Gazette Vet: How I Learned to Like Cats

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By John Andersen, DVM

After writing the past two columns about dogs, it’s time to pay homage to felines. Cats are great creatures, aren’t they? If you are one of those who claims to be just a “dog person,” I’d bet that you probably don’t have a cat (or, your cat is currently driving you crazy, which is sometimes one of their goals in life).

Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs equally as much, but cats are often overlooked. I used to be one of those “dog people”—I grew up with dogs and saw them as all you needed in a pet. Cats were some strange, undesirable creatures that our neighbors had. I didn’t like them and they didn’t like me. That mentality was surely passed on from my ancestors—I bet my great-grandfathers were a bunch of potato-picking, plains-farming dog people.

My exposure to cats naturally grew in veterinary school, as I was “forced” to learn all about them. Also, I began to date my wife then, who, with her two roommates, had a total of three cats in their apartment. Needless to say, feline interaction was a necessary sacrifice. And even though it felt like an alien had just jumped on my lap when one of them wanted to be petted, they were starting to grow on me a bit.

Then one fateful night, in a moment of happy-hour-induced weakness, my future wife convinced me to come and look at the cute homeless kitten that was being kept in the surgery ward. “Don’t you think you should get her?” she suggested, eyelashes fluttering. So even though my ancestors were shouting “Don’t do it!” from the grave, I wound up taking home an 8-week-old kitten named Lucy.

Now this was not just my first cat, but she was the first cat in my entire family. I remember nervously sending out an email to my family, explaining to them not to worry, that I wasn’t having a nervous breakdown, but I did just adopt a new kitten. They took the news ok, but I think they were growing suspicious of this girl I was hanging out with.

Those first few weeks were a bit nerve racking. “What do you do with a cat? What if it doesn’t even like me?” I thought as I adjusted to this new creature in my house. I can remember the first time I had to scoop the litter box. I was truly grossed out and acting like a sissy. Not like a manly dog person should.

I can also remember waking up in the middle of the night in a terror as an intruder was attacking me, starting with my feet first. Then I realized a little kitten was pouncing on my toes as if they were a group of mice.

I also grew familiar with her twisted sense of adventure. “What would be the point of simply jumping on my dad’s chest to wake him up at 4 a.m.? Too easy. Why not sit here on the other side of the room and gently bat around a piece of paper, or chew on a piece of plastic? That’ll get him out of bed chasing me and I’ll have plenty of time to retreat and prepare for a later assault!” I swear these are the thoughts that go through a cat’s mind.

But I am now a wiser man than the boy who first took home a kitten and can see the blessing that cats are to any home. Cats bring something totally different to the table than dogs, something unexplainably comforting. Nothing is more reassuring than a cat allowing you to hold her in your lap. They have such a fierce independence about them, but when you are allowed into their circle of trust, it’s like you’ve just been a made man in the mafia. They tell it like it is and are not always happy to see you. And although eight hours of uninterrupted sleep is something that has disappeared from my life since I first brought her home, being woken up from the obnoxiously loud purr of a cat curled next to you is a pretty nice feeling.

So will there be any medical advice or explanations in this column? I guess not. Perhaps I just want to crack open the door to the cat world for those dog people out there who are still listening to their ancestors.

There are literally hundreds of cats and kittens at the SCPA right now who just want to be in a home and will more than make up for their board. It’ll take a few adjustments, but you’ll find you didn’t know what you were missing. And I can help you with that email out to the family: “Dear mom and dad, don’t worry, I’m not doing drugs and I’m not going to get a motorcycle, but I just adopted a cat from the SPCA.”