I’ve come to distrust the loyalty of cats. From my desk I can hear George scratching at my back door. The sun is starting to set, so, as usual, I know he’ll be waiting scruffy and desperate on my back doormat. I’ll open the door to find him sitting silently with his tail tucked around his legs meowing piteously for his dinner, the perfect picture of the luckless stray. Indeed, when I first met George and his feline associate in crime, Fionna, I thought they were strays. Of course, it was only a day or so before I discovered that they live only a few doors down from me and, indeed, spend most of their day indoors.
They have homes and plush cat beds. They have a little boy who loves them dearly and a very nice cat tree. I have seen all of these things first hand and as George weaves and mews around my legs, I can actually hear his owner calling him in for the night.
George is a very greedy cat and one of the many indoor/outdoor cats in my neighborhood who show up to beg for treats, sleep on my deck, and wreak general havoc in the herb garden. Ryder was, of course, king of this army of mongrels until he was packed off to Paris with his owners. Now, George is the heir apparent. If I open my garage door, he and Fionna take up residence under my herb table and spend the rest of the day chasing the mole-crickets I can’t seem to keep out. There have been several times that only a quickly placed broom has kept George and Fi from running inside the house proper where my five feisty divas sit brooding and hissing. They peer at The Others from behind the safety of glass and curtain and no doubt are only waiting for the day that George strolls hapless into their carpeted domain.
The most disturbing aspect to George, Fiona, and my other cats’ personalities, I believe, is their disturbing lack of concern for their owners. I know perfectly well they can hear us calling their little kitty names. I can certainly hear my neighbors’ frantic voices and have, on occasion, carried George back to his own yard. George and Fi seem to be, however, nonplussed by their loving masters’ searching and pleading. As they say of cats: Many are named, but few come when they are called.
The relationship between cats and their so-called masters and mistresses is tenuous at best. Anyone observing a cat “owner” might assume that the ownership factor in that relationship was on the other foot. I, for example, am awoken each morning at 5:30 (even on holidays and weekends) by furry feet running up and down my bed. I am, sometimes, allowed to return to bed after new kibble and water has been put out. Sometimes, though, it will be expected that I should also turn on the TV and open the curtains so that cats might be better entertained. At this point, being superfluous to their plans, I will be allowed to go to work or back to bed. I might fall in a hole or disappear from existence for the next seven to eight hours, so long as I reappear around 4:00 or 5:00 to refresh said kibble, scoop the “bad” litter, and close the curtains again. On warm days, I am expected to open the deck door and to bring in interesting plants so that cats might destroy them. One might ask just exactly who is the mistress in this arrangement. I assure you, she must have furry little paws.
Perhaps the assumption that cats are domesticated is a complete fallacy. They seem tame, at times, lounging about, purring contently, and dining from their hand-painted dishes. Dogs, most of whom are the picture of domesticity, are usually happy to lend a hand or paw in any circumstance. They herd cattle, they chase moles, they carry one’s slippers (in a very kind but slobbery manner.) Dogs are glad to be of assistance. If they could, they’d probably go out and get part-time employment for the good of the household. Cats, on the other hand, are meant to be served. It is not they who are domesticated, it is their owners. True, there are some cats who earn a hard days’ kibble—brave mousers in barns, libraries, and bookshops who pave their way by tooth and claw. But, most cats live the literal life of Riley. Since the first cat came in from the desert and took residence under the throne of Queen Ti, cats have been our masters. And, even that cat knew that a throne (albeit under it) was the only place for any feline to be.
So, how is it that these fickle creatures have such a hold on our hearts? They ignore us. They scorn us. They reject perfectly good toys that pet shop owner assure us any cat will love in favor of a cardboard box. They give us mocking looks when we try to introduce a new brand of kibble. And, yet we keep coming back for more. Dog people speak of unconditional love. And, having had a canine companion for many years, I can assure you that it is true. Dogs love. It is the essence of being a dog – to adore, to wait patiently, to ask for nothing. Cats harbor in their tiny furry souls an opposite theory. Good things come to those that demand loudly in the wee hours of the morning and with all four claws.
If any person behaved like a cat, he’d be ostracized immediately. Cats behave like cats and are beloved, petted, and worshipped. It is high praise to be called catlike in grace and manners. Yet, I’ve seen my cats fall off footstools and flip over water bowls in a pique of kitty fury. Grace and manners, in the eyes of a cat, are optional virtues at best. And, yet, when a cat sits quietly purring on your lap, gazing up with limpid blue or green eyes, we find ourselves mesmerized. The shredded curtains, the broken ornaments, and the sadly missing goldfish all fall away. There is only that perfect gaze (perhaps the one that so captives birds and mice) and the soft kneading of tiny feet. Love is not a perfect thing, to be sure. Love is patience and patience is certainly required when you love a cat.
Outside George and Fi lounge and stretch and mew. Their owners call and eventually they’ll turn their furry feet toward home. Home, after all, is where the heart is. Home is the place that you find your bed at the end of the day. Any cat knows that. And, perhaps the fact that they choose to come home is why we love them after all. True, not all cats come when they are called. But, sometimes, they do. Sometimes they hop up in your lap, curl up on your bed, or simply sit idly by you while you read. A cat doesn’t need to prove his or her love. Deep in the soul of the tamest tabby lurks the spirit of a tiger. No cat ever comes in completely from the wild. Loving a cat makes you a little bit freer too.