Phoenix, my Abyssinian male, used to glory in being held. He’d stand up on his hind legs and place his front paws on my chest. I’d lift him to my shoulder, and he would ride around that way as though he was on a royal progress.
Tikvah, my tiger girl, was terrified of being picked up. A former stray, she had learned somewhere along the way that human hands could be hurtful. But she would follow me around and, in time, became something of a snuggler – on her own terms. If I was lying on the sofa reading, she’d hop up and join me.
Each cat brings his or her own kind of love with him or her.
Reading the Signs
Cats came late to the domestication game. And they aren’t pack or herd animals, although they do sometimes live in colonies. So they don’t feel the need to please humans that a dog, who definitely has a pack mentality, would.
Yes, there are some very people-oriented breeds, such as Siamese, who are very sociable with most people. But, generally, cats won’t bother with you unless they love you. In fact, they’ll actively avoid anyone who makes them feel uncomfortable.
A lot of kittens and some cats do bond quickly with their humans. The majority of cats I’ve known take their time, however. They start out slowly, sniffing your fingers and working their way up to rubbing against your ankles.
With many cats, trust comes before love. When your cat rolls over on his or her back displaying the belly (a vulnerable spot) or blinks contentedly at you from across the room, you know that you’ve won that trust. And when he or she starts licking your hand, butting the head against your face or hopping on your lap and purring up a storm, that’s feline love, pure and simple.
Of course, some cats are extremely demonstrative. Cat lover Pat Jenkins told me that “2 of our girls follow me around like puppies. The middle one sleeps with us, curled up as close as she can get. The youngest, if I walk past her and don’t say anything to her, will put out her paw and grab hold of my hand.”
And Jenkins laughingly cautions people against bending down near her oldest cat because her way of showing affection is to “jump on your back and do kitty geisha massage.”
Troll, who belongs to Ann-Jeanette Johansson, “sleeps on a pillow next to mine. When I wake up sometimes he has put his paw on my cheek, gazing at me. And he always lays his paws around my arms and just lays there while we watch T. V.”
A Healing Sort of Love
God’s angels come to us disguised, the poet James Russell Lowell said. Denise McCaffrey’s came to her in feline form, giving her the quiet love and understanding that she so badly needed at the time.
“When I first moved here after my attack, I was depressed, lonely, afraid,” she recalls. But Smokey, the skittish stray cat she’d adopted, lay next to her or on her chest, “licked my tears when I cried, looked at me, and didn’t move when I slept for hours.”
After a while, she was ready to go back to school but had trouble getting up, even with an alarm clock. So Smokey took matters into his own paws–literally. He “pawed me to wake me up when the alarm went off,” McCaffrey says, adding that she has “since recovered and adopted 3 more angel kitties, and they make me feel loved, appreciated….They have saved me.”
Some cats will run up to greet you when you come home; a lot of them won’t. But they will sit on your lap or near you and happily knead or do “push-paws.”
Maybe Dr. Louis J. Camuti, New York City’s famous cat vet, summed it up best: “It’s not that cats care less about the people who love them,” he observed. “They just care differently. Wise cat lovers know how to give love, and to recognize its return in little ways.” Dogs, like many people, do love in “big splashy colors. When you’re involved with a cat, you’re dealing in pastels. I like that about cats.”