My sister called the other day. I could hear my young nephew sniffling in the background. “Aunt Jen? We have a problem here…” I waited patiently on the line for the request for that special, crisis-averting, child-soothing nugget of wisdom she needed. The kind that can only come from an adult who is not the parent, as these clever kids know that moms will sometimes say anything to stop tears and settle nerves. “Megan told Nicholas that cats don’t love people. Will you talk to him?”
My sister who has been working from home deemed this a good time to add to the family by adopting a furry bundle of joy. As she and I came from a “dog” family ourselves, it seemed only logical for her own family to consider adopting a canine bearing resemblance to our beloved Cinder (an impossibly “human” lab-husky mix with black fur and blue eyes). My gregarious, fun-loving, energetic niece would surely benefit from the companionship of a faithful, trainable, lovable, and equally-spirited pet. My nephew however, has been pining for a different human/animal connection. The boy, an old soul, with depth of thought and mastery over language and expression, often stuns adults with his profundity. His focus and attention to detail have led to the construction of Lego masterpieces that would impress an engineer. This eight year old boy needs a cat.
Knowing that I had years ago transferred my loyalties to the mystical feline, it was natural for my sister to ask me to clarify for my distraught nephew that cats, with their aloof, disinterested, independent, or even bitchy demeanors do in fact, love their owners. The last time I visited her in Virginia we began to share pics and stories of our respective kids. The image file on my phone made it abundantly clear that my cats had a unique hold over my heart. Pictures of them sleeping (sleeping!) in a vast variety of positions shamefully outnumbered pics of my own, biological sons a million to one.
Why I love my cats… Let me count the ways…
The first reason, and this applies to any four-legged friend, is the pure lack of judgement. After spending our days being perceived and sized-up, either intentionally or subconsciously, by our human acquaintances, there is nothing like coming home and removing the mask we wear for the world. It is here that our pets then look upon us with complete lack of judgement. Whether we are disheveled, angry, smelly, or morally in the wrong, they do not care, Whether you bite your toenails, pick your nose, fart, or sing (badly) in the shower (I do none of these, of course), they do not bat an eye. You are still their human, and perfect, no matter what.
The second is the selfish joy of selflessly caring for and nurturing something other than yourself. I say “selfish” because there is no denying the warm and fuzzy feeling I get when I watch my cats polish off a can of tuna I just served, or curl into a nest of blankets I’ve prepared just for them near the heater. As anyone with children or grandchildren can attest, there is a profound satisfaction that comes from raising, nurturing, caring for, and loving a growing thing. It is proven (and to me, obvious) that caring for a pet increases longevity, fights depression, provides purpose, and combats loneliness.
Third is hygge. Ambiance. Mood. Cats change the feel of the place. Picture a cold, winter evening. There by the candle-lit window is a comfy, overstuffed recliner draped with chenille blankets while the scent of hot chocolate wafts through the air. Cozy, right? Now add an impossibly soft, purring, bundle of fur with half-closed eyes and a wispy tail swinging lazily back and forth, and voila! Complete and total serenity… Ancient civilizations in Egypt and Japan knew the magic of felines. Bastet was the Egyptian goddess who could shape shift into a cat, a symbol of good fortune in the home. Contemporary Wiccans and Pagans acknowledge cats’ abilities to sense energies indoors. What on earth do they see when they stare at the invisible something across the room?
The fourth way that cats effortlessly tug at their owners’ heart strings is by their unique ability to entertain. Cats indeed exhibit some bizarre, and often hilarious behaviors. Some are related to their instincts passed down from generations of wild ancestors, and some make absolutely no sense at all. Finding a tiny stuffed mouse toy wedged into my favorite shoe, plopped next to the bathroom sink, or left lovingly on my laptop or favorite pillow never ceases to bring a smile to my face. My cats’ fascination with gravity, paper bags, and reflections of light unfailingly amuse me.
Now here is the big kahuna. The above mentioned ways that cats magically maintain hold over their humans may apply in some ways to dogs as well, but the distinct difference is this…
A cat’s love is absolute and must be earned.
Domesticated dogs are completely dependent on humans for survival. They are intensely social, pack animals whose wolf ancestors have bequeathed to them a need for connections to at least one, and often many members of a family. Left alone for long periods of time, dogs become depressed or even ill. House cats on the other hand are fiercely independent, having one foot indoors and one in the wild. To earn the love and affection of a cat is indeed a magical thing. The bond is special because it is not easily won and it is often exclusive. My cats have selected me and only me as their “human.” They merely tolerate my sons and other visitors who try to solicit some affection. I think of the lines: If you love it, let it go. If it returns, it is yours. If it doesn’t it was never yours to begin with. Well, dogs require fences to keep them from running off. Open the door to the outside world for your cat ( cat), and it will return (when it is ready, of course).
Whether my sister opts for a dog, a cat, or (hopefully) both, the benefits to her family will be many. Pets provide their humans with benefits that range from physical, to mental, to emotional, to social, and enhance the overall quality of life in a home. As for me, I am grateful that my magical cats, Autumn and Leia, have selected me and I will never take their loyalty or their mere presence for granted.
Originally published at http://themindfullibrarian.org on May 20, 2020.