so many cats in your post. LOL! I'm okay with cats, but prefer dogs though.

Vijaya said...

I'm not just partial to cats, Mary, I AM a cat ... or was, in my previous life :)

Somewhere, sometime I read that God made cats so that we could have the pleasure of petting a lion. And my 16-year-old cat always has the look that says, "when I grow up, I'll be a big lion."

When I took a parasitology class, we had a year-long competition between cat and dog lovers ... the cats won.

Mary, what have you done? I can't stop typing and I must take my daughter to dance class ...

Ciao meow ... but only for now.

Kappa no He said...

I'm shocked about Shakespeare as well. I'm not a fan of Hemingway either, he killed big game--humph! Oh! I have a very good friend who has a cat descended from Hemingway's cats--they have an extra toe so they've got these big feet. Very cute!

Helen said...

It's a bit like the classis Aussie question - "do you like Holdens or Fords" and I don't get that either.
I grew up on a farm where the cat was just the rodent killer, not a pet - he had to earn his keep or be put out to pasture (so to speak).
We had a series of cats, all called Horse for some reason or another.
I am definitely a dog person. To romp in the grass, go for long walks, chase waves at the beach, have someone who looks at you with total adoration. I love that.
But please don't judge me on my prefernces - if I had to have something furry asleep on my lap, it would have to be a big, fat, lazy tabby cat.

Chocolatesa said...

The Ten Kitty Commandments

And the Cat said. . .
1. Thou shalt not jump onto the keyboard when thy human is on the computer.
2. Thou shalt not unroll all of the toilet paper off the roll.
3. Thou shalt not project hairballs from the top of the refrigerator.
4. Thou shalt not sit in front of the television as if thou art invisible.
5. Thou shalt not jump onto thy sleeping human’s bladder at 3 A.M.
6. Thou shalt not reset thy human’s alarm clock by walking on it.
7. Thou shalt not trip thy humans, even if they are walking too slowly.
8. Thou shalt not push open the bathroom door when there are guests in thy house.
9. Thou shalt not jump on the toilet seat just as thy human is sitting down.
10. Thou shalt attempt to show remorse when being scolded.

Kim Ayres said...

Im much more of a natural cat lover than dog lover. In fact unless a dog is extremely well trained, I have little time for them.

Unfortunately I am allergic to them. If I stroke a cat then touch my face, my eyes will be streaming for ages afterwards :(

Mary Witzl said...

Patrick -- I know: too many cats. Looking back on my weird childhood, I feel a mixture of shame and pride. Our situation was unusual, but I can't imagine growing up without cats. But my dog was much better at going on walks with me.

Vijaya -- I knew you were one of us -- I spotted you a mile off! I sometimes think I might have been a dog in a past life. I have some of a cat's flexibility and reserve, but plenty of a dog's boundless joy, uncouthness -- and (occasionally) in-your-faceness.

If we ever get a chance to meet, I'm pretty sure we could trade cat stories till the cows came home! Or even until the cats decide whether they want in or out...

Kappa -- We once had a Himalayan cat with huge feet: we named him (rather unimaginatively) 'Toes'. But a six-toed cat would be awesome!

I'm just amazed about the Hemingway-cat connection too -- and the fact that I was ignorant of it for so long. And I'm prepared to forgive him for the big game thing: my cat was a SERIOUS little game hunter and I generally managed to forgive her.

Helen -- My late great cat was wasted on us in Scotland: she could have held her own on your farm in Australia! She once brought home what I was assured was a stoat. The man who saw it couldn't she'd killed it -- she was dainty and wimpy looking if you saw her sitting around -- but boy, was she a talented killer. My mother also grew up on a farm and the cats they kept were very much working cats. Our cats were idle, but some just HAD to hunt.

My cat used to romp in the grass with me all the time. And that look of slavish adoration? I swear she had that too! But I would never judge you on your preferences: I have many good friends who aren't big cat fans. Secretly, I hope to convert them.

Chocolatesa -- Love those! You forgot 'Thou shalt not drink from the toilet bowl when thy dish runneth over' and 'Thou shalt not awaken thy enabler/provider after returning successful from a hunting venture'.

Another cat fan, how wonderful. The internet is rife with us!

Kim -- I saw what my cat did to you, I remember! But I'm glad that if you had to be a cat OR dog lover, you'd go for cats. Shameful, but I'm made that way.

If one of your kids ever brings home a cat and puts their foot down, remember: it's the dander, not the fur people are allergic to. Wash the cat every week and you'll be okay. (Hahahaha, just kidding: nobody who has to wash a cat once a week could ever be okay!)

TechnoBabe said...

I also love cats, have had cats most of my life. This is the first time I don't have a pet. Cats are independent and super smart.

Zaedah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zaedah said...

As shown in my blog, YES, I am one of you! I was converted by my first feline at age 21 and 15 years later, we have eight (one of whom is a foster cat).

Shakespeare knew a great deal about the human condition, but I fear he missed the feeling of an obstinate cat pausing in her self-importance to grace her human with a look of belonging. We must sympathize with someone who knew not the head-butting love of a curious kitten, the companionship of an elderly purrer.

K. Erickson said...

I am equal opportunity animal lover, but I secretly favor cats. The bigger, the better. If I could have a tiger or a cougar, I'd been in heaven. I would love to be in a position to take all comers. It breaks my heart to got to the pet store to get food for the 5 dogs and cats we already have and see all the little guys and girls waiting patiently (and sometimes not) to be loved.

Mary Witzl said...

TechnoBabe -- It's tough to be pet-less, isn't it? When we next settle down, we're going to get a cat as soon as possible. Hope you get one too!

Zaedah -- With an avatar like that, I should have known you were a cat person. And you are so right: cats add a richness to life that I would never be without. My cat used to give me that 'O fortuitous favored one' look all the time. And there is nothing like having a cat to follow you around the garden, sit on your lap, make you jump up and down to attend to her door needs, etc. Shakespeare missed out big time.

K Erickson -- I feel mean being so partial to cats, but there it is. Only one dog has captivated my heart.

Big cats are wonderful, but only on t.v. or in National Geographic. The only tiger I'm really crazy about is Calvin's Hobbes. But I feel the same way you do about pet stores. And if I ever want to be miserable, I'll go to another animal shelter and have a good look around.

Robert the Skeptic said...

My wife and I have always delineated people into two groups: "cat people and dog people". We proudly declare ourselves in the "cat people" arena. We have also recognized the number of notable personages who are owned by a cat.

But there is a price to be paid for living with a cat... furniture and carpet damage, to name a few. Still, our little Angelina became so bonded to my wife even though she would never pick up the little animal, they would share whatever chair my wife occupied at that moment. We miss her... but it is nice to now have the cover off the leather couch.

Robin said...

I'm so politically correct that I love both. I have dogs now, but when I was a little girl my best friend was Tammy, the calico cat, who snuggled with me when the house furnace made scary noises.

debra said...

I never had pets as a child---my folks always recited a litany of reasons why pets were impossible. Unless you count the tropical fish that my dad bought.

Now that I am an adult, we have 3 dogs, one of whom washes her face like a cat; 3 cats, one of whom goes for walks with us like a dog; and 19 chickens, some of which give us eggs; the rest give us expensive manure.

laura said...

My Chlorox Kitty is sitting right beside me as I type this! I grew up with cats and when I was a kid, we too were the local 'drop off point' for anyone who didn't want their pet anymore. But we also had dogs and I do love them too. However cats are more suitable for people with irregular and hectic schedules so that's all I've had my entire adult life. Hans is pretty set on our moving aboard our boat next year and he (who never had a cat until he met me) insists that Chlorox comes with us. She's 14 so it should be interesting!

Anne Spollen said...

We'll you know we have three adult cats here, and two kittens. One of my greatest fears is turning into one of those woman whose kids are gone and she spends way, way too much time talking to and about her cats.

They are really amazing creatures. I can't imagine anyone not liking them.

K. Erickson said...

Mary, go to http://preachersandhorsethieves.blogspot.com/2009/12/with-friends-like-these.html where you will find an award waiting for you.

Nora MacFarlane said...

My torti is sitting at my feet on a piece of fleece she dragged up the stairs from my sewing scraps. It's strategically placed so when she lies down she'll be directly under the heating vent. My Calico is currently sitting in front of the sliding glass doors in the family room. She makes her way to the door each night at 10 pm to greet the steady stream of neighborhood cats, raccoons and opossum that come to visit each night. She is the neighborhood beauty queen.

BTW... I'm a cat person. :)

Falak said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Falak said...

Ha! Looks like it's raining cats and dogs in here! I never had a pet and don't think I will in the near future because my mother is a staunch believer of the fact that animals are supposed to remain outside the house.... But some how I never quite warmed upto cats... Inspite of living in a country where stray cats thrived in abundance and dogs were a rarity.

Mary Witzl said...

Robert -- Leather sofas are a great reason not to have cats. And cats are a great reason not to have leather sofas... In our place in Scotland, we had a really nice sofa in one room. I kept that room locked and only let the cat in when she was in sleep mode -- and accompanied by myself.

Still, I know you're a cat guy. And what you did for Angelina was lovely.

Robin -- Aw, Tammy the calico sounds sweet!

There is nothing as comforting as a warm cat purring on your lap. Though a big, noisy (and warm) dog gives you a certain level of comfort too.

Debra -- We had a cat that went for walks with us too, a large black and white tomcat we called Felix. I always suspected he'd been raised with dogs and secretly thought he was one: he never flinched or looked disgusted when our dogs barked.

I want some hens! Friends of ours claim they're a lot of work, but I love the idea of all that manure -- and the occasional egg.

Laura -- I would never have to ask if you were a cat person -- you've made your declaration so many times before, like me.

We were dog converts late in life: my mother brought home a stray that she found wandering around her school and that was that. But you are right: dogs need people to walk them. People with crazy schedules shouldn't keep dogs.

How interesting that your family was a cat family too! And how great that you (and Chlorox) have converted Hans.

Anne -- I know you're a member of the cat club, and one in good standing with all those cats and kittens. I feel like a wimp with only one cat (we're not allowed to have her, so I can't broadcast it openly...)

Cats are so infinitely graceful and beautiful and crazy and quirky and laugh-out-loud funny that I cannot imagine a life without one.

K Erickson -- Hooray, an award! I will check out that link the minute I get a moment -- and thank you VERY much for it.

Nora MacFarlane -- It's great to hear from all these other cat people. We're all over the net, aren't we? It sounds like you've got a good number of them, too. I am deeply envious. As soon as we get back to some place established, I'm going to start another cat collection -- I can hardly wait.

Falak -- I've heard other people say this too. Where I live now, many people don't think cats (or dogs, for that matter) should come indoors. I always tell them the Prophet Mohammed loved his cat Muezza and let her come indoors. Not sure if that would go down well in India, though...

Falak said...

My Mom is in the UAE and I think the Arabs there don't have a problem as such with cats.... I think they practically love cats because there are cats everywhere! In all shapes,sizes and breeds too...... Growing up the only time I saw dogs was when I came to India during vacations or went to a friend's place who kept a dog as a pet. My dad, brother and I have tried our best to change my mother's mind but she has'nt relented as yet:)

MG Higgins said...

Yes, I am an official cat person. So is my husband, so we're clearly meant for each other. Pets bring out such passions, don't they? I've visited Hemingway's home in Key West twice and they still have ancestors of his extra-toed cats running around the grounds and you get a real sense of what it must have been like living there. I think I'll post about my cat soon. Thanks for the inspiration!

Elizabeth Bradley said...

You don't love Papa? I am an equal lover of both cats and dogs. I haven't had a cat since our kitten Harley was eaten by coyotes. Here in Southern California, in some areas, it's almost irresponsible to have a cat. I have three dogs. When I was a girl we always had cats. My sister had a cat named Whiskey for 18 years.

Mary Witzl said...

Falak -- Maybe some day a sweet little cat will worm her way into your mother's cat the way one did with Bish's father -- it could happen!

I'm glad to know that they like cats in the UAE, but I do hope all those cats aren't all over the streets, breeding like mad.

MG Higgins -- I've been to Key West twice now and I'm kicking myself all over the place for not having been to Hemingway's place. Now that I know he was a cat lover, I have an entirely different opinion of him. Awful, isn't it?

I'm so glad you and your husband are cat people too!

Elizabeth -- I'm also from Southern California (Riverside, for my sins), and I have friends who lost cats to coyotes. It's such a shame. The only choice is to have an indoor cat, and while I know they live longer, I can't help feeling that the quality of their lives isn't as good.

I'm fond of dogs too, but I'm not an equal lover -- it's pretty much 60-40. When I lived in Japan, I had one dog I loved as much as I've loved any cat. I always think maybe I'll meet another dog like her some day.

Lily Cate said...

I love my cats.
And all cats, really.
We didn't get a pet cat at home until I was fifteen. His name is Bob, and he came from a horse barn, and he's still kicking today over at mom's.

Since I became an independent adult, we've had three cats, and I'm thinking of building "up" so we can maybe get one or two more...

I will always, always have a cat in the house!

Mary Witzl said...

Me too, Lily. Bob sounds great, and how wonderful that he's still around. Those farm cats are tough!

We just lost one cat (disappeared from the balcony where we were trying to keep her, illegally), and the house hasn't been the same since. We have GOT to get another one ASAP!

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