Sometimes I feel the divide between “cat people” and “dog people” is kind of silly, we’re all animal lovers aren’t we? Yet looking back at my own life, I see a clear preference for felines, though I have my reasons for that. My relationship with the cats in my life might not seem special, but all those cats were special in their own way to me.
My first cat was a gift to me by my maternal grandfather when I was about 6 years old. He was a kitten, part of one of the last litters of the matriarch of my grandfather’s cats out on his island home. I named him after a character from one of Astrid Lindgren’s books about children of different backgrounds befriending each other on the summer island where they all meet.
I loved that little kitten, a creamy orange tabby with the softest fur and a pink nose, but looking back it was clear that I wasn’t quite old enough for that kind of responsibility. The poor kitten was also treated more like a toy at times and I probably traumatized the poor thing more than once. On top of that, I developed allergies; severe eczema that mom felt convinced was due to the cat. For a time they were held at bay with creams and socks on my hands at night, to prevent myself from scratching, but finally she took me to a doctor for tests and it was decided the kitten had to move back home to the island he was born.
We went cat-less for some time after that, though I could always visit “my cat” as my grandfather’s brother always phrased it whenever we spent a summer out on the island. In those years though, my old kitten grew up quite wild and the only cat that allowed me to get close was an old long-haired tomcat, which let me pick ticks and other annoyances from his thick fur. I was sad when I heard he passed away.
Though we were cat-less we were not pet-less for all that time. After a few years of school my parents thought I was ready for a pet and gave me a parakeet, which I had full responsibility for. I had to feed him and give him water, then make sure his cage got cleaned out regularly. I immediately set out to teach him how to speak, though I never had much success in his lifetime. See, this is where a cat comes back into the picture.
I don’t know exactly whose idea it was, but at some point when I was 10 going on 11, it was decided that we were going to get a rescue cat from a shelter. Perhaps mom had read an article about it somewhere; she has always had a soft spot for cats in need. Either way, one evening we found ourselves in a small shelter with cats everywhere, wandering about freely. But wait, we were told, there were some other cats in the back, which were shy and needed more privacy.
That was when we met our cat Stina (that she also was named from that Astrid Lindgren book was a sign all on its own). She was a stray who’d had a litter of kittens outside, but none of the kittens had made it. Our hearts melted at her plight, and though she was very wary of humans we adopted her.
The day she came home with us, after all the paperwork was cleared, she spent the entire day under the bathtub. And the next as well. But eventually she came out of hiding, a real beauty with a bluish-grey coat and world-weary green eyes. She grew more relaxed, though she never became a lapcat, but that was fine. The moments when she wanted to be petted became more precious that way.
And one day, when the door to my room had been left open, she got in and killed my parakeet. The scream as the cat grabbed him is still etched into my memory forever. He didn’t die right away, still living and trembling when I got my hands on him, but the next morning he lay dead on the bottom of his cage.
It was a hard blow to me, yet strangely enough I never blamed the cat. I blamed whoever left the door open and I blamed my mother for not finding a vet to take my parakeet, but mostly I just mourned, latching onto his killer for comfort. She would continue to comfort me in this way, in the difficult years that lay ahead, with bullying in school.
Years passed, we moved to a house and we decided to get another cat. Looking up an ad for some mixed-breed kittens we found ourselves with another Astrid Lindgren named cat. I hesitate to call him a kitten, because even when we got him he was large, though only 4 months old. The family who owned his mother suspected the dad was a ragdoll and I think they were correct, for our new cat really was as floppy as any old stuffed toy. You could drag that big old cat around the entire house and he didn’t make a sound. A perfect pet for a family with two young boys who liked to play rough at times.
Unfortunately, our most gentle of cats met the most horrid fate of all of them. We often went on some sort of family vacation during the summer and when the cats couldn’t come along a neighbor would feed them and look after them. Well, this one year her young daughter had come with her and when our big, gentle boycat had been napping inside the dryer, she had shut the door on him. Horrid memory number two is the phone call from the frantic neighbor after she found him the next day. Well, that properly ended that trip prematurely.
It took another year or so before there was even talk of getting a new kitten and this time we really got a proper kitten sized kitten, a kitten that was almost too young even. What came home with us, drowning in the large carrier was a tiny little thing, the runt of the litter that had almost not made it. The old lady we got her from had fed her boiled fish and other easily digestible foods to ensure she put on weight. Her first meal at our house consisted of mashed up meatballs as the hard pellets of the kitten food were deemed too large for her. Again named from the world of Astrid Lindgren, she had a crazy coat that looked like it was created from what was left over when you’d given a dozen cats their coat color.
My mother took to her like a barnacle to the hull of a ship, utterly spoiling the little thing rotten and she quickly put on the weight she needed…And more. This new cat of ours was a lot like a dog in some ways, she wolfed down her food and the other cat’s too, if she wasn’t fast enough, she raced around the house and played fetch, until she became too fat and lazy for that game. I have a fond memory where she runs headfirst into the couch, because she didn’t break fast enough. While our first cat was a proper lady, the second was a fat little munchkin. Both of them were inside cats and quite happy with that. The older cat was freaked out by any loud sound, while the younger felt the happiest when she was close to the food dish and her favorite spot on the couch.
When I moved into my own apartment, after close to a year of searching I missed both of them desperately, though to dull that I had gotten myself first one guinea pig, then another to focus my attentions on. It was the existence of the pigs, charming creatures, though my brothers developed horrible allergies to them, that prevented me from getting a cat of my own, something which popped up quite strongly in my mind when I heard that my parents had relocated both our family cats out to my grandfather’s island. My brothers had developed allergies to them too.
What really made me overlook the guinea pigs was a bit of a personal crisis. Crushed by a broken heart something compelled me to look up the webpage of a local cat shelter and there among the new arrivals was a picture of a cat, barely a year old, who looked like she could be a relative of our oldest family cat, with the same bluish-grey fur, though her nose was black and not pink. I was smitten and made sure I was first in line when the shelter opened the next day. After spending some time with her I had signed the adoption papers and the process of getting her home began.
By this time my oldest pig was getting on in years, so the cat-guinea pig co-existence didn’t last for long, though there was never any trouble between them. Then when the last pig had joined the first in the pretty plot at my parents’ new house, I melted completely into a cat owner personality. And this cat ticked all the boxes you might want in an affectionate pet. She talked, she curled up in my lap, she slept next to me and she’s only a little annoying now and then.
As I type this, my cat, named for the pet-name Raskolnikov gives his sister in Crime and Punishment (yes, no Astrid Lindgren this time), is napping on my bed and I think back again on the whole cat-person/dog-person thing.
For me personally, I was held back from dogs due to a fear of them, set off by a classmate’s enormous overenthusiastic, barking Schnauzer, as well as some near rabid Rottweiler’s of a neighbor, who were always out in the yard. I think I am more okay with dogs now, like the ones that greet you happily and struggle to get up in your lap for pets even though they’re a little too big. I have even contemplated getting a small-sized dog breed at times, but ultimately decided I didn’t have the right lifestyle to care for a dog properly.
As for the future…Who knows? I cannot see myself without a cat for long though, which feels morbid to think when my current cat is only 6 and as healthy and energetic as if she was still a kitten. But all cats are unique and perhaps there will be a point where I will have room in my heart and home for an affectionate puppy.
I was always an animal lover before I was a cat-person.