Friday, November 30, 2007

What do our pets mean to us?

For you Maxie-philes, here's the latest picture. Max and Loosy were caught out in a compromising position: in bed.

What do our pets mean to us? My friends, when they ask how many cats I now have, warn me against becoming a cat lady, which is, by their definition, anyone with four or more cats. I've been a cat lady in my time and know that there are good ways of being a cat lady (which is how my cyberfriend Miss Kitty seems to do it, rescuing strays, caring for them temporarily, and finding them homes) and not-so-good ways, as in the woman on TV whose house is full of cats and their less-desirable end products (so to speak), meaning that the Humane Society has to step in.

I don't have hoarding tendencies, so I'm unlikely to fall into the second category, but if my experience adopting Maxwelton is any indicator, I'd better stay away from places that offer free kittens. Actually, I probably wouldn't have taken Max home had he not been so distinctive-looking, with his white and orange face. I'm a sucker for a cat of great color. Loosy and Lily are both beauties that way. One friend said yesterday, after a gathering here, "each one of your cats is gem-like in its coloring". Very true.

So one of the things my pets mean to me is beauty. Not all the animals I've owned have been traditionally beautiful; I'm talking beauty of an additional sort as well. A beautiful nature works for me. Any part of any animal which is soft, pettable, responsive to me---I'm easy.

As I sit here at the computer with Max on my shoulder, his little pitons of claws gripping the skin through my shirt, I'm aware that another characteristic of my pets' meaning is their sacred trust in me. They are utterly dependent on me for food, water, clean litter, affection, and this is important to me. I am trustworthy, in their experience, and I take that very seriously. It's good for me to be trusted. It strengthens my character and my character often needs a little tweak of that sort.

The reason I'm thinking about this is that my household dynamic has changed since Max arrived. I've started to worry about Lily, who was the baby up until a month ago. A large, four-year-old baby, to be sure, but she was the adored and pampered youngest member of the family, secure in her relationship with me and with Loosy. Now that Max is here, she's not sure of her place and I catch her hiding out in odd places or staring wistfully at my lap---which has Max in it. Loosy is willing to share the lap; Lily is not. She's trying to figure out what it means to be a big sister, rather than the little sister.

Max is hugely entertaining to me but he causes the two adult cats a lot of anxiety. They'll go out on the deck in pouring rain just to get some respite from his leapfrog ways. Loosy has taken him down and sat on him. I stop overly rough and tumble stuff, especially when I hear cries of distress, but natural consequences are a useful thing and Max has to learn some manners.

And pets are a major source of companionship for me. They are someone to talk to, someone to take care of, someone to plan for, someone to comfort me when a human isn't available. They keep me warm on a cold night, don't talk back, don't have to be consulted if I make plans, and stay reasonably clean. Now if I could only get them to take out the garbage!


Ms. Theologian said...

I think our dog is essentially our best friend and coworker. And she too has issues with the trash (Perhaps there's something humans don't know!)

Suz said...

If there's anything to cross-species reincarnation, I want to come back as a cat in YOUR house. :-)

Seriously, I liked reading this post. I've been dog-less and cat-less for the last 2 years, after a lifetime of having dogs and/or cats around the house. I've appreciated the freedom to travel without having to arrange for their care (and worry a little about how they're doing without Mom). And now I live in a condo building, which constrains the outdoor activities of any dogs or cats I might adopt.

But I miss the patter of little paws, the comfort of a critter curled up on my lap or next to my feet, the silly things they get up to, hearing the slurp of them drinking from their dishes in the kitchen, and having them to talk to.

I bet that someday soon I'll be found by my next dog. Or cat. Or both...

In the meantime, I enjoy dog and cat therapy by playing with friends' pets and by reading about critters, offline and online.

Mile High Pixie said...

I have to agree with your last paragraph, Rev Kit. My cats are like roommates that are fairly agreeable. Despite the occasional sound of a hairball or racing around or the lost meow in the middle of the night, they're a lot more pleasant than any human roommate I've ever had. They've also been with me through so many life changing events--since 1998. When my husband got mad at the cats sleeping in the bed with us, I told him that they were here first.

ms. kitty said...

Woo, that's brave, Pixie!