Editor’s note: Imagine a post-apocalyptic world where cats and dogs (not zombies) roam the remains of human society. That’s what novelist Samuel Sattin and artist Chris Koehler have done in the comic series Legend. (We interviewed Sattin and Koehler in June.) In November, Z2 Comics released the tale in a graphic novel called Legend: Defend the Grounds. In the tale, a biological terror agent has wiped out most of humanity, and domestic animals are left in charge to rule and rebuild the world. The few remaining humans are the most beastly creatures of all. It has been called “Cormac McCarthy meets Watership Down.” Sattin has spent a lot of time pondering the nature and behavior of cats and dogs. His essay on the topic — as well as selected images from Legend — follows.
By Samuel Sattin
In the middle of the night, you sleep soundly, but someone in your household is awake. A slinking, near-silent watcher, creeping through dark corridors and peeking out windows, assessing the parameter that is your home for suspicious doings, or more interesting places to be. This creature, this animal, belongs to you, but only in a literal sense. More accurately, she has decided to set up shop with you. She will, from time to time, acknowledge your presence, but only for carefully selected moments, because anything else would be a waste of emotion, and emotion is currency for a feline.
It is true that a dog is loyal and kind, but altruism goes only so far. A cat is independence embodied, and she never does anything she doesn’t want to do. Even if you’re a cretin without a shred of decency, a dog thinks that you’re the best person in the world. A dog will stick with you through thick and thin and will never abandon you (even if everyone else does). But a cat, a cat is never satisfied with the bare minimum. A cat doesn’t love you unconditionally. No. A cat doesn’t even like you unconditionally. You have to earn a cat’s respect, and you have to continue to maintain it. In some ways, you might think of this like the relationship you keep with your employer, or a newfound love, someone with whom it’s advisable to sign a contract. Which brings us back to the question: Do you own your cat, or does your cat own you?
This is not to say that your cuddly little Best-Friend-Forever is a completely selfish menace. A cat simply knows her worth, and she wants you to know your worth as well. Your cat is a self-esteem builder — a therapist, really — a mirror that reflects the deepest recesses of your soul. People say that you should try to be the person your dog thinks you are. I say you should strive to be the person your cat would even mildly approve of. If your cat looks at you with a glimmer of admiration, it means that you’ve reached peak potential as a human, and are truly deserving of a pat on the back, a scratch behind the ear.
It is also safe to say that while a cat may not be as physically or temperamentally capable of chasing off intruders (with rare exceptions), they are adept at matters of perception. Though dogs have this gift as well, it is not unusual to catch your cat watching something that to human (or even canine) eyes is unseen. This perceptiveness can alert you to pests, such as mice, spiders, or the occasional delinquent squirrel eyeing your cat evilly from a telephone line across the street. And more malevolent entities as well, of course, such as phantasms, poltergeists, and vampires.
Cats are also adept at discovering parts of your household you never knew existed. Corridors that run beneath your floorboards, cupboards with no backings, and even unknown rooms are fair game for your night stalker. If kept indoors, your cat will come to understand the space in ways other animals never would bother. Because, much like Aristotle, cats understand the importance of natural inquiry. This is why they have often been the preferred pets of philosophers and inquisitive rulers throughout the ages. It is only the superstitious that fear cats, because curiosity, and questioning, is an enemy of the devout.
One thing that often gets overlooked by the cat-wary is that, above most creatures in the world, a cat, when disarmed — when adoring, well fed and calm — is, quite honestly, the cuddliest thing on Earth. The purr of a cat has been thought to be instrumental in the healing of joints and bones. The sound is soothing, as is the vibration, and it can implement an immediate feeling of calm. Cats have been known to lower blood pressure in humans, and their generally cavalier temperament can make you feel like worrying is a waste of time. Why fret when you can spend your time contemplating life’s secrets, produce your own massage therapy, and walk around like the lord of your own private estate? For all the times a cat might get herself trapped in frivolous situations, in the high branches of a tree with no way down, or deep in the recesses of a drawer, she does not regret her actions, and she will often emerge unscathed and ready to plunge yet again into the life-affirming depths.
While all of the above is true, it’s also a fact that sometimes your furry soul partner can bare her claws and leave hideous slashes all over your hands, arms, back, chest, thighs, head, and yes, soul. But those slashes aren’t cruel as much as they’re meant to serve as reminders that, while the world can be difficult, there are always friends, real friends, who will tell it to you like it is. A cat is man’s best friend not because she makes you feel good about the world, but because she teaches you how to be honest with yourself. And that, to be sure, is the best kind of friend you can have.
In the middle of the night while I sleep, I know my cat is prowling her home, protecting what’s hers. I only can hope I fall under that criteria.