Favorites: The Dirty Secret of Cat Ownership


“Of course I don’t have favorites. Don’t be absurd. I love all of our cats the same.”

That’s what I say. Then, in the next breath: “Oh, look at Comet. Look how cute Comet is, all curled up. Look how cute Comet is, flinging herself at my leg. Let me get a picture of Comet. Did I tell you what Comet did today?”

Of the people I’ve known with multiple cats, I haven’t known any who’ve been willing to acknowledge, openly and without a shred of guilt, that they had favorites. And I’ve known only a handful — if any — who really and truly didn’t. It’s the dirty little secret of having multiple pets. We never want to admit that we have favorites … and we totally do.

In fact, when my wife, Ingrid, and I were adopting, we talked about this, even as we talked around it. We’d originally planned to get two kitties, and we wound up getting three, and right from the beginning we wondered, “How is this going to work out? With three kitties, will they all get enough attention? Will they all be able to bond with us as much as they need to? If we’d had two kitties, and with two of us, that wouldn’t be a problem ÔǪ

“Not that we’d have favorites, of course.”

I don’t think we picked our favorite cats — I think they picked us. And sometimes, this doesn’t seem entirely fair. I get how we share Houdini, the mysterious, approach-avoidance Mona Lisa who graces us with her presence on a whim. Houdini is totally both of ours, equally, and we’re both a little in awe of her.

But how is it fair that Ingrid got Talisker, the confident, easy-going, low-maintenance, “herp derp” alpha kitty? And how is it fair that I got Comet, the high-energy, high-maintenance, perpetually-in-motion sensation junkie with a near-constant need for attention and … oh. Right. Never mind. I totally got the cat I deserve.

And that’s the thing. Of course it makes sense that we’d have favorites. Our cats aren’t the same; they have different personalities (or catonalities, as my niece would say). And of course, some personalities are going to resonate more with our own.

I have favorites among my human friends, too. I have some friends I’m intensely close with, friends I miss like a major organ if I don’t see them for a while, friends I can call at 3 a.m. if something terrible happens, friends I could jabber with for hours without running out of things to say. And I have some friends I’m perfectly happy to hang out with for an hour when I run into them at parties. Nobody sees this as unreasonable. Nobody expects us to love all our friends the same.

But cat people tend see kitties less as friends and more as children. Our cats are dependent on us, after all, in much the way children are. And we understand how crummy children feel if their parents have favorites. (Although I suspect that’s the dirty little secret of parenting, too.) If we have siblings, or know people who have siblings, then we know — or can easily imagine — what it would feel like if our parents had a favorite, and that favorite wasn’t us.

So we shy away from thinking that we have favorites among our kitties. Forgetting that cats are not, in fact, human children. Forgetting that these are cats, and they’re generally the ones who set the terms of how much attention and affection they get. Forgetting that Ingrid and I will give every one of our kittens just about as much attention and affection as they want. Forgetting that we will basically stay on the sofa until we get bedsores rather than disturb a cat who’s on our lap. Forgetting that the cats are the snooty, approach-avoidance deciders in this relationship. Forgetting that the cats are the ones who picked their favorites from us, and not the other way around.

I don’t want to treat our cats as if they’re all the same: all just fuzzy, lumpy manifestations of the Platonic form of Cathood. That would feel more disrespectful than having favorites. I want to treat them as individuals, with their own unique characters and quirks. I want to recognize that Talisker is going to flitter around like a butterfly before she settles in with anyone; that Houdini is jumpy and has to initiate snuggling but will stay for hours once she gets going; that Comet needs playtime more than love time, but that when she does want love time, she wants it super-intensely. They’re not all the same, and I don’t feel the same about all of them, and I don’t want to pretend that I do.

I love them all until my heart bursts.

And Comet is my favorite.

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