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A Holiday Blog About Cats

Author: Alison Spanner | Date: December 23, 2013

St. Nick once told me that the holidays are about love, acceptance, and joy. With those lofty ideals in mind, I dedicate my blog to something I have struggled to love, accept, and find joy in – cats. So who better to discuss the finer mysteries of the feline persuasion with than my good friend, former roommate, and caregiver of two living, breathing cats, Katharine.

So, you own two cats. Why, why, god almighty why?

I’m a firm believer that people are born the way they are. We may have a lot of choices in life, but some things are just embedded in our DNA. I was born a cat-lover; I remain a cat-lover; and I will die a cat-lover. There’s enough love in my heart for other animals, too – birds, sharks, the occasional well-behaved, silent terrier…But cats will always rank number one when it comes to pets. So I own two cats for the same reason a dog-lover owns dogs – they bring joy to my life; they extend my family; they allow me to commune with something pure and innocent; and they teach me to act with grace and poise. (Oh, wait. I guess that last one doesn’t apply to dog-lovers.)

Do your cats have distinct, complex personalities or are they both just plain evil?

Of course they’re different! I volunteer at Tree House Humane Society, a cageless, no-kill shelter, and am continually amazed by how easy it is to distinguish the cats beyond their size and markings. Each cat is fascinating in its own way and establishes his or her own identity. Although our cats Tilly (a tortoiseshell domestic shorthair) and Dieter (an all-black domestic shorthair) are both feral cats, and likely even related, they each have their own habits, preferences, and personalities. If you’re a believer in “tortitude” (the idea that torties are inclined to be strong-willed and very possessive of their human), then Tilly has it in spades. Dieter, on the other hand, is downright goofy but a bit mischievous – kind of like his namesake.

Your cats are feral, can you explain what that means? Where you got them and why?

After I moved to Chicago and settled in with a job, apartment, and phenomenal roommate open to living with a feline (you, Alison), I started thinking about adopting a cat. Through a friend, I was introduced to a woman that tended a significant cat colony at a city warehouse where she worked. The woman participated in a Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program to help keep the number of homeless kitties as low as possible, put out food and water for them in the winter, and even let several of the cats live in her office and home. Feral cats are born in the wild and are not yet socialized. (A stray cat, by contrast, is a pet cat that is lost or abandoned.) I never intended to adopt feral cats, but after going to the warehouse – I wanted them all to have a home! Adopting a cat from a shelter would have made the same impact, but seeing the cat colony really struck me, so I took Tilly home that day. Four years later, when my partner and I chose to adopt a second cat from the same colony, we were introduced to a little guy who had survived burned paws and an ear – probably due to trying to find warmth on the engine block of a truck. Again, we had to take him home! Both Tilly and Dieter were about eight months old when adopted, which meant there was a much higher chance that we could socialize them. It required a lot of patience. They both hid for weeks and touching them was beyond question. But every day we would spend time in the room with them – reading silently, reading out loud, offering treats, making non-threatening eye contact…and one day, you reach to pet them, and they allow it. The first time Tilly let me hold her, I cried. It sounds so corny! But both times, the experience revealed abstract things like trust and love and reciprocity in a very concrete and tangible manner. Animals are so resilient, forgiving, and adaptable. They have a lot to teach.

Tell me, is the best thing about owning cats that you can leave them for days on end with a hearty food and water supply and they don’t seem to mind?

I think that’s sort of like talking up your kid by saying, “And the best part about Timmy is that he can go eight hours without peeing on long road trips!” While the self-sufficiency of cats is definitely appreciated when it’s -4F at 5 am in Chicago, there are many qualities I’d list before their camel-like ability to ration food and water. I love owning cats because they make it so clear they don’t need you! I mean obviously Tilly and Dieter don’t need us – they have way better survival skills than we do! And yet, Dieter is curled up next to me as I type this. Tilly slept with me all day the day my grandmother died, and they won’t leave us alone after a few days away. I’m going to get all anthropomorphic now, but I think mutual respect is a big part of cat ownership. And they remind me how lucky I am to observe a little piece of nature up close every day. Plus, they’re hilarious! They chirp, chatter, startle, hide, pounce, steal, snuggle…they provide a lot of laughs and joy.

Your good friend (ahem, me) owns two lovely dogs and yet she feels your indifference towards them. Why? Are you evil like your cats?

While I love Huck’s joie de vivre, it essentially translates into him shaking hands with my crotch every time I see him. Not that I hold that against him! I just don’t understand why, when I come over, your dogs don’t bolt behind the couch and remain hidden for the rest of the night like my perfectly well-adjusted and super social cats. No, honestly, I like dogs. The best-behaved pet I ever had was a Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier named Phil. If he was a person, one could have accurately described him as a gentleman and a scholar. I also grew up with a Cairn Terrier named Meeko. She was more like that kid in class that ate glue and had ADHD, but that everyone liked. Unfortunately, I’ve also had some scary run-ins with dogs. Meeko was attacked – on two occasions – by poorly trained, off-leash neighborhood dogs. Witnessing that really shook me up and maybe makes me a little hesitant of dogs to this day. That said, one of the sweetest dogs I’m currently acquainted with – other than your dogs Huck and Sonar, obviously – is a Great Dane named Bucket. She’s really proven that you can’t predict behavior based on size. She’s 130+ pounds of pure sweet.

How are we friends?

I really don’t know. With you loving dogs with the same ardent adoration that I hold for cats, it’s a wonder we have remained friends, lived together successfully, and even encouraged the other’s pet preference through gifts, pictures, and anecdotes. This is basically the feel-good story of the century. Take note, world! Cat ladies and dog whisperers can live together in harmony!


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