Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Who Owns Whom?

“I once had a girl,” John Lennon sang in the Beatles classic Norwegian Wood, “or, should I say, she once had me,” thus expressing kinship with anyone who has ever owned a cat.

But you own the cat, don’t you?  You pay to adopt the cat.  You pay for the vet exam and the shots.  You buy food and the cute dish the food goes in as well as the litter box the digested cat food goes in.  You buy toys the cat will ignore because it will prefer to chew your favorite shoes.  You buy a pet bed the cat will ignore because your bed is much more comfortable.  You buy a scratching post the cat will use because you’ll give her a treat before doing her real claw sharpening on your couch.

So, being the superior species that you are, you adapt.  You buy a shoe rack so you can keep those tempting tassels out of the cat’s reach.  You buy small cloth rugs to hang over the sides of the couch to keep the cat from clawing it.  “Cat prevention devices,” you call them.  You accept that the moment you fall into sound sleep, the cat will jump on the bed and crawl across your now wakened body, glad you’re conscious enough to align yourself for her maximum comfort as she settles down for her fourth nap of the day.

And after adopting the cat then adapting your life to the cat you finally realize it.  You don’t own the cat.  She owns you.

What do you get out of the deal?  The cat won’t slather you with loving attention, drooling giddily at the sight of you.  But if you wanted to get up to walk a dog every morning, you would have gotten a golden retriever.  You didn’t want that much trouble.  You’re single and busy and live in a one bedroom apartment that’s plenty roomy for you and your cat but would depress any self-respecting canine as well as the human who had to clean up after it.

It’s not like the cat can’t live without you.  How do you feel guilty about leaving the cat alone in the house when from all indications that’s all the cat wants?  How else can she explore the tops of all the furniture and appliances that you don’t let her climb on when you’re home?  The cat not only doesn’t mind that you go off to work and don’t come home for 12 hours; she actively looks forward to it.  She’s got her own life to live, one that doesn’t involve you, and one that is easier to go about if you’re not there to get in the way.

Then you come home from work and a surprising thing happens.  The cat seems glad to see you.  You pick her up and she purrs and purrs as you hold her.  What do you know?  The cat sees you as more than the guy who fills the food bowl.  You feel needed and useful and loved.  And you don’t have to take her out for a walk in the rain.

Yes, I once had a cat.  Or, should I say, she once had me.

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