Over the years, I’ve been adopted by many cats. Others I’ve met through my rescue work and pet sitting gigs.
So I like to think I speak cat pretty fluently. Maybe with a funny accent but well enough that we understand each other.
These are some of the things they’ve conveyed to me over the years.
1. We feel, therefore we are.
Almost 200 years after Napoleon Bonaparte’s death, the French National Assembly has finally changed the part of his code that labeled pets as “movable goods.” They are now recognized as “living beings capable of feelings.”
Anyone who has lived with cats has known this from the moment that first kitten curled up trustingly on his shoulder or gazed at her beseechingly from behind the bars of a shelter cage.
“A friend of mine once said that somebody was the sort of man who apologizes to the cat,” author G.K. Chesterton observed. “St. Francis really would have apologized to the cat.” We cat people get that.
Cats would like us to remember that they have feelings. And to apologize when necessary.
2. Don’t pass us by.
Most of my cats are rescues of one kind or another. Phoebe, my Valentine’s Day cat, found me. Magwitch, Dervie and Cheshire were abandoned as tiny kittens by their mothers.
You can’t rescue them all, of course, but you can step outside of yourself and try to imagine what being on the outside looking in means to somebody who is small and vulnerable.
Stray and abandoned cats would like us to walk a few miles on their paw pads and do whatever we can to ease their misery. That could be anything from adopting them ourselves to bringing them to a no-kill shelter or veterinary clinic to putting food out for them.
3. Don’t scold or reject us for what we can’t help.
Judy Levy, director of Animal Friends of Connecticut, told me about a black cat who’d been adopted back in February. Her person returned her, complaining that she’d stopped using the litter box. The cat, as it turns out, has a severe urinary tract infection and is still at the vet.
Cats usually have litter box maneuvers down pat at an early age. If somebody’s wetting or soiling outside the box, he/she’s usually trying to call your attention to a physical or emotional problem. Or, as Levy says, “Cats like you to notice when they’re sick and not using the litter box.”
4. The green stuff is good.
Cats may be carnivores, but a little cat grass is often just what they need to help the ol’ digestive track along. You can pick up seeds at any garden center. It pretty much grows by itself, so you don’t have to be a master gardener.
Cats will also — big surprise — go after houseplants. The ASPCA has lists of toxic and non-toxic plants on its website.
5. We feel the tension.
Many cats are empaths. They not only pick up on any household tensions but also absorb them. Moonlight, our lilac Aby, over-grooms whenever anything major is brewing — the last time being the day that Boris, our Maine Coon, took a turn for the worse. Other cats spray.
Yes, these behaviors are upsetting. But we need to find out what’s at the root of them.
6. Once we bond, you’re our person for life.
It often takes a while to gain a cat’s love and trust. But once you’ve got it, you’ve got it for life and sometimes beyond.
The late Jeanne Toomey, a director of the Last Post in Falls Village, Connecticut, once told me the story of Poopsie. The elderly Siamese ended up at the cat haven because he’d outlived his caregiver, a confirmed bachelor. During the rest of his time there, Poopsie was only truly happy when he was hanging out with one of the male volunteers. The heart — or the cat — that was loved clearly remembered.
So cherish that love and make sure, as Poopsie’s person did, that the feline who gives it has some sort of provision made for him.