We have three cats, though I guess the subject and object could just as easily be transposed.
When we considered adopting our third, about nine months ago, we went through some serious deliberations about whether or not this would put us over the line and into the territory of Crazy Cat People (CCP). I consulted with some cat-holding coworkers, one of whom was able to give me a complicated formula that would answer our doubts. I can’t remember the exact calculations – they involved square footage of our living space, whether it was a rural or urban setting, what the human-per-cat ratio would be, how matted my hair was, etc. – but in the end we were barely able to get under the wire with three.
Tom, an orange tabby male who had been hanging around our deck for about a month, was thus admitted to the household as a full-fledged member. He joined our two legacy cats in an uneasy partnership that has since worked out just fine.
Harriet, a small white female with several random black patches, has lived with us over ten years now. She first appeared as the apparently homeless kitten in my parents’ back yard who wouldn’t let their teacup shih-tzu urinate in peace. When we first brought her into our house, she hid under our freezer for several days before emerging, and has been generally skittish toward strangers ever since.
Taylor, a solid slate-grey male, also came to us as a kitten, one of a litter that was born under our deck. We resisted adoption at first, since we were about to leave town for a week’s vacation. By the time we returned only two remained, still under the care of their mother, though she was clearly ready for them to move on. We took both Taylor and his brother to the vet and found that the brother was deathly ill. We got Taylor his shots, had him surgically repaired, and brought him home to join Harriet.
Tom was already full-grown when he first showed up, peering in through our sliding-glass door with envy for the indoor life. We started taking him a bowl of food twice a day, and were impressed by how he always took time to purr and rub against our legs before he began to eat, despite the fact he was obviously ravenous. Eventually we lured him into the sunroom, made him undergo the veterinary visit, and the next thing we knew, we were borderline CCP.
This unlikely trio has brought a lot of enjoyment into our lives, though at the expense of probably a hundred dollars a month in food and litter bills, abandoned cat hair on all available surfaces, and so many claw scratches on my forearms that I look like a spastic junkie. While we’ve been immeasurably enriched by their presence, I’ve often wondered what they really think of the whole arrangement.
So recently, I sat down with Harriet, Taylor and Tom for a wide-ranging discussion about the nature of inter-species relationships such as ours. What did this association look like from the cat perspective?
Davis: I want to thank you all for taking the time to sit and talk with me today.
Taylor: Yeah, we managed to pencil you in between “laying in the sun” and “becoming agitated about a squirrel,” but we don’t have all day.
Davis: I appreciate that. I wanted to explore the nature of our relationship beyond just the petting and the purring. We hang out together all the time, but we’ve never really communicated beyond a casual level. I wanted to find out more about how you view this whole arrangement. For example, do you prefer the indoor life to living wild like you did before?
Harriet: Wow, that’s a good question. I’ve been in here since, what, 1996? I barely remember what I had for dinner yesterday, much less what it was like when I was a kitten.
Tom: You had for dinner what they give us for dinner every day. Those crunchy brown pellets they call “cat food.”
Taylor: We don't have all day
Davis: Tom, you seem pretty happy with the cat food when it’s dished out. I didn’t know you had any complaints.
Tom: Well, I do, but we have to take what we’re given. It’s not every day I can jump up on the counter and lick your bread for nourishment.
Davis: Tom, you’ve been an indoor cat for less than a year, so you probably remember what it was like to survive on worms and crickets and half-rotten squirrel carcasses. How do you compare the outdoor life with what you have now?
Tom: I don’t think I appreciate the tone of your question, but I’ll answer it anyway. I have to admit it’s a pretty sweet life sleeping on your bed all day and on the couch all night. My fur is much less flea-bitten in this setting, so I’m really able to get comfortable. It’s the awake time that is something less than I’d like it to be. Very little stimulation, you know. And by the way, well-aged squirrel meat happens to be quite the delicacy among our species, so I’d appreciate a little cultural sensitivity there.
Davis: Point taken. Taylor, your move indoors seemed to go pretty smoothly, and I think you enjoy yourself in here. We really share a nice moment in the evenings when you sit on my chest and we look at each other.
Taylor: Yeah, that’s a real high point in my day, that’s for sure. Of course, that probably gives you some idea of how boring the other times are.
Davis: But I thought we had something of a special relationship. We’ve never said it out loud, but I’ve always thought that you were my cat, Tom is Daniel’s cat and Harriet is Beth’s.
Taylor: This whole concept you humans have of “ownership” is really quite an insult, you know. I think your earlier use of the term “arrangement” is much more accurate. We’re not necessarily thrilled with the situation as it currently stands, but we appreciate that the alternatives aren’t that great for the modern cat. While you may not have succeeded in breeding the hunting skills out of us, you’ve really done a number on our comfort-seeking impulses, which now seem to consume us. We’re not born wanting to sit on humans, you know.
Davis: Well that touches on a question I’ve wondered about for some time. Do you like to get so close to us because you enjoy our company, or is it simply that you like our warmth?
Tom: Watch how far away we stay now that spring is here, and I think you’ll answer your own question.
Tom: My fur is much less flea bitten
Davis: Tom, let’s let Harriet answer this one. She seems to especially enjoy cuddling up on Beth’s lap regardless of the weather.
Harriet: Well, yeah, I do kind of like that closeness. But mainly I do it now for protection, because Tom tends to be so mean to me. If I thought a heating pad could swat him away as effectively as Beth does, I’d probably be just as happy.
Tom: Hey, I don’t appreciate …
[A brief cat fight ensues, with much snarling and waving of paws but no one is hurt.]
Davis: Alright, alright, let’s everybody calm down.
Harriet: I don't appreciate that I've been declawed
Harriet: You know, what I don’t appreciate is that I’ve been declawed and Taylor and Tom have not. If you’re going to rip my fingers out from the second joint, why didn’t you do it to them too? Where’s the fairness in that?
We’ll answer Harriet’s controversial question in part two of our interview, to be published tomorrow.