Today I may be a champion of the crazy-sexy cat lady (as opposed to the plain-old crazy one), but growing up I never loved animals. Animals didn’t register on my radar, and truth be told, I was a bit scared of them.
Mostly I attribute this to childhood nightmares involving wolflike dogs surrounding my bed, growling ferociously and frothing at the mouth as they tried to rip off my hands and feet. These nightmares are why, to this very day, all of my appendages must be 100 percent under the protection of the duvet before I fall asleep.
My aunt had a cat, Morris (named after the 9Lives spokescat). I was curious about him, but he was rather feisty (read: hissed and scratched). In retrospect, I’m sure much of that could have been attributed to my chasing him around the living room trying to force my love upon him, as is my way. Poor Morris was probably just looking for an escape route.
It’s hard to imagine it now, but according to family lore, there was a short period of time during which a dog might have become a part of my childhood.
After four years of my parents’ undivided attention as an only child, I decided a playmate was in order. I mounted a vigorous campaign and relentlessly bombarded them with alternating wails of "I want a sister!" and "I want a dog!" (In what can only be described as some sort of miracle, I must have temporarily forgotten about those terrifying wolf-dog dreams.)
I didn’t give much thought to the difference between sisters and dogs. I just knew my friends had one or the other (or both), and it was my God-given right as an American citizen to join their ranks.
My parents asked me point-blank which I’d rather have: a sister or a dog. It was the most important decision of my 4-year-old life, and after much deliberation, I approached them and uttered the word "sister."
I can’t tell you why I made that decision (perhaps I thought sisters were less slobbery?), but I can tell you that like most people who are pressed to commit, a short while later I suffered buyer’s remorse. Four months into my mother’s pregnancy, I announced that I’d changed my mind and wanted a dog after all. But apparently the order had been placed, and there was a strict no-return policy.
So how did animals — specifically cats — enter my life 30 years later? No surprise, it had to do with a guy. It was a long-distance love affair; I lived in New York, he in Chicago with sibling cats Ian and Shelley. Cat ownership added a different dimension to his appeal — sensitive, caring, responsible; someone who was secure with his own sexuality.
Between weekends together, we spent evenings talking on the phone, recounting our days.
Me: Lonely and brooding.
Him: Recounting the latest adorable Ian and Shelley antics.
I wanted what he had.
One trip to Petco, and Kip, an objectively handsome 3-year-old gray tabby, entered my life. At Petco, he presented himself as a sweet, docile lap cat. I envisioned us together on the chaise, Kip curled up in my lap as I read or watched TV.
Then, I got him home. The moment the carrier door opened, Kip proceeded to race around the apartment for what seemed like days. Up and down the stairs. Behind, on top, and under every piece of furniture.
As for holding him? Ha! He would lock his joints, press his paws into my chest, and lean his head back to get as much distance between us as possible. My boyfriend told me I’d lucked out, that most cats would have mauled me.
Eventually, as my parents had done with me, I felt it was time Kip had a sibling — except I didn’t give him any say in the matter. Enter Petie, an extremely photogenic, timid, borderline-obese gray tuxedo. Sadly, the two never became the fast friends I’d hoped they would. Even today, it’s a big deal if they sit on opposite ends of the same piece of furniture.
Two cats were all I wanted, but then along came Haddie, my "Forever Foster" (aka Failed Foster). On the upside, Haddie has a big crush on Kip, and whenever Petie beats up on him, Haddie is quick to retaliate. Perhaps I’ve created some sort of equilibrium with my feline excess.
As someone who didn’t grow up with animals, I found it amazing to learn cats have little personalities and unique temperaments. Some are shy, others social. There are curious cats, scaredy cats, jealous cats, loose cats, and those who play hard to get (that actually describes quite a few of them!).
Once I was tuned into the individuality of cats, I began noticing it in other animals. I began caring about how cows, pigs, and even chickens were treated. I visited Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary and fell in love with the goats, each one a character.
And wouldn’t you know it, now my sister has a cat of her own. Maybe it was part of some master plan: "My" decision to ask for a baby sister has put another cat lover on this planet!
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