A dog lover’s epiphany.
The very qualities that made me feel I could be a calm, Stoic first time cat parent have made me an obsessive, submissive wreck of a mother. My days are spent anticipating their needs and desperately trying to earn their love.
‘You’re either a dog lover or a cat lover. I am a dog lover!’, I often boasted. Some of my friends have admitted that the core malfunction in their relationship stems from one partner loving cats and the other loving dogs. Not wishing to test this, I didn’t date or even befriend anyone who wasn’t a dog lover. But this all changed in 2020.
As far back as I can remember, almost all the photos of me growing up had a little four-legged furry friend next to me. Starting with the classic summer baby photo of me perched on a blanket on the lawn with Tiddles, our dog, sitting alongside me, the pattern continued throughout my childhood, and a dog featured in most of my life achievement photos. We always had dogs, and among my family members, it was me who had the greatest love and appreciation for pets.
In junior school, we were tasked with creating our first ‘prepared speech’ based on the topic ‘What Makes me Happy’. Unsure what to speak about, I asked my mother for advice. She looked at me and said, ‘That’s easy! Talk about your outrageous love for dogs and how happy they make you!’
In an unrelenting two-minute speech that was filled with suspense, I exposed my classmates to a story of unconditional love between me and an anonymous being. Sharing adventures and anecdotes to convey my unparalleled happiness, I kept them guessing who the other was right until the end. ‘Is it Claire, your best friend?’ one shouted. ‘Gavin, your brother?’, and so they carried on, never guessing the right answer. As I drew to the close of a speech celebrating loyalty, companionship, and laughter, I gleefully held up a photo of me and Tiddles. A collective sigh filled the room with murmurs of, ‘Of course…your dog!’
Five years ago, I moved to London, and I quickly realised I couldn’t own a pet until I was better settled. I became that woman who watched YouTube dog videos as I sipped on a glass of wine after a long day in the office and smiled affectionately at dogs walking past, with owners giving awkward smiles back.
Fast forward to 6 months ago. Two years into a steady relationship, my boyfriend and I moved in together, and with the option of having more space, the talk of pets came up.
Now here is the tricky part: he likes cats.
He doesn’t mind dogs, but he prefers cats, and with living in London, their pros outweighed their cons. Compromise is essential, right?
I balanced the considerations: regular walks in the rain and finding a dog walker when I go back to the office versus asking a neighbour to pop in with food for the cat when we go away for a weekend. Maybe this could work.
Plus, knowing I can be quite adoring (and obsessive) over dogs, I felt that starting with kittens might not be a terrible place to begin. Basically, I went in slightly detached.
Sybil and Basil, a brother and sister, arrived at our home in December 2020, just eight weeks old. I can still remember that winter’s evening, with me sitting on the lounge floor, gently coaxing them to come out from behind the couch. After spending significant time tapping my fingers on the floor and making sharp movements with my hand, little ginger Basil emerged with his white paws, looking like he’d just stepped into a bowl of paint. He eyed me for a while. Then, in his own time, he slowly walked towards and around me, nuzzling the side of his body into my back. Sybil gently followed her brother’s steps. At that point, they captured me.
Since then, I’ve dedicated my life to serving them, aiming to ensure their every breath was like no other and hastily removing any potential hurdles or discomfort. Helicopter, Snowplough, and Bubble-Wrap Parents have nothing on me!
‘Owners of dogs will have noticed that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will think you are god. Whereas owners of cats are compelled to realize that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they draw the conclusion that they are gods.’Christopher Hitchens
So, what is it that makes these animals so rakishly charming? Let me start with two personality traits in particular, that—in cats—are surprisingly endearing. Basil is sitting alongside me as I type this. By nature, he is a stickler for detail, as shown in his management of the litter tray. I hope to not disappoint…
Let me remind you of my long-standing love for pets. These cats make me feel I need to show this love even more. I have never spent as much time online as I do now, seeking assurance that I am doing the right thing.
I’m guessing that this strange power comes from their fiercely independent character. Dogs are always so generous in offering their love, but with cats, you feel that you need to earn it. Constantly! Turning a blind eye to many of my love offerings, they seem to say, ‘I’ll come for your affection when I require it. And yes, I expect you to deliver precisely then.’
I find cats’ aloofness breath-taking. Their ‘take me as I am or leave me’ attitude sums up the self-confidence so many of us humans lack. I resent it but can’t help respecting and responding to it!
Dogs can feel bad—and show it—when they have done something wrong. They can even feel shame for things they haven’t done. Dogs respond with shamed faces to an owner asking, ‘Who did this?’ beside an overturned rubbish bin. But not cats!
A few weeks ago, I was on a Zoom call. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Basil attempting to negotiate his way around my laptop, notepad and cup of hot mint tea. Not wanting the 20 other faces on my screen to see any carnage, I went about carefully removing his obstacles. But even with that, he mis-judged his jump and knocked the tea across my keyboard, smashing the cup to the ground.
With my sound on mute, I gave him an annoyed sideways glare. To my astonishment, his entire body language—arched and puffed with ears pushed back—seemed to shout, ‘Now look what you’ve done! Crazy woman!’
‘Me?!?’ I wanted to shout, pointing my finger to my chest! But I couldn’t help but smile at his chutzpah.
Accountability is just not their thing. And there is something about this that I find incredibly attractive.
‘In ancient times, cats were worshiped as gods; they have not forgotten this.’Terry Pratchett
Beyond any specific attributes, these kittens have been a priceless addition to our lives and our home. The breeder’s advert told us that both Basil and Sybil were a Maine Coon/Bengal cross, but our local vet says ‘Moggie’ is the only description for them. So much for the premium price, then. Apparently, one side effect of lockdown has been an increase in people looking for cats, people (like us) prepared to pay more than ever before.
Moggie or not, these two kittens have brought us more joy than we can describe. They have a constant playful and inquisitive nature. Our flat is now so much more colourful and alive. They help us see things through fresh eyes, remind us to play and give us great amounts of laughter.
I had previously been looking forward to reuniting with colleagues after lockdown, but now I feel that working from home isn’t a terrible option. I need to be here to open and close the door, and then open and close it again, and to have the never-ending conversation of ‘No? You don’t want to come in? Oh, you do? As you wish. We are here to serve you oh wise ones.’
And in case you’re wondering about my human relationship, it has survived the arrival of these little gods to our once quiet home! Let’s just say we are seeing it as a ‘growth opportunity’ and work in progress.