Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A pause for paws: A love letter to cats

Mark Twain once said: “When a man loves cats, I am his friend and comrade, without further introduction.”

It's safe to say that I whole heartedly agree.

Pets have walked in and out of my life since I was a baby. I learned to crawl with a dutiful spaniel by my side and I grew up with a fondness for everything from goldfish to horses, but I've always had a special relationship with cats.

The first pet I could ever really call my own was a cat. Her name was Daisy and she was a champagne coloured tabby that radiated warmth and charm. People who hated cats loved her - that's just how charming Daisy was. I got her as a kitten when I was five and she quickly became my soulmate. We would bump our foreheads together in greeting, she'd keep me company on lonely days, and she'd sleep by my pillow to chase away the bad dreams. Our bond was so strong that I was certain we'd been together a lot longer than it may appear. You see, when I was little I was convinced that I had lived a past life and when I met Daisy I was sure that she'd been with me in that life, that she'd been my cat before. She'd often look me straight in the eye with a steady gaze and I could tell that she knew what I was feeling, or thinking, and she'd respond without me having to say a word. She was the most intuitive animal I've ever met. She also gave me a wonderful gift - the second cat I ever called my own - her daughter, Ginger.

Daisy curled up by my side.
Ginger was fat and full of purrs. She trusted me completely, so I could do any number of ridiculous things to her (dress her up in a hoodie, drive her around as a passenger in my Barbie car, or cuddle her upside down) and she would merely smile, purr, or fall asleep. Ginger may have been loving, but she also had a cheeky side, and if she didn't like you she'd show it in the sneakiest way possible; she'd make you stink. Ginger had the most atrocious smelling farts and if she was picked up by someone she despised she would stay very still and then let loose a deadly smelling gas. I observed this behaviour on a number of occasions and it always made me laugh. Ginger looked so unassuming when people were cooing over her that no one ever expected her to covertly attack them with her flatulence. Once she farted on someone they never wanted to handle her again, so she'd waddle away knowing she was free from dealing with that person forever. However, if this large, gassy, orange and white tabby loved you she loved you with her entire being (which is a lot because she was super obese.) Her love was the generous kind and she was always trying to take care of me. I used to come home after school and curl up with a bowl of popcorn to watch Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and The Simpsons on TV. Once, when I was sitting on the floor with my popcorn bowl resting in my lap Ginger sidled up, dropped something in the bowl, and then sat squarely in front of me with the most pleased expression on her face. I went to reach for a handful of corn and stopped abruptly when I realized she'd dropped a dead mouse into the bowl. I stifled my cry of surprise and thanked her for the lovely gift... she just kept giving me this look that said "see, see what I've brought you. Food! And I put it in your food bowl." The fattest cat on earth had literally passed up on eating this juicy mouse in order to place it in her owner's food dish - if that's not love, I don't know what is.

If I have back problems today it's because of carrying Ginger.

Mark Twain and I are not the only writers who love cats. Truman Capote, Edgar Allan Poe, Jack Kerouac, Neil Gaiman, and Ernest Hemingway are just a few authors who've had strong bonds with felines, the latter even having a type of cat named after him (six-toed cats are known as Hemingway cats.)

I never understood authors' apparent predilection to cats until I met Ophelia - my third cat. She was a true writer's companion. I often spend hours at my computer researching stories, transcribing interviews, and writing articles, and Ophelia used to sit by my side the entire time with no complaint. She liked to stretch out over my notes, and would listen attentively as I read aloud to her. This long-haired, white beauty was a Turkish Angora. Her breed is a talkative one, so I was never short of conversation while I was working. If I asked Ophelia her opinion on something she'd respond with a chirp, a low meow, or a high pitched purr and I'd sometimes reconsider a line or two depending on her response. There was only one occasion when Ophelia pushed me away from my work and it was when I stayed up to write a magazine feature. I was so absorbed that I didn't realize the time until she pushed her head to my chest forcing me to lean back and see that it was 2:00am. I looked at her as she kept shoving her head at my heart and I finally said "ok, time for bed" at which point she jumped off the table and walked to my room, her sleepy owner trailing behind her. Only a true writer cat knows when to turn away from the page and face the pillow instead.

Ophelia, the Lois Lane of cats. 
After each of these beautiful, caring, charismatic cats has died I have been devastated. I have cried harder after losing them than I have for anything because they were the source of the kind of love only a pet can provide - unconditional love. After each parting I feel like I can never love any cat as much as I loved the last, but I always manage to find one that steals my heart again.

This time around it's Yorick, the fluffy, black kitten that my partner and I have recently adopted, who has tugged at my heartstrings. His Shakespearian name, inspired by my last lovely girl, suits him to a T. He's clever, affectionate, and has a sneaky sense of humour - already playing the jester and amusing us to no end. How quickly we fall in love with tiny paws and big purrs.

Yorick the jester. 

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