Cats: the mere word conjures up images of mystery and beauty, of ancient Egyptian goddesses, of Halloween night and witches on broomsticks. What other animals are so associated with occult imagery, while also being commonplace companions in our daily lives ? Wolves may share a spine-tingling association with ancient legends, from the werewolf to the big bad wolf of fairy tale fame. Dogs may share our lives and can be found in most suburban backyards. Yet only cats move silently and comfortably between the two worlds of the mystic and the mundane. Why do cats fascinate us and why do we love cats so ?
Cats are beautiful. Cat lovers and non-cat lovers alike must admit to the beauty of their large, soulful eyes and lovely faces, their elegant silhouettes, their dainty noses and paws, and their metronomic tails. Cats may have shimmering green eyes, cool blue eyes or surprising yellow eyes. Their fur may be long or short, smooth or bushy, uniformly colored or patterned like tigers or calicos, and come in many shades of orange, yellow, brown, grey, black, and white, or some combination of the above.
Cats are fascinating to watch. We're amused by the comical antics of lively kittens playing, leaping, bounding, and rolling about the floor, sometimes reacting to things that we mere humans can't even perceive. We're entranced by the graceful movements of adult cats, their ability to move silently and stealthily, the ease with which they can leap and climb and walk along sloped surfaces or narrow ledges that only a trained human acrobat would attempt.
Some people admire cats for their mysterious ways and associations with the night and with past ages when magic seemed more possible. Some respect them for their reputation of being aloof loners. Dog people claim that cats, being too independent, view humans with disdain. Cat lovers say that being loved by your cat means much more than being loved by your dog because, while a dog is a social animal who needs a master or pack leader to slavishly follow, the cat is by nature solitary. If a cat craves your companionship it is because she has chosen you and because you have earned her love, trust, respect and affection.
In my own experience, cats are wonderfully loving and affectionate friends. True, they may not be waiting by the door, wagging their tails, when you come home. On the other hand, one of my cats does wait by the door when we come home and our other cat is constantly seeking eye contact with us. As soon as we look at her, she meows to solicit our attention. They both show affection and they love to receive it and few activities are more relaxing than sitting on a sofa stroking a cat for hours on end. Cats are so soft and warm to the touch, and they love to curl up on your lap to be patted and given chin and belly rubs.
In addition to the emotional reasons that so many people love cats, there are also many practical reasons that cats share so many of our lives and homes. They are a very practical choice of house pet, especially for city dwellers. They are small and thus easily adapt to life in a small urban apartment. They don't need to be taken outdoors for daily walks, making them easier to care for than dogs, especially for people who are at work all day or who lack a big yard or who hate to walk in the rain. Cats are also very clean and quiet and they don't track mud onto your carpets, chase cars or bark at passers-by, which could attract the wrath of your neighbors.
Cats are smart and kittens are easily trained to use litter boxes, making them far neater and far easier to assimilate into a household than are puppies. Because of their small size, cats don't eat the quantities of food required by large dogs, making cats more practical than dogs for families with smaller budgets. It's also feasible to share a home with several cats at one time.
Cats were first welcomed into human homes for their ability to kill mice, for their usefulness to humans, but for me this is a negative point. First of all, I see companion animals as independent beings of another species who share our homes. It's an honor to be accepted and trusted by fellow creatures, and my goal is to deserve that trust, to give them a safe and happy home with proper care and plenty of love and affection. They're not here to serve me in some way. Also, as an animal lover, I don't want to see mice killed, and so my cats don't have access to smaller creatures.
Cats fill a special place in our hearts and in our homes and I can't even imagine my life without them. They give me so much pleasure every day. They are individuals and quite varied in their personality traits. Our two cats, although they are sisters, are different from each other in everything except their black and white coloring. Becky is large, while Polly is small. Becky is well-mannered and demure, perfectly fitting the image of the elegant queen-like cat. Polly is playful and comical and relentless when she wants something from us. Becky obediently jumps onto the table when she knows it's time for her daily brushing. Polly makes a game of it, running away like a scamp and dodging us until she is ready to be caught. Becky is always receptive to a good patting or belly rub and frequently solicits our affection. Polly is more of a loner who consciously selects the times when she wants to cuddle up and be patted. They are so different from each other, yet both are so lovable and necessary to our lives.
Cats give us so much and, in return, we must always give them our best, from the best of care to an abundance of love and affection. If you welcome cats into your world be sure to give them everything they need to lead happy and contented lives. Critical elements include healthy balanced diets, constant access to clean fresh water and litter pans, and daily brushings to keep fur glossy and healthy. Regular veterinary visits for shots and prompt veterinary attention in case of illness are both a must, as is a safe environment.
Indoor cats need enough space to feel comfortable, including furniture of varying heights, because vertical space is important for cats just as floor space is. Cats also require cozy corners where they can get away from people. Before adding cats to your household, walk around and examine your home as if you were trying to make it childsafe and watch out for drawers and cabinets that can be opened too easily. Because cats can climb, you must take more precautions than with children or dogs to prevent access to household cleaning products, potentially poisonous houseplants, and electrical wires.
Remove heavy objects that could fall and injure cats and don't carry heavy objects or pass hot cups of coffee (lest they slip out of your hands) directly over your sleeping cats. Be aware that (despite the cliche of kittens playing with balls of yarn) long strand-like objects such as yarn and tinsel are very dangerous. Playful cats may get tangled in them and choke and, if swallowed, they can obstruct the intestines. Outdoor cats also need protection from cars, busy roads, dogs, extremes of heat and cold, and other dangers. Be aware that on cold winter mornings cats may climb up under the hoods of parked cars, seeking warmth. Look under the hood before you start your engine.
As you check out your environment, making it cat-safe, remember that cats are clever and can sometimes learn to open doors. They also love to sleep in warm cozy spaces, so be careful not to inadvertently shut them into drawers or closets. Be sure that they haven't climbed into open washing machines or other appliances before you turn them on. Children need to learn the importance of handling cats gently and you need to be almost as agile as your cats in order to not step on any little cats' feet or tails. As cats love to shoot out of nowhere at the last second and get under foot, I tend to glide around my apartment rather than lift my feet and risk stepping on someone.
A few extra precautions, that will soon become second nature to you, can go a long way towards keeping your cats healthy and safe for many years to come. Good care, plus lots of love and plenty of play and affection will enrich your cats' lives. In return, your cats will enrich your life in so many ways that are impossible to count. It's not hard to see why the ancients revered cats, but it's more important to love them and to share our lives and homes with them. Cat lovers of the world can unite in saying that they're cat people and proud of it !
Barbara Freedman-De Vito is a professional storyteller and artist. Visit Kids T-Shirts, children's clothing, and adult's clothes decorated with pictures and words