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Can You Describe the Human/Cat Bond in Words?

Our relationships with cats are so profound and multifaceted, it's difficult to put them into words.

Catherine Holm  |  Dec 3rd 2014


A writing instructor once told me that language is a clumsy medium. He is right. Sometimes it can be difficult to convey ideas, especially concepts that are hard to nail down. I found myself thinking about the human/cat bond, since cats are such a big part of my life. But I have a hard time describing it. I can come close, but I never feel that I exactly nail it.

Here, I try to get at it with words. I think you will see that what the human/cat bond is is actually more than words ever get at — words only come close.

1. They are friends

Merriam Webster defines friend as a “person who you like and enjoy being with.” That’s cool, but it leaves me a little flat. I’m a selective person about friends, and there are many people who I like and enjoy being with who aren’t necessarily my friends. To me, a true friend is more than this definition gets at. I can confide in a true friend, and unfailingly trust them.

I’d call my cats true friends by my own definition, though obviously the dynamic is different. There are differences between our species that make some things hard to capture. I trust my cats, for example, but they’ve never given me reason not to trust them. It is possible that one of my trusted human friends could break my trust — it’s part of the risk that comes with human-to-human relations. Since this risk does not exist with our cats, does that make them less of a friend, or something like a friend that there is no word for? I don’t know.

2. They are companions

Again, the dictionary provides a shell of an idea, but not much else. A companion is “one who accompanies another.” Yes, that’s true, but how did companion come to mean so much more? Language takes on all kinds of meanings beyond its basic definition. Yes, my cats accompany me here and there (largely around the house; sometimes to the vet) but that hardly describes my relationship with them. It’s interesting to go back and look at the definition of a word, which in this case seems much more basic than the meaning I had conjured in my mind.

3. They are soul mates

Hmmmm. Again, language is clumsy. Leaving out the argument of whether cats have souls or not (I think they do), what exactly is a soul mate? The dictionary says it’s a “close friend who completely understands you.” Now this is starting to get closer to what I think the human/cat bond might represent. But people could argue that our cats cannot really understand us. Likewise, are we sure that we can completely understand them? It gets messy.

Yet, there are those indescribable moments where it does feel that our cat understands us, perhaps better than many humans. I wish badly that there was language that captured this, but maybe it doesn’t matter.

4. They are beings we care for

Again, this it true, but it hardly captures the depth of the bond, at least for me. Sure, I care for my cats. But that only begins to describe the relationship. Yes, they are dependent upon me to make good decisions and responsible choices about their care. This is important. But this bond to me is more — much more.

All of this reminds me of how language can really fall short. Words have limits. Perhaps the complexity of the human/cat bond is better expressed with pictures.

In the end, it doesn’t matter. I have some kind of wonderful relationship with my cats that is unlike any other. I don’t have the words to adequately describe it. Maybe some things don’t need to be described. It doesn’t diminish their beauty, just because we can’t put words around this special bond. Another language or culture might have a word that comes closer to what I’m trying to express. If so, I’d love to know about it.

Maybe you can nail this with words better than I can. How do you describe the human/cat bond?

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About Catherine Holm: Told that she is funny but doesn’t know it, accused of being an unintentional con artist by her husband, quiet, with frequent unannounced bursts into dancing liveliness, Cat Holm loves writing about, working for, and living with cats. She is the author of The Great Purr, the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, the creator of Ann Catanzaro cat fantasy story gift books, and the author of two short story collections. She loves to dance, be outside whenever possible, read, play with cats, make music, do and teach yoga, and write. Cat lives in the woods, which she loves as much as really dark chocolate, and gets regular inspiration shots along with her double espresso shots from the city.