My husband Tim was a cat person. A logical, to-the-point engineer by day, he could and did turn into mush where felines were concerned.
He made a point of visiting his old cat while she was convalescing at the veterinarian. When Cricket and Kilah, our first cats, were kittens, he carefully guided them down the worn wooden steps because they were frightened by the wide spaces in between. Later, he filled those spaces in, first with bubble wrapping and then with pieces of drywall.
He even did different voices for them and for the strays who later joined the household. And for years after he died, I half-expected them to talk back to me in those voices.
He didn’t dislike dogs, Tim always said. He just preferred cats.
One of my favorite movies scenes is from The Wrong Box (1966). Peter Cook’s dastardly Morris has gone to get a death certificate from Peter Sellers’s alcoholic Dr. Pratt. The flat is littered with every kind of cat imaginable. “I will have one of my, uh, staff collect it from the place of its origin,” the bleary-eyed physician tells the younger man, and the camera cuts to a haughty-looking Persian lying on a shelf.
Crazy Cat Men
We’ve all heard of the crazy cat lady — there’s even an action figure. It all goes back to the Salem days when every alleged witch had her black cat familiar.
Now it seems that women don’t have a corner on the cat market anymore. There’s a male counterpart — a modern-day Dr. Pratt, if you will — and he’s called the Crazy Cat Man.
“I’ve known men who profess to dislike cats,” says Tom Cox, “but a surprising amount of the same men, if pushed, will admit that they at least ‘don’t mind’ them; the dislike is a masculine façade, like a workbench you keep clearly visible in your shed, but don’t intend to use.”
Cox has written about his life among felines in the books Under the Paw and Talk to the Tail. “I’d joked frequently about the slippery slope of cat ownership,” he says. “But I’d never really thought of myself as having the potential to be a Crazy Cat Man, or anything close, or even that owning cats was ‘my thing’ any more than a handful of my other main passions were ‘my thing.’”
After separating from his wife, Cox found that many women saw him as being more sensitive (i.e., “solid boyfriend material”) because he had cats. However, quite a few women also were suspicious of “a man living alone with that many sets of paws.” Why 4 cats? What were they a substitute for? He couldn’t really deal with other people, could he?
In other words, crazy cat men have it as rough as crazy cat ladies.
Noteworthy Cat Guys
The famous men who have loved cats far outnumber those who have hated them (Hitler, Mussolini, Napoleon, and Genghis Khan are in the latter category).
These famous men all loved cats:
- Abraham Lincoln
- Walt Whitman
- Charles Dickens
- Louis Pasteur
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Albert Schweitzer
- Thomas Hardy
- T.S. Eliot
- Winston Churchill
- E.E. Cummings
- Steve McQueen
- John Lennon
- Sean Connery
- James Mason
- Cleveland Amory
- Frank Zappa
Watch this self-professed “Cat Man” play around with his feline friends:
Celebrating the Male–Feline Bond
In 2009, photographer David Williams began a project called “Men & Cats.” He took shots of his buddies hanging out with their pets in their apartments, walking them on leashes in Brooklyn or just cuddling their cats in the great outdoors. In doing so, he managed to show that liking cats wasn’t just a gal thing.
“I found the way society genderizes animal ownership very compelling,” Williams says. “As a portrait photographer, I was interested in capturing the relationships of my male friends and their feline friends.”
Yes, on the whole, men are more willing now to fess up to what writer Brian Levinson calls “the love that dare not meow its name.” There’s even a website, menandcats.com, where guys can submit stories and photos about their cats and themselves.
Perhaps the truth is simply this: It’s just not as easy to pigeonhole cats and the people who love them as we’ve thought.
“They’re an enigma, cats,” reflects Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. “They contain so many epitomes of maleness and femaleness all wrapped up into one furry bundle.”