Living With Cats

by David B. King

I have never owned a cat, but I have lived with many of them over the years.

Cat lovers will know immediately what I mean by that opening sentence. For the rest of you, I will make this observation: a cat is itself; of, by and for itself. Unlike most people, a cat does not base its sense of self- esteem in any way on the judgments of other creatures. Nor does a cat have the slightest doubt of its identity. A cat knows what to be. It is mainly these psychological attributes that give rise to the endearment or aversion that people feel toward cats. In my case, as a hard-core individualist, it is a very great endearment. I will try to convey to you some sense of the nature and expression of that endearment.

Thoreau remarked that "Nature created ferns just to see what she could do in the way of pure leaf." I believe that Nature created kittens just to see what she could do in the way of pure life.

It begins with the irrepressible sparkle in the eye of a kitten. A kitten in whose little mind is an awakening implicit sense of self-existence, self- manifestation, and the joy of self-assertion. A sparkle that says: "I AM! And the world is my toy!!" And with that realization comes an immediate expression of it.

I have often been thankful that cats don't have thumbs. I am convinced that if they did, the world would be one big featureless mud ball. No creature is so inexhaustibly playful as a kitten, for whom all climbable things exist only to be climbed, all shreddable things exist only to be shredded, and all tiny objects must, of course, be cuffed about until they have been secreted into the most unfindable nook or cranny.

Did you ever try to read in bed with a kitten or two present? The first thing that will vanish, magically it seems, is your bookmark. Where did that thing go? Don't bother searching - you will have to turn the bed upside down and inside out before you find it (if you do!!) in the most unbelievable place. Then they'll try to get your book - one page at a time, if necessary. But don't despair. I have contrived a little game that will delight them and respite you. I call it Toe Jump.

With your legs under the covers, you simply spread your feet apart, toss the kitten into the valley between them, and wiggle one toe. CRASH!! With hook, fang and claw, you will find a bundle of furry mayhem wrapped around your foot. (Warning! Be sure you are covered with a good heavy blanket!) Then just wiggle the other toe, and watch closely to observe an Einsteinian streak (faster than light!!) reach across the bed to seize upon its target. Another tiny wiggle of the first toe will result in a WHOOSH and a CRACK!! (broke the sound barrier that time!). You will be amazed at how long a kitten can keep this up - until he finally collapses into a furry, purry, snorry little heap. (At least long enough for you to finish the chapter undisturbed.)

But sleeping with kittens is really not such a good idea unless you are a very early riser. Because THEY are!! At the first sign of russet on yon high eastward hill they will be up and about, ready to start off just where they left off last night. And you will soon awake to the realization that what began as an innocent game of King Of the Mountain (on your left shoulder, of course) has escalated to Total Strategic Warfare, complete with commando attacks, massed infantry assaults, and artillery bombardments. And with no mercy or concern whatever for the local civilian population (which is you!). They will even be undeterred by a great rumbling roaring earthquake as you sit up, bellowing in the semidarkness. That's just a bigger hill to play on. It is quite possible to sleep with adult cats, but not with kittens.

There are other dangers too: I wear a gold ring in my left ear, and that is an irresistible dangle. If I don't take it out at night I might just lose the ear - or at least major parts of it. I once had a couple kittens who delighted in biting my earlobes. Roaring at them didn't help at all because cats learn very quickly that I am a paper tiger (as a libertarian I don't beat up on people or animals). So I decided to make the punishment fit the crime. Whenever one would bite my earlobe I would grab him and bite his little ear. Two things surprised me: the first was how hard I had to bite to make him wince. Those little leathery flaps are really tough! And the second was how quickly they learned not to bite me. As fast as, if not faster than, most people would have learned.

I have always been amazed at the intellectual acuity evinced by these little creatures. They really do the best they can with what they've got. And, too, they seem to have a strong desire to coexist compatibly with me. These observations led me, over a period of several years, to contrive a means of naturally toilet-training cats. This scheme has worked without fail for several generations:

My cats are always born in my house - sometimes even in bed with me (no problem, really, just keep some towels handy when the time is coming). The little mothers are adamant in insisting on my presence. If I am asleep she will crawl onto the bed and wake me up. If I am awake, she will use the nursery I have prepared (just a cardboard box with a hole in the side and a couple towels in it), but I will have to sit next to it and put my hand into the box so she can nuzzle it from time to time. I don't know why my presence at the birthing should be so important, but they make it clear that it is a matter of considerable concern, so I oblige them. Anyway, I have always found it a delightful experience to "midwife" several tiny infants into the world.

I keep the nursery in a convenient corner of the house, where the mama can peek out from time to time and keep an eye on things while she tends her babies. In 7 to 10 days their little eyes will open up and in about 24 days they will be able to crawl over a 2 inch high threshold and escape out into the wide world. It is at this time that I must move the nursery. I put it outside, underneath my house. And I also close and lock the cat door (a little passageway built into the kitchen floor). Mama does not like this at all, so I have to spend the afternoon sitting out in the yard consoling her and persuading her that she and the babies will be just fine in their new location.

Those babies must live outdoors until they are four months old!

By this time they will have learned to make their toilet outdoors, and this is a habit that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

When they reach the age of 4 months, I reopen the cat door and they discover a whole new world. And it's then that I have to relearn to shuffle - that is, walk about the house without lifting my feet off the floor. If you pick your foot up more than 2 inches, you will surely find a cat under it when you put it down again. It's best to go barefoot. But then you get hitchhikers, hanging on by hook and claw, and with no overweight, overwide or overload permit this becomes a real traffic hazard. Especially dangerous is nighttime travel.

The poor little creatures don't realize that, unlike them, I can't see in the dark. He will sit in the hallway, innocent and trusting, watching me approach - expecting me to step over him, as I always do in the daytime. Suddenly there will be a thump and a bump and a little squeak as the poor fellow bounces off the wall. (Not to worry - cats are really VERY durable.) Then I will have to go find where he is hiding and give him lots of cuddles and pets to convince him that it was all a big clumsy mistake. They are quite understanding and forgiving about things like this.

A real treat for a cat is ice cream. I have never known one who didn't love it - probably just as much as I do. From time to time I will bicycle up to Milford Store and buy an ice cream on a stick, then pedal quickly home and sit on the back porch and share it with Frietle, who sits next to me on the railing where his head will be level with mine. He will lick on one side while I nibble on the other. The important thing to remember is always to leave the last little bit for him to finish off. That way he knows firsthand for sure that it is indeed all gone and thus won't be grumbling about looking for more. This firsthand knowledge is quite important to cats; they are not very willing to take somebody else's word for anything.

One last item to consider: the importance of playmates. Don't have just one kitten - have at least two (three is even better). The physical and psychological interaction will result in healthier adult cats. Only once did I have just one kitten, and he became extremely psychologically fixated upon me. I felt sad to see such a distortion in what should have been a healthily independent psyche.

I believe the natural inclination of a cat toward spiritual independence should be fostered, not inhibited. Then when he comes to me for food, warmth, and affection (that's really what they need from us - and all they need from us) I will know that it is HIS CHOICE to do so, and that he is not acting merely from some sort of behavioral conditioning. For your own spiritual well-being, you must always remember your responsibilities in your relationships with cats; especially in your dealings with kittens. Don't ever forget that there is a special place in the universe for a kitten's purr.

The purr of a kitten has a sound that is unique in the world. It flows out from the warm, furry little body of the kitten, rises up from earth into the heavens, bypasses all the assembled seraphim and cherubim, courses between the guardian angels, and passes directly into the Ear of God, reminding him of the reason why he created the Universe.

Dogs are nice, I admit. But a good warm relationship with a cat is much more satisfying to me because the psychological feedback I get from a cat is much different than what I get from a dog: my dog thinks I'm God - my cat is an atheist.

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Cat Facts
Information and facts about cats

How long are cats pregnant?
How long do cats carry kittens?

Why do cats purr?
Why do cats purr? Cats purr for many reasons.

Why do cats have whiskers?
Why do cats have whiskers and what do they use them for?

How Long Do Cats Live?
Find out how long your cat will live and what you can do to make it live longer.

How long do cats sleep?
How long do cats sleep and why do they sleep so long?

How do Cats purr?
How do Cats purr? Find out how cats purr.