We are honored to publish this amazingly rich and insightful piece by Allan Goldstein, author of “The Confessions of a Catnip Junkie.”
I come before you now in defense of cats. They shouldn’t need my help, Americans have over eighty million cats, more than dogs, more than any other animal. But if the cat is much-loved, it is more misunderstood.
I have written a novel, “The Confessions of a Catnip Junkie,” to give the cat a voice.
Cats play the villain in Western culture. It starts with Looney Tunes and never lets up. Cats have a terrible image.
If you love a cat, you love something distinctly not human.
People are more dogs than cats. We hunt in packs, we’re highly social animals, we crave approval. We’d lick ourselves if we could reach.
Cats are aliens, they operate by a different set of rules. They are rarely conflicted or neurotic. For every neurotic cat there are a hundred neurotic dogs, and a thousand neurotic humans. Cats have it figured out. Cats are perfected.
It’s a paradox. Cats are what cool people really want to be. That’s where the phrase “cool cat” came from. But a cat person? Far from cool. It’s some old lady whose house stinks of litter and who hasn’t had a man since the Eisenhower administration.
Which only goes to prove how misunderstood the cat is. Cats are much more than living knickknacks for lonely shut-ins. Cats are cool, efficient, predators whose love is as unexpected as it is impossible. Yet they do it and we give it back to them. Because so are we.
Falling in love with a cat is falling in love with an equal. A cat won’t guard your house, herd your sheep, guide your blind, or chase your criminals. A cat won’t work for you or anyone else. Cats don’t work. They live. And they’re very good at it. Nine times better than we are.
Sometimes cats are in, sometimes they’re out. We all know cats were deified in ancient Egypt. This enlightened attitude was a matter of indifference to ancient Egyptian cats. We are equally familiar with the burning of cats as witches by the Church in medieval times. This behavior was somewhat more concerning to middle age felines, but they survived it.
Humans, on the other hand, got rats and the plague out of the deal. That’s a pretty high transaction cost for indulging in cat genocide, especially when the genocide didn’t work.
We are all fortunate it failed. But only some of us know it. Only some of us know the extreme pleasure—I’ll come right out and say it—the sweet bliss of loving a cat and having that cat love us right back.
It’s enough to move the poet to raptures of song, to inspire great art and lovely stories; it’s more than enough. But, somehow, it hasn’t. It is the other love that dare not speak its name. The arts have failed cats.
There is something about a cat that’s hard to capture on canvas or paper. I’ve seen paintings by the Old Masters, masterpieces of portraiture, with people so real they seem to breathe, domestic scenes so cozy and perfect you want to move right in, every brush stroke a testament to enduring genius.