Intro: this is another guest post by Albert Schepis, an experienced cat caregiver of many years. Thanks Albert.
I learned answers to the question in the title long after I even thought to ask it. They present themselves after you’ve known your cat(s) awhile. I think most people are the same and that everyone should ponder it before and after, even though it seems elementary.
The givens are that it’s common enough in society to easily presume that even if you don’t give cat caregiving much thought, you’ll get enough help when questions arise. Cats are easy to physically care for though it’s best to put a little thought into what you feed them and to invest in preventive medical care like teeth cleaning and regular check-ups. The litter box is easy enough and is much easier and less embarrassing than walking a dog and picking up their poop by hand in public. But as an animal lover who was familiar with keeping dogs, cats, birds, turtles, fish and horses early in life, I still discovered some well-hidden secrets about cat guardianship that surprised me.
As an adult who became more settled and domestic myself, I discovered that cats do appreciate and want our company and companionship, much to the adverse belief and impression I’d always been told.
I just happen to be old enough now to remember how it used to be. People, especially men, used to scoff at the idea and perhaps joke about that or even the idea that a grown man would have a pet cat. These days you’ll see wherever cats are talked about, that “real men love cats”. We finally get it and aren’t ashamed to say so. But wait there’s more.
The dutiful cat, dutiful owner
Cats are actually good companions, and after 24 years of studying and enjoying a couple dozen of them for their entire lives, I’m still amazed by what they appear to be thinking and feeling, and that it propels them to more like dogs than cats, as people will say in amazement. After 21 years living in the same place, my neighbors are still amazed that my cats follow me everywhere and seem to hang on every word I say, though I’m sure they have little idea of what all the words mean. They’re interested and engaged, and as a dutiful cat owner I can see it in them even though they don’t glom all over me like silly, slurpy puppies. I think dogs have spoiled us and that we shouldn’t use them as a yardstick as to what an animal companion should act like, necessarily. The dignity of cat demeanor is something too.
So how else are they good companions? Another example that people often only attribute to dogs is that they can be protective enough that you’ll nick-name them your guard cat. I had two adult male cats and a little female who displayed astonishing behavior like that by not only chasing other cats away from our property, but dogs as well. My last white cat (Einstein), even in his last days when he was physically weak and frail, chased a pit bull dog away from us. He was also a hero some years ago by intervening between a neighbor child and a dog who was attacking him. Both of those dogs were big too. But cats have their tender moments too, like when they curl up at your feet, on your lap and on your bed. The best of all to me is another one of those well-kept secrets, that the experience of just looking at your cat while they’re napping can be one of the most soothing experiences you can get for free.
Why do this?
Like me and most people, you pretty much know or easily learn the basics like whether you can handle the care and upkeep, because having a cat is common and if your neighbor can do it, so can you, right? After the routine practicalities are covered, there are other aspects of this relationship that you will discover that no one seems able or willing to clue you into beforehand. You might like to ponder them before you embark on this adventure, so that you know what to be forewarned of and to look forward to. Those aspects fall under “why do this”, which really helps you better enjoy your companion for life from day one, rather than spend its entire life figuring it out.
It was never explained to me, by people that is. I learned from the cats themselves, by experiencing and paying attention to them. Excellent examples of that can be seen on some YouTube videos. My own mother, who had a lifelong aversion to cats (because her generation was a bit prejudiced), magically came around after experiencing them in my home. The photo I share here shows the moment, after almost 80 years of avoiding cats at all costs.
Very touching indeed, and I think that has a lot to do with it. You have to have that personal contact. Touch them and let them touch you. It’s kind of like story-book depictions of an innocent child befriending a beast, and that goes both ways. Imagine seeing the world through the innocent eyes of a tiny kitten. People are like big ogres, and the kitten just wants them to be their kind friend.
Cats will give you a chance to be nice, but you have to take that chance. Then if you behave and pay attention, you’ll learn how to get along. I often say that you have to earn a cat’s trust and affection, which puts dog people at a disadvantage I know, but this is totally learnable. Author Pamela Merritt says they are very reciprocal, and I agree. They need you to do the right things, number one being to provide a safe and secure home, because they’ll start to avoid you or even look elsewhere if you don’t. And you can’t just feed them and suddenly you’re BFFs forever, though they do appreciate that too. Don’t confuse that with when they roam; that’s natural.
I recall an incident I had with a neighbor and a police officer. She called on me when I went to collect my cat from her yard. The officer yelled at me for trespassing, saying “If you fed your cat enough, it wouldn’t be in my yard!”. On that she was wrong. Domestic cats tend to want about two acres of territory to explore is all, and the backyard lounge chair of my neighbor, Miss Paranoid, happened to be within the two acres.
I also hear people say that cats give you unconditional love but I don’t think so, though everything to a degree. I for one appreciate them for how they are. Dogs are good at being unconditional but I think they’ve spoiled us that way. Cats on the other hand may re-evaluate your entire relationship at the slightest transgression, which can be a little unsettling but it keeps us honest. Cats are more like us (their brains actually are!), so most of the time all we need to do is imagine how we’d feel in their place.
Cats can do the heavy lifting
Cats will do some of the heavy lifting though, by way of wanting a relationship with us, which busts a long-time myth. My first cat Pete clued me in to this, one day soon after we started hanging out and began a friendship. I learned he belonged to someone else so I started turning him away, finally yelling at him to stop following me home. At that he let out a plaintive wail and gave me a look that broke my heart into a million pieces, which was life-changing. I relented of course. I took Pete back to his owner who understood that Pete chose me, and we remained together. Cats often suffer in silence though so you have to pay attention, and again imagine how we’d feel in their place.
They encourage us to be nicer
Michael Broad, the founder of PoC also likes to share personal accounts of his cats that we can relate to and I’m honored to accept his invitation to do the same. I like all the contributors and commenters here, save for one hater who if you’re familiar with him and his aliases you may agree. I look forward to your comments as well. To wrap this up: by way of how they need us to be and the joy they give us in return just by looking at them and hearing their purrs, cats enrich our lives, and encourage us to be nicer, better people in a world that really needs that. Thanks to social media we’re seeing those real men (not just little girls) love cats too, so that makes it easier. All of that and more is why you should have a cat.