More than 36 million U.S. households share their homes and hearts with more than 74 million cats. This according to the 2012 American Veterinary Medical Association’s U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographic Sourcebook. I’ve done my part. Since adopting my first cat in 1974, I’ve shared my home with 10 cats — Shasta, Sotis, Buddy, Daisy, Stu, Monty, Zubi, Luna, Toby, and Jenny — and I can’t imagine my home without one. All my cats were strays, except for Shasta (who was born to my friend’s cat) and Toby (who I adopted from an animal shelter).

Some people dislike cats (ailurophobes) and complain that cats aren’t affectionate. I tell them that cats are just like people. Some are shy, some are quite affectionate, and the others are somewhere in between. I’ll bet you know someone who was an ailurophobe (cat hater) but became an ailurophile (cat lover) when he or she met the “right” cat.

If you’re a cat lover like me, you’re in good company. Many noteworthy people through the ages have loved cats, including young people (such as Taylor Swift), the young-at-heart (Morgan Freeman), the famous (Freddy Mercury), and the infamous (Al Capone).

Scientists once concluded that cats were first tamed by ancient Egyptians about 4,000 years ago. However, the recent discovery of the 9,500-year-old remains of a human and a cat carefully interred in a grave in Cyprus have led French archeologists to conclude that this cat had a special place in the villager’s daily life and afterlife and is possibly the world’s oldest known pet cat.

I am proud to be an ailurophile and an advisory board member of Neighborhood Cats, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting trap-neuter-return, commonly referred to as TNR, to humanely and effectively reduce the number of feral, stray, and other types of “community” cats. On behalf of Neighborhood Cats, I am happy to officially declare December as Cat Lovers’ Month. This is a designation long overdue. In this post I’ll outline some of the ways we humans help and express our love for cats, as well as what cats bring to our lives.

Most feral cats are too afraid of people to be adopted into homes, but they come to trust the people who care for them. On the other side of these relationships are the people love the feral cats they care for, despite not being able to handle or cuddle them. That’s what I call true love.

At its most basic, TNR consists of community cats being trapped, spayed, or neutered, vaccinated against rabies, and eartipped to identify them as sterilized. Because healthy feral cats are too afraid of people to be adopted, they are returned to their outdoor home where people provide food, water, and shelter, and then monitor the cats for any illness or injury. Ideally, trapped kittens who are young enough can be socialized — another way of saying “taught to like people.” Meanwhile, strays — friendly cats with no known owners — can be adopted into loving homes. My cat Jenny and her four feral siblings were trapped when they were 4-1/2 weeks old, and fostering them was one of the most fun and rewarding things I’ve done. If you’re an ailurophile, I highly recommend fostering kittens and cats.

Ailurophiles think of their cats as best friends, soul mates, surrogate children, and members of the family. Our cats bring us comfort, constancy, pleasure, laughter, beauty, and a sense of wonder. They make us feel loved, needed, safe, and trusted. They are also good medicine. Petting and brushing your cat can help lessen the pain of arthritis, and it takes less than 10 minutes with your cat to feel less anxious or stressed. In fact, a study conducted at the University of Minnesota found that cat owners were 40 percent less likely to suffer a fatal heart attack than people who didn’t have a cat.

In addition to the medical benefits of cat companionship, we love cats because unlike other family members, cats are happy to see us no matter how late we come home. They don’t criticize our taste in clothes, and they don’t complain about eating the same thing every day.

Cats also enjoy reading magazines, books, and newspapers. After all, it’s harder for cats to lie down on a computer screen while you’re trying to read. In addition, they’re experts at giving massages, making sure we get up on time, and getting rid of dust bunnies behind the couch. They’re also good listeners. They come running when they hear the can opener, disappear when the doorbell rings, and can’t be found when they hear you bring out the cat carrier.

Let’s not forget that they’re good on the computer. They like lying on top of the monitor, walking across the keypad, and playing with the mouse. Cats have a knack for turning almost anything into play. Who needs expensive cat toys when there are pencils to push off desks, boxes to get into, and strawberry hulls to chase?

People love cats, and cats love people no matter their size, how much hair they have, or where they come from. Some people choose their cat from an animal shelter or rescue group, and some cats choose their people. If you’re a hardcore ailurophile like me, you probably celebrate Cat Lovers’ Month all year round. Here’s to ailurophiles and the cats they love.

Read more on feral cats:

Learn how to live a better life with your cat on Catster: